HC Deb 22 February 1989 vol 147 cc1097-120 10.13 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)

I beg to move, That the draft London Regional Transport (Levy) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 19th December, be approved. The Government take no pleasure in the increased levy for 1989–90. The increase is, in cash terms, nearly 50 per cent. above the current year's levy. I regret that this large increase is necessary, but necessary it is, for reasons that I shall explain. However, before doing so, I should like to set the proposed levy in its proper context.

Although the increase in cash terms over the current year is nearly 50 per cent. in real terms, next year's levy will still be nearly 30 per cent. less than the first levy in 1985–86 and only slightly larger than last year's levy.

London local authorities will not welcome the increased levy, but London cannot claim to have been hard done by. Next year's rate support grant settlement is generous to London, taking the authorities together. They will receive £175 million more grant, which represents an increase of 11.2 per cent. on the 1988–89 rate support grant. That will enable London local authorities to reduce rates by an average of 3 per cent. even after the LRT levy increase, if they spend in line with the proposed expenditure provision.

Some will doubtless argue that the increase should be borne by the Exchequer. I see no case for that. In increasing the levy in line with the increase in the grant requirement, we are maintaining the balance between the ratepayer and the taxpayer, which has existed since before LRT was set up in 1984. Just because the grant requirement has increased, there is no reason to expect taxpayers to bear a larger part of the burden. Ratepayers in London will benefit far more from the increased investment than the majority of taxpayers, who rarely use the system.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)


Mr. Portillo

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister agree that it is still the case that the proportion of the cost of London Regional Transport borne by the taxpayer is much less than the equivalent proportions borne by taxpayers in other capital cities such as Paris? Does he agree that we still ask ratepayers and travellers in London to pay a higher proportion than their equivalents pay in capital cities in other western European countries?

Mr. Portillo

There are a limited number of places from which the money can come. It can come from farepayers or from taxpayers, and in this country taxation is in two forms—local taxation and national taxation. I believe that the balance between those three is about right. In particular, the balance between taxpayers and ratepayers of approximately 33 per cent. and 66 per cent. is appropriate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

While the Minister is on that point, does he accept that Londoners are extremely badly treated in that the new investment on the rail, Tube and bus networks, to which he has referred, will be borne largely by the fare-paying passengers in London, whereas the huge amount of road building that he is planning for the capital will be borne by central Government expenditure and will benefit only the 18 per cent. of the travelling population who commute in and out of London by car, because the majority go by public transport for which they will have to pay increased fares to pay for improvements in the service?

Mr. Portillo

Most Londoners are big users of the roads even if a large number commute into central London by railway. The amount spent on roads is very much less than is collected in taxation from road users. Again, that is a perfectly defensible position.

Others may ask why the increased investment expenditure should not be funded by borrowing rather than through an increased grant and levy. The normal rule is that investment should be financed through borrowing rather than by grant only if the undertaking will be sufficiently profitable to enable both principal and interest to be repaid. Otherwise the industry would be saddled with an increasing burden of debt. London Regional Transport is not yet in a profit-making position. Debt financing would not, therefore, be appropriate.

I have said that I regret the need for an increase in the levy, but I have pleasure in reminding the House that the levy under discussion will be the last. To seek to continue some form of levy after the abolition of the current rating system would violate the principle of a uniform national non-domestic rate. To continue a levy on community chargepayers would produce an unjustifiable complication to the system, given that domestic ratepayers contribute only about one quarter of LRT's grant. The new needs assessment and needs grant system will take account of the fact that London local authorities will not be responsible for funding public transport in London. That will ensure that London community chargepayers are not unfairly advantaged compared with chargepayers elsewhere.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I can see an argument that the cost of the levy should fall on the users of the Underground through their fares, on taxpayers in general or on certain groups of ratepayers, but I cannot see the argument that ratepayers' contribution should be tied to the boundaries of Greater London. If my hon. Friend looks at a map of the London Underground, he will see that its centre of gravity is well to the north of the river Thames. Why should ratepayers in places such as Twickenham, Bromley, Beckenham, Croydon or Kingston, where there is no Underground, pay for it through their rates while people outside Greater London, such as those in Watford, Chesham or Amersham, where there is an Underground service, not pay anything for it through their rates?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the payment of taxation and the benefits derived therefrom rarely coincide exactly between the people who pay the taxes and those who derive the benefits. There are considerable benefits from LRT other than just the Underground system. There are bus services all over London, and last year an operating loss was made by London Buses Ltd. In general, the facilities of LRT contribute to the well-being of the capital as a whole and it is appropriate that ratepayers should make some contribution. However, I readily agree with my hon. Friend that there should be a distribution between ratepayers, taxpayers and fare payers to achieve the fairest result.

Mr. Tony Banks

I would not disagree with the last point that the Minister made. We argue that London ratepayers are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of that burden. London should be treated differently. For example, there are the tourists who use LRT and, as the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) pointed out, all those from outside the Greater London area who use the transportation system in the London area. Why should London ratepayers have to subsidise all those other groups of people?

Mr. Portillo

I must be hearing things. I heard the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) say recently that there should be free transport in London. If he is now concerned about tourists and people from outside London, how will he recover the money from them if he wants a free transport system in London?

LRT is facing a number of major challenges. The need to respond quickly and effectively to the Fennell report is uppermost in all our minds, and Underground passengers are well aware of the widespread inconvenience caused by the need to get on with the work of replacement and renewal.

Coping with the massive and continuing growth in demand on the Underground must also be given a high priority, as must responding to the rapid pace of the development in the docklands. LRT is also restructuring London Buses Ltd into smaller companies able to compete with each other and to respond more flexibly to the needs of their customers.

Action is in hand on all those fronts. Next year, LRT plans to invest £441 million, of which about £280 million will be funded by the increased grant. The balance will be funded by LRT, including £71 million from property sales and developers' contributions of £61 million to the Docklands light railway.

LRT's response to the Fennell report on the King's Cross fire was published earlier this month. I believe that it represents a serious and responsible reaction to the tragedy. LRT has accepted the vast majority of the recommendations made by Mr. Fennell which apply to it, and many of them have already been implemented. The House will welcome that. The Government, for their part, have made it clear to LRT that the highest priority should be given to ensuring that the chances of a similar disaster occurring are reduced to the absolute minimum. To that end, we have made it plain that finance will not be a barrier to the implementation of the Fennell report.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

In view of the Minister's comments about finance not standing in the way, may I ask him to explain why, since that time, automatic barriers have gone up at a large number of stations? Is he aware that these present a serious risk in the event of evacuation during a fire? Will he consider the possibility of open stations and much greater penalties if people do not carry tickets on the London Underground?

