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Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): This group of amendments goes to the heart of the matter: the future for transport in London. Liberal Democrat Members did not press amendment No. 35 to a vote so that we might able to debate this group at much greater length.

What is the current state of the tube? The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has already mentioned the figures--obtained by Liberal Democrats--on rolling stock failures, which both show that, in the two years since Labour came to power, there has been a 36 per cent. increase in such failures and demonstrate the signification deterioration in the situation. Other hon. Members have

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already mentioned the fact that £350 million will be needed for routine maintenance on the underground, and that that money will have to be found in the budget of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

What about the current state of the public-private partnership? The Government's PPP proposals for the tube have been criticised by many well-respected individuals and organisations--to whom other hon. Members London have referred--such as London First; the London school of economics; John Kramer, the former chief executive of the Chicago rapid transport authority; the Capital Transport Campaign; and Chantrey Vellacott. All those people and organisations are either very worried about the Government's PPP proposals or are suggesting their preferred alternatives. Even a few Labour Members have expressed their concern about the proposals by supporting an early-day motion calling for an alternative to the PPP.

A report in the Financial Times stated that the Deputy Prime Minister is talking with the Treasury about alternatives to the PPP. We do not know what those alternatives are, but it would be interesting to find out. Moreover, the Minister for Transport in London has said that the Government

However, the Chantrey Vellacott report that has been mentioned by hon. Members estimates that the Government's PPP proposals would impose an extra cost of no less than £7.8 billion to deliver the £7 billion of maintenance required on the London underground over and above the cost of the Government themselves financing the maintenance. The PPP process is therefore certainly not progressing with the support of many sections of the population or sectors of business.

Even more alarming are reports in today's press that Railtrack is perhaps the only contender for the PPP. We all know the Deputy Prime Minister's views on Railtrack. Recently, he said that Railtrack has been

Until recently, that was his view on Railtrack. He has had his doubts about Railtrack, and I am sure that they remain.

Ms Glenda Jackson: Forgive me if I misheard what the hon. Gentleman said, but did he really say that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister blamed Railtrack for "the blame culture"?

Mr. Brake: I am quite happy to quote again the Deputy Prime Minister's comment. He said that Railtrack has been

I am simply repeating his words.

Ms Jackson: I clearly did not mishear the hon. Gentleman. However, if he had read everything that my right hon. Friend has said in that context, he will appreciate that my right hon. Friend was not singling out Railtrack for engaging in the blame culture, but urging the entire railway industry to move away from that culture.

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5.45 pm

Mr. Brake: It may well be true that the Deputy Prime Minister was not singling out Railtrack specifically, but he was singling out the rail industry, of which Railtrack is a major player, generally.

What is the state of public-private partnership? We know that the tube system is deteriorating, and that concerns about the PPP are being expressed by various parties, companies and organisations. An alternative to PPP therefore must be found, which is why the Liberal Democrats have promoted the concept--which is supported by the Capital Transport Campaign--of a public interest company.

We believe that the concept of a public interest company is necessary as a fall-back position. It is not good enough for the official Opposition to propose ending the PPP entirely without proposing an alternative. Everyone knows that privatisation is not an alternative, as it would not receive the support of Londoners. It is therefore incumbent on parties to propose viable alternatives, such as a public interest company.

I hope that some Labour Members will agree that a public interest company is a viable alternative. Perhaps they will not actively and openly express their support for it today, but I hope that they are willing to work behind the scenes to promote it as an alternative to the Government's PPP proposals, which are rapidly running out of steam.

As the official Opposition have proposed no alternative to PPP, Liberal Democrat Members shall not be able to back them up on amendment No. 79. However, we call on the Minister to respond to the points that I have made on PPP, perhaps to give some ground on their PPP proposals, and to accept that, in the months and years to come, the mayor and assembly should be allowed to consider alternatives such as public interest companies.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Although we have heard many different views on the issue, I think that both sides of the House will be able to agree that--although it has improved in parts--the London underground system is in a parlous state. I speak as someone who has used the underground for a great many years, and even used it to go to school.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East): That was a long time ago.

Mr. Randall: It was indeed a long time ago, demonstrating the extent of my experience in using the underground.

Today, as I came in from Uxbridge on the Metropolitan line, a delay was caused by a breakdown at Neasden, and the passengers in my carriage were not very happy about it. I also do not think that they would have been very impressed to hear the Minister say that time is not a factor in solving the underground's problems. People in my constituency who use the stations at Uxbridge, Ickenham and Hillingdon demand--and deserve--a better service.

Another major issue is how to reduce the number of cars driving into central London. That will not be easily achieved while the underground is in its current state.

