HC Deb 05 May 1999 vol 330 cc958-71 4.18 pm
The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I beg to move amendment No. 84, in page 76, leave out line 31.

Madam Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 35, in page 76, line 31, at beginning insert

`On the date of the first meeting of the Assembly under section 44(1) above,'.

Government amendments Nos. 85 to 92.

Government new clause 16—Transfers of LRT's property etc to Transport for London.

Government new clause 17—Functions during the transition from LRT to TfL.

Government new clause 18—Fares etc during the transitional period.

Government new clause 19—Continuity: repealed or revoked functions of LRT.

Government new clause 20—Transfer of former functions of London Transport Executive.

Government new clause 21—Dissolution of London Regional Transport.

Government new clause 22—Interpretation of Chapter XIV.

Ms Jackson

The new clauses and amendments provide for a staged transfer of functions and undertakings from London Transport to Transport for London. Mindful of the importance to Londoners of our underground system, the Government's policy will preserve the elements of the existing system that tube users value: a single public sector operating company; unified planning; the integration of services; unified ticketing; and the retention of travelcard in the public sector.

The public-private partnership will address the root cause of most problems with the network—past underfunding and underinvestment—by bringing in substantial private sector funds to improve the services, providing greater reliability; refurbished stations; improved trains; upgraded signalling; faster journey times; and greatly improved access for disabled people. There will be real local democratic accountability via the mayor, who will have ultimate responsibility for the underground.

The Government intend to hand over the underground to the mayor knowing that all those benefits have been secured. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made it clear on Second Reading that once the public-private partnership process was under way, the Government would see it through to completion. London Transport will remain in existence under ministerial sponsorship until the PPP contracts are let.

After 3 July 2000, for a transitional period, Transport for London and London Transport will exist in parallel. On completion of the PPP the mayor will be responsible. A full explanatory paper has been provided, setting out what will happen during the transitional period.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The Minister said that the Government's proposals ensure full democratic accountability. Is it still the Government's intention that the new governing body for London will have no say in the system for which it will be accountable?

Ms Jackson

I am somewhat perplexed by that question, because I have made it abundantly clear that after the completion of the public-private partnership, responsibility for Transport for London, which will include every aspect of public transport in London, will lie with the mayor. I can think of no greater democratic transparency or credibility than that the individual who will be responsible for London's integrated transport should have been placed in that high office by the people of London.

Mr. Hughes

The Minister is still ducking the question. Will she confirm that it is still the Government's policy that the mayor and the assembly will have no say in the transport system—with the financial arrangements and those between the private and the public sector—for which they will be accountable? They will be told that they have to run it, but they will have had no opportunity to influence the arrangement that has been made.

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman is leaping ahead to amendments that we will debate later. Should the PPP not have reached completion before the mayor is in office, there will clearly have to be close co-operation and consultation with the mayor. If the hon. Gentleman is attempting to refloat the argument that has informed the majority of Liberal Democrat contributions to our debate—that not the mayor but the assembly should be the executive arm of the GLA—let me repeat that it is as hollow today, given our clear commitment to the structure of the GLA, as when it was first voiced in Committee.

We have repeatedly made it clear that the PPP negotiations will not take place against a self-imposed deadline. That would obviously compromise the Government's ability to achieve best value. No one will be surprised to hear that we cannot accept amendment No. 35, which would set an arbitrary date for the dissolution of London Transport. New clauses 16 to 22 and amendments Nos. 84 to 92 will allow us to implement our policies. The new clauses will form a new chapter to part IV of the Bill: chapter XIV.

New clauses 16 and 19 to 22 are intended to replace clauses 144 to 147 in the latest print of the Bill. They allow for the staged transfer of LT's undertaking and functions to TfL. Amendments Nos. 84 to 92 are consequential and would simply remove clauses 144 to 147 and replace any references to them.

New clause 16 makes it clear that the staged transfer will be implemented under the general transfer powers in part XII of the Bill.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

I am interested in the question of stages. Will the Minister comment on the suggestion in the Evening Standard of Wednesday 28 April that the delay in transferring the semi-privatised, private finance initiative infrastructure of the tube to Transport for London will cost the Treasury so much that fares will have to go up by 30 per cent. to meet the shortfall? Is that figure correct?

