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Mr. Prescott: I read them before I came back.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I will not have comments from a sedentary position, even from those on the Front Bench.

Mr. Jenkin: The notes say that income from the partial sale of NATS to a strategic partner could raise about£350 million. There are outstanding debts of £300 million to be paid. The costs and fees for the deal will be £35 million, so net proceeds will be £15 million. If that is value for money, the Secretary of State has a rather different view from me.

The chaos of the tube public-private partnership underlines that the Secretary of State cannot cope with the demands of his Department. The PPP was to be his pride and joy. It was to demonstrate that the third way is the new hope for new Labour, but it has turned to dust and ashes.

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I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), ex-leader of the loony left Camden council of the 1970s and early 1980s, extolling the virtues of the public-private partnership principle. Of course, what he is in favour of is contracting out. That is what the PPP is--it is contracting out. What he does not understand is that it is one thing to contract out a relatively simple project, where the risks are relatively quantifiable--say, a hospital project; he is a recent convert to that--but it is another matter to contract out the unquantifiable risks of deep tube building.

The risks are so unquantifiable that a decision has to be made: what risks will the purchaser take and what risks will the provider take? The more risks that one transfers to the provider, the more the costs will go up. If the Jubilee line had been contracted out, the risks would have made the deal fantastically expensive. It was not a PPP. The state bore the risk. The increase in costs shows how big the risks were.

The Secretary of State's bidding process was meant to be opened formally in autumn last year, but Railtrack's potential bid for all the main parts of the PPP deterred the other bidders from coming forward, so, on 15 June in the House, he announced that Railtrack would be given exclusive rights to bid for the sub-surface lines. He said that the plan would be a

Railtrack was in Labour's good books then. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties created by the terrible accident at Paddington, which would delay a small part of the project, on the instructions of Sir Alastair Morton of the Strategic Rail Authority, Railtrack was still preparing, this time last week, to bid formally on 31 January 2000 with a view to completion in eight weeks. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is right. He agrees with that chronology.

As the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) mounted an increasingly effective campaign for selection as London's mayoral candidate, Railtrack fast became a political albatross about the Secretary of State's neck, so, on the basis of the least excuse, after I am sure a certain amount of active lobbying by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, Railtrack was dropped like a hot brick for the Secretary of State's political convenience.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that that has the effect of delaying the PPP for the sub-surface lines for another 12 months? Will he confirm that other bidders such as Taylor Woodrow have gone cold on the deal? He should adopt our common-sense plans for a Londoners' tube.

I heard complaints that we were not making proposals: well, here they are. They include a new tube enterprise, with free shares for Londoners and for season-ticket holders. Management would be free to issue shares and bonds, which are so fashionable these days, particularly with the hon. Member for Brent, East. Management would get the politicians and Treasury out of its hair. Conservatives would support the Londoners' tube, so that it could start new projects for new lines to meet the demands of Londoners. Labour will not do that, however, because Labour is wedded to the dogma of state control.

Where has the Deputy Prime Minister left the tube and its long-suffering passengers? His transport policy has become an open and shut case. He goes round the United

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Kingdom attending the opening ceremonies of rail infrastructure projects--such as Heathrow Express, the Jubilee line extension and the Croydon tramlink, which are all Conservative achievements--and, then, he comes back to his office and closes the Circle line, the Northern line and various stations, in peak time, because of the danger of overcrowding at mainline stations. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) explained, that situation is a consequence of the current Government investing less in the tube than the previous, Conservative, Government did.

The Deputy Prime Minister's problems are not all of his own making. He has had to put up with some less than full-hearted support from some of his colleagues and from the spin doctors at No. 10 Downing street. His friends--not Opposition Members--started the speculation on his future. Two years ago, the Deputy Prime Minister teased a junior Minister--the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)--with a crab in a jar. Today, that same man is being spoken of by the Prime Minister's spin doctors as the right hon. Gentleman's successor.

Whisperers in the right hon. Gentleman's own party are out to get him. Now that the Prime Minister has assured everyone that

we know that the skids are under him. He is going down the tubes with his own public-private partnership.

The great experiment in joined-up Government has failed. The creation of the huge Environment, Transport and the Regions super-ministry is nothing but a triumph of spin over substance. Today, yet another Channel 4 poll has confirmed that 79 per cent. of people think that the Government have failed on transport. It is time for the Prime Minister to act.

The Deputy Prime Minister cannot cope. He must give up some or all of his responsibilities before the standstill in Britain gets ever worse.

9.37 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Keith Hill): Was that it? This was the debate that was supposed to have us reeling on the ropes, but the truth is that it has been an abject failure for the official Opposition, and especially for their Front-Bench spokesmen--to whom I promise to return.

Generally, we have heard many and varied--not to say variable--speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have also heard speeches from almost all of the House's would-be mayoral candidates. Inevitably, rather more of the potential candidates are Labour Members--reflecting both the greater abundance of talent among Labour Members and the fact that at least all of our would-be candidates have been allowed on to the shortlist.

Hon. Members will have heard the speeches of the would-be candidates and come to their own judgment, as they will have done on the speeches of other hon. Members. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to respond in detail to all the speeches, but I shall say this: it was noticeable that, throughout the debate, there were many more Labour than Opposition Members in the Chamber. Although the Opposition have just about maintained their number of speakers, most of them have

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sounded very much like pressed men. It is perfectly clear that the Labour party takes transport seriously--that is widely appreciated across the country--and, doubtless, we shall be rewarded in due course.

I should say a word about the speeches of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and of his hapless understrapper, the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin). It is delightful to see the hon. Member in the Chamber after his four-hour absence from the debate; I hope that he is not poorly, too.

The right hon. Member for Wokingham has been obliged to return to his sickbed and is, therefore, unable to be with us for the replies. He began the debate with a speech full of complaint and accusation against the Government. He is responsible for the critical motion before us and for his party's transport policies, such as they are. He must answer for them and it is my duty to address them in my response to the debate.

I remind the House with irony that, only two weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman was boasting of the "youth and vigour" of his Front-Bench team. It was a ludicrous claim at the time, and that youth and vigour has now been more than a little sapped as a result of a pager message dispatching the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Woodward) to the outer reaches of the Back Benches--a sacrifice on the altar of Tory bigotry, cheered on by the party's erstwhile leader. If what we have heard today represents the best that the Conservative party can offer by way of youth and vigour, the Government can relax for a little while longer and we can sleep peacefully in our beds. If that is the best that the Tories can do, my advice to the Opposition Front Bench is to watch out for those telltale vibrations about the midriff--it will be a pager message coming through.

Today's debate has been a feeble performance by the Opposition. They thought that they had my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on the back foot, but they have failed to press home their attack. My right hon. Friend made a magnificent speech. By contrast, the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen have looked like puppy dogs snapping at his heels--ineffectual underlings in the shadow of a colossus.

The hon. Member for North Essex does his best with the poor lead given by the shadow spokesman. It would be helpful if the right hon. Member for Wokingham knew a little more about the subject. He poses as the friend of the motorist--a former member of a Tory Cabinet that presided over a massive increase in road congestion, promised the motorist a fantasy league of road and motorway improvements that were uncosted, unfunded and undelivered, and increased taxes on the motorist from £4 billion a year to £21 billion a year with not a penny of the increase being paid back. Are the Conservatives not aware that, in 1999, under this Labour Government, the cost of motoring in Britain is at its lowest level for 20 years?

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