HC Deb 26 June 1990 vol 175 cc193-240

4.1 pm

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's failure to produce a co-ordinated transport policy which would allow British Rail to provide a more reliable, safer, more efficient and better quality railway service to maximise its economic and environmental contribution to Britain; deplores the lost opportunity to provide a high speed, high quality, rail link to the Channel Tunnel, an essential requirement for the industrial areas of Britain, which requires a modern freight rail route of European standards; and calls on the Government to appoint a Commission to assess the various proposed alternatives for the link, its funding, and its extension beyond London.

Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Prescott

After 10 years of the present Government's policies of privatisation, cuts in public subsidies, continual reorganisation and an anti-rail attitude, British Rail has produced the most expensive, least reliable, less safe, most congested, most uncomfortable and most under-invested rail system of any of the developed European economies.

It fails to make its potential contribution to reducing congestion and to relieving environmental damage, and to provide the necessary high-speed channel tunnel link, thereby reducing the possibility of carrying more freight from rail to road, and from road to rail. All that is primarily to be blamed on the impossible financial framework that the Government have imposed on British Rail and their ideological obsession with private ownership and private financing, so preventing the long-term development of British Rail's full potential, particularly with the arrival of the single European market in 1992.

This month marks 12 months in office for the Secretary of State. The present Government have appointed seven Secretaries of State for Transport, who have each shuffled through the door and changed bits of policy. I recall from previous occasions associated with our mutual former responsibilities for energy matters that the right hon. Gentleman served as Secretary of State for Energy for two years. Anyone who listened to last night's debate on electricity privatisation will appreciate how much of a mess he made of the policy of that Department. The question whether nuclear energy could possibly be part of privatisation was an issue between us then, when I told the right hon. Gentleman that it would be impossible to privatise the industry with a nuclear element. His response was to refer to me as an economic illiterate. If the right hon. Gentleman will read last night's debate, he may learn who was right and who was wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman has managed to produce in 12 months at the Department of Transport the mess that it took him two years to create at the Department of Energy. He has done serious damage to transport and continues to do so, and that is part of our charge against him. While being concerned constantly with presentation, he has discovered that the reality is dealing with difficult policy decisions. One thing that is regrettable about the Secretary of State is the way that he runs away from public debate on television or radio and in the other media. The televising of Parliament has been enhanced by the fact that the public can arrive at their own judgment when they watch televised debates. The Secretary of State constantly lays down conditions: he wants to go on first; he wants the last word; he is not going to this studio; he wants to sit in a radio cab somewhere else.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

He is frit.

Mr. Prescott

Yes, as my hon. Friend says, on this occasion he is frit. He will never debate the issues.

This is the third transport debate that we have had in the House, and they have all been called by the Opposition, and not once by the Government wanting to debate their own policy.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has given way. At least when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appears on television, he makes sense. What did the hon. Gentleman mean when he appeared on BBC's "On the Record" and used the following phrase:

if you provide on a bus a kind of camera that can catch people using modern technology and say, 'These lanes must remain free, 'cause we want to provide the bus … ' which already is 1 per cent. of the vehicle movements, carries 30 per cent. of the people … whereas with cars, they're 30 per cent. of the vehicle movements—only carrying … far less people in movement"—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order, Even I do not understand it. Will the hon. Member please come to the point?

Mr. Leigh

I shall ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question—can he explain himself?

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman is an idiot. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker


Mr Leigh


Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us get back to railways.

Mr. Leigh

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been called an idiot, and I was merely reading the hon. Gentleman's words from a transcript.

Mr. Speaker

I am a little perplexed, as I thought that this was a railway debate, and I do not think that that has. anything to do with it.

Mr. Prescott

It is quite clear that one does not want to give way to fools when we are dealing with serious transport issues. There seems to be a great deal of laughter from the Conservative Benches. For people who have to wait for a bus, a train or any other form of public transport in this country, it is not a laughing matter. I was offered the opportunity to debate with the Secretary of State on "On the Record". However, as I understand it, his policy is quite clear—he does not appear with the Opposition and there is no evidence that he has, in whatever office he has held.

Issues of public importance are best dealt with when people have the opportunity to debate them on the public media rather than in the House. The only chance that we get to debate transport here is when the Opposition table a motion, and if the hon. Member was provided with an opportunity to speak on such an occasion that might be it.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Clearly, my hon. Friend has touched Conservative Members on a raw nerve. I try to do justice to the Minister, but the reality is that he is not a free agent. In the press this morning, it was revealed that massive cuts will now invade the south-east to try to balance the books so that we do not need cash subventions. We are the only nation which does not have large cash subventions for the railways. Conservative Members know that, and they know that they are wrong; hence their ill temper this afternoon.

Mr. Prescott

Yes, we are seeing more and more signs of a departure from policy and a move towards abuse—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, abuse. There is no doubt about it. Abuse seems to take the place of debate with the modern Tory party. Conservative Members do not want to debate the issue; they merely want to abuse. They do not want to listen to the argument or to participate.

Transport is a critical matter. People want to change things and there is a fundamental difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the issue. Unfortunately—this may seem peculiar coming from me—transport has become an ideological issue in this country. In Europe, public money and planning are not ideological issues, to be disputed between the left and the right, that happens only in Britain. Unfortunately, our transport system is suffering because of it. That is the reality of the transport debate, and I hope that we can deal with some of those arguments here today.

The question whether we can deal seriously with transport was brought home to me again this weekend because of Conservative abuse. I was addressing a transport conference in Nottingham about the electrification of the east midlands line, and the desirability of connections with the channel tunnel. When I got out of the conference, I was approached by the press, asking me about a speech made by the Secretary of State for Transport. I was asked nothing about transport issues—purely about the terms of abuse. The Secretary of State was appearing before the Tory ladies' conference. He is a real tiger when he appears before the women of his party. It is at Tory conferences that he gets a standing ovation and is prepared to debate with the people of Britain. On such occasions, he is a real personality.

It seems that I have been promoted from the rottweiler of the Conservative party conference to the political vulture of the Tory women's conference. If I am supposed to be a political vulture because I express my views on transport, I feel entitled to say that it is the Prime Minister herself who is to be found running from hospital bed to hospital bed followed by the cameras. I am not saying that that was necessarily wrong—merely that it did not lead the Secretary of State to make similar charges about the right hon. Lady going from accident to accident.

I greatly regret the Secretary of State's remark that I exploit personal grief. I refer the House to a letter to The Guardian from Dr. Jim Swire, who, as the Secretary of State knows, speaks on these matters for the United Kingdom victims' families. He made himself absolutely clear: Mr. Parkinson should know that our feelings are not the issue; the prevention of a recurrence is. He agreed an inquiry was necessary and then failed to launch one. Mr. Prescott has now also promised an immediate, comprehensive and independent inquiry into air security. We have no reason to doubt his word. That is what the relatives want and that is what we are prepared to promise them. Dr. Swuire continued: We might as well allow the vulture Prescott to tear at the corpse of the Government's anti-terrorist position. I am prepared to allow the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie tragedy to answer for me the Secretary of State's cheap abuse.

Perhaps more relevant was the Secretary of State's remark about me, reported in The Sunday Times: He can't make the facts fit his case. He was referring to safety in the railway industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] It is our debate and it has to do with safety; indeed, the amendment tabled by the Secretary of State mentions the safety of the railway system. I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that one cannot accept what the Secretary of State says in his parliamentary replies.

In his remarks about railway safety at the conference, the right hon. Gentleman referred to making the facts fit the case. He expressed his concern that I was not telling the truth about safety problems in the railway industry when I said that the number of deaths had increased. I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the subject.

The railway inspectors' report showed that, in the four years to 1988, deaths on the railway system had increased from 355 to 693. That was a considerable increase and some terrible tragedies were taken into account in those figures. The trend had been noticed prior to that, however. That information prompted me to look at the facts concerning deaths and serious accidents in the railway industry and, again, I tabled a number of questions. I was anxious also to look at accidents involving railway staff, and was concerned to discover that, although deaths had fallen by a third, serious injuries had increased by nearly 30 per cent.

I tabled further questions, primarily because I was concerned about cuts in the safety inspectorate. The Secretary of State knows—he said it in his reply—that the safety inspectorate was at full strength until 1984 but since then the position has deteriorated. There were 17 in 1987 but only 16 in 1988, which meant that the inspectorate was under-represented by one third. In 1989, at the behest of the Fennell inquiry, the inspectorate's establishment was increased to 32 but, to date, only 24 inspectors are employed. The inspectorate is undermanned by 25 per cent. I was worried by the criticism of the railways in the Fennell report, which said that the inspectors were confused, did not know what their obligations were and had ignored their responsibilities. My inquiries into the railway inspectorate led me to the view that we should remove the inspectorate from the Department of Transport because it has failed to face up to its responsibilities. I believe that the Secretary of State is slowly having to accept that.

I was concerned about the figures in the parliamentary replies. Indeed, I was surprised by the figures provided by the Secretary of State, which were different from those that I had seen in the inspectors' report. I asked for the figures for 1979 to the present day. Ever helpful, the Secretary of State gave me the figures from 1974 to 1979 because he wanted to make a political point about Labour's record. I do not know whether Secretaries of State normally give more information than hon. Members ask for, but I could see that the Secretary of State was making a political point. He was also making a point of presentation, about which the Secretary of State claims to be an expert. He wanted to present the argument in a better way.

To that end, the Secretary of State gave us the figures for 1974 to 1979. According to him, deaths and serious injuries had increased by 13.1 per cent. under Labour while during a similar period under a Conservative Government, the figure had been reduced by 6.5 per cent. The Sunday Times reported the Secretary of State telling the Conservative women's conference that there had been a 40 per cent. drop in accidents. I am sure all hon. Members would welcome that if it was the truth.

I took the Secretary of State's figures to the Library because I found the figures for 1974 to 1979 most surprising. I did not ask for the figures that far back, because the classification base changed substantially in 1979. Indeed, the Library confirmed that. It is not possible to separate serious injuries from minor injuries for the period 1974 to 1979. The Secretary of State, or whoever prepared the figures for him, had calculated serious injuries at 11 per cent. of the total. Why is it an 12 per cent. guesstimate under Labour, while for every year after that period the figure is 7 per cent.? Something smells. Something is wrong. The figures do not fit the facts, as the Library confirmed this afternoon.

The Government do not fiddle the statistics in only one or two areas of policy. I have outlined my accusation about the Secretary of State's figures, which I asked the Library to check. Perhaps the Secretary of State cannot be aware of all the figures. I am prepared to accept that, although he has often said in the House how he is intelligent and has an ability with figures and that the Opposition do not understand them. I will give the Secretary of State some figures to consider now.

With regard to the figures for deaths and accidents, the Secretary of State's first fiddle was that the guesstimate of 12 per cent. should have been 7 per cent. on average. That would have reduced the Secretary of State's figure of 13.1 per cent. to 8.4 per cent. The second fiddle was the underestimate of the deaths for 1979 to 1983. I have checked the inspector's report and the figure is not 153, it is 157. The former figure is favourable for the Secretary of State's argument.

The third mistake with the figures for 1974 to 1979 arose because the population figures were taken into account. I am not sure what those population figures are because they are not spelt out. However, I suspect that the Secretary of State has not considered the qualifications in the statistical changes. Those should have been considered if the Secretary of State wants to get into the political argy-bargy about what happened under Labour as opposed to what happened under the Tories. I am concerned about the trend in deaths and accidents, and not about political points.

The Secretary of State should have considered the way he handled the statistics. If he had done that, his mistakes might have been evident to his accountant's mind. In his written answer to my question, the Secretary of State gave the percentage expressed as a proportion of 1,000 deaths. Is he really trying to tell the House that for the period about which I am interested, the number of deaths was 5.9 per 1,000? That is wrong. The real figure is 0.59. He overestimated the figure by 10 times the amount. The Library confirmed that point.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

In his question, the hon. Gentleman asked: how many railway staff have been killed or suffered major injuries for the period 1979 to 1983 and 1984 to 1988; and what they represent as a proportion per 1,000 railway staff employed."— [Official Report, 24 May 1990; Vol. 173, c. 294] My reply was prepared for me by my Department in good faith. I trust my officials, and I stand by them. I will have the figures looked at. However, my point is that the proportion of deaths and major injuries per 1,000 was 5.9, not the proportion of deaths alone.

Mr. Prescott

But it is expressed as a proportion per 1,000. I shall not prolong the argument—[Interruption.] I can do so if Conservative Members wish. The information is in the railway figures. It is 10 times the number of people who died or were seriously injured. It is a simple statistic. Conservative Members should look at the facts. The Secretary of State says that a mistake may have been made—clearly, it has been. British Rail has written to him and protested that the numbers appear to be 10 times greater. The Secretary of State may not know about that. He should ask Sir Humphrey—he might be able to tell him.