Ms Jackson

Neither the story nor the figure is correct. Despite what has appeared not only in the Evening Standard but in other organs of the press, such stories are mere speculation. We have made it abundantly clear that the process—a public-private partnership, not semi-privatisation or, indeed, a private finance initiative, as the hon. Gentleman implied—is on course.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jackson

If I may, I shall finish my response to the question of the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson). The fantastic fares cited in newspapers are absurd.

Mr. Ottaway

The Minister says that the story, which was properly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), is not correct. The point is that it is not a story; it is a report by Chantrey Vellacott, a well-known and respected firm of accountants, which calculates that if the Government's plans for the PPP continue as they have set out, fares will need to rise by 30 per cent. to pay for them. There is no speculation. That is the opinion of people who know much about the subject—dare I say more than either the Minister or me?

Ms Jackson

I am perfectly prepared to accept that most people know more about this than the hon. Gentleman, but I certainly rebut the idea that I am as ignorant as he claims. It is not for me—or, I presume, the hon. Gentleman—to define a sense of pique that may rest in the bosom of one firm of accountants which had no part in the detailed examination of the proposals that informed the Government's policy on PPP. I repeat that such stories are mere speculation; they are not founded on any sort of fact; they are mere scaremongering. I wish that I were surprised that the official Opposition had participated in such scaremongering stories, but I regret that it is somewhat par for their particular course.

New clause 17 sets up a legal framework in which both London Transport and Transport for London will have the necessary powers and duties that they will need to run their respective public passenger transport services during the period when both are in existence. For the duration of the transition, London Transport, the mayor and Transport for London will also be under a duty to consult and co-operate with each other for the following transitional purposes: ensuring that public passenger transport services are not disrupted, securing the PPP agreement and transferring the property, rights and liabilities of London Transport to Transport for London. New clause 18 places a duty on the mayor to have regard to the financial and other interests of London Transport when setting the general level and structure of fares for London Transport, or negotiating the concessionary fares agreement on behalf of LT.

New clause 19 provides for Transport for London to take over LT's legal liabilities. New clause 20 is necessary owing to the eventual repeal of the London Regional Transport Act 1984, in order that Transport for London should inherit certain necessary powers from LT. New clause 21 allows the Secretary of State to dissolve LT by order when all its property, rights and liabilities have been transferred. New clause 22 defines two of the major terms used in new clauses 16 to 21. 1 commend the new clauses to the House.

Mr. Ottaway:

I will not drag the debate down to the Minister's level.

This group of amendments relate to the transfer of London Underground to the authority. They are necessary only as a result of the shambles that the Government are in over their plans to transfer London Transport's undertakings to the new authority. They have no idea how they will get there, no idea where they are coming from, and no idea of the finished project. The Minister takes the biscuit when she says that the process is clear and easy for everybody to understand and that no one is as bright and intelligent as she is. I am sorry, but we are simply not as gullible as that.

In response to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the Minister talked about whether the public-private partnership would be ready. The only reason why the amendments and new clauses have been tabled is that the PPP will not be ready. If she thought that it would be, there would be no need for the amendments because the transfer could be completed before the elections next year.

4.30 pm

The Minister said that the Government refuse to be tied to a deadline for the transfer because they want to achieve best value. I have to say that that is a pretty good line, but it does not fly. The Minister is not tied into a deadline because she has no idea when she will be able to reach her conclusions about setting up the PPP and when it will be transferred.

We have an awful lot to say about the PPP and its transfer, and about the nature of London Underground and its relationship with the new authority. I shall not waste the House's time by saying it all twice, so I shall save my remarks for the next group of amendments, which relate directly to the PPP rather than to the transitional arrangements.

Mr. Simon Hughes

We started considering a Bill whose original clause 144 is very simple and which states: London Regional Transport shall cease to exist.

We assumed that that would happen when the Bill became law, or at least when the Bill was implemented as an Act. In other words, LRT would cease to exist on the day the Act took effect. That was always the proposition, and the presumption.

In Committee, Liberal Democrat Members, with the Conservatives, explored the issue. We discovered that Alice, from "Alice in Wonderland", had walked across the Bill, in that clause 144 now meant that London Regional Transport shall not cease to exist. The reason was that the Government had decided, in the period since the Bill was published, that they would have to keep it going. We asked how long LRT would exist before ceasing to exist, but answer came there none.