Mr. Portillo

Mr. Fennell made some comments about the Underground ticketing system. He said, for example, that the system should be reviewed by London Underground in conjunction with the railway inspectorate and the London fire brigade. The railway inspectorate and the London fire brigade had already reviewed the Underground ticketing system and had approved it for installation, although subsequently—in November of last year—the London fire brigade made a number of detailed points which London Underground is now addressing.

In addition, and in the spirit of the Fennell report. I asked London Underground to appoint consultants to review the Underground ticketing system to make sure that no point had been missed, and those consultants are now at work because London Underground readily agreed to my suggestion.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

How can the Minister explain the appointment of those consultants when, in answer to a question that I put to him recently, he said that another 118 automatic exit barriers are being installed? How can there be a genuine process of consultation if the barriers continue to be installed in any case?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands. It is not a consultation process, but a review by consultants, to determine whether the system is safe and whether, by chance, London fire brigade or the railway inspectorate have overlooked anything. The Fennell report makes no recommendation that the installation of automatic exit barriers should be stopped. Mr. Fennell simply asked that that aspect should be reviewed by London fire brigade and the railway inspectorate. That has already been done. In addition, to comply with the spirit of the report, we have asked for the view of consultants.

Mr. Corbyn

The Minister will appreciate that there is a great deal of concern about Underground safety, particularly the new barriers. Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), would it not be better to halt the installation programme until the consultants have reported? If the consultants recommend, as I believe that they might, that automatic barriers would be a hazard in the rapid evacuation of a station, increased costs will be avoided. There is much concern among the travelling public that, in the event of another disaster such as King's Cross, barriers would make it possible to evacuate a station quickly.

Mr. Portillo

I have nothing to add to my earlier remarks. Mr. Fennell did not recommend such a course of action. Both the fire brigade and the railway inspectorate have considered the barriers and approved them for installation. The appointment of the consultants is an extra layer of safety that has been applied at my request, and their report will be produced shortly. I see no reason to stop the installation of barriers in the meantime. We shall learn the consultants' views in due course.

In the current financial year, we have agreed to increase LRT's external finance limit by £54 million, half of which is to allow for additional spending on safety measures. Looking to the future, the public expenditure White Paper makes full provision for the increased safety spending sought by LRT—a total of £266 million over the next three years. Of that, some £80 million will need to be spent next year.

Coping with the massive and continuing growth in demand is the second major challenge facing the Underground. Since 1982, use of the Underground has increased by about 80 per cent, and it is still rising, which is putting the system under considerable strain. Action is being taken both to provide short-term relief and to develop long-term solutions. Investment in the Underground is currently at record levels. Next year it will be even higher at £299 million, which is double the 1984–85 level in real terms. That includes substantial investment to relieve congestion as well as to renew and modernise the system.

However, there is even more that must be done. It was for this reason that we set up the central London rail study last March, with an urgent remit to develop a strategy to improve London's rail services and to provide for the forecast increase in demand to the end of the century. The report of the study was published in January. It proposes a major upgrading programme costing some £1.5 billion to make the best use of the existing Underground and Network SouthEast together with one of two alternative packages of two new lines in tunnels under London. I commend that report as a major contribution to the debate on how to improve London's rail services. The need for action in this area is urgent, and we intend to move forward as quickly as possible. We are currently seeking views on the report. At the same time, further work is being carried out in preparation for decisions on whether to go ahead later this year.

The new Docklands light railway has played a vital part in stimulating the development of the Isle of Dogs. It is currently being upgraded and extended to Bank. This will increase its capacity threefold. But the success of the docklands is such that additional rail capacity will almost certainly be needed to supplement the light railway. The east London rail study is currently looking at the options in parallel with the final phase of the central London rail study. Subject to the outcome of the study and the negotiation of satisfactory contributions from the developers involved, I hope that it will be possible this autumn to deposit a Bill seeking the necessary powers to build a new line.

LRT has taken significant steps to improve London's bus services, but there is a limit to what can be achieved whilst London Buses remains in a monolithic form. It is currently being restructured into 11 local companies. As they will be much smaller concerns, they will be closer to their customers and able to respond more flexibly to their needs. They will also be free to compete with each other. The result will be a better service for the customer and a smaller bill for the taxpayer.

I am sure that the House will agree that increased investment is required to improve London's public transport. But there is no such thing as a free ride, and the increased investment has to be paid for. Our guiding principle is that passengers should have the services they want and are prepared to pay for. However, although LRT will no longer require revenue support, it cannot finance the large investment programme required from its own resources. It cannot increase its income as quickly as investment needs to increase. This means that the grant and the levy must rise. I cannot expect any increase to be popular, but, as a London Member myself, I feel strongly that Londoners are very aware of the need for new investment and, indeed, would believe us to be negligent if we did not provide it.

The improvement in LRT's revenues means that it can invest getting on for twice as much in the Underground next year in real terms as in 1985–86, with a levy which in real terms is about 30 per cent, lower than in that year. It is in that spirit that I commend the draft order to the House.

10.28 pm
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

May I be the first to congratulate the Minister on recognising the Government's past mistakes and welcome him to the ranks of those who believe that public transport needs more, not less, Government support? After years of striving to reduce public subsidy to London's transport system, the Minister has at last had to accept reality. LRT cannot be run as a profit-making machine. Even the increase in the grant which he is making, to £286.6 million, fails to provide for the real needs of London transport as perceived by Londoners and London Labour Members.

The Minister has given two reasons for the increase: first, to finance the improvements necessary to deal with increased passenger demand, and, secondly, to finance the recommendations in the Fennell report. I will return to both points in due course but, first, let me remind the Minister of his predecessors' views on public subsidy.

In 1985 the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) said: our policies, which have already begun to deliver substantial savings for London ratepayers…are beginning to bear fruit. The outlook is that those savings will increase."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 291.] We have, however, a levy increased by 50 per cent. In 1986 the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) said that LRT's aim was to secure better services and an improved passenger environment by reducing costs in all areas. He said: Cost cutting is the key to LRT's success."—[Official Report, 28 January 1986, Vol. 90, c. 902.] Ever since LRT was delivered into the hands of the Government all the talk has been of unit costs and savings. The word "safety" did not pass the lips of the responsible Minister once in 1985, 1986 or 1987. Even last year after the King's Cross fire, the Minister boasted that the burden on London's ratepayers was being halved over three years. Not surprisingly, though, on that occasion he said that safety was paramount in all that London Underground did.

It took the loss of 31 lives to make the Government act. Yet the need for new investment to deal with the increase in passenger traffic and the continuing decline in rolling stock and rail network were apparent long before that tragedy. According to the Government's own figures, set out in the central rail study and quoted by the Minister tonight, the number of passengers using the Underground rose from 305,000 in 1980 to 415,000 in 1988. By 1987 many of the central London lines were already badly overcrowded, and the forecasts show that that overcrowding will continue to be a problem.

