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Mr. Jenkin rose--

Mr. Hill: I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber for the majority of the debate. Most of the Back-Bench speeches have been longer than the time that I have available and I wish to enjoy my day in court. I have much to say and little time in which to say it.

Are not the Conservatives also aware that, this year, we are spending in excess of £400 million more on trunk road maintenance than was spent in the last year of Tory rule?

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Next year, the figure will be £530 million more. Are they not aware that, this year, we have announced the end of the fuel duty escalator, introduced by the Conservatives, and have promised that every penny raised by any further real increase in fuel duty will go directly to the motorist and public transport--something that the Tories would never do? Where have the Tories been?

Opposition spokesmen ask where the new train and bus services are. Are they not aware that, in 1999, under Labour, 1,000 more trains are being run each day than when the Conservatives lost power in 1997? Are they not aware that rail passenger journeys increased by 11 per cent. in the past two years, and rail freight increased by 15 per cent? Are they not aware that, in the past 12 months, bus passenger journeys have risen for the first time since bus deregulation and privatisation in 1986? Are they not aware of the 1,800 new and enhanced bus services now in operation as a direct result of the Government's rural bus grant initiative--a commitment to the countryside never contemplated by the Tory Government? Where have the Tories been? I can tell hon. Members where the right hon. Member for Wokingham has been--he has been tying himself and his party in knots over congestion charging and wiping out the lessons even the Tories had begun to learn after 18 years of transport failure.

The right hon. Gentleman's sidekick, the hon. Member for North Essex, knows exactly what I mean. Speaking on transport and the environment at no less a body than the Institute of Directors earlier this year, he said that in the previous Government's


    "transport white paper . . . It rightly gives high priority to environmental issues . . . We do not rule out road charges for infrastructure investment . . . In short, Conservative objectives for transport are the same as the Government".

Well, apparently not now--and the hon. Gentleman will have to make his peace with his boss. I wish him a better fate than the hon. Member for Witney. I have this message for the right hon. Member for Wokingham in his sick bed: in seeking to politicise congestion charging, he is playing a dangerous game. He is breaking what was a growing political consensus, and the country will be the worse for it.

Frankly, it is a failure of leadership, and it compounds other failures, not least in this debate. The right hon. Member for Wokingham cannot help but be aware that there is a new, lean and hungry presence on the Opposition Back Benches--Members who made rather better speeches than he did. We have all heard about his leader's spring reshuffle. I say to him, "Beware the ides of March". In tonight's debate, and in this motion, the Opposition have the temerity to accuse the Government of carrying out cuts in London's underground. On what planet--I am doing the planet joke--have the Tories been living?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already comprehensively assisted them in this matter, but let me reiterate the facts; it will not take long. First, as a result of years of Tory under-investment in the tube, the Government inherited a huge investment backlog of

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arrears of £1.2 billion. Secondly, what would have been the Tory solution to that crisis? The answer is yet more cuts in spending. To be precise, the Tories planned a grant to London Transport of just £161 million this year which, after coping with the consequences of the poorly planned Jubilee line extension, would have left no support at all for the core underground network.

Thirdly, what has Labour done about it? Last year, we announced an extra £365 million funding for London Transport to reverse the Tory cuts, and, this, summer, we announced a further £500 million for this year and next. Fourthly, as a result, London Transport will be able to invest almost £600 million more than it would have done under the plans of the Tory Government--QED, let us hear no more of this claptrap about cuts in tube investment.

Mr. Gray: Is the Minister aware of information produced by the Library which states that, in 1995-96, the Conservatives invested just over £1 billion, and, in 1996-97, just over £1 billion? In 1997-98, investment was£800 million, and the following year, it was £698 million. This year, investment is £278 million. In other words, investment in the underground has gone down massively under Labour.

Mr. Hill: The hon. Gentleman fancies himself as an expert on these matters, but we are talking about the Government's core investment in the tube system, not about expenditure in the Jubilee line extension--a system initiated by the Conservative Government, following bad advice, which has proved to be disastrous.

Mr. Jenkin: Here are the figures--in the last three years of the Conservative Government, we invested £3 billion in the tube. In the first three years of this Government, they will be investing only £1.7 billion. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) pointed out, that accounts for a lower level of investment in core tube, non-Jubilee line expenditure. That is a cut.

Mr. Hill: The Opposition are still talking about the investment required in the Jubilee line extension to compensate for their failures in government to initiate sensible and well-founded tube investment. Thus far, the Government's average investment in London's core network is about £480 million a year. The average over the 18 wasted Tory years was £280 million a year.

The Government's record in providing new and higher investment in London's tube network is excellent, but we cannot simply go on increasing the grant that we give to London Transport. Throwing more and more money at the underground will not solve its problems. It would do nothing to ensure that the money was spent efficiently. It would not prevent the massive cost overruns on construction projects. It would not provide the stable, long-term framework that the underground needs to make the transformation to a modern, reliable service for the next millennium. That we will achieve through the public-private partnership. The Opposition have done their best to rubbish the PPP, and they have failed.

Mr. Brake: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hill: No. I have been disappointed with the interventions that I have taken so far, and there is a lot more good stuff to come.

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The Opposition said that there would be no interest from the private sector in the PPP, and they were wrong. Five consortiums of leading firms are competing for the deep tube infrastructure contracts, and the bids are due back in March.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): When?

Mr. Hill: March. When I say March, I mean March--in the new millennium, that is.

The PPP contracts are sound, and competition for the sub-surface contract will be launched soon. The PPP is on track to provide the step change in the underground that we want. We are not going to be rushed into setting artificial deadlines--we have learned from the mess made over rail privatisation. In good time, we will deliver a solution that offers best value for money.

Of course, there are other options on offer. The Opposition want to privatise the whole lot--break it up and sell it off, against the will of Londoners. The Opposition, like Charles I, have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. That plan is a recipe for yet more misery for London's travelling public.

Mr. Jenkin: Who wrote this?

Mr. Hill: It is good stuff, is it not? Obviously, the Opposition are fazed by the occasional historical and literary reference. We do not try to impose very much on their intellectual resources, but they ought to be receptive to an occasional bit of education.

Then, of course, we have what might be described as the Weston-super-Mare/Brent-East option: raise the money through bonds, keep the whole operation in the public sector, at--as if by magic--no greater cost to the public purse. That is the black hole approach. Let us be entirely clear. Public bonds are just another form of public borrowing. It is the public sector that carries the risk. If things go wrong, it is the taxpayer or the ratepayer who carries the can. If public bonds had been used to fund the Jubilee line extension, it is London's ratepayers who would have been faced with a bill for almost £2 billion to meet the cost overrun.

By contrast, and this is vital, under the PPP all the risk is shouldered by the private sector--a point made effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in his immensely wise and well-informed speech.

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