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Mr. Byers: That is the important message, which I know the travelling public in London are expressing loudly and clearly. Provided no external factors cause a delay and we can proceed—people are threatening a legal challenge to the process, which clearly will mean a further delay—the intention is that towards the end of May or the beginning of June we will see the investment going in. It can start as soon as the contracts are signed, which we expect will be at the end of May or during June.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Secretary of State accept that his credibility, already broken-backed, has been destroyed tonight? He dismisses the report of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chairman of the Select Committee, which has many experienced members who know a great deal about the subject, and which is highly critical of his proposals. He dismisses all the objections raised by Labour Members, and most damning of all, the words of Ernst and Young in the conclusion of the executive summary:

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After what he has done to Railtrack, the right hon. Gentleman has a nerve to come to the House of Commons to try and sell us this pup.

Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman will always defend Railtrack. That is a position that he and his party have adopted. We know that £1 billion of compensation to the Railtrack shareholders is the Conservative party position. With regard to London Underground, I repeat that the subjective approach is one that the National Audit Office said will apply to the value-for-money test. That will always be the case, because in making a value-for-money test, one must consider a number of factors—not just the financial ones, but the benefits that will accrue to the travelling public.

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Those who are less than enthusiastic about the scheme need only look at the Jubilee line, which my right hon. Friend described at length and which I have to use every day. It would be a great service if it worked and if the signalling worked from time to time. They should also look at the docklands light railway and the service that it provides for my constituents in Lewisham and others. The docklands light railway is a good example to show why the scheme is the one that we want to go forward.

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have an example in London of a public-private partnership that is delivering day in, day out—the docklands light railway. When people see that it can be successful, they will recognise that we are taking the right way forward.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Given the Secretary of State's experience in applying for the administration of Railtrack, what provision has he insisted that the contracts should include for orderly termination if one of the consortiums fails to deliver? Which person or body will be responsible for terminating a contract on behalf of the taxpayer and the London commuter if one of these underground Railtracks fails to deliver?

Mr. Byers: The situation is not at all like that which applies to Railtrack. I shall keep saying it: it is not at all like that. The reality is quite different. There will be a contractual relationship between London Underground and the three private-sector contractors. There are financial provisions underpinning the viability of each. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the companies that are involved, he will see that they can call on huge financial support. London Underground will have the power to terminate if there is a failure to deliver on the contracts and it is only right and proper that it should be able to do that. Most importantly, London Underground, which is publicly owned and accountable, will be the body with that responsibility, and when the transfer has occurred, the commissioner, the Mayor of London and Transport for London will have those powers.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): While Londoners are indeed tired of politicians squabbling about the underground, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful to allay Londoners' fears that the Mayor and his Transport Commissioner have been deliberately excluded if they could be re-engaged by the Government

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during the consultation period? The scheme, which is the only way of attracting the relevant amount and gives a clear guarantee of safety, could then be brought into being with rather more support from Londoners than is being expressed by Opposition Members, who would, as we know, simply have sold off the whole underground.

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the position of the Conservative party, which would simply privatise the London underground. It is right to recognise the concerns expressed by people in London and others about our proposals. We must take people through the arguments to show that this is not a privatisation or part privatisation, that safety will not be compromised because the Health and Safety Executive will take the final decision and that it is value for money. It is £16 billion that will deliver real improvements. The Opposition would not match the investment; they would take it away. We are ensuring that we invest in the London underground so that real improvements can be seen not in the distant future, but in the near future.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): The Secretary of State indicated in his statement that £4 billion of investment over 15 years would come from private finance. He said earlier today that the rest would come from fares or Government grants. The taxpayer and farepayer will not be expecting their money back, but private finance will. How will the £4 billion be repaid—or is this a debt that will be dumped on the people of London?

Mr. Byers: It is certainly not a debt that will be dumped on the people of London. It is a commercial agreement that will secure the level of investment and guarantee the significant improvements in the London underground that we want. In the process, we will get the £4 billion of private finance, and there will be a return, provided that those private companies deliver the very significant improvements set out in their contracts. If they fail to do so, they will not receive the financial return that they would otherwise get. That will be one way in which we can ensure that they deliver on the commitments that they made in the contracts. It will be not a burden on the farepayer, but a balance between the responsibilities of Government through grant and our commitment, which we have made very clearly, which is to say that there is no need for a real-terms increase in the fares being paid by passengers.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): May I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement on the north London underground and reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) said about the DLR, which is not only working efficiently, but was completed on budget and two months early, in contrast with the debacle of the Jubilee line? Will he confirm that he will stick rigidly to the tests of no privatisation, value for money and safety? Once those tests are satisfied, the argument should be about product, not process, and ends, not means. The end should be a better service for the people of London, for which they have waited for far too long.

Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right. The first key issue is that safety should not be compromised, and it will not be. The Health and Safety Executive—the independent

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experts—will make the decision on whether the safety case has been met. Secondly, there will be no privatisation or part-privatisation. London Underground will remain in the public sector. Thirdly, in the light of the reports that we have received today, I believe that value for money will be achieved. So we can satisfy all three criteria.

The choice for people now is whether we make progress and get the investment in, as the Government want to do, or whether we find further reasons to argue and delay, and have a political row about the way forward. I happen to believe that if we delay further, we shall be condemned by successive generations of Londoners, so the real message—and the choice for me and the Government—is to get on with the job, put the bickering behind us and invest in the London underground.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): The Secretary of State's self-confidence is wondrous to behold, and I congratulate him on that, at least. Will he, however, explain to the House the following comment in section 1.4.3 of the executive summary of the Ernst and Young report? It states:

Given what Ernst and Young says, and given what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the Chairman of the Transport Sub-Committee has said, does the Secretary of State not understand why hon. Members on both sides of the House doubt what he says, just as our constituents will doubt him? My constituents will simply have to avoid the right hon. Gentleman's trains and tubes, but if they drive down the A2, they will see another monument to the Government's proven track record, because they drive into London past the dome.

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