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Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): The hon. Gentleman will remember that Ken Livingstone commissioned the Industrial Society to review the PPP arrangements in late 2000. He may know that part of its document suggested that preparing a long-term alternative, such as bonds, to the PPP would take at least two years. Given the distance that we have travelled on the PPP journey, do the Liberal Democrats seriously advocate throwing all the work to one side and allowing two more years of misery before we can get started on the investment programme?
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman's intervention has the useful purpose of pointing out that the Government's plan, which has taken four and a half years so far, has not been signed. A bond issue could have been resolved in a couple of years at much less cost.
Geraint Davies: The hon. Gentleman should accept that the bond issue is a red herring. Bonds take a large amount of money up front for investment. We are putting in money year after year; the Treasury will stump up the money every year. The only difference is the added value of private sector. Why does not the hon. Gentleman admit that the bond issue is a red herring?
Ms Abbott: If the Government had taken a timely decision to allow the democratically elected Mayor of London and his transport commissioner to go ahead with the bond issue proposal, there would be improvements on the underground now. Far from being a red herring,
Tom Brake: The hon. Lady is right. The mayoral elections were a referendum on the proposals for London Underground. She is right to point out that if the Government had handed over control of the tube to London's government and Londoners, the system would be up and running now, whether we accept the two years that the Industrial Society suggested for introducing the bond issue or Bob Kiley's six months. However, we still await the Government's response.
Four and a half years on, the PPP contracts have not been signed; the tube is not in the hands of Londoners, and uncertainty surrounds who will be able to make decisions about safety. Evidence mounts to show that, for Tube Lines and Metronet, PPP is a game of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?", in which they have the answers to all the questions that Chris Tarrant will ask. Public-private partnership is unworkable, unwanted and we should put it out of its misery now.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for calling me to take part in this debate. I thank, in passing, the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), for triggering the debate, because I can start by agreeing with her on one thing. When we started down the route of a public-private partnershipI was at the Treasury at the timeit was precisely because we had to decide what our priorities were. Those were times of extreme financial stringency, becauseamong other reasonswe had to take certain measures to stick to the Tory spending plans to get the economy back into a stable condition to lay the basis for what we are now able to do. My hon. Friend will agree that it would have been unthinkable for us to vote billions to the tube and the then tube management while denying the billions that urgently needed to be spent on health and education.
Mr. Robinson: I am willing to give way, but I cannot see what possible point the hon. Gentleman can have. It was the Tories who got us into the mess by proposing to privatise the tube, trying to make an issue of it in the 1997 general election, and neglecting to invest in the system for 18 years. However, I shall be most interested to hear what the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) has to say.
Richard Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman said that he had stuck to the Conservative spending plans. If only the Government had really done that, there would be a lot more money in the underground today. In the last 10 years
We had to find a way forward, and we clearly had to go for a public-private partnershipthere was no other way. Also, quite apart from the financial situation, there were other very good reasons for going for such a partnership for the tube, which I shall come to in a moment. We could skin a cat in so many ways, and when it came to public-private partnershipswhich were quite innovativethere were many different options available. No. 10 had its view; the advisers to No. 10 had their view; the then Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions had its view; I had a view; the Treasury had a view; and the Deputy Prime Minister had very strong views. We had to find a way that we could all see would carry this forward.
With the Deputy Prime Minister's agreementwe worked together closely on this, and I pay tribute to the real work that he put in to get this goingI convened a group of four business men with experience of both the public and private sectors to make a recommendation to us. Essentially, that recommendation is what we have today: a split at a point that can logically be defended and can, from a business point of view, be implemented at least as easily as the proposal to leave it to the present London Underground management to continue on their own.
As of today, the situation, as I understand it, is that the contracts are signed, subject to only two prior conditions: sign-off by the Health and Safety Executive, and obtaining clearance in Brussels. There is £3 billion of private finance lined up to back the scheme. So what stands in its way? Unfortunately, we have two fairly difficult road blocks still to overcome. One is the continued opposition of the Select Committee. While I pay tribute to all its work, and I recognise that, in part, its job is to make the Government's life difficult, this sort of opposition cannot be carried on to the point at which it makes it impossible for us to modernise the tube. I shall return to that in a moment.
Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): My hon. Friend made the interesting point that different people in government had many different views about the PPP, and some of us would argue that it has ended up as a bit of a dog's dinner. He also said that the present plan was determined by four business men. Will he put on record who the four business men were, so that we can analyse their knowledge of the situation to see whether they had a vested interest in it?
Mr. Robinson: I shall be very happy to do that. I shall make sure that my hon. Friend will be satisfied on that point, and I am sure that he will be. I am anxious to reassure him, but I want to push on, if I may. There was a lot of other input into the matterit was not just the four in the working groupand there had already been a lot of thinking that pretty much tended in the same direction.
When Mr. Kiley made his first presentation to the London Underground board, he spoke for 55 minutes, and I am told that he spent precisely 90 seconds on what would be his plan for the underground. Whatever else one might say about the gentleman, he is not a team player; everything always has to be on his terms, or he will not go along with it.