The Government new clauses that are to substitute for the original—and very simple—clause 144 are hugely longer. They propose a set of transitional provisions that do not say when that transition will begin or end. As the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said, it became apparent that the plan had run into the sidings—or at least into a tunnel—and that the Government are not willing to reveal what is really going on.

We are willing to let the Government tell us that they are on target for the timetable set out on Second Reading by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. My questions relate to what he told us on Second Reading on 14 December, and to the Government's proposals in the amendments.

The timetable set out on Second Reading is the precondition to the public-private partnership. The Secretary of State said that London Regional Transport would be restructured in the first half of 1999 into an operating division and three infrastructure divisions. My understanding is that that has happened. He added that the aim would be to invite expressions of interest from infrastructure bidders early in 1999. It is understood that the invitation went out and that some people have responded. Will the Minister confirm that the date by which people were asked to express an interest has passed? Are all the expressions of interest that have been considered now with the Government? Even if she is not at liberty to say who has expressed an interest, will the Minister say how many such expressions were received?

I understand that the Government intend the Bill to be enacted by the summer. Will the Minister say when the Government propose to start the transfer referred to in new clause 16, which will allow the Secretary of State to set up programmes for transferring London Regional Transport's property, assets or functions? What is the first date for such a transfer?

Can the Minister say what is the last date by which the Government intend London Regional Transport' s property, obligations, assets and so on to be transferred?

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

Bet she can't.

Mr. Hughes

I am not willing to take that bet because I do not believe anyone could win it. I understand, but I am willing to be proved wrong, that the Government do not yet know.

Government new clause 21 says that LRT will be dissolved by the Secretary of State when he or she is satisfied that all functions have been adequately transferred. Does that mean under the current Government? Would it be in the next Government's period in office, or the one after that? Does it require the Labour party to be in office for a generation, or two? May we have some idea?

To their credit, the Government faced the electorate on certain specific pledges. For example, taking 100,000 off the waiting lists was an early pledge. We are still waiting,

as it has not yet been quite delivered, but other pledges were made, and all of them were given time frames. What is the time frame for this one?

Finally, I was not surprised to hear the Minister say that she was not minded to accept amendment No. 35. We took a simple view that anyone who believed in devolving power and responsibility for London transport to the new government for London should transfer responsibility to that new government once it had been set up. There is nothing complicated about that idea. It resembles tomorrow's Scottish elections, in that the plan is that once the people of Scotland have voted for their Parliament, power over a range of matters will be transferred to Scotland in a few weeks, which the Liberal Democrats welcome. The same applies in Wales.

We had understood, naively perhaps, that when the Government said that they would, from next July, set up a new Greater London assembly, then once elected, the new mayor and deputy mayor would assume responsibility. When London government returns next year it will be welcome because many of us believe that there should be democratic government. However, will it or will it not take on responsibility then for London transport?

If the answer to that question is no, a whole raft of proposals for the work that the London government will do will become theoretical. It will have work to do, but the proposition that it will take over transport clearly will not come to pass. If the Government cannot tell us by which date the new underground system will be handed over—whether or not the new mayor and assembly should have a say in its form—the election campaign will be interesting. Mayoral candidates will produce policies for running a transport system that they may not be able to run during their entire term of office.

That is Alice in Wonderland politics. People are invited to stand for election to run London transport, but may not be given that prize before leaving office four years later. That is nonsense. The Government would do us all a service by loosening the apron strings and not being the nanny state. They must allow the mayor and the assembly, whoever they are, to take responsibility and to be accountable. If they do a wonderful job, they will be applauded. If they do a bad job, they will be kicked out. But if we are to have devolution, let us have it, not never-neverland, say-one-thing-and-do-another politics that replaces the simple proposition that LRT will go with clauses saying that it might be with us for the rest of our lives.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Only rarely do I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Rather more often, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). Today, I may speak briefly because they have spoken exactly as I would have wished to. The amendments would transfer responsibility from "London Regional Transport" to "Transport for London". It is no great radical leap in terms of the words used.

