HL Deb 03 May 2001 vol 625 cc807-9

Lord Dixon-Smith asked Her Majesty's Government:

By what, date they expect the public/private partnership for London Transport to be implemented.

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

My Lords, I understand that London Transport is aiming to have completed all three public/private partnership competitions by the autumn. The board of London Transport yesterday selected preferred bidders for the two deep tube contracts. The preferred bidder for the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines infrastructure company is Tube Lines. The preferred bidder for the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines infrastructure company is Metronet. London Transport expects to select a preferred bidder for the sub-surface lines contract in the summer.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, which takes us forward. He will forgive me if I say that it is not as interesting as the answer that he might have given to a much more important question that we might have been considering on this day.

It is a matter of regret that London has ceased to hold its breath waiting for a conclusion to this development in its transport system. What contingency plan do the Government have in the event that the judicial review that was initiated by Transport for London and the mayor is successful?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the Government are confident that the PPP will be the best deal for Londoners and that it will bring us a modern, safe and reliable tube. The Government are not party to the legal action that is currently taking place and I shall refrain from commenting on it.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, could the Minister indicate the extent to which, under the PPP arrangements, there will be a unified management structure, particularly in relation to the important issue of safety?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, we believe that the PPP will maintain and improve safety. It must satisfy the rigorous safety checks of the independent Health and Safety Executive. The two preferred bidders for the infrastructure companies are in place and it will be evident to noble Lords that they share our concern for safety on the Underground.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, could the Minister help the House by illustrating the way in which the divided management structures will work and could he explain how many separate track and train operating companies will work simultaneously in the Waterloo Station complex when the plans are fully under way?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I am sure from all the evidence that is available, some of which has been circulated to noble Lords and others, that the infrastructure companies, when they are in place, will still have a positive relationship with the publicly owned operating company and London Underground. It will simply be part of the good running of the tube for the infrastructure companies and London Underground management to ensure that the most practical and sensible operations are in hand.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the commitment reported in today's Daily Telegraph by Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Tube Lines, to, spend £2 billion on capital improvements over the first seven years", is very good news for Londoners and that, so long as that promise is held to, it will provide a complete answer to the criticisms of the Government's approach made by the mayor of London and Mr Kiley?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I a m delighted by the positive statements that have been made by the two preferred bidders. They include some of our best companies in the construction and transport industries in the United Kingdom. I should stress that London Underground has a very good safety record. The PPP would go ahead only when the safety arrangements were accepted by the independent HSE. In terms of accidental passenger fatalities, which were measured by an independent international study, London Underground is twice as safe as the system in Paris and four times as safe as that in New York.

Earl Russell

My Lords, will the Minister ask his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister not to denigrate again the sincerity of those who question the safety of the proposed arrangements under the PPP? I am aware that the Minister believes that view to be mistaken, but that does not give him or his right honourable friend the entitlement to question the sincerity of those who hold it. Will he please take on board the impression that that approach gives to voters and, within this House, to non-voters as well?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, neither my right honourable friend nor I wish to impugn anyone's motives. We can, however, in all propriety dispute some of the alarming statements that have been made about the intentions of the Government, London Underground management and, now, the preferred bidders. I assure noble Lords, as I have done frequently, that safety is the highest priority for all concerned.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the Government publish the financial details of those transactions, which would indicate to the public, who have an interest in this matter, why the Government are pursuing the PPP, which pays rather more and is more economic generally to the taxpayer than other possible solutions that may commend themselves?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, the Government have invested an average of £530 million a year in the core underground network. We should compare that with the £395 million over the lifetime of the previous Government. I also make it clear that the National Audit Office praised London Underground for the extremely thorough job that it did estimating the costs of the public sector comparator and the bids.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred obliquely to the welcome decision by the RMT to call off today's tube strike. Will the Minister pay tribute to the role played by John Monks and the TUC in persuading the RMT executive to change its mind at the 11th hour? Does he agree that that was in marked contrast to the attitude shown by the mayor of London?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, it is excellent news that the strike by the RMT has been called off. I welcome the role played by John Monks and the TUC in achieving that. I do not think that that strike action is justified. Along with my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, I urge the RMT to call off the threat of future strikes.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, will the Minister explain why they were not successful with South West Trains? Moreover, surely the strike was not called off; it was simply postponed.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

My Lords, I will not engage in the semantics of the situation. Yesterday's strike was called off, but we are told that another strike is planned for 15th May. I am sure that the TUC, under John Monks and his colleagues, will do everything in its power to ensure that that strike, too. is called off. I am sure that it is a matter of regret to all of us that a similar decision was not made in relation to the dispute on our railways. I am also sure that the enduring good sense of the TUC will play a part in that regard in future.

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