The Secretary of State concentrated on a party political presentation rather than on the real issue—deaths and accidents. He is often loose with the interpretation of data in the House. When he wanted to say that the channel tunnel was not important, the proportion of freight went from 20 per cent. to 7 per cent. Mr. Morton, the channel tunnel chairman, was furiously trying to raise money in Japan. The Secretary of State told him that it was an insignificant amount of freight. There are many such examples, and they are not helpful to politics. If the Secretary of State is to change those things—[Interruption.] I have made the relevant point, and I hope that the Secretary of State will look at it.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is unsavoury to make party political points out of accident figures. On accident ratios, does he agree that all the evidence demonstrates that it is far more dangerous to travel by road than by rail? Is not that a good reason for investing in rail? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the latest figures that are emerging from West Germany show that it is 24 times more dangerous to travel by road? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in this country and in the European Community, we need the proper collation of statistics on an equal basis so that we can make a better quality of judgment?

Mr. Prescott

I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. That is why I want the railway inspectorate out of the Department and a common approach to independent statistics, so that we can make proper judgments. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was concerned about the wholesale indictment of the railway inspectorate in the Fennell report and the reduction in the number of safety inspectors, which has long been a Government policy. That is a signal that, for the Government, safety is not as important as it was. That is the issue. It is not right for us to cut safety. If we do that, we shall pay the consequences in deaths and injuries. It is a simple point, but it is critical.

Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Does my hon. Friend agree that an important statistic in assessing the safety of British Rail is not just accidents and injuries to staff and the public but the number of near misses, in particular the overshooting of red lights? Will my hon. Friend confirm that those matters have increased in recent years and are very worrying?

Mr. Prescott

Yes, I confirm that. We are all worried. I am sure that the Secretary of State is extremely concerned. The Department is conducting some studies of those matters. However, they are also connected with fatigue. Another lesson from the inquiry is that, if workers are worked for far too many hours because other employees have been sacked—as British Rail has done—and we try to compensate with a smaller work force, there is less vigilance and safety and the possibility that such incidents will increase. Fatigue is a major concern for bus drivers, train drivers, pilots and so on, and we must be concerned about it.

It was unfortunate that, at that same conference, the Prime Minister announced her great transport initiative—toll roads exclusively for lorries. Would not it have been great if she said, "It would be nice to do something about rail"? That was her first statement on future transport policy—yet again, a road solution—when she had already sabotaged the channel tunnel rail link.

I do not intend to reiterate the arguments that I have put in previous debates about the cut in the quality of services. The consumer body for the railway service made it absolutely clear—I have the relevant quotes, but time has been taken up by interventions [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have tried to allow as many hon. Members as possible to intervene.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott


My response to the quotation about whether the quality of the service has deteriorated, is that it clearly has. The Secretary of State often refers to investment—no doubt we shall hear a lot more about it today—so I must advise the right hon. Gentleman that the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission made it clear, when comparing the investment made by the Labour and Tory Governments at 1985–86 prices, that that investment was far better under Labour than under the Tories.

I shall not ignore the fact that more money is going into the railway system. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the average age of the equipment in 1979 was 19 years. Once that equipment is 27 or 28 years old, it begins to get clapped out and investment decisions cannot be put off. I hope that we can all agree that capital investment decisions have been affected under both Labour and Tory Governments because the Treasury takes a short-term attitude to capital investment in British Rail.

The tragedy for the Government is that the profile age of the capital equipment was about 28 years. That means that it had to invest, because the equipment could not keep going any longer. Therefore, I readily accept what the Secretary of State says about the current investment rate being the highest for 25 years. Indeed, the last time it was really high was in 1955, when the same thing happened and the equipment had to be replaced because it was totally clapped out.

In 1981, the British Railways Board issued a warning to the Government:

A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must be prepared to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways. The Government's answer was to bring in Professor Walters, slash the public service obligation from the 1983 levels at a loss of about £2 billion to BR and, through its financial framework, to make it much more difficult for British Rail to make adequate provision of services and proper investment. The Government ignored that need, saying, "We will cut your public services. We will give you higher rates of return. We will make that much more difficult to achieve. We hope that, when we have done that you will sack more workers, sell more land, privatise the sector, and make up the difference." Basically, that is what British Rail did, and that is how it ran its finances.

When the Secretary of State tells us about investment, I hope that he will tell us how much of the investment is provided by the Government. Conservative Members often tell me that the Government have put money into the railway system, so I hope that they will tell us what proportion of investment has come from fares and how much has come from the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will not tell us how much investment the Government have sanctioned, because legislation requires them to give that sanction. I want to know how much the Government have actually given. That is the key question. Because of this system, the passenger is taking the strain, not the British Rail system.

The Government's attitude has created real problems. The financial framework has caused considerable difficulties. Today's edition of The Guardian provides further examples. We see that the public service obligation target for the south-east region might have to be reduced and that it is hoped to eliminate it by 1992. That will mean higher fares. Because the corporate review assumed that growth would be twice the rate that it is, and that property prices would be higher than they are, British Rail is now facing a financial crisis. In the next month, it will make further great losses and will be unable to meet its financial targets. Once again, it will be on the financial rack and no doubt the Government will come along and change the corporate plan. The Secretary of State knows that, when he announced the corporate plan, I said that it could not work, that there would be financial difficulties and that he would have to review it. I shall wait, and then I shall again say, "I told you so."

Although the Secretary of State need not take any notice of me because many other people are saying the same thing, he should consider whether there is any substance in those arguments and if there is, he should heed them. The Secretary of State fails to listen to any arguments—

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prescott

That is why we legitimately make the charge—

Mr. Hayward


Mr. Prescott

No, I shall not give way again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] No, I shall not give way.

That is why we legitimately charge the Government with being Tory luddites towards high-speed rail. I often hear the Secretary of State talking about the train grand vitesse as if we do not understand it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been on a TGV—we have only just managed to force him on to the railways in Britain—but I was on a TGV only last week, yet again, and can advise him that travelling at nearly 200 mph is an impressive experience.

However, I must now shock the right hon. Gentleman by telling him that that train carries post and high-value freight. The Secretary of State should understand that that train does not only carry passengers. It carries freight of considerable value. The Secretary of State often says that we do not understand that. However, when he made his decision about the tunnel, he denied us the opportunity of achieving a high-speed link this century.

If the Secretary of State cannot accept our criticism of this country's infrastructure, I refer him to what was said by John Banham at a conference that I attended. The Times reported: An image of Britain paralysed by traffic jams, scorned by its continental counterparts and isolated economically on the edge of Europe was outlined yesterday by John Banham"— hardly a Labour party member. The Times reported John Banham as saying: The government had to overcome its 'allergy to strategic thinking' and begin work on a national transport strategy, backed by public funds, if Britain was to avoid entering the 21st century with 'the worst transport infrastructure in northern Europe.' John Banham could have taken that from "Moving Britain into the 1990s." We said it 12 months ago. Even the CBI, therefore, makes the same criticisms about Britain's transport system as we make.

When the Secretary of State came to the House to make that statement—

Mr. Hayward

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "This is organised; it is cheating."] This is an Opposition day, but is it acceptable for the Opposition spokesman to speak for 29 minutes without outlining one aspect of their policy?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

The hon. Gentleman ought to know that that is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Prescott

The hon. Gentleman was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department at one time and knows all about discipline in the Department of Transport.

Since we have been so right on many issues, I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to us on this occasion, so that we do not have to keep on saying, "We told you so." The Secretary of State made a statement last week about why he could not accept the joint project. He made it clear, as did the Prime Minister, that £1.9 billion would be needed to subsidise the project. When one inquires into that figure, however, one finds that £400 million is accounted for by terminus costs and improvements at King's Cross to cater for express trains from Kent. That is part of the developments in the south-east and ought not to be charged against Eurorail. A further £310 million is for freight trains. That cannot legitimately be charged to Eurorail. Then, £700 million is for the rolling-stock at Waterloo and for the rolling stock to take passengers and freight to the north.

The Secretary of State told the House that repayment would not be due until 2010. I accept what he said about that. However, he did not tell the House that the total amount would be repaid on that date. The debts will not start to be repaid from 2010. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all the money, plus interest payments, will be paid in 2010 and that the debt repayment will not just begin in 2010? That is important to the financing of such a crucial project.

The £500 million deficit between estimated revenue and the amount that Eurorail has provided is almost wholly due to Government intervention. They demanded a private partner. British Rail could have started this project two years ago. When they insisted on a private partner for British Rail they demanded that the rate of return should be 18 per cent. instead of 8 per cent. That adds to the cost when assessing whether a project will be profitable—a point that was made by Bob Reid. He pointed out that one can borrow at 8 per cent. from the Treasury.

When the Prime Minister was engaged in electioneering during the Kent county council elections, she said, "Don't worry: vote Tory; we'll build tunnels and your environmental concerns will be looked after." Such a costly tunnelling operation for the line would certainly cost more than £500 million.

The Government say that they do not believe in intervention, but by their own actions they scuppered the project. Therefore, Britain has been denied the opportunity to invest both private and public money in a high-speed link. In its editorial, The Daily Telegraph—hardly a militant in the Labour party—said: In isolation, a refusal to commit public funds to support a project that is ultimately expected to benefit private shareholders may sound rational. But this newspaper sees the decision as an example of the muddled thinking which has bedevilled the Government's transport policy in recent years. The article concluded by saying: For the time being, however, it is dismaying to note that Mr. John Prescott, Labour's front bench spokesman, has sounded considerably more convincing than his government counterpart in his analysis of the transport issue this week. I am not inclined to blow my own trumpet, but it was nice to read that in The Daily Telegraph.

The Government's two-year delay has damaged out prestige and made it more difficult for British Rail to move into the 21st century. The way forward must be to review all the options. I asked the previous Secretary of State for Transport the same question 18 months ago and was told that that would cause delay. There is, however, to be a review of all the options, so there will be further delay. It is a pity that the Government did not take any notice of what we said 18 months ago.

On section 42, the Secretary of State said in his last statement to the House, that there would be no subsidies and that I was a firm advocate of that policy. I hope that he will withdraw those comments when he has checked the facts. I asked for evidence of that, but his Department failed to produce it. I can explain why—there was no debate on section 42 as such; it simply passed through both Houses, for a number of reasons. I was not involved and it is incorrect to say that I was. I believe that there should be a review of section 42. I assume that public money is now becoming available because section 56 was mentioned at the conference, when it was suggested that there was a possibility of using it to help in the channel tunnel investment. Are we already witnessing public money coming along, with a review of the alternatives of King's Cross and Stratford?

The Secretary of State made great play of the fact that, according to him, I said on "Newsnight" that Labour's alternative of taking the high-speed link to Scotland would be financed by the infrastructure fund. He knows that to be untrue, because he has the script. If he would like me to quote it, I will. I did not say that it would be financed by the fund. I said that, if we were prepared to support the building of an enlarged fund—which we are—more resources could come with the support of Ireland, Belgium and France because they want a high-speed European link. Britain would be in the same position in relation to the infrastructure fund as the French are to the agriculture fund. We could then begin to do it.

Nobody knows what would be the costs of that link. Even the Government do not know, after years of studying the cost of the connection from Folkestone to London. That is why I advocate a review of the financing—wherever the money may come from—of the environmental damage, and of how we can improve the commercial viability of the link, the recommendation for its structure and ownership and the best connection to London. Those are the criteria that could be involved in a new link, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider.

I am bound to say that it is beginning to appear as though the Government are adopting the Labour party policy that we have advocated for the best part of two years—that is reviewing the options, reconsidering public money, considering the EC structure fund and studying the possibility of introducing high-speed trains, as defined in Europe, with speeds up to 200 mph. The Government's policy on that is a total failure. They fail to understand the potential of a high-speed rail system. It offers the greatest potential to help us to reduce congestion; to reduce the ever-increasing environmental damage to our system; to provide a fast, safe, modern transport system for passengers and freight; and to take British Rail into the 21st century.

That is necessary for Britain, not only so that it does not remain geographically on the periphery of Europe, but so that it gets into the centre by the provision of high-speed links. If the Government fail to provide that, as they appear to be doing, this century, the next Labour Government—who are surely on their way—will ensure that it does happen. Indeed, we are actually planning now to ensure that it is brought about.

4.37 pm
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

congratulates the Government for pursuing a balanced transport policy involving record investment by the public and private sector in every aspect of the nation's transport systems; recognises that this is the only way to give the customer more choice and a better quality of service; applauds the Government for the high priority it gives to all matters of safety; welcomes the contribution that the Channel Tunnel can make to improving links to the Continent of Europe and the £2 billion of investment in road and rail which will ensure the tunnel is fully serviced from the day it opens in 1993; commends the Government's support for the development of high speed trains which will be jointly owned by Britain, France and Belgium and which will operate in all three countries; commends British Rail for developing plans for high speed freight services from all parts of the United Kingdom to the tunnel; and calls on the Opposition to cease its policy of denigrating Britain.'. It would be a relief to everybody if the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) stood by what he said he would do today and stopped constantly appearing on the television the moment after an accident, trying to blame it on something he calls "cuts". I shall tell him what prompted my remarks on Saturday, and it might actually interest him to know that many people recognised what I was referring to. The Labour party's document states: The tragedies of the 1980s—Zeebrugge, Lockerbie, Clapham, Kings Cross—are symbols of a government which has put cost cutting before people's lives. This is a disgraceful allegation. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Lockerbie incident is under investigation by the police. It involved a terrorist bomb, which was probably put on a plane in Frankfurt. The hon. Gentleman has already made up his mind.

