in the second session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
FIFTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1998--99
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that out of Railtrack's quoted £27 billion investment over 10 years, less than one-third is new investment? That is meant to cope with the doubling of the number of trains in 10 years. Is he satisfied that of that new investment, Railtrack intends itself to pay less than 40 per cent. of the investment for passengers and virtually none of the investment for freight. How can the Government achieve their growth targets if Railtrack does not invest more of its money?
Lord Marsh: My Lords, has the Minister seen reports which suggest that the Government may wish to take control of and responsibility for Railtrack's investment? Given the record of both governments over many years while being responsible for investment, does he agree that whatever the existing company may do wrong, it could hardly do worse?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am tempted to say that the noble Lord clearly has some experience of these matters. The Government's intention is to make the regulatory regime work. If that requires changes to the regime, we intend to make them, if necessary by legislative means. It is important that both the regulator and the strategic rail authority help Railtrack to meet the objectives set out in our integrated transport policy. That will require both funding and more investment, as the Prime Minister has made clear.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I travel regularly by train and suffer the vicissitudes of delays and cancellations, particularly on the London commuter line. I notice that in this over-large and glossy volume which Railtrack has produced, it is proposed that the improvements to the London commuter lines, and, in particular, the London to Brighton main line, will be funded in partnership with others. That seems to imply a subsidy from either central or local government. Since
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it would be premature for me to respond in detail to that question. Railtrack has said that the funding for some of the improvements will either be from partnerships, or Railtrack will act as contractor and others will have to pay substantial amounts. Whether some of that falls on national government will depend on subsequent decisions. The work of the strategic rail authority, which we are about to establish, will inform our decisions in relation to that.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, will the Minister not welcome the fact that Railtrack is proposing to invest £27 billion? Is that not a sum of money which would have been beyond British Rail's wildest dreams in its old nationalised days? Does that not contrast very sharply with the investment which is to be put into London Underground, which, after all, carries roughly the same number of people per day as the national railway, and in relation to which we have heard nothing about the public-private partnership?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards London Underground, the noble Lord is right that the rather detailed negotiations on the public-private partnership have still to be completed. Nevertheless, we expect that we shall mobilise resources to meet the needs of London Transport. On the investment of £27 billion, we clearly welcome Railtrack's commitment to analyse the priorities as set out in this document, large and glossy though it may be. However, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley has already pointed out, not all of that will be met from Railtrack's own finances. Therefore, government, operators and other interested parties will need to fund a substantial amount to reach that £27 billion. Nevertheless, we now have a strategy from Railtrack which in itself is welcome.
In the light of that knowledge--which he has now, even if he did not have it before I rose to my feet--is my noble friend prepared to press Railtrack to honour its commitment under Condition 7 of its licence, not grudgingly in the letter but generously in the spirit, to meet the reasonable expectations of its customers? Even though he is not able to tell us where any public money may come from, is he prepared to press Railtrack to put more of its own money into the urgently needed works which have to be carried out to gauge enhancement and track capacity to meet the rapidly rising and welcome increase in demand for rail freight?
Railtrack is prepared to engage in some investment in increasing the gauge, but, under its plan, the bulk of the resources for freight would be provided by others. Therefore, those negotiations have to continue. It is certainly the Government's intention to provide sufficient resources, both in infrastructure and in operating costs, to ensure that there can be a genuine and a significant sustained shift to use rail freight rather than road transport. That is part of our integrated transport policy. The achievement of that will take some time, but the rail freight industry has made a significant and welcome start.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the failure of the previous government to recognise the need for a strategic rail authority, or even an integrated transport policy, has cost this nation very dear indeed?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am very happy to acknowledge that. Probably the worst aspect of that was the rushed and much-botched approach to privatisation, which has left us with many of the problems that we, Railtrack and the operators are still addressing.
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