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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Before I turn to the substance of my speech, I should say that I listened patiently, as is my nature, to the fulminations of the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) on the absence of the Deputy Prime Minister from the debate. May I modestly--as is also my nature--remind the hon. Gentleman that I am the Minister for London. Indeed, I am the Minister for transport in London. In the many bouts in which the hon. Gentleman and I have engaged in this Chamber, he has so far failed to land even a glancing blow. I suggest that he needs to prove himself at bantamweight before he risks moving up the boxing league table.

Mr. Jenkin: I certainly grant the hon. Gentleman that he is a harder target than the Deputy Prime Minister, which might be why the right hon. Gentleman is not present today.

Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman may say that; I couldn't possibly comment.

I am delighted that this debate is taking place. I especially welcome the opportunity to contrast the Government's plans to bring in investment to modernise the tube with the flawed proposals for the railways that were implemented by the Opposition, which we are doing so much to put right, and with their equally flawed privatisation plans for the underground.

The Opposition's motion calls on the Government to have an "open mind" on the tube. That is a little rich coming from an Opposition whose mind is so closed that they still intend to repeat the mistakes of railway privatisation--not, I am bound to say, that they ever seem eager to let out that information. In September, the Conservative party published its policy statement "Believing in Britain". It was eight pages long but there was not a mention of the Conservatives' plans to sell off the tube, lock, stock and barrel. They may believe in Britain, but they obviously have no faith in their policy for the London underground.

Extraordinarily, the motion focuses on Robert Kiley, whom I understand the Mayor of London has appointed commissioner of transport for London. The motion begins by expressing concern about the viability of the public-private partnership, so I shall start by explaining not only why the PPP is needed and how we shall ensure that it is viable but why it is essential to bringing about the improvements to the tube that London so desperately needs.

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When this Government came to power in 1997, the tube had suffered from year on year of Tory under- investment--including under the Greater London council--which had left it in a dilapidated state, with a massive backlog of investment. The Opposition's spending plans, which would have seen investment falling to £161 million last year and to zero this year, would have ensured that that backlog grew still further, resulting in an even greater decline in the service for long-suffering Londoners.

In March 1998, we announced an additional £365 million of funding for London Transport over and above existing plans. In July 1999, we announced that we were allocating £517 million of additional resources to London Transport over two years to help it deliver real improvements to passengers in the run-up to the PPP. In the Budget this year, we announced that a further £65 million would be allocated to London Underground in 2000-01, plus an additional £40 million to deal with claims on the Jubilee line extension.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: Let me make a little progress on the substance of my argument before I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

It is clearly impossible to turn around decades of neglect overnight, but London Underground has been able to make some valuable improvements with the extra money. There have been track and tunnel upgrades on the Northern line and a 30 trains per hour service will begin on that line in January; station improvements have been carried out at Waterloo, Paddington, West Ham, Tottenham Hale and elsewhere; the gating of almost the whole network has been completed; new multi-fare ticket machines are being introduced; customer care staff have been introduced at key stations; and 24 kilometres of track have been replaced across the network, including the difficult crossover at Brixton, which was completed on time and to a very tight schedule.

Even before we took office, however, we knew that the extra money would not be enough to sort out the long-term structural financing problems of the tube. Even with the improvements, London Underground's entire investment was left at the mercy of the annual competition with other worthy causes for funds. We realised that that could not go on, which is why we said in our general election manifesto:

That is the commitment that we are honouring.

Mr. Bercow: Given his enthusiastic trumpet-blowing, how does the Minister explain the fact that the number of regular tube users who regard the tube as poor value for money has more than doubled, from 32 per cent. last year to 65 per cent. this year?

Mr. Hill: It is because they are suffering from an inadequately invested system. The whole point of my argument is that we need sustained high levels of long-term investment in the tube system to make up for

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decades of neglect and under-investment. Of course the system is creaking at the limits; that is the problem we seek to remedy through the public-private partnership.

Let me emphasise the differences between the PPP and the privatisation proposed by the Opposition. For a start, the PPP is based on fixed-term contracts, rather than permanent transfers to the private sector, so assets will return to the public sector after they have been upgraded. The PPP retains clear public sector accountability from the outset: it puts Transport for London in charge of the overall planning of the service and ensures that public sector London Underground retains the crucial statutory safety responsibility for the whole network. The Opposition are contemplating breaking up the tube into five groups of lines, then selling them off for ever. Under our proposal, private companies will maintain and upgrade the network for the period of the contract, but public sector London Underground will run the network--the whole network.

In stark contrast to railway privatisation, there will be no separation between train and track infrastructure maintenance. There will be no equivalent of Railtrack being responsible for track and signalling on the one hand and separate companies being responsible for trains on the other. For each tube line, there will be one company responsible for the maintenance of both trains and infrastructure. In other words, the PPP provides for precisely the sort of integration in maintenance that was so obviously absent in railway privatisation.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the same companies be responsible for employing drivers, setting timetables and ensuring the flow of income through ticket sales, or will those be the responsibility of a separate company? Would it not be sensible to opt for a totally vertically integrated system on the London underground, rather than a split between operations and infrastructure, as proposed under the PPP?

Mr. Hill: The companies will, in essence, be responsible for fulfilling contracts for the maintenance and modernisation of infrastructure and rolling stock. The travelling public will be comforted to know that every aspect of the London underground system with which they, as travellers, come into contact is in the hands of public sector London Underground Ltd. There will be no separation in responsibility for operating the system. There will be no equivalent of Railtrack operating the signals and a totally different company running the trains. London Underground will retain responsibility for all operational matters--from changing signals to driving trains to staffing stations--so it will be a much more unified system.

Of course, we will go ahead with the PPP only if it is demonstrably the best option. Specifically, that means that the PPP must pass two crucial tests.

Mr. Jenkin: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already and I must make progress. If he behaves himself, I will look upon him favourably in the future.

The first of the two crucial tests that the PPP must pass is on safety. As I said, the safety regime for the PPP retains a structure where primary statutory responsibility for the safety of the whole network remains with public sector London Underground.

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While I am on the subject of safety, I take this opportunity to scotch the claim made by some hon. Members--we heard it in last week's debate--that the Industrial Society's report on the PPP claimed that our proposals might harm safety. Quite the reverse is the case. The report states:

On the specific point--

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