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Mr. Byers: The hon. Gentleman's solution would be to privatise, whether it be the railways and Railtrack or the London underground. It is little wonder that the voters of Shrewsbury showed him where to go. I do not know whether he left by rail or road. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman used to be a resident of Tyneside, so we can have this sort of banter.
Of course this exercise will be unique, because there has never been a public-private partnership on this scale before. It is therefore a truism to say that it is unique. But what it represents is £16 billion of investment in the London underground. Would the hon. Gentleman delay that? Yes, he would. He would not put the investment in; we will.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): May I return to the powers of the Secretary of State and the Mayor? This public-private partnership creates an enormous dependency on a limited number of companies because of the scale of the contracts. If one or more of those companies nears financial collapse in the same way that Railtrack did, will the Secretary of Stateor the Mayorhave reserve powers to bring that company into public ownership, or to take direct action in the way that my right hon. Friend did with Railtrack?
Mr. Byers: The situation is quite different, as I tried to explain earlier. This arrangement involves the private sector working for London Underground in a contractual relationship. That is quite different from the situation that
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): As is common with many Ministers, the Secretary of State is conveniently misrepresenting the policy of the Conservative party, the views of independent observers and of other people in the House right across the spectrum that we should entrust responsibility to the Mayor and the Transport Commissioner, and not to the Secretary of State. I am particularly distressed by the way in which the Secretary of State has dismissed the Transport Sub-Committee report. We took evidence which showed that the most significant improvements in the scheme would be back-ended to its later years. We also took evidence that passenger growth would rise in line with capacity, which means that overcrowding will not be reduced. Yet we now hear that the Secretary of State is not taking the word of that Select Committee
Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I welcome the statement as the beginning of the end of the uncertainty, particularly for my hard-pressed constituents who have to use the overcrowded Central line. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a failed legal challenge will lead only to further unnecessary delay? It would be another factor for Londoners to take into account in 2004part of the cost of Livingstone.
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right to say that we must end the uncertainty hanging over the London underground. Today's decision, subject to the consultation, will do precisely that. Of course, it is for
David Burnside (South Antrim): The Secretary of State is well aware of the increased industrial action that has affected and inconvenienced the general public in London and the south-east especially. Will he incorporate in these rather loose financial projections the cost between the board, the management and the unions of a no-strike deal to protect commuters in London and Greater London?
Mr. Byers: In the Government's view, those issues are best left to the trade unions and management concerned. We know from history that Government interference in such issues is often not helpful. It is far better to have a properly negotiated agreement between the trade unions and management. That is the view that the Government support. We say to all parties involved that negotiation is often the best way forward.
Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the scheme, which will not only bring substantial private investment to modernising a long-neglected public service, but motivate contractors so that they stay on budget and on time. That was shown in the last Parliament when the Treasury Committee examined the history of private finance initiative projects, which are very similar. Furthermore, the service will stay in public hands, which gives reassurance. However, does he accept that Londoners are tired of checks, reassessments and litigation? Can he assure the House that those will be minimised and that work will begin without too much delay?
Mr. Byers: That is the important messagewe want to get on with the job and get the money invested. My hon. Friend is right to point out the good work done by the Treasury Committee on the role of the PFI and public-private partnerships and the benefits that they can bring. I am confident that, when we have the opportunity to make the investment in the London underground, tangible benefits will result.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): We have heard a lot about the potential financial viability of the right hon. Gentleman's programme. I am more concerned with its political viability. Does he genuinely think that he will convince Londoners that it is somehow a good thing?
Mr. Byers: We will convince Londoners by ensuring that there is no privatisation, that the system is safe and that real improvements are being achieved. I believe that the plan we have outlined today will do precisely that.
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it would be generous to describe support for the proposals among the people of London as minimal? What will be the political consequences of that?
Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): It may be worth reminding ourselves that the largest poll of Londoners' views was taken in last year's general election, at which Labour once again swept to victory in London with by far the greatest number of seats, and that PPP was a manifesto commitment. It is privatisation that Londoners do not want. My constituents tell me that they want London Underground to stay in public ownership, with safety paramount and no more delays. They want us to get on with the investment and the improvements. The only other issue of concern to them is that the underground remains affordable. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that?
Mr. Byers: My hon. Friend is right: the issues are safety; ensuring that there is no privatisation; and getting the investment in. I understand the concern about fares, which is why all the work that has been carried out has been based on the assumption that they do not need to be increased above the rate of inflationso there will be no real-terms increase in fares as a result of our proposals.
Clive Efford (Eltham): In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), my right hon. Friend said that if contracts were terminated, they would revert to London Underground, which would be free to re-let them. In the interests of accountability, so that Londoners can know who will be making the important decisions about the long-term future of the underground, does that mean that London Underground then ceases to pay the infracos that are being engaged under the PPPs, and if not, in what circumstances can those payments be terminated? Will London Underground have the right to step in at any time if the infracos fail to deliver the improvements, and not only if there is a deterioration?