HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc277-335

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Before I call the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), I wish to announce to the House that the instruction standing in the name of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has not been selected.

7.1 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill contains 27 clauses and authorises the extension of the Jubilee line from Fenchurch Street to Woolwich Arsenal and Beckton. It is possible that in a future Bill a branch to Thamesmead will be proposed.

A map is available in the Library. I discovered, after 10 years' membership of the House, that only Ministers are allowed to deposit literature in the Library. Hon. Members who do not have the privilege of being on the Front Bench may leave material in the Library but not deposit it. The material is not deposited there but is there for the edification of any hon. Member who wishes to consult it.

When London Transport asked me to propose the Bill, I hesitated for several reasons. First, although I am a Member for an inner London constituency, Streatham has little to do with dockland. However, I understand that the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) was prepared to present the Bill but unfortunately he is abroad on parliamentary business. Secondly, I was concerned about the financial implications involved in a massive undertaking such as the construction of an underground railway of the length of the proposed Jubilee line. I assure hon. Members, however, that the reality of the Bill is less frightening than might appear. It proposes no commitment for funding by anyone—the Government, the GLC, London Transport or the boroughs.

The purpose of the Bill is to safeguard the route. I hope that the usual concomitant of safeguarding, which is blight, is not involved. I trust my words will reassure hon. Members about the purposes of the Bill, as I have been reassured from studying the papers and proposals. London Members never miss an opportunity to say a few words about our city, and sometimes those words reach a wider audience. That can only be beneficial to our country, about which far too little is said in the House.

Greater London comprises about one-eighth of the national economy. It has a population of about 7 million, which is nearly as great as Scotland and Wales together. The economy depends on cities such as London and their associated wealth creation capabilities. The success of the economy generally depends in some measure on the success of London's economy.

As my London colleagues know, the picture is not too bright. One in nine of the unemployed in Great Britain, is a Londoner. In October 1978, 150,000 male adults were unemployed in London, and between 1965 and 1975 London lost nearly 500,000 jobs. In those 10 years, all the assisted areas together lost only about 300,000 jobs. That was due partly to a disproportionate share of declining industries in London and partly to successive Government policies such as the creation of the Location of Offices Bureau, of which I think enough has been said.

Inner London has a population of 2½million, which is almost equivalent to the population of the Republic of Ireland and of the United Kingdom regions. Unemployment in inner London has been consistently higher than the national average, especially in East London. Within the catchment area of the Jubilee line, Poplar has a male unemployment rate of 13 per cent., Deptford over 12 per cent., Stepney over 12 per cent, and Canning Town over 8 per cent. It is in that context that I commend the Bill to the House.

The main purpose of the Bill is spelt out in clause 4 and succeeding clauses that provide the necessary powers to accomplish clause 4. It is to extend the Jubilee line from Fenchurch Street to Woolwich Arsenal. A later Bill will extend the line from Woolwich Arsenal to Thamesmead and provide a link from Custom House to Beckton. The proposal to enlarge this line springs from the strategic plan, published by the Docklands joint committee in 1976 and accepted in general terms by the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore). I am pleased to see him in the Chamber tonight because he has great knowledge of these matters. This underground line drives through the heart of dockland, through many areas of unemployment. When it is developed the whole area will give a major impetus to the growth of London's economy as well as to that of the South-East and the country generally.

I understand that in dockland there are some 5,500 acres waiting to be developed, most of which are in the catchment area of the Jubilee underground line. It crosses the Thames—and this is an extraordinary thing—no fewer than five times and one needs to look at a map to understand how this is so. In fact, the underground runs fairly straight but the Thames takes a rather circuitous route.

There has been a psychological barrier to the development of East London because of the Thames, which has always been regarded as a strong natural barrier to increased prosperity and growth. As I have said, this line will cross the Thames five times, so it must have a salutary effect on that "barrier" attitude. It will make dockland more attractive to employers and to local residents by giving them an easier, faster and more direct access to central London where many jobs are located. It will enable them to commute with much more facility.

When Dockland is developed there will be 20,000 to 30,000 potential new jobs which should contribute an accretion of £100 million annually to the economy. If only 5,000 more residents of East London travel to work on the Jubilee line to the centre of the city, it will add £20 million to £30 million annually to the local economy in the immediate catchment area of the line.

One may ask what alternatives have been studied. A great number have been and are being studied, and if it should appear in the future that there is some alternative that is more favourable than the Jubilee line that option will be taken and the Jubilee line will not go ahead. I cannot emphasise too strongly that this Bill only authorises the safeguarding of this line. It in no way contains a commitment to build or make a call on any national or local funds.

The first alternative is a mainly surface, light railway which would do some of the things that need to be done. The problem is that it would fail to link the areas north and south of the river except at vast expense and with extreme difficulty. The proposal to build five railway bridges to accommodate such a light railway would be very difficult to implement.

The second alternative is a busway. Replacing the Jubilee line by buses would inevitably mean lack of speed and reliability, and buses could not provide the links across the river that the underground could give.

The third suggestion is for the docklands southern relief road, which probably will be built anyway, but this is complementary to the Jubilee line. It is proposed that it should tunnel under the river, but only twice. Any road would have a problem of access into Central London, both at the western end and at the eastern end in the Custom House, Beckton and Thamesmead areas.

The fact is that 500,000 Londoners do not own a car, and the present petrol situation does not militate strongly for further reliance on the private car as a means of transport. This is an element which hon. Members should keep in mind when reflecting on the value of an underground railway compared with that of a bus or private car. The southern relief road would also carry freight which the underground would not. Therefore, the two are complementary.

I turn to the proposed route of the Jubilee line. London Transport already has powers to extend the line from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street. These powers have been given, but there is a pause for recosting. In this Bill we are talking about the extension from Fenchurch Street. The first area through which it would pass would be Wapping. The station would take in the old London dock area which includes St. Katharine's dock. I visited this area recently—the World Trade Centre—and was impressed by the development there. It also includes the London dock area development, planned mutually by the GLC and the Tower Hamlets borough council.

From Wapping the route goes beneath the river to Surrey docks north. In this case, as in every case, consultation has been carried out with the local borough. The borough of Southwark has agreed to the location of the proposed station for Surrey docks north, which would materially assist the area. The GLC is looking to a development brief to replace the famous trade mart about which many of us know. I have just heard that Taylor Woodrow is showing considerable interest in the site which would be served by Surrey docks north.

From there the Jubilee line goes across the river again to Millwall. Tower Hamlets council has been consulted about the location of that station and has agreed that it would materially assist the development of the Isle of Dogs which is notoriously short of public transport. Then again the line goes beneath the river to emerge at a station in North Greenwich. The Greenwich borough council has been consulted and has agreed. This is a major industrial area and the only station there at present is a Southern Region station which is nearly a mile away and which serves the industrial area rather than the development to be served by the proposed station of North Greenwich.

The route then goes beneath the river once more to Custom House where it emerges for a while from the tunnel. The Newham borough council has been consulted and has agreed that the line would serve existing extensive housing, the new housing that is planned, and a proposed district centre in the development plan, should that proceed. That would provide a rail link with the British Rail North Woolwich line.

The fifth time that the line goes under the river is to Woolwich, presumably with an intermediate station at Silvertown. It is proposed that there should be a branch from Custom House to Beckton, which will serve the Beckton development that is proposed by Newham council, and that there will be a depot in Beckton. The powers in the Bill to safeguard the route that I am talking about stop at that point. It is hoped that in a year or two, provided plans continue on their current course, the House will be asked for approval to safeguard a route from Woolwich Arsenal to Thamesmead. I claim considerable knowledge of the area of Thamesmead, as I served on the Thamesmead committee in the GLC in the earlier and perhaps more glorious days of that development about 10 or 15 years ago. That development would be greatly aided by access to an underground railway line.

All hon. Members have the right to ask how much this route will cost if it is undertaken. The route from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street, which is already empowered, will cost just over £100 million at 1979 prices. If the plan goes ahead it will not be a case of writing a cheque for £105 million but the money would be called on over a period. The area of the line that we are discussing tonight would cost about £220 million if it went ahead. Therefore, the total development would cost £325 million at 1979 prices.

I cannot labour enough the point that I wish to assuage the fear of hon. Members about the call for money in the Bill. There is no commitment to build in the Bill. Even if the Bill is passed there is no commitment to build. If the line is built it will not be in isolation but will keep pace with the developments and needs of dockland if and when the money is forthcoming. If the money is not forthcoming the line will never be built. Having looked at the papers, I would regard that as a great hardship for the eastern part of our great city.

The purpose of the Bill is to safeguard the route. We all know from experience that the obverse side of the coin of safeguarding is blight. I found that out in my constituency with the M23 plans. I pay tribute to Labour Members for the fact that the blight of the M23 was moved from Streatham, for which I am heartily grateful. If the route is not safeguarded by the Bill, and if in the future such a Bill is passed and the decision is taken at that time to safeguard the route and build it, it is extremely likely that the building costs will be much greater than they would be if the Bill were passed tonight.

If the safeguarding provision is passed tonight, there will be little or no blight. Much of the proposed area is derelict, as hon. Members know. Therefore, there would be a negligible effect on the surface of the monster passing underneath. The areas where the stations emerge have been safeguarded by the boroughs. Therefore, surface blight from the location of stations already exists. Indeed, in a semi-derelict area the location of a station can be regarded not as blight but as an advantage to attract development around it. The fact that the location of the stations is more or less known, accepted and approved by the boroughs must work towards fructifying development in those areas.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

The hon. Gentleman has repeated the point that the Bill does not call upon any money. Will he tell me how, if London Transport is served with a notice to purchase, and the Bill gives that power, it will be able to purchase the land in accordance with its obligations under clause 21(2)?

Mr. Shelton

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman—who is a good friend of mine—has asked that question. I should like the permission of the House to reply to it at the end of the debate. At the moment I have no idea of the answer. However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has grasped the point. I suspect that he has a good point and that London Transport may be obliged to purchase land. However, in terms of the hundreds of millions of pounds that would be spent on digging the tunnel that amount will be small. I shall return to discuss one or two clauses in the Bill which require some expenditure but which have nothing to do with the Jubilee line.

Where the blight comes above the ground at Custom House, as hon. Members will see by consulting the map, it will run along existing British Rail routes and land that is owned by the Port of London Authority. That could hardly be counted as blight. If that is the case, what is the purpose of the Bill? What are we safeguarding if the line goes underground and the stations are already safeguarded? Why are we bothering with the Bill and why will the costs be much greater in the future if the Bill is not passed tonight?

The point is simple. If there is no safeguarding provision on the route, there is nothing to stop private or municipal developers building high-rise flats, offices or commercial developments with foundations below the ground. That development would make it impossible for the underground railway to pass beneath. That is the major purpose of the provision. The route has been sought out and surveyed countless times and if major development with underground piles takes place that building will have to be knocked down or the route will have to be changed.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

While the hon. Gentleman is talking about if and when the money becomes available, perhaps he can help me in relation to a letter from the GLC that refers to a "pause" on the Jubilee line having been agreed with the Government. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us how long the pause is likely to last and exactly what that expression means?