I accept what the Government intend to do, but I do not agree with it. Of all the amendments that have ever been proposed to a Bill, these Government amendments represent the most radical changes to the Bill as originally published. Vast changes are to be made to the Bill that the Government presented to the House: almost every amendment begins, "Leave out", and proceeds to delete chunks of text, in addition to which there are seven new Government clauses in this group. Talk about politics on the hoof—the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey might have got lost in the tunnel, but the train appears to have gone off the rails.

The reason is simple: the Government realise that investment in London's transport is desperately needed, even though, goodness knows, investment increased dramatically under the previous Government. In the 1970s, the average level of investment in London transport was less than £50 million a year, whereas in the 1990s, the average was more than £500 million a year, and the figure is even higher today—but, whatever the sum, it is never enough. The reason for that is chronic underinvestment—especially in the underground system—during the 1950s and 1960s, when fewer people started to use the underground.

The only practical, realistic way in which to get investment for the London underground system—indeed, for London's transport as a whole—is privatisation. However, the Government do not like the word "privatisation" and, because their pre-election speeches were all about what an awful thing privatisation is, for the past two years they have been desperately searching for an alternative form of words that will enable them to get what they want without having to announce it to the country. Instead of "private finance initiative", they have come up with "public-private partnership". However, I have to tell them that, if the public-private partnership does not have control over assets, it will not put in the investment—it is as simple as that.

To return to the theme that I introduced yesterday, it is clear that what has been devolved to the people of London is a sham. The hon. Member for Southwark and North Bermondsey—sorry, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey; I suffer from dyslexia at this time of day—was absolutely right to say that there is to be no real devolution to the people of London. He mentioned that the Scots would be voting for their new Parliament tomorrow. The population of Scotland is 5 million, whereas there are 7 million people in London, but what the Government are not devolving to London is an insult when seen in comparison with what is to be devolved to the people of Scotland. London devolution is a sham—the Government's policy is all shadow and no substance. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South in resisting the amendments.

Mr. Wilkinson

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish that you had been in Committee when the Government dropped the bombshell that London Regional Transport would have to continue and that Transport for London could not assume the assets of London Transport underground because the public-private partnership, on which had been predicated all the Labour Government's fine plans for modernising the tube, would not now or in the foreseeable future go ahead. That little statement was slipped into our proceedings, and the Minister might have been surprised at the uproar that it caused. However, the fact that the uproar was justified can be seen in the scale and scope of Government amendments Nos. 84 to 92 and, above all, Government new clauses 16 to 22. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) so eloquently explained, there can be few occasions in recent parliamentary history when such vast tracts of a major Bill have had to be completely rewritten. More than that, the Labour party's manifesto for London at the general election should have been rewritten. It is demonstrably a fraudulent document.

4.45 pm

On transport matters, I think that The Times is normally fairly sympathetic to the Government's transport proposals. In an article in the business section on Tuesday 4 May, it postulated that the tube sell-off faces delay until after the next general election. The article written by the transport correspondent, Arthur Leathley, states: The sell-off of London Underground is now so badly bogged down in a funding row between the Treasury and the Department of Transport and doubts over the availability of private finance that it will almost certainly have to be delayed until after the general election. The article continues: Officials now concede that the private sector cannot take over the project until at least the spring 2001. But this is viewed by many observers as the likely date of the general election. That is a year after the election for the Greater London Authority. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, the election campaign will be transformed by this fact, with candidates postulating policies for a potentially nugatory role. We are talking about the Greater London Authority integrating London's transport, including the tube; manifestly, in respect of the underground services, it will not be able to carry that out.

Notwithstanding that background, transitional arrangements are set out in the new clauses. I am glad that this is so. However, I think that the general public will be more worried about the funding gap than technical transitional arrangements. The failure in finding private finance means that the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab. It was imagined that leases of 25 years for the running of the tube's infrastructure would allow modernisation to take place over the first 15 years, and that private sector moneys would be available. Those moneys will not be available. The Treasury subsidies will be withdrawn from the beginning of the next financial year. They amount to about £350 million, and are badly needed by the underground management.

Who will make good the difference and see through the transition which will lead eventually, one hopes, to the assumption by Transport for London of its rightful role, ultimately taking responsibility for the tube? If the answer is the travelling public, they will be extremely upset. Conservative candidates will certainly highlight the additional risk that London commuters will have to pick up the tab in the election campaign unless the Government are able to say now that the Treasury will make good the difference and that the fears of some of us are wholly unrealistic.

