§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I beg to move,That this House welcomes the Government's statement in their objectives set to British Rail, that projects not meeting the required rate of financial return but having social, environmental or other external benefits, should be assessed by cost-benefit analysis; further welcomes the Government's commitment to maintain the existing railway network, and to continue to pay the Public Service Obligation grant, whilst noting the report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee on British Rail; notes both the investment regime and subsidy policy pursued by the French and West German governments; calls on Her Majesty's Government to assess road and rail projects on an equal basis in the light of the congestion, pollution and aggravation caused by the proliferation of the internal combustion engine; welcomes the Government's important decision to refuse closure of the Settle and Carlisle railway line as a significant change to policies pursued by previous governments; and requests British Rail to end the policy of selling off railway track bed from which services have been discontinued.Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) last week, I have waited almost 20 years to win the ballot to debate a motion of my choice. I hope that after the House has heard me it will not wish to wait another 20 years before having an opportunity to hear me again.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, because I know that he has had severely to reorganise his timetable, which I believe included a meeting with a Community transport Minister. I understand that he was able to hold that meeting yesterday, and I am grateful to him for being present today.
I anticipated that Labour Members would comment on the by-election result. It would be churlish not to congratulate the victor, but the fact that it has been described as the Labour party's best result for 60 years says rather more about the Labour party than the state of politics. I enjoyed the results from places such as Ashfield, Birmingham, Stechford and Workington under a Labour Government and endured the results from Ryedale, Crosby and Croydon, North-West. I recall visiting the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), who is in his place, during his by-election victory. I think that on that occasion the Conservative party, which had held the seat, came third.
§ Mr. Adley
He is still here, and his party is still in Opposition. The point has been well made, so I shall move on to debate transport matters.
I ask the House to try to debate public transport policy without too much party-political dogma. Public transport policy and party-political dogma make uneasy bedfellows. I should be delighted if we could use this opportunity to take a long, cool look at how successive Governments have organised transport policy.
We must consider the true position facing this congested and crowded island and try to debate the motion in the way that we have just prayed. We prayed to forgo our private interests, prejudices and partial affections and it would be good if we could stick to that.
Perhaps on that basis I should declare an interest as a member of the Select Committee on Members' Interests. 1343 For many years, I have received assistance and hospitality from British Rail. I am an author of railway books, and my next book, entitled "Out of Steam", which is to be published by Patrick Stephens Ltd. in August, is priced at £17.50 and will be available from all good bookshops.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that we are on television, but are we on commercial television?
§ Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest)
I was interested in my hon. Friend's assessment that being given tea by British Rail was considered to be a commercial advantage.
§ Mr. Adley
Lobbying crossed my mind as one subject for debate. The hon. Member for Swansea, East made the point that, if one is not careful, a declaration of interest can be turned into an advertisement.
The motion emerged after fevered discussion with a number of my colleagues. As one of those who voted consistently against the community charge, I thought that we might have a debate on local government finance, but that idea was not entirely popular with some of my colleagues. I then invited my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the possibility of a debate on public transport policy. He was very courteous and said that the first draft of the motion that I showed him probably would have required the Government to impose a three-line Whip. We managed to reach an agreeable compromise, resulting in the motion on the Order Paper.
My proposition is simple. In the past 10 years, there has been considerable economic success, resulting in the enormous proliferation of motor cars and other vehicles on our roads. Simultaneously, we have seen the growth of environmental concern and recognition across the party divide that the internal combustion engine, which is a major source of pollution, congestion and aggravation, cannot be the only solution not only to the individual's problems but to the country's transport policy needs. The internal combustion engine, which once appeared likely to sound the death knell of the railway system is, by its proliferation, the source of railway renaissance. The policy and the procedures by which those policies are framed and which have been pursued by this and previous Governments do not take account of the relative merits of road and rail investment. The criteria used by the Department of Transport have become bogged down in ancient prejudices, presumptions and propaganda. I shall address most of my remarks to those procedures.
The wording in relation to road versus rail criteria was one matter that my hon. Friend the Minister and I discussed. I am sure that my hon. Friend will say that, in his view, the criteria used by the Department of Transport are fair to road and rail, but I do not believe that they are. I invite the House to take a fundamental look at the purpose of taxation. A dictionary provides a definition, but if the House thinks about taxation for a moment, it will see that we provide, for example, taxation for the Ministry of Defence, the Departments of Health, Education and Science and Transport and the Foreign and 1344 Commonwealth Office. What is the relationship between the provision of public funding through taxation and the expectation of obtaining a commercial return through the provision of funds to the areas of Government activity receiving those funds? Do we expect the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health to show a profit? Of course we do not. Do we expect the Department of Transport to show a profit? No. Do we expect the roads to show a profit? No. The Government and their predecessors expect British Rail, almost alone among Government activities, to operate as if it were a commercial organisation. That proposition is fundamentally flawed.
The criteria employed by the Department of Transport in assessing road versus rail investment proposals should surely deal with the real costs to the nation of everything that can directly be attributable to rail or road usage. I could spend two hours discussing that simple point, but I shall not. I shall take the police as an example. A few days ago, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about the police time spent on all activities relating to traffic management. On Monday, he replied:In 1987, 1988 and 1989, approximately 8 per cent. of the total police strength in England and Wales was deployed on specialist traffic duties.My right hon. and learned Friend went on to say, significantly:The proportion of non-specialist officers' time spent on traffic matters is not recorded. The total costs could not be reliably estimated.It is clear to anyone who thinks for a moment about the time of the police and other related activities, such as attendance in court—involving the Crown prosecution service, lawyers and clerks—that an untold and unknown sum of money is devoted to dealing with problems directly related to road transport. How can the Department of Transport genuinely be expected to undertake a proper assessment of the costs of road versus rail if my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary openly admits that no such information is available?
Each year we kill 2,500 people and maim 250,000 on our roads, and untold others are injured less seriously. The cost must be astronomic. This week, I asked my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Healthif he will estimate the cost to the National Health Service, for the latest year for which figures are available, of all road accidents.I received this simple answer:Data on the actual cost to the National Health Service in England of Road accidents are not collected by the Department."—[Official Report, 19 March 1990; Vol. 169, c.454–73.]How can the Department of Transport be entirely confident that the information on which it bases its investment criteria is based on facts, when those facts are unknown?
Many of the people who are involved in accidents spend weeks or months in hospital before they die, as do those who are maimed. Goodness only knows the extent of the hospital costs and Department of Health costs that are incurred. Many thousands of people will be on social security benefit when they leave hospital, and those costs are unknown. We expect the Department of Transport to carry out an analysis in the absence of the facts that would make it meaningful.
In response to my probing questions about the activities of staff in the Department of Transport, my hon. Friend 1345 the Minister for Roads and Traffic told me that, rounded to the nearest 500, 16,500 people in his Department were directly engaged in transport and planning matters. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends or other hon. Members would care to guess how many out of those 16,500 civil servants were involved with the railways. Any guesses forthcoming? It may interest the House to know that of those 16,500 civil servants in the Department of Transport, a grand total of 200 were involved with railways and that figure includes the entire railways inspectorate.
§ Mr. Anderson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Perhaps I should call him my hon. Friend in this case as he has a distinguished record of supporting the railways. Given those comparisons of the personnel in roads and railways in the Department of Transport, is not it the more puzzling that the Government have a propensity to take people from senior positions in the Department of Transport for senior positions in British Rail?
§ Mr. Adley
That is a fair and reasonable point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take part in the debate so that he can expand on that point. He has raised a serious problem. I hope that he will allow me to continue to provide the House with a little more information so that we can see what all the people in the Department of Transport do.
There are 200 civil servants dealing with railways including those in the railway inspectorate. For highways, including bus and taxi policy, there are 550. There are 100 in road safety. There are 1,000 traffic area staff excluding those currently elsewhere such as driving examiners. Six hundred are employed at the transport and road research laboratory. The driving standards agency employs 2,000 and the vehicle inspection agency employs 1,600. The driver and vehicle licensing agency employs 5,500. Aviation employs 350, which is almost twice the number in railways, and there are 950 in shipping, almost five times as many as those in railway activity in the Department of Transport. I do not know whether the salaries of all those people in the Department who are allocated to what one might generally call roads activities are included by the Department in "load" costs. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will elucidate on that later.
We need to debate whether there is a fair assessment between road and rail. My hon. Friend the Minister claims that there is, but the Confederation of British Industry clearly agrees with me. In a parliamentary briefing sent out a couple of days ago, the CBI said that itwould welcome the assessment of rail investment on an equal basis with road projects.I should welcome that, too. I telephoned the CBI yesterday and confirmed that its understanding of the position was the same as mine—that there is at present an unequal assessment of rail as opposed to road investment within the Department of Transport.
One could show endlessly that that is the case. To take one example, we are at present contemplating the construction of a rail link from the Great Western main line to Heathrow. For years, I have advocated that if that link is built, in addition to there being an eastbound rail link into Paddington, there should be a little link of 200 or 300 yd westbound so that all potential travellers to Heathrow from south Wales, the west country, the south-west and the south of England could catch trains going directly into Heathrow—but no. That 200 or 300 yd 1346 track will not be built. Can anyone imagine that if a road was being built, the same strict financial criteria would apply? One has only to ask the question to know the answer.
Investment criteria must, of course, be related to commercial reality, but they must also be more closely related to environmental and social needs. We need only look at the commuter problem to understand what we are talking about. British Rail did not invent the rush hour. Without a railway system in our major cities, life would be intolerable. Every day, British Rail carries 500,000 passengers into London during the morning peak. The House should contemplate that the more people British Rail succeeds in attracting on to its commuter peak-hour services, the more it is required to generate its own capital investment in capital equipment which is used for only four out of 24 hours every day. No normal business could operate by acquiring expensive equipment and leaving it idle for 20 out of 24 hours. That is as good an example as one needs to illustrate that it is fundamentally wrong to equate investment in our railways with normal commercial investment in business and industry. The railways are a vital part of the nation's infrastructure, and should be seen and dealt with as such.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will excuse me if I talk briefly about the public service obligation grant. To some of my hon. Friends, the word "subsidy" is a dirty word. I suppose that they would like to see the armed forces privatised, so that we could then test our weapons in private enterprise battles between the armies of Wessex and the armies of Mercia. That proposition does not especially attract me.
To suggest, as my hon. Friend does, that there is merely a coincidence of timing between the reduction of the PSO grant and the increasing incidence of late arrivals, shorter trains, service reductions, staff shortages, and unmanned stations is to stretch credulity to breaking point. Most hon. Members and most members of the travelling public would regard that as an unreal proposition. Given the commuter problem, simplistic commercial considerations are not in the interests of the nation when assessing the value of the rail network to the people of this country.
I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that I shall quote briefly from the Central Transport Consultative Committee report which came out a few days ago. I do not think that my hon. Friend liked what it said. The CTCC is not exactly an organisation manned by members of the Militant Tendency. It is funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. Its members are appointed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The present chairman, Major-General Lennox Napier was first appointed in 1985 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his position was confirmed and his appointment renewed last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Times change, and both my right hon. Friends may be changing their political stance, but if they are, it is news to me. Someone appointed by them is likely to be considered reasonably independent minded on matters such as railway investment. Among the other members of the CTCC are our former colleague, John Corrie in Scotland, Angela Hooper in southern England, who is known to many of us, and Sir Robert Wall in the west of England, a long-time leading 1347 Conservative member of Bristol city council. we are not dealing here with a rabble-rousing, Left-wing organisation.
I want to read a few quotations from the CTCC report which came out a few days ago. It says:The new objectives"—the objectives laid by the Government on British Rail—demand that B.R. reduce its requirement for grant to support socially unnecessary but unprofitable passenger services"—the PSO grant—by roughly 30 per cent. between 1989–90 and 1992–93. This comes on top of a cut of over 50 per cent. which B.R. has already achieved since 1983. At the same time, capital investment for B.R. is set to rise, totalling £4.9 billion during the five years of the Plan. But whereas the grant which B.R. is losing comes from Central Government, the new investment is coming almost entirely from higher fares and traffic growth, together with property sales and loans from Government which have to be repaid with interest … the Committee believes Government should be providing more of it through grants rather than loans in recognition of the railways' role in relieving traffic congestion and improving the quality of life. Also, the C.T.C.C. has long been critical of the severe reductions in the level of P.S.O. Grant over the years. There have been many instances where services have been pruned or much-needed service improvements have not been made because of a lack of cash.Those are the comments of a Government-appointed body.
Finally, on Network SouthEast, the CTCC says:Because of N.S.E.'s cash crisis, things are now going to get even worse.That is not something which my hon. Friend the Minister or his constituents in London will regard with equanimity. The CTCC continues:In an attempt to meet its financial targets, N.S.E. is preparing to breach its quality objectives by introducing cuts in peak train services from May. This will mean fewer or shorter trains.At the risk of offending BR, I have to say that I find its response to the CTCC somewhat economical with the truth. For example, it says:Electrification in South Hampshire and between Kings Lynn and Cambridge is not affected by the need for short term economies.The reality is that, as from May, through trains from King's Lynn to London are to be discontinued and all passengers will have to change at Cambridge. That will not be regarded with equanimity by those travelling from Norfolk. British Rail also refers tochanges in demand patterns that we address twice a year with timetable changes.I shall resist the temptation to weary the House with endless quotations. But I wonder how travellers from Eastbourne to London will feel when they find that the 7.42 am train to London Bridge is to be discontinued. That is the last through train of the morning from Eastbourne to London Bridge. The next through train from Eastbourne is the 8.37 am to Victoria. I imagine that plenty of people who will be affected by the results of changes in the PSO grant will find it hard to accept British Rail's proposition that everything has to do with changing service demand.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are also extraordinary anomalies in the much-vaunted capital investment about which the Government are always telling us? The hon. Gentleman mentioned the electrification of the line from 1348 Cambridge to King's Lynn, which few would oppose. But is not it strange that there is to be one train an hour from Ely northwards, in remarkably sparsely populated country, while the Government refuse to consider the electrification of the line from Manchester to Blackpool—a relatively short route in a densely populated urban area with a great deal of traffic? Are not there anomalies in investment as well as in running?
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The Manchester to Blackpool line is a classic example of shortsightedness in planning. I think that I am entitled to say on behalf of the Government that, as a result of their successful economic policy and the revenue that BR is attracting, a major investment programme is taking place on the railways. In Manchester, the construction of the Windsor link is the realisation of a dream that many people in that part of the world have nurtured for over a century. But to go ahead with the Windsor link, with all the new opportunities that that will create for rail travel in and through the city of Manchester and then not to sanction the electrification of the line from Manchester to Blackpool shows an inconsistency that is also evident in the Heathrow example that I gave a moment ago. Both are illustrations of shortsighted planning and the superimposition of unreal financial criteria on a transport problem. I believe that to be unjustifiable and unsatisfactory.
In a debate the other day, I referred to the fact that the Government and Conservative central office are happily proclaiming the amount of investment that is going to BR. Many of my hon. Friends who do not perhaps study these matters as closely as I do, because they have different primary political interests, will say, "Ah yes, surely we are right in saying that the Government are investing huge sums in BR." But that is not so. In 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987, British Rail had no recourse whatever to borrowing from the national loans fund, and in 1984 and 1988 it had only limited recourse to the fund. Almost all the new investment is coming straight out of the pockets of Britsh Rail's customers. A brief from the Conservative research department the other day made some rather bland comments about the levels of railway investment. It would have been more straightforward had the brief simply said, "Her Majesty's Government are allowing British Rail to spend its own earnings." That is what is happening. The Government spend taxpayers' money on the road; British Rail spends its own earnings on its own investment programme.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend's extremely skilful and persuasive speech, which is most welcome. In a debate on 14 February he dealt with similar matters. Has he been able to solve a puzzle that came to light then concerning the German system? Apparently, the premier capitalist economy in Europe—far more successful than we are, unfortunately—offers far more financial support through the investment programme and for other aspects of its railway system, which is already ahead of ours. Yet we are given to understand by the Secretary of State for Transport that German transport Ministers regard the subsidy and the granting of further amounts as an outrage. Has my hon. Friend been able to clarify that misunderstanding?
