Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
Perhaps I might make some progress on what has happened and on timescales before I give way.
The Bill was considered by an Opposed Private Bill Committee of this House on 13 January 2015 and one of the clauses was amended. The Bill was subsequently debated on Report on Monday 16 March, but the time allocated for the debate expired before proceedings could be brought to a conclusion. Parliament was prorogued shortly thereafter and the Bill fell.
In accordance with the practice of the House, at the beginning of the present Session the promoters requested that the Bill be revived under Standing Order No. 188B on private business. The revival motion that was subsequently tabled in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means has continued to be objected to, leading to the necessity for this debate. I stress that this debate is about the revival of the Bill, rather than its substance.
The hon. Gentleman has pointed out that a revival motion is needed because the Bill did not succeed earlier this year, but I wonder whether he raises his eyebrows slightly, as other Members do, at the fact that it has taken five years to reach this stage. Will he indicate why he thinks that might be the case?
Clearly the process in the other place has taken some time, and there were various applications to the Opposed Bill Committee for consideration of amendments, which is why the promoters of the Bill have amended it to allow those who objected to it to see changes that would benefit the overall process.
The purpose of the Bill is to provide TfL with additional powers so that it can meet its business needs more flexibly and take advantage of more efficient arrangements for the stewardship of its financial affairs. It would allow TfL to maximise the value of its assets and deliver significantly better value for money to the paying public, which is a laudable aim, and one with which I am sure we all agree.
I am grateful to my colleague from Harrow for giving way. I recognise that he has lived with the Bill for a very long time, whereas I am coming to it fresh. Is there anything in it that might give hope to my constituents, and perhaps to one or two of his, who use Harrow-on-the-Hill station and are waiting, and who continue to wait, for improved access arrangements there? Might the Bill help to sort that out?
I am wary of straying too far from the principle of the revival of the Bill, because I know full well that there are transport improvements across London that we would all like to see. The key point is that ensuring that TfL has the ability to maintain its finances efficiently and effectively means that the improvements that my honourable colleague and neighbour would like to see can be brought to fruition. There are some improvements that I would like to see brought to fruition in my constituency, because, as I will say shortly, there are provisions in the Bill that would allow TfL’s finances to improve, so there would be more money for the transport improvements we all want.
My colleague will forgive me for being a little uncharitable and suggesting that his answer about Harrow-on-the-Hill station was a tad vague. I know that Stanmore station is a significant issue for him, so I will happily make common cause with him if he will use the influence that he undoubtedly has with TfL, having been asked to be the promoter of the Bill, to ensure that it brings forward improved access arrangements at both Harrow-on-the-Hill and Stanmore as a matter of urgency.
I thank my colleague for stressing the point about Harrow-on-the-Hill station. I know from my use of the Metropolitan line that that is a vital aspect of the improvement that needs to take place. I will use the opportunity with TfL and others to ensure that we get the improvements we all want to see in Harrow, including at Stanmore and Harrow-on-the-Hill.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have great influence with TfL, so will he also take up the cause of Caledonian Road tube station, which is going to be closed for six months so that a lift can be renewed? I do not understand why the whole station has to be closed for sixth months, because there are four lift shafts—it is incomprehensible. I have written to TfL about it but do not seem to be getting very sensible replies. I wonder whether he might take up that cause as well.
I am rapidly taking up a number of causes across London. I know that Caledonian Road tube station is one of the great ways of leaving the Emirates stadium after football matches. Interestingly, substantial amounts of money were secured in order to dramatically improve the transport system around the stadium when it was being rebuilt. The reality is that there are concerns about whether that money was used properly. Clearly I realise that there is a need to renew the lift at Caledonian Road tube station, but I would much rather we ensured that there was a lift at Harrow-on-the-Hill station, because it does not have one, and at Stanmore station.
I must correct the hon. Gentleman: I represent York Central, but I am in London today, as we all are. He said in his opening remarks that TfL’s financial position would be improved as a consequence of the Bill. On what premise is that assumption based?
If the hon. Lady permits me to advance further in my speech, I will refer to that issue in a few moments.
TfL is responsible for one of the world’s biggest transport networks. On the tube alone there have been 1.3 billion passenger journeys over the past year. TfL is also responsible for a multi-billion pound investment programme to improve capacity and the connectivity of the transport network. London Underground, the subsidiary responsible for providing the tube service, has achieved improved reliability, with a 40% improvement in recent times. Since TfL took over the Overground network in November 2007, demand for its services has quadrupled, delays have been cut by two thirds and customer satisfaction has risen from 70% to 82%.
TfL is providing 25% more capacity to Overground services to help meet growing demand. The network was expanded in May to include the West Anglia inner suburban routes. TfL is the joint sponsor with the Department for Transport of Crossrail, the largest transport project undertaken in the capital for many years. The delivery company is a wholly owned TfL subsidiary and the project is on time and within budget.
I note that the hon. Gentleman has prioritised Harrow-on-the-Hill station when it comes to improvements, but a whole swathe of Londoners had hoped to be able to get on the tube network but now cannot: people with disabilities who need level access. Osterley station and Turnham Green station in my constituency were promised level access but now the projects have stopped. Is that because of the delay in the Bill or some other problem that TfL has?
TfL has clearly been investing quite dramatically in access for disabled people on the network over the past 10 years. I remember that the points she has made were made under the previous Mayor of London and not delivered, so I think that there is a quid pro quo on that subject.
I am going to move on to the key points about the Bill.
The Bill has only four substantive clauses. None the less, it is of great importance to TfL because it would enable it to deliver better value for money for the fare payer and the tax-paying public. Since the Bill was deposited, TfL’s operational funding from central Government has been cut by 25%, and the Government’s aim is to reduce that funding over time to zero. TfL is required to deliver £16 billion of savings over the period to 2021. The Bill would assist in that regard.
In summary, clause 4 gives TfL subsidiaries the ability to access cheaper finance, subject to the consent of the Mayor and, in respect of core operational assets, the consent of the Secretary of State, so clearly there will be an opportunity for Members of Parliament to have oversight of such proposals.
Clause 5 allows TfL to form limited partnerships. Following scrutiny by the Opposed Bill Committee, the clause was amended to provide that the Secretary of State must consent to the formation of the limited partnership by way of an order to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, on the principle of transparency of the limited partnerships, which I know was one of the particular concerns raised by objectors, the sponsors of the Bill have given way and ensured that there will be full public debate over such arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman talks about oversight by Members of this House. Does he acknowledge the concern that there ought to be more regular oversight by ordinary Oyster card holders in London and that the governance of TfL as a whole needs reform, partly to oversee the arrangements in this Bill but also to give people in London more of a stake in the big decisions about TfL’s future on asset sales, fare rises, and other big calls that it has to make?
There is clearly oversight by the Mayor of London, the Assembly and the Assembly’s transport committee. Of course, the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government who set up the arrangements for London in 2000, so no doubt somewhere on the record he has expressed the view that this should have been done, but I do not recall that that was being said at the time. The key point as regards oversight and transparency is that there will be an opportunity for the limited partnership arrangements, in particular, to be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament.
The initial set-up will be scrutinised by both Houses. If there were to be any substantial change to the way in which the partnership was structured, there would clearly be an opportunity for oversight. I am sure that nothing would be done that prevented proper oversight of proceedings through the London Assembly, its transport committee and the Mayor of London.
The hon. Lady might wish to probe that point further on the revival of the Bill when we debate particular aspects of changes to it, but it is not about the revival of the Bill in its own right.
Clause 6 expands the list of entities through which TfL can undertake commercial activities to include limited partnerships, limited liability partnerships and companies limited by guarantee. This enables TfL to conduct its affairs more flexibly and meet the maximum value from its assets. Clause 7 gives TfL greater flexibility to mitigate its risks through hedging, including allowing it to hedge commodity prices when it is exposed to fluctuations as a consequence of a transport contract or a contribution risk to the pension fund.
Contrary to assertions made on Second Reading and elsewhere, the Bill does not give TfL any new powers to sell or to develop its land. TfL has had such powers since it was created in 2000 and is not seeking to extend them in any way, shape or form. TfL must obtain the consent of the Mayor to dispose of surplus land by sale or granting a long-term lease. If that land is operational, or has been operational in the past five years, the Secretary of State must also give his or her consent. TfL is also subject to scrutiny by the London Assembly and has various obligations to publish financial details in its accounts and details of its surplus land and building assets. The powers TfL is seeking in the Bill will not detract from its discharge of its core functions.
I will not give way any more.
The discrete scope of the Bill should be taken as indicative of a desire by TfL to meet its business needs more flexibly, and cost-effectively.
One of the key issues that has been identified during the whole process, which I think we all agree on, is the opportunity to maximise the development of assets for housing purposes. If the Bill were finally to become law, TfL would release more than 300 acres of land in London to help create more than 10,000 new homes across London. Sixty-seven per cent. of this phase of development is in travel zones 1 and 2.
