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Mr. Ian Bruce: I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's praise for the Secretary of State; I am sure

8 Dec 1999 : Column 864

that his job will soon be in the post. Yesterday, I met people from Westminster who are concerned about a planning application to floodlight the Labour party headquarters at Millbank tower. That sounds very un-Kyoto to me. Can the hon. Gentleman influence the Labour party to stop that happening?

Mr. Bennett: Personally, I would say no to the proposal, but some people like a lot of floodlighting. That is not really the key issue before us. It would make a minuscule difference--the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could do more just by turning off one or two lights at home.

I was disappointed to hear the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea complain about leasehold. Plainly, he has not read the Queen's Speech. As I look at the Ministers on the Government Front Bench, I feel some sympathy for them because they will spend so much time in Committee dealing with Bills that were announced in the Queen's Speech--and the one on leasehold reform is another triumph.

Having praised my right hon. Friend--justifiably; I would praise him only if he came up with the goods--I have to turn to Greater Manchester's metro system. The Prime Minister was in the north on Monday, and I thought it a little unfair that the Deputy Prime Minister could not be there to drive the tram out of Piccadilly and up to Salford. However, another part of the system--the third--is now in place, and we have planning approval for the other eight lines required in the area. The local authorities are committed, and work-based parking charges of about 49p per space could raise the revenue to pay for the system. All we need is the Government's approval. That would make it easier for people to leave their cars at home and journey across Manchester.

I plead only that we should get such schemes off the ground soon, although I know that solving transport problems cannot be done quickly. I can say "Well done" to my right hon. Friend after an excellent two and a half years, but, by the time the next election comes, we in Greater Manchester would like to see some bulldozers moving earth and the imminent arrival of a 10-line tram network in the conurbation.

5.43 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): I am always intrigued by speeches from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), which tend to be off-beat and interesting. However, if he thought that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions had a triumph today, I should like to know what he would judge to be a failure. The Secretary of State's speech was, as ever, muddled, and he failed to answer the serious questions. He is good at the knockabout and he can thump the table, but when it came to serious questions from Front-Bench or Back-Bench Members, he was woefully lacking.

As we approach the end of the millennium, there is no doubt that London is the centre of Europe, a city and a capital of which we can be proud. All eyes will be on projects such as the dome, the London eye, the Croydon tram link and the Jubilee line extension. We are right to be proud of those projects, but my hon. Friends and I are proud of the fact that they were instigated by a Conservative Government--a Conservative Government had the vision to promote them. We are nervous lest the Labour Government mess them up.

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Under the surface, all is not well. There is no doubt that the tube is suffering--all parties agree about that. Parts of the tube are excellent, but parts of it are squalid. Escalators are static; stations are grubby and squalid. For many people, tube travel is the nastiest of activities. The London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a note that was widely circulated, stated that

That is what London's commuters have to put up with but, in response, the Government can only blame the previous Conservative Government. However, the Government cannot get away from the fact that breakdowns and delays are getting worse on the underground, and investment is down.

Speaker after speaker--including the Minister for Housing and Planning, when we both served on the Committee considering the Greater London Authority Bill earlier in the year--has pointed out that investment has risen under the Labour Government. However, we have only to read the figures for total investment expenditure during the 10 years until 1997, given in the evidence of London Transport to the Transport Sub-Committee, to realise that the average amount per annum in cash terms, without adjustment for inflation, was £700 million. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said that, viewed from any angle, it was clear that investment in the underground has gone down under the Government.

When Labour Back Benchers grab their research department briefings, they refer to the Conservative spending planned beyond 1997 as proof that expenditure would have gone down. However, they know that, in addition to those projected figures, we would have invested the proceeds of the privatisation of London underground. That would have made up the shortfall and would have kept the figures high--way above anything proposed by the Labour Government.

There is no doubt that more investment is needed in the underground, as the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out today. However, we also need action. The Government give us words, words, words--but no action. After the general election, the early talk was of swift action on the underground. In June 1997, during an Opposition Day debate, the then Minister of Transport, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh, East and Musselburgh(Dr. Strang), tabled an amendment applauding the Government's

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the financial advisers who had been retained to advise the Government on PPP. He said that

    "we shall be using them for only a few months".--[Official Report, 25 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 869.]

The Government thought that they would crack the problem in a few months. The swift action has been nothing but talk.

However, the Deputy Prime Minister began to get the message. During Second Reading of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, he said that he would not be rushed. Today, he told us that there was no quick fix and that he would take his time. That is probably the only pledge on London underground that he has been able to keep.

Mr. Gray: Is my hon. Friend aware that "Consensus for Change", the Labour party's pre-election manifesto

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document stated that a Labour Government would bring "immediate benefits" to the travelling public? In that context, is he aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions plans to announce a 10-year plan for the improvement of transport? Does that not demonstrate that the Government are well aware that they cannot provide immediate benefits to the travelling public?

Mr. Ottaway: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government say one thing and do another in all policy matters.

The delay in dealing with the underground has now become a scandal. It is clear that no public-private partnership will be ready when the mayor takes office in July 2000 after his two-month period of grace following the election.

During the Secretary of State's time in office, there has been the debacle of Railtrack being excluded from the bidding process for the underground. It is being unfairly blamed before the inquiries into the Paddington crash have been properly completed but, at the same time, the Government think that it is good enough to run the channel tunnel rail link; they are happy to take its money when it suits them. However, under pressure from the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), the Government have backed down on Railtrack's involvement in the public-private partnership for the underground. The resulting delay will add hugely to the burden of the new mayor. He will have a big enough job as it is, because the Government have raised expectations about his role to such a level that the Archangel Gabriel himself would not be able to meet them. They do absolutely nothing to assist.

What a mess the Government are getting into over future funding. The Liberal Democrats and the hon. Member for Brent, East want a wholly publicly run London underground backed by bonds; the Government want a partial privatisation; and Conservative Members want a whole privatisation. The Liberal Democrats and the Government miss the essential point that a pound is a pound, whether it comes from the bank, a bond or the Treasury. The important decision is how that money is managed when managers have their hands on it. What counts is how it is spent.

The Government admit that the present management of the London Underground is not up to it. At Prime Minister's Question Time last week, the Prime Minister said that one needed private sector involvement in running the underground. Today, the Deputy Prime Minister described the Jubilee line contract as crazy, but who entered into that contract? The present management of London Underground negotiated it. That is why Bechtel had to be brought in; the present management of London Underground were simply not up to the job. We all know that the Croydon tramlink is a completely private sector project.

The Government advocate a system that will retain the very managers who run London Underground, so that they will continue to run it. The very weakness of London Underground--the people who will not stand up to the Spanish practices of the trade unions--is the present management. It is nuts for the Liberal Democrats, the Government and the hon. Member for Brent, East to argue that those managers are the right people to take the underground into the future.

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Such proposals will not work, and commentators have rightly condemned the plans. Simon Jenkins, who is no fool when it comes to talking about London, wrote in the Evening Standard that the Government

I could not put it better myself.

The Economist also knows what it is talking about. It said:

Such commentators are not foolish, so it is high time that the Government recognised that their plans are flawed. They should respond to what everyone outside the bunker in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions says.

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