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4.30 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): The most disturbing contribution to today's debate is that of the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson). He talked, for example, about the capacity improvements that will come from the PPP. He showed a misunderstanding of the contracts and a lack of knowledge of the details of those contracts, which do not provide some of the benefits that he mentioned.

In an intervention, the hon. Gentleman said that there was no other way to find the money and implied that somehow we would magically find new money through the PPP. We all know that that is not the case. We all know that the Treasury and the GLA, through TfL, will have to provide large sums to make the PPP work, so I found his fundamental misunderstanding of key aspects of the PPP particularly worrying.

I want to take issue with the hon. Gentleman on two of his major reasons for justifying the choice of PPP. First, he argued strongly that London Underground did not have the skills or track record to undertake such a public investment programme. If that were the case, why have the Government allowed London Underground to be the main procurers and negotiators and to provide the main legal background in negotiating those highly complicated projects?

If the Government do not trust London Underground's management to manage programmes and projects for the next 30 years, why do they trust London Underground to negotiate those projects? London Underground has never before negotiated such detailed projects. The hon. Gentleman's views do not make sense. When the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) asked the hon. Gentleman those questions, he signally failed to answer. It is bizarre that London Underground has been given competence to procure, but not to provide.

The second major issue in the hon. Gentleman's speech about which I want to complain is his analysis that the Government had somehow to be the umpire and that the Government commissioned Ernst & Young to provide a report that would somehow choose between the many other reports that had been published. As the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) said, the Ernst & Young report failed to do that for the Government, but the hon. Gentleman should ask his right hon. Friend the Chancellor why he has failed to meet Bob Kiley throughout the process.

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If the Government had wished to be an umpire, objectively judging the cases on both sides of the argument, why did the Chancellor refuse every single request for a meeting from the Commissioner of Transport for London? I find that deplorable. It came to the point where Bob Kiley's new year's resolution this year was that he would give up asking for meetings with the Chancellor. We know that the Chancellor is behind the opposition to alternatives to the PPP, so it really is a poor show that he will not even meet Bob Kiley, who has so much experience.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-West then talked about delays. He made a plea to TfL and GLA: he asked them not to put further steps in the way of progress. In the past few years, many people have argued that the process should be speeded up and that Londoners wanted greater investment now, but the Government have stood in the way. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the debates in Committee when we considered the Greater London Authority Act 1999, under which the GLA was established. Liberal Democrat and Conservative members of that Committee predicted that it would take as long as it has done before Ministers could sign a contract. Ministers told us that we were talking rubbish.

I regret that we have been proved right, but that suggests that some of our other predictions about where the PPP will fail in due course may well come to fruition. I hope that they do not. I hope that we and some of the Government's critics on their own Back Benches are proved wrong, and I do so for the sake of our wonderful city—London—and that of the travelling public. However, all the evidence that we have heard from many objective people inside and outside, and in the Transport Committee and other Committees, suggests that the PPP will fail.

One of my major remaining concerns is that the public sector's ability to end those complicated contracts with the infracos is limited. The termination clauses are weak, and a substantial burden is likely to be placed on the public sector when those contracts have to be ended. I regret that. The Government ought to have insisted on sensible ways of ending those contracts, so that when common sense prevails it will not end up costing the taxpayer too much.

4.35 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): We have had a very good debate, but it is a pity that each side has only 10 minutes for the winding-up speeches. It is also a pity that we are not debating a substantive Government motion in Government time, which is what the Select Committee requested, as we would have had a much more authentic idea of the House's view on the PPP.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on tabling the substantive motion. I am not sure that even she would wish to vote for it, but it has certainly enabled us to have a constructive debate. I do not think that people would want to vote for it because it simply refers to reducing the resources by £1,000, which would achieve nothing. People outside the House would not really understand why we would want to reduce the money for the scheme given that most hon. Members have argued for more money.

I hope that the Minister will address the fact that the hon. Lady and her Committee have produced reports based on evidence. The powerful thing about Select

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Committees is that, when they operate effectively, they ignore the prejudice and philosophical banter, and they go for the evidence. The Select Committee has carefully considered the evidence and reached its conclusions. The Government seem intent on rejecting all that evidence without putting any counter-evidence in its place.

The Government have insulted the people of London. They gave them the right to elect a Mayor, but when they did not vote for the right person, the Government no longer regarded the verdict of the people of London in that mayoral election as significant, and it is clear that the people of London think that this PPP provides the wrong solution.

Mr. Gardiner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope: No, I will not give way at the moment because I have only a short time and almost all hon. Members who have spoken in this debate have done so at greater length than I will be allowed under these arrangements.

The present state of the London underground is unacceptable, and it has been getting worse during the past five years. We now have an underground system that is the most disrupted, overcrowded and costly network in the world. The hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) said that we must not be too dismissive of the state of the London underground, but I refer her to the findings of the Evening Standard panel of commuters on 7 May. The panel went to Moscow, Paris, Berlin and New York and came to the conclusion that we in London had got the worst deal. On time, cost and comfort, the London underground is the worst.

My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) rightly chided the Government for the long delay in getting to grips with the issue. We certainly had a clear policy at the 1997 general election, but I accept that it was rejected by the people. The Government had a clear policy at that election, but they have still to implement it. My hon. Friend referred to the statement that the Deputy Prime Minister made on 20 March 1998, in which he said that he would not be rushed. However, I remind my hon. Friend that the Deputy Prime Minister also said:

As he anticipated that there would be a delay of about two years before the PPP was up and running, he produced a two-year interim funding arrangement. Well, it is now four and half years later and we still have not got the PPP.

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) said that the documents have been signed. I am not sure that they have. If they have been signed, why have they not been made available to TfL in their final form? TfL received documents on 8 May, but since then the documents have been further altered as a result of ongoing negotiations between the parties. I suspect that the Government will not make those documents available to TfL until after the challenge in the High Court later next month.

Mr. Gardiner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Chope: Not at a moment, because of the time constraints to which I have referred.

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The issue that is most worrying for Londoners is the funding gap. That has been referred to by several hon. Members including my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South. According to the Government and London Underground, that funding shortfall is £771 million in the first seven-and-a-half-year review period. Transport for London thinks that that is £400 million to £500 million lower than it should be; it thinks that the funding gap could be well over £1.2 billion. As a result of that funding gap, Standard & Poor's, a leading credit agency, has taken a very negative approach towards Transport for London, which, in turn, could lead to it having a high financial burden. Standard & Poor's stated:

That will add to the cost of Transport for London finding finance for all the projects that it wishes to undertake. The Commissioner of Transport for London, Bob Kiley, said:

That funding gap can either be met by the council tax payers of London, by the Government—through national taxpayers—or by fares. The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) said that there was nothing inherent in the PPP that would require fares to increase. That, of course, is true. It is also true, however, that if there is a funding gap, and the Government refuse to meet it, the pressure is on Transport for London to raise the extra revenue from the people of London or through the fare box. We already have the prospect of the London underground being the most expensive such service anywhere in the world. Why should passengers have to pay much higher fares for a service that is still getting worse rather than improving?

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