Dr. Swire is a reasonable man and he wants a public inquiry. He believes that the hon. Gentleman shares his desire, but the hon. Gentleman has already said in the Labour party document that he does not need an inquiry because it is all down to cost cutting by the Government. That is a disgraceful slur and I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Mr. Prescott

Inquiries have not been conducted into the tragedies of Lockerbie and the Marchioness, but all the other inquiries pointed to the inadequacies of the Department of Transport and the cuts that contributed to the deaths. That is what we said in our report.

Mr. Parkinson

The hon. Gentleman just demonstrated that he tries to turn every tragedy into a party political matter and to cash in on it.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the television programme in which he appeared when I meant to say that it was a radio programme. I recorded a similar programme a couple of nights later. During the programme the hon. Gentleman said in response to a question on the infrastructure fund: Britain's infrastructure is so bad we would get the majority of claims upon it and therefore we'd be a bit like the French with the Common Agricultural Fund. In other words, we would get all the money out of it. Later the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the route up to Scotland would cost between £10 billion and £15 billion depending on what route was decided upon. He said:

I think that the Community will be quite prepared to give it as a European infrastructure of a … quite a proportion of that. I do not know quite what that sentence means as, in common with most of the hon. Gentleman's sentences, it does not finish. As I understand it, he acknowledged that his plans would cost between £10 billion and £15 billion. He said that quite a proportion of that cost could come from the infrastructure fund, but at that time the fund stood at £40 million. Last week, the Council of Ministers unanimously agreed to an ad hoc fund for another three years totalling £80 million. The final amount has yet to be settled, but that sum was the Commissioner's ambition. If the hon. Gentleman expects to receive quite a proportion of a fund totalling £80 million only, it is clear that £10 billion will account for many, many years of the accounts of that fund.

The hon. Gentleman is sponsored by the National Union of Seamen of which he is extremely proud and he speaks out for it. That union was violently in favour of section 42. At that time, did he disagree with his union? In the recent debate the hon. Gentleman said that he had changed his mind. Does that mean that he was never in favour of section 42 or that he previously supported it, but no longer?

Mr. Prescott

Circumstances change.

Mr. Parkinson

So the hon. Gentleman did support section 42, but he has changed his mind. I thank him for acknowledging that.

Mr. Gregory

Can my right hon. Friend clarify whether we have had a clear statement from the Opposition on transport? We have not had such clarification from the Opposition. Are we to assume that the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) are speaking as the paid hacks of the National Union of Seamen and the National Union of Railwaymen? There appears to be no clear distinction between their remarks on behalf of those unions and the Opposition's transport policy.

Mr. Parkinson

That is a matter for the hon. Gentlemen.

This is the fourth debate that we have had on the railways in the past four months—three of them have been initiated by the Opposition, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East reminded us. Railways are an important part of our transport infrastructure, but, unlike the hon. Gentleman, we accept the need to keep their contribution in perspective. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the railways carry 7 per cent. of our freight and 8 per cent. of our passengers. We want to see those percentages grow and we are giving substantial backing to that end. Even if those percentages doubled—that would require huge investment and cause huge problems—it would still mean that 86 per cent. of our freight and 84 per cent. of our passengers would use other means of transport.

We recognise the contribution that the railways can make, but, unlike the Opposition, we are not obsessed about that. We are not unbalanced in our attitude to the railways. We see the railways as an important contribution towards solving our transport problems, but we do not consider them as the answer to those problems—that is the impression that the hon. Gentleman gives the whole time.

Mr. Snape

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the percentages quoted are typically misleading and are, unfortunately, the sort of statistics that have emanated from the Department of Transport for too many years? The figures on freight include local deliveries, milk floats and all sorts of deliveries that are carried on the road, with which the railways would not and could not compete. We are talking about the contribution that rail freight could make at the heaviest end of the freight market over long distances. Given the right hon. Gentleman's palpable ignorance, he should be told that as his Department has, in the past 10 years, twice increased lorry weights and once increased lorry speeds, it is not surprising that the rail freight business is now facing a financial crisis.

Mr. Parkinson

Even if we doubled the percentages for rail freight and rail passengers, 86 per cent. of our freight and 84 per cent. of our passengers would still travel by other means of transport. Those figures are accepted and are comparable with the figures for other countries.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)


Mr. Parkinson

I shall not give way as I want to press on.

My second criticism of the Opposition is their reluctance—

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Parkinson

No, not at the moment.

My second criticism of the Opposition is their reluctance to say anything good about this country and anything bad about others. The implication is that Britain in general and British rail in particular are totally out of step with other countries.

Recently I was looking at Railway Gazette International and I read about a railway system that is looking to reorganise itself. The article said: The chosen management matrix mirrors British Rail's sector structure of five businesses that has stood the acid test of survival in a fully deregulated transport environment … The changes spring from a management audit by four consultants completed last September and concluded that insufficient attention was being paid to economic realities, that trains were run with little concern for profit". That railway organisation, which is looking to model itself on British Rail, is SNCF. It has decided that it must move towards an organisation similar to British Rail and to start to put economies first.

I also read about another railway company much admired by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). It has appointed a commission to look at the intractable problem of the long-term financial stability of its railways. We are told: The model chosen has leanings towards the business sector approach pioneered by British Rail". The article said of that much admired railway system: Can it be that the chairman's team is at last getting a hold on the dinosaur? That is what is happening in the German railway system. The French and German railway systems do not regard British Rail as a joke, but are modelling their management structures on it.

The European Commission does not think that the Government's transport policy is wrong. We are in the process of creating a common market in transport and in road, rail, air, and sea transport Britain is taking the lead in promoting liberalisation. A vital part of the Commission's transport policy is the removal of subsidies that distort competition while recognising their acceptability for social reasons in special circumstances. The Commission is not planning to see Europe with a huge range of heavily subsidised railways. So the Commission is planning to follow precisely the policy of the Government—[interruption.]—of eliminating subsidy and concentrating it on areas where there are special reasons for it.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to recall the words in the Government amendment, which commends British Rail for developing plans for high speed freight services from all parts of the United Kingdom". That aspect applies in particular to my part of the north-west because, if the channel tunnel is not used and developed properly, it will be a disadvantage rather than an advantage to us. It will place us further from the centre of Europe if its lines are not developed through to the north-west. The freight depot in my constituency concerns me most, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware. We do not want to remain on the periphery, but we fear that we may become even more peripheral as the tunnel proceeds. We want to be integrated into the railway network of the whole of Europe.

Mr. Parkinson

I was about to deal with the channel tunnel and discuss the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Parkinson

I must get on.

Mr. Adley

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Parkinson

I hope that my hon. Friend will permit me to continue. He has many opportunities to voice his opinions about the railways, and I am sure he will have an opportunity again.

I wish, in dealing with the channel tunnel, to start by referring to the reaction to my announcement, and in particular, to the Opposition's reaction, which showed the lack of balance that is rapidly becoming the hallmark of Labour Members. I announced that the Eurorail joint venture would not go ahead, and I gave the reasons for that decision. I shall be happy to send the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East a copy of the letter that I sent to British Rail and to Eurorail explaining my reasons.

I pointed out that the £500 million direct grant might have been acceptable, but that, coupled with a demand for an additional £350 million to £400 million of investment by British Rail to support the commuter link, it represented too great an expense to be covered by the benefits to the commuter link.

I also pointed out that it was an investment of £1 billion—the hon. Gentleman was right to quote that figure—in all the equipment for phases one and two of the channel tunnel. The consortium wanted to take over all those assets and all the income from them and to repay in the year 2010. So the assets would have been acquired—taken over—the loan would have been outstanding, ranking behind every creditor in the event of anything going wrong, and no repayment of any sort would have been made until 2010. That is why I mentioned £1.9 billion, being the investment, the grant and the soft loan.

I went on to say that in addition, in practice the Government were substantially underwriting any cost overruns. When I questioned that, I was told, "If anything goes wrong, you can put in a receiver, buy the assets cheaply and finish it as a public sector project." That would have been unacceptable, so we came to the conclusion that that link was not a sensible proposition.

What I announced, and what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East ignored, was that the line to the north downs would be confirmed, that Kings Cross was agreed as the second terminal and that the new chairman would appoint consultants to examine all the proposals and decide the best way to get from the north downs to Kings Cross. In other words, the idea that the project was scrubbed was totally and utterly wrong.

There are certain basic points that the hon. Gentleman and others should remember. The first is that freight was never part of the Eurorail proposal. The proposal was for a 72-mile passenger link from Folkestone to Kings Cross. The freight arrangements that Eurorail envisages are those that we have put in hand. The equipment and carriages have been ordered and British Rail is now searching for the depots, and I appreciate that the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) wants one in his constituency.

The notion—also referred to in the Opposition motion—that the regions are in any way disadvantaged by my decision is, from the freight and business point of view, wrong. Our freight will run with the most modern fleet of freight trains at comparable speeds to those in Europe. They will go straight through the tunnel and all the regions will be served.

In considering passengers, again there have been many misunderstandings. British Rail will be putting on 3 million seats from areas outside the south-east and the trains will go through by direct line—direct route without stop—to the tunnel.

Mr. Prescott

What trains?

Mr. Parkinson

The hon. Gentleman suggests that we do not have any trains. We authorised the first 30 trains. We authorised the freight trains—

Mr. Prescott


Mr. Parkinson

We authorised them some time ago, before Christmas. We have done more. The first tranche of trains to service the tunnel has been ordered. The freight trains were ordered subsequently and the North Pole and Waterloo were recently authorised. We give the approvals as applications come forward.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)


Mr. Parkinson

The first tranche of high-speed trains has been ordered, and when British Rail comes forward with its proposals, they will receive the normal consideration. We are ordering trains as they are recommended to us and, as I say, we have ordered the first 30 high-speed passenger trains. They have already been ordered.

Mr. Prescott

What about the rest?

Mr. Parkinson

The others will follow—[Interruption.] As applications come forward, they are approved and no twisting is involved. It is clear that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, having had little experience of running anything, does not understand how these things work. We do not order everything simultaneously. The trains will be ordered and they will run through.

Mr. Snape


Mr. Parkinson

No, I shall not give way.

We are talking of a common pool of trains, which will be ordered by ourselves, the French and the Belgians and which will be jointly owned. The trains that come through the tunnel will be the trains that leave Paris and go to their British destinations. As we order new trains, which will be there in time for the opening—

Mr. Prescott


Mr. Parkinson

The hon. Gentleman expresses doubt about the freight trains. They have been ordered. He expresses doubt about the fast trains. They, too, have been ordered. He expresses doubt about the freight terminal. It has been authorised. Everything will be ordered and the tunnel will be serviced, and all the regions will be serviced, from the day the tunnel opens.

Mr. Lofthouse


Mr. Parkinson

No, I must get on.

Mr. Prescott


Mr. Parkinson

No, I have already answered the hon. Gentleman's point. He is attempting his usual trick of trying to dance on a pinhead, which nature did not design him to do.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of investment, may I inform him that I am receiving from my constituents—a typical letter yesterday came from a Mrs. Guaschi—complaints that we are favouring road against rail. They say that far too much investment is going into roads from Government funds and too little into rail. Will my right hon. Friend explain how much uneven treatment we are giving to the roads as against the rail system?

Mr. Parkinson

On the national roads programme, in the three years starting this year, we shall be spending £5.7 billion. On the rail and underground systems—public transport—we shall be investing £6.2 billion. On local roads, a further £2 billion will be invested by local authorities. The sums to be spent on the national road network are less than the sums to be spent on rail and the underground.

We have heard today from the Opposition about policy. I kept a note. The first 14 minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East were devoted to personal abuse and the next 14 to a ramble round the thicket, and finally the hon, Gentleman said that he was in favour of some sort of fast link, which would be funded in a way about which he would let us know at some future time. It was an expression of hope rather than a commitment.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands East (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) have said that they are not committed to anything other than uprating child benefit and pensions, and everything else will have to compete for available resources. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East today offered us nothing except an expression of vain hope.

While the Opposition dream their dreams, we are getting on with the business of modernising Britain. We shall invest—

Several Hon. Members


Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has made it abundantly clear that he is not prepared to give way. I hope that hon Members will resume their seats.

Mr. Parkinson

Over the next three years, British Rail will invest in rail some £3.7 billion—the largest sum that it will have invested for some time. Its new chairman told me that the sum is bigger than the combined investment programmes of Shell and Esso UK—two huge companies. The Opposition want to know how that will be financed and I shall tell them if they will listen.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, said that that would be paid for out of fares. That is his favourite assertion and he even got the Leader of the Opposition to make it. The fares paid to British Rail will produce a loss of £600 million over the next three years. Therefore, in addition to funding that loss, it has to find a further £3.7 billion, making a total of £4,300 million. Therefore, I hope that we have made it clear that the investment will not be paid for from fares because the fares do not even cover the expenses.

