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Mr. Redwood: What time of day?

Mr. Prescott: At 8.00 am. I did 15 miles in 15 minutes. That does not sound like congestion to me. The buses were going faster and offering--[Hon. Members: "In the wrong lane."] No, no. In exactly those lanes. As I understand it, the Highways Agency has also made it clear that the effect on motorists is neutral. I would say, "Find out for yourself instead of relying on the press and we will get a better-quality transport debate."

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): My right hon. Friend will be aware that investment in London Underground is so disastrously overdue that what he has proposed will be regarded as an enormous step forward. The neglect of the previous Government was both criminal and shameful. My right hon. Friend's decisions on the staff will be warmly welcomed by those who believe that we cannot run a railway system without the men and women who are fundamental to its operation. They must have faith and certain assurances before they are able to fulfil their task to the best of their ability. However, he will be aware that Railtrack has an extremely poor record of fulfilling its investment obligations. There is no point trying to hide the fact that the company makes large sums of money, and does not carry out what it has promised. I warmly welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend is keeping the assets in state hands, but there will be reservations about Railtrack, and a demand for tight and constant monitoring. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the project will not be left entirely to a management who are already beginning to whinge about

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their share price, even though many of us believe that they are already making outrageous profits out of the taxpayer, with little to show in return?

Mr. Prescott: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. She makes sound points about transport and about the workers in that industry--indeed I have constantly given those workers assurances about guaranteeing their pensions. I had to do so because, under many of the privatisations, people were robbed of their pensions. In respect of one privatisation by the previous Administration--that of the National Bus Company--I have already announced to the House that it has now cost the taxpayer about £360 million to compensate for the injustice that was perpetrated on those people. That is why I have had to spend so much time reassuring people about their employment rights.

My hon. Friend makes an important point about Railtrack. I agree that there has been more concern over share prices than over the level of investment in the industry. That point was made by the regulator appointed by the previous Administration. I now have a tougher regulator; furthermore, a different regulator will be appointed for the underground. We intend to have public accountability for public money; that is what we shall do in order to secure investment.

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I listened to the Secretary of State's statement with interest, awaiting new information about the public-private partnership, but there was none. There was merely a restatement of past investment plans. I have several questions that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer. If there is further delay to the PPP plans, what allowance has he made for the extra finance that will be required to ensure that maintenance and investment continue? At what point will he show that the public-private partnership is best value, and will he use the public sector comparator to do that? Arethe Government holding discussions with other consortiums--which could, of course, include Railtrack--about the possible integration between the national rail network and the sub-surface lines to which he has referred? Will there be competition, or is only Railtrack in the running? What level of fines does he plan to impose on Railtrack, if it performs badly? Finally, is it with a sense of dread or of pride that he proposes to hand over part of London Underground to Railtrack?

Mr. Prescott: In relation to investment and any possible delays that may occur in the completion of the contracts, of course investment will be kept up. We showed that when we came into office by finding about £360 million to reverse the cuts that had been made. [Interruption.] That was during our first two years. We said, therefore, that, when the contracts were negotiated, we would consider meeting some of the investment from a public-private partnership. One of the purposes of my statement today was--as I said--to announce that I am embarking on inviting bids for those three PPPs, and that is what we are doing. Any resources needed to maintain the level of investment will therefore be met. That is our obligation.

In relation to the use of the public sector comparator, as a member of the Transport Sub-Committee, the hon. Gentleman is aware that that is our commitment; we have

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to show value for money and we shall use that practice. However, we cannot do that until we get the deal and we shall not get the deal for a little while--I suppose that is only logical. When we have completed the negotiations, we shall be forced to make the comparison--we have to do that. That is value for money, using the best-value principle to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We can reassure the Sub-Committee about that.

As for Railtrack and the investment deal, it is a unique deal between Railtrack and London Underground, both of which own the tracks that are involved. We have given them an opportunity to combine those tracks in a unique way.

We shall start the negotiations now, and we hope to achieve heads of agreement by autumn. Then, if the deal satisfies the tests that the hon. Gentleman wishes to apply, or we achieve what we consider to be value for money or our objectives of integration, we shall proceed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep the House informed of progress.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): As one who joined my right hon. Friend on the shadow transport team all of 10 years ago, I can testify to his long-term commitment to the London link line, as he described it today. Can he confirm, in the interests of my constituents and those of my hon. Friends representing south London, that when that vision is brought forth, there will be an extension of the East London line from New Cross Gate to Croydon?

Mr. Prescott: I recall the occasion on which my hon. Friend and I worked together on that team and mapped out the M25, then known as the orbital link, which required the building of a new section of the East London line. I am pleased to say that that is exactly what the proposals I have announced today will do and that the connection she suggests will be made. For the first time, we shall have an orbital link around London and a line that is as close to a cross-London link as we are likely to achieve in the immediate future.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): Given the Government's disarray on the subject of the underground during the Committee stage of the Greater London Authority Bill, may we take itfrom the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Government's confidence in the outcome is now such that they will be prepared to subject themselves to the most vivid litmus test of all--a debate on the underground in Government time, rather than in Opposition time?

Mr. Prescott: From beside me comes the whisper, "Not yet." There are many competing claims on the time of the House, but I understand that there is to be an Adjournment debate tomorrow on the very subject of connecting London's surface and sub-surface lines. I believe that that debate is to be introduced by a Labour Member representing London.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I warmly welcome the long overdue investment and the links between London's surface and underground lines, but can my right hon. Friend tell me where the public element of the public-private partnership is to come from? Will there be any public subsidy for the operations of London

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Underground next year and beyond? If not, and if that money were to come from higher fares or congestion charging, which would restrict the freedom of action of the future London mayor, does my right hon. Friend recognise that that would be unsatisfactory? When will we hear further details of the public element of the PPP?

Mr. Prescott: My hon. Friend will be aware from his experience of the activities of the Greater London council that there have always been great restrictions on fares and investment policy; and that the GLC was unable to find the resources necessary for investment, even though fares continued to increase. We need to get the finances of the underground onto a proper footing. The system is publicly owned; we are mortgaging the assets and those assets will return to public ownership, so there is public accountability.

The judgment to be made is on the balance between the income derived from fares and investment. That will be the subject of negotiations on the PPPs and a matter for the mayor during the final stages of that process and when the system is in operation. I do not suppose for one moment that there will not be further demand for new underground investment--I am talking only about existing links. Judgments will have to be made about whether public money is to be used for investment or whether that money will have to come from fares. To be frank, I do not think that all the money can come from fares; there will have to be some public money involved in investment.

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