HC Deb 29 July 1997 vol 299 cc138-9
27. Mr. Ottaway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what steps he intends to take to increase investment in London Underground. [9375]

Mr. Prescott

We are urgently looking at various options for public-private partnerships to increase investment in the underground, and we recently appointed Price Waterhouse to examine the financial implications of a range of options. The aim is to achieve our manifesto commitment to improve the Underground, safeguard its commitment to the public interest and guarantee value for money for taxpayers and passengers".

Mr. Ottaway

Given the now glaringly obvious success of railway privatisation, and given Labour's willingness to change its mind about projects such as the Birmingham northern relief road, will the right hon. Gentleman now take up one of the options that he left lying around in a "Panorama" studio and admit that privatisation of London Underground is the best way forward?

Mr. Prescott

I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we have inherited an underground system whose investment programme was slashed by the last Administration, along with the overrun of the Jubilee line extension project. Already, there is a shortfall of more than £700 million. The answer to the long-term investment problems of the underground is to appoint the financial advisers whom we have appointed to examine public-private partnerships. We entirely reject the outright privatisation solution of the Conservative Government.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Anyone using public transport in London will welcome my right hon. Friend's views, but I hope—in fact, I am sure—that he will look carefully at the real costs to the taxpayer of privatisation before there is any suggestion that too much private company money is put in. Does my right hon. Friend agree that—as the privatisation of the railways shows—privatisation is a way of making money for the companies, but certainly not a way of improving services for the consumer?

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend makes a very important point about some of the previous contracts on privatisation. I have been appalled on seeing some of the previous contracts arrived at between the private sector and the Department. We are looking carefully at some of those deals to avoid the mistake of giving over completely to the private sector, at the direct expense of the public sector and a poorer-quality service.

Mr. Simon Hughes

If I were to tell the Deputy Prime Minister that my Liberal Democrat colleagues, on questioning hundreds of commuters who use the three underground stations serving the people of Uxbridge, found that they were overwhelmingly of the view that London Underground should remain, in the majority, in public ownership, what would he say to them, and will he give an undertaking today that will happen?

Mr. Prescott

We would obviously say, "Vote Labour," and I hope that people will do so in large numbers to get an underground system that meets their needs and requirements. We are looking at all those options, as we have spelt out in a previous reply to a question in the House.

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