§ Mr. Adley
The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow, East (Mr. Dykes) is yes. Yesterday afternoon I spent some time with Herr Rudolf Richter, the director 1349 in the United Kingdom and Ireland of the Deutsche Bundesbahn. In view of my hon. Friend's intervention, I shall deal with the question now. The current BR five-year investment programme entails an investment of £4.9 billion.
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
I must apologise to my hon. Friend for having missed the first part of his speech. I was half an hour late because BR took two hours, rather than the usual one and a half, to get me from Birmingham to London. I shall let that pass, however.
A few moments ago, my hon. Friend said that taxpayers paid for roads and that railways financed their own investment. That is not correct. Road users pay for road development. They contribute about £16 billion to the Exchequer each year and of that, only about £3.5 billion—rising to £5.7 billion in the next year or so—is paid back into roads. It is road users, not taxpayers, who pay for investment in roads.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend, who is a skilful and determined exponent of the road lobby, makes a foolish point which does not bear examination. It has never been the policy of any Government to indulge in taxation hypothecation. If we pursued his proposal to its logical conclusion, the Governmnt would spend all the money that they took in gambling taxes on building new casinos. He does not bother to ask himself—
§ Mr. Dickens
I am not a specialist but there is a lot of truth in what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) says about road users. Commercial and domestic road users pay a devil of a lot of money into the Treasury, through vehicle and excise licences and taxes on petrol. It is foolish to argue that road users do not pay for the roads, but that users of the railway have to pay for investment in railways.
§ Mr. Adley
Without being too rude to my hon. Friend, I must say that I would rather he called me foolish than sensible. I do not know where he supposes the Minister of Defence, the Department of Health or the Department of Education and Science would get their funds. Perhaps he believes in the hypothecation of taxation. That would be the ultimate extremity of Right-wing politics and not something that I should find remotely attractive. One has only to contemplate that proposition to see how foolish it is.
Let me return to the pertinent question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East. British Rail's investment programme for the current five years is £4.9 billion. The Deutsche Bundesbahn's current five-year investment programme is 40 billion deutschmarks which at the current exchange rate is about £14 billion. That is the position on investment. What about operating deficit? In 1990 the Deutsche Bundesbahn's operating deficit, set by the West German Government is 4 billion deutschmarks, which is about £1.5 billion. That is the planned operating deficit, over and above the investment level. I am afraid 1350 that my hon. Friend the Minister will have to take this like a man. My hon. Friend planted a question for answer on Tuesday night—the night of the Budget statement—concerning British Rail's grant for 1989–1990. It was an extremely skilful and largely successful operation that managed to hide from the public almost completely what the Government's proposals were.
If my hon. Friend the Minister was proud of the cut in the PSO grant which is the much-vaunted policy of the Department of Transport he would not have sought lo have a written question on the Order Paper on Budget day. He would have ensured that the Government's great achievement in cutting the PSO grant was trumpeted from the heights. However he, I and the House know that the constant attempt to cut the PSO grant and BR's operating subsidy—which was once the totem of Government monetarist policy—is increasingly a matter of shame. People know that a cut in the PSO grant is directly related to a cut in the quality of service.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I actually announced an increase in the PSO cash ceiling. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is saying that I was so ashamed about increasing the PSO cash ceiling that I tried to slip it out or whether possibly he misunderstood my parliamentary reply. If the latter is the case, I would be happy to explain the answer in a moment.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend the Minister announced in his written answer that BR's grant for 1989–90 was £488 million. I understand that that is £30 million or £35 million less than the PSO grant for the current year. If I am wrong, my hon. Friend the Minister will have to correct rue. However, his written answer states:£8 million will be available only to accommodate the grant-aided sectors' share of additional safety-related expenditure, particularly that arising from Sir Anthony Hidden's report on the Clapham Junction rail accident."—[Official Report, 20 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 534.]I thoroughly enjoyed and wholly approved of the Budget presented by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, one item in the Budget that caused me considerable concern was the money that the Government are making available to finance safety at football grounds. Lord Justice Taylor's report on the Hillsborough accident was not too far removed in time from Sir Anthony Hidden's report on the Clapham rail disaster.
The Government's priority in the Budget on safety funding is to provide taxpayers' money for the pursuit of leisure—watching a bunch of thugs kick a football around on a Saturday afternoon. However, the Government will provide only £8 million of the estimated £500 million that BR will have to find to carry out the safety requirements in the Hidden report. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us today that the Government will announce that they will fund entirely the safety costs proposed by Sir Anthony Hidden in the same way that they have announced funding in relation to Lord Justice Taylor's proposals for football grounds.
I hope that my next comments will not be indecent. I want to share with the House a thought that has occurred to me. There is a certain irony about the Hillsborough tragedy which was caused by the late arrival of a large number of coaches at the football ground as a result of congestion on the M62 from Liverpool. The motorways on which those coaches travelled were provided by the 1351 taxpayer. Twenty or 30 years ago most of those football supporters would have travelled by rail. However, the coach is one of the most heavily subsidised forms of public transport in the country and British Rail has lost passengers to coach competition running on motorways that are funded 100 per cent. from taxpayers' money. Many British Rail regional managers have given up trying to attract the football thug traffic because most of their trains were vandalised. We could almost say that we are busily subsidising vandalism while we do nothing to subsidise safety on BR.
I want to consider track costs in relation to road versus rail. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East asked me about West Germany. Yesterday I asked Herr Richter, the director of Deutsche Bundesbahn, how he viewed the attitude of the West German Government towards the West German railways in relation to the British Government's attitude towards British Rail.
§ Mr. Adley
Yes, they are. However, if I were to ask, "Hands up. Who would swap the current economic circumstances in West Germany for those in Britain?", I suspect that some people would consider the West German example to be attractive. However, I do not want to be diverted on to that.
Herr Richter told me:Our Government has started to understand that a railway infrastructure and a railway system is more than just a business, it is part of the health of the people.I believe that that proposition has not yet permeated through the inner portals of the Department of Transport or into the Government's thought processes.
My hon. Friend the Minister will understand me when I say that there is no shortage of lobbyists for the road transport industry in this country. The Department of Transport admits to having regular meetings with the Bus and Coach Council, the Freight Transport Association, the Road Haulage Association, the motor manufacturers, motor retailers, the Automobile Association, the RAC and the road building contractors—I was also going to say from Marples to McAlpine, but perhaps I should not say that.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Department of Transport makes it clear that about 80 per cent. of its priorities lie with roads and very few staff of the Department are involved in railways?
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Lady may have missed the beginning of my speech in which I quoted the precise number of people involved. She is right, but I think that she overestimated the number of people in the Department involved in railways.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) should be aware that I am a member of the AA and the RAC. However, I am a member of those organisations to get help in the event of a breakdown. I did not join those organisations to have 1352 them lobby for me on political matters. The proposition that all their funds from membership fees should be available to them to promote roads, is something which I regard as abuse of my membership fee.
What is the position on lobbying in West Germany? I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East is in the Chamber because he will doubtless know all about the Verkehrsforum Bahn. That professional lobby was not established by one of those nefarious lobbying organisations, the inexorable growth of which we have witnessed in this country over the past few years. That organisation has sprung up and now includes 160 companies, banks, commerce and industry whose sole ambition is to lobby the German Government and West German public opinion on behalf of more investment in West German railways. We do not have such a body in this country.
British Rail management is part of the rail lobby in this country. However, the relationship between a nationalised industry and the Government of the day is so close and obvious that BR management cannot be considered as part of the rail lobby. If the management speaks out of turn, it is slapped down. Similarly, the trade unions could be construed to be a particular interest and cannot be considered an independent and powerful lobby. Then there is me, and I am just a lone voice. The rail lobby in this country is non-existent and it is a great shame that we cannot find a body like the Verkehrsforum Bahn which could lobby public opinion and the Government for more funding for the railway system.
The supervisory board of the Deutsche Bundesbahn has a particularly interesting line of activity between the Government and the railways, although the supervisory board is not really a lobbying organisation. It is an independent regulator. We in this country need an independent regulator between the Government and British Rail to check on British Rail's performance, fares and so on. Again, that would help to concentrate the minds of the warring parties.
Nothing better illustrates hon. Members' attitudes to safety matters than the way in which we deal in the House with transport accidents. There has only to be the slightest railway accident—even if one person is killed—for an hon. Member with a constituency interest to ask for a private notice question, and very often the request will be granted. Day in and day out our constituents are killed and maimed in road accidents—if one is dead, one is dead, and if one's family is bereaved, one's family is bereaved. It is every bit as tragic, whether it is a road or a rail accident. However, hon. Members do not make demands for private notice questions after road accidents, and we certainly do not see the headlines that we are accustomed to seeing whenever there is a rail problem.
I can illustrate another difference between road and rail. On the railways there is signalling to separate fast moving vehicles travelling in the same direction. Of course, we have no such signalling on our roads. There is a conflict between life and death on the one hand and personal convenience on the other. We put warnings on our cigarette packets, but we do not put warnings on our motor cars. The value of human life is high and, on the railways, is regulated by Parliament. The value of human life and limb on the roads is something which we are prepared to cast aside in the interests of personal convenience. If we were to put railway signalling systems 1353 on our roads we would save lives and, at one stroke, make British Rail the most attractive investment in the world, but nobody would dare do that.
What else do I have to say to the Department of Transport about its recent legislation?
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) says, "Nothing." I am sorry, but I have waited 20 years for this opportunity, and he will have a chance to have his say. I am prepared to sit down for a minute and take a vote on whether I should continue.
Coach deregulation has been a major contributor to congestion in this country. The Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan police wrote to me:You will be aware that in the Central Area problems with coaches are quite horrendous.That is a direct result of the Government's legislation. The police are almost unable to cope with the problems of congestion and pollution caused by coaches. Hon. Members have only to go out of this building and walk across Westminster bridge, around Parliament square or anywhere around Victoria coach station to see what is happening. Coaches are parked and often left for hours on end with their engines running, pouring filthy diesel fumes up the noses of people who have the misfortune to live nearby. Coach engines are left running to provide air conditioning for the commuter passengers in the summer and to keep the heating going in the winter.
Some of my hon. Friends will recall the late Marcus Lipton who, at every state opening of Parliament, would make a speech about access to Parliament. I wonder what he would say now about the way in which coaches are clogging up the streets around Parliament square.
Commuter coaches in particular use motorways in peak hours, they park free in the streets and cause great congestion and pollution. That is a result of the coach deregulation problem. A few months ago, Sir Robert Reid said to me, "I wonder what people would say if I decided to park my trains at Piccadilly circus." One has only to state the position to understand the problem. For the city of Westminster, coach deregulation has been a near disaster, and they are still trying to come to terms with the problems which it has caused. While the coaches park in the streets paying nothing for so doing, British Rail of course pays a substantial sum in rates.
I do not know whether anyone has thought about that problem, but, as a result of questioning my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, I understand that the uniform business rate estimate for British Rail for 1990–91 is £56.5 million. Is that figure included in the Department of Transport's assessment of road versus rail costs? British Rail provides its own policies and maintains hundreds of listed buildings.
Everybody—even my hon. Friend the Minister—would agree that traffic wardens undertake an activity which is directly related to roads. There can be no question about that. One could say that, of course, 100 per cent. of traffic wardens costs should be allocated to road transport. Are they? No. Not 75 per cent., 50 per cent., 25 per cent., but only 7 per cent. of traffic wardens costs are allocated by the Department to road costs, and the other 93 per cent. is obtained from general taxation. That is only one of numerous examples.
1354 We need a system that the West Germans are considering, whereby track costs of rail and road are assessed equally and funded equally by the State. Unless we get such a system we will not have a fair assessment.
I welcome the decision by my hon. Friend the Minister, which was announced recently by the Secretarty of State, to introduce cost-benefit analysis into some rail investment assessments. Our European competitors do that as a matter of course. A special plea concerns the Waterloo-Salisbury-Exeter line, which is a victim of historic railway rivalry. There is now but a single line westward of Salisbury to Exeter. That is the sort of insanity that only we in Britain could contemplate. The line runs through an area of considerable growth and prosperity, yet we have virtually an extended branch line. Any true cost-benefit analysis taking in the points that I have mentioned would ensure the reintroduction of a double track railway.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) is anxious to make some remarks about the Channel tunnel if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is essential to have a proper cost-benefit analysis of the need for a Channel tunnel rail link. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make the great announcement for which we all await. My Channel Tunnel Act 1987 (Amendment) Bill comes up for Second Reading today. My hon. Friend the Minister may say, "We have changed our mind. We will not reject it this year as we did last year." Unless the Government are willing to fund a substantial part of a fast rail link between the Channel tunnel and London, we will continue to have a horse and cart railway line, which is ludicrous.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if the Government were to amend the 1987 Act and provide public money for the Channel tunnel, concomitant with that should be a complete study of the chosen route? The one that is currently on offer is not the best.
§ Mr. Portillo
My hon. Friend will have noticed that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) spoke from the Opposition Dispatch Box. Will my hon. Friend clarify whether the hon. Gentleman's intervention was an official statement of Labour policy?
§ Mr. Adley
I have two points to make. First, that railway must finish in central London—there is no question about that. Secondly, the associated environmental costs must be borne by the Government.
Last week I was able to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the decision on the Winchester bypass, which included a substantial cost of returning the existing road—the A33 around Winchester—to greenery. Of course it is essential and right that that should be done, and of course the cost will be borne by the taxpayer. Yet 1355 again, the taxpayer will pay for all the environmental costs of that road, as with all roads, but British Rail is expected somehow to cope with the competing and conflicting interests of those who want the railway and want the fast travel and those who believe that a railway might cause environmental damage. Of course the Government must apply the same criteria to financial assistance for essential but environmentally sensitive transport links.
As part of its investment regime, SNCF, which is building the line to the Channel tunnel, receives 30 per cent. grant from the Government and low interest loans. To pick up on the point that has just been made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), when I recently spent a day with SNCF and the French Department of Transport in Paris—I am talking not about the trip that the hon. Member for Swansea, East and I enjoyed the other day, but about a trip that I made about a year ago—it was interesting to learn that the French Department of Transport insists that with every application for investment grant, SNCF must produce a 20-year do-nothing scenario. One can answer for oneself the question about what projections would flow from a 20-year do-nothing scenario on the route of the Channel tunnel rail link.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East and I enjoyed our visit to France. I am sure that he will agree that a great deal of the aggravation that is being promoted by certain people, some of whom have a clear financial and commercial interest in preventing the fast rail link from being built, about the so-called "environmmental damage" of the high-speed train is total and utter nonsense. He and I stood literally at track level by the TGV, which was travelling at 300 km an hour, and it was much less noisy than existing trains travelling on existing tracks.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Gentleman is nodding. I am sure that he is confirming what I have said.
I want to make a point about environmental improvements and railways in relation to what the hon. Gentleman and I saw last week. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that I have a bee in my bonnet about the policy that has been pursued by successive Governments who have ripped up and sold off railway track when services have been discontinued. France has no such policy. The track bed belongs to the Government, not to SNCF. The TGV Atlantique runs right into the centre of Paris. About 10 km of that railway line has been built on a disused railway line that was closed in 1938 but which, because of the French Government's policy, had never been sold off or destroyed. Using modern technology and a route that has existed for years, the French have cut and covered and have built a brand new railway underground. In effect, on top of the line is 10 km of urban parkway, on either side of which beautiful houses have been built. Far from that railway line being an environmental problem, the French Government's policy has turned it into a huge environmental and social asset. That is what we should be doing in this country. Therefore, I hope that section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 will be repealed.
