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Mr. Wilkinson: Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish that you had been in Committee when the Government dropped the bombshell that London Regional Transport would have to continue and that Transport for London could not assume the assets of London Transport underground because the public-private partnership, on which had been predicated all the Labour Government's fine plans for modernising the tube, would not now or in the foreseeable future go ahead. That little statement was slipped into our proceedings, and the Minister might have been surprised at the uproar that it caused. However, the fact that the uproar was justified can be seen in the scale and scope of Government amendments Nos. 84 to 92 and, above all, Government new clauses 16 to 22.

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As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) so eloquently explained, there can be few occasions in recent parliamentary history when such vast tracts of a major Bill have had to be completely rewritten. More than that, the Labour party's manifesto for London at the general election should have been rewritten. It is demonstrably a fraudulent document.

4.45 pm

On transport matters, I think that The Times is normally fairly sympathetic to the Government's transport proposals. In an article in the business section on Tuesday 4 May, it postulated that the tube sell-off faces delay until after the next general election. The article written by the transport correspondent, Arthur Leathley, states:

The article continues:

    "Officials now concede that the private sector cannot take over the project until at least the spring 2001. But this is viewed by many observers as the likely date of the general election."

That is a year after the election for the Greater London Authority. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, the election campaign will be transformed by this fact, with candidates postulating policies for a potentially nugatory role. We are talking about the Greater London Authority integrating London's transport, including the tube; manifestly, in respect of the underground services, it will not be able to carry that out.

Notwithstanding that background, transitional arrangements are set out in the new clauses. I am glad that this is so. However, I think that the general public will be more worried about the funding gap than technical transitional arrangements. The failure in finding private finance means that the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab. It was imagined that leases of 25 years for the running of the tube's infrastructure would allow modernisation to take place over the first 15 years, and that private sector moneys would be available. Those moneys will not be available. The Treasury subsidies will be withdrawn from the beginning of the next financial year. They amount to about £350 million, and are badly needed by the underground management.

Who will make good the difference and see through the transition which will lead eventually, one hopes, to the assumption by Transport for London of its rightful role, ultimately taking responsibility for the tube? If the answer is the travelling public, they will be extremely upset. Conservative candidates will certainly highlight the additional risk that London commuters will have to pick up the tab in the election campaign unless the Government are able to say now that the Treasury will make good the difference and that the fears of some of us are wholly unrealistic.

There is one ray of hope which may change the transition schedule. It is the suggestion that I have read in the press today that Railtrack will assume responsibility for the running of the infrastructure of London Transport underground. If that is the case and a white knight such as Railtrack is to emerge at the 11th hour, I suppose that that is potentially good news. However, such a move

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would take away the element of competition that we had imagined was at least possible under the Government's arrangements. It will be a monopoly system. Whether that accords with what the Government have in mind, only the Government can say.

It is clear from the Report stage today that the Government have let the electorate of London down on one of the foremost elements of their 1997 election campaign. For the past two years, until the Standing Committee proceedings in March, the Government have not come clean and admitted that the transfer of the underground to Transport for London will not take place in the foreseeable future. Even now, the Government cannot give a date when Transport for London will assume the responsibilities that everyone expected it to take over on 3 July 2000. That is an admission by the Government of their failure to be candid with the electorate and to administrate on a central plank of their transport policy for London.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as he is developing a powerful case. Is not the situation especially serious in the light of the 36 per cent. increase in tube breakdowns since the general election, and the 20,000 breakdowns on the London Underground tube network over the past 12 months alone?

Mr. Wilkinson: As ever, my hon. Friend has the facts at his fingertips. The House is grateful to him for the knowledge that he brings to these matters. The figures that he quoted demonstrate how essential is the new investment that the Government promised would occur through the public-private partnership. That will not happen unless the Treasury provides the funds. There is no indication in any Government document that I have seen from the Treasury, in any of the press speculation or in any of the commentaries in the transport press that the Exchequer is prepared to make good the difference.

That being so, the network will continue to deteriorate, the breakdowns will become more numerous and possibly more severe and, above all, the passenger is likely to have to pay more. That is the end result of Labour Government failure. The travelling public should be aware of the facts, and I am glad that we have had the opportunity to make plain these unpleasant realities.

Ms Glenda Jackson: That was one of the most fascinating contributions that I have been privileged to hear in the Chamber. Member after Member of the official Opposition expressed bemusement at the Government's proposals with regard to the transition from London Transport to Transport for London. I find it hard to believe in their bemusement, as my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister stated in the House on Second Reading that there would indeed be a transitional period.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) clearly does not understand the complexity of the London underground. We are not selling a train set. We have the dread lesson of the experience of watching his Government enter into rail privatisation. They were so driven by a date, and by the desperate desire to offload a problem that they had neither the imagination nor the energy to tackle, that they cost the country billions of pounds. They sold off national assets for a fraction of their real worth, they fragmented an integrated railway system

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into 100 separate operations, and now they have the audacity to suggest that we should follow that disastrous example in pursuit of an empty date.

Our objective is to provide the best value and to ensure that adequate funding to modernise London's underground is brought into place, after more than a decade of lamentable stewardship by the previous Administration.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expressed similar bemusement. I have a clear recollection that he was in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made his statement. The hon. Gentleman asked questions with regard to the state of the public-private partnership. I can tell him that there have been no expressions of interest, and nonehas been invited. There have been no invitations for pre-qualification. There has been great interest from the private sector, as I have had occasion to say before in the House.

I also took on board the hon. Gentleman's point about Alice in Wonderland, because I was strongly reminded during his contribution of the White Rabbit desperately consulting a watch and crying all the time, "I'm late, I'm late!" He also seems to believe that the Government should be driven by some artificially imposed end date. That is not the way to produce the best possible value and the best possible results for the people of London in respect of the underground.

All official Opposition Members who spoke were bemused at what the situation will be, but the Government, through the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on Second Reading, made that abundantly clear. However, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) was quite right. We are introducing radical and reforming changes, and there is a clear and desperate need for investment, as I have already had occasion to say, because of the previous Administration's lamentable stewardship of London Underground and because of their grievous lack of investment for at least a decade--not because of a lack of investment between the '50s and '60s. If I remember correctly, the core funding for London Underground was halved in the 1996 Budget.

Nor do we come new to the idea of public-private partnership by virtue of being in government. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has been advocating public-private partnership for a considerable number of years--since well before the 1997 election.

The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet said that our proposals were a sham. I must tell him that the people of London voted for what the Government propose and they do not perceive our proposals as a sham. They perceive that there has to be a means of attracting adequate investment to ensure that the tube, which is one of the arteries of London, can maintain its proper place in moving them around this great city.

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