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Railways: Metronet

Volume 694: debated on Thursday 26 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How the public interest will be affected by Metronet’s current financial situation.

My Lords, Transport for London and London Underground are in discussions with the public/private partnership administrators to identify the best long-term outcome both in terms of public sector finances and the ongoing upgrade of the Tube system resulting from the administration of Metronet’s activities. It would be premature to comment on what shape this may take while those discussions are still in their early stages.

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

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

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

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

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

My Lords, the infrastructure for the London Olympics is critically important. That is an entirely separate project. Our continued investment in London Underground as a Government, which is running at something like £1 billion a year until 2010—that is long-term grant funding—should guarantee continued and measurable improvement. We have had a fully refurbished Waterloo and City Line using PPP. There are 52 completely refurbished trains running on the District Line; 75 stations have been modernised and another 40 are being modernised. The Wembley Park modernisation, including a 70 per cent capacity increase, has already been achieved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that, to create the improvements that he has outlined, it will be necessary to close some lines to allow access. In those circumstances, will there be adequate replacement bus services in sufficient volume to transport London Underground customers?

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

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

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