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4.58 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): In the nature of things, the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and I have followed each other in London debates in the Chamber on a number

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of occasions over the past six years. This is one of those occasions when I wish that I had spoken first and he had spoken second, because he is a hard act to follow. However, it is a privilege to speak in the debate immediately after him. I was not expecting to speak in the debate, and I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. Like all Tories, I know that we live in an imperfect world, and therefore the unexpected happens periodically.

I shall vote at 7 o'clock on the motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), but I hope that those winding up the debate will excuse me if, like Mr. Speaker, I am at that stage hauling myself into fancy dress to attend the Lord Mayor's banquet.

Mr. Livingstone: I too apologise to the House. I do not wish to snub the new Lord Mayor, and will also miss the winding-up speeches for the same reason.

Mr. Brooke: As ever, the Mayor and I march in unison.

I was entertained to hear the Minister open his speech by saying that he was raring to go and was extremely glad that we had tabled this motion. This is the fourth debate on the London underground that has taken place in Opposition time in this Parliament, but we have yet to debate it in Government time. That does not suggest a Government marching towards the sound of guns.

The Minister will excuse me for reminding him that I wrote to him last week about the correspondence between us on the London underground in which I drew attention to the fact that I had been waiting for a reply for four months and had already reminded him after two. He need not be upset; I have not delivered the Exocet of putting that matter on to the Order Paper, but I look forward to receiving his reply in due course.

Labour Members in London outnumber Tory Members by five to one, but Back-Bench attendance was five to four a moment ago; it has now gone back to being even steven. Earlier in the debate, Labour Members were in the minority--that looks like London Labour Back Benchers distancing themselves from a rocky policy.

I enjoyed inferring from the Minister's speech the notion that the Deputy Prime Minister can understand the Government's plan for the underground--he is not here to enable us to test that--whereas Mr. Kiley, who has experience of running large-scale municipal railroads, has, given the testimony of my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex, acknowledged that he cannot understand it.

I was much struck by the information, cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and reinforced by the Mayor, that the number of passengers not satisfied by the tube's value for money has doubled in the past year from 32 to 65 per cent. That 33 percentage point increase represents one passenger in three. I am such a passenger, and there are more underground stations in my constituency than in the rest of Greater London.

Before I explain the reason why I take that view, let me pay tribute to the Jubilee line extension--not only north-south, but east-west. Travelling to the west end, especially to Piccadilly, from Westminster has been transformed by the Jubilee line, but those who travel east-west, even those dwelling north of the river,

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have gained from the link on the East London line between Canada Water and Wapping. It is now much easier to go east than it used to be.

Mr. Geraint Davies: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Jubilee line had been a PPP, the £1 billion or so extra cost of building it and the extra cost of more than a year's delay would have been borne by the private sector through risk transfer? With hindsight, does he not think that the Jubilee line would be better off as a PPP, rather than under the traditional method adopted by the Tories?

Mr. Brooke: The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that that would always depend on the contract. However, the fact that we have waited so long for the Government to come round does not comfort me that everything will move smoothly thereafter.

The changes involving the Jubilee line are to London Underground's credit, and I am delighted that the Jubilee line's east London stations have won so many architectural prizes.

I do not know how often the Minister travels by underground, but I travel at all times of the day and night. The phrase "rush hour" was first used in London in the 1890s, and, for 100 years, it was what it started out as--namely, a single hour, morning and night--but it now goes on all day, as I am sure all my hon. Friends who travel during the day will testify. What are the symptoms? The first symptom is the number of times people arrive on a platform in mid-afternoon or mid-morning--or last Friday at Victoria at 6 o'clock in the evening--and no trains at all are signalled for the next 10 minutes.

The second symptom is the ominous public announcement on the loudhailer that, on lines that bifurcate, passengers are advised to take the next train wherever it is going and then change trains later. The third symptom follows, as night follows day: the platform is full to overflowing and everyone on the platform seeks to get on the train when it arrives, instead of only half the passengers who are waiting.

There used to be a sad sign on continental trains saying that goods vans would take 40 people or eight horses. Perforce, and again at all times of the day, the management of London Underground, under the auspices of the Government, give the impression that they are trying to squeeze not eight, not 10, but 12 horses into an underground carriage.

By chance, two and a half weeks ago, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Mr. Fitzpatrick)--who has just left the Chamber--and I coincided at Tower Hill station at three o'clock in the afternoon. Everything that I have just described applied. No trains were foreshadowed. A sizeable crowd was already on the platform. As we waited, the hon. Gentleman and I grinned at each other, with the dyed-in-the-wool irony of dyed-in-the-wool Londoners. The black hole of Calcutta is not a racist analogy; those imprisoned there during the mutiny were largely, if not entirely, white. By the time a train eventually left Tower Hill that afternoon, with the hon. Gentleman and me on board, conditions resembled those of the Calcuttan analogy. We were absolutely packed in.

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The hon. Gentleman and I went on grinning at each other, but I shall derive no satisfaction at the general election if we win London seats from Labour simply because of what the Government have put Londoners through on the underground.

Mr. Brake: Given what the right hon. Gentleman has just described, does he share my concerns about safety?

Mr. Brooke: I am happy to endorse what the hon. Gentleman said earlier, although I must admit that when the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town and I stood in the black hole of Calcutta at Tower Hill at 3 pm the other day, both he and I were, I suspect, more preoccupied with our immediate personal discomfort than with larger issues of safety.

The Minister puts down my dissatisfaction to historic under-investment. I acknowledge that, and we have debated the issue previously. Under-investment is not wholly the responsibility of a single party. Londoners, however, put their dissatisfaction down to the absurd theological debate that has gone on within the governing party while the service has steadily gone on deteriorating.

5.6 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): My hon. Friend the Minister said that he believed that the Government had learned from the mistakes of previous Administrations. Sadly, I do not believe that that is the case. In going forward blindly on the public-private partnership, my own Government appear to be making the same mistake as the previous Administration by sacrificing the interests of the travelling public to doctrinaire ideas.

Of all issues facing Londoners, public transport is the most important, pressing and vital. Public transport is not just of concern to those, like me, who use it every day. It is of equal concern to professional drivers, including taxi and van drivers. Some of the most passionate supporters of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) in his quest to become Mayor of London were cab drivers who remembered the old Greater London council. Contrary to what the Minister implied, those drivers remember that public transport was better under the GLC and that there was less congestion on the roads, which made it easier for professional drivers to make a living. Public transport not only concerns unfortunate commuters, but is of interest to professional drivers, drivers in general, businesses and the City.

No one doubts that the opposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East to the PPP enabled him to amass so much support in London in the contest to be Mayor.

Mr. Jenkin: I do not wish to intrude too far, but I recall that the official Labour candidate began to put caveats on his own support for the PPP as he tried to recover his position in the run-up to that election.

Ms Abbott: I do not want to go there. Frank Dobson was a nice man who did not deserve what happened to him in that campaign.

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