Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:27 pm on 24th October 2005.

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Photo of Stephen Byers Stephen Byers Labour, North Tyneside 5:27 pm, 24th October 2005

All the relevant details were provided to the court, as far as I am aware. I refer once again to the point made by Mr. Justice Lindsay. In referring to the making of the order, he says:

"The learned judge"—

Mr. Justice Lightman—

"accepted that the Company either was or was likely to be unable to pay its debts. In his evidence to me Mr Robinson", who was the chairman of Railtrack,

"accepted that without government support Railtrack was unable to pay its debts and that had been true for a long time."

So Railtrack gave up, effectively, because its directors knew the state that their company was in.

A major public policy decision was taken to say that no additional funding should be given to Railtrack, and we met all our legal obligations.—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton says from a sedentary position, "You didn't tell us," but the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe was agreeing with me when I went through the nature of a major company coming to the Government in confidence with commercial information. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has never held Government office—he is unlikely ever to do so—but if he consulted the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he could have explained to him what the nature of government is all about. He would find that useful. It would not have any practical application—he will never have the chance—but it might be good for his wider knowledge of the way in which government works.

Railtrack was a flawed privatisation. Railtrack was obliged to meet the needs of its shareholders. With Network Rail, we now have a far better system that can put the travelling public first and we are beginning to see improvements in the railway system as a result. When the chairman of Railtrack met the Prime Minister in July 2001, he described his view of Railtrack. I shall quote because the language may not be quite parliamentary. He said that Railtrack was "a crap company". He was absolutely right in that analysis of Railtrack.

Despite all the criticism that I have had over the years from Railtrack shareholders, aided and abetted by Conservative Members, as they have been again this afternoon, I am confident that, when I took the decision in the autumn of 2001 to say, "No more extra money for Railtrack" and to put the interests of the travelling public first, I did so after proper debate and deliberation in government. I did it with the powers that I then had as Secretary of State for Transport, and I am absolutely confident that it was the right decision to take in the public interest and for those people who travel every day on our railway network. So I make no apology for that decision and for unwinding the Tory privatisation that was Railtrack. It was failing the industry and the travelling public, and we did things rightly and properly in the public interest. That is why I will support the Government amendment this evening.