The increase in the use of the Tube and the chronic overcrowding are putting huge strains on the system, which is clearly suffering from the under-investment of recent years. If, however, the Government had maintained public financial support at an adequate level, a start might have been made on alleviating overcrowding, and the Government would not now be seeking such a dramatic hike in the rates levy. More important, safety would not have been put at risk through the cost-cutting and privatisation measures that the Government have forced on LRT.

Opposition Members strongly support public investment to improve safety standards, but we cannot approve of the mess that the Government have made of LRT funding and the cavalier way in which they now seek to pass the major burden on to the ratepayer. Londoners are having to pay twice over, first through the rates and then through the fares. In case the Minister has conveniently forgotten, fares last month went up by an average of 12.4 per cent., more than double the rate of inflation. The Minister is content for Londoners to pay more and more, despite the unprecedented level of public dissatisfaction with the services available.

Public transport users in London want higher staffing levels, yet staff numbers have gone down by 15,000 in five years. They want more transport police, yet—despite constantly increasing crime levels—numbers were allowed to fall until the Guardian Angels shamed the Minister into action. Most of all, people want to feel safe. Of course we welcome the allocation of money to meet the recommendations of the Fennell report, but without a debate on that report we can hardly be satisfied that the Government have learned the lessons.

I remind the Minister that in his report Mr. Fennell said that while it was clear on the evidence of Sir Keith that his Board did have proper regard to efficiency and economy…they did not impose the same criteria when it came to safety of operation. Let me ask the Minister again: when do the Government intend to make time for a debate on the Fennell report? Will he explain tonight what conclusions he draws from the following statement in the report: There was a feeling among London Underground managers that the financial climate would rule out proposals to increase spending in certain areas"? Has that financial climate changed? I think not.

The Minister could help us further by telling us when he intends to announce LRT's new objectives. Does he not share our concern that the LRT business plan predicts a further 2 per cent, increase in use of the Underground, but a 4 per cent, fall in bus use? Surely he ought to be looking for ways of maximising the use of bus services, given the chaos caused by the increasing use of private cars and the degree of overcrowding on the Underground.

Will the Minister tell us whether he thinks that existing objectives are being met? Just two weeks ago two Underground stations had no lifts or escalators in use, 11 had a reduced lift service and 48 had at least one escalator out of action. Altogether about a quarter of all stations were defective in terms of access or exit. Such circumstances are clearly dangerous, given the volume of passengers using the services and the numbers of incidents involving the fire brigade—which occur frequently.

I understand that between 1 December last year and the present date 253 fires have been reported in the Tube network, 53 serious enough to need the action of the fire brigade. I appreciate that there has been a change in reporting procedures and all incidents are now properly reported. None the less, those figures must be a cause for serious concern, particularly when we consider the new barriers which have been referred to this evening.

Tonight the Minister seeks, in his own words, to raise the levy on ratepayers to increase spending on safety measures following the King's Cross fire and to provide for higher investment to modernise the system and to increase its capacity. We endorse all those objectives, but they will not be completed in one year. The safety measures money is being spread over three years. This year ratepayers are being asked to contribute a dramatically increased amount, but the Minister has acknowledged that there will be a different story next year. With the poll tax there will no longer be a rate contribution towards the running of LRT. However, the contribution for 1989–90 is approximately £188 million.

Where will the extra money come from? I have asked LRT and it believes that it will come from the Exchequer. The Minister may be glad to grab that 65 per cent, from the ratepayers in 1989–90, but he will have to think again. We have no doubt that meeting the safety recommendations in the Fennell report and investing to improve London's public transport system demands a very substantial commitment from public funds. Will the Minister make it clear that he has accepted that, not just for 1989–90, when the King's Cross disaster is still fresh in our minds, but as an ongoing responsibility? The alternative, which would be consistent with the philosophy being pursued by the Government prior to the Fennell report, would be to load the Government's responsibility for investment on to the fare-paying passengers and to push LRT further down the road to putting profitability before passenger interests. That is what LRT users fear and what Opposition Members believe will happen.

The Government's about-turn on LRT funding tonight demonstrates that the House can have no confidence in the Government's ability to give proper support to the public transport system of this capital city.

10.42 pm
Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that the terms of the order will cause considerable dismay and unhappiness in the London borough of Bromley. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will concede that over the years Bromley council has established a much-envied reputation for prudent spending and good housekeeping. However, by increasing the LRT levy by 50 per cent. this order will undoubtedly have a most damaging impact on our local rate calculations. It represents an additional burden for Bromley;ratepayers of some £1.5 million and there is a similar pattern throughout the Greater London area. Unexpected external levies of this kind cause despair to those who carry the burden of looking after borough finances.

In the case of Bromley, despite my hon. Friend the Minister's remarks about the rate support grant this year, this levy comes on top of a grant settlement some £4 million lower than we had been led to expect and on top of an increase of 14.4 per cent. in the Metropolitan police precept. For Bromley's civic leaders, this levy is the proverbial last straw.

No doubt many of my hon. Friends will recall that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has said that he expects rate rises of not more than 2 per cent. this year, yet the LRT levy alone represents a 2 per cent. rate rise in Bromley. One is bound to question whether my right hon. Friend was aware of the impact of the LRT levy when he made his rate statement. If he was, he should in fairness have excluded the London boroughs from his general assessment, in view of the additional levy that they will have to bear. That is why there is a real sense of grievance and injustice in my borough and, I am sure, in many other London boroughs.

To draw another comparison, it is extraordinary that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Water and Planning has been arguing that the cost of environmental improvements in the water supply should be paid for gradually over a period of years, whereas the improvements required by LRT have to be met out of one year's revenue. Even acknowledging the point about profitability, there seems to be an element of inconsistency.

My hon. Friend the Minister and I have been corresponding on this subject. In his reply of 6 February he rightly said that the increased investment in safety measures and modernisation for the Underground network must be paid for—no one would quarrel with that—but in defending the levy and its function of maintaining a balance between central and local government funding my hon. Friend wrote: I see no reason to alter the balance now and certainly no case for shifting the burden more onto taxpayers, the majority of whom only use LRT services very rarely. He made that point again today. I suggest that that argument can be extended to support Bromley's case. As my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse') said in his telling intervention, areas such as Bromley and Twickenham do not enjoy any Underground service so our ratepayers have to carry part of the burden of providing the service mainly for other people. That is part of the reason for the resentment of the levy in boroughs such as Bromley.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take note of our concern and pay heed to the strong feelings in Bromley council and many other councils in outer London, and I hope that he will be able to offer us some hope and reassurance.

10.47 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I want to take up a point made by the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) with whom I have some sympathy—although, remembering the famous court judgment of some years ago, what has happened may have turned out to be poetic justice for Bromley's councillors, if not its ratepayers.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a 50 per cent. rate increase is steep. Will the Minister now intervene to tell us why he pretended that the rise was not one of 50 per cent? That claim took my breath away, and if he does not believe that he made it, he should read Hansard tomorrow.

