HC Deb 26 October 1999 vol 336 cc802-3
9. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

When he expects Transport for London to assume responsibility for the underground. [94219]

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. John Prescott)

Transport for London will be established in July 2000 under the control of the mayor. It will assume responsibility for the underground following implementation of the public-private partnership.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is not Labour keener on having a crony as its candidate for mayor than on implementing its manifesto promise to have Transport for London operational, including the London underground operating under a public-private partnership? The Government should admit that they have failed Londoners, who had an appalling summer of chaos. The taxpayer is having to pick up the tab to the tune of £500 million of unanticipated Treasury expenditure as a result of that catastrophic failure.

Mr. Prescott

I understand the hon. Gentleman's comments, as he failed in his bid to be the Tory candidate for mayor. The London transport system will be improved by our £7 billion investment, not in a public-private partnership in the sense that he refers to, but in a publicly owned, publicly accountable facility. The assets will be developed and improved by private capital, but they will all be returned to the public sector. For the first time, London's transport system will have desperately needed sustained planning and resource investment.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that last week I was on a Central line train that was held up because somebody was taken ill on the train behind us? It was decided to hold up the trains in front to pace the rate at which they went through stations. Is it not absurd that people are held up in hot, sweltering, overcrowded conditions because of such incidents? Is it not time that we had democratic accountability for London transport and the underground system; and is it not good news that the Labour Government are bringing about such accountability by establishing a mayor and elected authority for London?

Mr. Prescott

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are returning London transport and accountability to Londoners after consultation and a referendum, even though the Tories took accountability off Londoners with no consultation.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in pressing for the Central line to be extended as far as Uxbridge? That could be done at relatively little cost and would be a great benefit to many in west London—not to mention the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Gapes).

Mr. Prescott

I well understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is a lot easier said than done. That was one of the first projects that I looked at when I came to office. I was advised against investing in it and concentrated instead on the main project of finding £7 billion to re-equip our London underground system.

Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Does my right hon. Friend still intend to hand over responsibility for the sub-surface tube lines to Railtrack? If so, why?

Mr. Prescott

We have made it clear that Railtrack can make a bid for the sub-surface lines so that we can achieve the integration that we want. We have to wait until the spring to see whether we can reach an agreement, but the intention is to integrate the national rail service with the underground. That integration is part of the manifesto that my hon. Friend and I fought on. We intend to implement that policy.