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Great Western Main Line

Volume 601: debated on Thursday 29 October 2015

2. What assessment his Department has made of whether the Great Western main line electrification project represents value for money for the public purse. (901863)

The Government remain committed to delivering the vital benefits that the projects will provide to passengers. As part of the re-planning of the programme, I expect Sir Peter Hendy to ensure that the schemes deliver value for money for taxpayers and passengers.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the tripling of costs to more than £2.5 billion is quite breathtaking? Will he take the time to learn lessons from Scotland, where major capital projects are coming in on time and on budget, largely as a result of proper planning and good contract negotiation, so that further public money is not thrown away in this cavalier fashion?

I am always willing to learn lessons from wherever they are valid, be that Scotland or anywhere else, although I will not be looking to Scotland for advice on providing tram systems. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Lady was in a position to hear the evidence from both Mark Carne and the permanent secretary to the Department. Some of the costs of such electrification programmes have run over budget. That is not acceptable, but they are huge and very important schemes. I think that regenerating our railway system and making it modern for the 21st century is very important.

With regard to the value for money of the Great Western main line, does the Secretary of State agree that electrification is just one of the factors that makes reopening Corsham station a more viable project and one that needs to remain high on the agenda?

I am sure that that will remain high on the agenda as long as my hon. Friend continues to press for it. I know that she has met the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), to press the case. I look forward to discussing it with the rail Minister to see whether we can help my hon. Friend to get what she wishes.

The electrifications of the Great Western and of the valley lines are two sides of the same coin: both mean a great deal to the south Wales economy. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Welsh Government counterpart on the delivery date for electrification of the valley lines, including the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line?

We have made money—£125 million—available to the Welsh Assembly. I have met Edwina Hart to discuss this programme, and I am also in regular contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. It is, however, for the Welsh Assembly to come forward with its plans.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his confirmation that the midland main line will be electrified to Kettering by 2019. Will he assure the House that the lessons learned from the Great Western electrification will be applied to that line so that its electrification can be delivered quickly and efficiently?

That was a neat body swerve by the hon. Gentleman to ensure that his question was definitively in order—a textbook example to colleagues.

Was that the answer, Mr Speaker? [Laughter.] I have now forgotten what the question was.

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important to re-establish the midland main line electrification programme. He will know that I use that line regularly. Lessons do need to be learned. Of course, the electrification work had already started. What is important about the Hendy work and the Hendy plan that is currently being developed is to look at the development of the whole line, because certain things can be done on the midland main line to increase speed, which is also very important.

One of the main reasons for escalating cost is schedule 4 compensation payments to train operators. Owing to the vast sums of public money involved, is it not in the public interest to publish the amount of schedule 4 compensation payments? That money should be spent on improving public infrastructure, not lining the pockets of shareholders.

It is very important to make the best we can of the huge investment that we are putting into the railways overall. I am very proud of the improvements that are taking place on the Great Western railway line, of which electrification is a part. The completion of Reading station and the flyover that it provides, meaning that the line is no longer held up by freight trains, has been a major improvement, which serves the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those in the south-west incredibly well.