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Caroline Flint (Don Valley): The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that many of the achievements that he cited have happened since 1997. Does he agree that the new Labour Government brought a different ethos and attitude, and that the combination of encouragement and pressure for improved standards and better and more frequent services has come from this Government, and not from the Conservative Government, whose tactics were simply to privatise?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Government have been able to build on the investment put in by Railtrack to improve the railways as I described. That simply would not have been possible under the old public sector ethos. We all remember the dirty and delayed trains under British Rail. The system was crumbling and getting worse by the year. Now at least we are getting significant sums invested in the railways, which is exactly what they need. I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for bringing that out.

I follow the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington in echoing my concerns for the people of London, the tourists and others who use the London underground system. There is a significant problem--we all acknowledge that London Underground has been suffering from underinvestment for many years. What worries me is that the Government have planned for a huge amount of income from the public-private partnership, yet it seems that there will be a considerable delay if ever they manage to get the scheme off the ground. Their own figures prove that: last year London Underground received £338 million in public sector grants, while this year the figure is only £89 million, and next year it is planned to be £102 million. I suggest that the reason for those significant reductions is that the Government were planning for the income to come from the public-private partnership. If that money is not forthcoming, and if the public subsidy drops, the passengers of London Underground will continue to suffer considerably more pain yet before things get better--if they ever get better under this Government.

Whatever happens, I call on the Government to get on with their public-private partnership. We would prefer a full privatisation, but whatever the outcome, there needs to be a significant increase in investment in the London underground system for all the passengers who travel on it. I have travelled on it recently--[Interruption.] I have travelled on it ever since I was a small child. I remember when I was five years old being stuck on the underground for two and a half hours with my mother. That was in the 1958 floods, as it happens--but not many people can remember that far back. That demonstrates that we need

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more investment. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will be able to explain what will happen in the interim before the money comes in from the public- private partnership.

The privatisation of National Air Traffic Services is also an important part of the debate. How will the Government fund the £300 million needed for the new investment at Prestwick? Everybody who is involved with air traffic control agrees that the facility at Prestwick is urgently needed. As I understand it, the Government were relying on the proceeds of the NATS privatisation for that £300 million. When are the Government confident of getting the Bill through the House, and when are they likely to receive the money from the NATS privatisation? Will that pay for the Prestwick facility, and can they give an assurance that it will be built on time?

Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the previous Government's plans for a private finance initiative delayed the Prestwick centre by several years?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: This Government have been in power for almost four years. They have had more than sufficient time to sort out any problems regarding Prestwick. The previous Government introduced the PFI for the new facility at Swanwick, and that facility will come on stream, as the Minister said, by the end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002. I am quite certain that had the Conservative party been elected by the British people in 1997, we would have sorted out the problems and the hon. Lady would have had the facility in Prestwick by now. I do not think that there can be too much criticism there.

What do the Government propose to do about the golden share? The Minister said quite emphatically that this was not a privatisation. However, the Government are selling off 46 per cent., with another 5 per cent. being sold to the employees. They are keeping a golden share and retaining 49 per cent. Is that compatible with European law? Will the European Commission allow the Government to keep the golden share? If not, they may have to sell off a majority stake. In that case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) said, how can they prevent a French company from purchasing NATS?

I should also like the Minister to tell us whether the Government are in favour of the European skies policy, and how it will affect the public-private partnership of NATS. That policy has not been mentioned this evening. [Interruption.] If the Minister would listen instead of laughing and talking all the time, he might learn something. That policy is of considerable concern to the military, which will not, as it does now, have reserved airspace over Europe, and which is worried about operational safety.

The Liberal Democrats, who tabled this evening's motion, favour some sort of bond issue.

