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Mrs. Laing: No, I do not have time to give way again. The hon. Gentleman knows what point I am making,

27 Jan 1999 : Column 432

and he knows that I am right. The railways would be very much worse if they had not had the benefit of privatisation.

Ministers have the problem of a rose by any other name smelling as sweet. They know that they want a privatised underground, but they do not want to privatise it because that is a successful Conservative policy which they cannot bear to acknowledge. In trying to give the rose some other name, they have created this PPP thing--public-private partnership--which simply delays matters. The people of London and of the United Kingdom as a whole would benefit far more if Ministers admitted what must be done and privatised the underground.

For the sake of time, I shall not go into all the detail as I might otherwise have done. I shall concentrate on one important point pertaining especially to my constituency, which is outwith the area to be covered by the proposed Greater London authority, and therefore outwith the area for which the mayor of London will have responsibility. The Minister for Transport in London has politely listened to me making this point before in a different way. I should like to ask her questions on a slightly different aspect of the same point.

After the Greater London authority assumes responsibility for the London underground and the mayor of London becomes accountable to the people of London for its running, who will be responsible to my constituents? Of whom will I be able to ask questions about the underground on behalf of my constituents? They will not have a vote for the mayor of London. If anybody standing for the post of mayor of London had to consider in which part of the underground they would invest and which part they would neglect, would not they propose investment in parts where people were able to vote for them, and neglect the parts for which they would not be responsible?

The Minister has patiently listened to that important point before. I hope that she has done so again. I am looking for assurances on behalf of my constituents that I will be able to continue to ask questions of Transport Ministers in the House about the underground once the mayor of London assumes responsibility for it. [Hon. Members: "There he is."] We might hope that my hon. Friends are right in referring to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who has just entered the Chamber. We certainly hope that the hon. Gentleman has a chance to put himself forward if he so wishes, and that the control freaks in his party allow him free speech.

We on the Conservative Benches care about the London underground. I certainly do because it is of prime importance to my constituents. I sincerely hope that the Government will stop shilly-shallying, delaying and depending on their dogmatic principles, and start thinking about what is best for the people who depend on the underground, and get on with the privatisation process as soon as possible.

9.34 pm

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster): Upminster is, of course, at the beginning of the District line. Many thousands of my constituents travel on the London underground each day, and many work at the Cranham depot, which supports the District line. Apart from education and health, I think that transport is the most important issue to Londoners. It is just as important to visitors to London, 90 per cent. of whom use the tube when visiting the capital.

27 Jan 1999 : Column 433

There is no doubt that, if any Government failed to tackle the issues of investment and improvement in the underground, they would ultimately fail to securethe support of Londoners. Londoners know that the Conservative party failed miserably in office, and that is one of the many reasons why it remains so unpopular.

In many ways, the underground epitomises good public investment in infrastructure. It is a perfect example of how public investment can help the nation to prosper. What would London have been if that investment had not taken place? Each time that we travel on the underground, we are receiving a dividend from that past investment. I first used the underground in the early 1950s, to travel into central London from Leytonstone on the Central line. People were amazed at the frequency of the service and moved into that part of London because of the quality of that service.

Unfortunately, in the second half of this century, investment has not kept pace with need. If the post-King's Cross disaster investment and the much-belated Jubilee line extension investment are stripped out, the underlying investment over those 18 years has been miserable. Conservative Members should be ashamed at the wording of their motion, and, of course, of their management of the underground over 18 years.

London cannot flourish without higher levels of investment in public transport. In the global economy, cities across the world compete with each other, and our businesses cannot afford to have transport system infrastructure that receives no investment. It is astonishing that London has done so well, despite the decline in investment. However, we all know that the system is cracking under the strain and it will not provide anything like the level of service required without higher, and sustainable, levels of investment.

The recently published "Four World Cities Transport Study" compared four metropolises: London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. It contains lots of interesting statistics, but of most interest to me was the information contrasting Tokyo with London. In London, 64 per cent. of journeys are made by car from Monday to Friday; the figure for Tokyo is 27 per cent. In London, 19 per cent. of journeys are made on the railways and by underground; the figure for Tokyo is 38 per cent.