In due course, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) will move his motion about public transport in London. The Government put forward three 1356 schemes under the central London rail study, aimed at relieving congestion in central London. The Paddington-Liverpool Street line was considered by most people who study these problems to be of the highest priority in relieving the congestion in central London. The Chelsea-Hackney line—another cross-London line—was the second priority for giving the greatest relief to the problems of congestion on the Underground. Third by quite a long way in environmental terms was the extension of the Jubilee line. It will be very nice for me, as a Member of Parliament, to be able to go directly by Underground from Westminster to Waterloo, but I cannot honestly say that my transport needs in London deserve the highest priority when I am trying to catch a train back to Dorset. Although I am sure that that proposal is welcome, especially to the property developers who will do very nicely, thank you very much, as a result of it, it is the least necessary of the schemes and the least likely to have any effect on dealing with congestion in central London.
I have made my point about selling off the track bed. Beeching's legacy on that has been a disaster and a scandal. British Rail may well own surplus land, such as marshalling yards, but to destroy the transport arteries that were the fruit of the labours and the investment of our forebears is beyond contemplation.
An attendant in the House has asked me to ensure that I mention the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. It is a classic example. There has been huge urban growth at both ends of the line, but the line itself has been destroyed. Perhaps I can do no better than to quote from page 82 of my forthcoming book, "Out of Steam", where, in a caption to a photograph, I wrote—[Interruption.] As I have said, it is to be published in August—
§ Mr. Adley
We have had all that.
I wrote:Where that railway used to run:"—the word "that" refers to the Somerset and Dorset line—and how we wish that it did still. Wimborne and Blandford have changed, as rural life is encapsulated by urban-orientated activity and mobility. This is the S&D bridge over the River Stour at Sturminster Newton. The erstwhile small towns at the heart of the countryside pierced originally by the Dorset Central and Somerset Central railways, feel the pincer of pressure at both ends, as Bath and Bristol, Poole and Bournemouth, seek to extend their influence, road pressure and congestion grow and we are left only to mourn the shortsighted selling-off of land that once provided a transport link.I could weary the House by talking indefinitely about other railway lines that were closed in the wake of Beeching. I could refer, for example, to the Great Central Railway, which was the only railway line in this country to be built to the Berne gauge—how we mourn it. I could also refer to the Waverley route between Carlisle and Edinburgh. Barbara Castle's legacy hangs heavy on those of us who mourn the loss of so many railway lines.
My hon. Friend the Minister has allowed me to refer in my motion to the importance of his decision, and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), in refusing to grant BR's closure proposals for the Settle-Carlisle railway line. That most important decision was not taken simply to please enthusiasts. It was significant because, in attempting to meet the criteria that had been laid down by successive Governments for closing railway lines, British Rail has 1357 fiddled the figures over the years by increasing the costs of operating railway lines, overestimating the costs of repairs to structures and generally doing everything that it could to reduce the revenue of lines by destroying connections and making the train times the least convenient.
The Settle-Carlisle line was a classic example. The Glasgow-Nottingham trains were moved away and all the freight traffic was taken from the line. The connections to Leeds and Carlisle were broken. Even so, British Rail was still not satisfied. It said that it would cost more than £6 million to repair the Ribblehead viaduct. Of course, the viaduct has been repaired for a tiny fraction of that sum. As a result of the Government's brave decision, there is now a chance that other threatened railway lines may be reprieved. I certainly hope so.
I do not know the purpose of railway privatisation. Perhaps some of my colleagues who have advocated it will be able to enlighten me. I do not know what its purpose would be other than pure party political dogma, which is not good enough for me. The competition argument about privatisation is total nonsense. Beeching saw to that. There used to be competition between London and Birmingham. There used to be a service from Euston to New Street and from Paddington to Snow Hill. There were also links between London and Nottingham—between Marylebone and Nottingham, Victoria, and between St. Pancras and Nottingham, Midland—
§ Mr. Roger King
My hon. Friend has mentioned competition between London and Birmingham. I wish that there had been some competition this morning. The monopoly of the service on the old London-Midland region line, which is now electrified, would have been more than enhanced for me if I could have travelled to Snow Hill station on a high-speed train via Reading, Leamington and High Wycombe to Paddington. We used to be able to do that in the old days. There is no reason why that could not be reinstated.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend tempts me. I do not know whether he is aware that that line has been deliberately destroyed and reduced to single track. The fascinating thing about my hon. Friend's point is that that part of the line that he has just mentioned, via Coventry, covered part of the former Great Western Railway and part of the former London, Midland and Scottish Railway. A classic example of one of the advantages of a nationalised railway is that the best possible service can be provided by using whatever track is available. As far as I understand it, there is nothing to stop my hon. Friend approaching his friends in the City, Birmingham or anywhere else, and saying, "Let us build a new railway line." All they need is a little bit of money. I do not believe that there is any legislative barrier—
§ Mr. Adley
Indeed. There is no legislative barrier to prevent their doing so. We have only to look at the Channel tunnel rail link to see the real barriers to the building of new private railways in this country. Beeching and the policy pursued by successive Governments have removed the reality of railway competition in Britain. The use of the word competition in relation to privatisation is an unreal proposition.
The railways carry people and freight safely and reliably. They alleviate traffic congestion in towns and 1358 cities all over Britain. Without the railway, travel would become intolerable, if not impossible. If the freight that they carry were translated on to lorries on the roads, the cost in terms of pollution and wear and tear on the roads would be ghastly.
The hours worked by railwaymen are among the most unsocial imaginable, for which they receive little credit. The Government seem to make British Rail feel guilty for being in receipt of public funds when no other European Government would contemplate squeezing and reducing the amount of public funding at a time of increasing road traffic and growing concern about the environment. A sensible Government would look at ways of increasing the share of the traffic that the railways can carry. They would copy the West German example of cajoling traffic on to the railways with a pricing policy which clearly has that aim.
Criticising British Rail is a national obsession, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield has shown this morning. Whereas most of our European partners are proud of their railways and have every reason so to be, in our hearts many of us still prefer to knock the system, rather than concentrate ways of improving and adapting it to serve the needs of the nation. I hope that as a result of this debate, we can persuade the Department of Transport, through my hon. Friend the Minister, to look again at the investment criteria of road versus rail.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Christchurch (M r. Adley), particularly when he speaks sense, as he did in great abundance this morning from his unparallelled experience in the House and his knowledge of our railway system. Brief as it was, I felt that his speech was perhaps a trailer for his book. The only thing that he did not mention about his book was the publisher—
§ Mr. Anderson
—and the price, as my hon. Friend says. Perhaps he will enlighten us about that later.
I was intrigued when the hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that the Minister would say something positive about the Channel tunnel rail link. The Minister looked down a little gloomily at that point. Perhaps we could put it in the context of the Mid-Staffordshire by-election. It is the only reference that I shall make to it because I do not believe in loading grief on grief. Prior to the by-election, one saw the Government's panic reaction to the poll tax in Scotland. As the Government become more panicked, they throw goodies overboard. As they have done on the Scottish poll tax, perhaps the Government will have a quick rethink about the Channel rail link. We might have some pleasurable reaction this morning, but that remains to be seen.
I shall make only three propositions. First, there appears to be a consensus among our people that the condition of British Rail is a national scandal. Secondly, the stagnation in British Rail, as the hon. Member for Christchurch said, is in sharp contrast to what we see among our competitors and partners on the Continent, particularly in the SNCF and Bundesbahn. Thirdly, the stagnation seems to stem from the Government's ideological obsession and apparent pathological distaste for rail, whatever the reason for it. The reason may he the solidarity of the rail unions or the fact that the railways are 1359 still one of the pieces of family silver that has not yet been sold off. One sees it symbolically in the way that the Prime Minister adamantly refuses to travel by rail. I am told that the only journey that she has made was from London to Gatwick. Symbolically and otherwise, leading members of the Government have no attachment to our rail industry. It remains one of the under-utilised assets in our country today.
I shall be brief about the condition of British Rail because much of what I would have said was said more eloquently by the hon. Member for Christchurch. He drew on the central transport consultative committee report published this month. The report is worth reading in detail by all hon. Members and by the Government. As the hon. Gentleman said, the committee was not a rail lobby as such, but people appointed by the Government, many of whom are close to the Government, and of Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) will be aware that the same point applies to the transport users consultative committee in Wales. Increasingly, true believers in Government policy have been put on that committee. But even they have gone native, as the Prime Minister might say. They have voiced strong criticisms of the rail system in Wales.
No one can seriously deny that there has been a decline in British Rail. Overcrowding and poor timekeeping were reflected in the CTCC report. The points that it made about British Rail's 1989 corporate plan covering the years from 1989–90 to 1993–94 are well made. The new objectives demand a reduction in the public service obligation grant of about 30 per cent. on top of the 50 per cent. cut since 1983. Who can forget the eagerness with which Sir Robert Reid told the Government that he could go even further than the Government wanted? That showed that his was a disastrous appointment. He made only a few plaintive criticisms of Government policy at the very end of his tenure.
The lost Government grant has been countered by new investment from higher fares. Higher fares are likely only to drive people from the railways. Traffic growth is based on an assumed growth of the economy which is not now accepted by the Treasury. In its corporate plan, British Rail is forced by the Government to assume an annual growth of 2.7 per cent. per annum, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer this week, in his Budget, said that we should assume only a 1 per cent. increase in the growth rate. Thus the very basis on which the Government assume that new revenue will be generated for the railways has been undermined by the Government's own forecast.
We know that since then demand for rail travel has fallen substantially. Hence the British Rail cuts which are in prospect in May of this year and cuts in various sectors, whether Network SouthEast, where the CTCC said that the reduction in manpower at stations made stations a "playground for vandals", or InterCity, for which the subsidy was ended in 1988, leading to overcrowding and cancellations.
It is hardly surprising that the CTCC ended its report by stating:British Rail is in trouble. The financial targets set out in the Corporate Plan are seen as a 'virility' symbol which must be achieved even though the financial climate has changed and whatever the costs to the passenger in service cutbacks, delayed investment or higher fares. Meanwhile, many1360thousands of commuters are forced to endure the daily degradation of travelling in grotesquely overcrowded trains and because of BR's decisions, this will get worse.That was the indictment of the CTCC.
One sees problems in terms of service quality on the line I regularly use and which I shall use this afternoon—the south Wales lines from Swansea to London. In the early 1970s when high-speed trains on InterCity were introduced, we were at the forefront of development in Europe. It is fair to say that since that marvellous investment in HST, which cut transport times, there has been a substantial period of stagnation, if not a fall, in the quality of services on that line. In south Wales, because we cannot meet the Government's criteria for electrification, we are likely to have to endure the current 125 diesel services which are now obsolescent in today's world. We are likely to endure them for 15 years until the life expiry time of those services.
Those of us who travel on London Underground can see a similar problem in terms of service compared with other countries. I travel regularly on the underground system from Holland Park, which is where I live in London. When I reach Holland Park station, I expect at least one of the two underground lifts to be out of operation. At Notting Hill, I expect at least one of the two escalators to be out of operation. At least we have loudspeakers now, but they tell us only of cancellations and problems. Eventually, I arrive at Westminster, which is one of the more squalid of the underground stations in London. I am sure that there are even worse examples, but Westminster is one of the major tourist areas. I was recently there with a Norwegian friend, who is pro-British. He was ashamed at the squalor which he saw in the station. That sums up much of our public transport system.
The squalor and stagnation on the south Wales line and with the HSTs is in stark contrast with what is to be seen in France. The hon. Member for Christchurch mentioned the visit to France on 6 February. There we saw the TGV Atlantique. That is the new system, following the success of the Paris-Lyon route. There is a new system snaking out in a Y from Paris to Le Mans and from Paris to Tours. By June, the TGV system will be in operation to Bordeaux in the south-west. Many of the trains travel at 300 km an hour, which is roughly 186 mph.
I shall compare current journey times within the French railway system and the cost per mile with those factors within the British system. My examples are Paris-Angers in the Loire valley and London-Swansea, south Wales. Angers is as far away from Paris as Swansea is from London, yet in terms of travel time it is as far away from London as Bristol, Temple Meads. The two routes—Paris-Angers and London-Swansea—are exactly 191 miles. The TGV time from Paris to Angers is 1 hour 29 minutes and the HST time from London to Swansea is 2 hours 37 minutes. The average speed on the TGV route is 129 mph and the average on the HST line is 73 mph. A single fare from Paris to Angers is £22.80 and from London to Swansea it is £30. The fares per mile in France are about a third lower than the equivalent fares within the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Roger King
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take into account the cost of super-saver tickets. British Rail offers a wide range of fares and it is not fair, if I may use that word, to pick only one example from it. British Rail's pricing policy, rightly or wrongly, is to offer a wide range 1361 of fares. It could be that it is cheaper to travel from Paddington to Swansea using a super-saver ticket than from Paris to Angers.
§ Mr. Anderson
If I were to take all the fares that come within the bewildering range that is offered by British Rail and compare them like for like with the fares within the French system, I should be on my feet for a long time. I have tried, so far as it is possible, to make a fair comparison between one and the other. I think that it would be accepted generally that the equivalent cost of fares in France is about 30 per cent. less than those in the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman can find a means of travelling more cheaply at odd hours in the United Kingdom compared with the cost of travelling in France, let him advance that argument. I have tried to make an honest comparison.
Morale within the French railway system is much higher than in the British system. The French railwaymen have pride in their jobs because they are in a growth industry. There is a buoyant feel in the French railway system, and the environmental benefits that have been gained as a result of investing in it are there to be seen. The financial regimes in France and the United Kingdom are entirely different. In France, there is a greater concern for planning transport throughout the network and with environmental matters than there is in the United Kingdom. In France, there is a willingness to consider regional factors in a way that is not done within our system. One example is the projections for the Paris-Strasbourg line, which cannot be warranted on normal commercial criteria. When it comes to electrification in south Wales and on the south-west line, the Government merely parrot, "The line does not meet the financial criteria which we, the Government, have set."
The result of the non-electrification of the south Wales line will be the exclusion of south Wales from the major benefits of the Channel tunnel. We shall be unable to lock into the electrified system to the tunnel. We know that the Channel tunnel could have adverse regional effects, and those effects will be magnified as a result of the rail regime which the Government impose upon British Rail by their financial policy.
I shall not bore the House by referring to all the available statistics on rail investment as a percentage of gross domestic product, but the latest available figures show that the United Kingdom is at the bottom of the list with the Republic of Ireland.
It is my submission that the crisis in British Rail—the squalor and the stagnation which are so manifest—is due primarily to Government policy. The difficulties with the Channel link can be compared, symbolically, with what is being done in France to effect links with the Channel. The TGV will come from Paris to the Channel port and to Brussels.
Non-electrification means that south Wales has had a poor deal. The journey time from Cardiff to London is about two hours and the projected journey time in 1993, with the opening of the Channel tunnel, from London to Paris will be three hours. That should mean that the journey time from Cardiff to Paris will be five hours. The result of non-electrification is that only one train a day arrives at Waterloo from south Wales, and a change of trains is involved. That is due to lack of imagination in Government policy.