There is one ray of hope which may change the transition schedule. It is the suggestion that I have read in the press today that Railtrack will assume responsibility for the running of the infrastructure of London Transport underground. If that is the case and a white knight such as Railtrack is to emerge at the 11th hour, I suppose that that is potentially good news. However, such a move would take away the element of competition that we had imagined was at least possible under the Government's arrangements. It will be a monopoly system. Whether that accords with what the Government have in mind, only the Government can say.

It is clear from the Report stage today that the Government have let the electorate of London down on one of the foremost elements of their 1997 election campaign. For the past two years, until the Standing Committee proceedings in March, the Government have not come clean and admitted that the transfer of the underground to Transport for London will not take place in the foreseeable future. Even now, the Government cannot give a date when Transport for London will assume the responsibilities that everyone expected it to take over on 3 July 2000. That is an admission by the Government of their failure to be candid with the electorate and to administrate on a central plank of their transport policy for London.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as he is developing a powerful case. Is not the situation especially serious in the light of the 36 per cent. increase in tube breakdowns since the general election. and the 20,000 breakdowns on the London Underground tube network over the past 12 months alone?

Mr. Wilkinson

As ever, my hon. Friend has the facts at his fingertips. The House is grateful to him for the knowledge that he brings to these matters. The figures that he quoted demonstrate how essential is the new investment that the Government promised would occur through the public-private partnership. That will not happen unless the Treasury provides the funds. There is no indication in any Government document that I have seen from the Treasury, in any of the press speculation or in any of the commentaries in the transport press that the Exchequer is prepared to make good the difference.

That being so, the network will continue to deteriorate, the breakdowns will become more numerous and possibly more severe and, above all, the passenger is likely to have to pay more. That is the end result of Labour Government failure. The travelling public should be aware of the facts, and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to make plain these unpleasant realities.

Ms Glenda Jackson

That was one of the most fascinating contributions that I have been privileged to hear in the Chamber. Member after Member of the official Opposition expressed bemusement at the Government's proposals with regard to the transition from London Transport to Transport for London. I find it hard to believe in their bemusement, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister stated in the House on Second Reading that there would indeed be a transitional period.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) clearly does not understand the complexity of the London underground. We are not selling a train set. We have the dread lesson of the experience of watching his Government enter into rail privatisation. They were so driven by a date, and by the desperate desire to offload a problem that they had neither the imagination nor the energy to tackle, that they cost the country billions of pounds. They sold off national assets for a fraction of their real worth, they fragmented an integrated railway system into 100 separate operations, and now they have the audacity to suggest that we should follow that disastrous example in pursuit of an empty date.

Our objective is to provide the best value and to ensure that adequate funding to modernise London's underground is brought into place, after more than a decade of lamentable stewardship by the previous Administration.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expressed similar bemusement. I have a clear recollection that he was in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement. The hon. Gentleman asked questions with regard to the state of the public-private partnership. I can tell him that there have been no expressions of interest, and none has been invited. There have been no invitations for pre-qualification. There has been great interest from the private sector, as I have had occasion to say before in the House.

I also took on board the hon. Gentleman's point about Alice in Wonderland, because I was strongly reminded during his contribution of the White Rabbit desperately consulting a watch and crying all the time, "I'm late, I'm late!" He also seems to believe that the Government should be driven by some artificially imposed end date. That is not the way to produce the best possible value and the best possible results for the people of London in respect of the underground.

All official Opposition Members who spoke were bemused at what the situation will be, but the Government, through the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on Second Reading, made that abundantly clear. However, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) was quite right. We are introducing radical and reforming changes, and there is a clear and desperate need for investment, as I have already had occasion to say, because of the previous Administration's lamentable stewardship of London Underground and because of their grievous lack of investment for at least a decade-not because of a lack of investment between the '50s and '60s. If I remember correctly, the core funding for London Underground was halved in the 1996 Budget.

Nor do we come new to the idea of public-private partnership by virtue of being in government. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been advocating public-private partnership for a considerable number of years—since well before the 1997 election.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said that our proposals were a sham. I must tell him that the people of London voted for what the Government propose and they do not perceive our proposals as a sham. They perceive that there has to be a means of attracting adequate investment to ensure that the tube, which is one of the arteries of London, can maintain its proper place in moving them around this great city.