The study sets out many standards of reliability and punctuality: 98 per cent. of Tokyo's metro trains arrive within a minute of their scheduled time; in London, only 85 per cent. arrive within five minutes of scheduled time. London needs to address its punctuality record.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) will no doubt welcome the study's recommendation on fares. It suggests that London and New York could consider reducing high public transport fares, thus making public transport more affordable.

The Opposition motion makes no mention of their involvement in the decline in investment; no mention of their legacy; no mention of the inheritance that they left to this Government; and no mention of their role in the delayed start for the Jubilee line extension. For those reasons, their motion should be rejected.

9.38 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): We have had an interesting debate, but perhaps its most salient feature is that not a single speaker--apart from the Minister of Transport--defended the proposal for a public-private partnership.

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I, however, intend to follow the example of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) and will attempt to be a healer in this debate. That means that we must put behind us language such as that used by the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford), who talked of leaving the system to the "ravages" of the private sector. That is an unfair charge to make. [Interruption.] The Minister of Transport did not use that phrase; the hon. Member for Eltham accused him of leaving the system to the "ravages" of the private sector.

We must move ahead and begin with what the Labour party said at the election, which has certainly raised expectations about what it would deliver. I appreciate that the Minister of Transport did not read the London manifesto, because he was standing elsewhere, but it said:

We can all agree with that, and we should start from the premise that we all have Londoners' interests close to our hearts and want to improve the system.

The manifesto went on to say:

That has changed; it will not happen for some time.

Much criticism was levelled at our privatisation proposals. The manifesto was, perhaps, being ironic in stating:

At present, it seems that the public-private sector partnership is leading to the delay of much-needed investment in the underground. Perhaps more extraordinarily, Labour is wedded to the dogma of public ownership

    "to safeguard its commitment to the public interest and guarantee value for money to taxpayers and passengers."

If public accountability had guaranteed value for money and the public interest, we would never have needed to transfer any of the state-owned interests to the private sector. The Labour party has now embraced the practical benefits of privatisation in industry after industry. It has even decided to reverse its position on, for instance, the national air traffic control service, which is now to be privatised.

Dr. Reid: No.

Mr. Jenkin: The right hon. Gentleman is unwise to say that. He told the Select Committee that it was privatisation. Of course, he corrected himself quickly, because it is not linguistically politically correct to use the term "privatisation"; but, if selling 51 per cent. of a business is not privatisation, we did not privatise British Telecom until well after 1984, when we sold 51 per cent. of it. I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman opposed that at the time, although he did not know then that a public-private sector partnership was involved.

We need to put aside dogma. We also need to understand that, if we had waited for public support before doing the necessary things, we would not have privatised a single industry. The right hon. Gentleman's party made sure that the public were against us on every one of those privatisations.

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Let us compare and contrast the privatised railway with the London underground, which is under state control and enjoying that public accountability and responsiveness to the public interest. At least the privatised railway has an investment programme of £17 billion for Railtrack, and huge new sums for rolling stock. Regulated fares are falling against the rate of inflation, and there have been substantial improvements in performance since privatisation. I think that even the right hon. Gentleman would accept that. The figures have been produced by Railtrack, and are not disputed by his Department.

There is still virtually no investment in London Underground, which is under state control. Fares are rising at well over the rate of inflation, and the service is falling to pieces. Where would the right hon. Gentleman have got £17 billion for rail infrastructure investment if the railways had not been privatised by the last Conservative Government?

New Labour opposed the investment that is now being made in the railways. That is the logic of the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman's party, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) so ably demonstrated. It now opposes the same sort of investment in the London underground. It is worth recalling what our policy for the underground was when we were in government. We made 10 commitments. Safety was a top priority; other commitments were to integrated through ticketing, the retention of travelcards, the retention of concessionary fares, shares for employees and passengers enabling them to acquire a real stake in the business, the protection of travel concessions and pensions, guaranteed levels of service, safeguards to keep stations open, controls on fares so that they did not increase above the rate of inflation as they have under the present Government, and, of course, investment. We said that investment should be a priority. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) said earlier, we were planning a privatised underground with reinvestment of at least £750 million a year.

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