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Mr. Wilkinson: He is still a right hon. Member.

Ms Abbott: My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is a nice man who did not deserve what happened to him in the course of that campaign. I do not want to dwell on that.

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Transport is the key issue for Londoners and lay at the heart of the mayoral campaign. If Ministers who lived through that campaign and saw that the people's votes went overwhelmingly to candidates and parties opposed to the PPP are prepared to dismiss the opinions of Londoners, they should not be surprised if Londoners are sceptical when the Labour party wants them to return to the polls in the forthcoming general election.

Colleagues have talked about past Conservative Governments and what they did to British Rail. It is tempting to dwell on the past, but I want to talk about the future of London Transport.

The Minister referred to the need for investment; we can all agree about that. He talked of the need to introduce greater management efficiency; we can all agree on that. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East headhunted the world's best public transit manager to run Transport for London. That is why my hon. Friend proposed sacking not one or two but dozens of London Underground managers. I point out to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) that nothing would be more likely to make my hon. Friend even more popular with Londoners than success in clearing out the dead wood in the management of the underground.

This morning, I travelled to Westminster on the Victoria line and hit one of the 15-minute breakdowns to which reference has been made. The fact that my hon. Friend is willing to take effective action against a management that has repeatedly failed is much to his credit. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington will get nowhere trying to make points about that.

Mr. Brake: The only point I was making is that it is perhaps not best management practice to announce the sacking of an unspecified number of managers.

Ms Abbott: Everybody knows that the management of London Transport has failed and is failing. Everybody wants something to be done about that. If the Mayor says that he intends to act, that offers the clearest possible signal to the travelling public. My hon. Friend's statement was welcomed by the majority of Londoners.

There is agreement on both sides of the House on the need for investment. The Government and the Mayor are certainly agreed on the need for management efficiencies. However, we have not received a satisfactory response from Ministers to the questions on safety put by Members on both sides of the House. As I pointed out earlier, it is all very well to state that responsibility for safety will lie with London Underground, but the Minister has not explained how, in practice, LU will have the sanctions to enforce its safety objectives. Although the ultimate weapon available to the company would be to pull out of a contract, in practice--because of its responsibility for financial matters--such a course would be unrealistic. Of course, the contractors will be aware of that.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who opened the debate, has responsibility for London, so he will know how many London boroughs are entangled with the contractors that have taken on privatised services, such as housing benefit. The boroughs would like to take back the contracts, but in practice they cannot do so. Although the sanctions of the market are supposed to operate, they do not; for example, ITnet is messing up housing benefit all over London. Councillors in Islington, Hackney and Hounslow say that, in practice, they cannot pull out of the contracts. What sort of sanction does that provide?

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London Underground will find itself in the same position as Railtrack in relation to private contractors. The responsibility for safety will lie with London Underground and although the ability to withdraw the contract may exist in theory, it will not be possible to put it into practice. The Mayor and London Underground will thus find themselves locked into contracts for 30 years.

The PPP proposal was fought to a standstill during the mayoral campaign. Londoners made their views clear on the matter. Every opinion poll commissioned on the subject reveals that Londoners are against the PPP. According to the most recent poll, cited in the House this afternoon, Londoners think that safety will be worse under the PPP. Londoners do not want the PPP. The London Labour party does not want it.

In an internal report produced in 1997, London Underground examined all the available options for obtaining adequate funding. The first was to retain LU as a unified system within the public sector--my preference. The second was to keep it as a unified system in the private sector--the preference of the Opposition. However, the 14th option was the one adopted by the Government. In the face of consistent public opposition and opposition from within the Labour party and in the face of the serious questions about safety that have been raised by Members on both sides of the House, it is extraordinary that Ministers insist on continuing blindly along their chosen path.

Unless a way can be found to allow Ministers to step back without losing face, the Labour party--my party--will pay a price in the forthcoming general election. Commuters have a view on the PPP and they will express it in the ballot box. If the PPP goes forward without the changes suggested by Mr. Hutton and the Industrial Society, I only hope that Londoners do not pay a price for it in the form of drastically reduced safety.

Even at this late stage, I urge my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench to put dogma, their personal feelings towards my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East and the question of loss of face to one side and to concentrate on the interests of the travelling public. Every survey available has proved that the proposed PPP will not meet the interests of the travelling public. It is not too late for Ministers to acknowledge that and to take up my hon. Friend's suggestion and let the transport commissioner for London give his considered opinion on the proposals.

5.16 pm

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): It is always interesting to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I used to chair a health authority that covered her constituency and we regularly turned up at events together. However, I shall not intrude on the grief that is obvious between her and those on the Government Front Bench.

My constituency is in a London borough that does not contain any underground stations. However, my constituency has more railway stations than any other in the country. There are 14 and, if anyone wants to challenge me, I can recite them. However, Members would probably prefer me not to do that.

