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Railways: Metronet

11.27 am

Lord Smith of Clifton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Transport for London and London Underground are in discussions with the public/private partnership administrators to identify the best long-term outcome both in terms of public sector finances and the ongoing upgrade of

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the Tube system resulting from the administration of Metronet’s activities. It would be premature to comment on what shape this may take while those discussions are still in their early stages.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, that was a parking sort of reply, I suppose. When Mayor Livingstone was forced to go down this PFI route, the Government said that any risk would fall to the private sector. That clearly is not the case now. They said that the project would be delivered on time. That is clearly not the case now. We have a London Underground system which is a disgrace, with overheating, overcrowding, delays and cancellations. They need someone like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, to come back and use all the skills that he acquired in rescuing the Dome, as far as he did, which might now be applied to Metronet.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I rather gather that the noble Lord does not like the PPP process. Management of PPP contracts is a matter for London Underground, TfL and the Mayor. PPP has delivered many improvements. The Government continue to invest money in improvements to the London Underground. I could cite many such improvements to your Lordships' House if so pressed.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the collapse of Metronet was very well signalled far in advance of the date that it happened. What discussions were the Government having with Metronet and Transport for London prior to that collapse? If they were not having discussions, why not?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I explained, PPP contracts are a matter for London Underground, TfL and the Mayor. We are not party to those contracts. As a responsible Government, we keep a close eye on these matters and retain a watching brief. We continue to support the Mayor, TfL and London Underground to ensure the best possible outcome for the travelling public.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the continued upgrading and modernisation of the District Line is essential for the delivery of the transport infrastructure improvements that will be needed for the Olympics? Does he further agree that it is vital that the work planned for West Ham on the interchange of the national rail services is completed on time and on budget? Otherwise, the transport infrastructure will not be in place for the Olympic Games.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the infrastructure for the London Olympics is critically important. That is an entirely separate project. Our continued investment in London Underground as a Government, which is running at something like £1 billion a year until 2010—that is long-term grant funding—should guarantee continued and measurable improvement. We have had a fully refurbished Waterloo and City Line using PPP. There are 52 completely refurbished trains running on the

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District Line; 75 stations have been modernised and another 40 are being modernised. The Wembley Park modernisation, including a 70 per cent capacity increase, has already been achieved.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the noble Lord consider, when thinking about the future, whether it is sensible to have one contractor responsible for the maintenance of the track, signalling and trains, and another person—the Mayor of London—responsible to the public for the quality of service? The Mayor is pressing for the Underground to be available longer and more; and the contractors cannot get to the track to do the work while the Mayor is extending its hours. Is not the whole structure of the system that has been put in place fundamentally flawed?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not accept that the whole system is fundamentally flawed. I have already chronicled many of the improvements in the Underground network over the past 10 years. Whatever form of investment vehicle is used, you would always have to rely on the private sector to deliver improvements. London Underground and Transport for London clearly want to ensure that they take place, and they are planning a programme to achieve those highly desirable objectives. As I have explained, much improvement has been made and will continue to be undertaken.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, while the Government may not be responsible directly for the Underground, are they not responsible for ensuring that communities have proper transport systems during redevelopment? It appears to me that some communities, including Wapping, could become isolated or at least might not know anything about their community transport during these developments.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, obviously keeping the public informed about improvements and developments in the network is important, and that responsibility must fall to London Underground, Transport for London and the Mayor. Personally, I have found the quality of information about such developments and improvements highly satisfactory. Providing advance information is important. Despite the difficulties of Metronet, the London Underground is improving.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, have the burdens resulting from the administration of Metronet fallen on the private sector, and, if so, how?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, they do because Metronet is in the private sector. That is quite right; I do not think that it is for the Government to bail out the private sector in this situation. Our responsibility is to ensure that the network continues to run and work as well as it can at a time when much improvement work is being put into the Tube system.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that, to create the improvements that he has outlined, it will be necessary to close some lines to allow access. In those circumstances, will there

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be adequate replacement bus services in sufficient volume to transport London Underground customers?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am extremely reluctant to get into the role of an operational Minister in this situation; it is clearly something for the management to take into consideration. I know that it does and it obviously has an over-riding responsibility to its passengers. I am more than grateful to the noble Viscount for his observation and I shall ensure that it is passed on.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, how much will it cost travellers, passengers, London council tax payers and the public generally to pick up the financial disaster resulting from Metronet going into administration?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, one of the benefits of the system we put in place is that the risk falls primarily on the private sector. I am not in a position, nor would it be right, to speculate at this early stage; after all, the administrators have been in place only since 18 July.


11.35 am

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, a Statement will be repeated at the end of today’s business by my noble friend Lord Adonis. The Statement is entitled, “Aiming high: 10-year strategy”.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, it is a little unusual to raise a question on the sort of business Statement that the noble Baroness has just made, but is not the title “Aiming high—10-year strategy” a little uninformative? Can the noble Baroness, who is always so helpful, say what it is that we aiming high for?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It must, my Lords, be a high quality of education.