Mr. Shelton

I understand that the pause is in relation to the route from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street which is empowered by a previous Bill. The pause does not affect the route that we are discussing. If the part between Charing Cross and Fenchurch Street were not built, it would be a nonsense to build the section referred to in the Bill.

The net immediate effects of the Bill will be to safeguard against future vast foundations being driven beneath the area that we are talking about and to demonstrate confidence in dockland. It will be a demonstration that the House believes that we shall have faster growth in dockland and more development and more jobs sooner so that those living there will be able more easily to find employment, which we know is a problem, by commuting into Central London.

I should like to refer briefly to other powers contained in the Bill. In clause 4, London Transport is seeking the power to build new ticket halls at Shadwell and Rotherhithe stations. It needs that power because it has to acquire land. I am not privileged enough to know those stations, but I am sure that any hon. Member who does will agree that new ticket halls are required.

Clause 20 seeks an extension of time in respect of land authorised to be acquired for the work at Gloucester Road station. I drive past the station frequently and have seen the hoardings there for several years. I have often wondered what is going on behind them and I understand that an extension is being built. There is an extraordinary provision called the Runcorn clause which can be invoked so that if London Transport has not used the power sought in clause 20 within six years it will fail. If anyone wishes to force London Transport to buy land it will have to do so. There is, therefore, some safeguard for the unfortunate people living in the Gloucester Road area.

Clause 22 permits London Transport International Services Limited not only to advise and give assistance on schemes, which it does already, but to manage schemes. When I raised my eyes at that apparent extension of the powers of nationalised industry to interfere in our domestic affairs, I was assured that the management of such schemes takes place widely overseas—in Caracas, for example—and I felt that I could relax on that point and recommend it to my hon. Friends with some spirit.

Clause 23 permits the placing of conspicuous distance marks along railway lines if they are requested by the Secretary of State. I hope that no hon. Member will ask me what a conspicuous distance mark is.

Clause 24 increases from £25 to £50 the maximum fine for obstructing the construction of railways or refusing to leave a carriage on arriving at one's destination. I cannot believe that anyone will take grave exception to that provision.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that by passing the Bill we shall be showing confidence in the future of dockland which will be noted outside the House. We know the difficulties that London and dockland face. In terms of jobs and the contribution to the national economy, I warmly recommend the Bill.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

There has been a blocking motion on the Bill in the names of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for some time. I have some sympathy with London Transport as regards the time that it has taken for the Bill to reach the Floor of the House. However, events are moving so fast in terms of Government decisions, or lack of them, about South-East London and dockland that this is not the sort of Bill which we can allow simply to slip past. Its implications are wide and deserve minute examination on the Floor of the House.

I understand that there has been some difficulty in getting a sponsor for the Bill. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) because he did not seem to have had as much time to prepare himself for the moving of the Bill as some other hon. Members may have required. I am interested in the new Tory doctrine that it is all right for nationalised industries to operate in Caracas but not in London. We may need to return to that matter from time to time.

The Bill is brought in by London Transport. All London Members know that there is intense interest in the operations of London Transport among pretty well all the citizens of London. London Transport does its best, with a bountiful hospitality from time to time, to explain its problems to hon. Members, but the uncertainty and disillusionment about its operations remain and are probably greater than for many years.

The Bill proposes the safeguarding of a route and not the immediate expenditure of any money, but it is necessary to examine it in detail because, despite all the statements of sponsoring Members to the effect that no immediate expenditure is contemplated, we usually find that when such Private Bills go through the House the money is eventually spent.

Any commitment to the sort of capital expenditure envisaged in the Bill has enormous implications in regard to the lack of capital expenditure in other parts of the metropolis. It cannot be seen in isolation. If the capital expenditure necessary to build the underground line and the road that Sir Horace Cutler apparently wants to build alongside it is made available by the Government, there will be no money for the development of a transport system, public or otherwise, for any other part of the metropolis. That is why I, as a Member for Lewisham, have a particular interest in the Bill.

The schedule detailing the local authorities consulted by London Transport about the Bill makes no mention of the London borough of Lewisham. Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Greenwich and Newham are mentioned, but not Lewisham. The reason is that at one time this underground line should have come to Lewisham, but for better or worse a decision was taken to shift it. In that sense I declare a very real constituency interest in this Bill.

If hon. Members cast their minds back, they will remember that the Jubilee line was not born as the Jubilee line. It was born as the Fleet line, a much more democratic word that I personally wish the GLC had stuck to. That line was not to go through dockland to Thamesmead, Beckton, or wherever. The original plan was to take it from Fenchurch Street to New Cross, where there would be a British Rail interchange, and then to Lewisham. When it got to Lewisham, plans were mooted to switch it on to a British Rail line and to take it out to Hayes in Kent.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

My hon. Friend knows that my constituency is on the alignment in the Bill. Does he not agree that the powers in the original Bill extend to Lewisham, if not further into Kent, and that should this line be built there is nothing in practice to prevent a common bifurcation from taking place so that both areas are served by this line?

Mr. Price

I take my hon. Friend's point. But throughout the whole saga of the Fleet-Jubilee line London Transport has emphasised that in principle there is nothing to prevent a bifurcation at Fenchurch Street. My hon. Friend and I are both members of SERA, the organisation that accepts that there may be rather less growth in the future than there has been in the past. Although in practice there is nothing to prevent a bifurcation, in terms of the future degree of capital expenditure that is likely to be available, the prospect of building two Jubilee-Fleet lines—one into the East End and one down into SouthEast London—is to say the least remote in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

My hon. Friend will be aware that in 1948 permission was given for the extension of a line from the Elephant and Castle to Camberwell Green and on to Lewisham from there. In fact, one and a half miles of tunnel has been dug and provided along the Walworth Road. However, when the Conservative Government came into power in 1952 that scheme was killed. We therefore have one and a half miles of tunnel available. That scheme should have continued, but the Fleet Line has been given priority over the completion of that work.

Mr. Price

That may be the motivation that lies behind this, but my hon. Friend's memories of the Walworth Road go back much further than my own, and his experience in the London borough of Southwark as leader of that borough makes him very much more aware of the tunnels under London than I am. I had not realised that the tunnel went up the Walworth Road. I believe that it emphasises the point that I was trying to make. The history of public transport in South and South-East London is one of a determination to build a reasonable public transport system. That area never got the tubes, largely for geological reasons and the inability 100 years ago to dig under the type of subsoil that it is now possible to dig under. But each time that purpose gains a sort of infirmity of purpose, the thing never gets much further than the Elephant and Castle. Perhaps the Jubilee line will never get further than Charing Cross. It remains to be seen whether Sir Horace Cutler's pause—which perhaps should be christened a metro-pause, along the lines of a menopause—is actually a pause or is a full stop so that we never see the line get beyond Charing Cross.

Since the Second World War the story has been one of London Transport attempting to push into South-East London but being frustrated by the Tories in its attempt. I am particularly interested in this, not simply because my constituents constantly complain about the sheer impossibility of getting to work in Central London but also because the vehicles provided by London Transport and British Rail, and the conditions in which they travel, daily become worse.

One must speak of British Rail in this context, because in terms of capital expenditure in transport one must look at London Transport and British Rail together. British Rail has recently been reduced to handing out leaflets at the South London termini explaining to commuters why in their lifetime they will never get any improvement in services. It is a sort of attempt by British Rail to defend itself against the cattle truck conditions in which it sends commuters to work daily. There have been small improvements such as the signalling scheme at London Bridge, but broadly speaking there have been no improvements at all. Some of the improvements proposed a year or two ago by London Transport, such as the express bus from Sydenham to Trafalgar Square, have melted into the Cutler snows—no doubt part of the metro-pause—and have disappeared. Therefore, the context in which one looks at this line is one in which there is absolutely no hope of my constituents in South-East London having their ordinary everyday conditions of travel to work improved in any way. Of course, we cannot divorce London Transport from the GLC, which we shall be discussing later this week.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

My recollection as a candidate in Peckham in South-East London, and fighting for the line to come down the Walworth Road, was that it was the Labour GLC which put the kibosh on that particular line.

Mr. Price

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), who probably knows more about this than any other hon. Member, will sort that one out. I have never studied what it is like under the Walworth Road; nor, indeed, have I been a candidate for Peckham. I am glad that Peckham is now a stepping stone to the heights of the Tory Benches. I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but South-East London keeps having a decent transport system dangled in front of it and keeps having it taken away.

In talking about London Transport's intentions, one must talk about the policy of the GLC, because to a greater and greater extent London Transport is a creature of the spasmodic megalomania of the present incumbents of County Hall, If they have an idea, it goes ahead and then they chop it. It is only a few months since Sir Horace Cutler was prepared to build the Jubilee line out of his own pocket, but he has now invented a metro-pause to hold the thing back.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

My hon. Friend is not being fair to Sir Horace. He did try. Sir Horace grumbled when my right hon. Friend told him to have his metro-pause a little while before May. Since then, the Tory Minister has told him to have a metro-pause. He is now experiencing some difficulty trying to explain to his followers how he lamb-basted the Labour Government when he now has to lambast the Tory Minister as well.

Mr. Price

I very much agree. I look forward to this gladiatorial combat between the Minister, who does not come from London and who probably knows little about it, and Sir Horace. We will see who wins in the end. But it is clear who has won round one. It has been won by the Department of Transport. Sir Horace is having to eat those many words he spoke about building the Jubilee line tomorrow.

I would like to put my finger on a bit of this megalomania that is at the bottom of this Bill. It lies in a publication which came through the letter boxes of many London Members of Parliament this morning. It is called "The 1988 Olympic Games feasibility study". It talks about the games based at docklands with access to the Olympic park. Coloured green in the Victoria dock is something labelled the Olympic park at Custom House station. I am not certain how much this document has cost to prepare. I am sure that our GLC colleagues will find out. It has been prepared over the past few months by the Greater London Council in an attempt to raise a bit of ballyhoo and enthusiasm for some of its promises, given when the party now in power came to office, proposing that London hosts the 1988 Olympic Games in an Olympic park built at Custom House in the Victoria dock.

That no doubt means the filled-in Victoria dock. Talking to some of the engineers, one realises that filling in some of the docks dug out in the nineteenth century by teams of navvies is a major engineering effort to which I am sure nobody in the GLC has put the slightest effort into working out. I know some of the architects who have been driven in frenzied haste to produce this glossy publication. Although Peat, Marwick, Mitchell and Company have been prevailed upon to write a little grey paper at the back saying on the one hand that it is a good thing, on the other that it has problems but that it might be allowed to go ahead, it is nevertheless my view that the real pressure behind this desire, or the pressure at least to pretend to build, or make a show of being about to build, the Fleet line out to Lewisham, comes from these megalomaniac plans of Horace Cutler who knows that there is no real consensus in London about holding the Olympic Games in 1988. All his pretty plans of Olympic parks in the Victoria dock are just a piece of personal self-indulgence which he will have to eat and turn into an Olympo-pause just as the Jubilee line has turned into a metro-pause.