No, I am not giving way any more.
TfL is working with the Mayor, London boroughs and the commercial property development sector to bring forward developments in an innovative and creative way. The additional powers in this Bill will enable these developments more efficiently, enabling more of the revenue raised from the developments to be reinvested into the transport network and bear down on fares. That means that the people who oppose the revival of the Bill will be saying to Londoners that we do not want 10,000 new homes on redundant TfL land.
I am not giving way any more.
In view of the benefits that this Bill will bring, it is essential that it becomes law as soon as possible. I will be eager to listen to contributions from Labour Members, in particular. Given the campaign that is shortly to be run in London, it is vital that we give the Mayor of London the opportunity to create much needed housing. The creation of 10,000 housing units on 300 acres of redundant land is a great opportunity that is being denied and prevented by the shenanigans of Labour Members. I therefore move that the Bill should be revived so that it can complete its passage through this House. I trust, Madam Deputy Speaker, that during the course of this debate you will ensure that Members restrict themselves to the subject of the revival of the Bill.
I am concerned about clause 5, in particular, and the idea of limited liability partnerships. As I understand it, limited liability partnerships were established in 1907 to enable people to become partners without taking on the liability. There needs to be a general partner who will be liable for everything, but then those who are coming into the partnership, and perhaps giving money towards it, would not have any form of liability. I understand that it is a means of raising capital, but I am very worried about who the partners might be. We have heard all kinds of scare stories, and I would be very interested to hear some reassurance.
When my hon. Friend describes the scope of limited liability, is it her understanding that the limit of the liability in such a partnership arrangement could be nil? If that is the case, what on earth are we doing thinking about such an arrangement?
I believe that that is exactly the position. This legal instrument was created in order to help to raise money. However, the difficulty is that we will be raising money on public land—public for the moment, at least. That is land owned by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, by me and by all of us, and we will be handing over some sort of investment in it to organisations that are cloudy, to say the least. Is there anything to stop these partners being offshore companies or being able to establish themselves with £2-worth of capital? Is there anything to stop documents naming certain people as responsible for the company, only for the Russian mafia to take over at a later stage? Are we handing over Caledonian Road, Old Street and potential developments in my constituency to such people? I certainly hope not, but I am worried that this Bill’s revival may allow that to happen.
My hon. Friend is asking extremely pertinent questions, but I wonder who is going to answer them. If I get the opportunity to make a speech, I will try to answer them with the aid of the promoter’s statement on the one hand and the legal opinion obtained by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers on the other. The Bill’s sponsor, the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), is now deep in thought, having gabbled through the end of his remarks without taking interventions on any of the substantive matters covered by the Bill. If this Bill is to be revived, does my hon. Friend agree that our questions should be answered tonight?
I genuinely think so, because, as the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has said, we are talking about large swathes of publicly owned land in the centre of our capital. My constituency has the least amount of green space of any in the entire country, and all our brownfield sites need to be looked at very carefully in order to maximise housing. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for housing, but frankly we do not need developments such as that currently taking place on our canal, where a one-bedroom flat is being sold for £826,000. That is not affordable housing for anyone who lives in Islington. We need real affordable housing, but the Bill does not seem to have any control over that.
That is a really important point. Too often, people talk about housing numbers and bandy around the word “affordable” for properties that are by no means affordable for most people in London. Making available 300 acres of land for housing that people from London, particularly those on moderate and low incomes, will not be able to access will contribute nothing to their housing needs.
I have to say that Islington residents who are on what could be seen as high incomes are very concerned about their children, as are those who are on middle and low incomes. How will children who were born in Islington remain in Islington, given the price of housing? The Mayor of London’s answer has been to redefine affordable housing. It is a little like getting rid of child poverty by taking income out of the definition.
People in my borough of Westminster now need an income of £77,000 to be able to afford what the Mayor of London has deemed to be an affordable property. My constituents, like those of my hon. Friend, look at the proliferation of new developments and see properties that they will never have the remotest chance of being able to afford. They want not just house building, but the building of affordable homes that they will have a chance to access.
The point is this: once the land is gone, it is gone for ever. Once these luxury flats are built, Islington residents will never have a chance of being able to afford to buy them, and if no social housing or real affordable housing is built in inner London, that will be it. We need to defend very carefully the land available.
The Mayor of London has decided that affordable housing equates to 80% of market rent. That would be a laugh if it were not so tragic. It is like newspeak in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and someone saying, “Say black is white and say it for long enough, and hopefully some fools will start to believe it.” In Islington, 80% of market rent is not affordable housing.
I read with alarm what was said in the Financial Times about housing. Transport for London is talking about affordable housing in the constituency of the hon. Member for Harrow East in outer London, but not in inner London. There are 21,000 people on the waiting list for housing in Islington. Does this Bill answer any of their problems?
We are being distracted from one of the Bill’s main points, which is of concern to the hon. Lady’s constituents and mine. The explanatory notes to clause 4 state that, as fare payers and taxpayers, they are bearing the cost and the risk of the lack of
“capacity to finance projects and functions at the best available interest rate or at the lowest risk.”
If we do not give the Bill a safe passage, our constituents will continue to bear that risk. Is that acceptable?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. It brings us back to another rumour, which is that £700 million will be taken away from Transport for London in the comprehensive spending review and Transport for London is therefore even more in desperate need of a fire sale of our land to subsidise fares. London is the greatest capital in the world, and we need a proper transport system that is appropriate and helps our city to continue to be the lifeblood of this country. It seems to me to be short-sighted to the greatest extent to take away subsidy from Transport for London, because our city will grind to a halt. Once we have sold off that land and the opportunity for my constituents to live in affordable housing has gone, for the sake of their having cheaper fares for a year or two, what do we do then, having sold off the family silver in the way that is being suggested?
Does my hon. Friend agree that risk comes in many different forms? The Evening Standard revealed a few weeks ago that there has been £100 billion of investment in the London property market from overseas since 2008. Some of that money comes from very dodgy sources, including money laundering. That kind of investment in property—where it is not transparent and the property is not properly managed—involves a fundamental risk to the London property market and all other sources that depend on such revenue.
All of us have probably been down the river and seen all the developments that are happening. Members should look for how many flats have lights on at night, because if they do not, people are not living there. It is simply that somebody in Singapore can either invest a bag of gold or they can think, “No. Let’s buy a flat in south London, on the river with a lovely view. There will be someone to look after it. We can invest in that and keep it empty for years or decades.” Those empty flats are laughing at my constituents, who are in desperate need of proper housing. It seems to me that this opportunity is being frittered away.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for appearing uncharitable to him—one should always be charitable to him, as a Tottenham fan—but does my hon. Friend not accept that the Old Oak Common experience, with its lack of affordable housing and the poor negotiation that TfL entered into with its partner on that site, has scarred those of us who have looked at this Bill? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might persuade TfL to look afresh at the Bill in the light of such concerns and to come back with more amendments, perhaps on the future governance and oversight of any deals that are done.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Essentially, the sponsor of the Bill and TfL are saying, “Trust us. Let us enter into limited partnerships with who knows who.” TfL wants to enter into a limited partnership, which is not a distinct legal entity, which has a clear consequence for public transparency. For example, we cannot use the Freedom of Information Act to find out who is behind the partnerships that TfL may get into. TfL says, “Don’t worry about it. We can be trusted.” The difficulty is that TfL’s behaviour during the past few years, with some of the developments we know about, shows that we cannot in fact trust it.
Caledonian Road is not a frivolous example. As the hon. Member for Harrow East said, it is one of the few tube stations that has disabled access that is available to the large number of people who go to watch the highly successful Arsenal football club, but it will be closed for six months. What about Arsenal fans in wheelchairs during that time? TfL cannot look after a tube station with four shafts. It tells me that it needs to close it for six months to renew one of the lift shafts; yet it has two functioning lifts at the moment, both of which it will stop. I said, “The lift capacity is only 50%, so just use one lift while you are repairing the other one.” It replied, “Oh, but what happens if the lift that is in use breaks down?” I said, “Well, excuse me, TfL, but you’ve got lift engineers on site. You are re-doing the other lift shafts, so what’s your problem?”
If TfL has difficulty running a tube station, I have some concerns about its ability as a property developer, particularly if it goes into partnership with others. Those people may be perfectly adequate. TfL may go into partnership with a latter-day Peabody. That would be fantastic, would it not? It would be great if it went into partnership with somebody who really wanted to provide housing that was entirely appropriate for my constituents. The difficulty is that I do not really believe that, and I do not think that the hon. Member for Harrow East does either. TfL is trying to make as much money as it possibly can out of that land, and it will make as much money from affordable housing as it will from luxury flats.
My hon. Friend hits the issue on the head. Of course the value of the assets needs to be maximised, but the structure is based on the best investment opportunity. It will not be a Peabody Trust that comes along: it will be someone who wants to make the maximum money out of it. That is why the flexibility is there. It is an “ask no questions” policy—“we do not care who you are”.