Sir Sydney Chapman

All I ask the Minister to do when she returns to her Department is check out the facts. In the 1970s, the average investment in London Transport as a whole—90 or 95 per cent. of which went on the London underground—was under £50 million a year. The Conservative Government brought that figure up, from 1979 to the 1990s, to £500 million a year or more. Indeed, the figure was about £750 million when we left office. Does she remember that? If she is disparaging what she calls the "lamentable" performance of the previous Government—that beggars belief—what on earth would be her epitaph for the previous Labour Government?

Will the Minister remember one other thing? She condemns the way in which we privatised the railways, but does she admit that, thanks to privatisation, the fares of the railway companies are less in real terms than they were before privatisation? The fares on the London underground have gone up way beyond inflation.

Ms Jackson

The most recent fare rise on the London underground was not way above inflation. I believe that it was 3 per cent., which is a marked contrast to the fare increases under the previous Administration. From 1986 to 1996, fares rose by an astronomical 38 per cent. in real terms.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the investment made by the previous Government; the core funding figures from 1994 to 1997 show £399 million, £462 million, £251 million and £175 million. One of our first acts on taking office was finding an additional £365 million for London Underground, which ensured for two financial years that it had more than £1 billion to carry out necessary modernisation and the rolling back of necessary work on the underground. The failures of the previous Administration meant that, year on year on year, London Underground had been incapable of doing such work—it was impossible for it to plan.

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the investment figures quoted by the Opposition include investment in the Jubilee line and investment required to resolve the problems arising from the King's Cross disaster?

5 pm

Ms Jackson

My hon. Friend is entirely right. The figures that I just read out, to stunned silence on the Opposition Benches, exclusively related to the core funding. They excluded the Jubilee line extension costs to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire)

The Minister has taken just one particular part of the funding. If she looks at the total funding, she will find that the figures are very different from those that she quoted. Will she confirm that, for the 10 years from 1987 to 1997, the previous Government invested an average of some £700 million per annum, whereas, under the Labour Government, the average has been £500 million?

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman can move the figures backwards and forwards as much as he likes; the fact remains that the core funding over the period to which he refers was reduced by the previous Administration. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. One has only to look at the state of the London underground when we came to office. Over 18 years, no major improvements were made in the core investment necessary to maintain one of London's vital arteries.

Mr. Ottaway

It is important that we clarify this point, and I can think of no better authority than the Department's annual report for 1999. May I draw the Minister's attention to paragraph 13(d) on London transport investment? Unfortunately, the figures start at 1993–94 and run for the six years to 1999–2000. I say "unfortunately", because the figures would be even more impressive if they went back further than 1993. In 1993–94, the core business was £520 million; in 1994–95, it was £554 million; and, in 1995–96, it was £589 million—compared with the figures for 1998–99 and 1999–2000, which were £394 million and—

Ms Jackson

What about the intervening years?

Mr. Ottaway

The intervening years were better still: 1996–97 was the only year in the last decade when that figure fell below £400 million.

Ms Jackson


Mr. Ottaway

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) is absolutely right. The level of investment over the past decade has been, on average, £700 million per annum. The source for that information is the submission by London Underground to the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. The Minister is responsible for London Underground, but she may not know what her own organisation is saying.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. The amendments are on the specific subject of transition, but we are now discussing investment, funding and the record of previous Governments. There must be a narrower discussion on the amendments before us.

Ms Jackson

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I simply say that, if the previous Administration were so committed to maintaining and modernising London Underground, I find it somewhat surprising that their only response was to sell it off?

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to the speculative stories that have been appearing in the London press. He referred in particular to one in The Times. I am sure that he is aware that it was virtually a rerun of a similar speculative story that appeared in the Financial Times several weeks ago.

The hon. Gentleman was also much concerned about what he perceives as a funding gap before the public-private partnership for London Underground is completed. We have made it abundantly clear, both inside and outside the House, that we are cognisant of the importance of London Underground and would never, ever allow it to fall into what Opposition Members have called a black hole.

