HL Deb 28 April 1999 vol 600 cc308-10

2.57 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in improving the finances and the operations of the London Underground.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, London Underground's financial performance has improved steadily over the past seven years. Service levels increased by 6 per cent during 1997–98 and a further 8 per cent increase is planned for 1999–2000. Nevertheless there remains a great deal to be done. Reliability and punctuality are still not good enough and that is why the Government are developing our plans for a public/private partnership to create a modern underground for London.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, does he not agree that there has unfortunately been a delay in the setting up of the public/private partnership which could extend for a year or more beyond the original objective of May 2000? The question then arises of what happens to the financing of the London Underground in that interim period. Would it still have—as it has had to do in past years—to adopt a policy of stop-go in its financing in order to accommodate those developments? That would be particularly unfortunate in view of the increased use of the underground.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I recognise the increased use of the Underground to which the noble Lord refers. It plays an important part in the improvement of services. As to the situation of the PPP. clearly it is a very complex negotiation. It is intended to raise £7 billion-worth of investment, which involves serious negotiations that we are not prepared to rush. In terms of current investment, the Government have already made available an extra £365 million to London Underground over the next two years which will mobilise up to £1 billion of investment to take the tube system into the new millennium. I do not think that taking care in getting the PPP into place will be detrimental to London Underground's investment programme.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, has the Minister received any information from Railtrack about integrating underground sub-surface routes with Railtrack's network? Can he comment on that? Will he ensure that if such a scheme goes ahead, it will not be to the detriment of Railtrack's expenditure and the commitment of management to its existing network?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, Railtrack has put forward some proposals for integrating the London Underground sub-surface lines into the mainline network, for which infrastructure it is responsible. We are looking at those proposals, but no decisions have been made. Railtrack has not submitted a bid and we are not negotiating indirectly with Railtrack. To imply that that could divert Railtrack from the much-needed investment on the existing mainline rail network is therefore wrong. We would not wish to end up with such a situation. Nevertheless, we are assessing Railtrack's proposals.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I, for one, am amazed at the complacency of his original Answer? When did he last meet travellers on, for example, the Northern line? When did he last travel on the Underground?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I last travelled on the Underground a couple of days ago. As noble Lords will know, I quite frequently use the Underground. As I said in my original Answer, I find that reliability and punctuality are still not good enough. That is one of the reasons why we need to mobilise this new investment and this new approach to the management of the assets of London Underground to take us into the next century. We have already mobilised some PFI money; a £1 billion deal will introduce the Smart card, which will be of great benefit to passengers, and we also have a PFI deal relating to the power distribution network, which again should have the effect of improving service and reliability. I do not think it is appropriate to talk of complacency. Clearly, the Government and London Underground recognise that a lot more needs to be done. The users of London Underground recognise that fact every day.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report produced by three distinguished transport experts which was commissioned by the London School of Economics? The report urges the Government to change their plans for the Tube "before it is too late". Will the Government take that report into consideration? The noble Lord has said that the PPP is likely to be delayed. When can we expect it to happen?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am aware of that report and of other comments intended to divert the Government from their intention. However, we are determined to deliver the PPP. We believe it is the best way forward. It will mobilise the resources that we are seeking. Other alternatives, including those put forward by the Opposition, would not meet our objectives.

Viscount Addison

My Lords, is the Minister confident that he will be able to travel from Westminster by Underground to the Millennium Dome when it is opened?

Lord Whitty

Yes, my Lords. As noble Lords will know, the Jubilee line extension is due to open in three stages. We are confident that the final stage will be open well in time for the opening of the dome.

Lord Moyne

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a very conspicuous notice in Westminster station which states that the new station will be finished by 1998?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, at one point that matter was drawn to my attention. I had hoped that London Underground would have removed that notice by now. Westminster station is open; the issue is when the Jubilee line extension will be open. We are confident that it will be open by the late autumn, in plenty of time for the millennium celebrations.