My hon. Friend rightly talks about risk. A further risk is the partner that TfL goes into business with on a site—for example, the Caledonian Road tube station site she mentioned—going bust. TfL would be left with a large potential cost to taxpayers and that would make getting the lifts at Harrow on the Hill—which, if she will forgive me, I think are more important than her lift at Caledonian Road—an even more distant prospect.
Many questions need to be asked about the status of the partners that TfL will be able to join in partnership. Will they be offshore? Will they pay taxes here? Will they be able to move the control of the partnerships from one party to another without the public—it is our land—being able to stop it? One hears many scary stories, such as money from Moldova being laundered through Scotland—all sorts of extraordinary things go on under these instruments—and my concern is that the limited partners are liable only for the value of any investment they make and do not need to be involved in the management of the partnership. They put their money in, that is the extent of their liability, and we do not know what sort of profits they will then be able to make and we do not know whether they will pay any tax in this country. Those questions need to be asked before we revive this Bill.
I do not know that it would. It is vague in the extreme. In my view, it is inappropriate for a public company to go into partnership with public assets with who knows who—for us to take the risk of putting the assets out there and see who will put up the money. That is not the sort of slippery Joe operation we should deal with. We are talking about public land in my constituency in the centre of London, and frankly I do not want it to be controlled by the Russian mafia, for instance.
I realise that the hon. Lady has concerns, so I will try to be helpful. To answer the questions she has asked, she might want to talk to Labour Sheffield, Labour Barking and Dagenham or Labour Gateshead, which have all entered into similar joint limited partnership arrangements, to see how they have worked.
From my limited investigations, I understand that Sheffield entered into a local housing company in which the council invested the land and the joint venture partner invested the finance, with shared risk. Barking and Dagenham had a special purpose vehicle, in which the council put in the land and the private investor put in the money. Gateshead had a local asset backed vehicle—I believe such vehicles were introduced by the previous Government—where the council put in the property but the private sector put in the finance.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for raising the example of Sheffield. Sheffield Housing Company is an extremely interesting model. I am surprised to hear a Conservative pushing an example of local housing companies being set up, because they enable the right to buy not to apply to any properties built by such housing companies. It is very odd that the hon. Gentleman should pray that in aid, given some of the other proposed legislation this House is debating at the moment.
There we are. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe we ought to be focusing on whether the Bill should be revived and whether it will make London a better place. My fundamental belief is that it will not.
There are more questions in relation to the Bill than there are answers. It is about disposing of land all over London, much of it operational land. Some of it may be appropriate for development, but some of it may not. Who is to say whether these shady partners might not be pushing TfL into inappropriate developments? Yes of course we need housing, but where may we have it? For example, there is a large tract of land next to Farringdon station just by Farringdon road that on the face of it is very valuable. At the moment, it is just tracks. Is there a possibility of that land being built over and some form of flats being built there? I do not know.
Is there a possibility of something being built over Old Street? Old Street is a phenomenal station. It has two wells in it. I do not know how it functions as a tube station, but what kind of property might be built on top of it? We may well find these shady partners pushing TfL into developing such areas, which would be entirely inappropriate for the building of flats, even luxury flats. We should be very careful about that.
Another risk of the Bill is that we may end up restricting TfL’s ability to invest more in transport in London, because we have caged in a particular area or built a block of flats on a particular place, not allowing it to continue to develop the transport system that London needs and deserves.
We have heard examples of investments in other places in other cities, but is there not a stark distinction between other places and London? There is no risk involved whatever in investing in the property market in London. People are investing in a goldmine, so there is no need for special purpose vehicles or any other such arrangements that may not withstand scrutiny. Is that not the reality of the situation?
Certainly, the way things seem at the moment is that the property market in London only goes upwards. We will see what happens in the future. There has to be, in the end, a limit to it, and there may be some form of risk. One risk has to be, for example, finding asbestos. If asbestos is found at a development site, what happens then? Again, the risk is nationalised and the profits are privatised.
My hon. Friend mentions asbestos. The site that begat all this nonsense in the first place is the Earls Court exhibition site, which is coming down at the moment and is absolutely full of asbestos. There are huge risks here. The brakes are being taken off. It seems ironic that Transport for London should think it needs to do something to ease up the London property market. The London property market is out of control as it is. Only TfL, with its lack of commercial acumen, could really think that it should prioritise building more luxury flats with whoever turns up to build them and make it as easy as possible, with no questions asked.
Yes. Representing and living in the area that I do, I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. The property market continues to be stoked. The Government say “Let’s cut back on the amount of housing benefit available and that will dampen down the property market.” I laugh, because clearly that is not what happens. Instead, rents and property prices continue to rise, and we continue to price Londoners out of London. If it continues to eat itself, London will cease to function. But perhaps that is fine by TfL: no one will need to travel into London because no one will be able to live or work in London. They will need to live so far out that working in the centre will not be viable.
My hon. Friend, like me, heard the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) say that TfL should be able to maximise the income from the sale of this land, but, as she pointed out, where land values are extremely high, that is likely to squeeze out affordable and social housing. TfL is a public body, however, and there is a shortage of public land on which to build social housing, which is why we need properly to scrutinise how this land is used, instead of selling it off to the highest bidder in every case.
If we do not use public land to build affordable housing, what land will we use? If we sell off the land, and it ends up in the hands of private property speculators, that will be the end of it, in terms of its being within the reach of Londoners.
Again, perhaps someone can enlighten me, but there has been talk that TfL could set up a subsidiary to insulate itself against risk. I do not understand what TfL has said about that, but, on the face of it, if it continues to own the land, or at least to manage it, it seems that a court would say, “The legal instrument might say one thing, but the reality is quite clear”, and strike it down. The project is being built on the never-never, and on very dubious grounds. We are asking serious questions about the risk this public body is being put under. What is TfL going to be doing with our land? What does it mean for the future of London? There are so many questions. I appreciate the Bill has a long history, but that makes it even more disappointing—to say the least—that these questions cannot be answered. They have been asked of TfL many times, yet we still do not have answers. In the absence of such answers, it does not seem correct to revive the Bill.
I will attempt to answer my hon. Friend’s question, although, again, it would be better if the sponsor did. Counsel’s opinion, on exactly this point, expresses doubt about whether such an approach would be within the vires of TfL and lawful and that, even if such a subsidiary was formed, it might also give rise to the issue of vertical liability for TfL. It seems that, if that is what TfL is attempting, it has failed to do so in the Bill.
That is very interesting. If that is counsel’s opinion, why can TfL not allay our fears? It is a pretty fundamental question. As I understand it, attempts have been made over several years to progress the Bill, yet there are still no answers to these important questions. It is not enough for TfL to say to the House, “Please revive the Bill. The Chancellor is going to take £700 million away from us, and we need to sell off our assets to fill the gap.” Economically, it makes no sense; socially, it is appalling; and, politically, it is extremely short sighted and not the sort of thing the House should allow.
If the scenario my hon. Friend paints, of £700 million being taken out of TfL’s budget in the spending review, if the hon. Members for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) vote for it, quite clearly against the interests of their constituents, and if the Bill becomes a reality, could not the gap be better plugged by ensuring full fiscal devolution, including of property taxes raised in London, to the Mayor and London local authorities? In that way, some of the rising value in the London property market could be captured for investment in housing or public transport, and the sort of controversial things we are discussing now might not be needed.
I will give way in a moment!
London is a driving force, so it seems a ridiculous idea that TfL can be so short-changed at a time like this, when the economy is supposed to be getting back on its feet, and we are finally coming out of the recession caused by the international financial crisis. We seem finally to be staggering our way out of it, despite the Tories crowing about it over a large number of years. At a time like this—[Interruption.] The Minister says “Staggering?” from a sedentary position. There are 3 million people in this country who believe themselves to be underemployed, and, despite the fact that there may seem to be more people employed, the last lot of statistics show that the number of hours we are working as a nation has gone down. So, yes, I do say “staggering”.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. She is being tempted down a particular path, so I simply wish to bring to her attention the fact that, at least on the Labour Benches, we are all in it together, and there is a momentum and imperative towards us staying together in solidarity, which is the order of the day. We should not forget the regions that have made a major contribution to this city in building its sewers, its stadiums and all the rest of it. I ask my hon. Friend not to be too tempted by the proposition suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas).
I wonder whether I can help my hon. Friend by putting it slightly differently. As London MPs we are very grateful for the support from great engineering and great railway towns around the country, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). I think the nail was hit on the head in the answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who is no longer in his place, about whether there is a balance between Londoners who want access to housing and Londoners who want reasonable fares. The answer is that everybody is losing out under this scheme. The cover on this Bill has been blown by the revelation that money is going to be sucked out of London and that TfL is going to have to scrabble around, selling the family silver simply to pay the fares bill over the next year or two. That is a disgraceful way to run the economy.
