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Mr. Chope: In the time that remains, will the Minister tell us how the Government propose to fund the £1 billion funding gap that has been identified?

Mr. Spellar: The enthusiasm of Opposition Members for Ken Livingstone and their gullibility for everything he says are truly extraordinary. We do not agree with his figures that claim a funding gap. Every passenger transport executive and passenger transport authority in the country has schemes that they rightly want for their people. However, we do not regard it as appropriate to put up a wish-list and then claim that there is a funding gap. We shall have that argument with TfL, but I am surprised that Conservative Members have become such ready allies of Mr. Ken Livingstone on this issue.

Mrs. Dunwoody: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Spellar: My hon. Friend will have an opportunity to reply at the end of the debate, so I shall rattle through this part of my speech.

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This is by far the largest-ever commitment to public investment in the London underground. The plans will unlock £16 billion in all over the first 15 years, including £4 billion from the private sector. Vast sums from both Government and business will give London the modern metro that it deserves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North identified the most important question that passengers will ask. Are the plans safe? Throughout the development of the plans, London Underground has put safety first. It has worked with private sector contractors for many years and it has an excellent safety record. It will retain unified management control of operations and its overall responsibility for safety across the entire network. The plans will allow it to take swift action, if necessary, to ensure the safe operation of the system.

However, the assessment of whether the underground is capable of being operated safely is, quite rightly, a matter for independent experts, not politicians. The Health and Safety Executive's assessment of London Underground's safety case for the operation of these plans is continuing. Let me once again state clearly and categorically: if the HSE does not accept London Underground's safety case, the plans will not proceed.

We want to modernise the London underground system and we have to work with private sector engineering firms to do so. That has always been true. There is no wholly public sector alternative. The real question, then, is how we engage the private sector.

Even TfL does not oppose, in principle, a public-private partnership for the tube. Its consultation response makes this clear However, the Mayor says that he has a problem with his role under the PPP. In our view, under these plans, his role will be to ensure that London Underground and its contractors deliver the quality of service that passengers expect. That is exactly what he should be concentrating on. The Mayor's alternative plan suggests that he wants to return to the days when London Underground had to plan the details of what its private sector contractors did, when they did it and how they did it. That is the approach that failed passengers year on year. It led to the failures on the Jubilee line extension, the Central line upgrade, which has only now come right, and on dozens more infrastructure projects over the years. TfL says that it could do better, but we have to take that on trust. We must consider its track record.

Abandoning the modernisation plans now would mean years of delay and decay while the Mayor decides what to do and how he would like to fund it. His decision to take further legal action to try to stop the plans is extremely disappointing, because the public are getting fed up with the long delays. They want us all to get on with the work, and I hope that that message is heard beyond this Chamber. Our intention remains that the modernisation plans should come into effect as soon as possible. That is what is best for London and best for the travelling public in London.

4.57 pm

Mrs. Dunwoody: With the leave of the House, may I say that this has been an important debate, not least because London deserves a really good underground system. The Select Committee raised several vital questions that have, sadly, remained largely unanswered. I believe that the House of Commons will need to return

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to this subject, but I am distressed that we have not at least considered alternatives to a scheme that the Committee found to be flawed and possibly unworkable. The House of Commons will, in due course, want to demand more answers and more action from Her Majesty's Government.

Debate concluded, pursuant to Resolution [11 June].

Questions deferred, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(4) and (5) (Consideration of estimates) and Order [20 November 2000].

27 Jun 2002 : Column 1032

Individual Learning Accounts

[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Education and Skills Committee, Session 2001–02, on Individual Learning Accounts, HC 561-I, and the Government response thereto, HC 987; and Department for Education and Skills and Office for Standards in Education: Annual Report, 2002, Cm 5402.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

4.58 pm

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): It gives me great pleasure to introduce the debate on the third report of the Select Committee on Education and Skills entitled "Individual Learning Accounts". This is an important day, because it is the day on which the House approves the moneys to deliver education programmes and policies. We also have the opportunity to debate individual learning accounts, which were an innovative and exciting new project to deliver lifelong learning and training opportunities for those who had never had them and to change the culture of training and education in this country. Ironically, however, because the programme bent too far towards a lighter touch and towards not taking too bureaucratic an approach, it ran into severe difficulties. Only last October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced that the programme would be halted for the time being.

The Select Committee report was published on 1 May and it was an attempt to do what Select Committees can do best. It tried to analyse what went wrong, point out and underline the strengths of the programme and—in a creative dialogue with the Department for Education and Skills—give pointers to how it could reintroduce a new programme that would not run into the difficulties that the first one faced.

I believe that there is a renaissance of the Select Committee system and I am delighted to be part of it. I was pleased to hear part of the debate on London Underground and to participate in this important debate on individual learning accounts. However, it is a great pity that both debates have been severely truncated by the long statement arranged by Government business managers. Those of us who are interested in education do not have many opportunities to debate it, and it is deplorable that the debate in Westminster Hall on the Science and Technology Committee report on the research assessment exercise is being held on the same day.

Many hon. Members want to speak so I shall rattle through my remarks. The members of the Select Committee worked hard on the report. We knew that we would have to produce a report as soon as the Secretary of State made her comments in October. The Department for Education and Skills wants teachers to have a baseline assessment and performance review. When we formed the new Committee, we decided that what was good enough for teachers was good enough for Ministers. We introduced the same system and interviewed all six Ministers so that we could make a proper evaluation of how they intend to deliver their policies and so on.

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Ironically, we started with the Secretary of State, who was a few minutes late because she had been conferring with senior people in the Treasury about pulling the plug on the ILA programme. It is also ironic that by the time we completed our fast-track investigation into ILAs, on which the debate is based, two of the Ministers on whom we originally did baseline assessments and performance reviews had moved on after 11 and a half months in the Department. Indeed, the Minister who gave most of the evidence has moved back to the Treasury, in a sense from whence he came, and a new Minister has the job of responding.

I want to draw the House's attention to the amount of work that members of a Select Committee put in to ensuring that we have a thorough investigation. We take, listen to and sift through evidence, both oral and written, before producing a report. It is the role of a Select Committee not just to lambast but to scrutinise the Government. We should come up with new ideas and innovations, perhaps by thinking outside the box, that the Department might find useful.

I believe that our report is even-handed. It says that the programme went severely wrong, but it also commends it for being good and innovative. The programme allowed some interesting work to take place. It opened the door to skills and learning to people who had not had that opportunity for most of their lives and who had not accessed learning for a long time. We tried to strike a proper balance, which is what a Select Committee should do.

I want to emphasise two things. The Government did a thorough job in their recent comments on our report. They largely took it on board in a positive spirit. As Chairman of the Committee I appreciate that. However, I was also greatly disappointed, as I told the permanent secretary when he came before the Committee for his annual visit and interrogation only yesterday morning. There is such a thing in the House as a bush telegraph. We heard that an announcement on individual learning accounts mark 2 would be made very soon, before the summer recess. Unfortunately, we have now heard that that will not happen because of the ministerial changes, and that was confirmed by the permanent secretary. People who are waiting to have a crack at gaining new skills through the ILA will not get that opportunity for several months. It is almost a year since the Secretary of State came before the Committee and announced that the programme would be pulled in favour of individual learning accounts mark 2. It seemed to us as we took evidence that the approach by civil servants and Ministers was too leisurely. They said that it would take a long time to get ILAs right. I said that in a commercial organisation the lights would burn all night for many nights until a new programme was introduced.

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