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The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford) indicated dissent.

Mr. Pickles: Well, I doubt it very much. It is all right for him, in the confines of the ministerial car, but, believe me, being on the Central line at half-past 9 is no laughing matter. Things will not get better for travellers for 10 years or more.

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The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions may cling to the phoney formula for assessing the success of the railways, but the public know better. Much has been said about Railtrack's planning process, but at least the company was addressing the problems of platform extensions, and the train operating companies were addressing the problems of new rolling stock. Thanks to the Secretary of State's botched placing of Railtrack into administration and the failure to grant franchises of a meaningful length, platform extensions have been postponed and there will be no new trains built after 2004.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Will my hon. Friend confirm that the reason for the deteriorating state of London's underground is that, since 1997, investment has been significantly less than in the comparable period leading up to that date? Should not the Government get off their ideological high horse on PPP and get on with improving the London underground?

Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and what is true of the London underground is also true of the rail system that comes into London. We now know that the much-promised figure of £64 billion over the next 10 years is not accurate. About one third of that sum relates to inflation, about a quarter is double accounting, and a further third is for renewal and maintenance, which leaves just £20 billion for new investment in the railways over 10 years. Even that is an overstatement, because of the extra premium—the Byers premium—that the Government will have to pay because of the botched Railtrack administration. The refusal of pension fund managers to invest in future PPP projects has put many of the infrastructure projects at risk.

We have now had time to assess the PPP for the tube. No one believes that it will work, or that it even has a chance of working, except the Secretary of State. No doubt, the Government machine is looking at ways to sell the PPP to the people of London using snappy, exciting advertising slogans. I am willing to bet that one slogan they will not use is "Stephen says yes, and you can trust Stephen's judgment". That will not be high on the list.

The PPP will not bring substantial improvements in trains, track or signals until well after 2010. There will be only 12 new trains on the whole network by 2009, and most upgrades on lines will be delayed. Planned capacity enhancements will not keep in line with expected growth. London Underground has confirmed that, under the PPP, growth in capacity will be parallel to passenger numbers.

Astonishingly, we are still waiting to hear exactly how much the PPP will cost. In the House, the Secretary of State promised that we would be given figures, but we still have only a vague figure of between 15 and 20 per cent. There is a growing feeling among those concerned with transport that it would be much cheaper for the Secretary of State to put it on his credit card than to go through the whole PPP process.

We now have had the views of the Transport Select Committee in its short but damning report on PPP, which says:

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It goes on:

It suggests that there is no basis for the Secretary of State's 15-year projections, and says:

Finally, it says:

Conservative Members wholly endorse that recommendation. If the decision is to be meaningful, London MPs must be able to affect it. We believe that Labour Members should have a free vote on the matter.

Mr. Edward Davey: I agree with much of the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the Government's flawed PPP scheme. Does he share my concern that, according to Bob Kiley and his team, the draft contracts do not give the public sector any termination rights? If the infracos failed to perform, the public sector would not be able to get rid of them. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the whole contractual structure for the PPP could be a millstone around London council tax payers' necks?

Mr. Pickles: The situation is worse than that, so it is no wonder that the Minister for Local Government is looking a bit shifty and upset. If the various infracos do not perform, and fall below par, they will still receive a bonus. This is a terrible deal for London, for the underground, and for the Government. We will be trying to unravel this mess for 30 years. This is an expensive way of funding the underground. It pays not the slightest attention to increasing capacity and improving the service.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that, if the Opposition are to be credible, they must outline a coherent alternative to that which the Government are proposing. If it is not to be PPP, what is his alternative? Outright privatisation?

Mr. Pickles: I took the Government at their word. When the Secretary of State said across the Dispatch Box that there was a plan B and that the Government would consider the Mayor's proposals, I believed him. We believe that the options put before the much-derided, independent Mayor of London deserve consideration. We will be looking for quality assurance contracts that can achieve reliability, punctuality and cleanliness, and we want the threat of industrial relations problems removed from the tube. That is what the people of London want.

Geraint Davies: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles: No, I am not prepared to give way to the hon. Gentleman, even if he changed his tie.

It is against that background that we must deal with one of the main difficulties, congestion in central London.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): May I return my hon. Friend to the subject of railways? Do not the rail problems extend beyond London to places such as Brentwood and Castle

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Point, where there is just as much congestion? Our constituents who travel from those areas have suffered a decline in punctuality and reliability under this Government. Does my hon. Friend not deplore the Government's failure to resolve the problems?

Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is right. As he knows, nothing has been done about the various pinch points on the approach to London terminals. Nothing has been done about platform extensions. As for the special-purpose vehicles of which the Government are so proud, no financing has got off the ground for a single one. Apparently station extensions are to be subject to the arrangement for special-purpose vehicles. What Railtrack would do with a couple of buckets of cement the Government are trying to do by putting together a special financing arrangement that will simply mean further delays. Moreover, we are unlikely to see an increase in the number of carriages from 12 to eight on most runs, because of the delay in the granting of the franchise. [Laughter.]

Labour Members laugh. They do not have to suffer the consequences. They spend their time in ministerial cars, while ordinary people are trying to get to their jobs in the City, travelling in cramped, overcrowded carriages. They seek the relief that the Government are denying them.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): When I was at school an increase would be from eight to 12 rather than from 12 to eight. Is this a sign of falling education standards under this Government, or of a lack of numeracy on the hon. Gentleman's part?

Mr. Pickles: The hon. Lady probably thought that that was a good thing to say at the time. Let me explain, however, that trains currently have eight carriages and we want the number to be increased to 12. That cannot happen, because the Government will not grant the franchise. It is a practical problem. There is a difference between a mere debating chamber and a Chamber that is trying to deal with practical problems.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles: No. I want to make some progress.

The real congestion problem in London is not caused by the number of cars on the roads. Surprisingly, research has proved that the number has not risen significantly. Congestion is increasing because of the way in which we deal with road repairs. There is to be a congestion charge, which will apply to various London boroughs. There will be a regressive tax that will hit the public sector, public-sector workers and the low-paid very hard. The tax will not move people out of cars, because public transport has not the capacity to carry them. It will be expensive to administer: in the initial years, 90p in every pound collected will go towards administrative charges. The tax is opposed by business, and it will not cut congestion to any significant extent.

We could take a leaf out of Giuliani's book, and start looking at sensible ways of unblocking roads that are blocked by repairs, improving road signs and school

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transport, and encouraging car pooling. All that could be achieved, and would reduce congestion more than the charge will.

What is true of transport is true of all our public services. We need to follow New York's example, and recognise that improvements are brought about by practical, street-level solutions.

London deserves better. London's decline is not inevitable. London needs leadership, determination and co-operation. The Conservative party is determined to make London a better and safer place in which to live.

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