Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Committee
New Clause 1
TFL assets for development (disclosure)
(1) Within 3 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, TfL shall publish a list of non-operational assets held by itself or a subsidiary that it regards as eligible for development, banded by value.
(2) Thereafter, TfL shall publish each year a list of non-operational assets that are under consideration for development where steps towards such development are planned to commence within the next 12 months.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—TfL assets (constraints on developments)—
“(1) Tfl, or any subsidiary of TfL, shall not lease land to third parties which:
(a) has been used in the preceding 10 years,
(b) has been considered by TfL in the preceding 10 years as suitable, or
(c) is adjacent to land in use or in use in the preceding 10 years, for the provision or maintenance of transport services for passengers.
(2) Before TfL, or any subsidiary of TfL, enters into a contract involving the development of land for other than the provision or maintenance of transport services for passengers, it must carry out a public consultation seeking views on the impact of so doing.
(3) Any consultation under subsection (2) must include consultation with:
(a) local communities likely to be affected
(b) the Greater London Authority
(c) London boroughs
(d) the City of London
(e) relevant trade unions.”
Amendment 21, page 6, in schedule, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (c), at end add
“subject to the Secretary of State’s satisfaction that TfL has undertaken, or caused to be undertaken, an effective risk assessment in respect of the impact on public heath of such use.”
Amendment 22, in page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (d).
Amendment 23, page 6, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (i), at end add
“provided such property is not located within the curtilage of a bus, rail or underground station.”
Amendment 24, page 6, paragraph 1, sub-paragraph (o), at end add
“provided such property is not located within the curtilage of a bus, rail or underground station.”
Amendment 25, in page 6, paragraph 1(k), line 19, after “machines”, insert
“and other property which is exploited for commercial purposes other than within stations.”
Amendment 26, page 6, paragraph 1(k), line 19, leave out from the first “stations” to the end of the sub-paragraph.
Amendment 27, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (k).
Amendment 28, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (m).
Amendment 29, page 6, paragraph 1, leave out sub-paragraph (n).
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests with particular regard to donations from trade unions to my constituency party. We are now in a long campaign period and although these donations are to my constituency party and are not personal donations, I wish to declare them. They will pay for leaflets in the election campaign bearing my photograph—that will probably cost me votes! I thought I had better declare those interests tonight.
Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and on behalf of myself and colleagues who drafted amendments to the Bill, I would like to thank and congratulate the Clerk on the advice he provided to us throughout. He took our original ideas and my own poor drafts and turned them into the amendments that have been selected today.
I will happily curtail this debate right now if the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), representing the Bill’s promoters, can inform us whether Transport for London is willing to accept all the amendments. If it is, we will not need to spend any further time on the issue this evening. I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman if he is willing to advise us of TfL’s position.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to intervene at this point. The sponsors of the Bill have been through the various amendments, and I have been taking advice today. The sponsors reject every single one of the new clauses and amendments.
That is disappointing—in fact, I am absolutely shocked. I thought we might have been able to see some movement on at least some of these issues, given the dialogue that has taken place and that this Bill has been travelling through the House since 2011. Elements have been dropped from the Bill and the Committee insisted on having amendments at some stage.
I was very disappointed to hear the answer from the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I am not one for re-telling rumours, but I heard tell that TfL wanted to discuss some of these issues with us. Perhaps the promoter of the Bill could tell us at what point TfL expects to have serious discussions through which constituency MPs can deal with the often very detailed concerns that we might have to raise in this debate.
I am concerned about the Bill’s implications for all our London constituents and constituencies. As I have said, given that the debate has lasted for four years, I would expect a dialogue to have taken place by now, along with acceptance of some of the arguments, to allow at least a degree of compromise to be reached.
I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear what was said by the Bill’s sponsor, which was symptomatic of the arrogance that TfL has shown towards the House. The Bill’s progress began in the other place on 29 November 2010. I think that the summary dismissal of every single one of the amendments is symptomatic of not only TfL’s attitude but the faults in the Bill, which is why I have added my name to a number of the amendments.
I will not labour the point. Let me now deal with the amendments. I shall begin by outlining the general justification for the group, and will then deal with them individually.
This group of amendments was prompted by the raising of a number of issues on Second Reading, in the Opposed Private Bill Committee and in the other place. None of those issues seems to have been taken on board bar one, and that only because the Committee forced it on the promoter after its consideration of the representation of petitioners who included members of community organisations, a member of the Greater London authority and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point. I am sure that he will pay tribute to the objectors, who painstakingly gave their time in several meetings that I attended with representatives of TfL, and who were given the same short shrift that my hon. Friend is being given today. Two of them are constituents of mine, and they have become experts on this subject. They have been entirely reasonable throughout the process, but they have been treated with a large degree of disregard. Had it not been for the Bill Committee, we would not have secured even the concession to which my hon. Friend has referred.
I do indeed pay tribute to the petitioners. The amendments that are in my name and those of others—and those tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), which I support—arise from the views expressed by the petitioners on particular issues.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a great deal of respect for him and for the work that we do together in opposing a third runway at Heathrow. However, it seems to me, especially given his opening remarks, that the best thing that he can do is ensure that the question is put as soon as possible, rather than elongating matters, so that Parliament can make its judgment.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked and campaigned on the third runway issue in close co-operation. I am grateful to him for all his support, and respect him for it. However, I think that the responsibility of a Member of Parliament is to reflect the concerns expressed to him by his constituents, and in this instance—given that we have a general accountability to Londoners overall—by the Londoners who have petitioned against the Bill. That is why the amendments have been drafted very specifically on the basis of the views expressed in the Opposed Private Bill Committee, which were not fully taken into account following the Committee’s recommendations. I had to draft the amendments, in consultation with some of the petitioners, to ensure that I captured their main concerns.
I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, and congratulate him on his elevation.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have some sympathy with the broad thrust of his views. There is a risk that Transport for London could become over-leveraged and that land, which is very scarce in London, might be misused when it could be used for purposes connected with housing in particular.
I have a wider concern, however. I fear that there will be increasing hostility in other parts of the United Kingdom towards large-scale infrastructure investment here in London. Whether we like it or not, Transport for London is the only mechanism that allows us to drive that vital infrastructure forward, for the good of the capital and the good of all its residents, current and future.
That is a valid point, which I will try to address when we turn to the specific amendments. I thought there were issues on which we could have had compromise; the main thrust of the first group of amendments is to secure openness, transparency and, most importantly, a consultative decision-making process. I have sat down with each of the petitioners. The whole point of these amendments is the need for consultative engagement by TfL and its subsidiaries when dealing with sites in their areas.
May I, too, add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field)? I do not think anyone objects to sustainable responsible development by TfL, but this Bill permits not that type of development, but the type that I have seen in my constituency—irresponsible development that is in hock to developers and that, to use the parallel with the Heathrow proposal, can lead to huge damage to communities: 750 homes would be destroyed in my constituency as part of the Earls Court development, similar to the number in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as a consequence of the third runway.
That is it exactly. That is what new clause 1 seeks to address to a certain extent, as I will come on to. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has got a valid point, however, in mentioning concerns about antipathy to investment in London and that we need a balance in terms of non-London infrastructure investment and infrastructure investment in London. However, I do not think that this Bill solves that—in fact, I do not think it even addresses it. It makes matters worse.
The prime principle behind this group of amendments is accountability. Why are those key elements of openness, transparency, a consultative decision-making process and accountability so important to the petitioners who have come to us and so important to our constituents who have raised these matters with us—the genesis of these amendments? It is because the Bill extends the power of TfL—and, via TfL, the Mayor of London’s power—to use an immense range and quantity of assets.
Members may wish to correct me on this, but when we last asked how many sites could be identified as being such assets, I think the figure I was told was about 3,000 sites in the ownership or control of TfL. As a result of this legislation, those sites could be used for the placement of charges and mortgages to guarantee indemnity, and therefore for borrowing to raise funds.
We will come to the other issue to arise from these amendments largely in the second block of amendments, but it relates to the first block as well. It is the concern about the vehicles that will be used, or which are proposed in this legislation. It is why new clause 1 is so crucial to the way forward. There are concerns about the range of vehicles, from the limited partnerships, which I think are the most worrying vehicle, as identified in the evidence to the Opposed Private Bill Committee, to the limited liability partnerships.
What we have in the Bill, and what this group of amendments addresses, is potentially the largest use for generations of public assets in the capital to raise funds. It amounts to an immense mortgaging of London’s future, but also, more dangerously, as has been put to us in discussion after discussion with the regional petitioners, it opens up what one has described as a speculators’ bonanza in our capital city. New clause 1 would address that to some extent, as would the other amendments.
The Bill puts at risk the finances of Transport for London, as well as its operations and its supply of transport services to London, including the tubes, the buses and even, I have to say, the Boris bikes. In the event of the catastrophic failure of some of what can only be described as the Mayor of London’s escapades, the burden would fall on London fare payers, London council tax payers, London business rate payers and, eventually, the general taxpayer. That is the risk behind this Bill if it goes through unamended tonight, and this group of new clauses and amendments has been tabled to ensure that we have a proper debate. I hope that the Bill will not go through unamended, but if it does, the new clauses and amendments will at least form the agenda for a dialogue between our communities and their elected representatives and Transport for London.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The Bill as currently drafted will be bad for the fare payer, and for the taxpayer in general, but it is also likely to be bad for those who work for Transport for London and for the communities in which the developments are likely to take place. This extraordinary cocktail of poor ideas is being pushed through, and I am not surprised to hear him say that it is being done in an atmosphere of secrecy.
I come at this objectively, without any party political motivation. I am sure that the hon. Member for Harrow East and the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster will remember when the last Government imposed the public-private partnership on London, the GLA and the then Mayor. At that point, a few of us in this House warned that it would put at risk the future of London Transport if it was forced on it, and it nearly did. This Bill has the same dangerous implications. I remember the debates on the PPP, and I think I was the first Member of Parliament to raise those concerns in the House. I urged new Labour, as it then was, to pull back. The then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, sought to ensure that the PPP would not be imposed. I have tabled new clause 1 to try to ensure that we do not go down the same route.
Members will remember that the scale of the PPP extended to £3 billion. That was the extent of the bail-out as a result of that poor legislation being imposed on the then Mayor of London against his wishes and, I believe, against the wishes of the GLA on a cross-party basis. We subsequently discovered that the cost of the imposition of that £3 billion was £400 million in accountancy and consultancy fees alone. That money was wasted, and it was an absolute scandal. The Bill that we are discussing tonight will have the same implications if we cannot amend it. I do not say this with any arrogance, but those of us who opposed the PPP were proved absolutely right, and I believe that we will be proved right about this Bill if it is allowed to go through unamended.
