HL Deb 11 June 2002 vol 636 cc127-30

2.44 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

What prospect they now see of an end to the uncertainties and hazards experienced by passengers on the London Underground.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the recent announcement that London Underground has signed contracts for the modernisation of the Tube will end the uncertainties over funding and deliver a massive, much-needed injection of resources into the Underground.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I wonder whether I could gently inquire what on earth is going on. Would I be right to suppose that a kind of trench warfare is taking place with Mr Kiley and the Mayor on one side and the Department of Transport and the Treasury on the other, with ammunition being supplied to both sides by over-paid consultants? One begins to wonder what attention is being given to passengers. Are the Government satisfied about the safety of the system?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I always enjoy the definition given by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, of "gently". No trench warfare is going on between the Mayor and the Department of Transport. In fact, we are on target to transfer the assets to Transport for London later this year. The negotiations on that point are going well.

As to the question of over-paid consultants, the amounts spent have certainly not been comparable with the vast amounts of expenditure on consultants incurred by the previous government during the disastrous privatisation of the railway system. In fact, although the costs are high, they are always high. They always seem to me to be too high, but we have made considerable savings by using the same consultants for both the Government and London Transport.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, with regard to the issue of safety, to which noble Lord, Lord Peyton, referred at the end of his question, is the noble Lord satisfied that all measures have been taken to ensure that full safety will be achieved under these new arrangements? Is he aware, for example, that yesterday an incident of poor maintenance of track involving a private contractor was reported from Wembley Park?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the issue of safety is paramount but it is the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive, which will report shortly on the safety aspects of the public/private partnership. If it makes recommendations for changes, those changes will have to take place. As for the incident—or lack of incident because the defects were discovered before any incident took place—at Wembley Park, is it not rather a good thing that that discovery took place first?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, did my noble friend see the editorial in the Independent on Sunday which listed winners and losers and described who did well and badly during the Jubilee celebrations? The clear winner was London Underground. The newspaper said that, when put to the test, it showed how it can handle large events because 1 million passengers used the Underground in an hour at the height of the celebrations. Would it not be a good idea if we spent a little time praising London Underground when it does well, as clearly it did last week, rather than griping endlessly in the way that Fleet Street wants us to do?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Faulkner about what happened last week. But, of course, the change goes far wider than the events of a single week. The figure for train kilometres run—in other words, the capacity available for passengers—has been increasing yearly since 1999. Last year's figure was nearly 65.5 million as compared with just over 63 million in 1999–2000. Those are real increases in capacity.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, perhaps I may suggest to the noble Lord that the safety issues have not really been satisfied. The RMT, which has 9,000 members among London Underground staff, is holding a ballot on whether to strike in protest at key safety issues. The incident at Wembley Park on the Jubilee Line, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, came to light only because of a leaked e-mail from a manager at London Underground. Will the Minister assure us that the department will take up the matter with London Underground so that it addresses these key safety issues and, in particular, those relating to the incident at Wembley Park?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as I made entirely clear, the issue of safety is a matter for the Health and Safety Executive. The Government will not lean on the Health and Safety Executive in any way. It is responsible for ensuring safety on the Underground. If it says something has to be done, it will be done.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, has the Minister or his officials given attention to the signalling problem on London Underground? I am a regular traveller, and trains sit in tunnels for hours, which is always due to the signalling breaking down. Why is the signalling on London Underground so inadequate?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I served on the GLC transport committee for a number of years and am well aware of the financing difficulties of London Transport and London Underground over a considerable number of years. There are serious defects in signalling. There are also serious defects in the quality of the rolling stock and the track. That is why there will be £16 billion of investment over the next 15 years; nearly £8.5 billion on trains and signalling; nearly £4 billion on track and around £3.5 billion on stations. Nothing of that scale has been undertaken before.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, did I hear the Minister correctly when he said that the same consultants were being used by the Government and the Mayor? Does not that seem quaint, if I am right, bearing in mind the profound differences between the two organisations?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, it must be my fault that the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, misheard me. I did not say that the same consultants were being used by the Government and the Mayor; I said by the Government and London Transport. The Mayor's organisation is Transport for London.