The sum of £1,600 million will come from grants, directly or indirectly, from the Treasury. The £900 million will come from the realisation by British Rail of property assets that belong to the taxpayer. Some £800 million will come from the reinvestment of the depreciation, which every sensible Government and organisation carries out, and the £1,000 million will come in the form of loans from the national loans fund at favourable rates of interest. That is a balanced way of funding a huge programme. At the end of an investment period in which British Rail will have lost £600 million and invested £3.7 billion, its debt will have increased by less than £1 billion.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Is the Secretary of State saying, in answer to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page), that the national roads programme—which I think he said was £5.7 billion—will come out of taxpayer' money, whereas the money from central Government for this massive rail investment programme is £1.6 billion? That is the answer to the question posed by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West.

Mr. Parkinson

The taxpayer owns British Rail. Therefore, if assets are realised, it is perfectly reasonable for the money to be reinvested. That is how British Rail will fund its programme. It is turning assets into cash and reinvesting it. The notion that the reinvestment is being paid for by the fare payer is raging nonsense. British Rail has a balanced way of funding a huge investment programme.

I shall translate that money into projects. The east coast main line electrification will be finished by the spring of next year. Network SouthEast will have modernised lines on the north Kent and Chiltern lines. All the provincial network—everything but Network SouthEast and InterCity—will have modernised trains within two years. They are being introduced now in a steady programme. Thameslink is to have massive investment to improve north-south connections.

I am sure that hon. Members will have read last week that British Rail announced a £700 million plan for the total upgrading of the west coast main line. A huge investment programme is under way. It is being translated from money into improvements, which will appear progressively for the benefit of British Rail users. The Government support that programme.

Some £6,200 million is being invested in British Rail and London Underground, and over the same period the Underground will invest some £2.5 billion. The London Underground subsidy will double during the next three years, and total more than £1,700 million.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, talks about the £85 million reduction over three years in Network SouthEast and the £55 million reduction in the provincial lines. However, London Underground is colossally subsidised and backed up by huge investment programmes to provide modern rolling stock to reduce costs. Will the hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that, at the same time, we are adding more than £1,000 million to the subsidy paid to London Underground compared with the previous three years? Therefore, far from reductions in subsidies to public transport, there has been a huge change.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

In the Confederation of British Industry brief that we have all received, the CBI says of grants that it wants recognition of the environmental benefits of rail by providing environmental grants where necessary, or by reducing the rate of return required on investment. When it is convenient in his speech, will the Secretary of State reflect on the CBI's suggestion?

Mr. Parkinson

I can give the hon. Gentleman my answer now. In the business plan for the next three years that we agreed with British Rail, we stated that cost benefit could be taken into account in making rail investment and giving grants for transferring freight from road to rail. I have just said that, in the proposal for the channel tunnel rail link, we were prepared to look at the benefits to Network SouthEast commuters and make a contribution towards the cost of that link. However, at the end of the day, the contribution desired and the support needed were too big. But the principle was there, and we were prepared to make grants up to £500 million.

I have talked about the huge investment programme in the railways and the biggest ever investment programme in the underground. We also have huge programmes for the extension of the docklands light railway, the modernisation of the Central line and the replacement of the rolling stock on all the underground lines by 1994, other than the Northern line, which should be completely modernised by 1995. A huge programme, including new lines, is in hand to improve London's underground system.

During the survey period of three years, we shall invest £5,700 million in the roads programme—the biggest investment programme for many years. The reasons for that were set out in the White Paper, "Roads for Prosperity". They are to improve our economic performance, the environment and safety. It is a huge programme, involving the improvement of our trunk roads and motorways.

We have released the ports from the iniquitous dock work labour scheme. The net result is that all our ports are looking forward to investment and expansion.

I opened the third London airport terminal, which has been totally modernised, enlarged and improved. It is effectively a new terminal, adding to the new terminal at Heathrow opened a couple of years ago and to the one at Gatwick opened a little before. Next year a new terminal will open at Stansted and that will make a massive improvement to London's airport capacity. There are effectively three new terminals and the fourth will be opened next March. People criticise Britain and say that the French are thinking of building a new airport, which will make them enormously strong, but as I say, next March will see the opening of a fourth new terminal serving London.

We recognise the importance of rail, but we do not overestimate, as the Opposition do, its significance. We recognise the need to modernise the whole of our transport system. In spite of predictions from the Opposition, the results of negotiations with the Treasury, which were announced last year, have shown that over the previous three years the Department of Transport had an increase from £8 billion to £14 billion in its budget for the infrastructure and improving our transport systems. In addition, the private sector is investing in airports, roads and light railways. More money than ever is being reinvested and invested in Britain's transport systems. We are playing our part in Europe by leading the way for liberalisation in aviation, shipping and road cabotage.

While the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East flies over to France in his helicopter and has his little trip on the TGV, we stay at home and get on with the business of creating a modern system. We cannot take the hon. Gentleman seriously. We reckon that if he were ever in government—which is highly unlikely—he would be lucky to get from the Treasury enough money to pay for the letters of apology that he would have to write to all the people whom he has been misleading. He knows that the Labour party has never been a reliable investor in transport and that it will not be in future.

5.11 pm
Mr. John P. Smith (Vale of Glamorgan)

Having listened to the Secretary of State, I wonder what world he lives in because it is not my world or that of the people whom I represent. The Government's 11-year record on transport is a disaster. We are experiencing a transport crisis. I do not propose to become embroiled in arguments about relative investments, the building of additional motorways and plans that are in the pipeline. I shall speak of the reality that people experience every day. That experience tells them that, no matter how much argument takes place in the House, we are experiencing a transport crisis.

I challenge any hon. Member to deny that the transport system throughout the country is in a mess. It is obvious to anyone who tries to drive in and out of London or to travel anywhere at all on the M25. The motorway was planned and opened by the Government, and on the day it opened it had one of the largest traffic jams in the country. That is the sort of thing that people are exeriencing. Anyone who tries to travel through the Dartford tunnel will see the misery that faces our motorists. Anyone lucky enough to catch an InterCity train anywhere near peak travelling times will have to sit or even stand in crowded and often dirty carriages.

Mr. Hayward

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that from last month the InterCity service that he and I use has had increased capacity as a result of line electrification on the east coast? Units have been transferred from the east coast to the Cardiff service and the capacity on each train has been increased by one seventh.

Mr. Smith

I am not aware of that. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that by the mid-1990s Bristol and Cardiff and south Wales in general will be the only large population centres in Europe without an electrified main line link, and that may soon include eastern Europe? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my worries about the effect of poor rail links on the economies of the areas concerned. That needs to be addressed rather rapidly by the Government.

There may have been some minor improvements, but anyone who manages to catch a train on Network SouthEast will suffer the experiences that I have described. Such experiences are not confined to London and the south-east, as anyone who tries to cross the Severn bridge at peak hours and is subject to the delays caused by repairs and the toll will testify. Hon. Members should try to drive past Manchester on the M6 during the rush hour and see the sort of traffic jams that people there are experiencing.

I vividly recall the unfortunate experience of having to drive from Cardiff to Glasgow during the spring bank holiday last year. Near Telford I hit a traffic jam on the M5 which stretched for almost 80 miles. I am told that it was because it was bank holiday weekend and because there was an important cup match in Liverpool between Arsenal and Liverpool. There is no excuse or explanation for such congestion.

The focus of the crisis in our transport system was highlighted a week or two ago when the Secretary of State for Transport made his disastrous announcement about the cancellation of the high-speed link to the channel tunnel. I do not share his view that in the short and medium term that does not matter much. It matters a great deal. It was a disastrous announcement and will have considerable consequences, not only for our transport system but for Britain's credibility.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a long lead time from a decision to the moment when a road or any transport project is opened? The hon. Gentleman spoke of the M25. Does he accept that part of the reason for the appalling congestion on that road may be decisions made some time ago, some of them by Labour Administrations, especially in relation to the inner London ringway?

Mr. Smith

I agree that there is a long lead time on large projects. I understand that the lead time for the high-speed link to the channel tunnel is about 11 years, which makes one wonder whether anything will ever be done now that everything seems to be back in the melting pot.

The decision about the high-speed rail link will give rise to even more overcrowding on our trains, especially in the south-east, and it will lead to more worry. That point has been missed. If we do not have a direct service, even more heavy freight will be squeezed off our railways and on to the roads resulting in even more congestion. That is worrying.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

Is not the real point that, whether or not we had the high speed rail link that was being proposed, the freight plan would in no way have been altered? A number of us are pleased about the present delay because it gives us one last chance to reassess the freight link to see whether British Rail's original proposal stands up to the potential of a freight-carrying capacity on British Rail which we believe could operate in the 21st century.

Mr. Smith

My understanding is different. I understand that it is a question of capacity. Trade and passengers will be competing for the same line and that will push yet more on to the roads.

Even worse is the effect of the Government's decision on Britain's reputation. On the day that the announcement was made, south Wales business men, with the assistance and co-operation of the Welsh CBI, were hosting a tremendous European business initiative. At the height of those worthwhile endeavours, they heard that the Government had cancelled the high-speed link to the channel tunnel. I understand that that became a bit of a joke with their French and German counterparts. Fast trains from Frankfurt or Paris will have to travel much more slowly on the English side of the channel because of the track here.

For me, the reality is not the gloomy national picture that everybody experiences either directly or through their television screens. The real illustration of the present transport crisis and the Government's disastrous record over the past 11 years is the experience of my constituents and those of many other hon. Members.

I represent an area which is predominantly rural and suburban. My consitutents are experiencing a transport crisis because there has been a breakdown in the area's transport system. Just as there are trouble spots in Britain, so there are in my constituency. My constituents cannot get into their cars and be sure of arriving at work on time. They do not have the choice of catching a train because there is no passenger service. They reach the trouble spots, particularly in the east of my constituency, such as Culverhouse Cross, and find themselves stuck in a traffic jam.

My constituency has developed, and its population has grown, but its transport system has not grown to meet its needs. My constituents, like those of many hon. Members, experience traffic jams in the morning and heavy traffic as they travel through tiny villages, such as Lysworney in the west of my constituency which has a single lane road going through it carrying heavy lorries laden with stone and industrial freight from the nearby industrial estate. In the east of my constituency two popular suburbs, Dinas Powys and Sully, experience heavy traffic and high volumes of traffic. That is now becoming a safety issue for parents of young children and an environmental issue because of the exhaust fumes and other environmentally hazardous products that are emitted. Similar problems are experienced throughout the constituency. Even our national airport is served by a single carriageway road interspersed with roundabouts which one cannot get round. It is a mess.

Yet a solution has existed for a long time—to invest in the existing rail link which runs through the constituency like a spinal cord. That would solve not all but most of our transport problems and would assist in cleaning up the environment. Everyone who lives in the area recognises that the solution to our transport problems is an investment in the railway, opening a passenger rail link to the airport and those rural and suburban towns in the west of the constituency as soon as possible.

That is not the decision that British Rail has reached, or can reach, however, because investment in our railways has been neglected for so long. The absurd accounting system for our railways and the introduction of sectorisation makes it difficult if not impossible to reopen that rail link. It is a tragedy. Every sensible person and organisation living in or operating from my constituency says that there is one, and only one, solution to our transport problem—the reopening of the passenger railway.

That is the case that I put to the House, and I do so because it reflects the problems throughout Britain. If the Government fail to take up the challenge and to invest quickly in our railways, escaping the ideological dogma which prevents them from subsidising a fast, efficient network in any way, we shall be in trouble. I look forward to a change of Government and to a Secretary of State for Transport who takes a far more pragmatic approach to the problems that we face and who is prepared to use public and private investment in the creation of a fast, efficient rail network.

5.27 pm
Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

Rail transport, with its associations with other forms of transport in Britain, is a major issue which deserves serious treatment and which should rise above petty personalities and party quarrels. That is what the country expects and it is certainly what my constituents expect.

I propose to devote my time to the questions which affect my constituents, and I do so quite unashamedly because they tend to be overlooked, certainly in Government quarters and in other quarters of the House. Those who share their anxieties with me will, given the opportunity today, doubtless explain them.

We all welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the amount to be invested in transport generally during the next three years. I do not believe that it is possible to review transport problems in three years. That is a short-term view and it is certainly not one which the Japanese take. One has to take a long-term view when dealing with roads, rail and airports. But we welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement.

I wish that my right hon. Friend had clarified to a greater extent how much is being contributed by the Treasury to particular forms of transport and how much is coming from other sources, in particular for rail. Major and smaller roads are financed by central or local government, and the amount involved is vast, but the sum invested by central Government in rail is much smaller. I wish that that had been made clear from the beginning.

Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will say how he views the overall transport problem, because there can be no doubt that it is enormous. When the M25, for example, was designed, obviously the wrong judgments were made about the required capacity. It is said that, when the demand for a better rail link arises, it will be met, but that is a fatal approach. When the demand arises, it will be too late to meet it, and one will have another M25 situation. One must think ahead, if only because new transport facilities create their own users. That is what happened with the M25.

When the fast link in available, it too will create its own passengers. People will prefer to go to a railway station close to their home or place of work and use a fast link, rather than have to drive to the airport, to arrive there half or three quarters of an hour early, and on returning have to wait for baggage and then face a lengthy journey back to their home or office. A fast rail link would create its own market.