Although the instruction has not been selected, it was put to me that the words in the instruction and the idea in the instruction would be relevant for debate. I put down the instruction to give the broad view why we need to re-think this Bill and put it off for six months. The instruction reads: That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to give special consideration to the need for a comprehensive rail transport system in dockland and south-east London". It is my personal view that what has dogged public transport in London ever since we have had a decent public transport system in London is the appalling split between London Transport and British Rail. This goes back to the relationship between the London Passenger Transport Board and what is now Southern Region in the last century and just after the turn of the century when two separate spheres of influence were carved out. Herbert Morrison bust it only with the Morden line because he wanted to build the St. Helier estate and did a private deal and a bit of swapping around and managed to get one line south through London.

We have reached the point where, if we want to engage in this amount of capital expenditure or even lay plans for safeguarding routes by this amount of capital expenditure, we ought, at the very least, to do so in the context of a proper overall plan. Put shortly, we have an Inner Circle in London. It is time that we had a proper outer circle round the periphery of the city. This tunnel under the Thames afforded a supreme opportunity to create a proper outer circle. But such is the difficulty of getting proper co-operation and proper discussions between London Transport and British Rail that this sort of decision, although it is not ruled out and might be possible in the future, has not been approached.

It is because my constituents in Lewisham will be deprived for ever of a decent journey to work, a journey they make every day, if this enormous amount of public expenditure takes place and especially if Horace Cutler's motorway and Olympic Games site are built, and because, even more, no plans have been laid for a proper link-up which could progressively be developed between the London Transport system and the British Rail system, that I felt it right to table a blocking motion on this Bill and then to table the instruction. I will listen carefully to the Minister before deciding what to do at the end of the debate.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

I find myself in total agreement with only one small section of the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). That was the part in which he expressed his regret that, after all, the Fleet line extension which had been planned to go to Lewisham and into my constituency would not materialise. I agree with him that this is a great pity. As the hon. Gentleman will know, his constituents and mine suffer a great disadvantage compared with those who live, for example, north of the river who have the facility both of the underground and the surface railway. Our constituents are virtually dependent on Southern Region and are therefore that much more vulnerable when industrial action, weather hazards and other difficulties which daily beset our commuters happen. I agree with him totally when he expresses that regret. But it is something that we now have to accept. No useful purpose is served by debating the abandonment of that section of the Fleet line in this Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) made a compelling case for giving the Bill a Second Reading. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West was less than generous in his comments about my hon. Friend's presentation. My hon. Friend took up the Bill at short notice. In the circumstances, his presentation of the case was admirable and I congratulate him. I dissociate myself from the snide comments of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West.

My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham was right to stress repeatedly that there is no immediate financial implication in the Bill and that there is no commitment upon the Government or Parliament. It is more a question of safeguarding the route and of creating confidence for development and investment in dockland. We all want to see that development. It is vital if the ambitious plans for the area come to fruition and transform, as we hope they will, this derelict and neglected area of our capital city.

The dereliction of dockland, the vast acres which are subject to vandalism and decay, are not only a blot upon London's landscape but a grim monument to years of neglect and inertia by many authorities.

Dockland is a depressed area in every sense. Average incomes are markedly lower than they are in Greater London as a whole. Unemployment is consistently and significantly higher than elsewhere in the capital.

One of the major contributory factors is the inaccessibility of the area. It is that inaccessibility which the Bill seeks to overcome eventually. Many parts of the area are cut off from each other and from the rest of London because of the erratic and meandering course of the River Thames which dominates the area.

The new Jubilee line offers perhaps the first real chance of overcoming the accessibility problem without the creation of a vast motorway network.

The line will provide for the first time a direct underground link between the eastern part of the city and Central London. That link will do much for employment prospects in the area.

The potential for dockland remains immense. About 650 acres for development by industrial, commercial and service industries are available in the vicinity of the Jubilee line stations. Such development could provide up to 30,000 new jobs for people in the dockland area. That would transform this rundown part of London. For all those reasons, I hope that the House will give the Bill a fair wind and agree to its Second Reading.

Our recent history shows that many opportunities have been missed. I think of the third London airport and the Channel tunnel. I hope that we shall ensure tonight that London's dockland does not figure in that dreary catalogue of missed opportunity. We have a chance to take a major step towards the revival and rejuvenation of London's dockland. By establishing the route of the Jubilee line—which is what the Bill seeks to do—we shall enable the necessary planning and investment to proceed. That will be good news, not only for those who live in this neglected part of London but for the capital as a whole. I hope that the Bill receives an unopposed Second Reading.

8.4 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The House knows that my constituency covers half the scheduled dockland area and has a greater mileage of projected Jubilee line in it than any other constituency.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on his presentation. He had little time to prepare. It is likely that I should have introduced the Bill, in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), but for remarks made by the Secretary of State for the Environment about four weeks ago.

If we are to miss out in dockland in the way which the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) suggested, it will not be because of failing to build the Jubilee line but because of the legislation which the Secretary of State has said he intends to introduce. The reason I am not introducing the Bill tonight is a result of the suggestion that there should be an urban development corporation.

The first part of my speech will be nonpartisan in the sense that it is nearly the same speech that I would have made had I been introducing the Bill. In the second part of my speech I shall explain why I am not introducing the Bill.

Everyone is agreed that there should be development in dockland. The question is: what sort should it be? Everyone is agreed that there should be better transport in dockland. The questions are: what sort of transport, where shall the money come from and what type of facilities shall the community invest in?

Dockland is a transport paradox. The greatest and most important form of transport in London is the River Thames, which is the centrepiece of dockland. If it were possible for large-scale movement on the river to be quick, efficient and cheap, there would be no need for a Jubilee line or for so many roads. But there are technical difficulties. Perhaps some day someone will crack that problem.

I agree with the hon. Member for Streatham about the need to safeguard the line. My qualified support for the Bill makes no quibble about the need for the line. But we must also consider the cost. If we give a Second Reading to the safeguarding Bill tonight we shall have the opportunity to consider the cost later. However, if the House approves the Bill tonight, there is a danger that some people will say that the House has willed the Bill and use that to argue that this is the answer to the problem.

I have no doubt that the Minister will make comments about alternatives. One of the best alternatives, which would be cheaper, is to use the alignment of the old London and Blackwall railway at least for part of the journey from Fenchurch Street, through my constituency and almost to north Woolwich. That would provide a link to Central London at a fraction of the cost of building a tunnel. I have no doubt that we shall hear about those alternatives in due course.

The problem is that the Jubilee line is capital-hungry. The cost will no doubt be much greater than has been quoted if only because ground conditions might prove less advantageous than they seem. It is an area of heavily saturated gravel and although techniques are available for getting through this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said, no doubt the additional cost, in the end, would be considerable.

There is also the question of phasing. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in the major clause there are three works authorised. Work No. 1 is from Fenchurch Street onwards. The incidental cost of the line would partly be made greater because the cost of the line from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street would have to be part of the dockland section. That section would not be feasible on its own. Work No. 1 is from Fenchurch Street to Custom House, in my constituency. Work No. 2 is from Custom House to the projected depot at Beckton and the possible new town centre there. Work No. 3 is from Custom House to Woolwich Arsenal. It is to that section of the route which I draw the attention of the House because this is for a tunnel under the Thames which could be used at some time—indeed in the first instance—by British Rail trains.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West talked about an outer circle. The fact is we already have an outer circle. One can get a train from Richmond to Camden Road and from Camden Road to North Woolwich. With only one change, one can make the whole of the northern orbit of London by rail. It is the intention of the Greater London Council, in due course, to electrify the line from Dalston to North Woolwich. If this Bill is passed, a tunnel between Custom House and Woolwich is to be constructed, first to continue that line to Woolwich Arsenal itself. That has been agreed though it is not specifically written into the Bill.

That is a plan to be commended because it would mean that we could get an earlier improvement of transport in dockland wholly to the advantage of the people of South-East London and those in my constituency. The only difficulty is that the interchange at Woolwich Arsenal would not be a physical one. The Bill, as it stands, would leave the train underneath Woolwich Arsenal in a single-line tunnel with an escalator, or possibly a lift, to the existing British Rail station at Woolwich. That would be all.

If one were building a standard gauge tunnel between the north and the south of the Thames as a first step—as has been generally agreed, and as is part of the GLC plans—one would expect the best value for money. It will cost about £30 million to join that tunnel with the Southern region at Woolwich, or somewhere to the east of it, and allow through running of British Rail trains; not least freight trains. I am sorry to see that that is not part of the Bill. It might be part of the next one, and if it was I would certainly support that. I would perhaps give it greater support if that initial tunnelling was not just British Rail standard gauge but possibly that of l' Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer. If we had such a gauge we could perhaps, in due course, link up with some cross-Channel developments. Though I give a qualified welcome to this Bill, in terms of safeguarding, I think that the detailed execution of it could be improved in the way I have outlined.

There is also the question left open of how quickly the branch to Beckton would be built and whether it would serve the new town centre which is to be developed on that site. I know that the hon. Member for Streatham, who is promoting the Bill, can give no undertaking on that, but it would be a very welcome addition to transport in my constituency.

I come to the end of the non-partisan part of my speech which gives general support to the principle of the Bill, with certain qualifications. I must now explain why I am not introducing the Bill, as was my original undertaking if my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East was absent. That, I think, is much more to the point in terms of the immediate timetable in this House.

Until four weeks ago the general outline plan for dockland was quite clear. It included the Beckton town centre in my constituency, which was part of the dockland strategic plan, drawn up by the Docklands joint committe. That committee was originally instituted by a former Conservative Government and a former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). I do not very often agree with him but in this matter I think he chose a very wise course of action in bringing into dockland local government, the GLC and nominees of the Department of the Environment to produce an overall plan which would be acceptable to everybody.

The previous effort was that of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who appointed Messrs. Travers and Morgan to produce a plan for dockland in the early 1970s. They produced it in 1973 and it dissolved in a gale of laughter because it was demonstrably impractical. So the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham came along and established the Docklands joint committee which, with extensive public and municipal consultation, produced a strategic plan. That plan, although not perfect in every detail, and not agreed by everybody, including myself, in all its detail, was found generally acceptable.

The Jubilee line was part of that plan and has been routed in relation to the plan's designations. Four weeks ago the Secretary of State for the Environment came along and told us that the Docklands joint committee and its strategic plan was to disappear and was to be replaced by an urban development corporation for docklands. Why? Because, he said, nothing was happening. That is just not true, and I hope that when the representative of the Government speaks tonight he will acknowledge that that was an untrue statement.