My hon. Friend does not need to speculate—if I may use that word—about the outcome of this Bill. He has already been proved right by the scheme that is the begetter of the Bill, the Earls Court and West Kensington scheme. It is demonstrably a terrible deal for the taxpayer and the fare payer, yet it is being used as the basis for institutionalising that type of development in legislation.
I agree. It was with some sadness that I listened to the representations of the opponents of the Bill when they presented their petitions to the Opposed Private Bill Committee and, more importantly, when they held an open meeting in this House to explain the consequences of the scheme for their homes, their businesses and their environment. It was a scandal. The problem is exactly as has been described, which is why new clause 1 is so crucial and why we have tabled amendments to the scheme. As Transport for London said in its letter to the general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, if this legislation had been in place this vehicle would have been used for that scheme. This vehicle, under this legislation, would have been more precarious than even the existing arrangements under the Earls Court scheme.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. It has not stopped TfL selling a majority interest in the site for a minority stake; and it has not stopped TfL going into a partnership where the fare payer takes all the risks and the developer takes none, and the developer is indeed represented by a £2 company that, for tax-avoidance reasons, is domiciled in Jersey. But at least we know some of the facts of that case. The deal before us is the type that TfL wishes to make the norm, rather than the exception, and wishes to hide from public scrutiny.
I absolutely concur, and I do not need to labour the point. All I can say to the hon. Member for Harrow East, with whom we have worked over the years on a range of issues in the interests of London, is that if this Bill goes through without my new clause 1 and the subsequent set of amendments, it will make the PPP look like an accounting blip. The Bill is extremely dangerous.
In addition to the financial risks involved in what some have described as a speculator’s charter, we face another potential loss. The mortgaging and development of sites could, in some cases, result in a loss of assets, particularly the land sites essential or invaluable to the future development of the improvement of London’s transport network and services.
I am not a London Member, but I am a London resident and have been for 35 years, and I am listening with mounting horror to the narrative being developed by the hon. Gentleman. I was one of those who opposed the disaster that almost sank—I hope hon. Members forgive the pun—the London underground last time out. What I am asking myself as I listen to him is: where are all the other London Members of Parliament? Why is this Chamber almost deserted, on both sides?
It is because people have not woken up to the consequences of this Bill yet. Unless someone has gone through the experience that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has in Earls Court and seen the consequences, people do not fully understand this. The Bill is short—
The hon. Gentleman says that a number of people have not woken up to the consequences. Would that include the right hon. Members for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell) and for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), who all aspire to be Mayor of London?
People cannot help but introduce a bit of knockabout in all of this. I have not intervened in the mayoral election yet; I have not made any comment about any candidate so far—
I have not intervened in the London mayoralty yet either, but I keep reading of the very Members the Minister has just adumbrated. Is it a coincidence that absolutely none of them is here?
Let me abide by parliamentary convention, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand the point being made, but if someone is to be referred to in the House, it is best to inform them in advance. Let us abide by that convention tonight. I wish to make it very clear that I am not intervening in the mayoral elections, full stop, other than to pass a few comments on issues such as the one before us.
Let me get back to the amendments and the new clause. I want to emphasise not just the financial risk but the potential loss of sites for the use of our future transport system. That is one of the main points made in the RMT’s representation to the Opposed Private Bill Committee.
These are highly technical matters. My hon. Friend has a record of getting his head round such matters, and we have had excellent briefing from the RMT and support from the petitioners in this. I am not surprised that other Members are not on top of the matter. In all fairness to those who could not be present today, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), we should not pick on individual Members. However, I am glad to hear that my hon. Friend is holding back on his endorsement of a mayoral candidate—I am sure that all the candidates are waiting for it with bated breath.
I never said—
Order. No, I know that the hon. Gentleman has not said anything. Let us take it as read that nobody in this Chamber will declare in which election camp they are. Can we now move on, as the hon. Gentleman is struggling to do, to the main point of his proposed new clause 1?
I am very, very grateful for that protection, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Let me make my final general point about this group of amendments, because the next group contains some technical details in which we will need to involve ourselves. Decisions made by Transport for London may, if this Bill is enacted, result in sites being lost to private developers that could, at a later stage, be judged essential for future transport improvements. That is the view expressed to me by people working on the front line at London transport—I am talking about RMT and other union representatives. The cost of retrieving those sites, even through compulsory purchase powers and arrangements, would then fall on the fare payers, the council tax payers, London businesses and, eventually, the general taxpayers. If this Bill goes through unamended, it will not just create enormous financial risk but put at risk the long-term development of our transport infrastructure and reduce the flexibility of Transport for London to improve services in the long term.
Let me turn now to the detail of the individual clauses. I wish to indicate now that, at some stage, I would like to press new clause 1 to a vote. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North is concerned about a whole batch of amendments, and I believe that the House should also take a view on amendment 29.
In the context of the potential enormity of the scale of charging on TfL subsidiary assets—that is, the mortgaging of these assets—and the extent of the partnerships, limited or otherwise, it is important that Transport for London and, indeed, the Mayor are absolutely open about their intentions to enter into ventures for the development of these assets. That was clearly put to us time and again by the petitioners and others.
New clause 1 contains a come-clean list and tries to ensure that people are fully informed of the Mayor’s intentions. It requires Transport for London to publish a list of non-operational assets that it holds—I will come back to the definition of non-operational because it is a slippery one that could be used in many forms in the future if we do not tie it down very tightly—or that are in the hands of a subsidiary, which it regards as eligible for development, and to band them by value.
I think that some Members will be surprised that such a list has not already been published. This is a public authority. I am sure that, like me, my hon. Friend has often had occasion to wonder who owns particular pieces of land. That may be for any reason to do with public nuisance, neglect, development or other matters. Should TfL not be publishing a full list of its assets, including operational and non-operational assets, whether or not they are ready for development?
Somewhere deep in the heart of TfL’s offices, there will be a list. It is not a list that has been published in this form. Individual community groups, passenger groups and trade unions have been pressing for a clear list showing TfL’s intentions for those sites.
The question of property ownership, the public listing of it and its future use is central to TfL. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) will probably want to get on to the question of Earls Court during his contribution, so may I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) to consider another example? Archway tower, next to Archway station, was built by London Transport in 1967, and the building was rapidly leased to the Department of Social Security and various other Departments. The building has now been sub-leased several times over, and a long lease has been purchased by a company called Essential Living to convert it into 120 luxury flats. We thus have 120 luxury flats adjoining a tube station with no consideration whatever having been given to the housing needs of people in the area, yet we are apparently powerless to do anything about it.
I urge Members to obtain a copy of Transport for London’s annual report and statement of accounts, to look at them and some of the documents linked to them and to identify in them a list of TfL’s assets. I have tried it. When some of the assets have been identified, we need to link the individual assets to the Mayor of London’s strategy and plan, going down from the macro policy to the micro level, to find out what will happen to a site in our constituency, but that is impossible. That is why I tabled the new clause. We just need openness and transparency.
Back in 1967—better days in many respects—in the era of Slater Walker and the rest, was not this kind of thing called asset stripping? Is the Bill not just an asset-strippers charter?
That is a valid point, but I do not want in any way to insinuate anything about the intentions of the Mayor of London, TfL and so on. Our fear is about the unintended consequences. The fear that I and some others expressed on Second Reading concerned the inability in some instances—this might have happened with Earls Court—of Transport for London officers and those directing them to negotiate effectively with people who are ruthless in the development of sites and the maximisation of their profits from those sites. That brings me back to new clause 1.
I want Transport for London to be completely open and transparent and publish a list of the properties and assets it holds and that its subsidiaries hold which it considers eligible for future development, banding them by value so that we can assess the individual values of the properties and the potential borrowing against them. The new clause requires TfL to undertake this exercise every year, because the intentions of TfL and the Mayor will change. It is therefore important that the asset list is updated as well as the list of plans associated with those assets.
Each year, the new clause will insist that Transport for London must inform Londoners of the non-operational assets it holds as well as those that are under consideration for development in which action leading to development is under way or planned in the next 12 months. Part of the problem arising from Earls Court and some of the other discussions is that some people did not even know who owned some of the site and the Mayor and Transport for London were never completely open about their intentions. The new clause will ensure that we know who owns the sites and what sites TfL has, and will also ensure that TfL comes clean about what it intends to do with those sites, whether it be development with a partner, selling the site off or using it to borrow money, as specified under the Bill, to indemnify itself against costs.
The new clause is extremely sensible, for the reasons that have been set out. It may well also assist TfL as I suspect that, despite my hon. Friend’s confidence, TfL probably does not know where some of its assets are. In my experience, it certainly does not know their value, and that is the cause of mistakes in how it disposes of property. Notwithstanding the fact that I have put my name to the new clause, I would quarrel with the reference to commencement within the next 12 months. In some instances—I shall expand on this point if I have the opportunity to do so—development is planned and proposed but for operational or other reasons the plans are made several years ahead.
Okay, let us have that argument. The reason I specified 12 months is that I think it is a realistic timetable for concretising the plans that TfL and the Mayor have for a site, so that they are more focused on being absolutely clear about what is imminent. I agree that it would be good to have a longer-term plan, but I think that 12 months is more realistic, given that the Mayor has a five-year period in office.
I understand what my hon. Friend says, but the example I was thinking of is Lillie Bridge depot, which is the third element of the Earls Court site. At the moment we are being told that development might happen in five or six years’ time, but I fear that in the interim—it is not only a major employment site for skilled labour, but a manufacturing site and a key site for TfL—it is being run down or that other changes are being made that will make unsuitable development a fait accompli.
I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I am trying to be as realistic as possible about the burdens we place on Transport for London and the Mayor. I say to the hon. Member for Harrow East that it is worth looking at the Lillie Bridge site, and speaking with some of the workers there, to see how it is being degraded over time, which I think is with a view to selling it off and bartering with a developer.
I know that I am a signatory to new clause 1, but I must press the point about 12 months, which I think is wholly inadequate. If we look at just one aspect of London Underground, the Victoria line, we see that the number of trains on the line is now double the amount that it was originally planned to take, which means there is great difficulty packing those trains on to the sidings at Northumberland Park, and the same applies to every other line. We need far more than a 12-month look ahead; we need to look ahead 10 or 20 years for the continued growth of transport in London and the need for land and facilities to accommodate it, rather than doing nothing now and spending a lot of money buying them back from the private sector at a later date.
I understand my hon. Friend’s argument, and I do not want to fall out with him—it is a good job that I did not announce my candidature, because I would have expected him to nominate me—but I am just trying to be as realistic as possible. He makes a valid point: there has to be some display of Transport for London’s medium and longer-term intentions for individual sites.
