HL Deb 04 July 2001 vol 626 cc814-6

3 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will decide on the future of the London Underground and whether they will publish an account of the discussions to date.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions yesterday met Robert Kiley, the chairman of London Transport. He heard Mr Kiley's report on the outcome of his negotiations with bidders and the Government are now considering how best to move forward. Our priority is to reach a resolution so that the massive programme of investment to modernise the Underground can start as soon as possible.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, if I may say so, that Answer falls short of the spellbinding. Can the noble and learned Lord point to any speech made by any Minister on this subject that is likely to give any comfort to those who suffer the daily agony of being one of London Underground's victims? Moreover, how does it come about that Ministers have so far been unable to congratulate the Mayor of London on being on the scene? He is uniquely qualified—his record and qualities fit him to do his task. His qualities are such as to indicate that anyone who gets in his way must be something of an idiot. I have one last question for the noble and learned Lord. Has it not yet occurred to the Government, with all the painful life of experience behind them, that to separate operations and safety is just plain stupid?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for not spellbinding him. My purpose in answering his Question was to give information. He asked about speeches by members of the Government that would bring comfort to the users of London Underground. We sought to produce a policy that will bring substantial investment into London Underground over the long term so that standards can be radically improved. The obligation of Ministers, the commissioner of transport for London and the Mayor of London is to work together to produce a policy that will bring in that investment and radically improve the quality of London Underground. I hope that we are all working towards that. So far as separating operations from safety is concerned, the priority, as has always been made clear, is safety. The operation of London Underground will remain in the hands of London Transport and London Underground, which have the prime obligation in relation to safety because they are the bodies that will operate the Underground.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Cullen committee's report overwhelmingly demonstrates the enormous dangers—by emphasising the contribution it made to the Paddington accident—of separating those two activities? The report dealt with precisely that point.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am very conscious of what Lord Cullen's report said about Railtrack. The same proposal is not being made in relation to London Underground. The proposal is that London Underground will remain responsible for safety. It enters into long-term contracts with three contractors and it will remain responsible for safety. London Underground is the body that actually operates the trains. That is the important difference from the situation involving Railtrack.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, my noble and learned friend signally failed to spellbind the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but will he try to cast his spell over me by reminding me where the responsibilities for under-investment in London Transport began? Did they begin in 1997 or do they go back even as far as the days when the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, had responsibilities?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not think that anyone would dispute the decades of under-investment in relation to London Underground. That is the problem. Since 1997, the Government have been seeking to ensure that there is a scheme or proposal that will lever in billions of pounds in the long term to ensure that that under-investment is remedied.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, on the question of safety, would the Minister care to comment on reports in yesterday's press that Mr Kiley has written to the Prime Minister emphasising that he could not answer for the safety of the Underground system under the present PPP arrangements?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as I have said, safety is pre-eminent in the proposed PPP. It is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, sought to suggest, similar to the arrangements involving the railway system. London Underground remains responsible for safety, but that is subject to the overarching direction of the Health and Safety Executive. We believe that those proposals are adequate to ensure safety.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether there are any plans to build an Underground station at Battersea before I die? It is no good telling me to take the bus—I would have to take three buses to get here. Blocks of flats are going up all the time in Battersea and it is very expensive and inconvenient not to have a Tube.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the robustness of the noble Baroness suggests that even if the Tube were built a long time in the future, it would still be built in time. I am grateful for the signs that the noble Baroness is making towards me from a sedentary position—indeed, she is making more and more of them! I do not know the precise date, but I shall write to her about it.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, over the past four years, how much has been spent on setting up the PPP?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I cannot give the precise figures in relation to professional costs and so on. However, I am quite sure that that money is well spent. It is incredibly important that what is produced involves a durable scheme that will produce investment for the long term.