HC Deb 11 July 1988 vol 137 cc3-5
2. Mrs. Ray Michie

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reduce the density of private motor traffic within central London.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon)

I aim to promote measures to help the existing traffic to flow more freely. The measures that we are taking are improving trunk roads to take traffic round, rather than through, London; promoting the use of new technology to improve traffic management; encouraging more effective parking controls; and working with British Rail and London Regional Transport to improve the quality of the rail and Underground systems.

Mrs. Michie

Does the Minister have a view on the report in the press today that four private consultant firms consider that London should have a network of new toll roads? Would it not be much better for the public to use public transport? How will he encourage them to use it much more?

Mr. Channon

On the first part of the hon. Lady's question, that is an extremely unlikely idea. She is referring to a progress report by consultants who have been working on the project for two years and have another year to go. None of the suggestions has had the blessing of the Government. They are merely progress reports to be considered by the relevant people.

It is absolutely essential to increase investment in public transport. I am determined that we should have a better commuter service into London and a better Underground service. That will be done by providing, as we have, large measures of investment in those services.

Mr. Squire

In view of the congestion in the Westminster area, will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department is looking at proposals to build a tunnel under the Thames to take through traffic well away from Westminster?

Mr. Channon

Westminster city council and the Government have commissioned a consultants' report to examine that matter. We await the report.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell the House and the public at large that the report in The Guardian today is accurate, that he condemns the plans to demolish 5,000 homes in London and introduce toll roads in London, that he will call a halt to all major road building in London, and that instead he will put far more resources into public transport and diverting traffic around London? Is he aware that when the GLC was controlled by Labour the use of public transport increased significantly and that road traffic in London was reduced because London's transport policy was directed towards the needs of the people of London rather than towards the minority of car commuters and heavy goods vehicles traversing London?

Mr. Channon

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the use of public transport is increasing a great deal faster now than it was when the GLC was in existence. Investment in the Underground is 60 per cent. higher in real terms than it was under the GLC, which starved the Underground of investment.

Mr. Tony Banks

Oh, come on.

Mr. Channon

Well, I shall give the figures to the House. Today, investment is running at £365 million a year. That is 60 per cent. higher in real terms than when the GLC had control of the Underground. As for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I have already made it clear that these are progress reports of studies that were announced two years ago. The sensational story in The Guardian today merely repeats an answer that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport gave to the House on 27 June and information that was placed in the Library over two weeks ago.

Mr. Cormack

But is not the time coming when my right hon. Friend will have to consider radical remedies, such as charging people extra for driving regularly into London and restricting deliveries by goods vehicles to the hours of darkness?

Mr. Channon

I should be very reluctant to charge people for travelling into London by road. It would allow only those who could afford it to come into London by car. It would be very difficult and bureaucratic to operate and would lead to many unfairnesses. My hon. Friend may be right. One day somebody may have to do that, but it is a deeply unattractive option which I am not at all keen to pursue.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Secretary of State, in what might be described as a moment of glasnostian candour, admit that his Department does not have a clue what about to do about getting cars off the roads of London? His response to his hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) illustrates that fact. Does the Secretary of State admit that on the Kensington-Fulham border, where four years ago the Government refused to allow the GLC to invest £25 million to improve the rail system, the Government are now talking about an investment of £150 million to build two miles of road, which would mean pulling down houses and bringing further traffic on to an already too dense traffic system?

Mr. Channon

I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman should show this sudden interest in Kensington. So far as I know, he has never before asked a question about Kensington and I suspect that he will never again. I repeat that we have no new proposals for changing the road system in Kensington.

Mr. Harry Greenway

Why is not more use made of the River Thames and other waterways in London, which would take traffic off the roads? Will my right hon. Friend take a trip to Venice and see the effectiveness of the water buses there and introduce them on the Thames?

Mr. Channon

I cannot imagine anything nicer than a trip to Venice. My hon. Friend is on to a good point. In the past we have neglected the Thames far too much. I hope that commercial services will start very shortly. Such a service already exists between, more or less, this House and docklands. I hope that it will be extended to Chelsea. It will play a useful part in carrying a proportion of the traffic that wants to come into the centre of London.

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