On top of the 50 per cent. increase, fares have gone up by twice the rate of inflation. At the start of this year they rose by 12 per cent., which compares with a cost-of-living increase of about 6 per cent. The Government, who are proud to say that they are against inflation, have deliberately inflated fares—and rate support—in London. I do not see how the Prime Minister, herself a London Member, can square that with her policies—

Mr. Corbyn

She does not use the Tube.

Mr. Spearing

I was thinking of asking the right hon. Lady a question about the fact that passengers travelling from Finchley Central have to pay 50p to go between one stop and the next. Perhaps people in Finchley can afford that. If my constituents go from West Ham or Plaistow station to St. Andrew's hospital at Bromley-by-Bow, they have to pay 50p. If one is taking two or three people who do not have a travelcard, it costs £2 before you know where you are. That is wrong. There should be a fair scale of relatively reasonable fares for short stops for shopping or visiting hospitals in the suburban areas. To ask ordinary people to pay 50p for one stop is ridiculous.

It might be said that people could take the bus, but while there sometimes are bus services in the right direction, more often there are not. Trains can carry large numbers of people economically. Furthermore, the Minister said that the Government would get rid of the monolithic system of bus services in London so that it could serve the customer better. I see him nodding his head. Is he not aware that the London General Omnibus Co., which was the major supplier from about 1910 onwards, was a large single organisation? From 1933 onwards, with the agreement of both parties—the system was brought in by Herbert Morrison and continued by the Tories who succeeded him—we had a London Passenger Transport Board which was just that. I am not going to say that it was perfect, but the system was much better than what we shall get, which is 11 different firms, competing with each other, and facing competition from others. In the rest of the country in the 1930s, buses and men ran themselves into the dust, and competition and safety did not go together. I fear that we shall get that in London.

A few months ago, there was a strike at West Ham garage. The men had already been asked to drive longer distances over longer hours for the same pay. They would not put up with it. That strike is a harbinger. LRT—or is it London Buses Ltd.: I am not sure who is in charge—has announced that it will get rid of all London wage bargaining. That is for only one purpose—to reduce the wages bit by hit because of competition. This is what Tory Members voted for when they voted for the London Regional Transport Act 1984. They also voted for these higher rates.

There will probably be more minibuses. They are all right, but they will be in competition. Some of the routes are changing over immediately, and I do not think that they will be more efficient. What was one of the finest transport systems in the world will be broken up. I see the hon. Member for Eltham ( Mr. Bottomley) is shaking his head.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Spearing

I withdraw that. The Minister was not disagreeing with what I said. He will remember that a lot of his constituency transport is based on the old London county council tramways, which formed one of the best municipal services in the world.

We are all agreed on the need for safety, but the Government pay only lip service to it. At the time of the Clapham crash, I asked the Secretary of State for Transport what was happening in the signal department of the London underground system. I understand that LRT has gone in for the bidding process. I wrote to the Minister for Public Transport, and he replied to me on 25 January, saying: I understand, nevertheless, that the control of signalling equipment procedures remains as strict as ever under the new arrangements and that safety standards are in no way compromised. However, the financial climate under which the signalling staff of LRT work has changed. The term "financial climate" was very much to the fore in the Fennell report.

A change in the long-standing arrangements for organising the signalling of the London Underground can only disrupt what has been there before and bring safety into question. I do not understand how introducing these methods of internal bidding can maintain the same systems of safety. The Minister may have his reasons for maintaining his position, but the climate is now different.

I have argued with LRT about the single manning of the old Tube trains. I am leaving out the Victoria line because that was purpose built. Is it right that there should be only one person aboard a Tube train? I think not. Time and again, I have disagreed with London Underground when it has said that the leap-frogging safety procedure on one-person-operated lines is safe. I hope that no accident arises from that continuing risk.

Let us consider station staffing, particularly in the light of the Fennell recommendations. Fennell said that there must be emergency procedures at every station. I should have thought that, if there is an emergency at a station, the first thing that one would ask is how many people should be there. According to the Fennell report, it was stated that, for safety reasons, there must be a minimum number of personnel at each station. That is where we start. I fear that there is a tendency for London Underground to allocate a certain number of people and then say, "Given that number of people, let us work out the emergency procedure." If that is so, it is wrong. It is, to quote that famous phrase, the wrong financial climate in which to encourage safety.

I hope that the House will be able to debate the Fennell inquiry, as there was a major lacuna in the report. As I recall it, Mr. Fennell did not take any evidence about the influence of the financial regime on safety and the operation of the railway. He specifically said that he would not take evidence on it. Yet, in his conclusion, he said that he did not receive any evidence that suggested that the financial climate had a bearing upon the disaster.

That is my understanding of the matter. No doubt, the Minister, Mr. Fennell, or London Transport will correct me if I am wrong. I have every reason to believe that there was no opportunity for that evidence to be laid. Matters surrounding the Fennell inquiry must be cleared up once and for all, and, I hope, before the debate takes place.Perhaps that is one of the reasons for the reluctance to mount it.

All hon. Members, particularly hon. Ladies, know why Londoners are dissatisfied with the reduction in station staffing. Yet, even after the Fennell inquiry and the King's Cross disaster, London Underground is now introducing a scheme called "action stations", which is a reduction of staff in some outer stations. Those stations may not be underground, but we must remember what happened on the Bedford line not long ago. The reduction of staffing beyond a point of wisdom encourages people to be up to no good. A note that I have received today from London Underground contains weasel words. It states: The 'Action Stations' scheme for outer London stations is presently the subject of an adjudication by the Wages Board. In other words, there has been an industrial dispute. It goes on: Both the trade unions and ourselves await their judgment. We will then consider how to proceed. This scheme involves fewer, more flexible, more responsive and better motivated staff. No compulsory redundancies are envisaged. The aim is to provide a better service to the passenger and a more satisfactory job for staff. That covers up a reduction in staff, which is extraordinary in the current climate. How are we to get better-motivated staff by cutting numbers? I suppose that it is just about possible, but certainly not in the current climate.

I move on from "action stations", because it deals with outer-London areas, to what I understand was a possible scheme for central London. London Underground went on: There is no intention to replicate Action Stations scheme in Central London. No 'plan' to change station staffing arrangements there exists. However we constantly review our procedures against the yardstick of what passengers expect in terms of service. Station staffing arrangements are no different in this respect. I can tell London Underground and the Minister what the public expect. They expect more staff in central London stations. They expect them to be back to the sort of standards that we had not long ago before the cuts. That is what the public expect and what I believe the House requires.