1362 The Secretary of State for Transport laid bare his views on British Rail on the television programme "On the Record" on 25 February. I was so appalled by what I heard that I thought that I would watch the programme again to see whether I had had too good a Sunday lunch on that day. I shall quote some of the Secretary of State's remarks during his interview with David Dimbleby. When talking about rail investment, he said:I set out options for people to choose.He spoke ofwhat 56 million people may choose to do with their money".He seemed to suggest that that was of no concern to him. He said:If you offer a range of items, the public is capable of choosing the ones which suit it.He added:It is not my job to say to people that they should travel by rail.It is the Secretary of State's job to inspire policies that can influence the mode which people choose, whether they be planning policies in cities and outwith them, or subsidies for environmental reasons for the perceived public good. A transport policy cannot be based on the aim of cutting subsidies without regard to environmental gains, such as reducing congestion and vehicle emissions. If this most ideological of Governments opt out of investing in British Rail, they are failing the nation.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
Over the past few years I have often disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) on a range of issues, particularly transport matters. However, I am glad that he reminded me that we tramped through the Division Lobby frequently a couple of years ago in our opposition to the community charge. I am also delighted that, he has taken up the cause of the Network SouthEast commuters, many of whom are from my constituency. I entirely echo the words that he used about their plight.
I suppose that over the past century almost every hon. Member has used in the House or at public meetings Disraeli's great dictum:There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.We could paraphrase that by saying that there are three sorts of damned statistics: statistics, misleading statistics. and the performance statistics put out by Network SouthEast.
My constituents were, to put it mildly, astonished to learn that 92 per cent. of Network SouthEast's trains arrive on time and that 98.6 per cent. of them run at all. Those figures have been greeted in my constituency with disbelief, indeed hilarity. One of the great advantages of being a Member of Parliament is that generally one does not have to travel during the rush hour. However, my secretary comes up from my constituency virtually every day on the train. When I told her, earlier this week, that 98.6 per cent. of the trains that she tried to catch were running and 92 per cent. of them arrived on time she first laughed, then she began to cry and then it seemed that hysteria was about to set in. We gave her a mild sedative and sent her home in a minicab. Many of my constituents know that travelling on Network SouthEast is a nightmare.
I appreciate the Government's argument that it is wrong that taxpayers in the less prosperous parts of the country should be taxed in order to subsidise fares in one of the most prosperous parts of the nation. However, the 1363 practical facts that my constituents have to face are that the reduction and rapid phasing out of the subsidy will mean fewer trains at peak times and at off-peak times, and more unmanned stations.
Therefore, I suggest to the able Minister who is to respond to this debate a form of compromise. In 1992, we shall see the introduction of the new Networker trains which hold out considerable hope for my constituents. I urge the Minister to stop the phasing out of the subsidy at least until after 1992, when the new Networker trains have become standard throughout Network SouthEast.
We all know that in a matter of days my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will be faced with demands for a substantial subsidy to pay for the high-speed rail link between the Channel tunnel and the centre of London. Recently, the Economist Intelligence Unit, commenting on the present planning position on the high-speed rail link, said:It seems astonishing that a rail based project costing up to £7 billion can have got so far without British Rail having come up with a viable solution for joining it to the rest of the rail network. Such inertia, not to say incompetence, may well affect investors's views when they are asked to provide more money to finance cost overruns.I admit that I am torn because I realise the dilemma facing my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My constituents are strong supporters of the Ove Arup scheme, which would mean that lines would be built far away from Bromley, ending up at Stratford. I appreciate my constituents' wish that the lines should run far away from Bromley, but I have the gravest doubts about whether Stratford is the right place for a high-speed rail link to end up. My constituents are also fearful that no viable proposition of any sort will be put forward and the new traffic generated by the Channel tunnel will run on existing tracks, many of which pass through Bromley. That would not only be an environmental calamity for some of the people who live near the existing railway tracks, but would add substantially to the congestion on some of the most crowded and intensively used railway lines anywhere in the country.
The British Rail consortium on the European rail link has made it perfectly plain that it opposes the Stratford route. I do not suppose that the Treasury will be much encouraged by the fact that that route is backed by the Bechtel Construction Company, the largest and one of the most profitable construction companies in the entire world, which knows a gravy train when it sees one. But I have considerable doubts about the wisdom of pouring billions of pounds of taxpayers' money into a venture that may make as little economic sense as Concorde.
The argument in favour of the high-speed rail link is largely based on the success of the Paris-Lyon TGV line which came into operation in the early 1980s. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) referred to their trip to France on 6 February this year to see the TGV trains in operation. That very week The Economist contained an article on future train investment in Europe saying:The change in passenger behaviour on routes between Paris and south-east France after the introduction of TGVs in 1981 was indeed striking. In 1980, about 1 million people flew and 2 million took the train from Paris to Lyon; now about 500,000 fly and 5 million take the two hour train journey.1364 It went on:But Paris-London is not Paris-Lyon.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend is right. Does he agree that among the inevitable repercussions that a genuine high-speed link between London and Paris would bring, one of the great side benefits would be a substantial disincentive for people to fly from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, thus releasing valuable air services at Heathrow and Gatwick? That saving in cash and environmental terms should be a perfectly genuine factor for the Government to take into account in assessing the advantages of investing in a high speed rail link.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing me on to my next point. I believe that in the next few years there will be a vast expansion in the air traffic between Britain and the Continent. Quite clearly, between now and the middle of the next decade there will be increased deregulation between the air traffic companies which will inevitably lead to lower fares. The distance between Heathrow and Charles de Gaulle is almost exactly the same as the distance between New York La Guardia airport and Washington DC Capitol airport. The one-way fare between London and Paris is £95; the fare on the admirable shuttle service between New York and Washington is $95. Given the increased deregulation that is bound to occur, air travel between London and Paris and London and Brussels is certain to become cheaper.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that air space will not expand and that our air traffic control system is still underresourced, undermanned and in need of considerable investment which it will get late and which will certainly take some time to come into operation?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for leading me on exactly to my next point. In the next decade, there will be substantial improvements in air traffic control, access to airports and handling of aircraft on the ground. Under the present scheme for improving air traffic control there will be 30 per cent. higher capacity at Heathrow by 1995 and £30 million is being spent on extra terminal facilities for dealing with shuttle services. I am sure that I join my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch in hoping that the rail link between Heathrow and Paddington will be completed as quickly as is humanly possible.
I believe that there will also be more air space in the next few years as part of the peace dividend. At the moment, one of the constrictions on air travel in Europe is the amount of air space that is taken by military flying. Given the peace divided and the reduction in flights by the Royal Air Force and the French, German and American air forces which is bound to occur in the next few years, there will be more air space for civilian air traffic. That suggests to me that the competition between the airlines and the high-speed rail link is considerably greater than many of the experts would admit.
However, British Rail has substantially underestimated the amount of freight that is likely to move on rail to the Channel tunnel and beyond. I am exceedingly unhappy about British Rail's current proposals for handling that freight. It seems to envisage that most of it will run on lines through west London and south London that are already congested and there will be a Beckenham bottleneck.
§ Mr. Adley
As it seems we are now allowed to advertise, has my hon. Friend seen the book that I wrote called, "Tunnel Vision" which includes a proposal fully to utilise the railway line built in the 1870s with the Channel tunnel in mind, which runs from Ashford to Redhill round through Guildford to Reading? That line exists and is in use. It needs to be improved and some of it needs to be electrified, but if British Rail cannot meet the Government's investment criteria, does my hon. Friend support that proposal which would help to solve his constituents' problems?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am willing to pass him a pen in the hope that he will autograph his pamphlet which, in view of my own cash flow problems, I hope he will give me free.
We need to look anew at the way in which British Rail should handle that freight problem, and I believe that my hon. Friend's proposals are entirely sensible.
We shall face a crunch in a few weeks' time. We know that the main players in the Channel tunnel rail link game are to meet the Minister, when they will tell him, "If you don't put up the money, there will be no chance of a high-speed or freight rail link being built." I have an ambivalent attitude towards the Channel tunnel. I do not dispute that it would be a pity if, having progressed so far, that extraordinary engineering project was not completed. However, I suspect that many of my constituents hope in their hearts that the tunnel will fail financially—and I believe that it will, unless my hon. Friend the Minister makes public money available soon.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) on bringing his motion before the House. If the hon. Gentleman were moved to the Government Front Bench, there is even a chance that the Government might be saved—but I do not expect that to happen.
The rail system in my constituency was butchered by Beeching when his axe fell. Some 110 rail men lost their jobs when the lines from Brecon to Swansea, to Newport, to Merthyr, to Hereford and to Newtown were all closed in 1962. There is a strong case for reopening at least one of those lines and connecting it to the national rail network. The population in my area has increased considerably. In the town of Brecon, it has grown by one third. There is clearly a need for that part of my constituency to be linked again with the national rail system. In a more enlightened age, that may happen.
The debate concerns rail investment on an equal basis with road investment. It is ludicrous for the rail system to be judged by a criterion of an 8 per cent. return on capital investment. Road congestion costs this country £20 billion per annum, and half that is accounted for in the London area alone. We are paying that massive on-cost every year as a consequence of neglecting the rail system.
The British Rail network is one of the few in Europe whose investment is not judged by cost benefit analysis. In recent months, the Government have changed their attitude very slightly and the Department of Transport is beginning to think again. A comparison between the French and British railways reveals the extent of the problem. Over the next 10 years, the French will invest £2 1366 billion per annum in rail capital projects, whereas in the 1990–91 financial year, British Rail will invest just £618,000—a sum wholly inadequate to sustain the system.
What are the consequences of that differential in investment? I, together with other members of the Welsh Select Committee studying Channel tunnel rail links with the Continent, found—as was said by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart)—that SNCF's TGV virtually knocked out air traffic between Lyons and Paris, and over the past 10 years it has carried 100 million passengers. That success has enabled further investment in the TGV Atlantique route between Paris and Rennes. There continues to be a vast growth in rail passenger traffic in France.
Construction will begin shortly on a rail route of 114km that will bypass Paris, at a cost of £1.7 billion. It will also link Charles de Gaulle airport to the rail system, making that route the hub of the European transport system. It will cut two hours from the rail journey between Lyons and Lille in northern France, as trains will not have to travel through Paris. That is what I call a transport system with vision. The scope exists not only for increasing passenger traffic but freight. There is also massive scope for construction in this country of a Berne gauge spine to take all freight traffic, as we have massive problems in transferring freight between the continental rail system and our own.
§ Mr. Roger King
I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the construction of a rail route bypassing Paris. Does he imagine that London residents would accept the construction of such a link if British Rail proposed building one around the capital? Experience suggests that however green rail travel might appear to be, no one wants it.
§ Mr. Livsey
I shall come to that point shortly. I believe that the British public would accept such a project.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Can the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) say how many miles of motorway could be built for the £1.7 billion that it is costing to construct 114km of French rail bypass?
§ Mr. Livsey
I cannot instantly recall the cost of constructing one mile of motorway, but perhaps another hon. Member can do so. However, I am sure that the figure is very high.
§ Mr. Adley
That question can be answered by pointing out that it cost £2 billion to reopen the Thameslink line that already existed. The answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) is that most of the lines for a rail bypass around London also already exist and only small additional links would need to be constructed between them. Many of the existing lines are currently unused, and most are underused.
§ Mr. Livsey
I thank the hon. Member for Christchurch for that expert information.
The criterion of an 8 per cent. return on capital militates against specific projects. As the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr Anderson) said, it militates against investment in the south Wales, Bristol, Great Western line, which will not be electrified under that criterion. However, electrification would proceed under cost benefit analysis. One consequence of the criterion is that there will be no 1367 daytime links to the Channel tunnel and to the Continent because of the absence of electrification. That means that south Wales, Bristol and the south-west, Hereford and Gloucester, Oxford, Swindon and Reading will have no direct link with the Channel tunnel. That is absolute madness.
Why cannot specific projects be judged by cost benefit analysis? Why not have a London rail bypass? The costs of the M25 and of its widening have already been great in terms of environmental damage, so why not construct a high-speed rail link running alongside the M25? Who from the regions and countries of Britain actually wants to stop in London? We want to travel to Madrid, Moscow, or to eastern Europe, as it is opened up. We do not want to stop in London and to experience its massive problems of traffic congestion.
There is no reason why the bypass could not be linked with mainline stations in London, with speed limits for trains of 60 or 70 mph. It would avoid dragging up half of London and the suburbs and would link with the national rail system. It would mirror the Paris bypass, which has been costed at £1.7 billion, and would speed up travelling times between the regions and the Continent for passengers and freight. It would benefit the environment and would reduce the number of people and the amount of traffic in London. Its environmental cost would be far less than putting masses of concrete over southern Britain for more roads. In the context of 1992 and beyond, it would have many benefits for British industry and tourism.
It may be asked how we would find the money to pay for that bypass. In the Budget, the Chancellor paid off £7 billion of the national debt, and some of that money would have been better invested in our rail infrastructure.
The cost to the environment of the road system is immense. The Department of Transport forecasts a 142 per cent. increase in road transport by 2025. People in the south-east should not shrink from seeking basic improvements in rail infrastructure, because more roads will be far worse for the environment.
Figures for 1987 show that 98 million tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted from road traffic per annum in Britain. The figures for nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide are enormous. When one considers that it takes 25 acres of land to construct one mile of motorway, one appreciates the environmental cost of road systems.
The statistics on road accidents are horrific. Figures for between 1980 and 1986 show that 40,000 people were killed on the roads, whereas over the same period there were only 32 deaths on the railways. What a safety comparison.
Rail subsidies vary tremendously between one country and another. The subsidy per kilometre of track in Italy is £10.52p, in France £5.83p but in Britain £1.95p. The public service obligation is essential to some routes, particularly to the central Wales line in my constituency. It is assisted by that subsidy and has remained open sometimes because it runs through five marginal constituencies.
The fares situation is also scandalous. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs discovered that fares in Britain are 60 per cent. higher than in France, where rail transport is much more competitive. British Rail's fares policy paints a very unattractive picture. In 1978, a return ticket from London to Brighton cost £5.65p, but in 1989 1368 it cost £16.20—an increase of 200 per cent., while the increase in the retail prices index over the same period was 115 per cent. That is a quite astonishing state of affairs.
When the Channel tunnel is open, the British public will be horrified by the comparison between the modern continental system and our ancient and inefficient system. They will travel on faster, cleaner and cheaper services and will demand the same for this country. We need to have the foresight now to do something about it.
For six months, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs studied links between Wales and the Channel tunnel. It recommended, first, electrifiction of the south Wales and west of England routes to enable direct links to the Channel tunnel. That is the only way that we shall get them. Secondly, it advocated electrification of the Crewe and Holyhead route and talks with the Irish Government on how best to achieve it. Thirdly, it advocated a Berne gauge freight link to penetrate all major manufacturing areas of Britain to enable industry to compete with that on the Continent. Fourthly, it advocated cost benefit analysis of rail investment. It regarded that as extremely important. Fifthly, it advocated repeal of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. That Act must cover not only private sector fundng but mixed funding. We are burying our heads in the sand if we allow section 42 to cover only private sector funding. I gather that Trafalgar House, one of the main groups involved in the Dover to London link, is screaming for public money because it cannot make that route pay. Sixthly, the Select Committee advocated that British Rail should treat European funds as a net increase in resources. Such a programme is required.
There is little vision in the Department of Transport. The Secretary of State and the Minister for Public Transport should radically change their policy and thinking on rail investment. Our forefathers would have looked with astonishment on our attitudes to rail investment and on the Government's blinkered view on the means of evaluating rail investment.
It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and to bring Britain into the 21st century with a modern rail system serving all our citizens and industry, bringing tourists into this country and creating greater international understanding and offering us the quality of life that we desperately need.
§ Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) on his choice of subject and on the distinctive style with which he presented his case.