I, too, am a signatory to the new clause, but I, too, am persuaded by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) in this regard. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) is being unusually moderate and reasonable, and he keeps saying that he does not want to insinuate anything about TfL or about the Mayor, so I wonder whether this is indeed a mayoral election speech we are hearing.
Credibility is sinking in this House. I will not rise to that comment, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I hope that the Bill does not go through tonight, so that we can address the amendments we have tabled. That will give us the opportunity to look at the new clause and see—let me put it this way, in order to be helpful—whether we can ensure that information is provided by Transport for London and the Mayor on both a short-term assessment of the use of a planned asset or site and a medium-term option within at least the lifetime of a mayoralty. I think that might be a useful compromise—I do not want to be accused of going soft on these issues. I raise that point with the hon. Member for Harrow East because I think it is important.
The purpose of clauses 4, 5 and 6, we are told by the Bill’s promoters, is to enable the Mayor and Transport for London to enter into deals with private sector partners. These are development companies, and the aim is to develop TfL’s or its subsidiaries’ sites to secure a revenue stream to compensate for the 25% cut in Government grant to Transport for London and eventually for the complete loss of all central Government grant. How do we know that? It was raised on Second Reading and we sought confirmation from the Minister, who said:
“The outcome of the 2013 spending review was a 25% cut in TfL’s operational funding from central Government, and we have been clear that the Government’s aim is to reduce TfL’s operational funding over time to zero.”—[Official Report, 9 September 2014; Vol. 585, c. 853.]
So the purpose behind the Bill is to ensure that TfL raises another income stream to compensate for the Government’s cut in grant.
We need to examine the scale of the grant cut, which will be reflected in the potential scale of the use of the asset base. That is another reason why it is crucial that we get a definition and a list of TfL’s asset base on a value banded basis, as set out in new clause 1. I worry about the scale of income that TfL is looking to deliver from its asset base in proportion to the loss of grant.
I have no objection to TfL developing its non-operational land or retaining a stake in that land and deriving an income from it. What I object to—I think my hon. Friend agrees with me on this point—is the vehicles that TfL is using for doing that, and the underlying secrecy and inconsistency. Having set that out as a policy, in cases where it suits TfL—I am thinking of another site in my constituency, Shepherd’s Bush market—it simply threw up its hands and said, “We’re going to sell the asset anyway.”
I disagree. I agree about the importance of new clause 1 requiring a list of assets, but I inserted the identification of their value by band because I am worried about the scale of the overall risk if, for example, as in the Bill, all or any of these assets can be used against borrowing—can be charged or mortgaged to secure borrowing. The scale of that risk is enormous. If we look at the scale of the loss of grant, which is the funding gap that Transport for London and the Mayor are trying to deal with, that will give us an idea of the scale of the use of TfL’s assets for borrowing purposes and development deal purposes, and the risk that Londoners could then face. It is enormous.
I have looked at Transport for London’s annual report and accounts. They are not easy reading. For 2013 the total amount of grant aid from central Government, excluding Crossrail, for general and capital grants was £3.2 billion. On page 140 of the annual report and accounts for 2013-14, table 9 shows the entitlement of grant income which identifies the non-ring-fenced grant from the Department for Transport to Transport for London, which is £632.8 million. Non-ring-fenced grant to fund capital from the Department for Transport is £1,578.4 million. So when the Minister talks about reducing the Department for Transport grant to Transport for London to zero, the magnitude of the sum that the Mayor and Transport for London want to raise from these deals with private developers or to borrow against these assets becomes clear. It is staggering. It is enormous—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is drifting into a debate that is the subject of the second set of amendments, which is borrowing. I understand that the two arguments are linked, but I caution the hon. Gentleman that he more he does that, the more it reflects on the second group.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Because Transport for London is using sites to enter into a relationship with developers from which it can get an income stream, and linking that to a mortgage to cover borrowing as well, the two activities are integrally linked. I understand what Madam Deputy Speaker is saying and I will try to separate my remarks about them, but that is difficult because the same clauses cover both.
Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. I simply caution him that although one debate reflects on another, that may lead to repetition, which we want to avoid later in the evening, so please stay focused on the first group of amendments.
Thank you for that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will abide by it, of course.
I do not want to go off the rails that Madam Deputy Speaker has just set, but this “Mind the gap” that the hon. Gentleman is crying goes to the heart of the matter. Is not new clause 1 the place to deal with this? The Bill is driven by the gap that the Government and the Department for Transport have indicated to this Mayor of London—any Mayor of London—and the Mayor and TfL are being driven to asset-strip public assets. Left-wing thinking has moved on. Even the hon. Gentleman’s left-wing thinking has moved on. In principle we are not against public bodies earning money from non-performing assets that they hold, but we are not prepared to do so in secrecy and using dodgy vehicles in the Channel islands or parts even more exotic than that.
Let me focus on the issue that Madam Deputy Speaker raised. TfL is trying to bridge a gap as a result of loss of Government grant. We will come on to the borrowing issues on the second group of amendments. One of the methods, as in Earls Court, is to enter into deals with private developers to secure some form of revenue income from the asset that is then developed.
I understand all that. I was chair of finance on the Greater London council. At 29 I was responsible for a £3 billion budget. What we did was exactly that. We had a capital fund that was agreed on a cross-party basis, secured against the assets of London overall. That is not a risk. We had the assets, we could go to the City and borrow from the City. We would put it into a pool. I think the system was established by a Conservative administration and inherited by a Labour one. We had cross-party agreement that that was the way in which we would go forward. It was not on the basis of mortgaging the individual assets and going into a link-up with a private developer, and it was certainly not about the development of sites to give revenue income in that way.
The point of new clause 1 is that I do not object in principle to going into some forms of partnership for the development of a site that will secure a valid revenue income. The issue is exactly as the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) said—it must be open, transparent and agreed with the local community, London boroughs and all the other stakeholders: the passenger representatives, the trade unions on behalf of their members, and so on. It has to be a way of going forward together and that is not happening. That is why new clause 1 is so relevant.
Is my friend aware that up till the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, any sale of land by a public body had to be offered to another public body first and had to fit into the local district plan? It was the abolition of that which set us into this dangerous area where freehold land is often sold on and it is therefore impossible to develop, for example, railway infrastructure.
I recall that that legislation operated almost on the basis of giving first refusal to another public body—often another local authority. Then, if the land was genuinely surplus to requirements, it would be offered for sale, or, in some instances, there were joint initiatives. I remember the GLC working with the London boroughs on that basis.
My hon. Friend is getting to the nub of the issue that his new clause seeks to address, which is that, frightened by the idea that it will lose substantial amounts of grant, TfL is rushing into deals to try to maximise its income. At the Earls Court exhibition centre site, all that will be built is luxury housing, with no affordable housing. At the Shepherd’s Bush market site, the market will be lost and luxury flats will be built. The one redeeming factor—that TfL might raise some money—is mitigated by the fact that it is entering into terrible deals. It ruins the communities where it develops and does not benefit the fare payer in the way that it intends.
The purpose of the new clause is to provide a list of assets and the intentions, or ambitions, that the Mayor has for the development of those assets to secure additional income. Another reason for the requirement to publish such a prospective asset development list is to ensure that these potential development sites are known to all interested parties. It has emerged in the discussions so far—Earls Court is the best example, but there may be others—that unless there is an open and transparent process and lists of available assets are produced, the information becomes almost private and there is an arrangement with an individual developer rather than a proper open, competitive process whereby others can make proposals for the site. In addition, unless there is clarity about the sites that TfL has and its intentions for them, local authorities, for example, are prevented from coming forward with their views about how they could work together with TfL on using the sites for the better development of the whole community as well as transport.
That is exactly so. I wonder whether, in drafting new clause 1, my hon. Friend intended—I think he has now explained that he did—to address these other evils: first, with all the sites we have mentioned, a deal is made with a single developer, without advertisement or competition, so we have no idea whether the market has been tested; and secondly, the developer then enters into a deal, usually a master-plan agreement, that then dictates to the local planning authorities how the land should be developed. That is exactly the wrong way in which local development plans should work.
That sort of process is a scandal, to be frank. We would not tolerate it in other public bodies, and I do not understand why we are allowing it to happen with TfL.
The whole purpose of having the lists proposed in new clause 1 is to make sure that the information is genuinely public. At the moment, even some of the people living on these sites are unaware of TfL’s ambitions. They were certainly not consulted about, or, at some stages, even aware of, the Earls Court development. I want to ensure that those who live on or have businesses on the sites or near them and the London boroughs and the communities in which they are located are fully aware of, fully conversant with, and fully informed about TfL’s asset base and its intentions for the assets within their area. If an asset is listed by TfL publishing information in this way, those stakeholders, including TfL’s employees and subsidiaries, will have at least an early warning of the development prospects of the site or asset in question.
This is one of the critical issues raised at the Opposed Bill Committee hearing on Tuesday 13 January 2015. I refer in particular to the evidence provided by Greater London Assembly member, Mr Murad Qureshi, on the basis of whose statements I tried to draft the new clause. Paragraph 115 of his evidence contains a startling example of the lack of information being provided by TfL. He said that his concerns about the whole Bill, particularly clause 5, relate to TfL’s transparency as a public body. Further on in his evidence, it emerged that the GLA had had to go through a freedom of information process to obtain information about TfL’s land holdings. It cannot be right that a public, democratically elected body has had to go through that process. In paragraph 116, he cited the Earls Court development as a perfect example of a TfL asset being developed with a lack of transparency on its decision making. In paragraph 122, he said that, to gain information on TfL’s planned investment programme, the GLA’s budget and performance committee—not individual members but a committee—was forced to make a freedom of information request. In paragraph 241, he sums up the fears that GLA members have about the secrecy and lack of transparency of TfL’s activities. Throughout the evidence session, petitioners gave examples of the difficulties they faced in securing any information about the plans that TfL and the Mayor had for the development and use of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets. That was raised continually.
The new clause would ensure that at least one report is published that brings together all the information to which Londoners, London boroughs, the City of London corporation—if we have not abolished it by then—passenger groups and TfL’s own employees can refer when they want to know what assets TfL and its subsidiaries hold, but more importantly, what plans TfL and its subsidiaries, and therefore the Mayor, have for the development or use of these assets. This is a simple exercise in openness and transparency, and I cannot see why anyone, least of all TfL and its subsidiaries and the Mayor, would object to it.
