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5.15 pm

In their last decade in office--which is increasingly looking like a golden era--the Conservative Government invested, at today's prices, £8 billion. We were the first to admit that that was not enough, and that we needed to bring in the private sector to secure extra investment. What is this Government's answer? A public-private partnership which will introduce £7 billion over 15 years. That is half a billion pounds a year, and about the same level of funding that the Government are providing at present as a temporary measure.

Why do the Government not admit that their plans for PPP are in a mess? As all the contractors involved are deeply wary of the Government's intentions, it now looks increasingly likely that the plan will not be up and running when the mayor takes office next summer, and quite likely that the funds will not be flowing by the summer of 2001. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) referred to a story in The Times yesterday, headed

A whole Parliament will have gone by, and the Government will have failed to deliver on their pledges. The reason for their inability to deliver on their pledges is their inability to embrace the private sector, and to use it whenever necessary or whenever it can help.

It is well worth making a comparison with the privatised railways. The railways carry only a few more passengers per annum than the underground, but the differences in proposed levels of investment are startling. The state-owned underground can expect £7 billion over the next 15 years if it is lucky, and fares arerising. A recent report by the chartered accountants

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Chantrey Vellacott, which was mentioned earlier, suggested that fares would have to rise by 30 per cent. to pay for the PPP. On the other hand, privatised rail fares are falling, and no less than £27 billion of investment has been pledged for the next 10 years.

I shall deal with the question of performance shortly; but what a contrast that is. The Government, however, say that PPP is the best way of attracting investment. Labour Members nod: they believe that. But what do others say? The London school of economics is not a stupid organisation. In a report prepared with the respected transport economists Glaister, Scanlon and Travers, published on 20 March, it says:

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ottaway: I am still quoting. The report continues:

Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman is quoting rather selectively from the academics' publication. If he read other parts, he would see that they back the idea of a public interest company, proposed by the Liberal Democrats and others in the capital. What they do not back is the privatisation option favoured by the Conservatives.

Mr. Ottaway: The hon. Gentleman says that I am quoting selectively. In fact, I have quoted the first two paragraphs. He is right in saying that the report suggests a number of options, but one is a long-term lease of the underground to a single contractor. I shall say more about that.

Mr. Davey: That is not privatisation.

Mr. Ottaway: I accept that, but a long-term lease to a single private contractor over, say, 99 years is not far off being a full-scale privatisation.

Mr. Davey: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the option that he has just described is not the favoured option in the report? The favoured option is a public interest company.

Mr. Ottaway: I do not read that in the report. The academics do not express a favoured option; they put forward a number of options on an equal basis. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will get the report out and quote it in his speech.

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The Government are failing in an ideological logjam. All the evidence of the past two decades is that privatisation works. All the companies that used to be at Labour's

are performing better in the private sector than they were in the public sector. It was not all straightforward, but no one suggests that companies such as British Airways, British Gas and the electricity boards would perform better back in the public sector. As the investment level in the railways comes through, the Government will soon be taking the credit for the performance of the railways as well; indeed, the language already seems to be moderating. Therefore, we urge the Government fully to embrace the private sector for London underground and to involve it in operations, as well as the infrastructure and management.

The annual report for 1999 from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions continues to make interesting reading. Against the background of falling investment that I have described, it says at paragraph 13.8:

That is getting a bit off message. Such glossy documents are meant to be new Labour spin. If it thinks that failing on six out of nine quality targets is a success story, it has another think coming. The real point is that London Underground is currently making an operating profit of £250 million a year. If it can do that under the present management, while failing on two thirds of the quality targets, think what the private sector could do if the Government could get rid of their dogma and let it run the underground in the way in which it runs many former public services.

It is possible to make London underground viable; I know that the Government have trouble believing that. They said that privatising the railways would not attract investment. They were wrong, and they are wrong on their public-private partnership.

The Government will hang on to London underground until they have set up their PPP, but buses and roads will be transferred to the mayor next summer. It will be the first time since the 1920s that the buses and the underground have been under different management. It is not an integrated transport policy, but a disintegrated transport policy. The public are becoming increasingly aware of it.

The worst thing--it is a further point made by the London school of economics--is that the mayor will have no say in the best way in which to run the underground. In response to interventions from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the Minister said that, if the PPP was not ready by the time of the election, it was inevitable that the mayor would be involved. That does not seem to be a pledge of any sort, or perhaps I have read it wrongly. [Interruption.] The Minister says that it is a pledge.

Ms Glenda Jackson: The hon. Gentleman clearly misheard what I said from a sedentary position. It has been abundantly clear to everyone who takes an interest in these issues that we have consistently said that, if the PPP is not concluded by the time the mayor takes office,

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as the mayor will eventually be responsible for the underground, clearly, the mayor will be involved in the discussions on the PPP.

Mr. Ottaway: What happens if the mayor has campaigned on a manifesto pledge not to accept the PPP?

Ms Jackson: I should think that any candidate who campaigned on a pledge not to ensure that the relevant levels were invested in the underground, to transform it into the modern underground that London needs, would stand little chance of winning the favour of the people of London.

Mr. Ottaway: The Minister is in for a big surprise. The people of London will not welcome a £7 billion debt being landed round their necks, with the Deputy Prime Minister walking off into his next job and saying to the people of London, "You pay for it over the next 30 years." In Committee, the Minister said that she would be proud to introduce a congestion charge. No doubt she would be proud to lumber London with a £7 billion debt, but she has not answered my question: what would happen if the mayor were committed to a pledge not to accept the PPP?

Ms Jackson: I say again: I cannot believe that any serious candidate for the mayoralty of London would turn away from the only certainty of securing the relevant level of investment, over a sustainable period, to ensure that the underground could be modernised.

Mr. Ottaway: I know that the Minister is a wise and intelligent person, but just suppose for a second, on that narrow issue, that she is wrong. Let me soften the line slightly. Let us suppose that a mayor is elected who is not opposed to the PPP and who is committed to a transfer, but on different terms from those that have been proposed by the Government. Is the Minister saying that she would override the mayor, or that he would have the last word? Who would have the last word in those circumstances?

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