The surveys that have been carried out of the priorities of those considering locations for industrial investment reveal very clearly that good transport links are high on their list and that they vie with the availability of skilled labour. Invariably, they are even regarded as more important than such factors as the availability of regional grants. As far as rail links are concerned, the Bradford area has been competing under the burden of a real handicap. For reasons of historic and geographic accident, the city has never enjoyed the access to the national rail network possessed by its larger neighbour, Leeds, and other cities of comparable size. The position might have been better if, in the last century, two competing rail companies had not left Bradford with two stations 1369 permanently separated and half a mile apart. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch could give its history in considerable detail.
A fleeting opportunity now exists to redress the balance and to provide the city and its immediate hinterland with an advantage that would act as a crucial lever in attracting further private investment to an area that certainly needs it. Recently, under the wise leadership of local Conservative control, Bradford has attracted more than £1 billion of investmemt in the west end, Forster square and other imaginative redevelopment schemes. However, a city whose traditional industries are textiles and engineering can never rest on its laurels because it will always be vulnerable to fleeting changes in the economic climate, in fashion and demand.
The major rail proposals which are about to come before my hon. Friend the Minister of State for consideration involve the electrification of the route between Leeds and Bradford, Forster square via Shipley, and the local network immediately to the north; the Airedale line from Leeds and Bradford through Shipley and Keighley to Skipton; and the Wharfedale line from the two cities to Burley in Wharfedale and Ilkley. These proposals follow hard on the heels of the encouraging results of the intermediate Transmark study for the passenger transport executive which was completed in January.
Inadequate rail services are a major headache for thousands of commuters and essential travellers. Overcrowded and often unreliable trains largely reflect burgeoning demand combined with inadequate investment in the past. Electrification will create a fast, reliable service on each of the three routes that I have mentioned and will enable British Rail InterCity services on the new electrified east coast main line—we are delighted to have it—to run on to Bradford from London and all points in between.
The capital costs of these schemes require an investment of some £20 million for wiring the routes and providing the power supply and for engineering works to bridges, tunnels and the lineside to provide adequate clearance and safety. We are talking also about an initial 17 train units, at a cost of up to £2 million each. The amounts are not inconsiderable, but they must be set in the. context of the fact that the local authority has a revenue budget equivalent to that total figure every few months.
The time scale is crucial. The design and implementation of the scheme could take more than two years. There is now a limited window of opportunity which could enable the scheme to be operational by May 1993 at a cost that would be considerably lower than if a decision were delayed. To take full advantage of this opportunity, authorisation by the Secretary of State must be granted by May, and I realise how little time this gives for a decision.
The need for a speedy decision relates largely to the completion of electrification works on the southern section of the east coast main line. It would enable the West Yorkshire PTE to take advantage of the Doncaster electrification depot, providing an immediate saving of £650,000, and to carry out the works at the most favourable price, for it is likely to rise by at least 10 per cent. once the main line works are complete and the team is dispersed. There is also a chance to order the trains at optimum prices by linking them to an existing order from British Rail. The passenger transport authority, Bradford city council and British Rail are together saying to my hon. Friend the Minister of State that they believe that the 1370 scheme can be justified not only in terms of the investment criteria of the Department of Transport by bringing about additional revenue and cost savings, showing more than an 8 per cent. rate of return over its lifetime, but in terms of the broad economic and environmental benefits to millions of people in Bradford and west Yorkshire which would be highly visible, even if they were hard to quantify.
As for operating costs, electric trains require less maintenance than diesels and, because they are more reliable and efficient, not as many are needed. The supplanted diesel rolling stock could relieve other overcrowded services in the county. It is calculated that the savings to local services could be £900,000 per annum, in addition to operational savings for InterCity. The present plans for British Rail's Bradford services involve a change of traction at Leeds, because the Leeds-Bradford line can take only diesels at present.
Obviously the improvements in reliability and performance will result in more passengers on local rail services, generating considerable additional revenue. Reliability and comfort are critical factors, as they are in many other places. At present, many trains are late and too many passengers are unable to find a seat at peak periods. Potential customers are prepared to pay more for their journey if they can be sure of travelling in comfort and on time. I am prepared to say for myself that some increase in fares would strengthen the case for electrification arising out of the Transmark study. It is likely also that an improved service would attract more revenue to British Rail by drawing local people to link with InterCity.
The environmental return will come about largely by a transfer from car to train. There are projected road improvements in the Aire and Wharfe valleys, but their time scale is uncertain and they will remain relatively congested for years to come. Electrification provides dividends in terms of less air pollution—a factor which will also count for more in the future.
I now come to the wider economic case for Bradford electrification. The city council has said that the provision of good public transport is crucial to the city's future. Only half of Bradford's households have access to a car, a figure well below the national average. Electrification is, in effect, the only way that Bradford could truly be retained on the British Rail InterCity network—which I hope everyone would agree is vital. It would surely be unthinkable for the fifth largest metropolitan district and the eighth largest city in Britain to be relegated to a branch line, as would, in effect, be the case.
Connections to the InterCity network and to the Continent via the Channel tunnel are particularly vital for a city that is so dependent on trade. The textile industry in particular has not had an easy time in recent years. Many hon. Members know that in a decade jobs in textiles and clothing have fallen from 850,000 to well under 500,000. This morning, I heard of the loss of more than 60 jobs at a highly efficient textile company, Laxton Crawford, of Silsden in my constituency. The industry has survived because of its export successes. Wool textile exports in particular have been an outstanding triumph, with the United States, Europe and Japan among those clamouring for our products.
The Chamber of Commerce has pointed to the continual need for two-way traffic between supplier and customer and the fact that overseas customers in particular look to a direct link with their Bradford supplier. What 1371 would they think of a city so off the beaten track as to merit no electrified link with the main line only a few miles away? If action is not taken before the Channel tunnel comes into operation, London and the south-east will be more accessible by train from northern France than from northern England, leaving our traditional home market wide open to attack. Can one imagine the French contemplating that for their country?
Business people in Bradford have shown that they will use trains if a good service exists. Some 83 per cent. of firms participating in a recent chamber of commerce survey said that they would transfer travel from other forms of transport if local electrification came. Of course, demand has increased enormously in recent years, and in May the new all-electric BR timetable between London and west Yorkshire will have more trains and they will travel faster. As yet, few of those journeys are, or can be, made directly between Bradford and the capital.
I am sure that many people will agree that good train services are important to tourism. Bradford has become the model to which other cities around the world look if they wish to see how one can sell an industrial centre as a tourist magnet. Tourism now accounts for more than £56 million per annum in revenue to the local economy and an increasing proportion of the work force depends on it. The National Museum of Film, Photography and Television and the Brontë museum at Haworth attract more than 1 million visitors each year. The former, despite its success in drawing over twice the number of expected visitors, describes the absence of a direct link with the south as a severe constraint on its ability to gain business.
The same factor will clearly apply when the Victoria and Albert museum relocates its Indian collection in the city soon. In my constituency, Haworth and the Keighley and Worth Valley railway, to which I am glad to pay tribute, are very much part of the tourism trail. They had a problem in attracting the overseas visitor who is more likely to be dependent on public transport. For Bradford as a whole, the emphasis should be on weekend breaks and short holidays throughout the year, but those especially depend on good direct rail links.
For long-suffering commuters and shoppers in places such as Keighley and Ilkley, electrification of the Airedale and Wharfedale lines cannot come soon enough. Railway staff are tired of having to placate passengers who have complained for too long of delays, overcrowding and unreliability. They demand—and deserve—an improvement. More reliable trains with an increased capacity of 50 per cent., from 200 to 300 passengers, will fit that bill.
Two years ago, my hon. Friend the Minister, after considerable negotiation, approved a scheme for the reintroduction of trolley buses in Bradford. The trolley buses were to be of a novel and advanced design. As I know my hon. Friend will recall, there were detailed negotiations on the project because issues relating to the investment criteria that did not apply to other more conventional proposals were raised. As my hon. Friend may be aware, the trolley bus project has run into problems because the manufacturers are now projecting far higher costs for the vehicles. I am sure that it would be regretted if it were not possible to proceed with that highly innovative scheme. Nevertheless, I believe that I speak for most people in the area when I say that, of the two 1372 projects, electrification, whose immediate benefits would be spread far more widely, must be the priority. It would be tragic if both opportunities were missed
The PTE is putting forward a case for section 56 grants. However, the major demand for capital expenditure will not arise for a year or so, so the vital need is for the Department of Transport to give the project general authorisation so that the PTE can start to invest out of its own resources. Some modest expenditure, for example, would be advisable to protect the depot at Doncaster from vandalism until electrification work recommenced.
The people of west Yorkshire are using the train in increasing numbers. New stations are opening such as the one at Steeton and Silsden in my constituency. The green prospectus must rely to a considerable extent on rail as a vital part of the transport infrastructure. We should not and cannot force people to use trains, but we can make their use sufficiently attractive to make the choice of trains easier. We should not readily be forgiven if we did not grasp a major opportunity to show our faith in the future.
§ Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)
I apologise to the House for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). He is privileged to have been a member of the campaign team for Sylvia Heal and he is, therefore, properly celebrating our party's considerable victory in Mid-Staffordshire.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) on the motion. It notes:the Governments commitment to maintain the existing railway network".Millions of railway passengers have good reason to doubt the strength of that commitment. Only last week, as other hon. Members have pointed out, the Government-appointed chairman of the Central Transport Consultative Committee, Major-General Lennox Napier warned that British Rail is in a mess. The committee met British Rail representatives on 27 February to discuss the 1989 corporate plan which was published last December. The committee was so concerned by what it learned that it took the unusual step of publishing a special report. The report makes damning reading. It says that the new tougher financial targets set by the Secretary of State last December are seen asa virility symbol, which must be achieved even though the financial climate has changed and whatever the cost to the passenger in service cutbacks, delayed investment or higher fares.The report concludes that with the public service obligation grant already cut by 51 per cent. since 1983, demand for further cuts in grant have caused a financial crisis in British Rail.
The report lists services that are to be cut and trains that are to be shortened as a result of that financial crisis. The cuts will cause horrendous overcrowding and a deterioration in services. One would have thought that the Secretary of State would be worried that the new tougher financial targets were having a damaging effect on rail services, but not a bit of it. He said that it was far too early to judge the corporate plan and, as he told the House on 12 March, the problem was that the major-general had been listening to too many speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).
I do not wish to cast any doubt on the persuasiveness of my hon. Friend, but we can safely say that Major-General Lennox Napier, who was educated at 1373 Radley and Sandhurst, was a former commanding officer of the Royal Regiment of Wales and was appointed to his current role by the Department of Trade and Industry, is unlikely to be unduly influenced by Labour politicians. His message to the Secretary of State last week was clear. He said:It is up to BR to come clean and tell the Government that it must go back to the drawing board. Large cuts in investment schemes are to be announced. British Rail is in trouble and that means that the passenger is in trouble. A change of direction and a fundamental rethink is needed by British Rail and the Government.I should have thought that the Secretary of State would want to discuss the matter before rejecting these arguments out of hand, but that was not the case. Last Friday, he told the annual meeting of Northampton Conservative women that he fully endorsed the cuts in rail services. He said that it made sense to cut loss-making services.
As the CTCC report clearly shows, how can it make sense to reduce timetables and shorten trains on services that are already grotesquely overcrowded? How can it make sense to delay the reopening of the Luton to Dunstable line and the electrification of the lines between Ashford and Hastings, Hurst Green and Uckfield, and Reading and Gatwick until at least 1995?
When we need to create an image of a clean, modern railway, why have improvement schemes at 14 stations throughout Network South East also been delayed? At a time when we desperately need to promote park-and-ride schemes as a means of relieving traffic congestion on the roads, what sense does it make to scrap £6 million of investment in new car parking facilities at another 14 stations in the south-east?
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
My hon. Friend is making an important point. Is she aware—I am sure that she is—of the cuts that have led to a lack of alternative engines when they are needed? I shall give an example. The Minister for Roads and Traffic and I were travelling from Chesterfield across the tops of the mountains, because we had to be diverted, to Manchester. The train broke down. It took one and a half hours to get a new engine. It was the middle of summer and everybody was fed up and worn out. The Minister did not make a protest. I was the only person who suggested that something should be done. We waited for an hour and a half. People who travel from Liverpool to London as regularly as I do know that almost every week the train breaks down, although there has been a slight improvement recently. The breakdowns are a result of a lack of investment and of cuts under this Government.
§ Ms. Ruddock
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. What he has described is typical of the regular experience of far too many passengers on British Rail today.
The most worrying aspect of the CTCC report is that it lists more than 200 stations in Network SouthEast that are left unstaffed for all or part of the day. Women passengers are being put at risk simply so that Network SouthEast can meet the financial targets set by the Government. Surely the Government cannot be oblivious of the fact that women are fearful of using our British Rail services at these unstaffed stations.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Yes, men as well. However, the hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that it is especially difficult for women. The survey conducted by British Rail said that 50 per cent. of women tried to avoid using public transport after dark. That is unacceptable in a civilised country. Are we to assume that, to the Government, the staff who provide help and information to passengers and provide women passengers in particular with a greater feeling of personal security are just another loss-making service?
In his Northampton speech, the Secretary of State failed to address the fundamental problem revealed in the corporate plan, which was identified by the Opposition more than a month ago and by the CTCC again last week:. All the planned forecasts are based on economic assumptions that are hopelessly overoptimistic. The three-year £3.5 billion investment programme assumes economic growth of 2.7 per cent. with consumer spending forecast to increase by 2.9 per cent. Yet on Tuesday the Chancellor admitted that growth this year would be as low as 1 per cent., making the predictions of 2.7 and 2.9 per cent. seem decidedly unrealistic. An additional problem for British Rail is that the current state of the property market makes it highly unlikely that its property sales can generate the £800 million over the next three years that the corporate plan also assumes.
The downturn in the economy has already badly affected passenger revenue, and the Opposition calculate that the investment programme of which the Government say they are so proud may have to be cut by up to £500 million because of those difficulties. As the Secretary of State has refused to answer that specific charge, I hope that the Minister will be prepared to do so today.
The economic downturn highlights the essential problem facing British Rail. No one can challenge the assertion that there has been an increase in investment., but, because it has been paid for almost exclusively by passengers in higher fares—I remind the House of increases in real terms of up to 24 per cent. since 1979—and by a worse quality of service, it amounts to no more than the minimum that needs to be done to stop things getting any worse. Basically, it involves simply replacing the worn-out old rolling stock that should have been replaced years ago.
In 1992, on the north Kent line, on which overcrowding is at its worst, the old 10-carriage trains will begin to be replaced by new eight-carriage trains. It is to be hoped that the new trains will be more reliable and that the maintenance costs will be reduced, but the problems of overcrowding are likely to be as bad as ever. Because the new trains are to have sliding doors rather than slam doors, the load factor will increase from 110 per cent. to 135 per cent. In other words, passengers can look forward to standing on an overcrowded new train rather than overcrowded old train. Moreover, although they already pay the highest rail fares in Europe, they can look forward to paying real fare increases of 4 per cent. per year for the privilege.
That is why the Opposition fully support the motion, which calls for road and rail projects to be judged by a common criterion that takes full account of social, environmental and other external benefits. That is the only way to ensure that Britain not only joins the railway revolution that is sweeping through western Europe but that we get a truly balanced approach to transport policy.
That approach has proved very successful in other countries. In France, for example, the TGV project would 1375 never have got beyond the drawing board if the French Government had not been prepared to take into account the wider social benefits that it would bring. Now it has proved a major economic success. Most recently, the TGV Atlantique has received a 30 per cent. public subsidy to provide environmental protection in the Paris approaches and help regional development in Brittany and the south-west. The contrast could not be greater. In France, trains will approach the Channel tunnel at speeds of up to 180 mph with passengers enjoying high standards of comfort—including a creche.
On the British side it will be a very different story. Why?
§ Ms. Ruddock
As we have no tunnel, no rail link and no train, it is difficult to know where the creche will be.
