HL Deb 28 March 2001 vol 624 cc267-70

3.2 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their plans for the London Underground in the light of the reported failure of talks with Mr Bob Kiley, the Transport Commissioner for London.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Bob Kiley yesterday had a full exchange on the state of progress on the PPP negotiations. Mr. Kiley had earlier written to the Deputy Prime Minister following recent talks between the Government and Transport for London. The Deputy Prime Minister has now replied to Mr Kiley setting out the changes to the PPP which both parties had discussed and which the Government had been prepared to consider. They were offered these in an attempt to reach overall agreement on the PPP consistent with Mr Kiley's aim for unified management control. A copy of the Deputy Prime Minister's letter has been placed in the Library.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, the Minister's response suggests that there is still scope for agreement. Is he aware that the general tenor of press comment is that there has been a breakdown and that there is a possibility of judicial review proceedings being embarked upon, which would lead to longer delay, considerable cost and an uncertain solution to the Tube problem? Can the Minister indicate whether, even at this late stage, there might be an agreement as to how this issue could be resolved?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, as I said, we wrote back to Mr Kiley. He promised to reply to that letter but in fact went off and called a press conference. We are aware that London Underground received correspondence from Transport for London solicitors regarding a possible judicial review and it is therefore not for my department to comment on that. We believe that in the almost 100 meetings between our negotiators we offered Bob Kiley real concessions, including leaving the maintenance of track and signalling with London Underground and long-term Stable funding. We felt that we were close to agreement. I echoed last week what the mayor had said; that is, that he was optimistic and we were close to agreement. But then Mr Kiley went to the United States and came back with what we felt was a new set of demands and a hardened attitude. Therefore we await his reply.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, has the Minister seen reports in the press that the Mayor of London said that if the Government proceed with their plans for London Underground we may well be faced with a disaster scenario comparable to Hatfield? Will he join me in condemning those reports without reservation?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the London PPP offers a much more unified structure than that which exists in the national railway. The public sector London Underground will retain responsibility for the safety of the whole network. We offered Mr Kiley the ability to intervene with the infrastructure companies on any area of safety that was cause for concern in his view, and he also had complete control over London Underground's safety case. We should remember that we have a Health and Safety Executive which is rigorous in its enforcement of safety. Indeed, that rigour made London Underground one of the safest metros in the world. The latest figures show that our London Tube is safer than other comparable systems and much safer than the New York Subway, either when Mr Kiley was there or since.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, despite the failure of those talks, does not the Minister find it extraordinary that the Mayor of London has failed to condemn tomorrow's strike action, which will seriously inconvenience millions of people? Will the Minister join me in unreservedly condemning the strike action tomorrow?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I very much regret any disruption to the Underground and condemn this quite unnecessary strike. I hope that the mayor will join in that condemnation of the inconvenience caused to Londoners. It is not true that the strike is about safety; the RMT union demands for a safety forum have been met. Its other demands are about jobs for life and various other employment conditions. I therefore urge RMT members to follow the example of the ASLEF union and call off their strike.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead

My Lords, does my noble friend share my irritation at the media's obsession with the apparently miraculous capabilities of Mr Bob Kiley? Also, will he flesh out the comparison between the New York Subway and London Underground? Am I right in thinking that in the past decade there have been at least six incidents on the New York Subway resulting in injury or loss of life, and in the same period there have been no such incidents on London Underground?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I developed an amicable working relationship with Mr Kiley and would not want to put that at risk by making any personal observations. However, I hope that we will be able in the future to work with the mayor and Mr Kiley as we press on through London Underground with the implementation of the PPP. I repeat, London Underground is one of the safest metros in the world. The latest figures show that our Tube has a major injury rate of only 0.11 per cent per million against New York Subway's injury rate of 4.34 per million in the 1990s. So a number of accidents have occurred in New York. I am sure there is justifiable admiration for what Mr Kiley achieved there. But please do not talk down the efforts of our Health and Safety Executive and the many good people who have been working in the London Tube to keep it safe.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it will do nobody any good to try to rubbish Mr Kiley and his achievements? Further, will he agree that whenever one is acclaiming the safety record of any organisation in transport, it is just as well to have one's fingers crossed at the time? Will he explain to me what this dispute between Mr Kiley and the Government is all about? Have the Government learnt the lesson, which I hope my colleagues learnt, of the perils of any split in the authority and ownership of track and train? That was the error in the last government's privatisation of British Rail. Can Mr Kiley be assured that there will be, under the Government's proposals, absolutely no occasion on which his writ does not run through the whole of the organisation for which he will be taking responsibility?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am happy to repeat my assurance that I do not join in any personal vituperation with regard to Mr Kiley. I also repeat what we have offered in terms of safety. I take the point that no form of transport is absolutely safe. I hope that I do not tempt fate by simply explaining London's record to date.

I repeat that in running London Underground Mr Kiley would have control of its safety case. He would have the right to appoint partnership directors to the infrastructure company boards and to approve their chief executive officers and directors of safety. If he believed that safety was at risk through the activities of the infrastructure companies, he would have the right to direct them. If he felt that they were failing in their duties in any area with problems of performance, he would have the right to step in and manage that infrastructure company.

In addition, we promised a stable funding regime for London Underground well in excess of what the previous administration put in or, indeed, what we have been able to put in in recent years. I believe that that is a comprehensive attempt to try to find a settlement with Mr Kiley. We remain ever hopeful that such a settlement can be reached if good sense and compromise prevail.