Over £40 million has been committed in my constituency alone in relation to that plan. Extensive public drainage works, at great cost to the Thames water authority, have been embarked upon, and one of the two drainage schemes is completed. Over a mile of new road has been laid over open land. Over 300 homes are being built in my constituency. It is utterly untrue to say that nothing is happening in dockland. It is also untrue to say that the local authorities were squabbling and so nothing was happening.

On the contrary, they had agreed among themselves that any betterment in rates as a result of the Docklands joint committee having an informal planning permission agreement would be pooled. I think that showed an earnest of their intent and of the extent to which they were willing to co-operate and get on with the job. The Secretary of State has now said that not only will this municipal-national-GLC co-operative be dissolved but its plan may well go with it as well.

I wrote to the Minister asking if he would ensure that the dockland strategic plan would remain and he said "No". He said that worthwhile schemes might go ahead but that no doubt the new urban development authority would wish to bring in its own scheme. I do not know whether the Government have considered this in relation to the Jubilee line, because the Jubilee line was part of that plan. Presumably its line is fixed in the Bill.

If the Bill goes through tonight, that part of the plan may well remain. What, then, has the Secretary of State done? He has imposed two years' delay or more on the development which had started in dockland, just as the announcement by the right hon. Member for Worcester in the 1970s about his inquiry put a complete block on progress until that study was published. In the same way the Secretary of State has put a block on the present plan. Those who are now going ahead with the Docklands joint committee strategic plan will have to stop and draw back. Even small firms in my constituency have come to me in great annoyance because their plans have been set at nought by the right hon. Gentleman's announcement. These, however, are the sort of people that he claims to be helping.

The right hon. Gentleman issued a press statement which was not sent to Members of Parliament. When I wrote to him asking for further details he sent back a letter signed by a civil servant. I regard his action as an affront to the office of Member of Parliament and to the House of Commons. In his statement the right hon. Gentleman said that the new urban development authority, which he will appoint, will have planning powers and powers of land assembly. That is a nice way of saying compulsory purchase. He stated that the designated dockland area might well be extended. But that will not be done by the introduction of a specific Bill. It will be done as part of a general local government Bill. A great deal of the detail of the work of this new quango, which is being set up after the others have been destroyed, will be done by order. In other words, it will be a semi-dictatorial set-up from start to finish.

This will make a complete break with what we have been expecting in dockland. It puts a completely different complexion on the Jubilee line. Hitherto we had assumed that, even if the money were found, and even if the balance of investments were correct for the Jubilee line—and I do not want to go into that in detail—the developments which would take place there would be those which had been expected and agreed. In my constituency there is the Beckton district plan by which an additional population of 22,000 is expected to come to the area in which construction would be half municipal and about a quarter each—or more if we can get it—of private or co-ownership housing. We do not know whether that will go ahead. I do not know whether, if the Jubilee line is built, it will serve that sort of estate, or something else.

Clearly, the Secretary of State has it in mind to sell off publicly owned land in the area—land owned by the Port of London Authority, British Railways and British Gas, and perhaps land owned by the existing borough councils. The right hon. Gentleman has not denied that possibility, but we shall have to wait to see the Bill. He will assemble the land and no doubt will make it available through the urban development corporation to the entrepreneurs and speculators whom the Government not only represent but wish to encourage. He then has the cheek to say that the corporation follows the lines of a new town development corporation. Of course, the opposite is true. That is partly because dockland is not a new town. There are lots of old towns in dockland. Second, in a new town the practice was to take extensive private property, divide it up according to a plan and make it available as a public asset. The right hon. Gentleman, however, plans to do the reverse, to take extensive under-used public assets and hand them, through the urban development corporation, to private bidders.

The right hon. Gentleman plans to replace the whole structure of local government in such an area. No longer will my elected local authority have the planning powers for that area. They will be handed over to the development corporation, which will no doubt provide lots of encouragement for lots of speculators to move in and try to make a great deal of money there. However, that will not be the sort of planning to which this country has been used since 1945. The whole purpose of the urban development corporation is to put the clock back to the position that applied before the postwar planning and land use consensus.

It is for those reasons that I was unable to introduce the Bill. Were I to introduce the Jubilee line Bill on the lines that I have outlined as a sensible method of safeguarding the strategic railway that might ultimately be built to the advantage of all, I might find that I was introducing a Bill on a railway which was going to develop and foster something that the local people did not want and which would be politically highly controversial. I am afraid that the Jubilee line will now be seen, and can only be seen, in the context of the urban development corporation. If for some reason the Government change their mind—and we do not know what their thoughts are—the scheme will be seen as providing public money to assist private profiteering on public land.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

A further point that my hon. Friend might consider is that if the urban development corporation goes ahead as a quango and "cons" firms to come on to the site, the Bill will give London Transport the right at a future date to take the land from them. The first impression these firms have is that they have security to go there under the quango system. However, they may find they will not have the security because London Transport will be empowered by the Bill to take the land from them.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend may be right. That would be a further area of uncertainty, and there is great uncertainty in the whole issue. The intention is for the urban development corporation to have extensive powers which might even override existing statutes in respect of health and safety at work. I hope that that will not be the case. All that we have heard about the urban development corporation, however, is that it will make possible many of the features of the so-called enterprise zones which were suggested over a year ago by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in a speech to the Bow Group.

To be party to introducing the umbilical cord from central London to such an aparatus has made it impossible for me to introduce the Bill. I give my apologies both to the parliamentary agents and to London Transport for the additional difficulties that they have had. I am not sure that I should apologise to the hon. Member for Streatham. If he votes for this animal, the UDC, he will have been consistent at least. We shall have to see what he does. I do not extend my apologies to him because the philosophy of the UDC may well be to his liking, and he has been consistent in introducing the Bill.

I hope that the UDC will not turn out to be the sort of animal that I have depicted, but I fear from what we have read, what little information we have been given so far and what we know of the Government's intentions, that it will be. If it is, and if the Jubilee line is built, that can only sustain and increase the purposes of that corporation. That will not be to the liking or to the advantage of the people of East London.

The Minister must tell his right hon. Friend, who, I understand, viewed this area from a helicopter, that the UDC will be bitterly resented not only by the people of East London but by those in local government everywhere. It will be imposed on an unwilling populace by a Government who, on one hand, talk about freedom for local authorities but, on the other, dismantle one of the most promising forms of co-operation between different forms of local government in inner city areas anywhere in the world. For those reasons I cannot, unfortunately, commend the Bill to the House, but I shall not oppose it.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

I shall speak briefly about responsibility for the transport system in London, which much concerns me. If one went out into the street and asked someone "Who is responsible for the transport system in London?" the response would be along the line of "God knows who it is, but he is making a mess of it."

One of the major problems with London's transport system is the multiplicity of authorities that are partly responsible for the system. We have the London Transport Executive that is responsible for operating most of the buses and the tube system. British Rail is responsible for operating the railway system. The GLC has some financial and policy authority over the London Transport Executive. The Government, or the Department of Transport, have more influence than the GLC on London Transport because they are the source of the money.

The London boroughs are heavily involved in traffic and provision for buses because of their influence on the roads. The effect of traffic on London's transport involves the Metropolitan Police. That is a perfect recipe for buck-passing. It characterises everything anyone tries to do about improving the standard of transport provision in London. Immediately one goes to those authorities and asks "What are you doing about X, Y and Z?" they immediately say that the other authorities are not pulling their weight.

A public meeting was held in my constituency recently by an active Roman Catholic church. The church intended to hold a meeting on all sorts of issues and democratically decided to ask those who attended the church what they considered to be the most pressing matter, there being many pressing sources of bother in my constituency. They decided that the most pressing matter was the total unreliability of the No. 68 buses.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

And the 63s.

Mr. Dobson

Their leaflet asked "Have you ever waited ages for a 24, 29, 31, 46, 68 or a 214?" The answer at the public meeting was "Yes, everybody has waited ages for all of them."

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

Will my hon. Friend suggest to his constituents that they might well urge the GLC to authorise London Transport to manufacture its own buses so that we get the buses that we want?

Mr. Dobson

I was intending to touch on that matter.

Present at the meeting was the general manager for our area of London Transport. I was impressed by him, as were most of those who attended the meeting. He explained that one of the reasons the buses were bad was that the vehicles bought by London Transport were unreliable. He also said that there were severe staff shortages, and asked "How can you get the buses from South Croydon to Chalk Farm and back again in view of all the other traffic demands on the roads?"

In a sense he was saying that there was not much that he could do. Some of the faulty vehicles were bought because the Labour Government who went out of office in 1970 insisted in 1969 that London Transport bought vehicles which would be used throughout the urban areas but were quite inappropriate for use in London. The London Transport Executive should have stuck out at that point and said "You can stuff your unsatisfactory buses". Unfortunately, it did not do so. Therefore, we have vehicles with doors at the front and in the middle, where there were no doors before. It follows as night follows day that if there is an electrical fault on those doors the vehicle is out of action. We should revert to simple buses.

Mr. Christopher Price

That is not the reason I was given. The LTE said that the new buses would not fit the maintenance pits designed for the old buses. Therefore, new pits must be constructed to take the new buses. I am always given that reason for the shortage of buses in my constituency.

Mr. Dobson

The purchase of buses that do not fit the pits in the maintenance depots must be the responsibility of the London Transport Executive, whatever the Government or the GLC may have done.

When we refer to staff shortages we receive the reasonable answer from the London Transport Executive that pay has been restrained as a result of successive Governments' pay policies and that unsocial hours are worked by the drivers. The London Transport Executive has a limited amount of control over those matters.

As to the traffic problems in London, a multiplicity of people are responsible for the shambles on our roads today. London would benefit if the Government abolished one or two organisations in the list that I read out earlier. I am on record constantly as calling for the abolition of the GLC. The removal of that little bit of organisation would be useful. It has little role in relation to London's transport unless the Government provide it with the money to do what it wants. We could eliminate the GLC and put the responsibility straight back to the Ministry of Transport.

I now refer to clauses 3 and 24 and schedule 3. My points relate to offences and the construction of new ticket halls.

I am sponsored as a Member of Parliament by the National Union of Railwaymen. I have been asked by the union to raise the problem of assaults on London Transport staff. There are substantial numbers of assaults by members of the public on individual working men and women going about their business of trying to provide a decent transport system in London. In 1973 there were 1,052 assaults. There was a decrease in 1974, when the figure was 1,031. About 1,200 members of the London Transport staff were assaulted in the last year for which there are figures. In addition, a considerable number of British Rail staff were assaulted in the course of their duties in London. That is regrettable and indefensible.

I must emphasise that a great deal of the "duffing-up" of the London Transport staff is associated with the sale of drink and football matches. With deference to any Scots present, the thought of the England-Scotland match at Wembley does not loom in the minds of most people working for London Transport as the prospect of a feast of football. It looms in their minds as a threatening and unpleasant two or three days when they take life and limb in their hands when attempting to collect fares and persuade people to behave themselves on London's transport services.

