HL Deb 05 July 2001 vol 626 cc865-7

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will disclose the public sector comparator for the purposes of their public/private partnership proposals for London Underground.

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

My Lords, the public sector comparators will be released once negotiations with bidders have been completed, allowing full public scrutiny of the value for money achieved for the 21st century Tube programme. London Underground's financial appraisal of the public/private partnerships, including the preparation of the public sector comparators, has already been the subject of a report by the National Audit Office, which made a number of recommendations about using the financial analysis in decision-making. Those recommendations will be followed in full.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am aware that the Government are seeking the best value for money and want to be convinced on the subject. Does the Minister agree that that conviction should be shared with the public in London, who are literally wilting in the heat and chaos of the shambles that is the capital's Tube system? The Government have failed to have a debate about the detail of that value for money programme and what is to be achieved by it. Is that what they call accountability to the people of London?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that what is required is investment and improvement in the Tube as quickly as possible. To publish the comparator before the negotiations were completed would give the bidders a significant advantage in those negotiations to the detriment of the public sector. However, the National Audit Office has considered the public service comparator and said: London Underground has undertaken an exceptionally thorough process in preparing the capital and operating costs of the Comparators and the estimated costs of the bids". Therefore, we have the comfort of the National Audit Office saying that the comparison is a proper one, and we do not lose ground with the negotiations.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, why on earth do the Government not give Mr Kiley, who really knows what he is talking about, his head?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, our intention is to ensure that proper investment in the Tube takes place. The way to achieve that is by making the contracts with the bidders, thereby levering in £13 billion. It is then for London Underground, with Mr Kiley at its head, to deliver to the people of London.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is there any reason why the general public should not be made aware of the same data that were made available to the National Audit Office in order that they might come to a decision?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, if the public sector comparator were made public, it would then come to the attention of the bidders, who would be able to use it in the course of negotiations to try to extract a more favourable deal. Therefore, from the point of view of the public sector, it is best that that material is not made available before the deal is completed. However, the public have the comfort of knowing the National Audit Office's analysis of that public sector comparator.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, does the Minister agree that about the only thing the public understand is that there is a hiatus in relation to the future of London's Underground system? Can he tell the House whether his right honourable friend the Prime Minister has any intention of intervening, as he will almost certainly have to do in the end, to bring order out of chaos?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, having considered what Mr Kiley said to him on Friday and earlier this week, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions said in a Written Answer today that he intends to proceed with plans for the modernisation of London Underground in order to create a 21st century Tube. In those discussions, Mr Kiley said that he was unable to do a deal which was satisfactory to him. Therefore, subject to certain improvements, my right honourable friend has decided to go ahead with the arrangements with the bidders. That allows us to lever in the money and bring modernisation to the Tube.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, following on from the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will the noble and learned Lord confirm that, before this matter can be resolved, there is to be a judicial review? In those circumstances, how long does he believe that it will take before a resolution is reached? Furthermore, will he confirm that, whatever the final solution, the Government's intention is that there should be an overarching responsibility for safety?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the overarching responsibility for safety is critical in all the arrangements. The Government have always put that issue first. Safety will remain the responsibility of London Underground but subject at all times to the regulation of the Health and Safety Executive. Safety remains at the forefront of the Government's approach to the modernisation of London Underground. So far as concerns the legal proceedings, the judicial review is to be heard on 23rd July. It should be completed within a few days. I have no idea how long thereafter it might take if there were to be an appeal.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a fundamental disagreement between the Transport Commissioner, Mr Kiley, and Her Majesty's Government? Mr Kiley wants to focus on replacing rolling stock and signalling equipment, whereas Her Majesty's Government, through PPP, would upgrade the stations as a priority. Bearing in mind the suffering of London Underground users over the past few weeks, does he not agree that Mr Kiley is right?

Lord Falconer of Thornton

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Lord's characterisation of the position. So far as concerns the proposals put forward by the Government, it is planned to give equal priority to renewing signals and rolling stock and to stations and other aspects of the service. It is simply wrong to say that improvements to stations are the priority.