That, in summary, is my objection to the Bill. It seems to me that we need to call out its true intentions. I am afraid that, supporter as I am of TfL—I have written to its director to praise him, but I have to criticise other things—I have to say that TfL is making a mistake about this. I suspect that the reason it is trying to make this terrible mistake is that it is being pushed by the Government who are looking to entirely short-term gain. This is not in the interest of Londoners, so the Bill should not be revived.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who has been an assiduous campaigner for this Bill and made some very important points in seeking its revival on the Floor of the House today. I have listened with interest to the contributions and I hope to continue to do so. I have say, however, that we have meandered—nay, staggered—round a very circuitous path in talking about this Bill. We have talked about mafias, Moldova and the city of York, which the last time I looked was a little way away from the city of London. We have staggered around a special purpose vehicle, and for some reason the image of a white van is flashing before my eyes.
What I have also noticed is a revival of interest in transport matters on the Opposition Benches. Many Labour Members are frequent and assiduous campaigners on behalf of constituents in London, but there are also those I have neither heard nor seen in my time as the Minister—either at Transport questions or in any correspondence coming across my desk. I am therefore delighted that we are seeing that revival of interest in transport matters this evening.
Let us now return to reality, rather than remaining in the meandering world that we have been inhabiting. The Bill simply seeks to enable TfL to expand its financial freedoms, and to use practices and mechanisms that will allow it to release greater value from its financing arrangements. It is not some back-door attempt to—what was it?—allow members of the Russian mafia in to finance Londoners through special purpose vehicles.
The Minister says that the Bill is not a back-door deal to let in various nefarious characters, but how does she know that? How can she guarantee that someone will not come along and exploit this arrangement? Given the lack of transparency, we might never know who that person was.
Like many Labour Members, the hon. Gentleman is displaying a complete disregard for the scrutiny role of London Assembly members, and, indeed, for the Independent Investment Programme Advisory Group, which provides the Mayor with independent insurance and expert advice in relation to TfL’s investment programme. Labour Members are displaying a blatant disregard for the devolved authority that we have given to the Mayor.
I want to make some progress.
That disregard does not sound a very strong note of confidence in Labour’s candidate for next year’s mayoral elections.
I welcome the principle of introducing flexibility to the public finances at a time when the Government are seeking new mechanisms to unlock maximum value from public assets. That flexibility enabled us to build systems that we all celebrate, including many of the railways throughout the country that we all know and love, and it has been used to great effect by many other Departments.
It is no secret that the outcome of the 2015 spending review will be challenging, and it is right that we are looking for ways in which to unlock value in the public assets out there while we deliver on our stated intention to reduce TfL’s operational funding over time. To hear Labour Members, one would think that this was an organisation on its knees, but TfL is a world leader in providing public transport systems in one of the most congested cities.
I want to make some progress.
TfL is an organisation that manages, extremely effectively, more than £9 billion of revenue every year. It has delivered incredible increases in reliability and efficiency since 2008. Labour Members are displaying a great lack of confidence in our nation’s transport systems.
The Minister does not represent a London constituency. That is not her fault; we all have our cross to bear. However, those of us who have put up with 30 years of incompetence from TfL—both financial and operational—would beg to differ with her. Will she confirm that, as was stated in the Financial Times on 12 November, the London transport network is facing a loss of £700 million a year in state subsidy as a consequence of the comprehensive spending review?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned the Financial Times, but he will have to wait until next week to hear about the spending review. I did not quite catch his other comment, but I think he said something about our not using the tube. I suspect that I have been using it for many more years than he has. Let me return to the point, however. We are trying to find flexible ways—
No, I will not.
We are trying to find flexible ways to allow the public sector to use its assets more effectively. Only a party whose face is firmly turned to the past—preferably the nationalised past of the 1970s—would find that an unpalatable mechanism.
No, I will not.
TfL has already implemented a savings and efficiency programme that will enable it to invest in infrastructure while holding down fares. I have not heard any Labour Members stand up for their constituents who have to get on to the tube every morning, and who are delighted that fares have been kept down.
No, I will not.
Those constituents are delighted that fares have not been charged for children who are travelling, and they are delighted by the improvements that have been made to stations, including the provision of step-free access throughout the network.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am greatly enjoying the Minister’s performance and hope it continues for at least another 20 minutes, but is it not part of the traditions of this House that Ministers should take interventions from Members wanting to raise constituency concerns? A series of interventions—
Order. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a point of order. It is entirely up to the person who has the Floor whether or not to take interventions. The hon. Gentleman may find it unfortunate that the Minister is not doing so, but that is entirely her choice.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, to be clear, I am afraid that we heard all sorts of rather pointless interventions earlier, and what we would like to do is make some progress, I think, so we can understand what this Bill is all about.
So let me put some numbers in front of Opposition Members to give them some facts, rather than having them shroud-waving. I understand from TfL that this private Bill could immediately generate savings in excess of £50 million by improving its hedging power, enabling it to borrow money in a cost-effective way and make the most of its assets. If Opposition Members do ever take the tube, they will see the money the tube generates is reinvested in investment programmes, delivering the sorts of transport investments their constituents need.
The Department supports TfL’s commercial programme. We want TfL to better maximise its unique commercial position. We want it to generate the maximum potential from the public assets that it will continue to own, and we believe—
I thank the Minister for giving way. Does she accept that transport providers are often not the best organisations to launch into a business programme, particularly where we have examples such as that of Earls Court, which has been well and truly exposed tonight, where TfL did not get the best value for money or the best value for Londoners? There has been virtually no affordable housing in that scheme and that is the key concern for Londoners. That therefore proves that transport providers are not necessarily the best property developers.
I am a bit confused by the hon. Lady’s intervention. I think what she is suggesting is we should not give TfL powers—that somehow we should retain these powers or not give it powers at all to try and maximise the commercial value. I will agree with the hon. Lady on this: most state-owned institutions are not good at maximising the value from these particular developments. The same is true across the railway network, but we have to look at different mechanisms to enable organisations to unlock the value from that public-private partnership which is so crucial.
TfL runs a world-class transport system. It is led by an expert transport commissioner.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way.
The hon. Lady has just talked about TfL running a world-class transport system. There are concerns about some of the changes that have been made, however, such as the closure of the ticket offices. Women in my constituency are very concerned about safety on the lines as a result. The hon. Lady referred to children, but children are unable to get their tickets because the ticket offices are closed and they are not able to get their tickets through the machines.
I do not know when the hon. Lady last took the tube, but there are such things as Oyster and contactless, which mean in many cases that ticket offices are not required by those taking the tube. I also gently remind the hon. Lady that the 21st-century investments TfL has made are now being looked at by transport systems across the world. I wish Members representing London would realise what we have is a public transport system that moves more than 4 million people on a daily basis and that is the envy of the world in its technology and its investments in the ticketing system. There is this idea that somehow we should be keeping ticket offices open, but in many cases they are kept open. By the way, the British Transport Police, which again the hon. Lady does not appear to recognise, plays an incredible job in keeping people safe. Its Operation Guardian has led to a great jump in the reporting of sexual violence on the tube, the number of cases of which I am determined to drive down. If she would ever like to write to me about transport-related matters, I would be delighted to share such information with her.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady saw the Evening Standard on Wednesday of last week. It reported a list of shame of London tube stations, where passengers were often queuing for up to an hour in order to get their tickets following the closure of the ticket office. Although she is painting a rosy picture of everything being wonderful on London transport, will she reflect on the fact that not everybody is able to use Oyster ticket machines and there is still a need in some cases for ticket offices?
I did not see that report—[Interruption.] Well, I do not read the Standard every day; I apologise. The hon. Lady says that in some stations in central London people are queueing for up to an hour to buy a ticket because they do not have an Oyster card or a contactless card. I find that absolutely astonishing. Frankly, I might have to question the veracity of the reporting.
May I just finish what I am saying? I will be delighted to hear more speeches after that.
Taking into account the fact that the Bill will deliver real savings and efficiency for council tax payers and fare payers, that it will allow TFL to do what it was set up to do—namely, to take responsibility for the world’s greatest transport system—and that with the Bill we are effectively supporting the role of the devolved Mayor and the crucial scrutiny role of the London Assembly, I can only think that anyone who votes against us tonight does not believe in devolved mayoral accountability, does not have confidence in the scrutiny role that the London Assembly plays and does not give a stuff about their constituents, who will benefit from lower fares and the opportunity to get on the housing ladder through the housing development that the Bill could provide.
I think the Minister has recognised that fact from my accent.
I am not a London MP, and I believe it is really important to understand that it is not just London MPs who have a view on this serious issue. Although I live 300 miles away, I can smell a rat. This is not just about meandering on about Transport for London; it is much more detailed than that. It involves the housing crisis. It involves housing that is really unaffordable. Coupled with the issue faced by TfL, this is about the casino world of property development rather than a conscious decision by that wonderful public service to improve the transport infrastructure of our great capital city, and that really does pose a great threat. The deal being sought under clause 5 of the Bill could expose huge swathe of public finance to unlimited liability.