Something must be done about that. The management of the London Transport Executive and the unions involved agree. They had a welcome meeting with the Home Secretary on 2 October. The Home Secretary promised to set up a working party of all those involved to discuss the issue. He said that he did not want it to become a talking shop. That is important—although all meetings of necessity involve a great deal of talk, and no one can take action at a meeting. We need a vigorous approach from everyone involved, including all the authorities that I have listed, to make sure that the position does not get out of hand or become as bad as it is on the public transport systems of other major cities in the world.

If we compare London with New York, it would seem that we are living in "Easy Street". There are 175 police employed on the London Transport underground system in an attempt to maintain law and order and to ensure that citizens and staff going about their business, are not assaulted. In New York, 4,000 police are needed. We have a long way to go before our position is as bad as it is in the city which represents the quintessence of the free market economy and everything that goes with it.

I urge on London Transport, on the Minister, and on anybody else who has influence in these matters the need to consider the consequences, for the safety of members of the public and members of staff, of any proposals for staff economies or for the provision of fully automated ticket halls. It is quite clear that if there are two or three staff around on a deserted underground station late at night—for example, at Rotherhithe and Shadwell—the odd drunk is much less likely to assault the ticket collector. The statistics show that there is no example in history of a ticket machine coming to the aid of a member of London Transport's staff when he has been assaulted. Only other human beings can come to the aid of someone who has been assaulted.

We have to remember, therefore, when we are considering the economies which can be effected by reducing the manpower on our transport system the consequences that they may have for the safety of staff and passengers. I hope, therefore, that everyone concerned with the future of London Transport will remember that the best way to ensure the safety of staff and the travelling public is to have a reasonable number of staff around at all the stations. When a couple of people are out to cause trouble late at night, they are much less likely to do so if there are staff watching and able to give assistance to anyone who is attacked.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would have an additional advantage? We know that vandalism takes place when no one is around to observe what is going on There is much to be said for having as many staff as possible on duty in order to prevent outbreaks of violence and vandalism. Economies in the use of staff are often false economies and lead to the lowering of the quality of life and of the transport system generally.

Mr. Dobson

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

8.44 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

It might be helpful if I intervene at this stage, although any intervention by me is in no sense a reply to the debate, because my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) is the sponsor of the Bill. I congratulate him on the way that he has presented it and on bringing it before the House.

I propose to give some indication of the Government's general attitude, which is one of welcome to the powers contained in the Bill, and to explain what lies behind the Government's approach to the problem and also to the problem of dockland, with which it is closely associated.

As my hon. Friend has made clear, the Bill is aimed at taking power for the construction of stage 3 of the extension of the Jubilee line. That will be an extension eastwards from Fenchurch Street. The Government accept that, should it be possible at some time in the future to construct the third stage, it will be valuable to have the powers contained in the Bill. They will enable progress to be made more quickly if the opportunity arises for it to be built. As my hon. Friend has explained, it will have some safeguarding effect on the route, ensuring that it is protected against developments that might ultimately prove costly for an underground line and for people involved in developments of the sort feared by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). It would be unfortunate if people were to discover that they had erected a substantial building under which there were proposals for a tube line. Therefore, it will be valuable to have these powers, and I commend the Bill to the House.

I must echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham made clear when he introduced the Bill—namely, that there is no commitment of funds by the Government or the GLC to go ahead and build this extension of the Jubilee line. In the present financial climate, there can be no acceptance of the eligibility of Government funds for any project of this kind for transport supplementary grant. Obviously, the financial problems involved in the construction are formidable and will have to be faced at a later stage. That will be in line with the history of the Jubilee line.

The House granted powers for the construction of stage 2 of the Jubilee line from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street as long ago as 1971, but it has not been possible, because of the heavy capital investment involved, to make progress with that construction. Earlier this year there was a proposal that £24 million might be included in this year's money Bill to enable work to begin on stage 2 of the Jubilee line. That proposal, which had to be considered by the new Government with the GLC, was withdrawn after agreement between Sir Horace Cutler and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. That gave rise to the pause which hon. Members have discussed, and that is the situation now regarding the development of the Jubilee line.

The position was discussed between Sir Horace Cutler and my right hon. Friend and full agreement was reached that, in the present financial climate and considering the massive capital investment that the Jubilee line as a whole represented and the financial difficulties that the Government inherited, it was right to pause at this stage before committing £24 million, which would be only on the start of stage 2—by no means the complete cost of stage 2—and to look at low cost alternatives which might produce some quicker and more efficacious relief for dockland's transport problems. There was no secret about that agreement. I can refer the hon. Member who queried it to the press statements issued at the time. Indeed, my right hon. Friend announced the agreement that he had reached to the Docklands joint committee at one of its meetings that he attended. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) will be glad that he chose that forum to make an announcement of what was envisaged.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

We have heard about the agreement that was alleged to have been made, but it was a different story from what we heard from Sir Horace Cutler. Nevertheless, he accepted a pause for six months. Do I understand that the Government will make a decision in two months, as four months of the six months have already elapsed?

Mr. Clarke

I shall explain the progress that has been made in considering the options in a moment. There is no set time limit on the pause. However, the various options that we are considering—the low cost alternatives—will be considered reasonably speedily. The first results of the work should be to hand by the end of this year. By early next year we should be in a position to make some decisions, because by that time the Government will have finalised their public spending plans and will be producing proposals on transport in line with those new public spending plans.

I should like to make clear what we are doing. The purpose of the options being considered—indeed, the whole purpose of the Jubilee line at this stage—is that something should be done about the transport needs of dockland and to some extent of Thamesmead, which lies within the constituency of the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright), who unfortunately is absent today.

I should like to defend Sir Horace Cutler against some of the attacks made upon him by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). In all the discussions that I have been familiar with about the Jubilee line, the question of the Olympic Games and so on has never been paramount in anyone's mind. This is not part of some megalomaniac scheme as the hon. Member for Lewisham, West suggested.

Everyone is extremely concerned about the problems of dockland. They are uppermost in the minds of Sir Horace Cutler and members of the GLC. We are now considering low cost alternatives for the transport needs of dockland. The Government certainly believe that it is urgent to make some progress in reviving that derelict area to which considerable reference has been made during this debate.

A major step that the Government have taken is to announce their intention to set up an urban development corporation for the dockland area.

Mr. Leighton

I saw a press release given by the Minister of Transport which announced that he had had a meeting with Sir Horace Cutler and that other alternatives were considered. That was quite some time ago. Will the Minister give us some indication of what those alternatives are?

Mr. Clarke

The understanding was arrived at on 25 June, the date of the announcement made at the meeting of the Docklands partnership committee. It would not be right for me to canvass alternatives in the debate this evening. A review is taking place which is making good progress. I am told that various options have been identified for joint study by our Department and the GLC, in consultation with London Transport, the dockland development organisation, British Rail and the dockland boroughs. All those bodies have been involved, either by way of consultation or directly, in the discussions when looking at low cost alternatives. The best thing to do is to wait for that work to make some progress and produce some results, when an announcement can be made later in the year. That would also enable the Government and the authorities to develop priorities for dockland as a whole and to match them up to our view of public expenditure over the next five years.

We must look at the needs of dockland. Everyone is agreed that there are important transport deficiencies in the way of reviving dockland. Providing the proper transport infrastructure is a key point in getting the dockland strategy moving. It is not possible to look separately at transport proposals such as the Jubilee line or the various road schemes that have been proposed on the one hand, and a general dockland strategy on the other. That is another reason why we have asked for the pause, so that we can look at low cost alternatives and achieve some clarity regarding the actual nature of the development in dockland and what is most needed there, and match transport plans, within the resources available, to whatever is forthcoming.

The urban development corporation has been mentioned.

Mr. Christopher Price


Mr. Clarke

I will give way in a second. I just want to deal with the urban development corporation, because it has been mentioned and attacked on the basis that the hon. Member for Newham, South disapproves of the idea anyway and suggests that its creation will give rise to delay. That is certainly not the Government's intention or belief.

The creation of the urban development corporation is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. A proper debate upon it, and a proper and full explanation of the Government's position, will have to await the legislation when the Secretary of State presents enabling powers for urban development corporations of the kind that he described.

Criticism was made of a remark to the effect that nothing was happening in dockland at the moment. That may involve a certain amount of licence, because plainly the Docklands partnership committee is making some progress. I say to the hon. Member for Newham, South that nobody could be complacent about the progress that was being made in dockland. It really was not adequate to the needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said that it was a terrible disgrace that such an important part of the capital city is still in such a bad condition and that we have not yet begun the proper revival of that area.

Whilst good progress has been made in some ways, there has not been enough progress in getting private investment and industrial activity developing there, and the general purpose of my right hon. Friend's initiative in setting up the dockland development organisation was to try to get some sense of urgency and real decision-making into the problems of dockland in order to revive the area. Whatever we decide about transport, and whatever comes out of the present discussions between London Transport, the GLC and ourselves, will be completely aimed at trying to provide the necessary transport infrastructure for dockland.

Mr. Christopher Price

I was pleased with the Minister's reference to the Olympic Games plan as not being a particular priority. Is he saying that, in all the discussions he has been talking about concerning the reappraisal of the transport and other needs of dockland, this feasibility study about the Olympic Games is not playing a part at all and that the reappraisal is taking place as though it does not exist?

Mr. Clarke

I am not saying that. The burden of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that the furtherance of this project and, indeed, the Bill were somehow needed to further the project for having the Olympic Games in London. If there was any project for the Olympics, clearly it would pose transport problems which we would have to look at. But uppermost in the minds of the GLC and of ourselves, and dominating the discussions, has not been the Olympic Games proposal, which is still only a study and a possibility for 1988, but the problems of dockland, of Thamesmead and elsewhere. I was answering what I regard as a fairly slight point that somehow this matter should be dismissed as a grandiose notion of Sir Horace Cutler by pointing out that our purpose is the broadest serious proposal for the redevelopment of South-East London.

I was dealing with the role of the urban development corporation and denying that its creation will lead to unnecessary delay. I was making it clear that our transport proposals will be geared into whatever is decided on the broader development of dockland and what can best further it. There is no reason for delay. My right hon. Friend has made clear that the new road developments will go ahead as quickly as possible because it is plain that they are essential to the revival and regeneration of the area.

When one comes to road schemes, one is dealing with different facets of transport needs of the area. The major difference between road schemes of the sort that have been discussed and put forward, on the one hand, and an underground railway, on the other, is that the road schemes can handle goods and industrial traffic in addition to passenger traffic. One of the difficulties with dockland is that there has not been a sufficiently fast attraction of industrial development and, indeed, job creation. We have to look at the necessary road network as well as the rail passenger network in order to ensure that the area can be served properly.