I was about to explain why it will be a different story on our side of the Channel. As the Select Committee on Transport, pointed out, the Government have refused to adopt a strategic approach. They were warned 15 months ago that the private sector would not come up with the cash to build a new high-speed rail link to London without Government support. They ignored that warning. Now it looks as though the Government will have to do an embarrassing U-turn and find the £700 million if the Eurorail project is to avoid collapse.
It is not good enough for the Government to provide public money to a private project simply as a way to avoid major political embarrassment. I remind the Minister that with public money goes public accountability. It is time for the Government to repeal section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 so that we can take a strategic view and ensure that we get the best possible value, in economic, social and environmental terms, for the public money that is provided.
We must also remember that it is not just the link from the tunnel to London that should concern us. We need to develop a national network that provides fast and efficient links for passengers and freight throughout Britain. But while policy continues to be determined by the narrowminded attitude that led Sir Robert Reid to say,It's not our job to run a service that's desirable; it's to run one that's profitable".we can never hope to achieve that aim. That is why we seek the repeal of section 42, accompanied by a decision to give British Rail greater freedom to raise finance for major schemes. I am pleased to learn that the CBI supports our ideas about relaxing external financing limits and allowing British Rail to use its assets to raise loans in the market.
It is not just to ensure that Britain is not left on the periphery of Europe, isolated from the golden triangle, that we need to judge investment in broader terms. That is also the only way that we shall get the new high-quality public transport which is vital to prevent our towns and cities from grinding to a halt as a result of road congestion. In major cities throughout Europe, public transport is judged on its wider social benefits and subsidy is provided, not just to keep fares down but to support investment in 1376 new rolling stock, to provide new links and add to capacity—in short, to provide a modern efficient public transport system to meet the needs of the 21st century.
Again, in Britain, it is a very different story. By 1992, London will be the only major capital city in the world which expects its railways to operate without any Government financial support. As the hon. Member for Christchurch has reminded us, in the central London rail study the Government conducted their own cost benefit analysis of investment in new cross-London links. Unfortunately, they then ignored the analysis and went ahead with the extension of the Jubilee line—the line which the study has concluded would do least to relieve congestion in central London. At the time, we were told that the private sector contribution, which clearly influenced the Minister's judgment, would be £400 million. We now learn that Olympia and York's contribution will be worth 12 and 15 per cent. of the estimated cost of £1 billion at 1988 prices. If the costs go higher, as they often do, the proportionate share of the burden will fall even further. Will the Minister tell the House clearly today exactly how much the private sector contribution will be and when it will be paid?
The adoption of a common social benefit cost analysis for road and rail as proposed by the hon. Member for Christchurch would transform transport provision in London and meet the demands that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has set out in his later motion dealing with public transport in London. I hope that the Minister will respond in some depth on the question of a common criterion. I have no doubt that if it were properly applied, the consequence for London would be a clear reduction of all the hated road building proposals—not just in Tory marginals—and the speedy acceptance of a major package of public transport proposals.
Ministers are fond of telling us how BR and London Regional Transport have all the investment that they can use for new lines. Why then did he not support the new Bill to extend the docklands light railway to Lewisham and Greenwich which they sought to lay before the House last autumn? The plans were complete, public consultation had been thorough and Lewisham borough council had pledged £5 million. The environmental impact was small and the economic benefits and social convenience were considerable. However, the scheme was turned down for want of a relatively small contribution from the Government. Perhaps the Minister will tell us today whether his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State intends to support a Bill to extend the docklands light railway this autumn and whether the funding will be conditional on a particular level of private-sector development contribution.
I want to consider investment in railway safety. When the Hidden report was published, the Secretary of State said:I can assure the House that finance will not stand in the way of the implementation of this report."—[Official Report, 7 November 1989; Vol. 159, c. 837]British Rail's corporate plan makes provision for £200 million of additional expenditure on safety improvements between now and 1993–94 with a further £50 million to be spent by 1994–95. I note, as did the hon. Member for Christchurch, that the cash ceiling on the final PSO grant settlement this year has been increased by £8 million to accommodate safety expenditure arising from the report 1377 on the Clapham Junction rail disaster. All the signs are that the full costs of implementing the Hidden report will be at least £500 million and could be significantly more.
The CTCC report to which I have referred shares our concern that passengers might pick up the entire bill for safety improvements through even higher fares or because investment funds are diverted away from other schemes designed to improve the quality of service.
I join the hon. Member for Christchurch in hoping that the Minister will today give a clear commitment that a substantial amount of the additional investment will be funded by the Government. I also hope that the Minister will accept that it is now time to reconsider the level of staffing on our railways, Underground stations and trains.
I have already referred to personal security being undermined by staff reductions. However, we must also consider operating safety. Anticipating slightly the debate on the next motion, I want to refer to the recent alarming series of accidents, incidents and near misses on the Underground. The new safety culture of London Underground Ltd. seems sadly deficient when a driver can drive his train the wrong way down the track and when a pushchair with a child in it is trapped in the doors of a train and dragged along the platform.
I hope that the Minister can tell us that he has ordered an inquiry into the latter incident which I drew to his attention in a parliamentary question. It is our contention that those accidents would most likely not have occurred if the trains had not been coverted to one-person operation.
For all those reasons—to improve passenger safety and comfort, to build high-speed links with Europe and to ensure that public transport can fulfil its potential to relieve congestion and improve the quality of the environment—we support the motion. Furthermore, I am delighted to assure the hon. Member for Christchurch that he need wait only until the next general election to see a Government in office who will implement proper criteria for investment and provide a new environment in which rail service development can flourish.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) on his success in moving today's motion. I had no idea that he had to wait so long to do it, and I congratulate him all the more. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that although he and I spoke about the terms of his motion, and he was kind enough to consult me, I was in no way the co-author of his speech. I deny any credit for that.
I hope that the House will be able to move on and discuss the next motion on the Order Paper which relates to transport in London. I intend to keep my remarks on London Underground for my response to the second motion.
§ Mr. Portillo
I hope that we do.
I was extremely surprised to hear the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) say that we were experiencing stagnation. I can do no better than to quote the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the chief Opposition transport spokesman, who said, in our last debate on these matters: 1378I cannot argue with the fact that there is an investment programme. I fully accept it. It is hard to deny that a £3.5 billion investment programme is going on. Of course there is investment."—[Official Report, 14 February 1990; Vol. 1517, c. 329]Of course, there is investment and not stagnation as the hon. Member for Swansea, East described it.
§ Mr. Anderson
Will the Minister re-examine that proposition in relation to my points about the south Wales line and the fact that the HSTS, which were pioneering in the 1970s, will remain on that line for the next 15 years? There has been a regression in terms of quality of service. In south Wales, we will have only the hand-me-downs and the trains that will no longer be needed on the east coast main line after its electrification. That is not even stagnation; it is regression.
§ Mr. Portillo
The hon. Gentleman's line has a very high standard of service with high speed trains running at speeds which compare favourably with most of Europe with the exception of the TGV. In much of Europe when people refer to high speed trains, they are referring to 125 mph or 140 mph. Those speeds are quite common in this country now. We have the second highest number of trains that can travel at more than 100 mph of any country in the European Community. Of course, France has the highest number.
§ Mr. Prescott
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice and plead with the Minister to reconsider his earlier comment? His point was understandable but, as the first and second motions will be dealt with separately, we may not reach the second motion. We cannot know at this stage. The Minister said that he would wait for the debate on the second motion to reply to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). That would be unusual, particularly as we may not reach the second debate. I intend no criticism of the Minister, but I hope: that he will reply to my hon. Friend's question because it is very important.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. I think that I can deal with this so that there will be no more points of order on the matter. The Chair cannot compel a Minister or any other hon. Member to answer, but I am sure that it would be a common courtesy, as the point has been raised, if it might possibly be answered. May I also take this opportunity to say that there is much interest in the debate and I would appreciate it if hon. Members could make brief speeches. Many hon. Members still wish to speak.
§ Mr. Dickens
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Because the debate on the first motion is about British Rail and transport policy, it was rather unfair and sad that the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) posed a question about London Underground which is not part of British Rail.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I can deal with that point of order. The motion is about railway investment criteria and public transport policy and that is somewhat all-embracing. Perhaps we can make progress.
§ Mr. Portillo
I will try to respond to the courtesy of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and the guidance that you have given me from the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have an anecdote for the House. The other day I was travelling on the Cambridge line to Liverpool Street. I travelled in the cab of a brand-new class 321 vehicle on a line that had been electrified within the past three years. Both lines to Cambridge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will be aware, have been electrified within the past three years. As we went along the line, we passed the point at which the new link into Stansted airport is being built—a major example of new rail investment. We passed through Stansted Mountfitchet, as it will shortly be known, a station that has undergone a tremendous amount of restoration.
At almost every station we saw improvements under way. New lighting was being installed. Most of the platforms along the line were being lengthened to accommodate 12-car trains. That is now a common feature of Network SouthEast investment. When we got to Liverpool Street station, we found the station undergoing a £100 million refit. It is unpopular with the passengers while it is going on, but it is tremendous that British Rail is bringing that station up to 21st century standards.
I asked the traction inspector and the train driver whether they considered that a lot of investment was going into the railway—a question that I regularly ask people when I travel on the railways. They know that investment is going on—they see it every day. They said that they had noticed a tremendous increase in investment. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch knows that along much of the line a wide track bed has been preserved for many years, with the possibility of increasing the two lines to four.
When I was in Scotland last week there was a similar story, with class 158s about to come on to the network. They are very fast express provincial units. They are air-conditioned, have sliding doors, and are of a very high quality. New rolling stock abounds in Scotland, as it does in the provincial sector as a whole. The east coast line up to Edinburgh is being electrified. At Yoker I saw a signalling system which I was led to believe is one of the most advanced in Europe, and the people using it were very proud of it.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I thank the Minister for giving way and for giving us an anecdote about his meetings with BR staff on the trains. Had those staff made detrimental comments about the running of the railway of the management and administration of British Rail they would have faced instant dismissal under BR's code of practice. Any railway worker speaking publicly against the railway, even in the interests of public safety, faces dismissal.
§ Mr. Portillo
Those people were not speaking publicly, they were speaking within the confines of the cab. When I travelled in the cab on the Settle to Carlisle railway line, the people to whom I spoke had no compunction about telling me that the line should be kept open.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
Will the Minister get his Department to ask Australian National Industries, Aurora plc or William Cook plc where it is proposed that specialist rails fabricated at the Atlas steel foundry at Armadale are to be made if the transfer to Bathgate does not last for a number of years? The alternative is to buy 1380 specialist rails from France. Will the Department of Transport interest itself in this issue, which comes before the Office of Fair Trading this very afternoon, and on which some hon. Members have been in court this week to get a referral from the Monopolies and Mergers Commission?
§ Mr. Portillo
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall reflect upon what he said when I read Hansard, and try to respond to him in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was concerned about investment criteria, as was the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock). We must remember the similarities in the investment criteria for road and rail. We appraise road and rail on the basis of an 8 per cent. discount rate, and we treat costs in a similar way. The problem is that the costs of rail investment can be met directly through fares, so financial appraisal is possible. There is no direct charge for roads, so investment proposals are appraised in terms of the benefits of investment as valued by users and the likely reduction of accidents—that is, on a cost-benefit basis.
My hon. Friend said, "Let us take into account the cost of the National Health Service." We certainly take into account the cost of accidents on the roads. Very often, one of the main reasons for justifying a road project is that it saves lives. My hon. Friend will know that the value of a human life is assessed at £500,000. I thought that my hon. Friend's argument was a little dangerous. If we argue that we should invest in rail to save lives on the roads, we must demonstrate that people are changing from road to rail. For investment in roads, we have only to prove that we are improving a particular section of road where lives will be saved. That is precisely one reason why road investment often has a high benefit-to-cost ratio.
My hon. Friend misunderstood some information given to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), the former Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend said that 7 per cent. of all police costs are attributable to traffic activity; the £282 million, the figure that he was given by my right hon. Friend, is the total figure for traffic policing and traffic warden costs. The costs are taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis and in working out track costs.
People who use the roads pay about three times as much in taxation as the amount required to cover the total track costs of the roads, and that includes policing costs. We have recently said that we are prepared to use cost-benefit analysis for rail services where significant benefits are not captured in fares. That is probably pretty unlikely for long-distance services, but we have made it clear in the latest objectives to British Rail that, where investment to meet growth in demand on local rail services cannot he justified financially, a capital grant might be paid if the cost-benefit analysis demonstrated worthwhile benefits such as the relief of road congestion. My hon. Friend knows that the lines proposed in the central London rail study were appraised in that way. I came up with a cost-to-benefit ratio of about one. None the less, we took a great deal of notice because we said that we hoped to be in a position, further to the extra work that was needed, to approve a Bill this November for either the east-west cross rail or the Chelsea-Hackney line.
The Jubilee line extension was the recommendation from the east London rail study. It is directed towards a different set of objectives, not principally the relief of 1381 congestion in London. It is directed to opening up docklands, giving benefits to constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), and providing public transport services to parts of south London that do not have them at the moment.
To avoid further controversy, I inform the hon. Member for Deptford that £100 million will be contributed by developers during the public expenditure survey period—that is, during the first three years—and the balance of £300 million will be paid in the years after that. Those moneys are paid over—they are not loans, they are cash sums. There is no change from the position that I gave in my original answer and in subsequent answers to the hon. Lady.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was concerned about the continuance of the public service obligation grant. He was kind enough to wecome the Government's commitment on that matter. The case for subsidy to maintain rail services that would not otherwise be provided is that people may have come to rely on them for essential local journeys, for example to schools, hospitals and shops, or that local communities may have become economically dependent on such services.
It is absolutely right that the bulk of the PSO grant made by the Government should go to the provincial sector. However, I see no reason for apologising for wanting that subsidy to be used carefully and reduced over time. That is especially the case when we are investing as much as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has recognised, because it leads to reductions in the costs of the railway. Investment often produces lower costs in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch underestimated the importance, in a railway requiring ongoing subsidy, of trying to achieve a businesslike approach so that we can spend our money sensibly. In his famous speech, Sir Robert Reid, the outgoing chairman of British Rail said:The Public Service Obligation system of subsidy … required the Board: 'to operate its railway passenger business so as to provide a public service which is comparable generally wth that provided by the Board at present'. While this seemed all right at the time, because it gave us a sense of security, it was very negative, 'Stay as you are' it seemed to say. There was no sense of purpose behind it, no focus, no forward looking strategic aim.He then referred to the change in culture that occurred when he received the letter of instruction from the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). He said that the lettergave me well stated objectives and a clear financial remit. In summary these were: To run an efficient railway providing good value for money. To reduce the … PSO by 25 per cent. over three years. There should be no major route closures. To operate freight and parcels on a commercial basis. To procure rolling stock by competitive tender. To increase private sector participation …For the first time we knew what was expected of us.Sir Robert Reid clearly welcomed that important change.
I should not like my hon. Friend to think that I am simply having one long whinge about this, but will he reconfirm his belief that there is no connection whatsoever between the continual reduction in the PSO grant and the increasing number of complaints about dirty, late and cancelled trains? Is my hon. Friend seriously trying to persist with the proposition that those two things are unconnected?
§ Mr. Portillo
Not only that, but I wish that I had brought with me an audio-visual aid such as my hon. Friend produced. I should then be able to show him the contrast in the two. When the public sector obligation is reduced, the amount of investment increases. The two simply cross over. It is only to be expected that when the railway is operating efficiently and can reduce its costs, the amount of money needed to subsidise it from day to day reduces and the amount of money that can be put into long-term investment increases.