Mr. Wilkinson

The phrase "a black hole" has a resonance with the general public, who are genuinely and rightly concerned. Did the Minister not admit in the Standing Committee that, for the transitional period at least, passengers on the London tube would have to continue to pay fare rises over and above the rate of inflation? She said that that would be the case for the foreseeable future—we have no date.

What will happen during the transitional period between the assumption by the Greater London Authority of its responsibility and the assumption by Transport for London of its intended responsibility for London Transport underground? The Exchequer has made no provision for the necessary investment. Does she have any figures with which she can reassure the House and the travelling public?

Ms Jackson

That is not what I said in Committee about fares. I referred to the fare modelling on which the public-private partnership was based, and said that the modelling assumed a fare increase of the retail prices index plus one for the years 2000 and 2001 and, after that, the assumption was RPI plus zero. The general public in London can be in no doubt about the importance that the Government attach to London Underground. The hon. Gentleman is incorrect to say that the public are fearful.

One of the first actions that we took when we came to office was to provide an additional £365 million for London Underground. There is no way in which we would not continue to ensure that this vital part of London's public transport system serves the people of London. It will be the mayor's responsibility to set fares.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to a story that has appeared in the newspapers about Railtrack—it is again somewhat fantastical. It is interesting that that story has prompted a statement from the TubeRail Consortium, which says: TubeRail remain as committed now to the London Underground PPP process as we have since it started—along with a number of other consortia. We have some very innovative proposals which will bring real benefits to London's passengers as well as offering best value to the taxpayer. Like the Government we believe strongly in a competitive process which will ensure the real value of bidders' proposals is properly tested. A single hid for the network would not deliver that. The TubeRail Consortium comprises Alstom, Amec, Brown and Root and Tarmac Construction.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I do not know how near the Minister is to the end of her speech, and I assume that she will deal in a minute with the specific questions that I asked her about the beginning and the end of the transition. I want to make sure that she will give us an answer on a matter that she touched on. She said that no expressions of interest have yet been sought. On 14 December last year, the Deputy Prime Minister said: The aim will be to invite expressions of interest from potential infrastructure bidders early next year."—[Official Report, 14 December 1998; Vol. 322, c. 630.] What is now the timetable, given that we are in May and, by most definitions, "early next year" must be running out?

Ms Jackson

The hon. Gentleman clearly enjoys playing the White Rabbit. He is obsessed with time. Every time he gets to his feet, all he needs is the prop of the watch. I shall repeat what I said to him earlier: there have been no invitations from anyone to anyone for expressions of interest. The process is one of pre-qualification. The first stage of pre-qualification will be due later this spring. London Transport published a progress report on 15 March, and I repeat that there is great private sector interest in the public-private partnership. I have just read out the statement made today by TubeRail.

Mr. Sayeed

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson

If I may, I should like to finish responding to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. We have made it abundantly clear that we will not be driven by an artificial date; we will be driven only by that which is in the best interests of the public and will deliver best value.

Mr. Sayeed

The Minister says that she will not be driven by an artificial date, but a date is already specified in the proposals: that date is May 2000. According to Treasury figures, there will be no subsidy after May 2000. The fact is that the Government are well behind their plans for public-private partnerships. If PPP does not come about by the specified date, how will the Minister fund the tube?

Ms Jackson

May 2000 is important because that is when the mayor and the assembly will be elected in London. The hon. Gentleman should note that we are discussing amendments and new clauses that will bring about the transition from London Regional Transport to Transport for London. There is no date for when PPP will be completed, because, as I have said, the Government will not be driven by the artificial end dates that, as far as the people were concerned, proved such a disaster under Administrations hell-bent on rail privatisation.

Mr. Bercow

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson


Those end dates cost the people an enormous amount. They were a gross waste of national assets. This Government are driven by a wish to provide best value for the taxpayer, and they will deliver the best of all possible values in terms of investment in London Underground.

Mr. Bercow


Ms Jackson

Now I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bercow

If the Government are untroubled by dates, why, at the end of last year, did the Deputy Prime Minister blunder into talking about invitations for expressions of interest early this year—and why is it now necessary for his junior colleague to rescue him?

Ms Jackson

My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister never blunders. I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I believe that I have answered all the questions put to me. I commend the amendments and new clauses.

Amendment agreed to.

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