Short in attack on rail sale

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Sir George Young, the Secretary of State for Transport, and his Labour Shadow, Clare Short, yesterday clashed over privatisation of British Rail at a lunch at the Commons.

Sir George was the speaker at a press gallery luncheon at the House, but was heckled by Ms Short, who had been invited as a guest. Sir George said he had only ten minutes to convince people of the case for privatisation, and Ms Short said: "It will take ten years."

Ms Short who kept up a barrage of comments throughout Sir George's speech later accused the Transport Secretary of "fattening up" Railtrack for sale with taxpayers' money.

The Transport Secretary confirmed ministers were considering the appeal by Railtrack to reduce its pounds 1.5bn debt before flotation to make it more appealing to potential investors.

"The capital structure of Railtrack is being finalised at the moment," Sir George said.

Ministers are understood to be engaged in a row with Railtrack management over their demand that the Government agrees to reduce the debt by more than pounds 1bn.

Ms Short said: "They are just fattening it up for sale and it is at the expense of the taxpayer."