§ Mr. Adley
I am sorry—we seem to have had this argument before—but there is no relationship between the two. Investment is simply investment in new railway, and the PSO is the subsidy that is given to those parts of the railway system that are not profitable. I have heard my hon. Friend's argument about the grants crossing over time and time again, but unless I and other people who are transport experts are missing something, we cannot see the correct direct relationship between subsiding the unprofitable parts and investing in a new railway? Will my hon. Friend tell us?
§ Mr. Portillo
I am pleased that my hon. Friend understands so clearly the difference between subsidy and investment. That has not always been clear to the Opposition. It must be obvious that when the railway can reduce its costs and increase its revenue, it needs less subsidy than before. Furthermore, I believe that morale en the railway increases considerably when it operates more efficiently, attracts more passengers and provides a more attractive service.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Will the Minister make it clear whether that series of remarks means that he is rejecting everything in the special report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee and whether he intends to replace the chairman?
§ Mr. Portillo
As I do not appoint the chairman, it is not a matter for me. If I can make some progress with my speech, I shall come to the CTCC report in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is concerned about the PSO. My announcement the other day was that at the beginning of the year we set a cash ceiling for the PSO grant of £496 million. That was based on British Rail's claim for slightly less than that—for £492 million. Therefore, we gave British Rail more than it had claimed. At the moment, we believe that we can settle the grant at £488 million, but I have increased the cash ceiling by £8 million. The final amount paid in grant to the railway will not be settled for some time, but it must fail within the cash ceiling that I have just increased by £8 million. I stress that that was not an announcement slipped out on Budget day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made comparisons with other countries. One point that is not dwelt upon is the extent to which those countries have enormous accumulated debts on their railways which have to be serviced from year to year. My information is that the railway in France has a £6 billion debt and the railway in West Germany a £20 billion debt, despite the recently announced write-offs. Since the early 1960s we have written off enormous amounts of debts for British Rail—the total amount, at today's prices is £11 billion. It is a bit thick—meaning a bit much—of my hon. Friend the 1383 Member for Christchurch to say that the Government expect British Rail to do all its own funding when the Government have written off £11 billion of its debt.
I remind my hon. Friend that the grant to the railways comes from the taxpayers, the property that generates the receipts is owned by the taxpayers through the railway, the loans made to the railway are made by the taxpayers at subsidised rates which could not be achieved on the market and the revenue of the railways is earned on the basis of assets owned by the taxpayer.
When we previously debated the matter, I told my hon. Friend that investment figures for different countries show that in the past year we invested £67,000 per kilometre of route mile in Britain while the French invested £49,000 per kilometre. For coming years, the French plan a large investment programme, but their programme for the Parisian network is £1.5 billion over five years, whereas the Network SouthEast programme is £1.2 billion over three years. More is being invested in the London area than in the Paris area.
§ Mr. Adley
My hon. Friend cannot get away with that. Network SouthEast covers huge areas, not only of central London but taking in Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire—one could go on for ever. With great respect, that is not fair.
§ Mr. Portillo
I am pleased that my hon. Friend did not question my previous figure. The investment per kilometre is higher in this country than in France.
I take issue with the CTCC report because it fails to take account of the many improvements of the service. Overall, Network SouthEast plans to run 2 per cent. more train miles in 1990. That includes an enhanced Thameslink service, peak and off-peak, between Luton and Guildford; increased frequency off-peak on that line and a new evening peak service to Sevenoaks; new electrical services from Southampton to Portsmouth, when the electrification scheme is complete; new direct services to London from Fareham and other services, including Southampton to Gatwick; higher capacity on the Northampton route; enhanced peak services between Euston, Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes; increased frequencies from Aylesbury to Marylebone; two new morning peak services on the Fenchurch Street line; a new Shepperton to Waterloo service, with an accelerated journey time; two new evening peak Reading to Gatwick services; enhanced peak services from Charing Cross and Cannon Street to Dartford; improved frequencies on the south London lines; and the reinstatement of services which previously had to be cancelled because of driver shortages.
§ Ms. Ruddock
We are all absolutely delighted with and applaud that catalogue of improvements. But the point of the CTCC report was that the investment programme has been jeopardised and cuts have occurred. I listed those cuts and asked the Minister whether he denied that there had been specific reductions in services.
§ Mr. Portillo
There has been a net 2 per cent. increase in train miles that will be run in 1990. That gives the best overall picture.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I am interested in the Minister's catalogue of improvements. What improvements are planned for the 1384 north London line, which is still inadequate, badly served and has inefficient trains on it, even though there have been improvements, which I readily concede? Also, what plans does he have for the Barking to Gospel Oak line? Will he ensure that it remains open, that it is electrified and that it provides a service which seriously connects with the north London line? Many people, including myself, suspect that the inefficiency of the service is a prelude to running it down altogether.
§ Mr. Portillo
I do not make plans for the railway lines. British Rail brings the plans to me. I know of no plans for the Gospel Oak line. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to concede that recently there have been dramatic improvements on the line. Stations have been renewed, there is refurbished three-car rolling stock and a 20-minute interval of service. The improvement or rebuilding of Silvertown station is planned and there is the slightly longer-term improvement of Stratford station. The line has already undergone dramatic change. I am pleased about that.
§ Mr. Portillo
I thought that I had replied to the hon. Gentleman's question about that. No plans have yet been brought to me, so I do not know what the position is. British Rail will make the plans and bring them to me. It will not happen the other way around.
It is correct that the improvement of the Manchester-Blackpool service has not been approved. Ministers have received no proposals for the service, so we cannot be expected to take decisions on submissions that have not yet been made to us. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) referred to the Bradford service. The scheme is being considered by British Rail and the passenger transport executive. When they have conducted their analysis, they will want to discuss it with my Department. If they apply for section 56 grant, we shall consider the application carefully.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley talked about the money for the trolley bus project and asked whether it could be transferred to the railway. We have told the PTE that it can make such a transfer away from the project towards buying electric vehicles. I do not think that that is the way it wishes to go, but the offer was made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) made an interesting and thoughtful speech. He began by saying that he did not want the subsidy phased out on Network SouthEast. It was my hon. Friend's borough that led the campaign against the subsidies made by the GLC for the Underground services on the basis that the people of Beckenham would not benefit from them. By extension, people throughout the country may wonder why they should subsidise services for commuters in the south-east of England rather than services that meet the wider social benefits of the isolated communities that are typical of the provincial sector.
The main thrust of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was directed at the high-speed link. I remind him that £1 billion of investment has been put into the present rail service. That will enable a reliable three-hour service to operate between London and Paris. The journey time between London and Brussels will be two-and-three-quarter hours. The question is whether we should use taxpayers' money to knock another 30 minutes 1385 off the journey and to increase the capacity of the line for the longer term. My hon. Friend helped us to put in context what the Government are being asked to do. We are being asked to subsidise a service that will already exist to provide a shorter journey time in competition with other modes of transport which are not subsidised by the Government.
It will be of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham to know that I have made an announcement today on noise insulation for new railway lines. We have set up a committee whose remit is to recommend to the Secretary of State for Transport a national noise insulation standard, or standards, for the operation of new railway lines that relate equitably to the standard set by regulations for new highways. The aim will be to arrive at a standard, or standards, at which the duty to offer noise insulation will be triggered, and to set the trigger at a level that will ensure parity of treatment between those who live near new railways and those who live near new roads. I think that that will be welcomed by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, who is always arguing in favour of parity between different modes of transport. The details of the committee are set out in Hansard today in an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate).
I was rather surprised by some of the things that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said about a London bypass by rail. If the hon. Gentleman has a moment, I invite him to talk to some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Kent about the environmental problems of building new railway lines. We must not think that new lines are an easy environmental option. Instead they pose new problems that are as great, and possibly even greater, than those presented by roads.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor talked about connections between the west and Wales with the Channel tunnel services. It is proposed that there should be train services running into Waterloo rather than Paddington which will connect with cross-Channel services. That facility is important and will be envied by other people, because much of the debate on a new link is about how to establish a cross-platform link between one service and the Channel tunnel service. That possibility will exist in 1993 for the constituents of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Is it possible for us to go a little further north? Can the Minister say anything about the electrification of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, in particular about any discussions with Mr. Bleasdale and his colleagues about the electrification of the southern line, which is much cheaper and overcomes the technical problem of the electrification of the Queen street tunnel? Some of us strongly favour a link-up between Mid Calder and Carstairs.
§ Mr. Portillo
When I was in Scotland I was impressed by the management's willingness to think creatively and consider all the options. There are three lines between Edinburgh and Glasgow. I shall probably get this wrong, but I think that they are Carstairs, Shotts and Falkirk. At various times, all three have been considered and I know that the management of ScotRail are continuing to think about that carefully. I am sure that they will want to bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.
1386 I shall return to the speech by Sir Robert Reid. He summarised his own speech in the following words:Prior to 1982 we were organised as a bureaucracy, engineering based, union dominated, production led. The customer took a back seat to what was perceived as being of more importance: engineering and operating expediency led priorities—these spending barons produced demands for ever larger subsidy—undermining our credibility … In 1983—our goals were defined—challenging but achievable—we know we could meet them provided we got rid of the old culture. In 1989 we are not completely there and there is much to do. But we are ready for the decade ahead.This Government have enabled a £3.7 billion investment programme in British Rail and a £2.2 billion investment programme in London Regional Transport to be established. In the years ahead we shall be spending as much on public transport as on roads. Under this Government, the docklands light railway has been built and extensions to it are under way. Under this Government, the Jubilee line extension through London has been approved. That is the biggest project of its sort for a quarter of a century. We are actively considering which new railway line we might be able to authorise under London, whether it will be an east-west cross rail or a Chelsea-Hackney one. We have made an enormous grant to the metro link project in Manchester to extend public transport there. We have given a £6 million grant to Sheffield so that the studies for the super tram can be continued.
That is the record of a Government who are even-handed between road and rail, but have shown a tremendous commitment to providing the investment necessary to improve the public transport of this country.
§ Ms. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
After one has heard the smooth and sophisticated presentation of the Minister for Public Transport, it is always a delight to welcome the efforts of hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, I hope that in the short, remaining period of this Conservative Government we shall see him as Secretary of State. We desperately need someone in the Department who understands the implications of the importance of railways. Such understanding was not demonstrated by the Minister today.
The hon. Member for Christchurch set out, in an exceedingly detailed and informative speech, the case for a proper examination of the different forms of investment. There are two ways to plan transport, both of which are political. One can plan a transport system that is properly intergrated and provides a proper relationship between one mode of transport and another, or one can do what the present Government have done and let the matter be decided, in effect, by default. The result can be seen every day not only in the streets of our capital city, which are becoming increasingly impassable for any mode of transport, but elsewhere, in the cost to British industry of attempting to move freight from one place to another.
I must not speak for long today, so I shall concentrate briefly and strongly on the Channel tunnel link. My constituency has now been chosen as one of the first freight depots. We are delighted about that, but we want the advantages to be passed on to other areas. It is vital that the Government should begin to understand that simply allowing British Rail to increase its external borrowing 1387 limit while demanding that the return comes almost exclusively from the passenger is to put a self-defeating and deadening hand on the future of transport in Britain.
Increasingly over the past few years the passengers have been made to pay for the improvements that the Minister has listed with such pleasure today. The passengers who use the InterCity services must fund the improvements that make the railway system appear as if it is constantly improving, but electrification must happen much faster and must go much further if we are to begin to compete after the Channel tunnel opens.
Political decisions about the transport network in the north-west will have to be taken. We could provide a land bridge to Ireland through north Wales or, if needs be, through central Wales. The electrification of the line between Crewe and the north Wales ports would provide rapid freight transport after 1992. We look forward to a political decision being taken to enable King's Cross to be considered as the most efficient place to provide a terminus and exchange point for the traffic that will undoubtedly be generated by the Channel tunnel.
One point which the Minister has not accepted today and which ought to be underlined is that the French, the German and the Scandinavian railway systems have planned the development of their railways in relation to the Channel tunnel not over a couple of years, but, in the case of the French, over more than 10 years. They have been able to reach agreement on the environmental costs and the straightforward industrial costs because they have been able to commit money to offering solutions where difficulties arose. The Conservative Government in Britain have not been prepared to step in and think about where the high-speed lines should go, they have not been prepared to offer any sweeteners to enable the people in the areas affected to accept the implications of the high-speed line and they have done nothing to address the political and environmental impact upon the London constituencies. Unless those problems are faced head on, there will be no solution to the line of the route or to the acceptable development of transhipment points.
The Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Transport have both paid at least lip service to the idea; they are prepared to get together to produce some consultation about the environmental costs of transport policy, but in reality very little is being done to make that a positive policy. In 10 years of Conservative Government, they have tended to regard British Rail as a milch-cow capable of putting money into privatisation schemes by selling off British Rail Engineering Ltd., with its vast amounts of acreage, but they are not prepared to invest money to improve the services.
We want a clear commitment from the Government that they view the rail network as part of a planned transport policy, rather than simply rolling out figures and saying, "Over a number of years, we have allowed British Rail to go to the external market and to increase its borrowing powers." We want planned expansion to improve facilities for passengers and freight, taking into account the fact that Britain will shortly be more firmly locked into an open market and that the French, Scandinavian and German railways will be capable of benefiting from that trade expansion, whereas ours will not. It would be a disgrace if the French were the only 1388 people prepared to invest in new rolling stock and facilities to provide a cross-Channel link. It would be even worse if that link was not treated as part of the integrated rail system.
The Minister spoke of the difficulties of constructing rail lines but failed to acknowledge that, unless those problems are faced, regions such as mine in the north-west in particular will be badly affected, as will all other passenger and freight services. Electrification without integrated planning is a short-sighted and stultifying policy for any Government to adopt, and one that will cost both the taxpayer and the passenger as well as British industry.
When Britain has a Government who really understand the implications of public transport, they will not take the view that railways operate in a vacuum—or, even worse, that parts of the rail network should do so—that London Transport, for example, should be considered apart from British Rail, and that British Rail should be dealt with separately from the management of British airspace. Anyone who travels between London and the north-west increasingly appreciates that the motorways resemble nothing so much as road trains, with one person per car instead of one person per carriage. Freight is increasingly carried nose-to-tail on minor motorways, and such traffic is reaching saturation point.
The alternative is not double-banking roads or road pricing, although both are a form of traffic management, but a system that reflects the understanding that a large volume of freight must go back on to the railways where it can be transported efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way, bringing positive benefits to the customers concerned.
Above all, Britain needs a Government who understand that railways are not a subject for debate on a Friday in this House, as though they are an abstract topic that can be slotted away for another six months in the hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch will not, with any luck, have another opportunity to make his arguments for some time.
This country is, by default, handing over the management of its transport system to other nations day by day, and the Minister's only response is to trot out a series of meaningless statistics that represent no kind of positive policy for the future. When transport becomes an important element in the next general election, not only will the Government regret their policy but the British public will realise that they have paid for it in terms both of immediate cash and a lack of forward planning. Government transport policy is an extravagance that this country can no longer afford, and the sooner that something is done about it, the better.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown the nation that she obviously gives a high priority to transport policy. She has given the Department one of her best Cabinet Ministers in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, whom I shall be meeting this evening, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, whom I recognised as a shining star when he served with me on the Energy Select Committee. We have in the Department a good Secretary of State and good junior Ministers.
1389 In a debate on rail and transport policy, it is wrong to offer blinkered and narrow views on only rail travel. The Department of Transport is responsible for travel by sea, road, rail and air, and it must dovetail those means of transport because often one is dependent on the other. Let me give a typical example. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, said that rail commuters pay for rail investment through fares and that that does not apply to road users. Let us nail that lie straight away. When one buys a motor vehicle one pays tax and VAT on it. One buys a vehicle licence and pays tax on parts, and a high tax on petrol. Motorists use motorway service stations—the Little Chefs and Happy Eaters—which all pay tax, as do their staff. To say that road users do not pay for roads is ridiculous and undermines the argument.