I think that people would be shocked to find that the GLA has had to use quasi-legal processes to obtain information from TfL. There is nothing new about TfL being a secretive body. I remember dealing with it 30 years ago over the appalling development of Hammersmith centre. I hoped that the GLA and the Mayor would provide some democratic accountability in that regard, but my hon. Friend’s example shows that that is clearly not happening. It is therefore all the more necessary that we put into statute the responsibility that TfL should have.
As I said, this is a simple exercise; it is not difficult to do. In fact, most local authorities regularly undertake an asset base review that is published, and will often be translated into a link with their planning policies as well, so that people can know about these sites.
The new clause was drafted in the context of the deep suspicion that has arisen about the Mayor’s and TfL’s intentions with regard to linking up with private developers on grandiose development schemes that could curtail or impede the use of TfL’s land holdings and other assets for the long-term improvements of London’s transport network. Londoners, especially London’s elected representatives on the GLA and the London boroughs, have expressed their concerns about whether the rush to use TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets to bridge the current projected funding gap is overriding sound investment and operational judgments—indeed, at times, common sense—in relation to the use of those assets.
On Second Reading, hon. Members on both sides of the House expressed concern about TfL’s capacity to negotiate these schemes. At the evidence session on 13 January, people questioned whether TfL and its subsidiaries and the Mayor have the expertise to exercise sound judgments in the necessary negotiations with developers and development partners to determine what use an asset will be put to. They queried what ratio of benefit will be allocated to TfL and its subsidiaries, as against the benefit derived by the private sector partner, and what value for money TfL, and therefore London council tax payers and fare payers, will achieve in these deals.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point, which was also raised on Second Reading by myself, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and others. We keep coming back to the Earls Court site, but it is a £12 billion development—the largest in London—and TfL jobs, affordable homes and one of London’s premier exhibition centres are being lost to provide, in effect, safe-deposit flats that probably no one will live in. TfL’s judgment has to be seriously brought into question even before we turn to the finances.
New clause 1 will inform all stakeholders and interested parties that an asset held by TfL is being considered for use in a development deal and that action is under way or being planned over the next 12 months to use it in some way. That information will trigger the interest of stakeholders and enable them to gear up for discussions and consultations with TfL about the development and use of that asset. If the new clause is agreed to, no more would we see communities and local authorities shocked and surprised to find, late in the day and contrary to their wishes, that a site in their area has been included in a development deal with a private development company.
The proposal for the publication of a list of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets and a statement of TfL’s intentions for them also goes to the heart of the concern of many hon. Members and others in relation to clauses 4 and 5. They are anxious about the Mayor’s ambition to use the vast range and magnitude of TfL’s and its subsidiaries’ assets to secure borrowing, which we will come to in the second group of amendments. There is concern that TfL’s standing could be put in serious jeopardy.
This is simply about ensuring that people are properly informed about the intentions, so that they can calculate the risk involved. The proposed report would be an invaluable tool in enabling all stakeholders to hold TfL and the Mayor to account if they launch a new venture as part of large-scale property development deals. Hon. Members should not underestimate TfL’s massive asset base—it has 3,000 properties across London—and in particular the assets located in central London. Those historic inherited sites are located in the most lucrative parts of the city, which private developers have an interest in developing. In fact, it is widely known in property circles that property developers from across the world are desperate to engage in dialogue with TfL on the prospect of gaining access to those sites and, to be frank, of running rings around TfL and the Mayor and walking away with massive profits.
There is a risk in so many TfL sites and assets coming into the market as part of such development deals. A report requiring TfL to identify the value of the assets, in bands, and its plans for the asset sites over the next 12 months would at least result in a proper assessment taking place. The report would shed critical light on both the quantum and the timing of the potential risk to TfL, Londoners, passengers, employees and council tax payers. That is why new clause 1 is so fundamental to the Bill.
The parallel with the requirements on Network Rail to consider the effect of disposed-of land assets on future rail usage is interesting. Despite its being a private company—albeit Government-owned—Network Rail protects future rail usage and rail lines, even to the extent of protecting land on disused lines. Such a requirement does not appear to fall on TfL with regard to its own use of development sites in future. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
We will come on to that issue later, and I am sure my hon. Friend will take it up when he speaks to his own amendments.
Without the publication of information about the ownership of sites and the intentions for them, there is real uncertainty about the Mayor’s intentions for specific sites. That is what we are worried about.
In conclusion on new clause 1, this new clause is fundamental to the Bill if Londoners are to be protected against the flights of speculation of TfL under the direction of, and perhaps pressure from, the Mayor, whoever he or she may be, and speculative developers from across the globe, including some—this has been mentioned with regard to the Earls Court site—who are linked to tax-avoiding companies and corporations, including oligarchs with doubtful histories and backgrounds.
On the agreement entered into on the Earls Court exhibition centre, the publication of such a list might reveal that, on Earls Court 1, which is the largest piece of land, the developer held a relatively short lease on the property and the freehold and the reversion remained with TfL. However, TfL has a 37% stake in that joint venture company, which means that it has a minority of votes on the board. Effectively, it has surrendered all decision making on the site to the developer, but, should the developer of this £2 company go bust, the taxpayer would be left with the liability.
I would hope that a publication in which TfL indicated its plans for specific sites would include information about which companies and corporations it is dealing with as partners. On the Earls Court development, there are real concerns that TfL has got into bed with a company that is based in a tax haven, and I believe that some directors of individual companies have been prosecuted. That allegation has been made before on the Floor of the House and I think it is accurate.
Order. Before you make your next intervention, Mr Slaughter, do you think you could make them a bit shorter? They are getting very long. It is obviously short-hand intervention except when it is a Slaughter intervention. Please be brief.
Shorter, not Slaughter—I appreciate that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply want to say, for the avoidance of doubt, that it is true that some of the partner organisations involved in the Earls Court development have been convicted of fraud, but not on the TfL-owned land and not including Capco, which is the major developer. It has many faults, but that is not one of them.
In developments of TfL assets, it is important to have full transparency on the relationship with individual companies. I say that in the light of the report published last week, which stated:
“Hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of UK properties held in secretive offshore companies have been used to launder the proceeds of international corruption”.
That has been identified by Scotland Yard. The report went on:
“The scale of the problem has been revealed by Transparency International on Wednesday, with the anti-corruption campaign group warning that the UK has become ‘a safe haven for corrupt capital stolen from around the world’.”
It is absolutely critical to ensure openness and transparency on the proposals for individual sites to guard against TfL and others entering into relationships with companies and corporations that we do not consider appropriate.
I now turn to new clause 2, which is another attempt to safeguard the assets with regard to landholdings that may be required for the development of the transport network in London. In its submission to Members of the House, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has publicly made a point with which I fully concur. Its briefing quite clearly sets out the anxiety about the loss of potential sites, saying that new clause 2 will therefore ensure that when TfL or any subsidiary seeks to lease or develop such sites, there is full consultation with the local communities likely to be affected, the Greater London Authority, London boroughs, the City of London and relevant trade unions. That consultation has to take place before Transport for London or any subsidiary enters into a contract involving the development of land other than for the provision or maintenance of transport services.
I fully support new clause 2 and, indeed, all the amendments tabled in my hon. Friend’s name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I fear that this is my last intervention. Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will think it no discourtesy to the House if I say that an unbreakable constituency commitment means that I am unable to participate further in the debate or to join my hon. Friends in the Lobby. Nevertheless, I put on the record my great concerns about the Bill. I hope that it will be fully debated tonight, and that it will not pass in its current form, because that would do a serious injustice not only to my constituents, but to all Londoners.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his interventions.
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 29).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now proposed.
16 March 2015
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Question accordingly proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.
Minister, do you want to speak?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I will explain to the House what has happened before I take the point of order. The procedural motion that we just agreed to was that the motion be proposed, because the mover was on his feet. That means that the motion on new clause 1 has been proposed and the debate continues. It was not a closure motion, but what is called the Golding closure. The Minister needs to decide whether he would like to speak on new clause 1, because we are now debating new clause 1 and the other amendments on the selection list. Are there any takers?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Okay. This is very unusual, but I call Mr Corbyn on a point of order.
I am unclear from the response you are getting from those on the Treasury Bench, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether the Minister intends to speak. Can you make that clear or ensure that it is made clear for the benefit of the House? After all, we are considering the disposal of a vast amount of public assets in this Bill and I would have thought that, at the very least, the Government would have a view on that.
That is not a point of order for the Chair. I cannot make the Minister speak.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is a zombie Parliament and this is a grand—[Interruption.]
Order. Let us not—[Interruption.] Mr Kawczynski, please! Just one moment. Can we deal with this point of order, make sure that every Member knows what they are doing and try to proceed with the business? I would like to hear what Mr Galloway’s point of order is.
This is a grand theft auto Bill concerning billions of pounds of public assets. A closure motion was moved after just over an hour, which the Opposition did not turn up for, except in the case of 14 people, and now the Minister will not even speak on the matter. What kind of Parliament is this? [Interruption.]
Order. [Interruption.] Just one moment, Minister. That is not a point of order for me. Let us be clear that we are now debating new clause 1 and the other amendments in the group.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Just one moment, Mr McDonnell. Please allow me to make sure that everybody understands; perhaps then there will be fewer points of order. We are on new clause 1 and the other amendments on the selection list. The next speaker is the sponsor of the Bill.
I rise to respond to the very long and detailed speech made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell).
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Not yet—I have not even started my speech. I expect to make some progress before taking an intervention from the hon. Gentleman.
The Bill started in the other place in November 2010. It has gone through Second Reading in this place and an Opposed Private Bill Committee, where there was the opportunity to make many interventions and many changes. After Second Reading in this place, the proposers approached all those who opposed the Bill, as I suggested they should, to encourage them to develop their concerns so that there was an opportunity to understand those concerns and to amend the legislation, if necessary. The reality is that they have moved substantially and I want to respond on the details.
The coalition Government have moved towards devolved government in London and across the country. Amendments 21 to 29 would take power away from the Mayor of London and require the Secretary of State to intervene. That is a centralising move that the House should reject absolutely, as more power is being devolved to the regions and to London in particular.
Briefly on new clause 1, the disposal of non-operational assets is covered by section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, which was introduced by the last Labour Government and has been added to since. The review that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington proposes in the new clause would be extremely expensive. That cost would fall on the taxpayer and the fare payer.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
I will give way after I make this point. On the visibility of Transport for London’s property portfolio, there is already a searchable website that any hon. Member, member of the public or interested party can search to establish what property holdings Transport for London has right across the capital. I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to look at that website and see the opportunities that exist.