My right hon. Friend emphasised the importance of achieving the correct balance, but there is a danger that one may not pursue the right priorities. Tht happened with motorways. One can think of numerous motorways that have not been fully completed, in the sense that they go so far but then come to an abrupt end. The M27 in the south of England is an example. That happens because we have never said that the priority must be to complete a motorway to its full extent before starting work on another. If we had done so, the motorway network would have been completed more speedily, and much more would have been achieved overall. It is on the question of balance that the rail link will also suffer.

In the case of the M4, only a two-way highway connects it to London, yet high-rise buildings are still being constructed alongside that highway. Does anyone imagine that that highway is adequate today? It is hopeless. Does anyone imagine that we shall go on to eternity with just a two-way highway leading to the west? One finds that new construction is also being permitted alongside inadequate roads leading in and out of other cities. A long-term overall strategy is required, by which we will say, "Such construction cannot be undertaken because we need better road facilities to help our economy in years to come."

The situation in London is catastrophic, yet apparently there is no plan for dealing with it. The Government have no intention of doing so, and there is no overall authority that will even consider tackling that task. It would have been helpful if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had devoted at least part of his speech to acknowledging the problems that affect so many people.

I have often wondered whether it would be possible for some clever group to calculate the loss of time, energy and cost, in terms of strain, to the workers of this country resulting from the failure of our traffic system. If anyone made such a calculation, they would be absolutely shattered, and would see how necessary it is to spend money and to make an effort to achieve solutions.

I unashamedly turn to my constituency problem, which concerns the fast rail link—an issue that has been going on for two and a half years. We thought that British Rail had reached a firm decision on the route to be used. Many right hon. and hon. Members have had a close association with British Rail over that time, and it was sad to find that it was inadequate to deal with a new rail link—but as it would be the first this century, perhaps that is understandable. Nevertheless, British Rail did not appear to have the technical knowledge required, nor had it surveyed the technical progress made by countries on the other side of the channel.

At the enormous public meetings that we held, which could in no way be called political occasions, there were people who had taken the trouble to visit France, Germany and even Japan to study the rail systems there, and whose knowledge left the British Rail representatives standing silent. They had nothing to say. They did not have that information themselves, and could not comment on it. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State quoted the praise given by other countries to British Rail. That made me wonder why it is necessary to privatise it, but that is something that I would not mention except in polite company.

The continuing difficulties with the fast rail link presents personal problems for many people. I quote from the letter that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State sent to me after I had written to him with the views of a particular constituent: I hope that at least I have reassured my constituent that the question of the route into London is an entirely open one, which is being looked at afresh by British Rail, and that at this stage no particular route is earmarked or about to be announced. Far from being reassuring, that is a fatal condemnation.

At this moment, the whole of south and south-east London, as well as an area in the country that extends to the north downs, is under blight. If one of my constituents is promoted to or offered another job in a different part of the country, he cannot accept it because he cannot sell his house. As soon as people know the location of the property, they say, "The fast link may be routed through here, or there, or somewhere else. In any case, we wouldn't touch it." Similarly, people who want to move to the coast or some other part of the country to retire cannot do so because they are unable to sell a house that is under blight.

We thought that the issue was settled when British Rail announced its preferred route, but that scheme was killed and a new one begun with Eurolink. That too appears to have been wiped out, and nobody knows where they are. The only certain thing is that property owners are under blight, and that is ruining their lives. Leaving aside the great strategy involving roads, rail and airports, one must take into account the ordinary citizens in my constituency, and in those of many right hon. and hon. Members, who cannot live their lives.

Mr. Parkinson

I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend was present when I made a statement about 10 days ago, saying that the only proposal that has ever been made is still on the table and that the compensation scheme applying to that particular route is being retained. If anyone is threatened by that proposal, compensation is available. There are no other proposals on the table. The only one that exists is protected by a compensation scheme.

Mr. Heath

With respect, my right hon. Friend completely misunderstands the position. His letter to me says that the new chairman of British Rail will examine all possibilities. Even more frightening is his comment: our main concern is to get the right route and to give the new Chairman of British Rail all the time he needs to decide what proposals in his view"— and so on. My constituents will say that, if the new chairman is given all the time he needs", there is no knowing how long that process will take.

If one was starting from scratch, one might say, "Yes, this is the right approach", but after all that we have gone through in the past two and a half years, and after all the anxiety that my constituents have suffered, that is horrifying.

So much emphasis has been placed on the fact that the link will be largely used for freight. Also, there is the question of helping commuters, which is where the issue begins to get muddled—but perhaps I am a very suspicious type. When there is talk of helping the commuter, I wonder whether that is a way to get money into the system for the link.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

What is wrong with that?

Mr. Heath

There is nothing wrong with it, but it goes against everything that has been said about section 42, which has bedevilled the whole discussion. [Interruption.] With great respect, it has. It was never discussed in Committee and was brought about by the lobbying of the ferry people, who are terrified of what would happen with the chunnel. As a result, section 42 was put in.

Mr. Prescott

Quite right.

Mr. Heath

I shall not blame the Opposition spokesman, because the Government are responsible for legislation. I am not interested in him; I never have been.

I have challenged with my right hon. Friend's predecessor whether section 42 precludes the Government from making allowances for expenditure to protect the environment. I have never had an answer.

I believe that section 42 refers to the channel tunnel and the rail link in it. I do not see how it could possibly have referred to a fast link which was going from the channel tunnel right up to Inverness, Liverpool or to the other great cities of this country, which is what is intended. How could one say, as is said in section 42, that there must never be any money to deal with such a situation, unless it is in an attempt to force a cheap privatisation?—and I say that quite bluntly.

We shall never get proper environmental protection unless railways are provided with the funds, and it has to be public funds—no private investor will provide money to protect the environment.

Mr. Prescott

Joint financing—public and private.

Mr. Heath

One can juggle the figures how one likes, but the money has to come from the Treasury. People say that we must think of the Community and the fact that it does not want to use public funds for environmental protection, because that means taxation. But the Community does want it. Even though some people's homes are affected, the people of Kent want the link. But they want to see proper environmental protection throughout Kent—and I admit that it is my own county. Other hon. Members representing constituencies there will say the same thing equally strongly.

As regards south London, Bexley, Sidcup, Bromley and the rest, under the last proposal the link was to be tunnelled underneath, which would protect that area. Now that has all been wiped out. Why? Because we are bedevilled by section 42. When the Department of Transport examined the total figures, it said that they were too high, and that, because of section 42, the funds could not be granted. Either section 42 has to be interpreted as I and other hon. Members have suggested—the Department of Transport has never denied that it could not be so interpreted—or section 42 has to be removed. It would only require a one-clause Bill to remove section 42, and then the hands of the Government would be freed to follow a proper environmental policy.

In the past week the Prime Minister has placed enormous emphasis upon the environment. Very well, that is quite right, and I fully support it. She has emphasised the problem of the hole in the ozone layer, which I do not understand. When we had the best summer in our history last year, and everybody said that it was due to the hole in the ozone, I said, "Well, then make the hole a bit bigger." [Laughter.] Then we had the worst storms that we have had for a long time, and people said that that was due to the hole in the ozone, so I said, "Okay, then—close it up again."

What immediately concerns my constituents is not the hole in the ozone layer, but what will happen to their houses and their lives with a fast link. It is already happening. In my constituency, night freight traffic has increased enormously. One reason, obviously, is the building of the channel tunnel, because they have to transport all the materials needed and get the empty trains back. However, it is making the lives of my constituents unbeliveable at night.

The Government tell us that there is no means to compensate people if traffic increases. Perhaps there ought to be. When a motorway is built and it passes through a built-up area, people are compensated for having to install double glass and all the rest of it, to save them from noise and vibration. The Government are bound to do that. That is not the case with the railway, and so houses are damaged and people's lives are suffering.

What will it be like when the same lines are fully utilised for all the Channel tunnel freight? It makes one shudder to think what people will have to put up with, unless a proper tunnel is developed under the houses. It has even been suggested that another line should be put alongside the existing line. A large number of houses will have to come down if that happens and the route comes through my constituency, or many of the adjacent constituencies. Then what will happen?

I notice that the Prime Minister mentioned in an interview the other day that there ought to be proper compensation. On such questions, we British are the nastiest, meanest people in the world, in my experience. For example, consider what happened with motorways in my constituency. People are entitled to compensation, and the district valuer is told to put a value on the property and to start at the lowest possible value. If people want more, the valuer is told to make them work up. Therefore, a group of people have to get a solicitor to enable them to continue to argue the case. In my experience, it sometimes took two or three years to get compensation. That is not tenable. Sometimes, even after that length of time, people did not get the value of the land which was taken away.

If that happens, it will make life impossible for my constituents. Compensation should be considered and dealt with properly. I should like us to go as far as the French. When they build railways, they ask the value of the property and give an increased amount in compensation, because the fast link is passing through and causing disturbance. That is what I should like to see in Britain, but I do not think that the Treasury will ever agree to anything like that.

All these practical points face us at the moment. The letter to which I referred was from a man who wants to sell his property. Someone came along and agreed to sign a contract, but asked whether the fast link would affect the area. He said, "I don't know," and they said, "I'm sorry—we can't sign." His one chance has gone. Those are the human questions which affect this country's rail policy, and I hope that the Secretary of State will concentrate on the issue. It is a question of time.

The new chairman of British Rail has the same advisers as the last one. Are they going to advise him any differently? Are they going to suggest any new ideas? Hon. Members have suggested all sorts of new ideas. Will British Rail now come to any different conclusion? I very much doubt it.

I urge the Secretary of State to realise the human aspect of the issue. We are committed to the tunnel. We ought to have a fast link. The tunnel will affect the country as a whole. Therefore, it is a national issue and environmental expenditure is entitled to be covered by the Treasury. Those are the facts, and I hope that the Government will acknowledge them, accept them and act upon them.

5.48 pm
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Once more we have an opportunity to debate railway policy. Unfortunately, the fact that we are debating it means that the Government have failed to learn the lesson of the previous debates.

Of course, we cannot debate railway policy in isolation from the rest of transport policy, as they are interrelated. I welcome the starts mentioned by the Secretary of State today, but they are only starts. It is incredible to think that, four years after the House passed the Channel Tunnel Act, we have not yet been able to agree whether to have a high speed link. More importantly, we do not have any strategic plan or forethought as to how the country can benefit from such major events. That is even more incredible, given that they coincide with the opening up of borders and the breaking down of barriers that 1992 will bring.

It is perhaps part of our heritage that we have never quite managed to take advantage of the innovative capacity and skills that we undoubtedly have. We have set the pace in democracy, in the industrial revolution, in the welfare state and in many other matters—including the building of railways—but each time we have allowed the rest of the world to catch up and pass us by. We are about to allow that to happen again. Our European partners are way ahead of us in devising new transport and implementing systems. It is they who have cornered the markets for 1992. By the time we catch up, there will be little left to capture. In my area, the north-west, transport infrastructure will determine how we can capitalise on the economic opportunities of 1992.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

No doubt the hon. Gentleman has learnt of the plans for InterCity, which will reduce the journey time from Manchester to London to under two hours. That will also improve the service to Preston and the area that I represent. We should encourage British Rail in the efforts that it is making.

Mr. Fearn

I am sure that the hon. Lady is right. As I travel on that Preston train I realise that we may now arrive half an hour sooner—if the trains get there on time, as they seem to nowadays.

Not counting the south-east, the north-west is the largest regional contributor to national GDP, and the largest market area for international freight and passenger services. As the plans stand now, the north-west will not realise its potential. Congestion on the roads and railways in the south-east will make the north-west less attractive to tourists, passengers and freight movement. The North West Channel Tunnel Group has produced a report entitled "Capitalising on the Channel Tunnel", which contains excellent ideas for action, including the development of major regional freight terminals in areas such as Merseyside, and calls for a higher level of direct international freight services from the north-west to mainline European cities. All hon. Members should now have received a copy of the report, and I recommend it to the Minister.

I should stress that I am not merely lobbying for the interests of the north-west, as all our regions can and should benefit from the opening of the channel tunnel. It is important that all regions are given the opportunity that good and fast rail links to Europe will provide. A national strategy for our rail network is necessary but, more than that, we should seize the opportunity to introduce strategic analysis and planning for all our transport needs. The congestion that we now face on all our major forms of transport, on our roads and in our towns, is costing the country billions of pounds. More important, it is having devastating environmental and social consequences. We cannot afford to leave those matters to the vagaries of the market as the Government seem to want to do.

When considering transport we must determine what our social, economic and environmental needs are. We must not allow our railways and other transport systems to drift without any clear objectives except the need to make a profit. We must decide what our priorities are and what part public transport and our railways play in them. Any transport policy should have as its objective the freedom of movement of people, goods and services. Access should not necessarily depend on our social or economic circumstances. The most central theme should be the protection of the environment. Land and land use must play an important part in the process. An integrated transport system is the only way forward.

Public transport must play a major part in the achievement of many of those objectives. The railways are an important part of our public transport. They have the potential to relieve congestion on our roads and in airways and they are more environmentally friendly. We must change our attitudes. We must begin to address the imbalance between the investment in roads and investment in railways. In the seven years between 1983 and 1989, public expenditure on roads totalled £22,965 billion whereas expenditure on our railways totalled only £573 billion. We must recognise the true value of our railways. Not only can they ease congestion; they are less destructive to the environment and they provide the means by which we can develop our regions and take advantage of the opportunities that 1992 has to offer.

