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Mr. Geraint Davies: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the National Audit Office. I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee. Will the hon. Gentleman accept the verdict of the NAO and the PAC when they have reached their conclusions--which may be in favour of bonds, or may be in favour of the PPP or, indeed, another option--or is he simply driven by ideology and dogma?

Mr. Brake: I do not think that I am driven by dogma. I shall be happy to look at the NAO report, and to take on board its findings; I only hope that the Minister will be in a position to do the same, and is not being driven by dogma to such an extent that the PPP is the only option that the Government are willing to adopt.

Concerns about the impact of the PPP on safety should not divert our attention from serious safety worries about the way in which the tube is operating now. Is the Minister aware, for instance, of what appears to be an increasing number of dangerous incidents involving overcrowding on London Underground platforms? I understand that both Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat member of the Greater London Assembly, and Lady Williams, who speaks for our party in another place, have been personally involved in some scary overcrowding incidents. Some 1,200 passengers have apparently been emptied on to an already nearly full platform when a train has stopped short of its destination. In addition, there are cancellations, station and escalator closures, signalling and equipment failures and poor staff morale. That feeling prevails in London Underground as a result, I am afraid, of the Mayor's indication that he would possibly sack, or threaten to sack, managers in the system. The term "managers" is general and several levels of management in London Underground are concerned about to whom the ruling applies. Does the Minister think that we have reached a point at which we should have an inquiry into the safety of the existing system, let alone into what will happen as a result of the PPP? The Minister

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may be reluctant to answer safety questions--although I hope not--but perhaps he will answer other questions relating to the running of the PPP, if it is ever established.

Mrs. Dunwoody: There are real problems with London Underground concerning the number of people that it carries and the age of the rolling stock. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will emphasise the fact that London Underground maintains a high level of safety. Indeed, the level of safety on the underground is higher than that on the overground railway. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that people using that overcrowded underground system are put at risk, because that is not in their interest.

Mr. Brake: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and am happy to reassure her that I believe that London Underground runs a safe service compared with alternatives such as overland rail--which she mentioned--or travel by car. However, that does not mean that we should not consider whether there are now sufficient problems for an inquiry to look further into the safety of the system.

Mr. Bercow: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brake: No, I should like to make progress, as many other Members wish to speak in our debate. We have already asked the Minister what the fallback position is if the PPP failed. However, what is the fallback position if a contractor fails? Will the Minister confirm that the Mayor will be required to pay significant sums of compensation to contractors whose contracts are withdrawn because they have failed to deliver on their contracts? What impact will that have on his ability to pull the plug on contractors if they are not doing their job? If one of the three companies taking over the two sub-surface lines fails, who will be waiting in the wings? Is the Minister confident that those companies will have the financial clout to survive closures--for example, of the District or Circle lines--if major tunnelling works are required?

Mr. Livingstone: May I answer the hon. Gentleman's question about what would be done if it became obvious to Transport for London and the Mayor that one of the companies was failing to provide the required level of safety. Technically, in law, one could sack it or kick it off the contract. However, under the form of the contracts, TFL and the Mayor would have to pay the banks that funded the company the entire amount that was lent. The Mayor would have to raise between £1 billion and £3 billion to do that, so that option is not feasible, and we would be stuck with those firms for 30 years.

Mr. Brake: I thank the hon. Gentleman very much, and I hope that the Minister will respond to that point shortly.

Finally, I am not about to make a link between the Government's PPP plans and the disaster in Austria. However, as there as not been any other opportunity, this is an appropriate point at which to ask the Minister whether he has had any discussions about tube safety since that tragedy. My researcher spoke to Colin Paton, a train guard present at the Ladbroke Grove train crash, who

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has talked to London Underground about the lack of fire extinguishers on its trains. He was told that they were removed because of vandalism and were not considered necessary because tube trains are not flammable. I believe that the Austrian train was also considered to be non-flammable, so has the Minister thought that it might be appropriate to review very soon the existing arrangements on London Underground to be absolutely certain that the accident in Austria has no implications for the safety of the tube?