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, he argues that it is too expensive to produce a list under new clause 1, but on the other he says that a list exists. The new clause will ensure that Transport for London publishes a list not only of its assets, but of its plans for those assets. That is the whole issue in this debate—the lack of openness and transparency from Transport for London about the development of its intentions for individual sites, as we have seen with the disastrous consequences for Earls Court, where 700 homes were lost to the local community. Do the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of Transport for London, and the Mayor of London oppose new clause 1 to maintain that level of secrecy in their relationship with private developers?
The reality is that the Greater London authority and assembly exist to scrutinise the work of the Mayor and Transport for London. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that they are not doing their job, he should condemn the members of that assembly. We should be placing power in the hands of Transport for London to carry out the functions we want, and to open up capacity for housing that is desperately required by Londoners. We must then ensure that that work is subject to scrutiny by the GLA and assembly members.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the witness account from the Opposed Private Bill Committee? At that Committee, as I said earlier, a Greater London assembly member reported that the assembly’s own budgetary committee had to use freedom of information requests to gain information from Transport for London about the use of its moneys and assets. The lack of scrutiny is a result of the impediment placed by TfL in the way of Greater London assembly members. Will he read the transcript of evidence to the Opposed Private Bill Committee that was presented to the House?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is a shame that the details he cites were not reflected in the amendments that were finally tabled only a few days ago—if that—so that the sponsors of the Bill and Members that support it could analyse them.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that the amendments were tabled late—I think that is the allegation—and that the sponsors of the Bill could not respond. The amendments were placed before the Clerks in time—[Interruption.]
Order. One second. Do not worry; relax. Let me have a little look at this. I assure the House that the amendments were not tabled late by the hon. Gentleman. There was a mistake in the Table Office, but that has absolutely nothing to do with what is being said. We do not need any more points of order on that as we have clarified the matter well. I am sure, Mr Blackman, that we will proceed in a courteous way.
Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.
On new clause 2, the issue of securing consent for the disposal of land owned by TfL is well established in section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. It includes a statutory regime for the disposal of former operational land, including requirements for the Secretary of State’s consent. The sponsors of the Bill therefore consider that further consent would be unnecessary and undesirable.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing in London and the disposal of assets to meet housing needs. Is he aware that under permitted development rights, the conversion of office or industrial property does not require local planning consent so there is no social housing content to it? Does he accept that the Bill would be strengthened no end if there was a requirement that the disposal of property for housing purposes must reflect local housing needs in the area where that property is disposed of?
Order. Let me help with the debate, which we want to get under way. Mr Corbyn, I want you to save your speech for when you seek to catch my eye, rather than use it now on an intervention.
I reject the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and the point behind it. On behalf of the—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not take any more interventions, as we have gone on long enough—[Interruption.]
Order. If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) wishes to intervene, quite rightly it is up to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) whether he gives way. He has made it clear that he does not want to give way again.
Why is that, do you think?
I have no idea. It is not for the Chair to judge, thank goodness, and I do not need a crystal ball to work it out. The good thing is that the hon. Gentleman has at least made it clear that he does not want to take any more interventions and he wants to get his speech under way.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I hope it is a point of order. I know you would not wish to waste the Chair’s time, Mr Corbyn, because I want to call you to speak.
I appreciate that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to you. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is the sponsor of the Bill and responsible for conducting it through the House. Is it normal for the sponsor of a Bill to give way so that legitimate questions and concerns can be raised and answered?
I thought my judgment was correct: that is not a point of order. You are after a point of clarification, but that is not up to me. It is up to the sponsor of the Bill whether he wishes to give way. He has been courteous and given way a couple of times. Perhaps if he is allowed to speak for a little longer, I can call the Opposition spokesman and then some Back Benchers. I would like to do that and hear what the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has to say.
On behalf of the sponsors of the Bill, I oppose new clauses 1 and 2 and amendments 21 to 29.
What an extraordinary spectacle we have seen on the Government Front Benches! As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, a set of proposals are being brought forward on important issues, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has spoken at length—some might have thought that he spoke at too great a length, but that is not for me to judge.
During all that, however, those on the Government Front Bench have remained mute on an issue of great importance to Londoners and to us all. I want to know why the Government have taken that position. Has the Minister consulted with the great helmsman of infrastructure, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will not be happy that the Government are not putting forward a position on the Bill? If he wants to intervene on me, he is welcome to.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. This is private business. A number of amendments have been tabled that, in my judgment, have very little support, even on the Labour Benches and among London Members whom the Bill affects directly. I will make the Government’s position clear when we reach Third Reading.
I am sure the House is extremely grateful that the Minister is not going to take a Trappist vow of silence for the whole debate.
This is truly shocking. I have never known a situation where those on the Government Benches have not taken a view on a private Bill of this moment. This is the point we were making earlier. We are talking about the use of billions of pounds of public assets. The amendments are trying to ensure accountability of those assets—openness and transparency—yet the Government do not have a view on that. Does my hon. Friend not find that absolutely outrageous?
The House will have heard my hon. Friend, as will those outside this House, including millions of Londoners, and they will make their own judgments. You wish me to speak on the specifics of the first group of amendments, Mr Deputy Speaker, which, as others have said, would impose additional duties on TfL when it wished to sell or develop non-operational land. Those on the Opposition Front Bench welcome that change to the Bill, which has already been made in the other place and offers some clarification on the distinction between operational and non-operational land.
I would like to say a few further words on this group. I understand the desire of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington, for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), and of the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway), to submit the Bill to additional scrutiny in the hope of obtaining further concessions from Transport for London. It is for others to judge, but I know that they are disappointed and very surprised that no concessions have come forward.
We do not just want concessions; we want sensible planning of the transport needs of London. My hon. Friend will have heard our concerns in the earlier debate on new clause 1. Increasing use of the tube means increased trains, increased sidings and increased maintenance depots. If all the infrastructure facilities are sold off in a fire sale of public assets to bolster the income of Transport for London, Londoners will be short-changed and we will have greater transport chaos, not less.
I hear what my hon. Friend says. We want sensible planning and infrastructure to be at the heart of any development, which is why the Opposition have so strongly supported the establishment of an infrastructure commission. It is also why I am so surprised that those on the Government Front Bench do not feel they need to comment on this matter at this stage.
I return to the specifics of new clause 1. It is important that the concerns raised in the House today are addressed, especially in the light of the ongoing controversy over the Earls Court development, which has inevitably sharpened views and concerns about the general direction of travel in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington said, he is trying to reflect the views raised by people and petitioners. He has also raised the issue of homes and housing. Those, too, are important issues for us to consider on both sides of the House. There are also the issues of transparency and consultation, which, my hon. Friend has made clear, lie behind many of his concerns in new clause 1.
We are not opposed in principle to granting TfL greater powers, but, as always, there must be a balanced approach to any restrictions imposed on the relevant public authority. It is important that powers are not granted to TfL in theory if they then prove to be unworkable in practice. As legislators, we always have to be concerned about the law of unintended consequences and that is why I will now raise some points about this group in particular.
We have not spoken a great deal about new clause 2 so far, but as I understand it, it would debar Transport for London from leasing land that has been in operational use or even been considered for operational use, however briefly. As I understand it, there would be no barrier to TfL selling such land—indeed, it currently has the power to do so. Is there a danger, by forbidding the leasing of land but not the sale, of unintentionally creating an incentive to sell, with some assets lost to the public interest for ever? I feel sure that that is not the wish or the intention of the movers of the new clause.
Clearly, there could be that interpretation, but a wise Mayor and a wise management of TfL would not jeopardise the future planning of the transport network in that way. The key aspect of new clause 2, which, unfortunately, I was not allowed to speak to, is a full consultation with all stakeholders to enable the complete engagement of all interested parties in the development of these sites.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point at the conclusion of his comments, which goes to the heart of the point he raised earlier on consultation and transparency. Since the Minister has not been prepared to address that here, I sincerely hope he will address it in a subsequent group or on summing up the whole debate.
I well understand the intentions behind the amendments. The Bill has already been improved through parliamentary scrutiny. It is important that draft legislation, whether private or public, is tested even at this late stage in the parliamentary process. I welcome the opportunity the amendments have presented to probe the Minister and the Bill’s sponsor, the hon. Member for Harrow East, and the clarification, even at this late stage, that I hope they will bring to the concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington referred to the difficulties that members of the London assembly have had in getting information on the assets concerned. Let us be in no doubt whatever: it is the responsibility of the Minister and the sponsor to justify the accountability agreements to the House tonight. I am interested to know whether members of the Greater London authority have asked for the powers that would oblige them to be consulted.
The issues that lie behind the first set of amendments go to the heart of transparency and accountability—whether of Governments or public corporations. It is important that they be given every probing and every ventilation in the Chamber tonight.
This has not been our finest hour, as I tried to say in a point of order just 10 minutes or so ago. The hon. Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden) drew attention to the dog that did not bark in the form of the Minister, but there have been other dogs that have not barked or even turned up. In a short speech, that is the first point I should like to make.
I am not a London Member, but I am a user of London transport and I have been a resident of London for 35 years. My eye was caught by this item of business because of a strong point of view I have about Earls Court. I expected to come into a packed Chamber. I especially expected to come into a Chamber packed with London Members of Parliament, but they have been very thin on the ground, with the honourable exceptions of my hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on either side of me, and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) who unavoidably had to leave. That, however, has been the size of it. That is truly extraordinary given the importance of this measure.
This is, potentially, a grand theft auto Bill. It deals with 3,000 properties. I have no idea of their value because no figure has been published. Taking a rudimentary guess, I think TfL—about which more later—will have £3 billion, £4 billion or £5 billion of potentially disposable public assets, with almost no transparency or accountability, and no discussion or negotiation with other stakeholders.
By anyone’s standards, this is truly a remarkably important measure. It is more important even than I had thought before entering the Chamber. As I listened with horror to the narrative developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, it took me back—your esteemed father was there, Mr Deputy Speaker, as was Madam Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair a moment ago, as she was in the Treasury at the time—to when the Treasury forced the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, down the road of a private finance initiative that came within an ace of sinking the London underground and costing the taxpayer £3 billion.
This was the point I raised earlier. The key aspect of the public-private partnership was the inability of the House, London Members and others just to get their hands on the information about the architecture of that PPP before it was imposed. Otherwise, I think it would have been exposed very early on.
It was indeed a PPP, not a PFI—that alphabet soup is frequently jumbled in my mind. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. If we had had proper scrutiny at the time, rather than the dragooning of Labour Members into supporting the Treasury position, it would have been exposed far earlier.