Mr. Spearing

That is why, in dealing with the question of freight, I mentioned the linkage point with the tunnel. Will the hon. Gentleman make representations to the Secretary of State to the effect that, if there is not to be the delay which he denies that there will be—I assert that there will be delay—the best way is to accept and continue the strategic plan already worked out by the Docklands joint committee and that in particular the district plan in my constituency should go ahead as planned?

Mr. Clarke

I cannot answer for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment on the details of the urban development corporation that he is working upon, but I will ensure that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman is put to him, although I understand from the hon. Gentleman's own speech that he has had a reply making it clear that one cannot set up a new urban development corporation in order to make a fresh start and the next moment saddle it with clear commitments based on past plans. But I will put the point to my right hon. Friend and try to ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets an answer to his request.

I was about to identify the schemes which are to be pressed ahead by the Department in developing the transport infrastructure of the area. Two schemes in the trunk road programme are to go ahead as fast as possible. The first is the proposed new link between the end of the M11 at South Woodford and Hackney Wick and the extension of the North Circular road to the A13—the extension usually known as the South Woodford to Barking relief road. Both are in the trunk road programme. Both will be given priority in line with the Government's road programme, which is to give priority to industrial routes.

We have recently added to the trunk road programme an extension south of the South Woodford to Barking relief road. That is the East London crossing project. We are commencing work on the problems concerned with a trunk road scheme extending from the A13 south to a link with the A2 on the other side of the river on the East London crossing.

There have been discussions with the GLC about the southern relief road, to which the GLC attaches great importance. It is for the GLC to decide on that road, but if it brings forward proposals for it as part of its programme, we shall consider them sympathetically. We are urgently considering those matters with the GLC.

We are, however, engaged in a study of alternative lower cost options to the Jubilee line. It is prudent for the Government and the GLC in the present financial climate to explore lower cost options before committing funds to stage 2 of the Jubilee line. An estimate was given in the course of the debate of the total expenditure for the two stages of the Jubilee line required to be built to complete the scheme of over £300 million. That is a considerable financial involvement and capital investment that will have to be diverted from other transport investment if the scheme went ahead.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown

That evidence was available before the scheme started. Why does the Minister believe that it only became a great issue after May? Everybody knew about the cost and argued against it. Why does he believe that after three years of gestation the GLC will now bring forward a cheaper option?

Mr. Clarke

I am not saying that the scheme is new. It may not have come as a revelation to everybody. When the money Bill was considered in May the Government considered it prudent to look at lower cost alternatives before that first £24 million was committed. If the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch agrees that it was right to review the total cost of the scheme before it was taken any further, he should have no complaint now.

Suspending stage 2 does not mean that we are not examining further options. It may be that eventually we shall find a more effective use of the projected capital for the Jubilee line. Meanwhile we have agreed with the GLC—and I am happy to commend it to the House—that we should not cause unnecessary delay to the Jubilee line if we decide to proceed with it. Therefore the House should give a Second Reading to the Bill, as it preserves the position if we do go ahead with the scheme.

If the Jubilee line is persevered with, the next stage would be stage 2, which would involve the construction of an underground railway that virtually duplicates the existing system from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street. It would involve considerable expenditure before one even considered the proposed line east of Fenchurch Street, penetrating dockland, where the real problems lie.

It is prudent to look at the options and in the present financial climate some of them may have to be more fully explored before the Jubilee line can be taken further. This is not the occasion to canvas alternatives, and it would not be helpful if the Government were to fly kites as to possible options. The study of options is being pursued urgently, but it is not intended that the Government should have a talking shop among the bodies involved before a decision is reached. I hope that by the end of the year we shall have a clear view of the alternatives, the resources available and the kind of development that will take place in dockland to which the transport facilities can be matched.

It is as part of that exercise that I would commend the Bill to the House and agree that it is a useful contribution and an additional option which might one day be pursued if we give the GLC the powers it seeks.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I approach this debate with some trepidation, particularly as I am not a London Member. This is certainly a somewhat controversial subject, and one's attitude depends on where one resides and one's feelings about the extension of the underground system.

I speak in this debate as an ex-seaman. This matter is of particular interest to me because I could never understand why, when I was sent to join a ship in the King George Road docks, I had to change from train to tube to bus and then to another bus. Perhaps this state of affairs is explained to a certain extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who said that there was a considerable lack of integration between two public authorities here in designing a proper and adequate transport system for this part of London. Nevertheless, I could never understand why I had to make so many changes.

The London underground system is a very good transporation system. I have been working in Europe during the last few years and I have had the opportunity to compare our system with those across the Channel. Ours compares very favourably, bearing in mind its many operating difficulties. The best that we have in London is as good as any underground system in existence today.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on the way in which he presented his case. Our hearts went out to him when he was asked a difficult technical question to which he did not know the answer. We all face that problem at some time in our careers.

The hon. Member demonstrated that this debate is about the fundamental problems of city planning and the way we handle the important transportation systems that service our industrial and social developments. If this Bill is passed this evening, it will reserve a planning route. It is the same Bill that was being considered when a Labour Government were in power, and it makes clear that there is no commitment to finance. The Minister has also made that clear tonight, as has the sponsor of the Bill. It is the same principle that was agreed when stage 2 powers were passed for the Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street part of the line.

Anyone who looks at the impressive intentions of this Bill, as seen in the documents that come with it, will believe that it is designed to assist in redressing the balance in housing and high unemployment and remedying deficiencies in the social and economic environment in these areas, bring together the areas of high and low income, develop the final transport system to join up the various odd parts that are clearly not integrated at present, and overcome the problems of river separation and access to other regional areas. Indeed, it is hoped—and this is perhaps a little optimistic—that it will be a major catalyst for the redevelopment of the declining inner city area. Finally, it is claimed that it will give confidence to the investor. I seem to have heard all those arguments before. They were given in respect of the Humber bridge in my area. I was highly sceptical in the early stages of that project, and to a degree I still retain that scepticism. Most of the facts seem to back me up. Nevertheless we have it, it is a wonderful British engineering achievement and something that will provide benefits.

But the problem with all these investments is the cost. No one can really tell what the cost of such a project will be. All we can do is suck it and see. Indeed, the Humber bridge began at £12 million and now its estimated capital debt, which will be paid off in 40 or 50 years, is something like £500 million. Soon the cry will go up that this money cannot be paid by tariffs and that the interest charges are too great. Therefore, help will be sought from the Government with financing and maintenance problems. I am sure that the Minister, or one of the Government Departments, will receive this kind of call, with which I have considerable sympathy. That is not to say that it does not make an economic contribution to the area. That is the point at issue and the point drawn in favour of the Bill.

Supporters of the Bill include the Dock-lands joint committee, the GLC, London Transport and a number of the unions. The Government have clearly stated their position tonight, but I was much more impressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) who made clear the inevitable fact that much of the information has been available for a long time. Even certain parts of the re-routes that have been referred to were original routes. Therefore, many of the surveys and information had only to be redated to assess costs. We can understand that the Government may be reluctant to give an immediate decision on a project of this scale and commit themselves to it. They obviously wish to buy as much time as possible for this sort of investment expenditure, particularly when other areas of public expenditure such as hospitals and schools are being cut in their priorities.

Nevertheless, the Government's position is somewhat similar to that of the previous Labour Government, who never gave a categorical "No" to the proposition. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) could have moved the Second Reading but would not, for the adequate reasons that he gave. Certainly he was in some doubt, as were the Labour Government, about whether the development should be considered in isolation. Indeed, the Minister has made the point that there are other options to be considered and he has asked for more time in order to do so.

Certainly, the Government's position has neutral overtones. However, no Government can possibly be neutral on such matters. It was interesting to note that the Minister made clear that he would not consider that such a project would have a claim for a TSG in his speech about those grants at the Eastern region annual consultative committee at Cardington. He stated: It is certainly not our intention to use the TSG settlement, as Labour Ministers did, to seek to control the detail of individual counties' transport policies. It is clear that the way in which the development is financed will influence whether the project is built. The project cannot go ahead without the Government giving it a fair wind. All we are doing tonight is providing powers in the Bill. Everybody has fallen over himself to say that that does not mean commitment.

As a non-London Member, I remember reading in the newspapers that it was the Labour Government who were preventing the building of the Jubilee line and that everything would be solved when the Tory Government came to power. There must have been an interesting conversation between Sir Horace Cutler and the Minister deciding upon the Government's attitude towards the project. I hope that the Minister will be able to indicate whether British Rail and other authorities involved, such as the National Bus Company, which could be affected by such investment, hold opinions about the development of the Jubilee line. It has been stated that British Rail would lose about £4 million in revenue. I hope that the Committee will be told how the authorities feel about the matter.

The Government's position on public expenditure policies and cash limits will clearly determine whether the project goes ahead. The Minister has said, fairly, that it would have to be viewed against other priorities in public expenditure. Again, the Government will be the final arbiter in the decision on whether the Jubilee line will be built. There will be a cardinal difference between Labour Members and the developing policy of the Government once more is heard about the proposed urban development corporation and the consequential effects upon the inner city development programmes. I am referring to a transport connection to deal with inner city developments. That proposal has been claimed by the Bill's sponsors and put forward by the Minister.

The previous Labour Government and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), as Secretary of State for the Environment, had a positive approach to inner city development and more money would have been needed to make that policy fully successful. We developed and to a certain extent built on to the Docklands joint committee, which was set up by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), with our partnership scheme in which the Government were involved with the joint committee, which included all the local authorities in the area.

The specific purpose of that scheme was to redress the glaring deficiencies in the economic and social fabric of the area. It involved a review of the whole transport strategy in the area in consultation with the local authorities responsible for making decisions about their own areas. There was also consideration of whether the area should be considered as an offshoot to the development of the Channel tunnel or as a freight development area.

There is a considerable difference between our approach to the development of this important inner city area and the approach that seems to be developing in the Government's policy, which is introducing even greater uncertainty.

The Government seem to be suggesting that the lack of effective development was due to delays in decision-making, though they admitted in answer to the protests of my hon. Friends that there had been some development. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South pointed out that a lot of development has taken place and the Minister replied that the decisions had not been taken quickly.

As in all these cases, the problem is mainly money and not delays in decision-making. Uncertainty is another factor that tends to undermine decision-making and development in inner city development areas, even under present policies. One example is the uncertainty about what is to happen to the Port of London Authority, the structure of which is being looked at by the Government.

The most important matter of concern is the urban development corporation. So far we have had only a press statement about the likely role of the corporation, but it is clear that it will do away with the joint committee and the partnership scheme. The corporation will also be given considerable planning powers, and although I do not know how that will affect the Bill, I imagine that London Transport will be pleased to get the measure through before the corporation is set up with its powers over planning and the purchase of land.

It is clear that the corporation will be given considerable powers affecting housing and industrial development. I get the feeling that it will be a sort of private land bank which will buy all the land belonging to the public sector and flog it off to the private sector. Land speculation will take place on a considerable scale. We know from the experience at St. Katharine's dock that development by private corporations results in housing that is far too expensive for most people.