We have heard various options for rectifying the problem. One option from what I hesitate to call old Labour is the injection of public money. The Government

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would regard that as unacceptable. The Conservatives advocate privatisation and we have heard of the Liberal Democrats' idea of a public interest company. The public-private partnership that we have heard about seems to be the least acceptable option to the experts. I shall not repeat the full list of those who have been highly critical.

We should stop bandying investment figures about. It is time that the situation was resolved. The Government must realise that the public-private partnership is doomed from the start. We realised that in Committee when, in a sudden volte-face, the Government pulled out the clauses and said that they would come back to the issue, which is why we are debating it now.

Most Londoners thought that the Labour Government had a cunning plan. In the end, they have a PPP--a pretty pathetic plan.

Mr. Forth: I think that it was that great American President Ronald Reagan who said something like, "Here we go again." Here indeed we do go again. Yet again, we have before us another variant of the pathetic shambles that is the third way, in this case in the form of the mysterious PPP, which we are expected to believe will be the solution to what everybody knows are the problems of the London underground.

It has become ever clearer as we have debated the issue that the Government cannot decide whether they still believe in the virtues of public ownership--the Government or their agencies owning and running a facility--whether they have come the whole way in our direction and believe in the virtues of private ownership and management, or whether they would rather take refuge in something half way between, which is neither one nor the other and therefore has no credibility. I do not need to repeat the list that my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) has given of the reputable sources--well most of them are reputable, although one or two of them are not quite so reputable--who have analysed the issue and come up with cold, thoughtful criticism of the kind that we have all come to recognise.

We are in a dangerous situation, with the Government groping their way forward--as they do on so many other issues, such as reform of the House of Lords and constitutional change--with no clear end position. They want us to trust them to come up with something and to believe that everything will be all right. We have heard that approach on many issues, and here we are in the same position today.

That is bad enough, but now, thanks to the close questioning of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South, the Minister has admitted that she has no answer to the basic problem of the nature of the relationship between a mayor and a Government who take differing views on the way forward for the London underground. That is a serious matter. We are asked to take the role of the mayor and the assembly seriously. That is what the Bill is all about and what the referendum was supposed to be about. Here we have the clearest possible example of the Government failing utterly to work theirway through the possible relationship between the Government, the London boroughs, the assembly and the mayor on the future of the London underground, its investment and management and the ultimate responsibility for it.

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As I have always suspected, we are in danger of having institutionalised conflict between the different centres of power and authority for which there is no resolution. What was the Minister's answer? She said--in all seriousness, I assume--that we should not worry because only a Labour candidate would be elected as mayor and he would accept the Government's policy completely. That is odd, because we do not know what the Government's policy is and nor, apparently, do they. However, the Minister says that she does not need to give an answer about the relationship between the mayor and the Government on the London underground because the mayor will be a Government puppet.

Labour Members may have their own views on that. Regrettably, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is not here at the moment. Perhaps he has a view on that. I do not know. As we still do not know how the Labour party is going to select its candidate for mayor, I do not know how the Minister can be as confident as she appears to be that the Labour mayor will simply be a puppet of the Government who will accept completely the shambolic approach that they are offering for the future of the London underground. All is yet to be revealed.

It is not good enough for the Minister to say that we should trust the Government because it will be all right on the night and the mayor will probably not contest what the Government are doing. The Government do not really know what they are doing anyway, but, somehow, everything is supposed to work out. We are being asked to accept the Bill and the amendments in that context.

As if that were not bad enough, the Government new clauses contain all sorts of nonsense about a PPP arbiter. We do not know what the PPP is, how it will work and whether it will be biased towards the traditional public ownership approach that has failed this country so badly over many decades or the excitement and success of the new privatisation that we pioneered, and that the Government are playing with but have not quite come across to yet. The result is that a new bureaucrat will be set up to monitor, control or regulate the PPP, presumably because the Government do not know how it will work.

There are various provisions about how the arbiter will be appointed, the staff that he will have, the directions that he will take, guidance that will be given, the duties of the arbiter, the further powers of the arbiter, immunity and--that favourite of all bureaucrats--the expenses of the arbiter. We cannot leave expenses out, because the arbiter will obviously have to have loads of expenses. I do not want to detain the House by going into all those issues. Presumably, the Minister will tell us in detail why we need a PPP arbiter. I do not expect her to go into too much detail about the expenses, but that will all come out in due course.

All the provisions will add to the overhead burden of implementing whatever the Government want to do. All the measures that the Government have brought before us in these ill-thought-out, last minute changes to such an important Bill smack of a lack of thought and analysis and remind us that, every time that they do something, they add to the cost. Those who will bear the cost are the people who always bear the cost--the taxpayer and the users of the service. The combination may vary, but one thing is certain: the Government are telling the people of London, "Whatever we do to mangle your underground,

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you, the London taxpayer and you, the users of the underground, will pay the bill, which will be substantial." That is not good enough.

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