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Mr. Prescott: Pathetic.

Mr. Portillo: The skilful briefing from Downing street has set the vultures of Fleet street hovering around the right hon. Gentleman's corpse, and he knows it. The only question for Londoners is whether the change of Secretary of State will at last mean that they will get a change of policy and the policies that they need and so rightly deserve.

4.48 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras): I thought that the speech made from the Conservative Front Bench was a record effort, but it is clear that the rejuvenated retread--the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo)--outdoes even the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) when it comes to barefaced cheek.

This country had to put up with years of neglect, particularly of public transport, by a Government who were clearly governing without due care and attention.

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Worse than that, their policies were stupid and fragmented the public transport system, leaving all sorts of places outside the major conurbations--rural areas, in which the Opposition claim so much interest--virtually bereft of the bus service that they were used to and breaking up our railway system in an extremely damaging way. The situation here in London is unique in its history: the roads are absolutely choked, which is damaging business severely; the Confederation of British Industry estimates that the delays are costing business in London £21 billion a year; those delays are seriously inconveniencing people who want to get about in London; and the fumes caused by the traffic are seriously damaging the health of Londoners, particularly old and young people.

Mr. Gray: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not. [Interruption.]

Because of the blockages on the roads, buses provide an extremely unreliable, slow and inefficient service. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but there is an outbreak of sedentary comments. Far too many are being made, and the right hon. Gentleman should be heard with more respect.

Mr. Dobson: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Worst of all, the Government inherited no sensible plans to improve the service to Londoners. Having come a poor second to Lord Archer the first time that the Tories chose a candidate for London mayor, Steve Norris is now apparently the chosen person. He was the Minister for Transport in London and we are living with the consequences of his negligence.

However, when it comes to negligence, Steve Norris's record does not compare with the adverse impact on Londoners of the record of the newly elected right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea, who started damaging London's transport system even before he became Transport Secretary. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for almost a year he obstructed the proposals of ABB in Derby to provide new rolling stock for the Northern line, and insisted on a different contract, which went to another company. Because the Conservative Government was behind that contract, it was a stupid, ridiculous, incompetent contract, and the rolling stock still has not been fully delivered. We are still living with that inheritance.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to claim credit for the Jubilee line and to discredit the present Secretary of State for having to meet the excessive costs of the ludicrous contract for which he was responsible. One of the big problems for London has not only been that the tube has been starved of investment, but that the huge sums of money made available for investment have been misused and wasted.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: No, I shall not give way.

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The Jubilee line extension is but the latest example of scandalous waste in major investment projects in London underground. They have all been characterised by huge delays and vast cost overruns. The cost overrun for the Jubilee line of £1,400 million is robbing Londoners twice. The money going into that project would have totally rehabilitated the Northern line. That sort of money is not available to rehabilitate the Northern line, so that scheme is 18 months late. The former Secretary of State for Transport is proudly claiming that he was responsible for that contract. Thank God he is not in government any longer.

Mr. Portillo: Merely so that the House may judge the accuracy of anything that the right hon. Gentleman says, I should tell him that I was never Secretary of State for Transport. The position that I held in transport I held prior to my position as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In almost every particular, the right hon. Gentleman has got his facts wrong. Heaven help us if that is the best quality on offer as the Labour candidate for London. Poor old London.

Mr. Dobson: The right hon. Gentleman claimed credit for the contract, but I do not know whether he did so as a former Transport Minister, as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury or for that matter as a former Secretary of State for Defence. He certainly claimed credit for it. I do not know whether he thought that he was putting a tactical nuclear weapon in south-east London.

Mr. Portillo: I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has not been well recently, so I do not want to trespass on him. He very courteously sent me a note telling me in advance that he intended to mention me in his speech, so his remarks were obviously premeditated. The idea that I took him by surprise when I mentioned that I had been Transport Minister is wholly erroneous.

The right hon. Gentleman got all his facts wrong, including the basic data about which posts I held at which time. That demonstrates the extent of his veracity, and the credence that we should attach to every word that he utters in his speech.

Mr. Dobson: Before the right hon. Gentleman reminded me of his miserable record as a Transport Minister, I was simply going to refer to the adverse effect that he had on Londoners when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Unless my ears deceived me, he claimed credit for the existence of tram systems all over the country. I recall that, when he was Chief Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman did his best to foul up the tram system which, despite his worst efforts, has now been established between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. The Tory newspapers in Birmingham--whose editor- in-chief has, I understand, just been adopted as a Tory candidate in that city--commented that the last Government were so stupid that they could not make up their mind about whether to finance a tram system in "Brum", as they described it. The right hon. Gentleman interfered, and fouled up that proposition too.

We need more investment in the tube system--

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that specific point?

Mr. Dobson: No.

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We need more investment in the tube system, but we need a change in the system to prevent the scandalous delays and cost overruns that we have experienced before. I believe that any solution must be subject to three conditions--conditions that would not apply under the Tories, because they want to privatise the underground wholesale. First, no arrangement should be made that does not leave every operational aspect of the tube in the hands and within the responsibility of the publicly owned and publicly accountable London Underground. Secondly, any arrangements that are made should be vetted at every stage by the Health and Safety Executive, and cleared by it for the purpose of either maintaining or improving current safety levels. Thirdly, whatever arrangements are made should give value for money.

I think that, subject to those conditions, it is wholly proper and reasonable for my right hon. and good Friend the Secretary of State to investigate the possibility of public-private partnerships. There is a very good example of public-private partnerships in London's transport system: the public-private partnership that has built the docklands light railway extension to south London on time and to price. That contrasts with the scandalous waste and delays that have affected the Jubilee line extension. If we are sensible and try to live and learn, we must learn from the example of the docklands light railway, and seek to apply it to any arrangements that we make for the tube.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Given the three preconditions for the public-private partnership that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, if a successful bidder were not found, would he favour a fully public-sector solution? If so, how much investment should be pumped into the tube?

Mr. Dobson: I am fairly confident that reasonable bids meeting all three of my preconditions will be found for at least some of the projects. We must look for a way of tying the sources of finance with some responsibility for the successful conclusion of the construction projects that they are funding. We should at least try to place a duty on those who have raised the money for the construction to organise the construction, and then to maintain the plant that they have supplied for a period of years, as a general contract. That would mean that, for the first time in the history of such contracts, the sources of finance would have a vested interest in delivering what had been promised. That would mean that, if the project were late, they would not get paid until it was done. If there were a cost overrun, of which there have been so many, private sector sources of finance would pick up the tab. They have never had to do that, in the past; the public have had to pick it up. The PPP-PFI approach is one way of achieving that.

One thing is privatised through that approach: the risks and the cost overruns. If people who have entered into arrangements to find the finance, to do the construction and to provide the maintenance fail to deliver, they will pay the price and no one else will. We should apply that approach, if we can, to the renewal of the tube.

It has been suggested that an alternative method of finance would be a bonds issue for the whole underground.

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