HL Deb 24 July 2001 vol 626 cc1845-8

11.48 a.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, namely:

Whether Her Majesty's Government, since they will have no further opportunity until October, will now say what steps they have in mind concerning the London Underground following the dismissal of Mr Kiley as chairman.

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

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions announced on 5th July that London Transport and London Underground would continue with plans to deliver a modern publicly run and privately built Tube. They will work to achieve that goal as quickly as possible while ensuring safety and value for money and they will continue to focus on delivering a first-class Underground service to the public.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I am only slightly grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that reply. Does he see some sense in this? The daily torture endured by thousands of passengers on the London Underground suggests that the present management is inadequate and should be replaced and that Mr Kiley's dismissal in the circumstances is likely to be made by events to appear a serious error. Will he bear in mind that partnerships between those whose interests conflict tend to be fertile ground on which excuses grow and put safety in jeopardy? That has been demonstrated by recent sad events.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the delays endured by people in the Tube, referred to yesterday in a report, and the periods of time spent by people on the Underground in trains which have stopped, indicate that the Tube urgently needs major investment. The government proposals involve levering into the Tube £13 billion over time. They involve a detailed plan for achieving that investment over the long term. I think that the people of London want those plans put into effect as quickly as possible so that the improvements in the Tube that we all wish for start as quickly as possible.

Mr Kiley was made chairman of London Transport in order to conclude those agreements. He notified the Prime Minister by letter that he had failed to conclude those contracts. He was removed, therefore, as chairman of London Underground with the concurrence of the majority of the board of London Transport, whose confidence he had lost.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, I declare an interest as a long-suffering and perspiring commuter on London Underground. Does not the huge sum to which the Minister referred need to be invested in London Underground as soon as possible after years of neglect?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I agree that what is needed is investment in the Tube. The arrangements proposed by the Government ensure that investment. At all times they put safety first. The London Underground will have responsibility overall for safety under the supervision of the Health and Safety Executive.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, perhaps I may say how grateful we are to the Leader of the House for accepting this PNQ.

Mr Kiley has an international reputation for running a tube system. Has the Minister's right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had any detailed discussions with Mr Kiley and, if so, when?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not aware of any discussions between Mr Kiley and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As regards the Tube, I think that everyone agrees that what is required is long-term investment. That is what the proposals involve. They put safety first; they put investment first; and they put the needs of the underground traveller first. We need to get on with delivering them.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that as chair of London Transport Mr Kiley instructed two firms of independent consultants to advise on whether investment through their scheme could deliver the service. One firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, was asked: Is the current LUL Standards Regime adequate to control the standards of workmanship and safety related activities of the Infracos under the anticipated PPP contracts? The summary of its report states: The current standards are neither adequate nor appropriate to be used as a management control tool to protect LUL's long-term interests in exercising control over Infraco workmanship and safety under the PPP". The Minister referred to putting money into the Tube, Following that devastating analysis, and the proceedings in the High Court this week, does the noble and learned Lord agree that, win or lose, the Government will put in the £700 million that they have promised for their PPP?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, let us be clear. Mr Kiley, or his consultants, will not decide whether the Underground is safe. Mr Livingstone will not decide whether it is safe. The Government will not decide whether it is safe. The Health and Safety Executive, an independent, tough regulator, presently bringing proceedings against London Underground in relation to safety, will decide whether the Underground's safety standards are good enough. It will decide on London Underground's arrangements now. It will decide again when the private sector infrastructure companies make their proposals for change.

Consultants can be instructed by both sides, as the noble Baroness knows. Those consultants can be given instructions as to what to say. But the critical issue is whether or not the Health and Safety Executive, an independent body, takes the view that it is safe.

We all agree that investment is required. That is what the government proposals ensure.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my noble friend referred to the investment of large sums of money to improve London Underground. Can he give us an idea when millions of long-suffering passengers will see the first improvements?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the first improvements will start to flow once the arrangements made by the Government can be put into action. The longer these wrangles continue the slower the improvement.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the situation with regard to London Transport and London Underground is an utter shambles? Does he also accept that the indication by the mayor, Ken Livingstone, that he will introduce congestion charging on the back of an improved transport system is wholly unrealisable? Should not the Government step in immediately to say that congestion charging in London cannot be implemented until, at some unlikely time in the future, the London Underground is improved?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the Government have had a consistent policy for a number of years. We have consistently sought to introduce the arrangements we seek to introduce now. Mr Kiley and Mr Livingstone have criticised them; they have sought to block them; and they seek to block them in court at present. The right thing to do is to rally around those arrangements so that the improvements the Underground users so desperately want can flow through as quickly as possible.

The Government have always made it clear that improvements in public transport should accompany congestion charges. The congestion charges proposed by the mayor are at present out for consultation. The points that the noble Baroness makes can no doubt be made in the course of the consultation.

Earl Russell

My Lords, perhaps I may—

Several noble Lords

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Earl Russell

My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lady Hamwee, was the Minister attempting to suggest that Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd was not independent? If he was not, will he deny the impression which may have been inadvertently created? If he was, will he take the risk of repeating the opinion outside this Chamber?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am not in any way suggesting that it is not independent. An email from Steve Polan, an adviser to Mr Kiley, to the consultants says: not to endorse in any way a review of standards after the private sector had come in; to make the conclusions more pointed"; and to remove quotes that were not particularly helpful". That is an e-mail from one of Mr Kiley's advisers to Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we have come to the end of the 10 minutes that the Companion indicates.