Mr. Don Foster: Some have.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Are the Liberal Democrats in favour of a bond or not? My understanding was that they were. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the well known firm of accountants, has estimated that assuming an AA rating--if that can be assumed--a bond issued by London transport would have to pay 1.2 per cent. more than a

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Government gilt. If one has to pay over the odds to issue a bond, why not let the Government borrow the money in the first place? Even better, the money could be raised far more cheaply by privatising London Underground and relieving the pain that commuters on the underground have to suffer under this Government. At the next election, the commuters of London will give their verdict on having had to suffer that pain.

9.31 pm

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): I have listened to some of the debate with increasing incredulity, partly because the Liberal Democrat motion does not distinguish privatisation from public-private partnerships. Conservative Members claim credit for the improvements in rail usage, saying that it results from privatisation. That is fantasy. The reality is that privatisation left the legacy of disinvestment and disrepair in our railways that we have all seen in the past few weeks. The Government's determination and pressure has resulted in increased rail use and greater investment by Railtrack.

Let us get the facts straight. We inherited from the previous Government a huge investment backlog, ever increasing traffic, crumbling roads and 20 years of public transport neglect. Rail privatisation broke the network into 100 parts, and we know that it was a bad deal for taxpayers. Between 1986 and 1996, the proportion of public transport journeys fell by 11 per cent. and the number of car journeys increased by 21 per cent. Bus journeys outside London fell by 31 per cent. in the last 10 years of Conservative Government, who left us with a funding backlog of £1.2 billion for London Underground.

Comments that Railtrack's increased investment was due to the legacy of privatisation do not bear scrutiny. By May 1997, Railtrack was £700 million behind in its rail investment and maintenance programme and--day by day, week by week--we see the effects of that legacy. The proportion of freight carried on our rail system has decreased; congestion on our road has grown by 66 per cent., and there are 70 more cars per mile of road since 1979.

Conservative Members have elaborated a fantasy; it is a myth to suggest that privatisation has somehow enhanced the experience of the travelling public and those who use public transport and our railways. Let us consider what was the intention of the Tories. In 1994, the right hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor) said:


We were told:


That is what Conservative Members told us then. Their agenda is purely one of privatisation, and their call for the privatisation of London Underground does them no credit.

The Liberal Democrats argue that we should not take the public-private partnership route, but their approach contains a significant gap of £56 million in public transport investment. Where do they intend to find £8 billion for London Underground, £3.3 billion for the channel tunnel rail link and £1.3 billion for the National Air Traffic Services? Those sums would be needed for a significant improvement in our public transport system,

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and they would have to come from private sector investment. That approach is similar to the usual Liberal method of funding: it involves fairy-tale politics and returns us to the 1p--the longest 1p in history--or, in this case, 2p or 3p, on income tax.

I shall recount two examples, with which I have been directly involved, that show how PPPs can work well. The first involves the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham. Lewisham council, of which I was leader, joined with the private sector--we produced money from our resources in local government and from central Government--to extend that railway to Lewisham. That brought significant benefits, including reduced risk, on-time delivery of the network and regeneration of the local economy in Lewisham. I am proud to have been involved in that PPP. The extension brought immense benefits to a part of south-east London that has suffered severe transport difficulties, not least because of the appalling rail service that goes through south London to Lewisham.

My second example is London Luton airport, which I am pleased to have in my constituency. I want to put the record straight--a PPP will not undermine the safety of airways. London Luton airport has never been run through NATS; nor were other airports, including Birmingham, and Sheffield. More airports are run under private arrangements than are covered by NATS. Do the Liberal Democrats truly believe that the skies over those airports are unsafe? That is nonsense.

If we had not entered into a PPP for London Luton airport, the massive increase in passenger throughput during the past few years would not have occurred. Significant investment in a new air terminal and rail interchange has brought life to the notion of an integrated transport policy. The Government advocated and implemented that approach--a combination of commitment and investment and a determination to lever in private sector investment that would not otherwise have been available. [Interruption.] Despite the protestations of an Opposition Member from a sedentary position, Luton airport benefited significantly from a PPP. The airport has increased its passenger throughput by several million; the figure should rise to 5 million during the next few years.


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