My constituents are primarily concerned with ensuring that their railways operate well. The railways are under considerable pressure at the moment, so my constituents do not want to be faced with congestion charging,

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which will lead to more people using the railways. However, my constituents also want the underground, which they use when they come into the centre of town, to run efficiently.

I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) for his comments about the Jubilee line. The firm of consulting engineers that was key to the line's engineering is based in Beckenham. It did an expert job in very difficult circumstances.

Many of my constituents use the underground, as do I. However, we should not ignore the fact that some of the underground's current problems are the result of the increased prosperity of the past 20 to 25 years. More and more people have more disposable income, so they are more likely to travel. That follows as night follows day. There are more cars on the road and more people use trains and the underground. The problems of London Underground cannot just be put down to a lack of investment and poor management.

The hon. Members for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington probably do not help London Underground by castigating its managers. If the good managers in any organisation feel under pressure, they will leave and the organisation will be left with poorer managers. Of course, if those in the management structure are already demoralised, the last thing that they want is more unhelpful criticism. The poorer managers will also leave and that will leave the organisation badly under-managed. London Underground has a real difficulty with that, and I hope that a more constructive approach will be taken to its managers to bolster them in very difficult circumstances.

It was an inspired decision to appoint Mr. Kiley and bring him over from New York. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East on that. The most interesting fact I read was that Mr. Kiley had increased New York subway fares by 30 per cent. to create the money for investment. My first thought on learning that was how the Mayor would explain such an increase to my constituents and everyone else in London. Those of us who remember "fares fair" would find that increase difficult to understand. Mr. Kiley--poor man--is clearly completely constrained by the terms of the PPP.

It is, however, worth exploring and comparing the confidentiality agreement that the Government negotiated with Mr. Kiley with the confidentiality agreements that are signed by companies in the midst of takeovers or any other commercial transaction. As I understand it, a company that is involved in a bid for another company signs a confidentiality agreement that is sufficiently robust to allow the bidding company to look at all the books and ask all the questions necessary to get all the details. It is on the bidding company's own head if it leaves anything out. The legal agreement is so robust that there is no information that the company that is the subject of the bid cannot hand over, and it must not deliberately withhold information from the bidder.

If Mr. Kiley has signed that form of confidentiality agreement with the Government, there is no reason why all the information about the PPP cannot be made available to him. If, however, he has not been asked to sign such an agreement, the Department is at fault for not having a sufficiently robust confidentiality agreement. One way or another, the Minister has to reassure the

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House about the quality of that agreement and say why, if it is sufficiently robust, Mr. Kiley cannot see the information. If it is not sufficiently robust, I suggest that the Department gets some better lawyers.

We do not know whether Mr. Kiley has accepted the appointment, but we have been assured that he is likely to sign up to it this Thursday. I feel for the man. He has to come into the snake-pit of London politics and, in addition, has to deal with the hugely complex problem that is London Underground without having all the facts--and I mean all the facts--at his disposal. He will have to be an extraordinarily robust character to survive much longer than six months. It would not be right for this very experienced person to be switched off and unable to operate within six months because of Government obduracy and the snake-pit of London politics.

We have directly elected Conservative members of the Greater London Assembly in my part of the world. I have been talking to some of them about their experience of Mr. Kiley, who went to a meeting of Assembly members just after he had been to the Department. His state of mind when he returned from visiting the Department was described as "disconsolate and dismayed." If he is already giving that impression to Assembly members of his relationship with the Department and how he expects it to develop, he will not be in the right frame of mind to take on and manage the extraordinarily complex structure that the Government have imposed on the PPP.

One other clear point--it relates to the questions that have arisen about safety and financing, and to the various reports that have been required--is that there seems to be a build-up of yet more delay in the delivery of the PPP. Although many of us do not represent London constituencies, most of us use the underground at some point, so I am sure that I do not need to repeat to everybody present the fact that the amount of cash going into the capital expenditure that London Underground requires is falling significantly. If there is further delay in the delivery of the PPP, London Underground will stagger to an investment halt. The problems that have already been identified will of course multiply, as progression in such matters is never arithmetic but geometric.

I would hate to hear from the Minister in his reply that there will be further delays in delivery and execution of the PPP. For whatever good reason--safety records, or whatever--we cannot afford any further delay in the fruition of, admittedly, probably the most worst option for the London underground. We cannot afford any more delay in finding a solution in one form or another, so that at least we know there is investment, and genuine plans for it, and people will see much greater improvement very quickly.

I would not want any further delays, and I seek a guarantee that no further delays are envisaged in the creation and operation of the PPP. I hope that the Government will not use the way they have so far treated Mr. Kiley as an excuse for yet further delay. We must have improvements in the London underground, and it is now down to the Government to get on and ensure that they are made as swiftly as possible.

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