HC Deb 24 April 2001 vol 367 cc155-7
5. Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

If he will make a statement on the future of the London underground. [157185]

Mr. Prescott

The Government are fully committed to the public-private partnership, which will produce £13 billion over the next 15 years to refurbish and modernise the London underground—more long-term investment than ever before. The PPP will mean better safety and better value for money; it will guarantee that London Underground stays in the public sector.

In that context, I regret the fact that Transport for London has initiated legal proceedings against London Underground. I understand that the board of London Transport expects to meet on 2 May to consider its decisions on preferred bidders, with which it plans to conclude negotiations for the two deep tube contracts once legal proceedings have been resolved.

Mr. Gapes

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and my constituents, who are increasingly frustrated by delays, which have continued for many years, in getting an adequate level of investment for our public transport in London? Is it not time that we just got on with the job of investing the resources that are needed in London instead of engaging in petty posturing, which is happening in some quarters?

Mr. Prescott

The essential issue for the underground, as everyone who has looked at the problem knows, is long-term investment. Previous Governments, both Labour and Tory, have all been involved in giving inadequate resources to the London underground; those resources were even cut every two or three years. One cannot plan long-term investment in the underground by having an uncertain safety and investment programme. Our Government are addressing themselves to long-term investment which will bring in that £13 billion and will not be subjected to the cuts that Governments tend to impose on capital programmes once they are in office and face economic difficulties.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

After four years, what do Londoners have to do to achieve genuine activity and improvement on the London underground?

Mr. Prescott

First, voting Labour is a good proposal, as Londoners will shortly do in increasing numbers. In the past four years, we have averaged £500 million of investment in the underground each year, while the record of the previous Administration was £360 million. We shall point out that comparison to Londoners when talking about our major and substantial contribution to long-term investment in London Underground.

Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Canning Town)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that he is engaged in a public relations war with the Mayor of London, and that he is losing the war? To what does he attribute that failure, and what does he expect to have to do to win the PR battle?

Mr. Prescott

I hope that the battle will be fought on the substance and the facts, rather than on public relations, although I agree that taking advertisements at £15,000 a time in the Evening Standard is one way of going about it. If I suggested doing that on Parliament's budget, the Mayor and his team would be the first to say that it was wrong. I have no intention whatever of doing that, but I have published a statement of the facts and made it available to the Evening Standard, which refused to print it. That is one of the difficulties, but I shall continue to make my case.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

When will the Deputy Prime Minister admit that the PPP represents four wasted years of failure? What does he have to say to Peter Bishop of the London chamber of commerce, who yesterday said: London's transport system is failing on every front"; or to the chairman of British Airways, who said yesterday that London faced being "left standing" by cities with a superior transport infrastructure; or to London First, which complains of continued political interference and lack of leadership over key projects?

How many major transport projects has the right hon. Gentleman's Department initiated in London since Labour came to office? Has he the courage and honesty to admit that the answer is not one? Are not Labour's four wasted years on the wretched tube PPP the crowning failure of the Government's record on transport in London?

Mr. Prescott

To be fair, I would have to include the investments started by the previous Administration. It takes a considerable time for the effects of those to be felt. That is an answer to those who say that we are not getting an improvement in London transport: it is a long-term process. The extension of the docklands light railway—[interruption.] I am not saying that that did not take place, but the fact that such investments have been made belies the statement that nothing is being done for transport in London—

Mr. Jenkin

What have you done?

Mr. Prescott

What we are proposing—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let the Minister answer the question.

Mr. Prescott

The charge is made that nothing is being done for London transport. An awful lot of money has been poured into London transport for such projects as the docklands light railway and the Jubilee line, which we had to continue to finance. We must now make sure that London Underground gets guaranteed long-term investment—not the sort of policy promoted by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), which would mean that the subsidy for the underground would have been reduced to £161 million, and by this year to zero. That is the priority that the Conservatives give to London Underground. We are looking to a £13 billion investment. As to the Tories' position on the underground, one moment they want to privatise it, then they want to nationalise it, and once it is nationalised, perhaps they might put it back into private ownership. That is typical of the Tories: they never take a long-term decision.