The Minister has said on more than one occasion that Transport for London is doing a fantastic job and that it is one of the best companies in the world, operating one of the finest transport systems in the world, but is it not a fact that the Government reduced its operational funding by 25% in the 2013 spending review? That has put a huge financial burden on TfL.
In the light of what my hon. Friend has just said, does he understand the surprise felt by London Members on hearing the Minister talking about the benefit of lower fares that the Bill will bring? Part of the context for the Bill is that fares for journeys between outer London and central London—from Harrow to Baker Street or Westminster, for example—have risen by 60% under the present Mayor.
I fully agree. The fares issue was absolutely outrageous. Does anyone really think that, if this Bill is passed, the impact will be a reduction in fares in central London or the outskirts? By the way, I am part of this as well, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just because I come from a different part of the country and do not live in London does not mean that I should not have a say.
My hon. Friend should not feel intimidated because he is not from London. He would be very welcome to come to Harrow, particularly to use Harrow on the Hill station, which is crying out for investment and for the sort of lifts that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) has plenty of in the Caledonian Road station—she has four and we do not have any. My constituents have been waiting for an extremely long time to have that sort of accessible service. I do not see this Bill delivering that service—I hope I am wrong, but at the moment I do not see it. I hope that my hon. Friend might be persuaded to come not just to central London where we are now but out to Harrow to see for himself the sort of investment that we need in Harrow on the Hill.
While my hon. Friend is doing a tour of London’s stations, perhaps he could visit Angel tube station, which has the longest escalator in the country, but no lifts. In fact, a Norwegian student skied down the escalator, which my hon. Friend can see on YouTube. Disabled people are unable to get to the Angel, because there are no lifts available for them.
My hon. Friend could not possibly fail to come to Finsbury Park, because that leads into the Stroud Green part of my constituency. Indeed, we have a problem with step-free access. Perhaps I will use this opportunity to lobby the Minister on that matter. We have long been promised step-free access at Finsbury Park. We have also been promised proper ticket barriers; ours is the only station in London without proper ticket barriers. My hon. Friend is welcome at any time to join us in Finsbury Park.
I am pleased that you said that, Madam Deputy Speaker, rather than me making that determination. Of course I will go to Finsbury Park station on my visit in the not too distant future. I have listened to all the experts—the people who live in the city and the Members of Parliament who discuss this issue with constituents. It has just been said by colleagues that there is a huge underinvestment in the transport system in London, and there is no doubt about that.
I mentioned the fact that there had been a 25% reduction in operational funding, which was announced in the 2013 spending review. Some £16 billion of savings were also identified to be made by 2021. That is enormous, and will have a hugely detrimental effect. How can we fix the stations to which my hon. Friends refer if Transport for London has not got the finances to do it? That is what the Bill is about. It has been mentioned that the spending review next week could see a further cut of £700 million from the Transport for London budget. That will be a disaster. This is a world class city in which people live. The tourists who come to this fantastic city have to use a system that is totally and utterly underfunded. That does not portray us as the best capital city in the world.
What is the history? TfL promoted a Bill in the last Parliament that would give the organisation new financial powers. The Opposition could live with parts of this Bill, following, of course, more debate and discussion. Parts of it are vaguely acceptable, but the main problem—the crux of the matter—lies in clause 5.
It is a shame, as my hon. Friend says.
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) share my concern? As Peter Hendy, who was perhaps the architect of the Bill when it began its journey at TfL, has now moved to the position of chairman of Network Rail, the provisions in the Bill, which would immediately affect London, might go on to affect his constituency and mine in the north of England.
Of course. I could not put it better myself and I fully agree.
Let me get back to the issue. The Bill is about property developments that have contained very low levels of affordable housing. It has been suggested that the likes of the now infamous Earls Court development potentially contain only 10% affordable housing.
The master plan for the Earls Court and west Kensington area shows the construction of 8,000 properties, which will include no social rented housing additional to that currently on the site, of which only 11% will be affordable housing. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) said, “affordable” can mean 80% of market sale or rental value. I am afraid that in central London, that is unaffordable to anyone at all.
That is the point, really. The Bill is about the fact that Transport for London has been totally underfunded. It has undergone a huge reduction in funding and there will be more reductions in the spending review. The Minister let the cat out of the bag when she said that we will have to take difficult choices. As far as the Conservative party is concerned, that means taking money away. Wait until next week and see what the reduction in the spending review will be.
We all noticed that the Minister did not deny that £700 million might be withheld from TfL, but it is also the case that in any of the proposed developments in zone 1 or 2, about which the sponsor of the Bill talked, TfL has no intention of providing any affordable housing at all.
Again, that is extremely concerning. I am not from the area, but I am sure that such cases have been experienced many times in many constituencies in the city. If any of my hon. Friends wanted to give any examples, I would be interested. The House should be prepared to listen to past experiences and to what has happened, as that is what we are likely to see if clause 5 is agreed to.
Will my hon. Friend accept as an example what happens now in the private rented sector, as opposed to the possibilities we might have had under a social housing deal? An income of £75,000 is needed for a household to rent in Finsbury Park. This is not Chelsea: in Finsbury Park, a family with three children wanting to rent in the private sector needs an annual income of £75,000. Is not that why we have such a desperate need for affordable homes? TfL has proved severely wanting as regards the Earls Court scheme and other schemes and that is why we are so desperate to stay in the Chamber at this late hour debating this important matter.
I can give my hon. Friend another example of public land that has been frittered away by the Mayor of London: Mount Pleasant, which used to belong to Royal Mail. It was privatised and has since been used for luxury flats. There are no affordable homes there for Islington residents. It is a disgrace. The Mayor of London railroaded that change through, in the teeth of united opposition from local people who are desperate for housing.
I thank my hon. Friend for that fine example. It appears that there is huge potential for land development in central London. Property developers snap up public sector properties for luxury homes, driving those who cannot afford to buy them out of central London. This will keep going, believe me; that is what is happening in the capital. She mentioned that in her constituency alone, there are 21,000 people on the housing list. How will the proposal help any one of them, in any way, shape, or form? How many children are associated with those 21,000 people? How many people just want a decent property to rent? Many people cannot even afford to rent these properties, but big property dealers snap them up. Someone mentioned gangsters, I think with tongue in cheek, but international corporations and individuals with money to burn will buy these properties in the city. They will be snapped up in seconds. That land, which is really owned by, and should be for the use of, the public—constituents—in London, will be lost for ever.
With the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), who is no longer in his place, I think I am the only Labour Member from outer London taking part in this debate. [Interruption.] I beg the pardon of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury). There is a further concern for those of us from outer London who have an open mind about development on TfL sites. I think that the Harrow on the Hill site might benefit from development, but my worry is that if the Bill goes through without further assurances, it will concentrate TfL’s mind purely on developing zone 1 and 2 sites. Development of outer London sites, where investment in access and other things is needed, might be delayed even further, because the Bill will be seen as a gold mine so long as there is a focus on zones 1 and 2.
We talk about outer-London MPs, and there are no more outer-London MPs than those from the north-east and Scotland. This is not just a matter of London votes for London laws; it is a matter for everybody. What we have been seeing in this capital city are safety deposit boxes in the sky, with nobody living in them. Those properties could provide proper housing for the population of London, rather than investments. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is indicative of the way the Government are going? I do not know whether it is true, but I strongly suspect that a contractor might be able to get away without even putting proper finishes on such properties, because nobody is ever going to live in them.
I thank my hon. Friend. That is the point that I have been making from the outset. The essence of communities in the capital city and elsewhere across the country is affordable properties. Nobody would disagree that we also need private properties. The right balance is needed, and the right balance is different in different areas. But if a huge swathe of properties without the proper finishes is bought up by property developers who live across the globe, what will that contribute to the local economy? Nothing. It will lead to the development of ghost towns in this wonderful city. That is something we must all try to avoid.
The main point of contention, as I mentioned, is clause 5, which refers to limited partnerships. Clause 5 would give Transport for London a new power which would enable it to enter into limited partnerships with private developers and to incur unlimited liabilities. That is a huge gamble with public funds. It is a casino-type economy, which we cannot afford when the economy generally is not at its best. Not only that, but if the Bill is passed, Transport for London could undertake wider activities than it is permitted to undertake now.
My hon. Friend rightly focuses on clause 5. Does he agree that the reason there is such freedom in the arrangement, as opposed to the return that is going to be made, is self-evident? If somebody is given the maximum possible return, it is because of the freedoms that that delivers. There is a lack of transparency and a lack of accountability in that arrangement which is utterly dangerous. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Indeed. Although the Bill is not long, it lacks transparency. A limited partnership differs slightly from a limited liability partnership. A limited partnership is a form of agreement between parties, not a distinct legal entity, with unclear consequences for public transparency measures, such as the Freedom of Information Act. In the other form of partnership, the general partner assumes unlimited risk, whereas the secondary or limited partners are liable only for the value of any investment they make. The limited partner may not be involved in the management of the partnership.
