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2.47 pm

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Government very much welcome the opportunity to debate the future of London Underground. We would have preferred the debate to be conducted on a more rational and better-informed basis, but unfortunately the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) has revealed only too clearly in his

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comments that he does not understand the process and has not fully understood the information to which he has had access.

Mr. Edward Davey rose

Mr. Raynsford: I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He will wait for a while and I may consider giving way later. Having made an extremely intemperate and, in my view, mean-spirited attack, he should listen for a while to the Government's response.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned his visit to the bid room. At no point did he acknowledge the fact that I personally arranged for that visit after he expressed concern that he had not had that opportunity.

Mr. Davey rose

Mr. Raynsford: I have already told the hon. Gentleman that I will give way in due course. I ask him to contain himself for a little while. He has made some extremely ill-judged and ill-tempered remarks and he should listen carefully to my factual response.

I arranged for the hon. Gentleman to have access to the information and to visit the bid room. It was an exceptional arrangement and I should have thought he might at least acknowledge that.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the consultation process. He clearly does not understand that it is entirely in line with the procedures spelled out in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. If I recall correctly, he served on the Standing Committee that considered that Bill and should therefore be familiar with it. Our actions are entirely consistent with the requirements of that Act. There is no question of the consultation being conducted in any way other than in strict conformity with the requirements of the legislation.

The hon. Gentleman quoted a letter from Malcolm Bates, totally misunderstanding it and presenting it as an argument for delaying the process. It was nothing of the sort. In that letter, Malcolm Bates reasonably expressed concern that public disclosure of certain information, as part of the consultation exercise, might make it more difficult for London Underground to secure the best possible deal in the public sector's interest.

The Secretary of State—because he believed strongly that public consultation was paramount and that it was right that full public consultation should take place—insisted that the full Ernst and Young report should be made available. Did the hon. Gentleman, who has criticised the Government for not ensuring adequate consultation, give the slightest credit to my right hon. Friend for that decision? On the contrary, the hon. Gentleman tried to turn things around, in an extraordinary distortion of the facts, to criticise the Secretary of State for personally seeking to ensure the widest possible consultation.

The hon. Gentleman's argument that the process is a privatisation is based on a complete misrepresentation of the facts. He is fully aware that London Underground continues to remain wholly responsible for running the underground. As I shall explain in the course of my remarks, the maintenance of the infrastructure will be conducted by the three infrastructure companies, under the partnership. To enable that to happen, they must have

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a lease on those assets for a period of time, but that is part of a partnership that will generate the huge investment necessary to transform the underground. That is very different from privatisation—it is public-private partnership.

The arguments have gone on too long. Londoners are increasingly impatient with politicians—often ill-informed politicians—talking about the underground but not actually delivering results. Londoners want to see action. The plans that London Transport has developed, and on which it is consulting the Mayor and Transport for London, are designed to deliver the improvements that we all want to see. They are designed to deliver a safe, reliable, modern, clean and integrated system—and to do so more quickly than any alternative.

The debate about the PPP has sadly been characterised by a huge amount of misinformation—much more than the hon. Gentleman has given us this afternoon. It is nonsense to suggest that there would be no real improvements for 10 or 12 years—as we have frequently heard during the past few weeks. There is no basis for that claim. No alternative plan would deliver so much so soon. For example, work would start straight away to end the speed restrictions currently causing delays to passengers on the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines. Work would start straight away to tackle the maintenance backlog and improve the reliability of the system. Work would also start straight away on a massive capital investment programme to modernise the infrastructure, covering signalling systems, new trains and increased capacity.

At the end of the third review period, that investment would result in a wholly transformed system and one of which Londoners would be justly proud. However, we need to be sure that the plans for the transformation of the underground are the right ones. No final decisions have yet been taken, but in making those decisions we must consider the issues very carefully. That includes considering the opinions of others. That is why a consultation process is under way.

The Mayor and Transport for London have had access to all the information that they need. The suggestion that they have been denied access to information is not justified. London Transport has extended the consultation period in response to TFL's requests, yet rather than giving credit for that, the hon. Gentleman only makes political capital from it—a typical example of the misinformation and distortion that he has brought to this debate.

London Transport has provided staff not only to help TFL and its advisers assimilate and understand all the information, but to help the hon. Gentleman and others who have visited the bid room. His remarks about the unhelpful attitude of London Underground are not justified.

When the Mayor and TFL respond to the consultation, London Transport will consider their comments very carefully. Only then will a final decision be made. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he would also welcome a public debate on the proposals. That is why everyone who is interested can see the financial reports that will inform his decisions. As I said, the Ernst and Young report has already been published, and London Underground has published its evaluation report in full. We are being as open as possible.

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The contracts are not yet finalised—of course, they cannot be until all the consultation responses have been considered. However, the Secretary of State has made it clear that if the contracts were to alter materially in a way that means they no longer represent good value for money, the plans will not proceed.

There is some information that cannot be made public until this process has concluded, as we need to protect the public sector's ability to gain the best possible value for money. However, if the final decision is to proceed, the contracts would then be published in full and information would be fully available. Work to deliver a better tube could then begin by the summer.

The plans would bring in new investment and expertise from the private sector, based on long-term commitments not just to provide the infrastructure but to maintain it and so guarantee an agreed standard of service. The contracts provide for the infrastructure companies to be paid according to those results, with incentives to optimise performance and penalties if standards fall as a result of the contractor's failure or inefficiency. That is in line with modern best-practice procurement—designed to ensure that we get value for money and that we get away from the sad experience of underground infrastructure contracts ending up late and seriously over budget time and again.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not appreciated that the people of London fully understand the difference between the history of past investment—

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such as the Jubilee line, two years late with a 67 per cent. cost overrun—and the experience of public-private partnerships such as the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham, which was on budget, delivered early and highly successful. This issue is not about dogma; it is about what works. I saw a partnership of that kind work on the DLR and I believe that it would work on the tube.

That is why the Government have made an unprecedented offer of substantial and sustained investment in the tube—£1 billion in each of the first eight years of the contracts—compared with an average of £320 million a year over the last decade. That is another point that was conveniently ignored by the hon. Gentleman in his tendentious speech. We make this offer because we are confident that these plans would deliver the results that passengers want—modern, reliable, attractive, clean and affordable tube travel.

I am sure that the consultations will be worth while, but once they are complete, Londoners will expect us to stop arguing and start delivering a better underground for London.

Mr. Davey rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The Minister has sat down.

Question put and agreed to.

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