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Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): I have been following the hon. Gentleman's speech closely, looking for some sign that he wants the underground to be run in the public interest. Does he accept that public-private partnerships may be in the public interest, or is he still wedded to the discredited philosophy of his party in the 1980s that the public interest can be served only by full privatisation?

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. His own deputy leader said that it does not matter whether London Underground is in the public or the private sector. We believe that private sector involvement not only in the management of the infrastructure but in the operation is highly desirable.

Why should the vulnerable of London underwrite a package that the Transport Committee described as a "convoluted compromise"? If I were the first mayor of London, I would stand up for those people and reject any notion of the Government dumping the debt on Londoners. In our opinion, road pricing is not necessarily the best way of raising funds for the underground. Why should the mayor not have the discretion to borrow if he considers it appropriate? Why should he not have the power to raise funds by bond issues, as is the case in New York?

We urge the Government to break out of their anti-motorist mind set, particularly as there is no guarantee that the Treasury will not nab the funds from road pricing and put them in the Consolidated Fund. The Deputy Prime Minister said that the money would be ring-fenced for 10 years. That is not good enough. Any proceeds from road pricing must be spent on transport in perpetuity.

Furthermore, our faith in the Government's ability to make all their proposals work is shaken all the more when we learn that the operational control of the underground is to stay in the public sector. The people who bring us today's hopeless service are the very people who will be doing so tomorrow. They are the management on whom Londoners will be relying to clear the huge debt imposed on them. The Government have shown a complete lack of faith in the present management by bringing in Bechtel to finish the Jubilee line. In the Government's opinion, London Underground does not have the management skills to do the job. Leaving operations in the public sector is the worst of all worlds, and no doubt raises concerns among bidders.

If one really wants to see how the Government run the country, one has only to look at their management of the Jubilee line. In June 1997, the Minister for Transport in

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London said that construction work was drawing to a close, engineering work was well under way and the line would be open by the end of September 1998. In February 1998, she said that it would open in spring 1999. At the end of June, she confirmed her thinking, saying that a thorough review of the programme has been undertaken and she planned to open the entire line in spring 1999. Then, disaster struck. The Government went away for their summer holidays. They took their eye off the ball and, by October, were saying that the line would not be open fully until late autumn 1999.

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that, more than two years ago, when tunnelling problems increased costs from £1.9 billion to £2.6 billion, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) reduced the Government's contribution to £100 million and told London Transport to find the rest? What commitment to completing the Jubilee line on time did that show?

Mr. Ottaway: Why did the Minister say after the general election that she was confident that the line would open in 1998? She was perfectly happy with the contract and the finance that she was getting. The truth is that she has failed to deliver on her early pledge.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): In the light of the problems that--I think--both parties have had with the Jubilee line, does the Opposition spokesperson now deeply regret his Government's decision in 1982 to refuse to allow the then Labour Greater London council to build the line? It would now have been operating for eight or nine years. The short-termism and refusal to invest of Mrs. Thatcher's Government have denied London that functioning line for the past decade.

Mr. Ottaway: If the hon. Gentleman were still running London's transport, we would still be waiting for the Jubilee line. So incompetent was his management of London's transport that, in 1984, we had to take it away from him.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): As the hon. Member who represents areas in which the largest stretch of the Jubilee line extension runs, I say to the hon. Gentleman that, at this stage in the proceedings, it does nobody any good to undermine the almost certain prospect that the Jubilee line will be finished on time. Management, new management, the Government and London Regional Transport have put themselves out to ensure a line worthy of the next century. Talking it down, making it sound as if it will not succeed, when we want people to visit London and use London transport, is the absolute opposite of the approach that we should be taking to the Jubilee line extension.

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman is being a little pious. Completion of the line is within the Government's gift to deliver. If he wants something done, and since he is part of a coalition with the Government, he should talk to them about it--unless his intervention was merely part of his leadership campaign.

There is every doubt that the line will not be operational by the end of this year. The millennium dome projectwas proudly conceived by the previous Conservative

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Government, but is being messed up by this Government. In 11 months' time, the eyes of the globe will be on Greenwich as we enter the new millennium. We shall be the laughing stock of the world if the Jubilee line is not fully operational and the Minister for Transport in London is bussing people through the Blackwall tunnel as part of her contingency plan.

But then, this Government's management of the London underground is already the laughing stock of the nation. Gone is the previous Government's vision that brought us the docklands light railway, the Jubilee line extension, the Croydon tramlink, modernisation of the East London line and Thameslink 2000. In contrast, this Government have absolutely no plans whatever. London faces fare increases, more overcrowding and less reliability. The Government do not know where the money will come from, they expect Londoners to pick up the tab, and they are waiting for the mayor to solve their problems, as if he were some magician. The public will not buy it.

7.45 pm

The Minister of Transport (Dr. John Reid): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I approach the Dispatch Box with trepidation. This is the first occasion on which I have led for the Government as Minister of Transport. Over the weekend, I wondered who would be facing me, because, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) knows, there were constant rumours of changes to his transport team. The shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), displayed his confidence in the transport team by suggesting that they should bring in a new recruit who has

    "great insight into the motoring industry. We would be interested in getting together"--

presumably in another bonding session. He was referring to none other than Mr. Vroom Vroom himself, Jeremy Clarkson, recently of television's "Top Gear".

Perhaps I put two and two together and made five when I saw that the Tories were thinking of recruiting Mr. Clarkson, because that attempted press-ganging of the reluctant Mr. Clarkson into the Tory team coincided remarkably with a story that the shadow Transport Secretary was about to be sacked. I noticed that that has changed. I hope that it was not only because Mr. Clarkson politely declined the offer extended to him, by saying:

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    I have waited a long time to say that I entirely agree with every word of Mr. Jeremy Clarkson.

The first thing that strikes me about the Opposition motion is that it does not once mention the word "passenger". If the underground in London and the London transport system are not about passengers, then they are about nothing. That is the litmus test of the motion.

I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Croydon, South. I heard him speak about the vulnerable and the desperate need to protect those who are deprived and who do not have a car. At one stage, he mentioned the homeless. There are three statements that always stretch my incredulity. The first is, "Your cheque is in the post," the second is, "I will love you all the more for it in the morning," and the third is, "I am a Tory, and deeply concerned about the vulnerable and public transport."

It is noticeable that the Conservative party in opposition has sponsored three debates on the London underground. That stands in marked contrast to its reluctance to debate the London underground when it was in power. In the five years of the previous Parliament, the Conservative party, which is supposedly concerned about the London underground, could not find the time on one single occasion to debate the subject which they are now declaring to be so important. What wisdom the Tories have achieved in hindsight. What commitment they apparently have now that they have neither power nor responsibility. After listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Croydon, South, I must also say what self-righteousness they now have in their selective and collective amnesia.

The Government are picking up the pieces after 18 years in which the Conservative party, through its neglect and abandonment of any responsibility for it, allowed the London underground to decay and degenerate. Conservative Members have the gall to criticise a Government who have been in power for 20 months.

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