It seems that the Government are following the policy embarked on in 1971 by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who attempted to introduce similar plans. The right hon. Gentleman referred to his scheme as putting the West End into the East End. There is a fundamental difference in our approach. We are concerned less with making the East End accessible to West End commercial development than with how we can raise the standard of living of the people in dockland. With the current planning and thinking, the Jubilee line will be turned into a Klondyke line—a ride to a place for the get-rich-quick club.

We have seen throughout the 1970s what happens when land is released to speculators, but it seems that the lessons have not been learnt. We recognise that the Bill seeks powers only for planning reasons and does not provide that building will take place. But there are powers to start building operations. It is just a matter of securing the money. I understand the reasons why the authority is asking for these powers, and I understand the planning considerations for them. Nevertheless, Labour Members are much more concerned about what the purpose of the Jubilee line will be. One hon. Member has already made it clear that he will judge the success and potential of the development of the Jubilee line by the effect that it will have on the dockland area with which it is connected.

I therefore hope that the Minister will make clear, either to the Committee or to the House, what he considers to be the viability of this project. For example, £300 million investment at rates of interest that have begun to increase since the Government came into power will presumably mean an increase of £60 million for every year of delay, if not more. That relates to the cost of the project at 1979 prices. There is clearly an important demand on resources, which in itself makes this a matter of national interest. The Minister has made it clear that this development will be competing with other important developments.

I want to make it clear that in passing the Bill tonight Labour Members have not made a decision to build the Jubilee line. Such a decision will have to be taken in the context of the London strategic transport plan. Most important of all, that decision will depend on what the urban development corporation will do, what powers it will have and for what purpose it will use those powers. If it simply uses them to create land speculation, to do in the East End what has been done in the West End, and if the line is denied the opportunities to reduce the glaring inequalities in the East End of London, we shall seriously have to consider whether we can give our full support to such a project.

9.22 p.m.

Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on his intervention on our behalf. Labour Members from London believe that this is a cynical Bill which has no intention of doing anything. There is no intention of spending any money or of fulfilling the Bill's orginal purpose. Indeed, the Minister tried to interpret what is going on by saying that it was only a pause. I intervened at that stage to determine what that pause was.

I can tell the Minister that the GLC does not believe him. The GLC was very angry when the Transport Minister in the Labour Government advanced the same arguments to Sir Horace Cutler as the present Minister has done. Sir Horace was quite rude and abusive about my right hon. Friend because he chose to argue that the scheme should be reviewed. Of course, Sir Horace argued in the Evening News, the Evening Standard and by press release that the GLC had done that and that this was the best scheme for London. The Minister must therefore be aware of that fact. I believe that tonight he is being less than honest in suggesting that there is something new about the proposal that the GLC should look at this in depth, especially when Sir Horace has already said that that is what has been done. Does not the Minister read the Evening Standard? Do not his officials provide him with briefings? There are enough of them. Therefore, his assurances tonight were rather shallow. We cannot accept them.

Sir Horace was quite clear. In fact, he changed the name from the Fleet line to the Jubilee line because he believed that it would go somewhere and that it would go with his knighthood. I am astounded that on his behalf the Minister is now able to say that it was all a bit of moonshine, that Sir Horace did not really mean it, and that he only wanted a knighthood but not the ride. I do not believe that Sir Horace had that in mind.

I must point out that the Minister does not come from London. I could have followed the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), because he and Sir Horace are close friends. The Parliamentary Secretary does not have the advantage of being a London Member, and I must tell him that with regard to the Olypmics Sir Horace actually means what he has said. Some may think he is stupid. I do not. I think he is a man of great ability and that he is trying to do something for London. He has not done much so far, but perhaps he wants to do something by the end of his time on the Greater London Council. He actually means it. The Minister said Sir Horace did not really mean it. We will see that he is challenged at the GLC next week to ask whether he is aware that the hon. Gentleman has said that he did not mean it, and that it was all a bit of a laugh.

A vast sum of money was spent on the feasibility study. Sir Horace occasioned that. The price of that study, if one is stupid enough to pay it, is £10 for each copy. The Minister is prepared to sit on the Government Bench tonight and defend his friends across the river for saying that they could waste public money on a feasibility study and to pay £10 a copy for something he did not mean in the first place.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

I should make clear that I did not say anything about whether he means the Olympics or not. The plan for the Olympics in 1988 is not the responsibility of the Department of Transport. I was saying that this feasibility study has not featured large in our consideration of the Jubilee line. What I said happened in May was that Sir Horace Cutler was enthusiastic about the line and would like to see it furthered. But in the light of the financial circumstances in May this year, when a decision had to be made about whether the money Bill should include £23 million to begin the project, we asked him, and he agreed, to have a pause while we looked at low cost options and looked at the whole thing in the context of dockland development. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), on behalf of the Opposition, seemed to be advocating precisely what the Government and Sir Horace have agreed. He was arguing that the whole thing had to be seen in the context of what happens in dockland and in the context of other claims on resources nationally and in London.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that his second speech will not match his first. I am sure that I recall exactly what his first speech will say when it appears in Hansard and what he said about Sir Horace. I am interested to note that already he appears to be making his peace with Sir Horace and that he did not really mean what he said. I am bound to tell him, whatever his departmental officials may say, that Sir Horace Cutler was absolutely clear that they had considered all the alternatives. They were all canvassed and this was the best one for the job to be done.

I do not place any reliance on the arguments that we can now go back through all the low cost options, which have already been rejected by the GLC, in favour of this one. I challenge, with my hon. Friends, the whole reason for the sudden change that has taken place. I have challenged the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) each time he has reiterated in the House that nothing has been done in dockland. That is grossly untrue. All the evidence is to be seen.

Thousands of jobs have been brought to London through the dockland scheme. It is patently not true that nothing has been done. It can be seen to be not true. But members of the Government party continue to put forward this idea. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it took some years to get off the ground. When one recalls that we have had two or three years of Sir Horace Cutler—a trial in anybody's life—we have still made it in spite of him. Left alone, it would have made even greater progress because the momentum exists. It is going, things are happening. Now, superimposed on it, we get this peculiar animal called the urban development corporation, the new quango.

No doubt hon. Members are privy to the story that buying Sir Horace's co-operation on the Jubilee line was on the straightforward option of his becoming chairman of the quango. This is common talk in London. Everyone believes that that is what it is all about. Sir Horace is rather coy and says that he can, of course, play his part in the development of these matters and that he could have his arm twisted. When Sir Horace talks about arm twisting, we know that he is already pretty well down the road. Our suspicion is that this is the deal that is being cooked up. The deal is that in return for the Jubilee line going defunct and being used for the furtherance of the urban development corporation Sir Horace will be offered the chairmanship of the quango. Only time will tell. I am not a betting man, but if I were I should put 5p on this probability at any time. This Bill is typical of what we are getting from the GLC and its associates.

The Minister talked about the need to review and to examine low-cost options. It is important to remember that the Bill was given priority above all other transport plans in London. When my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) referred to this, I intervened and mentioned the line from the Elephant and Castle to Camberwell Green and on to Lewisham. That plan was dumped in favour of the Fleet line, as it was then called.

Is it not unfair for those involved to be deprived of a line because of the plans for the Fleet, or Jubilee, line? Lands were bought and areas were earmarked on the basis of the early plans, as this Bill earmarks lands for the Jubilee line.

Let us examine the underground map in a diary. If one takes away the legend "London Transport" and its symbol, one sees that there is very little transport south of the river. The underground lines are all in the north. The Jubilee line is north of the river, and will continue to improve the services in the north. I do not complain of that, but it seems unfair that there is so little of the underground system south of the river. I do not see why that part of London should be refused an improved underground system in order to make way for the Jubilee line.

The Minister has said that there is only a pause. According to the London evening newspapers the pause was to be six months. Sir Horace said it would be six months. The Minister now says that he did not mean that the pause would be six months. However, in County Hall it was believed to be six months. The people from County Hall are here. They say that the delay was believed to be six months.

The Minister may say that four months have already passed, that we need not worry because there is no timetable and that we shall probably consider the matter later. He may say that we should not expect him to canvass options now. He has no options and he knows it. He will not have any options next May because the county will be bankrupt. He knows that, too. There will be no money. Whether the delay is six months, 12 months or two years means nothing, and the Minister knows it.

I am sad about this situation because I have always regarded the Minister as a forthright man. As a Minister he is attractive. I urge him to move away from the unpleasant ways that he is pursuing. The Minister is a nice guy. I urge him to be forthright once again. He should tell the House that he has no intention of building the Jubilee line. However, we want to know what is meant by approving the Bill. It does not matter what his hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) says. The plans will blight the area. It is precisely what this Bill will do. Areas in my constituency have been blighted for years. I wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment about my famous Graham Road. I spoke of the problems there. That area is blighted because the City of London was allowed to declare Tower Bridge not safe enough for lorries to pass over. As a result, those lorries go through my constituency.

The Secretary of State wrote to me saying he was terribly sad about that but that he could not intervene between the GLC and Hackney borough council and that this was yet another problem of urban living. It was a problem because his friends in the City of London had so patently fallen down on the job of maintaining Tower Bridge. They suddenly had to close it, they say, in order to keep the lorries off it. When one conjoins that with the fact that the City is closed for lorry parking at night, and that it is closed to lorries over 3½ tons, there is not much left. My constituency, being in juxtaposition, gets all the stuff the City does not want. What right have they to do that? Why cannot they be made to put Tower Bridge in proper order so that lorries can go over it?

The Minister has announced tonight that he has given the go-ahead for the M11 to Hackney Wick, which leads into my constituency. I am grateful to him because it will not reach the North Circular. All that happens is that the lorries come from south of the river. They go through Blackwall Tunnel on to the A106, on to the A102, straight into Hackney and up Graham Road, up Balls Pond Road, up Highgate Hill and out on to the North Circular.

I will tell the hon. Gentleman a story. Recently, in order to familiarise myself with all his plans and objectives, I did a study tour of these roads to which he referred. On our way back from south of the river we came through the Black-wall Tunnel. We were in a coach with three GLC planners up front, and there were Members of Parliament there taking note of the masses of vehicles of all sizes coming along beside us. We went on to the A106 and the A102. Suddenly we were on a six-lane highway with not a soul around us and the GLC planners were sitting there laughing like cats which had got the cream.

I went up to the front of the coach and said "You soppy trio, what are you doing? There they are. All the lorries are going that way through my constituency. We are going along the great highway on our own." These comedians actually thought they had done a lot of good social and highway planning. We were on our own and all the other vehicles were going somewhere else and through into Graham Road.

I tell the Minister, as he commends the Bill to the House, that there is a real danger of blight and of people suffering badly as a result. We have become quite cynical in London about the assurances given by the GLC and London Transport. In my constituency they decided to build a bus garage. I had many arguments with them about this garage which is right in the middle of a housing estate. I wanted assurances that the buses would not go out of the back door, park round the front of the GLC housing estate, and start their diesel engines at 4.30 in the morning ready to get out on to the routes. I had that assurance. I was told that that would not be done and that the back door was only an emergency exit. Being a simple chap, I was reasonably contented with that and I took those assurances.