With the new clauses and amendments, and with the arguments made this evening, we have tried to expose folly on a potentially even larger scale. My hon. Friend’s speech was truncated rather ham-fistedly—if the promoter of the Bill will forgive my saying so—such that it did not achieve what the promoter wanted; it just made my hon. Friend, our expert on these matters, sit down, but we are still discussing what he was proposing. And this was after only one hour and 10 minutes. His argument was forensic. As I have often opined in here, Government Members do not like it up them—some of them do, that is true, but the promoter of the Bill did not, and it was because arrow after arrow of logic and forensic examination from my hon. Friend was hitting home that the attempt to close down the debate was mounted.
“Mind the gap” is the rubric to remember. This is all about the gap in funding from central Government to Transport for London and closing that gap through the disposal of public assets. I said earlier in an intervention that on these matters left-wing thinking has moved on—even such left-wing thinking as that personified by my hon. Friend. We are not against making non-performing public assets perform in one way or another, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North pointed out, we do not want them performing in such a way that they can never again be used to perform the purpose for which they were originally intended, which in this case, of course, is to provide transport for London—the clue being in the name. In other words, we do not want land disposed of in a way that Transport for London can no longer control, so that assets are lost for ever. We are not against making public assets perform, if they are not necessary now—or perhaps even for many years and decades in the future—but we have certain conditions, and one of them has to be transparency.
New clause 1 does not actually require anything other than publication of information about non-operational assets that may be considered for any future activity or sale. Does the hon. Gentleman not find it extraordinary that the promoter of the Bill, and apparently the Government en masse, are opposed to the publication—no more, no less—of the information?
I can think of only one reason why they would be so opposed—public outrage would result. I am absolutely sure, in respect of the Earls Court development, to which I am about to turn, that had the public been properly informed about its development, public opposition to what in many respects is an act of vandalism would not have permitted the development—or at least the political cost would have been much higher.
On the subject of transparency, the promoter of the Bill is simply wrong. He said he was against a list because it would be too expensive, but then, in the same breath, he said that there was a list, and he prayed in aid the existence of a Greater London assembly. However, the assembly’s budget committee, no less, told the Committee—the House of Commons—that it had had to go to law, through freedom of information searches, to force Transport for London, which nominally it is supposed to supervise, to give it any information at all. So transparency is definitely not the middle name of Transport for London, and as long as that is the case, a suspicion will linger that grand theft auto is the game.
We have a right to say that if a public authority—in this case, Transport for London—is to get into bed with the private sector, the bed partners should be reputable and transparent and located here in Britain and paying tax in Britain. We know that in the case of Earls Court that is not true. Why do companies locate in the Channel Islands? Because they prefer the climate, or because they prefer the opaque nature of taxation matters there? Surely we all know, given what has happened over the past few years, exactly why these cowboy developers locate themselves as far from public scrutiny, media scrutiny and the rest as they possibly can.
I said that I would turn to Earls Court and I shall, but I notice that the brother of the Mayor has just left the Chamber. I had wanted him to be here when I said this. Forgive me, I have to say it: if public authorities and elected figures are going to play fast and loose, potentially, with large sums of public money, it is crucial that the public have trust in that institution or those public figures, but I do not believe that that trust exits when it comes to Transport for London or the current Mayor. I can speak ill of him now, but perhaps not in the new Parliament, should he be elected—no doubt you would be on your feet, Mr Deputy Speaker, and telling me to sit down. However, I do not believe that the conduct of public affairs by Boris Johnson over the past five years, or four years—of course he is going to continue breaking a promise in both offices—or the conduct of Transport for London—
Order. I think the hon. Gentleman is straying. I allowed him some leeway in this group of amendments, but it certainly does not cover the election of the Mayor of London, which is something we will pass over when this goes through. We need to stick to the new clauses and amendments.
I stand corrected, Mr Deputy Speaker.
That leads me to my last point. The Earls Court exhibition centre was a particular favourite of mine—I declare that interest: I have skated in it, I have shopped for my ideal home in it, I have listened to Bob Dylan in it several times. It was an act of vandalism to have it closed, but even worse was the loss of hundreds of TfL jobs—skilled jobs, real jobs, jobs that most Members have no idea how to do, jobs where men and women make things and fix things. Those jobs were cleansed out of central London. That was an absolute outrage.
Even worse than that is the fact that hundreds and hundreds of affordable homes were cleansed from Earls Court to be replaced by apartments so lavish and so expensive that even Members of Parliament could not afford to live in them, let alone the local people whose housing stock was devastated at a stroke. That was all done with virtually no public scrutiny or accountability, and certainly no offer was made to other public authorities for the use of this land, as was the case prior to legislation in the 1980s, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North said.
It really is an outrage—but it is, we fear, a sign of things to come. If this new clause is not passed and these amendments are not taken on board—no concession has been made from the other side—we fear that a sweetheart relationship between TfL and the Mayor, any Mayor, will exist to the detriment of the railway workers and of the bus workers whom I was proud to represent here in Parliament for many years as an MP sponsored by the Transport and General Workers Union. Local people, whose homes are razed as a result of these sweetheart deals, will be disadvantaged. What will be prejudiced most of all is the strategic need to keep London moving smoothly, economically and cheaply for the millions who depend on public transport.
I am pleased to speak in this debate, and I must say that I find the performance of the sponsor of this Bill utterly extraordinary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) spoke for an hour or so and took many interventions. He put on the record many serious concerns about the Bill and took interventions quite happily from anyone and everyone. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) then moved a procedural motion to prevent my hon. Friend from continuing his speech. That procedural motion was, unfortunately, carried. The sponsor then spoke for the briefest possible time—about 10 minutes, taking two or three interventions—and said no more. The Minister has absolutely nothing whatever to say, yet there seems to be a determination on the Government side to prevent us from having a proper debate about new clauses 1 and 2 and the other amendments in the group.
I find it utterly extraordinary that the sponsor of a Bill that has huge implications for transport infrastructure developments and the people of London—4 million of whom use London underground at its busiest times every day, with many more using buses, overground interchanges and so forth—has so little to say about the crucial aspects of future planning and the possible disposal of assets. I think it is utterly extraordinary, and I would have thought that Transport for London would have briefed the hon. Member for Harrow East a bit better or got somebody to promote the Bill who was serious about promoting it and showed some proper knowledge and concern about the subject. The hon. Gentleman should be utterly ashamed of himself for his performance today. If he believes in this Bill, he presumably has something to say about it and presumably has some knowledge of its contents. It is not good enough to come here, mutter a few words and say, “I am the sponsor of this Bill.”
I hope this Bill does not pass. I hope we do not achieve the end of this Bill in this Parliament. Sadly, under parliamentary procedures, it can be transferred to the next Parliament. I hope to be here in the next Parliament, and I will continue my defence of access to public transport for the people of London and of their access to the assets that have been built up so carefully and so diligently by public servants of London Underground and later Transport for London. Whoever takes over the promotion of this Bill—the hon. Gentleman might no longer be with us after the next election—will, I hope, be somebody a bit more diligent than him in understanding its contents. I find what we have gone through thus far to be utterly unbelievable.
There is nothing very dramatic in new clause 1 that the Bill’s sponsor—perhaps he did not have a chance to read the new clause—could not have accepted or agreed to. It says simply:
“Within 3 months of…Royal Asset, TfL shall publish a list of non-operational assets, held by itself or a subsidiary”.
What possible problem could there be from that? It goes to say that TfL
“shall publish each year a list of non-operational assets that are under consideration for development where steps towards such development are planned to commence”.
We all have a right to know about publicly owned assets. Any self-respecting organisation should publish those assets. Local authorities have to publish them and do publish them, so what is so different about Transport for London in this respect?
New clause 2, also proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington, states:
“TfL, or any subsidiary…shall not lease land to third parties which…has been used in the preceding 10 years,…has been considered…in the preceding 10 years as suitable or…is adjacent to land in use in the preceding 10 years, for the provision or maintenance of transport services”
in London. It goes on to require a degree of consultation with “the Greater London Authority”, which is of course the main body holding TfL to account, and with
“London boroughs…the City of London”
and the “relevant trade unions” representing the workers who run the transport system in London. There is nothing in those new clauses that could not be properly considered as reasonable.
Let me explain the genesis of the list in new clause 2. It came from the people who made representations to us on this Bill. They simply wanted to be part of the decision-making process in some form. Some might not necessarily want to be participants in deciding, but they do at least want to be consulted—nothing more than that.
I have followed from a distance—it is not in my constituency—the goings on in Hammersmith over Earls Court and the development that goes with it. The points raised by the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) are so important in explaining what has happened there. The campaigners wanted to preserve local facilities, jobs and the opportunity for an improved transport system in the future. The very least we can do in considering this Bill is to look seriously at what TfL is trying to do.
We are all well aware of the problems of transport in London and of the need for serious long-term planning. I entered the House in 1983 when the Greater London Authority Bill became an Act, abolishing the Greater London council. There was a huge discussion about the role of Greater London council, formerly the London county council, in public transport matters. At the end of the debate on transport issues at that time, we ended up with the establishment of Transport for London as a co-ordinating body for public transport undertakings in London. Fortunately, the right wing of the Conservative party was defeated on its wish to deregulate the bus service in London.
Even at that time, we were expressing concern about the disposal of assets. There was a degree of thinking among London Underground and others that transport usage in London would continue to decline. It did not. It has not. We now have a very fast-growing public transport network in London. As I said, London underground has a maximum capacity of 4 million passengers a day, which has been achieved twice—once during the Olympics and then more recently. London’s population is going to rise, but car ownership will probably continue to fall in London because of the costs, congestion and so forth, so there is likely to be greater and greater demand for public transport.
My constituency probably has one of the lowest levels of car ownership in London, if not in the country, with less than a third of the population having access to a car. They rely totally on public transport. They are often very happy with the transport they receive. Clearly, however, there are growing demands. Any sensible transport authority would not be planning to dispose of assets; it would be protecting those assets, in order to allow expansion to take place in the future.
Let me give an example. Finsbury Park station, which is in my constituency, is a very busy underground station, a very busy interchange between Network Rail and London underground, and a very busy bus interchange with both those services, as well as serving local people who walk to the station. It takes about 30 million passengers on the underground and 6 or 7 million on the overground every year, and it is dangerously overcrowded. I have raised the issue many times on the Floor of the House. It is to his credit that, in response to a question that I asked following the congestion during the Christmas period, the Secretary of State agreed to visit the station, which he duly did. He met me on the overground platform, and we spent an hour walking around the station and looking at the facilities.
