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Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): May I turn the question back to the hon. Gentleman? Is the reason why the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) does not lead debates for the Opposition on railway-related matters that, as a non-executive director of Railtrack from the day that it was privatised until the past 12 months, he is culpable for most of the disasters on the railways?
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): The Deputy Prime Minister's failure to turn up shows a wider failure of the Government, in that at business questions, I asked the Leader of the House to tell the right hon. Gentleman how imperative it was that he should exercise his responsibility as Secretary of State by attending the House for this debate. The right hon. Lady is in dereliction of her duty by not ensuring that the House is addressed by the appropriate Minister.
I shall deal with the key elements of our motion, as I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will address the motion rather than the Prime Minister's amendment, which is a distraction from the issues that we want to raise.
There are widespread concerns about the public-private partnership--first, over value for money. The Industrial Society has produced a report, under the executive chairmanship of Will Hutton. He is no great friend of the Conservative party--rather, he is a new Labour guru--nor does he appear to be a friend of the PPP. Yet on value for money, the report states:
Mr. Davies: In running through the apparently logical options for management and corporate governance that are available to the Government, the hon. Gentleman has not once mentioned privatisation as a conceivable option. Is that the level of conviction that Conservative Members now have about privatisation? Because of the failure of privatisation, he does not even mention it.
Mr. Jenkin: The Government whom the hon. Gentleman supports have gone in for a fair amount of privatisation, and the PPP is a form of botched privatisation. We have assessed every case for privatisation on its merits and against all the alternatives, and we have not rejected it in this instance. We keep an open mind. It is the Government's failure to keep an open mind on their PPP that is forcing them into terrible mistakes.
Mr. Jenkin: I am sorely tempted to embark on a debate about the privatisation of Railtrack--but you, Mr. Speaker, might suggest that that is not a subject for today's debate. However, if the hon. Gentleman can persuade the Government's business managers to hold a debate about the railways, we shall be delighted, because we think that this Government have a rotten record.
Complexity and fragmentation have caused concern, and the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs has already called the PPP a convoluted compromise. Mr. Bob Kiley also has doubts whether the PPP will work. He says:
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever the merits of his case, Members will do well to take the debate on the PPP seriously? If the Government call it wrong on the PPP, they will pay the price in the forthcoming general election in a swathe of marginals across London.
Mr. Jenkin: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As I run through the issues, the only case that I seek to make is that there is widespread concern about the PPP. I make no more claim than that. The Government have their head in the sand if they think that they have all the answers.
On safety, I refer the Minister to the letter that was leaked from the Health and Safety Executive and reported in The Guardian earlier this year. The headline was "'Safety at risk' in tube sell-off: Leaked memo reveals rail watchdog's concern". The report gave details of safety hazards with potentially serious consequences which had been uncovered in the Deputy Prime Minister's plans partially to privatise the London underground.
The Government have established the London Mayor, the Greater London Assembly and Transport for London to take responsibility for such issues. The real consideration is that whatever the Government choose
Then there is Mr. Robert Kiley himself. He has exactly the track record and experience that any Minister should be gasping for. I am reminded of when we brought a controversial gentleman over from an American firm to run British Steel on a high salary. He went on to run British Coal. That is the influx of fresh thinking and expertise--at considerable cost--that the London Mayor is entirely right to entice to this country.
Mr. Kiley is credited with having revived the New York underground system. As chairman of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, he rebuilt the infrastructure of the New York subway and reorganised its management. Mr. Kiley will principally take on responsibility for the operation of the PPP. As Simon Jenkins pointed out in the Evening Standard,
The negotiations are being conducted in an atmosphere of cloak-and-dagger secrecy, for no reason other than the Government's political convenience. The Government are on the defensive. The Deputy Prime Minister is deeply insecure about the strength of his arguments, and his judgment has become severely clouded by political considerations. We know that he has fallen out with the hon. Member for Brent, East. Personal animosities appear to be taking precedence over the interests of Londoners.
Then there is the question of how the Government will go forward. A future Conservative Government would certainly seek to work constructively with Mr. Kiley. We have our own proposals for the London underground--[Interruption.] If the Minister wants to spend this debate discussing our proposals, he would be missing the point that many of his hon. Friends will be seeking to raise with him. The Government have varying proposals; there are plenty of others out there. We will seek a constructive dialogue with Transport for London about the future of the tube because that is the only common-sense option open to any Government now that that body has been established.
This should not be about personalities, playing politics or settling old scores. It should be about what is best for London and Londoners. The motion urges the Government to put London first. I therefore commend it to the House.