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Mr. Gapes: If its transport policy was so good, why has the Conservative party, which used to have a huge number of seats in London, been decimated in the capital?

Mr. Jenkin: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has asked that question, because it enables me to say that, had we privatised the system 10 years ago, the benefits of privatisation would have been felt. British Airways is now the world's leading airline; perhaps London Underground would now have been the world's leading underground system.

State ownership does not give public accountability. Under state control, passengers are the last priority. I represent North Essex. My constituents commute to London and use the underground, which is more than can be said for the right hon. Member for Hamilton, North and Bellshill (Dr. Reid). Passengers, who are first and foremost in our mind, are helpless under state ownership. They are herded around like cattle. Their complaints are ignored. The state-owned service is a take-it-or-leave-it service for passengers.

I counsel the Minister of Transport to be cautious about the benefits of changing the management. We changed the management often for London Underground, but the same

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fundamental problems remain. A state-owned industry, particularly a state-owned monopoly, is run in the interests of producers, not passengers. What is needed is a step-change in the culture and values of the management and staff of London Underground, an infusion of finance, and the discipline and values of the private sector. If that is what his public-private partnership is intended to achieve, bravo, we shall be the first to cheer him on, but, unfortunately, it does not look as though his PPP will deliver those benefits.

Passengers are at the heart of the debate. We did not do enough for the tube--I would be the first to acknowledge that--but the Government's policy means that they are doing even less for the tube because the investment that we were promising has been choked off. The cancellation of Conservative plans means the cancellation of the investment plans that would have flowed through to the benefit of passengers.

Mr. Martin Linton (Battersea): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Jenkin: I will not give way. I have little time.

What exactly are the Government's proposals? What does public-private partnership actually mean? It is a "have your cake and eat it" proposal. The problem is that the Government want the advantages and benefits of private capital, without any of the disciplines and loss of control that goes with transfer of ownership. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is right: the policy is an expensive way in which to run a nationalised industry.

Having decided to go ahead, the Government published their proposals in March last year. Around 20 credible bidders have emerged, but the key issues all concern the uncertainty of the process. In August, the Government effectively asked bidders, "How on earth shall we manage the process?" They will not say when the deadlines are to be. They will not say when the public-private partnership is to happen. It is expensive to bid: it costs each bidder about £20 million. With no certainty of success, it is likely that some of the bidders will fall by the wayside: they will not put up the capital on a purely speculative basis when there is so much uncertainty.

There is a widespread feeling that one bidder is in a privileged position and that the process will be a shoe-in for Railtrack. I think it would be helpful if the Minister for Transport in London made it clear, particularly as there are no financial deadlines, that Railtrack is not getting privileged access because of its special relationship with the Government in view of the utility that it currently runs.

It is a little vain of the Government to protest that they are not negotiating against a deadline. What gives the lie to that is a written answer by the Deputy Prime Minister. It shows the outcome of the public spending review and confirms that the figure for London Transport

There is a deadline for the PPP. The Government are busy advertising that they are not negotiating against a deadline because they are terrified of the consequences of reaching that deadline without a PPP in place.

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Therefore, will the Minister for Transport in London confirm that the pre-qualification will take place in March or April this year, that there will formal invitations to tender by August and that we will have a PPP in place in 2000? Otherwise, the best-value process is nothing but a delay to the investment that the underground badly needs.

What will the subsidy regime be under the public- private partnership? Is there going to be a subsidy? Does the Minister seriously think that it will be possible to run London Underground without a public subsidy, unlike any other public metro system in the world and differently from the way in which we privatised the railway? [Interruption.]

I hope that we will put aside all the past dogmas. The politics of the cold war should be over and the tube should not be the plaything of politicians. There should be a third way--a way of consensus and co-operation for the benefit of Londoners. That third way will not be found if we stick doggedly to the old religion of public ownership and control where there is only one customer--the politicians.

9.51 pm

The Minister for Transport in London (Ms Glenda Jackson): I am rather sorry that the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) was urged to sit down by my hon. Friends because he has clearly been converted to the third way, which is inherent within the Labour Government. I had a strong feeling that, if he had been allowed to linger a little longer at the Dispatch Box, he might even have walked across and joined us to confirm that he has accepted what the Labour party has been arguing for a considerable time, which is that there is a third way to tackle the basic and truly important issue of how we provide a first-class public transport system in London. As the Minister of Transport said, the London Underground provides the arteries for this great city.

The Opposition must be regretting their choice of this topic for what is undoubtedly an opportunistic debate. Their amendment does not even mention the word "passenger". Despite the assiduous efforts of the Conservative Whips, only three Opposition Members were found to speak and sit on their Benches for the majority of the debate. The work of the Whips is still going on, and I can now see more Conservative Members in the Chamber, but only as the debate is drawing to a close. Their presence debunks, as powerfully as did my right hon. Friend the Minister, the somewhat pathetic claims by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) that they wanted to debate this issue because they are concerned for the vulnerable people of London.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South attempted to condemn a public-private partnership and demanded to know, as did the hon. Member for North Essex, the timetable for PPP. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said, he would dearly love to play poker with the hon. Member for Croydon, South. The inability to hide one's hand seems to be shared by all Conservative transport spokesmen. The hon. Gentleman ignored the realities that would have resulted from the Conservative Government's proposal for privatisation of the underground. He also ignored the deeply seated opposition felt by Londoners for those proposals.

I must tell the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) that rail privatisation took a great deal longer than 18 months. I believe that it took almost four

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years. The previous Government said that privatisation of the underground would take at least four years. The costs of rail privatisation were astronomic and many of my hon. Friends have given the figures involved. Privatisation of the underground, which had been proposed by the previous Administration, would have had to be subsidised from the public purse for a considerable time, as has been the case for rail privatisation.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Jackson: Regretfully, I have very little time.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) also talked about the timetabling for PPP. He is someone else who does not know how to play poker. My right hon. Friend the Minister dubbed the hon. Member for Croydon, South's inability to understand how to hide one's cards when one is in--[Interruption.]

Mr. Hughes: Give way now.

Ms Jackson: I would give way if the hon. Gentleman had asked more quietly and had not waved his arms, but I did not believe the request--he overplayed it somewhat.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport said that had the hon. Member for Croydon, South been in charge of a firing squad, he would have put it in a circle. Had the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington been in charge of a firing squad, not only would he have asked it to stand in a circle, he would have asked the condemned men to hold the rifles.

Mr. Ottaway: The Minister of Transport talked about a firing squad in a circle and his willingness to play poker with me because he did not want to be up against a deadline. Does the Minister agree that the workers on the Jubilee line are working to the ultimate deadline?

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