Labour MPs in London split over Tube part-privatisation plans

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Indy Politics

The Government's plans for the part-privatisation of London Underground received a much-needed boost yesterday when 33 London Labour MPs announced they supported the proposals.

The MPs, who included eight ministers, said in a statement they welcomed last week's announcement by Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Transport, that the plans were going ahead.

However, with another 22 of the capital's Labour MPs failing to sign the statement, it also revealed the deep split within the party over the public-private partnership for the Tube.

Just last week, the executive of the 55-strong Group of London Labour MPs attacked the plan to bring in private firms to take over construction works and maintenance of track and trains. The executive said that it regretted the Government's decision to "impose" the amended PPP on London and that it believed the proposals "remain flawed".

Ministers, who were furious at the suggestion that the party's own MPs in London were highly critical of its decision, are understood to have ordered the statement from loyalists yesterday.

In the statement, the 33 MPs said that they believed there was now a "double lock" on safety in the PPP, with the Health and Safety Executive required to accept both the plans of London Underground and the private firms.

"We are also very pleased that the Government has listened to the concerns of Londoners and have introduced the right for London Underground to step in to undertake safety work if they believe that the contracts are not being carried out in a correct and safe manner," it said.

"The Secretary of State has made it clear that this is not privatisation but will create a Tube system that will be publicly run and privately built.

"We firmly believe that the time for squabbling is over and everyone with an interest in the development of a modernised Tube system for London will welcome the news that it is time for the investment to begin."

Among those who did not sign the statement was Karen Buck, MP for Regents Park and Kensington North and chair of the London Group of Labour MPs. The vice chairs of the group, Oona King and Clive Efford, its secretary Iain Coleman, and its treasurer Andrew Dismore, all urged the Government to reopen negotiations to resolve outstanding issues of safety and maintenance.

One MP who had not signed the statement said yesterday that the onus was on the Government to make clear that the safety issues had been settled.

"We want to see how the contracts with the bidders will be amended to make these "step in rights" a reality on the ground. It has to be seen to deliver," the MP said.