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House of Lords

Thursday, 13th June 1996.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

London Underground Limited

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to privatise London Underground Limited.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, we have no plans to privatise London Underground Ltd.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that definite reply. I have talked to London Underground, and it gives me great pleasure that it has had such excellent success with private investment in certain infrastructure projects on specific lines. Do the Government have any plans for widening the private sector involvement in the operation of certain lines? What proportion of London Underground's turnover is spent on privately contracted supplies and services?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to congratulate London Underground on the work it has done using the PFI. Some good partnerships have developed there. That partnership will be increased when the London Regional Transport Bill becomes law. It will widen the scope for PFIs in this field.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Labour Party has consistently opposed any privatisation which has been carried out by the Government? Does he further agree that the privatisation programme that has been carried out has meant that instead of British taxpayers paying over £50 million per week in subsidy, British taxpayers are now receiving £50 million per week in taxation?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on both counts.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, to come back to the London Underground, is the Minister satisfied that the current level of investment--that is, taking into account private sector involvement, funds generated by the Underground itself, and government contributions--is adequate for the needs of the Underground to enable it to become one of the leading Underground systems of any capital city in the world?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, yes, I believe that the levels of investment are appropriate. All transport infrastructure systems would like to see more investment, but it is worth noting that core investment

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in the Underground in the 1990s is twice as high in real terms as in the 1980s and three times higher than in the 1970s.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Clark, I ask: is it not a fact that it is not just the Labour Party that is not in favour of the privatisation of London Underground, but, from the Minister's own reply, the Government? Is it true, as was reported in reliable newspapers, or sober newspapers at least, that the Deputy Prime Minister was urging the Government strongly to give a commitment to the privatisation of the London Underground while more restrained Conservatives--there are not too many of them, I suppose--believe that there are no votes in that for the Conservative Party so far as concerns London?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, our policies are designed to give Londoners the best transport system that can possibly be provided. That has always been our policy. My noble friend was drawing my attention, and that of the House, to the considerable achievements of privatisation in the transport sector--a subject which was fully covered last night.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the House agree that we, as Londoners, are fortunate to have someone like Denis Tunnicliffe running London Underground, because he has such a great understanding of transport in London and has done such a good job in expanding London transport; for example, with the new Jubilee Line extension?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I join with my noble friend in congratulating the management of London Underground. It has done a good job, and I am sure that it will continue to do so.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, is my noble friend satisfied with the investment in the Piccadilly Line in view of the fact that those people who wish to catch an aeroplane at Heathrow now have to leave at least half an hour to an hour earlier in case no train comes along in the evening?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the Piccadilly Line is an interesting line. It provides a good service for those who use it, but of course we are always interested in new transport infrastructure developments. That is of course why there is the current project to provide a new line to Heathrow.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, as the Minister's noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Clark, chose to propagate the views that are currently contained in all Conservative Party propaganda sheets, does the Minister believe that a bit of balance should be brought into the issue, and does he recognise that there have been £22 billion in debt write-offs since the privatisation programme began? That is the taxpayers' money.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the balance comes from the fact that these days no serious commentators want to turn the clock back and return to the bad old

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days. They recognise the benefits which privatisation and private finance has brought to the transport system. They accept that and I believe that even the Labour Party has come to that view.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, as regards the Piccadilly Line, has any consideration been given to running non-stop express trains to Heathrow?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, Heathrow will be covered fully by the new express line which is being built. In the future, that will be the way to travel to Heathrow if you are in a hurry.

Lord Harmsworth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Jubilee Line extension works, which some of your Lordships, including myself, had the privilege of visiting some two days ago and which are on time and largely within budget, are a tribute not only to British engineering but to the management of London Underground and fully justify confidence in London Underground, whatever form that is in?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the management of London Underground and to the considerable achievement of the Jubilee Line extension.

Legal Aid Expenditure

3.14 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What has been the total cost of legal aid in the last year; what was the largest total payment to any individual; and whether it is expected that the total cost will rise or fall this year.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, net expenditure on legal aid in 1995-96 was £1.387 billion. The largest total payment from the legal aid fund in respect of a single client amounted to £2.946 million, which was paid to lawyers representing a defendant involved in a serious fraud trial. Expenditure is expected to rise this year to around £1.476 billion.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for that Answer and express appreciation for the efforts which I know he has made to restrain the growth of this expenditure. However, can he not hold out a little extra hope that it may be possible by drastic measures to secure that only modest increases are made in the payment of legal aid, and that people are not given great quantities of taxpayers' money in order to help them to indulge in litigation?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I have put out for consultation proposals for a considerable alteration in the legal aid system to enable cases and matters to be given priority. I believe that that will help to ensure more direct control of the amount paid in legal aid and,

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as important, that the money available will be put to the best use for as many people as possible in the range covered by legal aid.

Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that it is not the individual litigant who is in receipt of the money, as often seems to be inferred by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, puts his question, but it is the legal profession which benefits from the enormous expenditure on legal aid? I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will understand that there are many in this Chamber who greatly appreciate his efforts to reduce the amount of money which the legal profession earns in this way.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it is correct that the payments referred to in this Question and previous similar Questions are made to lawyers and not directly to the client. The payments also include outlays; for example, in respect of experts' fees. Therefore, the payments may not be only for members of the legal profession because members of one or two other professions sometimes appear in court to give evidence. Accordingly, some other professions may well be involved as well as the legal profession, which is of course an extremely honourable profession.

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