Although it is assumed that Transport for London would primarily take the role of a limited partner, the Bill would not prevent the organisation from acting as a general partner. If it assumed the role of limited partner, Transport for London would not be able to end the arrangement without the agreement of the general partner, as has already been mentioned.
Does my hon. Friend agree that those on the Labour Benches would feel much more generous towards the Bill had there been examples of Transport for London achieving what Londoners want, which is 50% affordable housing on all such deals? We got that in the case of Earl’s Court, rather than 10%. We need genuinely affordable homes—not the current definition of “affordable”, which is 80% of the market rate. We know that 80% of the market rate in London is completely unaffordable for the average earner, who is on about £28,000, £29,000 or £30,000 a year.
May I underline the concern that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) raised? For those who read the proceedings, as one or two poor souls in Transport for London will have to do, it is important that they take full note of the concern, at least among Labour Members, about the lack of appetite from Transport for London for genuinely affordable housing. If they gave us some reassurance on that point, perhaps the Bill would have a chance of making progress. Old Oak Common, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) so ably demonstrated, is a huge factor that hangs over the Bill and is responsible for many of the concerns that we are hearing from the Labour Benches.
I am not sure I would be comfortable with assurances from the likes of Transport for London on the split between private and public. I have the simple view that Transport for London, as its name suggests, should look after the transport systems in London. It should involve itself in upgrading and updating the transport infrastructure in London, and perhaps not in property development. I would draw the line there. Perhaps my view is wholly different from that of other people on that issue.
That is a point well made, but if there is land that can be developed, I, for one, would not stand in the way of that. If we get a promise from TfL that half the property will be social housing—that, frankly, is what affordable housing means in inner London—it may well find that it has more friends than it thinks it does. At the moment, we are nowhere near that. In fact, we have the exact opposite. We are told that zones 1 and 2 will not even have what is laughably called affordable housing.
That is interesting. It shows that Labour Members are open to the potential development of land, as long as assurances are given by Transport for London that guarantee the split of the asset. I am not sure whether I would accept such guarantees, but it is important that people recognise that if guarantees were given, there would be room at the table for much more consultation and discussion.
A question has to be posed if there is no guarantee from Transport for London. There is no doubt that London has a housing crisis, particularly in the affordable housing sector. If not Transport for London with its property portfolio, who will provide the land for the much needed affordable housing that must be provided for the workers of London?
I, like a number of colleagues, am keen to see land released for development, as long as it is fair and balanced, includes affordable housing and does not substitute for significant cuts in spending on services. Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of people are very jaundiced by the sale of police stations by the Mayor of London? Two police stations in my constituency were sold off, but that did not provide affordable housing; nor did it lead to an investment in front-line policing, which we were told would be a guaranteed consequence of the property sale. We are therefore very jaundiced at the idea that the experience with Transport for London will be any different.
Are not people right to be jaundiced? They are sick to death of austerity. When the Government close fire stations, police stations, public buildings and public toilets, they always give the excuse that it will result in a better service for the public purse, and on every occasion the opposite is the case. That is why we need to ensure that this issue is discussed and that the people involved—not just the politicians, TfL and the developers, but everybody—understand what is likely to happen if the Bill is passed.
There have been many arguments about this issue. It has been suggested that TfL should not be able to enter into these partnerships until it proves that it can manage them properly, and I think that is fair. Why should an organisation—a first-class organisation, as the Minister called it—that was created to look after transport infrastructure be allowed to go into property development without proper accountability? I think that is a fair and reasonable question. The Bill would give TfL more power to enter into speculative developments on the sites it owns. We have discussed whether the property prices for these developments are affordable. That needs to reflect what people in the city actually need.
There is also an argument about whether TfL should be getting involved in these limited partnerships, and whether it has the financial competence to do so, because the people it will be getting into bed with under clause 5 are no mice or shrinking violets; they will be used to delivering development projects not just in this country but around the globe, so they will be shrewd cookies. We want to ensure that, whatever happens, the people of London get the best deal.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be very suspicious of those partners. He said that he thought it might be a slight exaggeration to say that we are dealing not only with people who might take commercial advantage, but with actual fraudsters. That is not so. In relation to the Earls Court development, TfL’s partner, Capco, went into partnership for another part of the site with the Kwok brothers, one of whom is currently serving a five-year sentence for corruption in Hong Kong. If they are the sorts of people who will be involved in the deals, frankly we should have nothing to do with them.
I think that it is really wise counsel to scrutinise the qualifications of the people involved with TfL, to see whether they have any nous at all with regard to this. Somebody mentioned gangsters earlier, and perhaps gangsters are getting involved in this. I am sure that more than one has ended up with a five-year prison sentence. Who knows what has been happening behind the scenes, and who knows what is likely to happen if the Bill goes ahead?
I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman’s speeches, but I just want to reassure him on a couple of points. First, for TfL to participate in one of these limited partnerships, the Secretary of State’s consent must be sought, and that has to be done through the affirmative resolution procedure. Secondly, before the House gets carried away vilifying limited partnerships, let me point out that the Electoral Commission suggests that since 2010 the Labour party has accepted donations of £3.1 million from limited companies and limited liabilities partnerships—about 5% of its donations. Let us not get carried away vilifying a corporate structure that is used perfectly legitimately right across the country, and, indeed, that has raised funds for the Labour party. The hon. Gentleman should accept the reassurance that the Secretary of State has to sign off any of these partnerships that are put together.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. I am not criticising limited partnerships but the potential for bad limited partnerships, and I am wondering whether it is in the best interests of people in the capital city for transport in London to become part of these limited partnerships. She mentioned the donations that the Labour party has received from limited partnerships. I wish I had done my homework to find out exactly how much the property developers, rather than limited partnerships, have donated to the Conservative party.
Is there not also a concern about the stamp duty arrangements that are made on these potential transfers down the track? As I understand it, if those are transferred to the limited liability partnerships there will be an exemption from stamp duty. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that before this debate is out we should hear from the Minister the assessment made of the loss of stamp duty as opposed to the returns that will be got on this deal?
Again, I would like to give some facts. I cannot answer on stamp duty, which is a good point, but let me gently point out that the sector that has donated the most to the Labour party after the trade unions is the property sector, with £2.1 million raised from individuals or companies involved in that business. If Labour Members would stop scaremongering and consider the benefits that these sorts of flexibilities could bring to their constituents, we might make some progress and get this Bill sorted.
This is not about the private sector per se, but the track record. In a large investment such as Earls Court, 10% affordable homes is not acceptable. The fire station in Clerkenwell closed because the Mayor of London was keen to see posh flats instead of services. Muswell Hill police station closed and is about to be sold for half a dozen posh flats. There is the continual sense that we are being ripped off. Transport providers are not necessarily the best people to be running property developments.
That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), who mentioned that ordinary people in London are jaundiced by the experiences they have had before. The police station or the fire station is bulldozed, there are the luxury flats that people do not live in, and then we have ghost towns, which means that there is a downward spiral in the local economies. The only people who make anything from it will be the property developers.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. The fact is that our communities are being hollowed out. We do not object in principle to people coming from all over the world to live in London, as they always have done, so long as they do live here—it is buying properties and leaving them empty that is the problem.
That is a good point. London is a fantastic multicultural community, and we welcome people from all corners of the globe. We welcome them coming here to spend their money—of course we do. What is unacceptable is what the people of London could face if this Bill goes through. Property developers will be coming in, snapping up the land, and giving money to Transport for London that it should have had in the first place if it had not had these huge cuts, with more to come. That is the real issue.
My hon. Friends and I have dwelled on the experience of Old Oak Common. One would think that TfL would have learned from that experience and sought to reassure Members about its commitment to building affordable housing in future. In actual fact, it has created an advisory board to drive its property development, and no one on that advisory board has experience of building, developing and owning social housing—
Order. There are several Members who still wish to speak. The hon. Gentleman knows that that was too long for an intervention. He is seeking to catch my eye, but if he makes a very long intervention, his chances of catching my eye go down considerably.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas). I wonder whether he could repeat exactly what he said. [Laughter.] I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was taking liberties and it was said merely in jest.
In conclusion, it is widely accepted by many of the British public that Transport for London needs to be saved from itself. It faces financial challenges that we had all, in the main, hoped would be different.
I know my hon. Friend is about to conclude, but Transport for London is being saved from itself by the process of scrutinising this Bill. The Minister, who has become garrulous now that she does not have to take interventions, should have added that the only reason the Secretary of State’s consent is needed on clause 5 is that that concession was achieved in the Bill Committee.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). This great city cannot afford TfL’s being speculative and gambling on the property market, which will only benefit people who have the money to buy hugely luxurious properties. Simply put, TfL needs proper funding, not the projected cuts of £700 million. I hope the Minister will say that there will be no further reductions in central Government funding to TfL. It will be interesting to see whether that actually happens.