10.59 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Millions of Londoners are waking up to the reality that more and more roads in the urban environment are not the answer to the problems of traffic in London. The problems of traffic are caused by an unprecedented demand in rail,Tube and road use, coupled with a further massive demand in the use of aeroplanes. Those are the symptoms of a healthy and expanding economy. In the Greater London area there is almost full employment and many individuals have higher disposable incomes. The massive switch to public transport is due not only to the healthy economy, which has been the result of the Government's efforts, but to the saner policies of London Regional Transport in recent years as well as the Government's policies towards LRT.

I fully accept that there are people around the Greater London area who feel that the local subsidy is unfair. I accept, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said, that the Bromley ratepayers have felt over the years that they have been beleaguered by London Transport, and those feelings culminated in the famous court case. That court case was probably the tip of the iceberg. It showed dissatisfaction and bewilderment with the policies of London Transport as run by the GLC. In recent years it has ceased to be a political football, which I believe is one of the reasons why more and more people are using the service. I can understand, however, why the people of Bromley feel hard done by. They are ill served by the great network which is LRT, and it appears that they will be ill served by any increases in service. Nevertheless, a growing service will eventually reach all parts of London, and I hope that it will be a substitute for increased car use.

In talking about subsidy, we must remember that, of revenue expenditure on LRT, 75 per cent. of bus expenditure and 85 per cent. of Tube expenditure this year comes from fares, so those who use the system are actually paying a high proportion of the costs involved. The balance comes from the levy. The majority of the remaining expenditure for capital investment comes for capital investment, from the levy and the balance from the Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne asked what is so urgent about the capital expenditure planned for the next two or three years. Frankly, I know of nothing that is more urgent than to maintain the safety of 2.5 million people travelling every day. I do not believe that we can compromise with safety. The Fennell report ordered urgent action, which meant urgent costs. I believe that the incurring of those costs is for the benefit of all and that we must pay them. In addition, we must pay to improve the service to maintain the extra numbers of people who choose to use London Regional Transport every day. Underground services have been increased in a way that we never thought possible. The purchase of 16 additional trains at a cost of £45 million is bound to ease the overcrowding that we now have on five lines.

Why is there overcrowding? Is it because we have cut services, as the GLC in its dying throes said that we would? On the contrary, we have increased services. It is because of increased demand—and increased demand must be met by increased expenditure.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanley

I have only a short time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be making his own excellent speech in due course.

Overall, a 5 per cent. increase in the level of service on the Underground is planned for next year. That will be achieved partly by increasing the number of scheduled trains and partly by reducing train cancellations. Better management will have—and is already having—a positive effect on the success of LRT today. Bus services must become more reliable, trains less crowded and average waiting times shorter. Unless that happens, demand for car use will increase and that is the way to disaster. People already complain about the unacceptable congestion on inner London roads. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is present. He knows that I believe that there must be an acceptable level of misery on London roads because improved traffic flow would merely suck in more and more cars, causing greater traffic density and further blockages. We need to increase bus and Underground use.

It has been said that fares have increased by double the rate of inflation, but even after allowing for inflation LRT fares have fallen well behind London wages since 1980 and in that respect are no higher than they were then. One must not match fare inflation with general inflation, pick out a particular statistic and then claim that we are hard done by.

London Buses is the Cinderella of the LRT network. During the GLC abolition campaign posters went up saying, "Come on in No. 9—your time is up." The No. 9 bus serves the northern part of my constituency. I am proud to say that it is still running despite the problems with Hammersmith bridge and I use it regularly, although, of course, it could be better.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

The hon. Gentleman uses Hammersmith bridge?

Mr. Hanley

Yes, I use it regularly, so perhaps I am partly to blame for the damage.

The London bus network has been maintained and during the past few years there have been no major route cuts. Frequent midibus services operate around London, which are extremely popular, and in those areas where they operate more people choose to travel by bus than ever before. Bus miles have increased and are planned to increase by a further 4 per cent. in the coming year.

One poster used during the GLC abolition campaign said that pensioners would lose their concessionary fares, but that has not happened. I remember that in Committee the majority of Conservative Members present voted in favour of concessionary fares and subsequently the Government agreed not merely to accept concessionary fares for a short time but to entrench them in statute to protect London pensioners in a way never contemplated by the Labour party.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanley


I remember the misery of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when he realised that London pensioners would be grateful to the Government and that the Government were about to reverse the lie that had been put about by the GLC scaremongers.

London Buses had established CareLink between main line stations and has converted all its AirBuses so that they are equipped for wheelchairs. Dial-a-Ride facilities have increased dramatically and a further £1 million invested last year means that £7 million has been invested in the service. Since 1985–86, investment in that service has increased by more than 40 per cent.

Why are buses still considered unattractive alternatives to the Underground? It is because of illegal parking. My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport must grasp this nettle quickly. We need to ensure that local authorities are better funded so that they can deal with illegal parking. We must have a better parking warden system and everything must be done on the major routes to end such parking, which is the major cause of delays to London's buses.

There are now 4,100 one-person operated buses and 600 Routemasters. The OPOs have not been universally popular and I am glad that LRT has been sensitive enough to retain Routemasters where they have a clear advantage over the OPOs. But the OPOs are more reliable than Routemasters because only one member of staff is needed before they are taken out, they are warmer because the doors close and they are safer because people do not drop off the back of the bus as they used to do in the old days. London Buses thus maintains a healthy network and a healthy list of equipment.

In regard to investment in LRT this year, £236 million will go to London Underground, £70 million to Docklands, but only £25 million to buses. Yet 80 per cent. of cars crossing London bridges contain only one person. That must be mad. Clearly people travelling in cars should be encouraged to travel in vehicles carrying many more people. If they need to be encouraged by ticketing, road pricing or fining, so be it, but the best way to encourage them would be to have even more attractive, flexible and fluid routing on London Buses.

Finally, we have deregulation throughout the country, but we do not have deregulation in London. A date in the 1990s has been set. I believe that London Buses deserves and needs a fixed date to be able to work towards deregulation in London.

Demand on London Regional Transport fell by 25 per cent. in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the GLC, and, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has said, it has risen by 50 per cent. in the past few years. The hon. Lady, while agreeing with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Minister said, again used transport and the deaths of individuals as a political football. She misquoted the Fennell report which states: There is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to LRT was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards". In other words, it is not because the Government have not invested— it was partly because of failures at every level in London Regional Transport, which have now been put right, but the main reason for the fire was a genuine accident, although that may be unpalatable to those looking for a political scapegoat.

I am proud of the Government's investment in London Regional Transport. I believe that ratepayers in London want an ever better system and that the proportion of ratepayers' and central taxpayers' money spent on transport is basically fair. Nobody wants to pay more rates, but the system benefits mainly Londoners and Londoners should be proud to pay for it.

