London Underground

I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman).

The subject under discussion is a Treasury-related matter, and I have some sympathy for the Minister. I am also aware that there are many bodies and individuals in place – such as the Mayor, Mr. Kiley and the Greater London Authority – which means that hon. Members are yet another layer of politicians involved in dealing with the problem; perhaps we interfere with it more than we help. However, our voices must be heard. My constituency contains the largest number of tube stations, most of which are stations of destination rather than departure.

Fundamental issues are at stake. Before 1 May 1997, the tube was not in a fantastic state, and it is important that my party acknowledges that. However, matters have only got worse since then. It appears that there is no strategy. In the Government’s first term, the Deputy Prime Minister was the Secretary of State with responsibility for Transport. He constantly said that he wanted an integrated transport policy but did not do much about achieving it. The present Secretary of State lacks any credibility. An article in today’s edition of The Guardian suggested that there was a cancer of cynicism in his Department; it will be difficult to cure, and I was concerned to read about the misleading statements that have been made.

London’s infrastructure is falling apart; that is true with regard to not only the tube but the health and education services. A fundamental rethink is required and I hope that the debate can help to identify the problems. However, it is now up to the Treasury and the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to try to make a difference.

I am particularly concerned about the matter because London – by which I mean my constituency and the other 74 London-related constituencies – earns much of the nation’s wealth. However, despite the massive amount of wealth that London brings into the country, Londoners have to live with third world infrastructure, and there is no real strategy to improve it. The situation that Londoners have to put up with is unacceptable, especially when one considers the amount of money that is being pumped into other devolved regions, particularly Scotland. It is high time that the Chancellor – who, of course, does not represent his constituents in this place on many of these infrastructure-related matters – was made aware of that, because it is entirely unacceptable. There will be a massive political backlash – particularly because 55 out of the 74 London Members of Parliament are on the Government Benches – as this fact continues to be exposed. 

I am also concerned about Crossrail, and I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen). It is important that that is introduced; again, the Conservative Government put a stop to the proposals that were made in 1992-93. One of my greatest concerns is that any sign of an economic downturn in London will take the edge off demand for the transport infrastructure. The reductions may be only marginal – a 5 or 10 per cent. fall in numbers – but that might give the impression that things are not as bad as they have been in the past two or three years. That might be used as an excuse – the Treasury is considering paring off a lot of its financial commitments – for putting things on the backburner. That is particularly likely in the case of Crossrail, but it could also happen with some of the necessary investment in London Underground.

I appreciate that much of the matter is in the hands of Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Kiley, but the plans for a congestion charge, which affect my constituency more than virtually any other in the country, were predicated on the idea that there would be a demonstrable improvement in public transport. Since Mr. Livingstone’s election, he has made it quite clear that the underground requires a decade or more of investment before such improvement can be achieved. He is absolutely right to identify that as the time frame. There will be no quick fix on the underground and it requires long-term investment. That investment must start now, because things are likely to get worse before they get better. If we do not have a strategy in place, things will go from bad to worse.

All of the emphasis is now on bus transport. This may be the only instance of the integrated policy to which the late, lamented Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions – the Deputy Prime Minister – referred. We cannot simply rely on buses. We can introduce bus lanes and improve bus services, but the idea that that can happen before January 2003, which – although I expect it to change – is still the expected start date for the congestion charge, will not prove realistic.

Bob Kiley was brought over from New York at great expense. Clearly, he has experience in this area, notwithstanding the rubbishing that one or two Government Ministers and advisers have tried to give him. He must be given the tools to do the job. I like to think that I speak on behalf of all 13 of the Conservative London Members of Parliament in saying that.

The whole issue of PPP and PFI-related projects is up in the air after the fiasco of Railtrack. I do not think that City financial institutions, other investors or even the employees of any of those future companies will feel that this is a sensible way forward. As a result, we must look to the Treasury to make a firm, and long overdue, commitment to the investment that is required. It has been required for more than a decade, although my party would obviously have to accept some responsibility for that.

The crying shame is that we have wasted four and a half years. Nothing has been achieved. There has been parroting of various slogans, but no real strategy has been put in place. This has been an interesting debate. London Members of Parliament should, in a sense, get off the stage, because we need to get the core decisions made in Government and then give Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Kiley the opportunity to get on and do the job.