We need to look after the people we represent. I and the Labour party firmly and clearly believe that this dangerous Bill should be opposed, for the simple reason that it is not about enhancing the lives of people in London or of people who use the capital city, or about enhancing transport infrastructure, whether it be tubes, trains or buses. It is about underfunding a great service and putting strains and pressures on Transport for London to look elsewhere to raise finances so that it can keep its head above water.
I am glad to be able to make a contribution to this debate. I am not from the city of London—I am from the city of York, which is a railway city—but I have many concerns about the Bill, and many of my hon. Friends have touched on them this evening.
At the heart of the motion is the desire to revive the Bill, which started its journey five years ago. As we have heard, the housing situation in London has changed so much during that time that the Bill is no longer relevant. It left the House of Lords 20 months ago, so there have been plenty of opportunities to debate it. London’s housing situation has changed so considerably that the Bill must be called into question. We need a new Bill to address the real issues faced today, rather than a Bill that is clearly outdated. We are talking about a property market that largely did not exist five years ago.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, in just the past five years, Haringey, which includes Tottenham, has been considered a higher-value London area, with homes on sale for in excess of £500,000, and that first-time buyers are unable even to get on to the housing ladder? Indeed, on the Government’s flagship scheme to incentivise people to get a mortgage, one person has benefited—
I have grasped the point of my hon. Friend’s intervention. House prices have escalated out of control since the Bill was originated. The reality is that we are dealing with a different situation and a different world from when the Bill was put together. I therefore believe that we should not proceed with the motion today, but call a halt and go back to the drawing board to address the real problems we have heard so much about.
I want to touch on some of the issues that have not been addressed today about the consequences of the Bill. The reality is that there will be so many unintended consequences. I asked questions earlier, which were not answered, about the financial modelling and the financial risks that may arise.
It is not just about consequences, but about responsibility. In the context of London, particularly when it has land assets to dispose of, Transport for London has a social responsibility to make sure that the land at its disposal can be used to help to rebalance the housing market and give Londoners a chance to live in London.
My hon. Friend rightly seeks to draw attention to the unintended consequences of the Bill. Does she accept that one of them may be to divert the focus of TfL’s attention to property development in zones 1 and 2? Might she be tempted to come out to Harrow on the Hill to understand that point even more acutely?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) for the invitation to Harrow on the Hill station. I am sure that I will join many hon. Friends in going round the tube stations of London to examine the works that are waiting to be completed.
My hon. Friend makes the point that Transport for London needs a sharper focus on its work in improving our railway network and stations, including by making sure that stations are accessible to disabled people. Why should a disabled person have to wait to access transport? Surely that should be a priority for the Government. The reality is that so many questions are not answered in relation to the Bill.
One of the things we have heard a lot about is the price of housing and its consequences. We are not talking about the development of housing for people to live in, but about the building of assets on which people can make further money at the expense of others. As their assets build, inequality grows further and further in our city. Such inequality has an impact not only at the top end, but on others. If we look at one of the real consequences of inequality, we can see that there are serious skills shortages in the city. If we think about the impact on recruiting to the NHS because people cannot afford to live in central London—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) is gesturing on the Conservative Benches, but the reality is that the constituents of some Conservative Members will face lots of consequences from not having enough nurses in their hospital. In fact, the Government are concerned about agency workers in our hospitals. Are we surprised when trained staff cannot even work in our NHS because they cannot afford to live nearby? Those are some of the consequences of not developing land for its social value and to put something back into our services. In fact, rail workers working for Transport for London will not be able to afford—
My hon. Friend makes a reasoned point. The centre of London is becoming void of key workers, teachers, people who work in hospitals and people who work in our railway system, and we will suffer the consequences. In fact, the construction workers who will be asked to work on these sites will not be able to live in central London and access those services.
As I did at the start of the debate, I ask about the financial modelling behind the Bill. There are many risks, but my concern was roused by a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith). She talked about the new chair of Network Rail, who has come from Transport for London. Network Rail has a major footprint in my constituency, and once the principle is introduced, we could see these limited partnerships extended to many other areas. Sir Peter Hendy has transferred to Network Rail and he could bring the principle with him. I have a site in my constituency of 35 hectares of Network Rail brownfield land on which 1,100 houses could be built, but they would be high-value houses—
I am not going to give way. I heard the point the Minister made from a sedentary position. It is clear that the Bill carries a potential risk. We have heard about financial risk, housing risk and the skills risk. As a result, and given the changing world we live in, we have serious questions about what the limited partnerships would bring. Opposition Members are concerned that we are seeing the social remodelling of London. Housing that is inaccessible is being built in the heart of the city, in zones 1 and 2 and further afield, which means that people cannot afford to live where they work.
My hon. Friend began with the important point that the property market has changed so much in recent years. Is she aware that overseas developers have been especially active in the land market, accounting for nearly three quarters of the £1.8 billion spent on land for development in central London in the second quarter of 2015?
I thank my hon. Friend for sharing that fact. Those figures were not quite on the tip of my tongue, but it does show that the level of overseas investment in the city is pricing everybody else out, leaving the centre of the city void of community life. People are spotted around the city, but do not actually live in a community.
We are not looking at the infrastructure needed to support these developments—social areas, additional staff, schools and other facilities—because that is not part of the legislation either. One concern is this: we talk about limited partnerships being agreed, but what happens after that agreement? Plans and proposals can change. Ultimately, we could end up with a very different animal from what we started with.
We know what happens, because TfL has given the game away: a 100% market housing development in zones 1 and 2. The only guard against that are councils—Labour councils, principally—insisting on affordable housing. The provisions in the Housing and Planning Bill will remove that guard. This is the dirty little deal between the Government and TfL to ensure there is no affordable housing.
Order. Talking about housing tangentially to the Bill, because it has an effect on property and the owning of land, is in order. Having a debate almost entirely about housing and the provision of social housing is not in order when discussing the Bill.
I very much take on board my hon. Friend’s point. There are real questions left hovering over the Bill. My hon. Friend refers to the Housing and Planning Bill, which relates to the use of land. That is the issue that concerns Labour Members: what will the land be used for? We highlighted the use of land and what kind of housing will be built on it. Clearly, there is concern about infrastructure and other possibilities, even use for business and other modelling on land in the future. The Bill does not specify a certain type of housing. The limited partnerships model proposed does not list the scope of use of the property and the development in the future.
I would like to return to my initial point before I close, which is the ageing of the Bill. We have seen very clearly that the world has changed so much since it was first drafted. What is the Bill’s relevance to the modern economy? We have heard much about the structure and direction of our economy. The Bill will build more of an asset-based economy than one that is social-based.
The Bill is about more than transport and that is why it is a real concern. It is about an organisation in charge of running our transport expanding its business opportunities into other areas, largely property development on its land. We would like TfL to focus on addressing the needs of constituents’ stations, about which we have heard so much today, but the Bill goes far beyond that.
Twenty months after the Bill was last debated, it is now clearly out of time. It is time that this House agreed to pursue another route to use vital land in London.
On my hon. Friend’s tour of the metropolis, as she passes through Harrow would she care to join me in Northolt, where she will see that Dave Francis Autos is about to be closed down and turned into a car park by TfL in a way that is nothing to do with sustainable transport, local needs or the wishes of local people? Does she not agree that TfL should concentrate on transport? It should be talking about transporting Londoners, not developing land.
Well, I would—TfL needs that focus. The reality is that the Bill is about the Government’s austerity measures and the fact that TfL will have to plug the gaps. It is one thing to say to the public that it will ensure ticket prices are held for one, two, three or five years, but what happens after five years when the asset runs out? The sponsor, when pressed about financial security, could give the House no assurances. We therefore call on the Government not to proceed with this out-of-date Bill. It is time for a fresh Bill to address London’s social needs.
I acknowledge, as have others from both sides of the House, that TfL, like many other public bodies, is trying to deliver savings against a tough backdrop. We recognise how difficult that is at a time of deep spending cuts, and we all want TfL to be able to utilise its unused assets, but we think it should be done without damaging future transport provision and in a way that works with local communities.
The Minister delivered a eulogy on the joys of travelling in London that I am not sure all our constituents would recognise, so I make her an offer—she referred to a white van: would she like to join us on our pink bus for a tour of London so that her eyes might be opened to these very joys? [Interruption.] We’ll stick with the pink bus.
In 2013, TfL’s operational funding was slashed by a quarter, which, combined with earlier funding reductions, has required it to identify £16 billion of savings by 2021. We have asked the Government for an insight into what is going to happen next, but they are keeping shtum about next week. It is no great secret, however, that the Department for Transport’s budget is facing another deep cut—perhaps about 30%. We do not yet know what the consequences will be for TfL, but it is hard to see how they might be positive. So we appreciate the difficult background against which the Bill is being brought forward—it has been coming forward for a long time—and we understand TfL’s desire to maximise the value of its assets and to increase its revenue to reinvest in the capital’s transport network, but we are deeply concerned about some aspects of the Bill and are disappointed by the lack of progress made during the long period that has elapsed since it began its slow progress in the last Parliament.