11.12 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I do not complain that the subsidy this year has increased by 50 per cent. That is because the subsidy has been considerably less during the past two years. But the subsidy of nearly £290 million this year is less than the subsidy in 1986 which was £295 million or in 1985 when it was £325 million.

I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and I disagree with the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). It is the King's Cross fire which has produced the extra subsidy from the taxpayer and the ratepayer. If the Minister does not accept that, I quote back at him part of his own letter to London Members of Parliament earlier this month, much of which he repeated tonight: There are 2 main reasons why the grant to LRT and the associated levy on London's ratepayers needs to be increased in 1989–90: The first is increased spending on safety measures following the King's Cross fire". He goes on to explain that: The Government has made full provisions for the £266 million sought by LRT for this purpose over the next 3 years and of this some £80 million will fall in 1989–90. Only now have the Government recognised that safety and security have to be paid for and it is disgraceful that that was not recognised in the past. Therefore, I do not believe that the public in London will complain that more taxpayers' and ratepayers' money has to be contributed towards it. The Department of Transport's statistics confirm that revenue support in 1987–88 was only a third of the support of 10 years ago. Central Government have been regularly reducing revenue and ratepayer support rather than increasing it. That this year a small alteration in this pattern has taken place is almost entirely because of the King's Cross fire.

It appears from LRT's business plan, however, that the support is still not enough. First, it was calculated that inflation would be 4 per cent., and it seems that it is now more likely to be 7 or 8 per cent. Secondly, LRT states that the costs of safety improvements may be subject to underestimates. Thirdly, it says that the costs of the outcome of the central London rail study have not been taken adequately into account. Those are sums for the future and sums for now. The probability is that even LRT's needs, as it has assessed them, will not be met. As a result, we shall not be coping with passenger demand adequately. We appreciate that that demand is increasing, and that is good because passenger transport should have substantially greater use, but the possibility is admitted in the business plan that no visible improvements will be made to customer service, even with the increased sum that is to be granted.

The reality is that passengers are being made to pay. They have just been asked to pay, on average, 12.5 per cent. more in fares. Many passengers are paying a substantially greater increase than that. Those who use monthly travel cards for the central and inner zones have to pay nearly 19 per cent. more per year than hitherto. The Government are still saying, however, even with the increase in grant this year, that it is principally passengers who should meet the cost of improvements. Even capital investment will have to be paid for by the passengers. Central London rail study implications and east London rail study implications are likely to be funded substantially by passengers.

I think that the Minister will confirm that passengers contribute more than two thirds of the cost of travelling or LRT. Between them, the taxpayer and the ratepayer contribute less than a third, which is in turn divided two thirds to the ratepayer and one third to the taxpayer. I have only one appropriate comparison but there are others. In Paris, passengers pay 34 per cent. of the cost of travel. That is more as it should be. If the capital has a good transport system, the nation is well served. The capital has to work well, and to work well it must travel well. That is an argument that the Government have always used.

It is also inappropriate for the Government to claim that there is adequate investment when in all their plans and projections they look increasingly to the private sector for that investment. The same policy does not apply to the road system. Announcements have been made of improvements to the A13 and the north circular, for example. The roads are enjoying substantial public sector investment but the railways, the Underground system and the buses are not. I endorse the argument of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes that the buses especially are still the Cinderella service. I ask the Minister seriously to take into account that buses are not receiving anything like the investment that is needed in London.

Some areas of London are not served by the Underground system. Areas such as my constituency are not generally served by it. Southwark is an area that relies almost entirely on the buses, but it is the Underground system, because of the King's Cross disaster, which is receiving the greatest share of increased subsidy and investment, not the buses.

There is also not sufficient strategic planning for LRT. If the Government are seeking increasingly to cut public subsidy and to look to the private sector, new facilities will be built and provided that the private sector wishes to fund. That is not the way strategically to plan London's transport. I do not begrudge some of the potential initiatives. I am not against the proposal of a line from Waterloo to the Isle of Dogs to be funded privately, or partly privately, but that is not strategic planning. That is responding to a specific interest by a specific private sector developer.

Against this background, congestion will worsen. Congestion is self-generating. The Tube platforms become full and the train doors cannot shut as too many passengers try to enter the carriages. The delays are longer and there are therefore fewer trains, so more passengers wait on the platforms. Above ground, buses go slowly, then cars pile up and then the roads become full, so people decide that they will not go by bus because the buses go slower and the average speed is reduced. The whole process is cyclical. We must cut through the traditional reduction of the role of public transport.

The situation will also become far worse with the implications of the Channel tunnel. As passengers disgorge at Waterloo, King's Cross, Stratford or wherever, there will be 5 million, 10 million or 15 million extra passengers and we clearly must have the capacity to deal with them. The increase in the use of public transport in London by people outside London, as well as the development in the East End, means that we need substantial public investment now if our capital city is not to grind to a halt in all respects in the 1990s.

Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes

I shall finish in a moment, so I shall not give way because I want to allow other hon. Members to speak.

The Government have no strategic planning. The central London rail study reports one week and the east London rail study is commissioned the next. In places such as my constituency, we still have poor public transport. It is no good having as the answers a little bit of investment one year, a central London rail study to deal with central London congestion and an east London rail study to deal with prospective growth in the East End in the next. Many parts of London are not affected by those area planning projects. South-east London, which has been a transport white hole for a long time, hardly benefits at all according to any of those plans. We really need to have a better, coherent, integrated transport policy for London. That will require—in the interests of the country as a whole, as well as the capital city—substantially increased public investment. It is no good saying that we have 50 per cent. more investment this year and to be apologetic about it. The Government should not be apologetic. We need the investment. The taxpayer and the ratepayer should be asked to pay and will willingly pay if they see the benefits of that investment in the capital's daily transport service.

11.22 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

The levy and the debate are about the level, the standard and the safety of the service. Many hon. Members have referred to safety, as is right. "Salus populi suprema lex"—people's safety is the highest law—is the old legal maxim. That is right in the context of the Fennell inquiry and report into the King's Cross fire. No hon. Member would begrudge the money being spent to put right some of the dangers that have been identified. I welcome the steps that have been taken to put that right. My questions relate to how that is to be paid for, who pays and who benefits.

A great irony arises from the fact that within the past year we have had two transport disasters within the London boroughs area. One was at King's Cross and the other at Clapham junction, in my own constituency. The irony relates to the inquiry that is looking into the Clapham junction disaster and will come up with recommendations. Each of them will, I hope, be agreed by the House and put into practice by the powers that be. But they will not be a burden on the ratepayers of London, but spread across the taxpayers of the country. To a considerable extent, the King's Cross recommendations are to be a burden exclusively on the London ratepayers. Sixty-six per cent. of the costs of safety measures will be a burden on London ratepayers, yet the people using London transport come from a wider area, as several of my hon. Friends have pointed out.