Railway travel is also safer. Despite the room for improvement in the safety records of British Rail and London Underground, the fact remains that the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads vastly outweighs the number of deaths and injuries on our trains. During the 10 years between 1978 and 1988, there were 62,740 deaths on our roads and 791 on our railways. I do not have the figures for serious injuries, but it is evident that any move to improve rail transport will be beneficial in terms of human costs. In economic terms, it will save some of the many hidden costs attached to road accidents. It is time to apply true cost benefit analysis to potential rail investment. We should treat our railways as a national public utility, in much the same way as we do our roads.

On 12 June the Prime Minister said in the House: We take the view that international services should not have subsidies … we do not believe that we should subsidise an international rail service."—[Official Report, 12 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 133.] Yet the British taxpayer subsidies international road passenger and freight services every day. I am well aware that if the Prime Minister had her way, our roads would no longer be regarded as a public utility, but merely as a tool of private industry. The idea of the private sector providing roads which would run alongside existing motorways fills me with horror. The possibility of the country being strewn with even greater masses of concrete and the consequential environmental effects do not bear thinking about. I am not against new roads as part of an integrated transport policy, but the fact that, in the Prime Minister's proposals, road provision would be determined by market forces and profitability scares me stiff. I hope that the House will strangle such an idea at birth; I am sure that the electorate will.

Railways need far less space than roads. They have a greater capacity and they are faster. With proper investment and the latest technology, even the existing reserve routes could provide reliable, efficient and safe transport for more freight and passengers.

The Secretary of State has said:

It is a fundamental part of the Government's approach that people's aspirations to have and use a car should not be artificially constrained. That policy, like so many Government policies, should undergo a review. I should like to make two contributions to that review. So that that policy may succeed, the Secretary of State discriminates against those who, through no fault of their own, do not own a car and against those who choose not to have a car—by penalising the railways and other methods of public transport.

Secondly, and perhaps more important, he penalises all of us by allowing the damage to the environment to continue. In 1987 road traffic emitted 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 1.3 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide, 4.47 million tonnes of carbon monoxide and 664,000 tonnes of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. A time may come for some form of artificial constraint on the motorist, and perhaps the policy of subsidising company cars is a good candidate for change. Certainly the congestion in many of our cities calls for some constraint, but penalties should not be introduced without some form of compensation and to provide that, we must make our public transport systems more accessible, more frequent and cheaper.

Heavy duty lorries cause much congestion and pollution and we should be looking at ways to transfer freight from roads to rail. Yet British Rail is to close Speedlink, which is arguably one of the most effective services to compete with the lorry. Claims that the Speedlink represents only 2 or 3 per cent. of BR's freight hide the damage that the closure may cause to certain' areas.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has written to the Secretary of State for Transport expressing his concern about the number of lorries that cause damage, congestion and pollution in towns and villages in Somerset. He gave an example in his letter of the effect of abolishing Speedlink. He referred to the Taunton Cider company and said that the closure of sidings would put 2,000 extra 38 tonne lorries a year on to the streets of Norton Fitzwarren—which is a very small village. My right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil also made suggestions for encouraging the transfer of freight from road to rail including a national drive to promote grounds for private sidings and for the criteria of section 8 grants to be relaxed.

With the postponement of the high-speed rail link, the number of lorries on our roads will increase even more. British Rail claims that its existing plans for freight will not be affected by the failure to build a high-speed link. However, it is widely recognised that British Rail has a capacity for under-estimating. There is no doubt that bottlenecks on the lines in the south-east will push more freight and passengers on to already congested roads.

Some people will just not bother to come to Britain and we shall lose out on commercial and business opportunities. The Confederation of British Industry has already claimed that congestion on our roads costs £15 billion per year. The CBI and others have called for greater investment in our railways to relieve congestion on our roads and in the air. The CBI has provided us with an excellent list of suggestions, but as usual I expect that the Prime Minister will choose to ignore the advice.

It is strange that the Prime Minister should ignore her friends in business because she sometimes puts great faith in them, but so often they fail to come up with the goods as the saga with the technical colleges clearly shows. Indeed, in that regard I could also refer to the Government's failure to attract private money for the new underground link and also to the failure of the high-speed link.

The Prime Minister may be asking her business friends to take too much of a risk for little return or guarantee. Our European partners and competitors do not have that problem. They can attract greater private finance. There are financial and borrowing restrictions on British Rail, but our European competitors have national strategies. They take into account social and economic factors and work on the basis of the national interest. They are not afraid to plan ahead and they work in partnership with the financial institutions and with developers.

In Germany, the railway is a Government entity. It is run by civil servants and it is successful because it is provided with adequate funding. It is seen as a national asset that is essential to Germany's economy. In this country, under this Government, the railways are seen as another drain on the public purse. Our railways should be seen as a major part of an integrated transport system. We must have a national strategy with clear objectives and guidelines. The Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment should work closely together. The commission into the high-speed rail link might be the beginning of that. It may expand into a commission for transport in general.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I appeal for shorter speeches because time is moving on very quickly.

6.2 pm

Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West)

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport of ducking difficult decisions. I believe that a fundamental policy decision faces any Government with regard to British Rail: do we go for low fares, high subsidy and low investment or do we cut the operating subsidy and force modernisation and high investment?

History records that Labour and Conservative Governments react differently in practice when faced with that choice. The previous Labour Government had high subsidy and low investment. One wonders what Labour's policies are today. Today, Labour's policy seems to be low fares and high investment. That is all very well, but it involves a huge subsidy. As the Labour party initiated this debate, we must ask Labour Members what their proposals will cost. Has their policy been approved by the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer? Can we have a little more information about it, because we are being left very much in the dark with a lot of windy promises and blather, but no hard facts on which to form a judgment?

This Government's policies have been clear. We have set quality standards and we have pressed for efficiency by lowering the public service obligation subsidy and encouraging investment. When my hon. Friend the Minister replies, I hope that he can tell us whether the new chairman of British Rail accepts that there is no incompatibility in the current reduced PSO subsidy and BR achieving the quality standards that have been set for it.

There are huge discrepancies between the best and the worst in British Rail. Very often those differences can be identified as areas in which investment has been ploughed and has now come to fruition and areas in which no investment has yet occurred or has yet to come through. There is a limerick which says When she was good, She was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid. That applies to parts of British Rail.

The best of British Rail includes much of InterCity and the fact that British Rail runs more trains at over 100 mph than any other country except France. The best also includes the Wessex electrics from Waterloo to Winchester and to Bournemouth. Those are superb. The Portsmouth-to-Southampton electrification is very welcome, as are the 50 new stations which have been opened in the past decade. The provincial sprinters, the fast diesels, are of a high standard and are very desirable. Today's investment programme is the highest for 20 years and it is set to rise. That is the good part of British Rail, but the worst is very bad.

To illustrate the very bad, I unashamedly refer to my constituency and the Exeter to Waterloo service. That service has 20 locomotives to sustain only 13 in action. The situation is now so bad that a fitter has to travel in the cab of the train as it travels from Exeter to Salisbury so that he can carry out any necessary repairs en route. British Rail has set special low-quality standards for that route, expecting only 80 per cent. of the trains to arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time.

I want to draw back the veil on the history of that route. In 1984, I drew British Rail's attention to the unsatisfactory nature of the route and hoped that something would be done. In 1985, vigorous representations were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). In 1986, British Rail began an assessment, and in 1987, 1988 and 1989 we heard reassuring noises. It was death by a thousand assessments, by a thousand appraisals and a thousand assurances.

This morning, the hon. Members who represent constituencies crossed by that line met British Rail representatives, and we were told that there were no options available. We were told that the locomotives on the line are so clapped out that they cannot continue beyond 1992. Therefore, we have to have the quickest solution, whether or not it is the best. Electrification cannot be considered, and we have to have the new class 171 western turbos, at a cost of £40 million. They will take 20 minutes off the journey time to Exeter, which is welcome and will be a considerable improvement.

However, why was that step not taken ages ago? It has been a matter of order, counter-order and disorder. British Rail should have come up with that solution years ago, when the writing was on the wall and it could see that the existing rolling stock and locomotives could not continue for much longer.

British Rail must put more staff resources into its investment appraisals. The new chairman should cut the cackle and get cracking on the route straight away. My hon. Friend the Minister should undertake today that there will be no delays in his Department in granting the approval for the line, which has suffered so much, once British Rail, after all this time, presents its investment appraisal to the Government for approval.

I make a brief comment about section 8. Hon. Members will recall that that is the arrangement under which capital grants are given to ensure the transfer of freight from road to rail. That is a valuable part of the Government's expenditure programme. The criterion is whether there are regular loads on unsuitable roads. It is a worthwhile investment. Will my hon. Friend the Minister advise us on the effect of retrenchment in Speedlink, to which section 8 grants have been given in the past? Will he set out his policy and his thinking? Is he inclined, or does he intend, to encourage the continuation and expansion of section 8?

I confirm my question: has the new chairman accepted the Secretary of State's quality standards? Has he confirmed that there is no incompatibility with the reduced PSO? Will my right hon. Friend encourage British Rail to put more resources into investment project assessment and stop dawdling? In view of the delay in the Exeter-Waterloo rolling stock solution, will my hon. Friend undertake to reach a decision on the British rail investment case within, say, six weeks of it going to his Department? Finally will he clarify his views on section 8?

I am grateful to have had an opportunity to contribute to the debate.

6.10 pm
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

The hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) was a hard-working and caring Minister. Although I did not agree with many of his decisions, they were always taken from a commitment to wanting transport to be a working and useful system. The hon. Gentleman may have inadvertently highlighted one of the many problems that a Conservative Government present to the electorate when he said that, during the period that he mentioned—during some of which he was a Minister—British Rail had not come up with a solution to a real problem not only for his constituents but for many people in the west country. That is because the balanced transport policy on which the Government congratulate themselves is not in evidence to anyone anywhere in the United Kingdom. It seems to us and, I am afraid, increasingly to many people who endeavour to get around the country that the Government have handed over responsibility for transport planning in the most extraordinary way.

The capital city is quietly grinding to a halt outside this building. Large numbers of multinational firms are increasingly considering other countries as suitable sites for their factories and freight depots, because they cannot get their goods from the point of manufacture to the market. Still the Government appear unable to come forward with an integrated plan that will show some clear evidence that they understand the problems, let alone are prepared to do anything about them.

Whatever it says, the Department spends the majority of its time considering roads. The Minister talks about how pleased he is with the White Paper on experimental roads. The Select Committee on Transport took clear evidence that the solutions that were being suggested—involving a large input of private money into the development of roads—do not commend themselves to the very people whom Ministers are asking to find the cash. The railway desperately needs Government support.

I was impressed with the Secretary of State's Will Hay arithmetic today. It seemed to prove conclusively that of course we are spending more money on railways than we are spending on roads. However, I thought that it was terribly impressive—I did not believe it for a second—and it made the Government's attitude clear. They are prepared to calculate the use of roads—that is, buying the land, creating the road and using and developing the road—in a completely different way from the way in which they calculate the use of railways. The result is an absolute disaster for the passenger. That is becoming increasingly clear.

The railway system is perfectly capable of being developed to carry more freight, but it requires a great deal more investment. It requires a running programme that will make it possible for whoever is in charge to look forward 10 years and say, "These are the challenges that we have to meet. They include providing a high-speed rail link with the tunnel, but they also include the need to provide high-quality freight depots." It is simply not good enough to say that those things are being planned.

The European Community is coming forward with a rail policy. It has a system—it is totally unworkable—that seems to envisage the division of railway systems into two—one on the operating side and one on the provision of facilities side. Nevertheless, it has at least made an attempt to look at transport policies. In this country, even the CBI, when it knows that there is to be a transport debate, is prepared to say, "It is clear that the transport system that is available for us is failing commerce." If that organisation clearly says that and quotes the amount of money that it is costing industry to be unable to move freight and people around the country, surely someone must listen.

The railway system of this country was built up because it was capable of providing a cheap, efficient and useful means of transporting people and goods around the country. It now requires massive investment to bring it up to modern-day requirements. It is getting that investment, but it is getting it too slowly and often, without the support that will make it usable by the passenger and by many outside industries. We can argue about the reasons for that, but unless the United Kingdom does something very energetic in the next 10 years, we shall have almost a caricature of a transport system. It is very nice to have toy railways—when I was a child, it was nice to ride on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch tiny railway on the beach—but they are not the solution to becoming an efficient 21st century country.

Every day of my life, I work with railwaymen who are increasingly worried about safety standards and about staff cuts. I talk to women's groups who, although they need and desperately want to use public transport, are frightened by the lack of staff at night, unmanned stations and trains that are increasingly dangerous for them to use. However, the House of Commons still does not seem to be capable of putting sufficient pressure on the Government to make them understand that transport is as fundamental to people's lives as the air they breathe. To be able to go where one wants, to be able to go to places that one must go to enjoy a decent standard of living, are absolutely basic rights and should be available to every person.

The railway system can deliver not only environmentally friendly but much more efficient ways of moving people and goods. I do not believe that the Government are even interested in talking to people about planning that service at the level that is necessary for the future of all the people in this country.