I believe that what is being proposed for Finsbury Park station is inadequate. Lifts are to be built, which is good, and there is to be a new entrance hall, which is also good, but unfortunately the Wells terrace entrance is to be closed, probably for eight months but perhaps for longer. That has to be worked out, and I hope that the closure period will be minimal. I also hope that the land assets surrounding the station will be protected, because I believe that the station as a whole is fundamentally inadequate to meet the needs of the travelling public. At peak times, about 30 Victoria line trains go through it in each direction, as well as a smaller number of Piccadilly line trains, and the platforms are too narrow. Someone, at some point, must grasp the nettle and make the decision to rebuild the station with much more platform capacity. Such rebuilding is not unusual: it has been done at Angel, and at other stations. However, it will not be possible if that option is closed off by sales of assets surrounding the station.
I think that I understand Transport for London’s motives. Because the capital needs of the network are underfunded—that may sound extraordinary to people who come from outside London, but London underground is a very expensive system to operate because it is so deep—and because of the difficulty of raising funds to deal with the problem, TfL has looked for assets to dispose of. That tends to be a short-sighted option, because it prevents later improvements to and development of sites. I hope that TfL understands that when those of us who represent constituencies with a very high usage of public transport—particularly London underground—raise concerns about the Bill, it is not because we want to delay its progress in a curmudgeonly way, but because we want to protect public assets so that we can have a better public transport system in the future.
I hope that the Bill’s sponsor will at least have the good grace to report our concerns to Transport for London, and to suggest that its representatives arrange to meet those of us who have raised those concerns and will continue to do so. We want an efficient public transport system in London, which I think is supposed to be the priority for Transport for London’s board. I am particularly concerned about Finsbury Park station, the relationship with Network Rail, and—in my view—the need for a single management of the whole station. At present, the station is managed by Transport for London and London Underground, and by Network Rail on the overground. I should have thought that making the station safer and more usable was the least that Transport for London could do. Some of us will not run away from this issue, because we are passionate about defending the interests of our constituents and others who use the underground system.
I want to mention two more stations in my area before I deal specifically with my amendments. Archway station is a deep and fairly old station in my constituency, which was once the last station on the Northern line. It was called Highgate then. It was rebuilt in the 1960s, and the plan included the building of a very large office block known as Archway Tower above the station. To call it an unattractive building is to do it credit. It is ugly, to put it mildly. No amount of cladding, Russian vines or anything else would make it an attractive building, although some cladding might improve it.
That building was constructed by London Underground, with public money. A succession of leases have been sold, at greater and greater cost, from developer to developer, and on many occasions the building has had to be leased back to the public sector. This is an object lesson in the mis-operation of public assets vis-à-vis private assets. The public have spent a great deal of money on the building of Archway Tower, on leasing it to developers who have then subleased it, and on its refurbishment for the Department for Social Security and, when it moved, the Office of the Public Guardian and the Lord Chancellor’s Department, as it then was.
The building has now been sold to a group called Essential Living, which is turning it into luxury flats. When I went to see its representatives, they told me that they were developing 120 luxury flats. When I asked them what was the social housing content, they looked at me blankly. When I then asked what contribution they were making to the community, they offered to subsidise an arts festival in the area. I want council housing there, because that would at least alleviate the problems in the area.
That asset was disposed of with no forethought, and there are many other such examples throughout London. I hope that Transport for London will understand that it has a real responsibility in respect of the way in which it uses its assets. We want to know what assets it has, and why it wants to put them on to the market or use them to engage in a joint private development. I am not against development when it is appropriate. My borough—along with, I am sure, that of the hon. Member for Harrow East—has massive housing issues. Indeed, London is full of such issues. I have no problem if TfL uses genuinely surplus land for housing. However, it must be housing that will benefit the ordinary people of London who are living in the desperately overcrowded, poor-quality private rented accommodation about which I know the hon. Gentleman is also concerned. Those people need to live in social units run by the council, or by a housing association, and to pay social rather than market rents.
As a public body, Transport for London has a responsibility in that regard. The aim of the Bill is to make TfL into a market operation that will maximise whatever market interest it has while ignoring its wider social responsibility to deal with housing issues throughout London. I hope that that is fully understood.
The other station that I want to mention is Tufnell Park, whose problems relate to the sale of land and local assets. Tufnell Park station is very busy, although it is fairly small. I have just received a letter from Transport for London telling me that it will close the station for many months while it replaces the lifts. I have written to Transport for London—as have the councillors representing both the Islington wards that are adjacent to it, as well as the council itself—expressing concern about the fact that the station will be inoperative, and the fact that the nearest two stations are a considerable distance away. Why can TfL not replace one lift at a time, so that the station can remain in use? TfL says that this is how it does things, and that it is cheaper this way. Well, it may be cheaper for TfL, but it is not cheaper for all the people who will have a very long walk, and the people who must spend more rather than less time travelling to work.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will convey the message that sensible planning, rather than the disposal of neighbouring assets which, in the case of other stations, could be used to make local improvements, could alleviate some of the problems.
Of course I recognise that assets have to be improved and the important works that have to be done on all transport networks at various times. The amendments I have tabled—amendments 25, 26, 27, 28 and 29—relate to the schedule at the end of the Bill. It is headed:
“Property which may be charged by a TfL subsidiary without the consent of the Secretary of State.”
That worries me a great deal, because if the property referred to in this schedule can be disposed of by TfL without the consent of the Secretary of State, I ask myself where will there be any public accountability over a decision made by TfL?
The property listed in the schedule, in paragraphs 1(a) to (o), start with
“property related to a road user charging scheme”.
The ones I am most concerned about, however, include sub-paragraph (k):
“property related to the use of land for keeping installed automated teller machines within stations and other property at stations which is exploited for commercial purposes”.
I have an amendment that seeks to remove sub-paragraph (k) from the list, and I do so because, although it might sound fairly arcane, it is actually quite important to have somewhere to store equipment or to locate ticket—or any other—machines that might well be put there. If that is then disposed of to somebody else, £100,000 may be made—perhaps £500,000 if it is a big area. Quite a lot of instant money might be made out of that, but it is like the magic of the private finance initiative; it is candyfloss money that comes from nowhere. The problem is the rest of us pay for it for decade after decade as a result.
If TfL in its infinite wisdom—and its wisdom is absolutely infinite in all matters—decides to get rid of an area that is a location of automated ticket machines, or any other type of machine, and lease it back from the people it has sold it to, that is the road to nowhere. That is a small dollop of cash in from the private sector, and a very large payment out over years from the public sector to the private sector to maintain what was once ours in the public sector. That cannot be a sensible way of running—
Of running anything actually, but particularly a railroad, as my friend reminds me.
Something else that
“may be charged by a TfL subsidiary without the consent of the Secretary of State”
is, as sub-paragraph (m) states,
“property related to the use of land for commercial letting”.
That makes me very worried, because if it is a building that has been let our leased out by TfL, possibly at a very high rent, and it decides to sell it off and cash in on it, then the public income and the capital value are lost, and at the end of the lease the capital opportunity of doing something else with that building is also lost.
My local authority, the London borough of Islington, tries not to sell property. It would much rather maximise the income from it, but maintain the capital, so that it is its for the future and for future use. [Interruption.] Does my Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) wish to intervene?
No, my hon. Friend is just agitated because he is so appalled at the news he is hearing.
Sub-paragraph (n) refers to
“land which is not operational land”.
Again, that land needs to be kept in the public sector, so that we can then use it for development in the future.
This Bill has a huge effect on a very large number of people. I have just pointed out three stations in my area which need a great deal of attention. Some attention is being given to Finsbury Park and I am grateful for what has been done so far on that, and I am grateful to the Minister for visiting, but consideration must be given to the future needs of the area and future transport developments. I also mentioned Archway and the possibility of a big road improvement scheme which will introduce a piazza for the people of the area, and made points about Tufnell Park station.
Highbury and Islington station has been well developed and, because there was co-operation between public bodies, a post office has been closed and relocated and passed to TfL, so that it could demolish it and create a much larger circulating area for the very large numbers of people who use that station, including on Arsenal match days. That is a good example of public services working together. Had that building been sold years ago, as would be envisaged if it had been a TfL building, that possibility would have gone and the public would have had to buy their own property back at enormous cost. So I ask the Bill’s promoters to think a bit more deeply about their guardianship and stewardship of and responsibility for a massive public asset.
I am listening with interest to my hon. Friend’s brief remarks, and as someone who has been a resident of London for the past 28 years, I am greatly concerned by the serious matters he is raising. Would it not be premature to advance this Bill in any way now, and would it not be a suitable matter to be debated and voted on in the general election as a major issue?
I am not quite sure how far it will become a major issue in the general election, but I will certainly do my best to make it a major issue in Islington North, and I will draw the attention of the people of the area to what is going on with this Bill.
The hon. Gentleman raises a valid point about sequential repair of the lifts at Tufnell Park and the disruption that could be caused. I am more than happy to get in touch with TfL and find out exactly why it is planning to do this work in this way and ask whether it has looked at alternatives.
I am grateful to the Minister; that is helpful because there is understandable concern locally about the stations I have mentioned and their safety. If it helps him, I am happy to write an explanatory note about it and send it to him straight away, so that he can understand my concerns and the local concerns, and we can then have a serious meeting and discussion. I thank the Minister very much for that.
My hon. Friend says that he does not think this will be a major general election issue, but does he not accept that the selling off of the nation’s assets and this obsession with privatisation and making a quick buck and selling things off cheap should be precisely the sort of issues we debate at the general election?
I absolutely agree with my friend, but time is—
Order. Time is running out, but we are speaking to specific amendments and I do not want us to get into a general debate about the general election. We will be doing that soon enough—if we have not already been doing it for 12 months.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I conclude with this thought—
Just before the hon. Gentleman concludes—and being mindful of your stricture, Mr Deputy Speaker—is not the point that this is a Bill to sell off the family silver, as Harold Macmillan famously put it, and we can only sell off the family silver once?
The stewardship of public assets is very important. As someone who believes in public enterprise and public endeavour, I have to concede that the London Passenger Transport Board was established under a Tory Government in 1933. Lord Ashfield was its first chairman and he did a fine job in promoting its development. So even then, in the depths of the recession in the 1930s, there was a consensus that the public ownership of assets mattered, and he stood up against a lot of private interests to achieve that. Let us preserve what we have got, and recognise that the future inevitably is very unpredictable.
I came into parliamentary politics at a time when London’s population was falling and bus and tube use was falling. I remember the then director of London Underground telling me how there were going to be fewer trains and fewer passengers and how LU was thinking about which assets it could get rid of because it did not need them. I cautioned against that, saying that it was a counsel of despair. I said that we needed more people on trains and buses and that fewer people in cars would lead to less congestion. That big public debate happened in London, and we moved into an era not of road building but of rail development and other improvements. London became the first capital city in which public transport usage started to go up; others have now followed.