TfL, caught, like so many bodies across the country, between a rock and a hard place, faces difficult spending decisions. With some 5,700 acres of land and more than 500 major potential development sites, it is one of the capital’s largest landowners. As we have said, Labour supports TfL earning revenue by utilising its underused facilities, but we have to be absolutely sure that such activities do not risk having an adverse impact on the current provision of transport services and, importantly, on TfL’s ability to expand transport services in the future. We do not want it rushing to sell its assets, given that we have to build a future transport system for the city. We saw the same issues in my city of Cambridge: had we rushed into the same decisions a few years ago, some of the excellent initiatives there would not have been possible because the land would have gone.
The changes must allow us to meet increasing demand. I heard your warnings, Madam Deputy Speaker, about discussing housing, but Labour Members’ points about the desperate need for affordable housing in our city are real. When we have a public landowner with so much resource, it is hardly unreasonable for us to raise these issues, and it is right that we demand a commitment to maximise affordable housing in developments in which TfL has a stake. For goodness’ sake, if TfL is not going to do it, who in this city is going to do it, if people on the public side are not going to stand up for our citizens?
My hon. Friend is making a very considered speech. He identifies first that we expect TfL to run a proper transport system and, secondly, that if TfL as a public body is quite properly going to develop land, it must be done in the public interest. That is not what the Bill provides. Given that neither the Minister nor the sponsor was able to justify the Bill in any terms, does my hon. Friend agree that it should not be revived in this Parliament?
My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right that at the heart of this debate is the issue of whether public bodies exist just to make a quick buck or to act in the public interest. On the Labour side, we understand that public bodies need to exercise some responsibility in the long-term interest of our citizens.
Let me return to my point. It is TfL’s proposal to enter into limited partnerships with private companies in order to develop its land and increase revenue that is at the heart of tonight’s discussion. That is the aspect on which I shall focus most of my comments.
Let me first reflect on the controversial developments at Earls Court, to which several Members have unsurprisingly drawn our attention. It exemplifies the problems that clause 5, which would allow TfL to enter into limited partnerships, would bring about. The dismantling of Earls Court exhibition centre to make way for, exactly as we have heard, totally unaffordable flats in what some have described as London’s worst major regeneration scheme, is the result of an agreement between TfL and a private developer, Capital & Counties. Our concern is that aspects of the Bill make it more likely that TfL will use limited partnerships more extensively for more ventures, based on the model of the Earls Court development. Let us reflect for a moment on what that might mean.
Just looking at this development within the Earls Court project area, facing prospective demolition are the Gibbs Green and West Kensington housing estates, containing 760 homes. Labour Members continue to watch closely the discussions about the future between Capital & Counties and Hammersmith and Fulham council. According to the council’s own consultation in 2012, a huge majority—80%—of residents oppose demolition. Hammersmith and Fulham’s Labour leader Stephen Cowan has described the scheme for the redevelopment of the estates, which was agreed by the predecessor Conservative administration, as
“a bad deal for residents”—
and it seems that the residents agree.
The issue goes beyond housing. Just a few weeks ago, the 1,300 tonnes roof of Earls Court exhibition centre was removed and there have been justifiable fears about asbestos exposure and worsening air quality in the area as a result. The consequent health impact of the proposed demolition on nearby residents is clearly a cause for concern. Let us be clear: we want improvement and regeneration, but with the consent of local people, not at their expense and not while private property developers obstinately stick their fingers in their ears and wilfully ignore local objections.
I would like to thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the issue of Earls Court. I have the fortune to have both the Earls Court development site and the Old Oak site—the two sites most mentioned today—in my constituency. What is being proposed by TfL and Network Rail amounts to a terrible deal for residents, but also for TfL itself. Despite being the freeholder of the land in Earls Court, it is ending up with a 37% stake—evidence that TfL does not do good deals and that the developer always wins.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point that a number of other Members have made: we are not convinced that TfL gets good deals, so why should we make it easier for it to make even less good deals in the future? We worry about that.
Our fear is that the really contentious clause 5 will make it still harder for local people to have influence over major decisions that affect their community. Our view is that regeneration is much better done from the bottom-up, with the assent of those who will be most directly affected—not top-down. Given that the land has already been sold off, the Earls Court development seems to be a bit of a done deal. What we seek to prevent are further lopsided private-public agreements that steamroll over neighbourhoods in the name of regeneration. We understand that TfL wants greater commercial freedoms, but those freedoms cannot come at the cost of denying a voice to ordinary people in London.
The core of the issue is the imprecise nature of the limited partnership itself. A partnership of that kind is not a distinct legal entity, and a lack of clarity surrounds the roles that would be played by each party in the partnership, where responsibility and accountability would lie, and who would really benefit most, the private developer or the public. We are advised that a limited partnership is able to change its general partner, but the partnership agreement would be unlikely to be made public, and its terms would not be open to public scrutiny. To be in the public body interest, genuine partnerships need far more transparency and accountability.
Furthermore, unless it is agreed for a fixed term, a limited partnership will be at will. A limited partnership at will may be dissolved on notice by a general partner, but, unless the agreement provides otherwise, not by a limited partner, which TfL is likely to be. Limited partnerships clearly vest a large amount of risk in their ventures, and we do not believe that these issues have been properly addressed. There is a real danger that TfL would be taking very large risks—indeed, unlimited risks. We do not think that it has considered carefully enough the long-term impacts of introducing powers to enter into such partnerships. For those reasons, we are cautious about the potential precedent, and we believe that the Government should also assess very carefully the appropriateness of other public transport authorities’ entering into limited partnerships.
Some of my hon. Friends have made powerful points. Much of what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry)—who is no longer in the Chamber—hit the nail on the head. She was particularly critical about the prospect of a partnership’s changing at some future stage. It was telling that, when she challenged Conservative Members to explain how the process might work, they looked thoroughly uncomfortable and were unable to provide any reassurance.
I think that what my hon. Friend said about the price of a flat being £826,000 was one of the most telling comments that we have heard tonight. It told us so much about the current crisis. I feel deeply about that crisis, being an almost outer-outer London Member. Cambridge, which I represent, reflects all the attributes of the London housing market nowadays. [Interruption.] These are serious issues. Conservative Members are chuntering away as though it did not matter that people cannot afford to live in our great cities, but it does matter. The point that we are making is that if public bodies like TfL do not take this seriously, we are not relying on anyone else to do it.
My hon. Friend has made a valid point. Conservative Members are making light of what is the most important issue in London. Does he agree that it is outrageous that people need an annual income of £75,000 to be able to afford to rent a property in Finsbury Park—not Chelsea—for their families? [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I hear Conservative Members saying, from sedentary positions, that these are spurious points. I must tell them that for the hundreds of people who marched through my city of Cambridge at the weekend, it is not a spurious point that people cannot afford to live in our great cities. It is not a minor point in terms of our future economic prosperity either, because unless people can afford to live in our great cities, that future prosperity is not assured, for Cambridge or for London. These things really matter.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of concern shown by Conservative Members for the consequences of the Bill may be explained by the fact that, during Prime Minister’s Question Time a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister said that an appropriate price for a starter home was up to £450,000?
Order. The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when I made it very clear that we were not discussing housing. We are discussing Transport for London, and housing is tangential to that. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is absolutely in order when he is talking about clause 5.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Our worry is that, as a major landowner in London TfL, has a real responsibility. That is why Opposition Members have made it so clear that we feel that once that land is gone, it is gone forever, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) put so well. That is a very powerful point. She also pointed out that we have a deep unhappiness about these limited partnerships. She put that very well, too—partnerships with who knows who; the risk being nationalised, the profit being privatised. That point is absolutely right.
I enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), whose ability to smell a rat at 300 miles is legendary. He, too, has spotted exactly what is going on in this Bill.
I also endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell). She pointed out that the financial consequences of this Bill are very poorly explained, which gives us yet further cause for concern.
We appreciate that TfL needs to be looking at a long-term strategy for London’s transport infrastructure. It is absolutely right to do so; it is its job. But there is a real fear, which has been raised by many of my hon. Friends as well as by trade unionists and London residents, that elements of this Bill would lead not to a long-term investment strategy, but to profiteering in the short term on property development, an outcome which is totally unacceptable.
As a number of my hon. Friends have said, we do not feel the way the powers provided in this Bill would be used has been scrutinised adequately, and we are not assured that local councils and communities will be properly protected.
I think we all recognise that this Bill has been on something of an odyssey through Parliament over the years, but we are not persuaded the proposals in clause 5 should ever make it to Ithaca—that is a reference for the good Mayor to pick up. Given the bad feeling generated over this Bill for years, it is now time for TfL to reflect, go back to the drawing board and bring forward new legislation in this Session that we trust will command greater consensus and confidence and genuinely allow TfL to utilise its assets in ways that are consistent with the wider long-term public good.
Main Question accordingly put forthwith.
That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010-12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).