6.18 pm
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Because many of my collegues wish to speak, I shall be as brief as I can, consistent with making my point to my hon. Friend the Minister. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) made several points, some of which I agreed with. He was right to point out that, since the summer of 1988, people in south London and north-west Kent have been bedevilled by the menace of a high-speed link and trying to deal with British Rail. I borrow the military maxim that was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) about order, counter-order and disorder. That is precisely how we have felt about dealing with British Rail over the past two to two and a half years.

As late as last November, British Rail and its agents told us that they would go away and examine the route, and return as soon as possible with a new route which would run from Halling across the GLC boundary to King's Cross.

On 14 June the Secretary of State made a statement in which he told the House that the Government did not accept Eurorail's financial proposals for funding the high-speed link. However, the Government did not announce their rejection of the concept of the link or the need for it—rather the reverse. They reaffirmed the need for the high-speed link. The options that were mentioned in the early days of June included the possibility that the concept might be shelved, abandoned or proceeded with, with all the imperfections of the route leading into and around Swanley.

The result of the announcement has been that, in the area of north-west Kent from Halling to Bromley, there is no route at all. I agree with my right hon. Friend the former Prime Minister who said that blight is no longer confined to only part of north-west Kent. It affects a huge tranche of homes, land, factories and institutions because of the uncertainty about the location of the route.

When the statement was made, although little was said about the provisions at Waterloo, we were told that the King's Cross solution and the examination of the proposals of Ove Arup and other groups were not pre-empted. However, when we consider the fact that the Waterloo operation is proceeding, with all the manifestations and implications of that, the King's Cross solution obviously appears brighter in British Rail's firmament.

My constituents need some reassurances. First, they need to know that the options will be examined properly, realistically and consistently with an early announcement. Secondly, we need an announcement as early as possible on the provision of the high-speed link, if for no other reason than to end the uncertainty, delay, blight and anxiety that my hon. Friends and I have felt and represented in the House for the past two and a half years.

We are all fully aware of the Government's determination to improve things now. I welcome their determination to ensure that the Department of Transport provides a more detailed, hands-on approach. The pity is that we have had to wait two and a half years for it.

Having said that, I wish my hon. Friend the Minister every success in his endeavours. I hope that he achieves the right route, which, for us, would go to Stratford, but I accept that that might be asking a little too much at this stage. However, I request that a decision be made as early as possible, consistent with determining the facts about the proposed route. The difficulties that we face are huge, and we have faced them for two and a half years. Some people cannot face the prospect of possibly another year of blight. The effect on their homes, jobs, attitudes, personal relationships and the loss of value of their property is too much for them to bear. I know that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind. I conclude my comments in view of the brief time available.

6.23 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

I welcome this timely debate on railway policy, especially in view of our recent unsatisfactory debate on the EC's draft railway policy. I suspect that the Government could have done without a further examination of their attitude to the railways, in view of their record and the lack of a coherent approach to transport policy generally. It is a scandal that those areas which depend on a coherent transport policy, especially the industrial areas, suffer from chronic traffic jams which can only get worse because, as we know, the number of cars on our roads is projected to increase by 2 million per year over the next few years, leading to a grand total of about 27.5 million by the year 2025. We shall therefore be looking for a significant shift in freight traffic from road to rail. I wish that the Government could get rid of their antirail obsession.

Wales stands on the periphery of the European Community, and as we approach the completion of the internal market in 1992, I want Wales to be given every opportunity to compete in that market place. I do not want Wales to be relegated to the sidelines, and to become an economic backwater due to the lack of essential investment in a modern, efficient and safe transport system. I believe that rail has a vital part to play in this programme, not least because of its excellent safety record and long-term efficiency.

In fact, we should no longer be talking in terms of a United Kingdom railway network, but rather of an European network, with the channel tunnel in due course being the gateway to a world of new opportunities. However, that calls for a high-speed rail link in the central zones, providing a dedicated freight line, and investment in the connecting services from Wales, Scotland and the northern regions of England.

Wales is Southern Ireland's gateway to Europe, and Dublin's business community has already decided that the best route for its freight post-1992 will be along the central corridor, using the access from Dublin and Dun Laoghaire through to Holyhead. The Holyhead-Crewe rail link is vital because more and more freight traffic will use the land bridge route when the channel tunnel opens. A rail land bridge via Holyhead would have significantly lower costs than a road land bridge, and would become competitively stronger for Irish traffic east of Paris, relative to any direct roll on/roll off option.

Holyhead is a pivotal factor in the equation because of its advantages of short sea crossings, the capacity for frequent round-trip sailings, and because it would reduce total journey times by between two and three hours. Given the right investment in port facilities and in the rail link, the journey from Dublin to Brussels could be completed in 11 hours.

Trade between the United Kingdom and other EC countries has grown by an average of 6 per cent. in the past decade, and freight traffic is projected to triple to 6 million tonnes per annum in the next few years, with over 70 per cent. beginning or ending its journey beyond London. Of that total, 1.4 million tonnes will be carried to and from the north-west, north Wales and Northern Ireland—the second highest proportion among the regions, second only to the south-east of England. That puts the importance of the link into context.

There is no doubt in my mind that the electrification of the north Wales line would bring enormous economic benefits to both Wales and Ireland. Consultants engaged by the county councils of Gwynedd, Clwyd and Cheshire have estimated the cost of electrification as about £50 million, of which £30 million could be made available by the EC. The Economic Community Transport Commissioner has indicated that this project would be given funds due to its strategic importance linking member states.

The fund that could benefit us, however, does not have sufficient cash and we cannot therefore make a decent application for funding. That cash shortage is due to the attitudes of our Government and the Government of the Netherlands, who are so negative. If we are really in the business of having a modern efficient railway system for the 21st century, which could replace the system designed in the 19th century, we must have public investment.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was right when he said that we must invest public money in a decent railway system that will take us into the next century. He was also right when he said that public money is being invested in the railway systems of all other modern economies and that all our European counterparts are investing in the railways.

During an Adjournment debate on 3 May, the then Minister for Public Transport told me that the Government and British Rail were prepared to look again at the case for the electrification of the Holyhead to Crewe railway line, in the light of representations made by the Irish Government. Can the new Minister for Public Transport who is to respond to the debate tell the House how much work has been done on evaluating that case? Can he give both me and the people of north Wales some good news?

6.30 pm
Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

It is appropriate for the House to debate the railway industry since we are witnessing, and are party to, a railway renaissance in Britain. The Opposition must be living in cloud cuckoo land if, as their motion implies, they do not recognise that British Rail provides a more efficient and better quality service than it provided under Labour. Customers, managers and employers most certainly do. There is renewed investment—the highest, in real terms, for 29 years, since the switch from steam to diesel—and renewed confidence in the railways.

I draw the attention of the House to three matters: first, finance and productivity; secondly, the potential, particularly for passenger services; thirdly, the long-term prospects. As for finance and productivity, the record shows that the Conservatives are the party of rail supporters. The facts show realism, not rhetoric. Since 1983, £3 billion has been spent on the railways; a further £3.7 billion is planned to be spent on the railways during the next three years. That means, in language that most hon. Members and their constituents can understand, that almost £24 million is being invested every week in the railways. That is great news for railway cities such as York, the headquarters of the eastern region and a major engineering centre—as is Crewe and Nantwich. That investment has reduced overcrowding, ensured stricter safety measures and led to the replacement of old rolling stock and signals.

Those who denigrate the Government ought to look at the facts. The Government have approved every industrial proposal put to them by British Rail. Sir Robert Reid said that British Rail could not cope with greater funds. Ten electrification schemes have been approved by the Government since 1983. I approve in particular of the east coast main line electrification, costing £460 million. It is the largest electrification scheme ever in this country.

Those who travel on InterCity services are pleased with their punctuality, the faster trains and the greater consistency. The provincial services have also benefited from the greater investment. About £340 million is to be invested in provincial services during the next few years, leading to the replacement of older vehicles by higher quality, air-conditioned stock. In the last three years, about 64 stations have been opened, or reopened, and no fewer than 235 stations have been modernised.

How does that compare with Labour's plans? We should like to know what alternatives Labour would offer. So far, we have not heard one word about its alternative investment plans. I hope that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will enlighten us. Artificial subsidies are no alternative; they lead to inefficiency and red tape.

As for the potential of passenger services, a journey does not consist simply of the movement of someone from A to B. The journey starts with the facilities provided at the car park adjacent to the station. At too many stations there is inadequate car parking. Many more car park sites could be decked. There should also be facilities—already tried successfully in Essex—to clean and service vehicles while rail users are away. That is a lost opportunity.

There is little to attract anyone to railway stations. To compare the city of York with the city of Utrecht, there are 250 offices, shops and restaurants around the rail complex in Utrecht. Banking facilities at railway stations in the United Kingdom are almost non-existent. There is only one railway station where one can cash a cheque. Accommodation services for visitors at railway stations are sadly lacking. Furthermore, the British Rail ticket—I have one in my hand, a ticket to York—does not encourage further rail use. No discount is provided for frequent travel. It does not provide a link with other services, such as hire cars, restaurants and theatres, that would provide greater customer satisfaction.

I praise the work that British Rail is doing to help the disabled, and its excellent staff at York. Unfortunately, British Rail does not provide good information for its customers if trains are delayed. No answerphone service is provided. The general manager of eastern region suggests that people should telephone the main headquarters switchboard and ask for the assistant station manager. If available, he will deal with the matter. That is not the way to deal with delays. If we are to move on from the pre-first world war era on the railways, we must provide a better service than that.

Many hon. Members will remember the court case about the catering facilities on British Rail. Senior staff overheard customers praising the sandwiches; they said that they found their ingredients delicious. When the senior staff made inquiries, they found that the staff had been putting extra ingredients into sandwiches. Instead of praising their staff and giving them a stake in the greater profitability, British Rail took them to court and they were dismissed. That is the negative side of British Rail.

Denationalisation must be the way forward. The overbearing trade unions are in hock to the work force, who do not have a stake in British Rail. However, services at Sealink and British Rail Engineering Ltd. have improved since they were denationalised. Would the Opposition take Sealink and BREL back into state control and deny the stake that the staff enjoy in those companies? Would they deny a share in the railways to employees at Crewe and Nantwich, York and London? If not, they must believe that the Conservative party's policy is right, and that they, too ought to give railway employees a stake in the prosperity and future of the industry.

6.36 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Any resemblance between the reality of the present railway system and that outlined by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) is wholly coincidental. The hon. Gentleman will need only a single railway ticket to York when it comes to the next general election. He referred earlier to my membership of the National Union of Railwaymen. I am proud to be a member of that union, as was my father. I make no apology either to the hon. Gentleman or to the House for being a member of that union. It is better to be a member of the NUR and to know something about the railway industry than to read out a brief prepared by the Department of Transport.

Mr. Gregory

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to allege that I read a brief prepared by the Department of Transport? I have never had such a brief. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw a most dishonourable comment.

Mr. Snape

That was not a point of order. If the hon. Gentleman did not receive his brief from the Department of Transport, he ought to send it back whence it came. It was not accurate. The Opposition did not initiate a debate on the railways to be told about the contents of cheese and tomato rolls at York station or elsewhere. That was the pathetic and banal level that the hon. Gentleman, as usual, reached.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the customers. In the few minutes that he has left me, I intend to refer to customers and their dissatisfaction with the railway system. Many of them have expressed dissatisfaction with it. What they say bears no resemblance to the glossy picture that was painted, inadequately as usual, by the Secretary of State for Transport.

As for the proposals by British Rail management to reduce the Speedlink network—the freight side of British Rail—I draw attention to a letter from the Potter group that discusses the issue. It is addressed to the Secretary of State and is dated 5 June 1990. The Potter group points out that it has a private siding at Selby, that it has a considerable interest in rail freight traffic, which is growing, and that it amounts to approximately 40,000 tonnes a year. The group estimates that more than 2,000 lorryloads will be required to replace that traffic if Speedlink facilities are withdrawn at that site.

The letter also refers to traffic that it forwards from Ely in East Anglia—about 40,000 tonnes—which means another 2,000 lorry loads, yet some of the worst roads in the United Kingdom are in that part of the country. It asks what the right hon. Gentleman will do about that. It concludes that these matters—the rundown of rail freight, especially as that would affect those who had taken advantage of section 8 grants and invested a considerable amount of company and shareholders' money in providing those facilities—are questions for politicians.

The closing line of the letter states: This is a question for the politicians. Step forward and be counted, Mr. Parkinson. Step forward and listen, is my advice to the right hon. Gentleman.

The other customers, both of rail freight and rail passenger services, have also expressed considerable dissatisfaction with the level of service provided and with their quality and their concern about their rundown. [Interruption.] Obviously, the Secretary of State was not talking to me, because I would not allow him to talk to me in the manner that he has just used. If he will control himself for a moment—I know that it is difficult for him—and listen to reality about British Rail and the difficulties that many of its customers are facing—thanks, in part, to Government policy for which he is at least temporarily responsible—the House will be grateful.

The hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) is always worth listening to on these matters, if only because for a considerable period he was a Minister of State, Department of Transport. If I may say so without damaging what is left of his career, he was a rather distinguished and hard-working Minister. He referred to section 8 grants and the need for their extension. I remind him that it is two years since the Department promised to review the operation of those grants.