The Minister has been asked many questions both today and in previous debates about the PPP and safety. I hope that, this time, we will extract some answers from him. The Government can no longer hide behind studies, reviews and commercial confidentiality. Londoners need straight answers to difficult questions about the future of the tube. I have heard a Labour Member describe the Government's policy of building more than 100 incinerators as the poll tax with flames. The PPP for London Underground may be the Government's poll tax with wheels.

4.40 pm

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): I suspect that I had better declare an interest, just to be on the safe side. As Mayor of London, I will inherit the contracts in the next year or so, if they go ahead, and the underground. I also have an interest as a Londoner who uses the underground every day.

Before people assume that my opposition to the proposal is on an ideological basis, look at the way in which I have conducted myself in my office in the past six months. At every stage, I have tried to do what is best for London, rather than take any particular ideological approach. As I have looked at the issue, the question has been: what is going to work? I have been guided by the thoughts of Chairman Deng Xiaoping, the revered former leader of Communist China, who had a wonderful little saying: "It does not matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches the mice."

When the PPP was first announced, I did not rush to condemn it, as anyone who reads the Hansard for that day will see. I looked to see whether it could be made to work. Clearly, no Mayor is in the position of being able to reject an £8 billion or £15 billion deal when that office's total budget through all the organisations under the Greater London Authority is just over £3 billion a year. However, since then, there have been four major independent academic studies: by the London school of economics, University College London, the Institute for Public Policy Research, which is close to the Government, and Will Hutton's Industrial Society. All have found serious flaws in the PPP proposals.

London Transport itself conducted an investigation of 15 possible ways of dealing with London Underground over the coming years. PPP was ranked as the 14th most desirable out of the 15. I hear talk about Mr. Kiley being given all that he has asked for, but that report, now several years old, containing no contractual or commercially sensitive information, is still being withheld from me, the elected members of the London Assembly and Mr. Robert Kiley. What on earth can be the reason for withholding that? I hope that, when the Minister replies, he will indicate that he will direct London Underground's existing management to make that available. I see no reason why it should not be available to hon. Members, who have an interest in the issue.

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The problem with the PPP is splitting operational and infrastructural control. We are having the debate because Hatfield has brought home to us the tragic problems that arise when that happens. Gerald Corbett's comments do not need repeating.

The PPP will inflict a similar fragmentation on the tube. Control over operations and infrastructure will be split. That is accepted by the Government. When we talk about three consortiums and Transport for London--so four players--it does not sound as bad as the way in which British Rail was broken up into 150 units, but each of the consortiums will have to have a contract with Transport for London and the Mayor. Each will have to have contracts with its four or five component firms. Each of the four or five component firms will have contracts with each other.

Each of the consortiums and the firms within consortiums will have contracts across those consortiums because, in many areas, the track crosses; lines are not completely separate. Additionally, each of the consortiums' component firms will have contracts with their own subcontractors.

I estimate that, eventually, the number of different players involved in the contracts will be more than the 150 or 160 players who were involved in the break-up of British Rail. I foresee problems with that. If a cracked rail is found, for example, how will responsibility be pinned down between subcontractors, contractors and consortiums? When public safety is at stake, there has to be a clear and immediate line of responsibility. The loss of such responsibility will rumble on as a potential disaster.

The hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin) mentioned the leaked letter from the Health and Safety Executive which stated that, since the start of shadow running, it had lost confidence in London Underground's systems. Let us be clear that the structural break-up of the underground has already happened. Although the underground remains within the public sector, shadow running started in September 1999, and it was completed in April 2000. The underground has now been divided into the bite-size chunks that are necessary for the PPP to proceed.

Does anyone in London think that the underground is better now than it was one or two years ago? Everyone whom I speak to in London complains that the underground seems daily to be getting worse. Every 16 minutes, there is a breakdown on the system. Sometimes, almost one in six escalators is out of order. No one seriously believes that since the start of shadow running, which is the only test that ordinary members of the public will be able to apply, things have not deteriorated further. We have already broken up the management chain.

What did the Health and Safety Executive's letter say? It said that London Underground's senior management seemed to have lost control of the lines of communication on safety.

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