HC Deb 18 November 1997 vol 301 cc140-1
31 Mr. Clifton-Brown

What proposals he has for the future of London Underground.[14873]

32 Mr. Simon Hughes

What is his policy on (a) privatising London Transport and (b) London Transport fares.[14874]

The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson)

Today is the 10th anniversary of the King's Cross disaster. I am sure that all hon. Members will wish to remember the victims of that terrible night, and, with gratitude, the heroism of the emergency services, who worked with such courage in their attempts to reduce the terrible toll.

We are developing our manifesto proposals to improve the London Underground through a public-private partnership. We have ruled out wholesale privatisation. London Transport fares are the statutory responsibility of London Transport, which has to strike a balance between keeping public transport affordable and raising revenue for investment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I preface my question by whole-heartedly endorsing everything that the Minister has said about the 10-year anniversary of the King's Cross disaster, and pay a sincere tribute to the members of the emergency services who fought so bravely that night to contain the fire and reduce the loss of life.

As the Government have introduced an integrated transport system, it is essential that we encourage people to leave their motor cars at home and use the London Underground system. If the Government are intent on that action, will the Minister encourage the London Underground executive to keep fares at or below inflation over the next few years?

Ms Jackson

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman has already recognised the major improvements that the Government have made in an integrated transport system. I am somewhat surprised that he does not welcome the lowest average increase—merely 1 per cent. over the rate of inflation—in the past decade. Under a Conservative Administration, that decade—for year upon year upon year—was marked by neglect of London Underground.

Mr. Hughes

Do the Minister and her colleagues accept that the strongest reason imaginable for retaining majority public-sector control of London Underground is the King's Cross tragedy and the need for parliamentary accountability by Ministers for the safety of the capital city's public transport system? Will she confirm that the Government have ruled out not only total privatisation but majority privatisation? If not, why not?

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government have made a commitment not to go down the road of wholesale privatisation. We are examining the proposals of the financial advisers Price Waterhouse on the best way to proceed to ensure the future of London Underground but, whatever decision is taken, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, the House and London that safety and the improvement of safety will be a priority.

Ms Perham

Is my hon. Friend aware that the state of the underground was an important issue in my constituency and throughout London during the general election? Is she also aware how much the Government's determination to secure the future of London Underground is welcome in my constituency, which relies on eight Central line stations?

Ms Jackson

My hon. Friend expresses a sentiment that is shared across London on the importance of our underground system in the creation of a properly integrated public transport system for this great capital city. Both I and my right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the support that we are receiving from Londoners in our attempt to ensure that the underground is fit for them and for the 21st century.

Sir Norman Fowler

I begin by associating myself entirely with the Minister's words about King's Cross, which was a terrible night that we all remember.

On future policy, does she recognise that Railtrack plans to spend £10 billion on investment, including safety investment, over the next years, and that the rail operating companies plan to spend £2 billion on new trains and rolling stock? Does that not show the success of rail privatisation and the way forward for London Underground?

Ms Jackson

So they should, given that £1.8 billion of public money is going into the railway system.

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