As he told the House, the present difficulty is that the grants are given to rail users if the freight being carried relieves environmentally sensitive roads—I think that that is the phrase—of some lorry freight. The difficulty is, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, that road improvements themselves remove inadequate and environmentally sensitive roads, which in turn is a disincentive to freight being carried by rail, and certainly prevents any additional freight from being carried by rail.

I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider section 8 grants and the possibility of transferring freight from road to rail through the grant mechanism, no matter which roads the vehicles use. That would be of genuine environmental benefit, even when lorries use motorways and trunk roads—[Interruption.] I am grateful for what appears to be the Minister's assent. I hope that the position can be improved, because rail freight customers are unhappy with the standard of service provided, and especially with the latest decision on the withdrawal of Speedlink facilities.

It is estimated that such a withdrawal would lead to about a quarter of a million extra heavy goods vehicle movements being generated. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman or his fellow Ministers actually want that, but that would be the result of the reduction that is forecast. I hope that when the Minister of State replies to the debate he will tell us what he intends to do about it.

There is something else that the Minister can do that will not actually cost the Government any money. There is widespread dissatisfaction among British Rail's major customers about the quality of management and about the difficulty of getting British Rail to sing a consistent tune on the future of rail freight. I think that the Minister will agree that it is no great incentive, to say the least, to anyone to transfer freight from road to rail if, at the same time, that transfer is being done against a backdrop of the rundown of the existing inadequate rail facilities. The rail freight users have actually formed a group—the Rail Freight Users' Group—which is very critical of British Rail management and what it regards as British Rail's lack of both flair and marketing. It speaks of the poor calibre of British Rail management. It says in a letter, a copy of which I have in front of me: meetings with BR to discuss requirements are rarely with the correct people and there is little sign of a commercial or professional attitude among BR management. I hope that the Minister of State will carefully consider criticism like that to determine what can be done to improve that service, again largely without cost to Treasury funds.

Earlier, the Secretary of State made great play of the Government's attitude towards railways. Once again, we heard the hollow phrase that this country is in the vanguard of European rail policies.

Mr. Prescott

He is the only one that thinks it.

Mr. Snape

Yes, and it is no wonder the right hon. Gentleman closed his speech with the epic phrase that he was staying at home on the job. It is obvious that he has not been very far afield in western Europe, if that is what he believes about the European railway system.

I have another request for the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministers. They will be aware of the recommendation in the European Community document 4478/90 on railway policy, which said: The amending Directive on combined transport carries financial implications in relation to the reduction or reimbursement of vehicle excise tax for vehicles engaged in combined transport systems". The EC believes in that, but it is not accepted by the Government. Indeed, the Minister of State, in a reply to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), said on 12 June:

the Commission has made certain recommendations about reduction or reimbursement of vehicle taxes. We do not accept those, and in any case, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not for Transport Ministers."—[Official Report, 12 June 1990; Vol. 174, c. 237.] I hope that the Minister will accept that that is scarcely a clarion call to those private sector companies in the United Kingdom that are developing vehicles that will genuinely assist the transfer of freight from road to rail. I hope that he will reconsider that aspect of Government policy.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)


Mr. Snape

I am sorry, but I cannot give way, as it would take away the Minister's time.

The Government claim that they can be justly proud of the railway system. I refer them to the latest news release from the Central Transport Users' Consultative Committee, the chairman of which is Major-General Lennox Napier, CB, OBE, MC, DL. He does not strike me as a member of the average constituency Labour party—

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it permissible for an Opposition spokesman to degrade someone who has earned the Military Cross?

Mr. Moate

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am seeking your guidance on whether it is possible to extend the period of the debate to allow the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) to answer the questions that he said he would answer about the costs of Labour policies and where the money is coming from?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It would be better if we got on with the debate.

Mr. Snape

The parliamentary exploits of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) are legendary. I was not aware that I was attacking Major-General Lennox Napier by saying that he was not a traditional Labour party member. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me when I say how grateful I am that he is not a member of the Labour party.

In reply to the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), we have already made it plain that the expenditure that we want for the railways has long been regarded as essential throughout Europe. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) shares our belief. Economies that have not had the benefit of £90 billion of North sea oil have managed to finance their railway systems more than adequately. If the Government are incapable of doing so, the time is long past when they should have moved over to allow another Government to take over who are prepared to spend money on our transport needs.

Earlier this year, in reply to a question from the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the former leader of the Liberal party, about an integrated transport policy, the Secretary of State said: The only countries in Europe with a fully integrated transport system that we have located are East Germany. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. Their electors do not seem terribly impressed with their integrated transport systems or with the people who tried to develop them." —[Official Report, 12 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 12.] With a Secretary of State who gives such infantile replies, no wonder our transport infrastructure is on its knees.

6.51 pm
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) suggested that the Government should take a long-term view when planning the transport infrastructure and he is right.

When planning rail, underground and light-railway schemes one must take a long-term view. If one takes a three-year public expenditure survey view in terms of announcements, that is not inconsistent with the essential long-term view. My right hon. Friend is well aware that, once the Jubilee line is open—it will take several years to complete—it will make sense to continue with further underground schemes as envisaged by the central London rail study.

In "Roads for Prosperity", published by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, the Department deliberately took a long-term view about the construction of roads. Similarly, public expenditure of £1 billion on docklands demonstrates a long-term view. The Government share the desire of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup to take such a view when considering transport policy.

My right hon. Friend also asked several questions about the channel tunnel and specifically about the rail link. Section 56 is certainly not ruled out when appraising a new rail link as that section takes into account the benefits to commuters on the lines in Kent, those affected at the airports, as well as commuters at the other London termini. For those affected by a new line insulation grants will be paid.

My right hon. Friend also mentioned noise on existing lines; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that he will look at the available provisions. We are reviewing our schemes for purchase compensation on the new line. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), in common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, mentioned the review by British Rail and said that there should not be any further delay. British Rail will take between six and nine months to conduct its review which takes us to next Easter. I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that the review will be timely.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) is a distinguished former Transport Minister and he asked four questions with which I shall deal briefly. He asked whether British Rail can achieve its quality targets with a declining public service obligation grant. The answer is yes. I am aware of the stresses and strains of this year with the reduction in off-peak demand on Network SouthEast, but British Rail is able to meet its twin objectives. My hon. Friend also asked about the Exeter to Waterloo line and appraisal techniques. Tomorrow morning my right hon. Friend and I will meet the chairman of British Rail at 8.15 and I shall raise those points with him.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) asked about section 8. Hon. Members will be aware that section 8 is a grant paid by the Government on behalf of the taxpayer to encourage the private sector to put more freight on the rail and off the roads. We are reviewing the operation of that grant because the Freight Transport Association wants to widen the criteria for payment of the grant—it wants to include motorway congestion as a criterion. Within the next few weeks I shall be receiving advice and I shall certainly consult that association.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) asked about the Crewe to Holyhead railway line. More information is needed from the county councils about the prospects for electrification, but British Rail has not shut its mind to the prospect, and nor have Ministers. In the meantime, while we are awaiting further information, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that new rolling stock is planned for that line.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asked me to read the Labour party transport manifesto. I have read it and it is certainly well written. I take it seriously, but I do not believe that it is right. In the remaining time, I shall deal with the six sources of finance that the hon. Gentleman suggested for the grandiose plans for public investment. The policy document calls for a substantial and sustained increase in investment in … infrastructure. It also spoke of a gradual increase in subsidy funding by the taxpayer, for public transport. Doubtless the call for between £10 billion and £15 billion investment for the new high-speed rail link from Folkestone to Scotland would be included in that. It is important to consider what that investment would cost in the next three years.

The Government's estimate of British Rail's expenditure in the next three years, together with all the rail scheme investment, comes to about £6 billion. The funds required to meet the Labour party promise are another £6 billion. The hon. Gentleman also wants to increase public funding by doubling the public sector rail grant—that would add another £1 billion to the sum. That means that the hon. Gentleman estimates that he needs £7 billion in funds in the next three years. How will that be paid for?

The hon. Gentleman suggests six possibilities. First, he suggested that the road programme should be cut, but that road programme, as set out in "Roads for Prosperity" is essential for the construction of local bypasses. No new motorways are envisaged—the document outlines a bypass programme and the widening of existing motorways. The hon. Gentleman's suggestion will not work.

The second suggestion from the hon. Gentleman is to increase public expenditure, but he has not checked with his colleagues the shadow Chancellor, the shadow Chief Secretary or the leader of the Labour party to see whether there is any more money available in their programmes. The hon. Gentleman's third suggestion is to pinch the rest of the car tax proceeds—at present about 25 per cent. of that tax is devoted to the road building programme. He should check with the shadow Chancellor and the shadow Chief Secretary, as they will not permit that.

Fourthly, the hon. Gentleman argues that the European infrastructure fund will provide massive sources of finance. He believes that Britain could become a net beneficiary from a new fund. My right hon. Friend has already said that the fund is only £40 million. per annum. There is not the money and we should not be able to convince the French and Germans to allow us to be substantial net beneficiaries.

Fifthly, the hon. Gentleman talks about British Rail borrowing privately. A Labour Government made sure that private borrowing by nationalised industry was included as a public sector liability.

Sixthly, the hon. Gentleman talks about the private sector. There is plenty of room for private sector joint ventures. We welcome that and we have some excellent examples of it—the Dartford bridge, the second Severn bridge, the Heathrow-Paddingtion link, the docklands light railway, the Jubilee line and the Manchester metrolink. We believe in private sector finance. The hon. Gentleman will not find it a panacea. Our policies are prudent. The policies of Opposition Members are reckless. I invite the House to support the Government.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 203, Noes 262.

Division No. 264] [6.59 pm
Allen, Graham Fearn, Ronald
Alton, David Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Anderson, Donald Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Flannery, Martin
Ashton, Joe Flynn, Paul
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Foster, Derek
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Foulkes, George
Barron, Kevin Fraser, John
Beckett, Margaret Fyfe, Maria
Bell, Stuart Galloway, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bidwell, Sydney Golding, Mrs Llin
Blair, Tony Gould, Bryan
Blunkett, David Graham, Thomas
Boateng, Paul Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boyes, Roland Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bradley, Keith Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Grocott, Bruce
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Hardy, Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Buckley, George J. Haynes, Frank
Caborn, Richard Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Callaghan, Jim Henderson, Doug
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hinchliffe, David
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Canavan, Dennis Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Carr, Michael Hood, Jimmy
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Clay, Bob Howells, Geraint
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Cohen, Harry Hoyle, Doug
Coleman, Donald Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Corbett, Robin Illsley, Eric
Corbyn, Jeremy Ingram, Adam
Cousins, Jim Janner, Greville
Cox, Tom Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Crowther, Stan Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Cryer, Bob Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cummings, John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kennedy, Charles
Dalyell, Tam Kilfedder, James
Darling, Alistair Lambie, David
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Lamond, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Leadbitter, Ted
Dewar, Donald Leighton, Ron
Dixon, Don Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dobson, Frank Lewis, Terry
Doran, Frank Litherland, Robert
Duffy, A. E. P. Livsey, Richard
Dunnachie, Jimmy Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Evans, John (St Helens N) McAllion, John
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) McAvoy, Thomas
Fatchett, Derek McCartney, Ian
Faulds, Andrew Macdonald, Calum A.
McKelvey, William Ruddock, Joan
McLeish, Henry Salmond, Alex
Maclennan, Robert Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Madden, Max Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mahon, Mrs Alice Short, Clare
Marek, Dr John Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martlew, Eric Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maxton, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Meale, Alan Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Michael, Alun Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Snaps, Peter
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Soley, Clive
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Moonie, Dr Lewis Steinberg, Gerry
Morgan, Rhodri Stott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Strang, Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Straw, Jack
Mullin, Chris Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Nellist, Dave Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
O'Brien, William Turner, Dennis
O'Neill, Martin Vaz, Keith
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wallace, James
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wareing, Robert N.
Parry, Robert Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Patchett, Terry Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Pike, Peter L. Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Wigley, Dafydd
Prescott, John Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Primarolo, Dawn Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Quin, Ms Joyce Wilson, Brian
Randall, Stuart Winnick, David
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Wise, Mrs Audrey
Reid, Dr John Worthington, Tony
Richardson, Jo Wray, Jimmy
Robertson, George Young, David (Bolton SE)
Robinson, Geoffrey
Rogers, Allan Tellers for the Ayes:
Rooker, Jeff Mr. Ken Eastham and
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Mr. Allen Adams.
Rowlands, Ted

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House congratulates the Government for pursuing a balanced transport policy involving record investment by the public and private sector in every aspect of the nation's transport systems; recognises that this is the only way to give the customer more choice and a better quality of service; applauds the Government for the high priority it gives to all matters of safety; welcomes the contribution that the Channel Tunnel can make to improving links to the Continent of Europe and the £2 billion of investment in road and rail which will ensure the tunnel is fully serviced from the day it opens in 1993; commends the Government's support for the development of high speed trains which will be jointly owned by Britain, France and Belgium and which will operate in all three countries; commends British Rail for developing plans for high speed freight services from all parts of the United Kingdom to the tunnel; and calls on the Opposition to cease its policy of denigrating Britain.