HC Deb 03 February 1998 vol 305 cc836-7
31. Mr. John Cryer

What plans he has to increase the level of investment in the London underground. [24918]

37. Mr. Burstow

What plans he has to modernise the London underground; and how they will be funded. [24924]

Mr. Prescott

We are in the final phase of developing proposals for a public-private partnership to provide London Underground with the funding that it needs to increase investment and modernise the network. We shall shortly be in a position to make an announcement.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the underground should remain in public hands and be publicly accountable, and that, if there were any danger that it would be broken up and sold off—as there was under the previous Government—it would follow the same pattern as British Rail and end up in the hands of a bunch of spivs and jackals? Three years after privatisation, trains are slower, there is less investment and the railway companies are crying out for increased subsidies.

Mr. Prescott

My hon. Friend can be assured that we have set ourselves against the privatisation of London Underground. The proposal will be a public-private partnership that is fully consistent with the underground being publicly owned and publicly accountable.

Mr. Burstow

Does the Deputy Prime Minister rule out the proposal, reported in The Times as coming from the Prime Minister, to break the underground into many parts and sell 51 per cent. of the business to the private sector?

Mr. Prescott

I have read many reports in the press of different proposals that I am considering. I reiterate that we shall not propose privatisation. We want a public-private partnership that is publicly owned and publicly accountable to raise the £7 billion that the underground needs. We have to be sure that we get the formula right. If we do not, we shall end up with a proposal like the channel tunnel rail link arrangement, which we have just seen fail.

Mr. Pickles

In that public-private partnership, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the undertaking given to me in an answer by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that the current definition of public expenditure will remain unchanged? If so, how will he encourage private investment in the railways when his hon. Friends refer to those in charge as spivs and jackals?

Mr. Prescott

I am sure that I shall be able to reassure the House that what I have claimed about the public-private partnership will be fulfilled, but hon. Members must wait for the statement, which will come shortly.

Sir Norman Fowler

Does not everybody, including the Secretary of State, agree that the way forward for the underground is through private investment? On public investment, will he confirm the figures given to the Transport Sub-Committee, which show, contrary to the impression he gives, that, since 1960, core investment, including renewals, has averaged £250 million a year at current prices and that no Labour Government in that period achieved even that average figure?

Mr. Prescott

The reality is that, after 18 years of Tory Administration, there is massive disinvestment in the underground. One of the last acts of the previous Government was to reduce investment by over £300 million. We have to find a formula to finance proper investment in the underground. We shall do that and we shall make a statement to the House shortly.