I ask the Bill’s promoters to think more carefully about what they are doing and to think more carefully about the precious asset that they have and about how they can develop and protect it. I thank the Minister again for his preparedness to engage on the issues that I have raised tonight. I am really grateful to him for that, and I hope that we can make some progress. That is the kind of engagement that we would like to see on the Bill, instead of this peremptory refusal even to discuss the serious concerns that have been raised by a number of Members this evening.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) and to hear his explanation of the new clauses and amendments that he has tabled. Amendments 21 to 29 would remove the requirement to consult or get permission from the Secretary of State on certain minor matters. There is a dilemma about whether it should be the Secretary of State who rules on these matters or the Mayor of London, with the assembly scrutinising what the Mayor and Transport for London do. A dilemma arises when we devolve responsibility and power: should we then recentralise it to the Secretary of State? We as London MPs face that challenge daily. The amendments would recentralise power to the Secretary of State.
Clause 4(6) introduces the need for the Secretary of State’s approval, which we all support—as does the hon. Gentleman, because it is in the Bill. The schedule, however, sets out a long list of functions and assets that virtually undermines that subsection. That is our anxiety about the schedule.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for expressing that anxiety.
Hon. Members have mentioned TfL’s failure to engage with the objectors, but having gone through the Opposed Private Bill Committee and listened to the various proposals, my understanding is that they have been reflected. TfL has sought to meet the objectors and hon. Members to ascertain exactly the details of their objections, and it will have heard what has been said tonight. Clearly, we will not reach agreement on all the amendments, but TfL will no doubt reflect on them.
My concern on reading new clause 1 is that all such properties would have to be banded by value. In my judgment, that would lead to more speculation, rather than less. If TfL is disposing of assets, it should seek to maximise the value that it gets, but banding by value would play into the hands of property speculators. At the moment, the assets are all listed on a searchable website that can be seen by any member of the public, so we know what TfL owns. I therefore reject new clause 1.
New clause 2 would set in train a whole series of consultations and place heavy restrictions on the disposal of land. In my view and in that of the promoters, that would place an unnecessary encumbrance on TfL. There is already a statutory regime, set out in section 163 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999. TfL cannot avoid that; nor does it wish to do so.
The hon. Gentleman will have heard my earlier comments on the parallels with the protection of rail land for future use. For example, the March to Wisbech line has been preserved even though it has not been used for many years. It is now going to be reopened because someone had the foresight to preserve it. I have the same concerns about TfL assets being put up for disposal. Does he not accept that having the Secretary of State in place to provide a kind of long-stop protection, as we are proposing, would be a good thing?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the reasoned way in which he has made his points. The reality is, however, that there is already a clear procedure for the disposal of former operational land. There is no need to go into the kind of detail set out in new clause 2. For that reason, I oppose new clauses 1 and 2 and all the other amendments in the group.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House proceeded to a Division.
I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the Aye Lobby.
16 March 2015
The House having divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
I beg to move amendment 1, in page 1, leave out paragraph (2).
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 5, at end insert
“save as provided for in subsection (3).”
Amendment 5, page 2, line 6, at end insert
“save as provided for in subsection (3).”
Amendment 6, page 2, line 6, at end insert—
“(3) Sections 4, 5 and 6 of this Act shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has arranged for, and published the report of, a review of the—
(a) potential risks to the assets of Transport for London arising from the exercise of the relevant powers to be conferred thereby, and
(b) likely effectiveness of measures put in place by Transport for London in mitigation.”
Amendment 7, in clause 3, page 2, line 17, after “TfL”, insert
“following consultation with the Greater London Assembly, and the publication of a report of such, and”.
Amendment 8, page 2, line 19, leave out “two” and insert “three”.
Amendment 9, page 2, line 25, leave out “two” and insert “three”.
Amendment 15, page 2, leave out clause 4.
Amendment 10, in clause 4, page 2, line 37, at end insert—
“(1A) The consent of the Mayor under subsection (1) may only be granted after the Mayor has consulted, and published a report of such consultation:
(a) the Greater London Assembly
(b) the London boroughs
(c) the City of London
(d) passenger representative bodies, and
(e) relevant trades unions.”
Amendment 11, page 2, line 38, leave out “all or any” and insert “no more than 25%”.
Amendment 12, page 2, line 41, leave out
“including the creation of priority as between changes.”
Amendment 13, page 3, line 9, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment 30, page 3, line 13, leave out
“Except for the property identified in the Schedule to this Act”.
Amendment 14, page 3, line 15, at end insert—
“(6A) TfL shall not charge any property for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (2) unless—
(a) it has consulted the Greater London Assembly and published the results of that consultation, or
(b) the property falls within a category identified in the Schedule to this Act.”
Amendment 31, page 3, line 15, at end insert—
“(6A) Any consent of the Secretary of State given under subsection (6A) above shall be given in an order made by the Secretary of State.
(6B) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provisions) an order under subsection (6B) above shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.
(6C) An order under subsection (6A) above shall in each case include—
(a) the land registry title number or numbers of any property or properties to be charged, and
(b) a specification of the proprietor or proprietors of the charge.
(6D) The proprietor or proprietors of the charge under subsection (6D)(b) may not be a joint venture partner of Transport for London or one of its subsidiaries.”
Amendment 33, in clause 7, page 5, line 25, at end insert—
“(5) TfL shall conduct a review, and publish a report, after 12 months of the operation of the s49 Transport for London Act 2008 powers, as amended by this section, of the use and impact of those powers in relation to investment by subsidiaries of TfL in derivatives in order to limit exposure to changes in interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other matters specified in s49(3) of the 2008 Act.
(6) Each subsidiary of TfL shall publish a report each year of the use made of the powers under s49 of the Transport for London Act 2008, as amended by this section, in relation to investments made in derivatives, or equivalent instruments, in order to limit exposure to changes in interest rates, exchange rates, commodity prices or other matters specified in s49(3) of the 2008 Act.”
May I say at this stage that I would like to press amendments 1 and 33 to a Division? Amendment 1 straightforwardly takes out paragraph (2) from the preamble of the Bill. Paragraph (2) refers to the powers set out in clause 4. I will then turn to amendments 4, 5, 6, 7 and so on.
Amendment 1 is consequential to amendment 15. What they do is delete the powers of Transport for London, set out in the Bill, to borrow by giving securities in the way prescribed in clause 4. The amendments strike at one of the main objectives of the Bill. Even if we took out clause 4, and even clause 5, we would still retain clause 7, which I support. Clause 7 concerns the mitigation of risk through hedging powers to be provided to Transport for London.
I want to delete clause 4, to which amendments 1 and 15 relate, because I do not consider that it should be part of a private Bill. The purpose of the clause and the scale of the potential financial responsibility levied on London council tax payers and taxpayers militate against this being a private Bill; it should be a public Bill. Clause 4 should not stand in the Bill.
That is the point that struck me between the eyes. I am talking about having words such as “risk” and “hedging” in a private measure. Surely we have learned enough about the risk at the hands of private individuals and about the grave economic consequences to argue that this matter should be postponed until the next Government, when the state and the civil service can give it proper attention.
I fully agree, and I shall develop that argument. What my hon. Friend is suggesting in his proposal is that it would be better if this clause were brought forward by the Government rather than in a private Bill. That is because of the scale of the risk involved in the exercise of these powers.
I would welcome it if these powers were brought forward in a public Bill. Why do I believe that? Madam Deputy Speaker, let me take you to pages 929, 930 and 931 of “Erskine May”, with which I am sure you are fully conversant. On those pages, we see identified the subjects that should be considered as unsuitable for private legislation, but which should be dealt with by a public Bill. It says that a private Bill has sometimes been rejected, although properly introduced—as this one has been—because the House has decided, given the merits of the Bill in question, that the subject matter was unsuitable for private legislation.
There are examples in “Erskine May”, on pages 929, 930 and 931, of attempts to use private Bills to raise money for public purposes; it argues that they should fall under a public Bill. I will not go through them at length, but I will draw the House’s attention to the decisions made by previous Speakers. Those decisions have been based on “Erskine May”, which says:
“A bill the sole object of which was the creation of a charge on public funds has not been allowed to proceed as a private bill.”
There has also been the example of previous legislation. The Aberfan Disaster Fund Bill was rejected as a private Bill, but sections of it were brought forward as a public Bill. “Erskine May” says:
“A bill concerning a government guarantee, even though it amended a private Act, has been a public bill.”
That is exactly what the clause does.
I am not saying that the whole Bill is unsuitable for private legislation, but clause 4 certainly is, and it should be deleted. The whole purpose of the clause, as far as I can see, is to allow Transport for London to raise funds by mortgaging assets. However, at the end of the day, the final guarantor of those charges will be the taxpayer, or the Treasury. Therefore, the provision should be brought forward as part of a public Bill rather than a private Bill.
I do not want to go over the arguments that we have already had with regard to the magnitude of the financial risk, the values of the sites involved, the billions of pounds at risk or the long-term consequences for the travelling public if a number of these speculative developments by the Mayor of London or Transport for London go pear-shaped. As far as I see it, that risk is intolerable.
On the detail of it, can my hon. Friend think of any other examples where a private Bill has been used as a vehicle for disposing public assets? Normally, private Bills are about a privately owned development such as a dock or a harbour, but this is very different. Existing public assets are being put at risk, or mortgaged, which is hardly in the public interest.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you are looking quite—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is correct. I am sure he will not be going down the line of considering the constitutional position in very, very great detail, although I am sure that he can make a brief reply to the intervention. But he was doing very well in keeping in order.
Thank you for the compliment, Madam Deputy Speaker; it is not often that Deputy Speakers say that to me.
Let me respond briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North by referring him to page 930 of “Erskine May”, which cites the assessment of the Speaker in 1895 of the London Valuation and Assessment Bill. The Speaker then ruled that
“since the Bill raised questions of public policy of great importance and affected interests of vast magnitude, it ought to have been introduced as a public bill, and could not proceed as a private bill”.
I do not know what greater magnitude of risk there is to London, London taxpayers, the Greater London assembly and others than the risk that we are contemplating in this Bill. I do not want to go over the facts and figures we set out before, but I must say to the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), that the Mayor could potentially enter into an enormous escapade if this legislation is passed. For that reason, I do not believe that it warrants support as part of a private Bill.
Let me return to the link between amendment 1 and amendment 15. Amendment 15 simply seeks to delete clause 4, as I believe that it is dangerous. I was trying to get clarification about the objectives of the clause from the statements—
Three hours having elapsed since the start of proceedings on consideration, the business was interrupted (Order, 10 March).
Bill to be further considered on Tuesday 24 March.