Now I see in the local authority minutes a proposal to widen the road at the back of Ash Grove, known as Sheep Lane. I asked myself why they would want to widen that road since it was on a housing estate. I went to the local authority and asked why it was widening it and spending £80,000. I was told it was so that the buses could get out of the back door of the garage. I told the authority of the assurance I had been given that this would not happen. It said "That is all we are being told. We will block that plan for the moment, but the GLC will look at the whole matter again on 30 October".

If I were a gambling man I would bet that the London Transport Executive will try to renege on its agreement. I shall do my best, even if I have to block every Bill that it ever brings before the House, to make sure that it does not park buses along the back of the bus garage and upset my constituents every morning. When I protest about this problem I am told that someone has to have the bus garage. But it is always Hackney. Hackney must have the lorries that come through the city from Folkestone or Southampton. It is no good the Minister giving an assurance that he thinks that this is a good Bill and hoping that in some way the rest of us will follow his argument, because we do not follow it. We are most concerned.

As I understood it, all the costs of the scheme were examined in great depth. It was argued that the appropriate committees of the GLC had been examining them for two to two and a half years. This Bill was the result and was based on the assumption that the cost would be kept to the lowest level. That was why Sir Horace was so upset when the last Labour Secretary of State for Transport told him that on his viewing of the proposals they were unacceptable.

Where can I obtain a copy of the minutes of the meeting that the Parliamentary Secretary had with Sir Horace at which Sir Horace stated that he had not looked at the proposals and that he was giving a first reaction off the top of his head? He said that he was quite happy and he was sure that he could find alternative cheaper sources. That is precisely what the previous Secretary of State for Transport asked him to do. In rebuttal of that he shouted a lot of abuse, saying that it could not be done.

One of the most significant aspects of the GLC today is that it does not behave like a local authority. Like the Minister's Department and the Department of the Environment, it proceeds by press releases. I have been a Member of Parliament for 15 years, and I recall that previously when Ministers made statements at the Dispatch Box a Member could hear the statement made, study it and go to the Vote Office for papers to familiarise himself with it. He could discover whether the issue affected his constituency and he could talk to the local authorities about it. Those were great days—halcyon days.

Now one has to read it all in the press. Ministers even make statements in press releases during the recess—they do not even have the courtesy to wait for the House to reassemble in order that we may question them. The GLC has developed the system to a fine art. The Government are only learners. Sir Horace has his A-levels in governing by press release. With such a system no one can question the decisions.

The GLC is attempting to transfer houses in London from its ownership to the boroughs. In Hackney we are trying to find out what it is doing. There are two large estates there which the GLC is threatening to sell. In order to discover which it was proposed to sell I had to get a press release to learn of the plans. No one in the GLC could tell me. The officials there say that they no longer make the policy and that one has to read the local paper or a press release to obtain information. One then returns to them, but they, too, having seen the press release, do not understand it. One is left in an impossible position. I urge the Minister not to accept the Bill. It is not a good Bill and he knows it.

I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Streatham merely to ascertain how much he had read of part V, which is headed "Miscellaneous". I felt rather mean afterwards because I was in a position to answer my own question. Clause 21(2) refers to the 1976 Act and is not really a part of the measure before us. That is what I think. However, it is such a dodgy document that I am not sure whether I am right.

Mr. William Shelton

If the hon. Gentleman will resume his seat, I shall be able to answer him in detail.

Mr. Brown

I understand that one or more of my hon. Friends wish to contribute to the debate. As I have said, I may have answered my own question. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will not answer many other questions so he will not have a great deal to cover.

I am dissatisfied with the Bill. I think that we shall come to regard it as something of a disaster for London. It should not be enacted. I may well not oppose it tonight, but I wish to place on record my opinion that it is bad. I do not believe much of what is in it. The Bill will be wrong for dockland. It will harm dockland. I am sad that the Government should interfere with the LTE, and that they have made it impossible for a proper transportation system to operate in the part of London with which we are concerned.

9.46 pm
Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

It is a great strain to wait for two hours and fifty minutes to be called to contribute to the debate and then have to rush through a speech. I do not intend to deal in full detail with all the matters that I wanted to bring to the attention of the House.

Edmonton will not be directly affected by the central issue in the Bill, but it is an opportunity for hon Members representing such areas to ask the House to recognise that their constituents, as well as many others who will not be directly affected by the Bill, will be called upon to pay the bill when the GLC, among others, is having to find the wherewithal to put the measure into effect.

The first part of the Bill refers to the duties of the London Transport Executive. The Bill states that: it is the general duty of the Executive … to exercise and perform their functions … with due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation, to provide or secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as best meet the needs for the time being of Greater London". In my part of London the greatest need lies not with the underground but with the rail from Liverpool Street and with certain bus services. The bane of the lives of many of my constituents is a service called the W8. I am delighted to see in his place the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry). The hon. Gentleman is not unfamiliar with a great deal of what I have to say about the trials and tribulations of my constituents and his constituents owing to the W8 bus service.

The service is a lifeline. It runs from Edmonton to Enfield and serves, among others, shoppers and those travelling to hospitals and industry. The area is well served by the rail service from Liverpool Street, most of the lines running from north to south. The London Transport Executive will be judged not by grandiose ideas but by how it manages its services.

In terms of value for money the service which the LTE offers my constituents leaves a great deal to be desired. From time to time I write to Mr. Quarmby, the appropriate executive, about the W8 service on behalf of my constituents. I write to him in aggrieved terms asking him to tell me the problems that the Executive faces. During the debate various hon. Members have explained the reasons that I have been given by Mr. Quarmby. He has explained that the buses are out of date, that there are difficulties in servicing them and that there are staff problems. When I make those reasons known to the people of Enfield and Edmonton, they think that I am living in cloud-cuckoo-land if I believe the excuses given to me by the executive of London Transport.

I went into the office of the local newspaper this morning to obtain one or two headlines. One headline in the Palmers Green and Southgate Gazette reads: Whatever happened to the 244? Apparently a whole bus service disappeared at one time. Another headline reads: Long, long wait for a 107 The bus services in my part of the world need a great deal of improvement.

The people of South London have waited for a very long time for the Fleet line and the Jubilee line. I hope that they will not be deluded by what appears to be the pace and progress mentioned tonight. I hope to return to the subject on a more appropriate occasion, when I have more time in which to speak.

9.50 p.m.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who said that we all had a great interest in London Transport. I certainly have such an interest. Unlike the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), I travel on London Transport. I travel to the House, my home and my constituency on London Transport. I was brought up in a London Transport family. My father was an Underground train driver. His depot was at East Ham, in my constituency.

Before the war we had the best transport system of any capital city in the world. I am not sure that we can say that of our bus service any longer. Where there is a 10-minute service I am told that people wait—as I wait, myself—anything up to an hour, and then the buses come along in a convoy.

I refer to the Jubilee line. There is an unreal situation at present. Sir Horace Cutler thought that the Jubilee line should be made available. The Labour Government stopped him. He met the Minister of Transport. There was a press release, which I read. It was a reticent document. Sir Horace and the Minister have been reticent ever since. The press release said that alternatives were being considered. We have not heard much about them. It would be churlish of me to criticise someone who was willing to spend hundreds of millions of pounds constructing a railway to Beck-ton. I am in favour of that. I do not know whether the Minister has visited Beckton. Has he seen what are known as the Beckton Alps? In company with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I went on a tour of the dockland. We saw every available square yard. Let us kill stone dead the notion that nothing has been done. A hell of a lot has been done. For example, £40 million of ratepayers' and public money has been put in. The Beckton marshes have been drained. In fact, the saplings that were planted died as a result of lack of moisture in what were previously marshes. Roads, factories and houses have been built. We were told that we were ready for take-off. However, the local authorities are in perfect understanding with the body that was set up, I believe, by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon).

The consultative machinery is there. Yet at the stage when those involved are all ready for take-off the Secretary of State says that he will scrap the lot and set up a new quango. That will trample on and destroy local democracy. He says that he will appoint people to run the whole show. If that happens there will be great bitterness in that area on the part of the electors, councillors and officials. They are very bitter at the proposal. They fear, having spent public money in preparing the site, that the Secretary of State for the Environment will move in speculators, cowboys and get-rich-quick merchants, possibly giving them a tax-free holiday and other concessions, to operate on a site prepared with public money. If he does that there will be grave consequences.

As a new Member, I shall watch what happens and I shall learn how parliamentary democracy is run. The Minister may not be sitting on the Government Front Bench for ever. If it is done by dictatorial methods, trampling on local democracy, perhaps that will set a precedent for the future.

9.55 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton

In the few minutes remaining I shall try to answer one or two questions.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) has to some extent answered his own question. His unwitting confusion led to some confusion in my mind. His question as to how this would lead to expenditure as a result of the Jubilee line is nonsense, because clause 21 has nothing at all to do with the Jubilee line. It has to do with the famous Runcorn clause—he must have missed it in the course of my opening remarks—which relates to Gloucester Road and Surrey Docks in the context of the 1976 Bill. Indeed, I did not think much of his speech. A good deal of his speech—and of that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price)—seemed to underline their suspicions of Sir Horace Cutler as some kind of ogre. They seemed to have some kind of conspiracy theory, whether it has to do with the Olympics or with some deal. Their remarks served only to raise Sir Horace still higher in my esteem. I am delighted that he is imposing his presence not only on London government but on Labour Members. May he continue to do so for many more years.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked about the link with the British Rail line at Woolwich Arsenal. This would be extremely expensive but it would not be impossible. It would create some difficulties in extending the line at a later date to Thames-mead. However, the matter is not decided. His representations will have been listened to by London Transport, and I shall make sure that they are noted by the appropriate quarter.

The hon. Member also urged—I am with him in this—that the line to Beckton should be concluded as speedily as possible. It cannot be done in isolation and must depend on the rest of the line. I hope, with him, that we shall not have to wait too long.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West talked about the vast sum of £225 million. I remind the House, in context, that the GLC annually spends £240 million on its transport programme and that London Transport has a capital programme of about £100 million annually. The figure for the Jubilee line of about £225 million would be spread over a great number of years, say 10 years, in which case we would be talking of about £20 million annually. In context it is not so much.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West mentioned the lack of a line through his constituency. That applies to my constituency. Except for one brief reference, he did not mention the problems of dockland. I urge on him that he should think of the Jubilee line in the context of dockland and the difficulties of dockland.

I am grateful to the House for the kind reception, on the whole, given to the Bill. I am grateful for the kind words of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for his, on the whole, not ungrudging acceptance of the Bill, Finally, I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the welcome that the Government have given to the Bill, which I commend to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

  1. UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON BILL [Lords] (By Order) 13 words