Business of the House: Debate Today

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of the Leader of the House on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set down for today shall be limited to three and a half hours.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Privileges Committee

11.36 am

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) rose to move, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 140).

The report can be found at the following address:

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, this report invites the House to establish a register of interests for Members’ research assistants and secretaries. There has been such a register in the House of Commons since 1985.

The register in another place covers two categories of interest. In relation to the first of these, our report recommends a slightly different formula. In another place, research assistants and secretaries are required to register,

The Committee for Privileges concluded, for reasons given in the report, that this House should use a shorter formula, namely,

I should make clear that the reference to,

is not confined to professional lobbying firms. It would also cover trade associations, professional organisations and other companies and, for example, organisations which send briefing material to your Lordships. The report proposes that the second category of interest to be registered should be the same as in another place, namely,

It may be helpful if I explain briefly what will follow if your Lordships agree to this report today. The report proposes that the register should come into operation at the beginning of 2008. The registrar will, therefore, write soon after the House resumes in October to all noble Lords who have research assistants or secretaries. They will be asked to arrange for those concerned to complete a form recording any registrable interests. From that time on, the form will also be sent to any new applicant for a pass for a research assistant or secretary, and the pass will not be issued until the form has been completed.

The registrar will be available to advise on what interests are required to be registered, as with the Register of Lords’ Interests. The new register will come into operation in January 2008. It will not be published in paper form but, like the equivalent register in another place, will be available on the internet and updated regularly. I beg to move.

Moved, That the first report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 140).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I welcome the committee’s report. Perhaps I may ask the Chairman of Committees a general question on Lords’ interests. If my memory is correct, when a register was introduced after some difficulty, Lord Williams of Mostyn promised that after two years had elapsed there would be a review of the procedure. I cannot recall that review having taken place. If it has, I apologise but, if it has not, can my noble friend explain why and say when it will take place?

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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, my understanding is that a review did take place and that no change was recommended. So far as concerns the Motion that I am moving today, the procedure will be reviewed after one year.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Sustainable Communities Bill

11.40 am

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.—(Lord Marlesford.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Pensions Bill

11.41 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendments be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The page and line references are to HL Bill 61 as first printed for the Lords.]

MOTION A“Post-legislative scrutiny“Review of operation of Act

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.

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This is the one remaining issue on the Bill. On Tuesday, we had a full debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as we did at Third Reading, so I shall be fairly brief today.

The other place has given full consideration to the reason for insisting on Amendment No. 28, which was:

and has given cross-party support to the amendment proposed in its place. It will be seen that the Government have taken note of the strength of feeling that was shown in this House on Tuesday and that they are happy to compromise on the timing of the review. We therefore propose that this should take place before the end of 2014 at the latest—three years earlier than our original proposal and three years later than proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. By 2014, it is expected that the majority of the provisions of the Act will be in operation.

We have never taken the position that we would not review the operation of the legislation once it had been enacted. In our response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s fourth report, we said that we would undertake a post-implementation review once the reforms had had a chance to bed in. We do not consider it necessary to place such an obligation on the statute book but, as I said before, we are happy to give the additional assurance that a statutory requirement will provide.

I understand that this compromise has the support of the other Front Benches and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and I thank him for that.

Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 28, in respect of which the Commons have insisted on their disagreement, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28C and 28D in lieu.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I have my Tellers in place—I should just like to keep the government Whips alive on this. Of course, the Minister is entirely right that we have reached agreement. I thank him very much for the Government’s movement on this issue—from saying that it was unnecessary to the position that we have today. We have taken an important step forward. It is one of the first post-legislative clauses of this kind that I can remember, ensuring that there will be a review of an Act after it has been in operation. Certainly, I can remember nothing like it in previous pensions legislation. Obviously, we hope that when the second Pensions Bill comes to this House we will have a similar clause, because it is a valuable precedent. More than that, it is in the interests of the public as consumers and taxpayers to ensure that mistakes and errors in the implementation of legislation are picked up as early as possible. It is also in the interests of Ministers.

The Secretary of State must now prepare a report on the operation of the Act before the end of 2014. That is substantially better than the Government’s first offer of 2017, and although 2014 may seem a

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long way ahead, the Minister made a fair point in the previous debate when he said that some of the most important provisions do not come into operation before 2012, so 2014 is a fair compromise.

I thank all those who supported me in this amendment, particularly those who voted in the first Division, which was narrowly carried by 141 to 138. I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for his consistent support, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott—not the noble Lord, Lord Ashcroft—who spoke on my behalf, and my Tellers. I also thank Nigel Waterson in the other place for his excellent speech—at least we ensured that this was debated in the other place, which was one of my aims—and last, but not least, my Front Bench. I am tempted to say that it just shows what can be achieved when we work together, but I shall not. Instead, I thank my noble friends Lord Skelmersdale and Lady Noakes for their help and support and for their vast effort throughout the progress of the Bill.

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