If one stands any morning at Waterloo station, one sees people coming in from Reading and Reigate, Epsom and Esher and pouring down the holes in the ground. Of course, if they go on the Drain to the City, they are on a British Rail line which is paid for by the taxpayer, but on any other line they pay the same fare as the Londoners travelling, but benefit from the extra subsidy that Londoners are paying through their rates towards the cost of the Underground and bus services. That is what some of us feel is a little hard to swallow. But even if I swallow hard and say that that is acceptable on the ground of safety, when I look at the figures—£190 million increasing to £287 million and a rate levy of 6p in the pound to 9p in the pound—I realise that that is a 50 per cent. increase in the cost to my constituents. Fifty per cent. and there has been no warning, no consultation, no explanation and no justification. If local authorities wanted to increase rates by 50 per cent. the whole House would rightly go mad.

Many of my hon. Friends, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), have suggested that there are good reasons for major investment and I do not disagree with that, but if we are to have a 50 per cent. increase in the levy, I want to see something approaching a 50 per cent. increase in the service. However, all that London Regional Transport boasts in its plans is a 5 per cent. improvement in its Underground service and a 5 per cent. increase in the bus mileages to be covered in the coming year. And, lo and behold, it also boasts that no major routes will be withdrawn. Although I am sure that we are all pleased about that, that is not quite the 50 per cent. increase for which we had hoped.

Of course, major routes are to cross London and go out to docklands and so on, but 90 per cent. of the area that I represent does not have an Underground service. As anyone who travels through it knows, it is the place where one starts to slow down when driving into work. It is the area in which we want to get people off the roads and on to public transport, but we cannot put them on the Underground because there is no Underground link connecting with Clapham junction. That is something on which I should like London Regional Transport to come forward with plans. I do not ask for it to happen tomorrow or under this year's plan but only that it should come about in at least a few years' time so that hon. Members can look ahead and say to our constituents and commuters, "Yes, there is a plan and in the course of time there will be schemes to link the Chelsea-Hackney line to Clapham junction so that we can then link it further south."

I do have one little Underground line in my constituency. It is the black line, in fact the southern end of the Northern line. All the reports that I have been reading have stated that that is the one bit of the Northern line that cannot be improved. However, it could be improved if we could take some of the passengers off it. If one took the link down to Clapham junction and extended it to the southern end of the Northern line, one could improve even that line and make life more bearable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes painted a happy picture of his borough with buses all over the place, although I gather that people occasionally fall off the back of them. My hon. Friend is proud of the No. 9 bus. All I can say to him is that if he comes across a No. 9, perhaps he will send it back to Battersea because we do not see them very often there.

I want a better bus service. I want one that is flexible enough to cope with the occasional disaster like the closing of Battersea bridge so that buses can be fed and people can walk across the bridge to board a bus at the other side. That does not happen at the moment. The buses are sent all round the park and people have to walk half a mile to get a bus to get to their jobs. I want a bus service that is flexible enough to allow Hoppa buses to cope with the developing areas of my part of London and buses that can go down those streets where the Routemasters and the one-person-operated buses cannot get because of low bridges.

Tonight I am issuing a challenge not to the Government, but to London Regional Transport. I challenge its officials to get from behind their desks in Broadway and look at their map. If they do so, they will see a wiggly blue line at the bottom. It is not the English channel; it is the wiggly blue line beyond which London Regional Transport rarely travels. It is the boundary of the river Thames. All that I ask is that the second, the lower, the southern half of London is given a chance in the investment made by London Regional Transport, especially in Underground services, but also in bus services. If London Regional Transport puts us on its drawing board, we shall put it back on our giving list next Christmas for an increase in the levy.

11.28 pm
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leytonstone)

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) is right that the increase in the levy is not justified. I oppose the 50 per cent. increase imposed upon London ratepayers to pay for an unaccountable Tory-run quango. I say "Tory-run" because the new chairman is a failed Tory candidate, carrying out the same failed Tory transport policies as his predecessors. The Government are presiding over an increasingly run-down, deteriorating and dangerous service for which London commuters and travellers are being asked to pay more and more.

I draw attention, on behalf of the bus users in my constituency, to the new yellow bus fare zone that has been imposed across Leyton. I wrote to LRT about it and was told in a letter that the extra zone is not restricted to passengers from your constituency …. I recognise the fact that they have enjoyed relatively low-priced travel for some years in the past. LRT could have fooled my constituents that it was low-priced travel, although they enjoyed that brief period when the GLC cut fares substantially, before the Government blocked that move and increased the fares again. The letter went on: I recognise that that will be of little consolation now to those who have had to pay what is effectively a 'catching-up' rise this time. I am afraid that these changes are necessary if we are to meet our financial targets. Those targets were, of course, imposed by the Government. We are talking in this case not just about a 12.5 per cent. fare rise imposed by LRT on top of the annual inflation increase, but an additional rise for local residents who cross that yellow zone line. It means that residents of Leyton pay four times for worse services as staff are sacked and roads become increasingly congested. Under the levy order they are having to pay a rates increase of 50 per cent., a 12.5 per cent. fare rise and an additional amount for the yellow zone. I protest most vigorously about that.

Mr. Corbyn

My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and I, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Newham, North (Mr. Banks), served in 1984 on the Standing Committee which considered what became the London Regional Transport (Amendment) Act 1985. We fought that measure line by line and everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton predicted has come to pass. He predicted that the Government's proposals would result in a worse service and higher fares, leading to the sort of problems and chaos that now exist. He was far-sighted in 1984 and he is right again tonight.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend can intervene whenever he likes if he compliments me in that way. I wish that my predictions had not become reality. London's travellers would benefit if we did not have a regime which imposed those sort of burdens on them.

Like many Londoners, I regard the new automatic barriers at Underground stations as unsafe, especially after the King's Cross fire, and inconvenient, particularly for women with prams and people carrying luggage. The Minister referred to consultants having been appointed to look into the matter. Who are they? Nobody has heard of Mott McDonald. Perhaps they have been used by LRT to do a little whitewash job in the past, and now they are being used for a big whitewash job. Even while that exercise is in progress, 118 barriers are being installed and other stations are having exits blocked. It looks very much like a PR fraud and I warn the Minister that we will be watching the situation closely.

Mr. Tony Banks

I commend my hon. Friend for campaigning so vigorously against the ludicrous barriers that are now being installed in the London Underground system. They seem to have been designed by a man carrying nothing but a newspaper under his arm. People carrying packages in both hands find it virtually impossible to pass through. They were designed by a cretin and LRT must think we are cretins if it believes we are going to carry on using them.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and represents the view of London travellers.

The Minister should have the decency to require of London Regional Transport publication of the fire and health and safety reports for every station where automatic barriers are installed. We have a right to know whether those stations are safe, and what the fire and safety experts have to say about them. That information would contribute to the public debate, and might allow changes to be made. It is immoral of the Government not to publish those reports.

Last week, I asked for a speedy answer to my question about the cost of installing automatic barriers. I hoped to receive that answer by today, but I suspect that I shall receive it tomorrow—long after this debate has ended. I suspect that the cost of installing that wasteful system runs into millions of pounds—and London ratepayers will be charged 50 per cent. of that expense. What a scandal that is.

A "World in Action" programme a couple of weeks ago described going into the Underground as being like a descent into hell. But apart from the discomfort, there is danger there—with many serious accidents and even death a likely consequence of the overcrowding which has been caused by underinvestment and the lack of co-ordinated planning over the years.

Another element in overcrowding is the Government's employment policy. They have sold out to the land and property speculators in the suburbs, so that factories that used to provide local employment have closed down, with the people who used to work there being forced to travel to London to work. As Government policy contributes to overcrowding, the Government ought to pay to overcome it, and not compel London ratepayers to do so.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to give the Government credit for re-equipping the Central line, which serves his constituency, at a cost of £700 million.

Mr. Cohen

I give the Government credit for nothing in respect of their transport policy. It has not been particularly good for the Central line. The hon. Gentleman should have used his minute to talk about the escalators at Walthamstow Central station, which have not operated for months on end.

Mr. Chris Smith

Will my hon. Friend reflect not only on the Government's delay in making much-needed improvements to the Central line, but the total absence of any progress in improving the Northern line—which is the real Cinderella of the system?

Mr. Cohen

There are problems facing all lines, as they suffer from chronic underinvestment over the years, for which the Government must take responsibility.

The order concerns ratepayers, and the Conservatives should be known as the party of high rates. That is what they are. They have cut rate support grant by about £24 billion, forcing rates up in borough after borough. On 15 February, the House discussed business rates, and the newspapers carried headlines such as Ridley defends steep rate rises". Some businesses face a 193 per cent. increase in their rates over five years.

Mr. Corbyn

In addition to the Conservatives being known as the party of high rates, they should he known as the Government of central diktat. London local authorities have lost the opportunity to make any serious decisions on planning issues. Once a year, we are allowed to spend one and a half hours in the middle of the night debating a vital issue such as transport. That makes a nonsense of democracy and of participatory planning.

Mr. Cohen

I agree completely that we do not get a proper opportunity to make London Regional Transport accountable.

The Tories are the party of high rates. Putting 50 per cent. on to the burden for ratepayers is conclusive proof of that. Even the leader of Bromley council, Mr. Barkway, said that the move was absolutely outrageous. There is fury in all camps. How can the Government make a statement that the rates can only go up by 2 per cent.? The Department of the Environment is clearly not aware of what the Department of Transport is planning. How can the Government allow this to go on without consultation? It shows the fraud that the Government have perpetrated on ratepayers over the years.

Conservative party members in my borough went out with hard-pressed ratepayers to demonstrate when the rates were forced up a couple of years ago because of the huge penalties imposed by the Government. They sponsored demonstrations in many cases. Yet here we have Conservative Members supporting rate rises. The Conservatives are the party of high rates. They should not be allowed to get away with such hypocrisy.

Mr. Tony Banks

Can my hon. Friend imagine what the position would have been if the Greater London council had gone for a 50 per cent. increase? The debate would not have been reduced to one and a half hours at this time of night; it would have been blasted across all the newspapers —not just the London newspapers but the national newspapers. This is what has replaced the GLC and democratic debate. It is a load of rubbish and a farce. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out in his speech, which I hope will last at least another three minutes.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend has made a good point.

The director of finance in Waltham Forest has said that the rise will mean that ratepayers will have to contribute an additional £980,000. One reason, suggested perhaps cynically, is that 1989 is the last opportunity for London ratepayers to be asked to contribute towards LRT's costs, as no levy is to be made in the future. The Government are soaking London ratepayers when they can get away with it. Next year they will soak poll tax payers, albeit in a different way. They will take away the grant from local authorities and the poll tax will be higher and higher.

The Government have pretended that it is a question of safety, but safety has been a low priority for the Government year after year. That was clear in the wake of the King's Cross fire. The Government have not been putting in a proper contribution. They are still not contributing enough to make up for the years of cuts and neglect of London's transport system.

The Tories should be known as an anti-ratepayer and an anti-public transport party in London. That is why I oppose the levy. It is an imposition that should not be put on London ratepayers on top of the recent fare increases. We need more than one short debate to make that known to the people. Transport will become a vital issue in local elections and in the next general election. It will be a contributory factor in sweeping the Government out of office. It will be one of the few things that moves the Government. If the transport system— It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 10.

Alexander, Richard Carttiss, Michael
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Cash, William
Amess, David Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Amos, Alan Chapman, Sydney
Arbuthnot, James Chope, Christopher
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ashby, David Day, Stephen
Atkinson, David Durant, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Eggar, Tim
Batiste, Spencer Fallon, Michael
Beggs, Roy Favell, Tony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fishburn, John Dudley
Boswell, Tim Forman, Nigel
Bottomley, Peter Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Forth, Eric
Bowls, John Fox, Sir Marcus
Brazier, Julian Franks, Cecil
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Freeman, Roger
Burns, Simon Gale, Roger
Burt, Alistair Garel-Jones, Tristan
Butler, Chris Gill, Christopher
Butterfill, John Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carrington, Matthew Gregory, Conal
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Porter, David (Waveney)
Hanley, Jeremy Portillo, Michael
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Powell, William (Corby)
Harris, David Raffan, Keith
Hayward, Robert Redwood, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Sackville, Hon Tom
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Shaw, David (Dover)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hunter, Andrew Shersby, Michael
Irvine, Michael Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jack, Michael Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Summerson, Hugo
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Knapman, Roger Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Knowles, Michael Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lawrence, Ivan Thurnham, Peter
Lightbown, David Twinn, Dr Ian
Lord, Michael Waddington, Rt Hon David
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Walden, George
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Waller, Gary
Maclean, David Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
McLoughlin, Patrick Wheeler, John
Mans, Keith Widdecombe, Ann
Maples, John Wilkinson, John
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Winterton, Mrs Ann
Mills, Iain Winterton, Nicholas
Neubert, Michael Wood, Timothy
Nicholls, Patrick Yeo, Tim
Norris, Steve
Paice, James Tellers for the Ayes:
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Mr. Alan Howarth.
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Parry, Robert
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Pike, Peter L.
Clelland, David Spearing, Nigel
Gordon, Mildred
Loyden, Eddie Tellers for the Noes:
McAllion, John Mr. Harry Cohen and
Mahon, Mrs Alice Mr. Jeremy Corbyn

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft London Regional Transport (Levy) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 19th December, he approved.