People use the roads and railways. Unless my eyes deceive me, every time I pass a railway station I see thousands of cars parked. The drivers of those cars are also rail users. Roads and railways are dependent on the same users. When road users have paid billions of pounds in the taxes I described earlier, there is much small change left for rail investment.
§ Mr. Dickens
The Foreign Office receives money from road users. Their money has helped to subsidise railways in the past, and no doubt some of it has helped with defence. It certainly is not all given to roads.
Those who advance environmental arguments must understand that roads are required to bypass villages.
I serve the constituency of Littleborough and Saddleworth, which surrounds those grand towns of Rochdale and Oldham. The north-west depends on transport to deliver its goods to Europe. The wealth creation of this country depends greatly on industry in the north-west. The textile mills—wool mills in Yorkshire and cotton mills in Lancashire—created the industrial revolution. When it experienced problems and other nations caught up, its workers did not receive the same conditions as miners—guaranteed jobs and wonderful redundancy terms—but had to develop new high-technology skills. Given the spirit and invention of folk in the north-west, they were able to do that.
The north-west must produce goods that people want to buy at the right price, on time and with good after-sales service. To deliver goods at the right price is important. Our main industrial competitor in Europe is Japan, which is a good copier. Britain is the inventor of the world. Television, which was developed from radar, and the jet engine, were British designs. The Japanese are not only great copiers but are good at production methods and at reducing unit costs. If we are to compete, we must improve our unit costs, which we are doing, but it would be nice if we could take advantage of the thousands of miles that Japanese goods must travel to Europe by transporting our goods from the north-west quickly to Europe. We must be able to transport them cheaper than Japan. That would compensate for other advantages that the Japanese have.
The Confederation of British Industry in the north-west made the long journey to the House to meet north-west Members of Parliament. Its main concern was that rolling stock from the north-west to the Channel tunnel would be 1390 sufficient, that the service would be sufficiently regular and that there would be sufficient carriages to move passengers and goods quickly to Europe.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the analogy with Japan, is he aware that one reason why Japanese industry and transport are doing well is that the entire historic debt of the Japanese railways has been written off to make them more efficient?
§ Mr. Dickens
Yes, and the Japanese cured their inflation problem with a tax-free savings exemption scheme, just like the Government introduced on Budget day. The Japanese have learnt from us and we can learn from them—we are not too proud to do that. The industrial base of this nation has taken off. I am disappointed that my hon. Friend the Minister will not have the pleasure of replying to my contribution, but he always reads my speeches in the Official Report. Of course, he is listening now, but he can remind himself of my contributions later.
§ Mr. Dickens
No, my hon. Friend the Minister never falls asleep during my speeches.
We in the north-west are anxious to get our goods to Europe at the right price, so we want to cut transport costs. We have the technology, industry and the inventions, but we want to beat other services on the cost of transportation to Europe. Whether the goods go by sea, rail, air or road, we hope that the United Kingdom's transport policy will be sound. I have every reason to believe that it is.
Subsidies are a curse. I remember the period after the war when it was difficult to get rid of many subsidies. I think particularly of housing subsidies, which roll on and on. One should remember that if subsidies are given to help the south-east or the south-west, the people in the north-west, in my constituency, help to pay for them. The more industries stand on their own feet, the healthier and better it is. I was encouraged when my hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government had put just as much money into the railways as into road schemes. That is commendable and long may it remain. Let us rely on the Government to take this message on board and to realise that it is their duty to give us good communications and a good transportation policy for all forms of travel.
§ 1.7 pm
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I should like to take up the closing words of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) about a good transportation policy. He illustrated the interconnection between road and rail and the importance of trunk routes to the north-west. The problem is that the Government not only have not given us that policy but, alas, show no signs of doing so. That is why this excellent motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley).
The hon. Member for Christchurch is a well-known expert on these matters. He is also a representative of the progressive Toryism of the past which I knew and which has been replaced by the less knowledgeable and less appropriate Toryism of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth. The lack of that older 1391 tradition in the Conservative party caused the accident that befell it yesterday in Mid-Staffordshire. If there had been more of the common sense of the hon. Member for Christchurch, there would have been more votes for his candidate and conceivably fewer for mine.
I hope that I can now pass from less partisan matters and return to transport matters. The Minister gave the game away in some respects when he said in concluding, as if with pride, that there is new transport in London—the Jubilee line and the docklands light railway in the Newham constituency. There certainly are new lines, but they are not railways that are built because of strategic considerations or comprehensive transport planning. If they were, they would not be proposed by the Government who, in both cases, are more concerned with the needs of the developers and of the capitalists, some of whom are from different parts of the world, than with developing London properly. Such developments are being made for the wrong reasons and they illustrate the present position.
Most Members of Parliament and certainly most members of the public want a transport system, both rail and road, that caters for mass movement, which integrates the demands of both road and rail and which is planned on the basis of being a public service. The Minister's aim is for some sort of transport and railway system which is linked to theories from a think tank of 10 or 15 years ago and which looks on the transport of individuals purely as a market commodity. That is how the Government have been running the railways. It annoys many of us when we see clearly services that are not up to scratch being advertised in ridiculous television commercials. What might otherwise be an atttractive crooning voice appears ridiculous. The habit of announcers at stations talking about "customers" rather than passengers betrays the philosophy imposed on the British Rail management by the Government.
The Minister talked about the Silvertown and north London lines, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred, and about the anomalies of the Barking to Gospel Oak service. The Minister may have forgotten that in Question Time recently the Secretary of State admitted that that service was in a terrible state and that a special report had been called for. The service may be a bit better now, but it should not improve only because the subject has been raised on the floor of the House, or because the Secretary of State tried the line himself and found it wanting. That is not the way to make improvements. We want improvements to result from the buoyant demand for mass movement.
I shall confine the rest of my remarks to three aspects: routes, people and safety. It is clear that there is no comprehensive national planning for upgrading or putting in new railway routes. If there were, we should not have our present trouble over the Channel tunnel. The Government do not even understand or look to the vision of their 19th century forebears. The forget that almost 100 years ago Sir Edward Watkin planned the great central railway with a specific eye to serving the Channel tunnel. It would be good for the country, including the north-west, if the remnants of that railway were now safeguarded. I know that it might be difficult to put it through urban 1392 areas, but it would be good if it was safeguarded at once. That would plug a gap in the Government's strategic thinking.
The mess-up over the Channel tunnel is another illustration of the Government's lack of strategic thinking and of the fact that the project has been tied to private enterprise purse strings. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will, no doubt, refer to Stratford. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) said that his constituents wanted to end up not in Stratford but in central London. It may be forgotten that a journey from Stratford to central London would take only five, six or 10 minutes on the cross-rail—if it were built. People want a big international centre with plenty of space and with fast routes to the Channel tunnel, which is easy to reach from all parts of central London, from the north-west and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said earlier, from Wales. Stratford would fit that description. It may sound a long way from central London—
§ Mr. Spearing
That is true. In terms of time, through the cross-rail route which we all want to see, it would be very close. It would take five to 10 minutes to reach from most parts of the City and the west end. The Government's lack of vision has caused the problems.
I have here a map produced by British Rail in 1980, under the far-sighted chairmanship of Sir Peter Parker. British Rail wanted a cross-rail route from Euston to Victoria and, if it had dared to propose it, a route from Paddington to Liverpool Street as well. The plan was presented complete with a cost-benefit analysis, but the Government turned it down. I believe that it was never meant to have any success. If British Rail had put the plan into action, cross-London trains would have been running now and we should not have our present problems in London. It is because of the Government's shortsightedness that we did not get them at that stage.
We can go back even further. The Government talk about Victorian virtue. The Metropolitan railway joined Liverpool Street and Paddington—now also the northern part of the inner circle—with links at both ends 100 years ago. It was not a capitalist invention. Conservative Members' ideas about economic theory are mostly wrong. The Metropolitan railway was built as a result of the vision of a man called Charles Pearson, solicitor to the City of London corporation, whose driving force was philanthropic. He thought, "Let us build a railway from the overcrowded insanitary city to the countryside so that people can live in decent suburban surroundings and come to the City to work." The driving force of the Metropolitan railway was not capital. The railway was the result of good strategic town planning of the sort that this Government do not even recognise. They are more than a century behind the times when it comes to transport in London.
The cross-rail option would be the better option because it would provide much more relief than some other routes—certainly more than the Jubilee line option, which the Government have chosen. They have no strategic understanding of national trunk routes or even of routes in London.
My second theme is people. The Government regard the public not as passengers but as customers, and their 1393 attitude to the most important people on the railways other than the passengers—those who run it—is deplorable. British Rail's industrial relations record has been very poor lately. BR brought in a gentleman whose name I forget who had been with the motor industry, and we all know the trouble that we had. I know from talking to people on the railway just how dismayed they are at the way things are going. They are squeezed all ways. A few moments ago, the Minister himself referred to the shortage of drivers. Drivers have been resigning from the southern region.
The psychology of the management—the way in which it goes about things—is all wrong. Running a railway is like running a family business: it requires loyalty and team work. Managers must show that they understand the difficulties and problems of those who operate the service, but they are not doing that. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) properly referred to women and safety on British Rail, yet even now it is extending the one-person operation of trains. I shall return to the safety aspect of that in a moment but it is certainly important from the point of view of people travelling at night, especially women. British Rail is steaming ahead—if that is the right word—with disregard for the needs of its passengers, both on platforms and on trains.
My third theme is safety—a theme of considerable importance. Hon. Members have repeatedly referred to King's Cross and Clapham and the Government have made expositions concerning their adherence to safety standards. The Minister has been engaged in conversation for some time, but I ask him to pay particular attention to my remarks on this subject. He and I have had some correspondence about the one-person operation of trains on the older lines of the London Underground. When London Regional Transport—or, more accurately, London Underground—introduced the one-person operation of trains on the Piccadilly line, I protested to Sir Keith Bright, the then chairman. I regarded the introduction of the system as increasing the hazards and asking for trouble.
I raised the matter again in the House on 13 March 1989. I asked the Minister to review that practice. In a public speech on 8 September 1989 in Upminster, bearing in mind Zeebrugge, King's Cross, Clapham and one or two other episodes of that kind, I said:We have now seen disaster on the sea, and in London on the river, on an escalator and on an open railway line. In each case we ask, 'Why did it happen?' If we get another London disaster, this time in tunnels in the bowels of the earth, it could be that that question need not he asked, since the answer might be in this speech. Mr. Parkinson must now act to make that impossible,".In that speech, I was referring to the refusal of the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), to ask LRT to stop the extension of one-person operation on London's older tubes. I discount the Victoria line because it works on a different system.
I have had correspondence with the Minister for Public Transport and I am glad that he is present today. In Hansard there is an answer from the Minister to one of my written questions, and he has reproduced in full a letter that he sent to me. I asked him to check with the railway inspectorate whether one-person operation on deep tube trains was satisfactory to the inspectorate. I believe that it is inherently unsatisfactory. In his answer the Minister stated: 1394The inspectorate arranged for an exercise to be carried out in the early morning of Sunday 28th January on the Bakerloo Line between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. It involved four trains, none of which was in passenger service. The simulated emergency was deemed to have been caused by the incapacitation of the driver of the leading train. The simulation was done in such a way as to create the conditions likely to be met if the incident had occurred during the peak hour service … the Chief Inspecting Officer tells me that he regards the arrangements as acceptably safe and that they constitute a suitable method to deal with the unlikely event of a train stopping within a single-bore tunnel due to the sudden disablement of its driver."—[Official Report, 22 March 1990; Vol. 169, c. 655–56.]There are other risks with one-person operated trains, as we are aware from the King's Cross inquiry. Hazards occur when unlikely and unforeseen events occur.
When the Minister received the report from the inspectors did he wonder whether the test was carried out with passengers on the trains? Did he wonder whether the test was carried out simply by the staff? As I have given the Minister notice of this point, will he tell us whether the simulated accident or hazard took place with simulated passengers or were the trains empty?
§ Mr. Portillo
The trains were empty of passengers, but there were observers including London Underground Ltd employees, an inspecting officer from the railway inspectorate and two trade unionists, one of whom was a safety representative.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am grateful to the hon. Minister. Other than his political motivation and his economics, he is a reasonable Minister. He is courteous and fair. However, I believe that there is a lacuna. When we ask why hazards happen or why a single wire should dangle down, as it did at Clapham, or why a single cigarette should start a conflagration as it did at King's Cross, we may forget that someone in the chain of responsibility has forgotten to ask the obvious.
I am determined to question the safety of one-person operation on the older tubes. The chairman of LUL has pushed the issue aside and the Secretary of State has pushed it aside twice. However, to the Minister's credit, he said that he would consult the inspectorate and, perhaps because of my questions, the inspectorate performed a simulated exercise.
Two questions arise. First, why is it that, two years after the introduction of one-person operation, there was a simulated exercise? From the context of the Minister's letter, I guess that it is quite clear that it was not done before. If there is a disaster—I hope that there will not be—somebody will ask, "Did they have an exercise?" It will be proved that they did not—at least not until the one that the Minister mentioned. Secondly, when the Minister read the letter, as I did not, did he ask himself whether the passengers in the trains were make-believe passengers in the sort of density that everybody who uses London Underground experiences in rush hour conditions? I emphasise the Minister's answer, which states:to create the conditions likely to be met if the incident had occurred during the peak hour service.If we are to test a school fire exit—some hon. Members have done that in their younger days, and I have been responsible for supervising such tests—would it be good enough to say, "Yes, we did a test with the staff and the caretaker"? That is what happened underground. If we conduct such a test in a cinema or a large opera house, as one must do under the law, and we said, "Yes, we did a test 1395 with the usherettes and the manager," would anybody accept it as a valid test? I suspect that, when the Minister got the report, he forgot to ask himself that question.
Can we accept as a valid test the evacuation of tube trains underground in a simulated condition that the inspectorate believed is likely to occur in the rush hour when there were no passengers present, not even people who might be expected to simulate passengers? We all know what happens in the event of an emergency at sea, on land or in the air. People do not expect it. The London Underground test was not the sort of exercise that should have taken place. Such a test should be done only when trains are full of passengers and when they do not expect such an exercise to take place. In all modesty, I advise the Minister that he has slipped up in accepting that as a valid test of the safety of our underground trains.
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who shares with me an interest in the bicycle as an even cheaper means of public transport, and an interest in Acton—an interest which turned out to be mutually exclusive for us. I join the hon. Gentleman in his compliments to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) who has ignited a lively debate. As many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, I propose to keep my remarks relatively brief.
I inform my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) who, like me, has sat patiently throughout the debate, that I would be the same shape as he is were it not for the fact that I travel regularly on Network SouthEast from Ealing Broadway to Paddington or by Piccadilly line in the rush hour from Acton Town to Westminster. Congestion in the coaches keeps the elongated structure that is now addressing the House.
Anybody who travels on the tube or on Network SouthEast will say that congestion has got worse and that conditions have deteriorated. There are simply more people travelling. Also, there are more interruptions and cancellations than there used to be. Not all of them are the fault of the operators, but quite a lot are. As a result, more people are writing to their Members of Parliament—certainly those in London—complaining about conditions. They know that, over the past 10 years, the economic fortunes of this country have improved. As a result, they expect part of the greater wealth that has been created to be diverted to the improvement, modernisation and expansion of public transport in London, the south-east and in other parts of the country.
Superimposed on the resentment to which I referred and the rising expectations that I have touched on is a third factor, which is linked to the welcome awakening of interest in environmental concern. It is a questioning of the role of the motor car in our society, concern about the pollution that it is causing and anxiety at the land use implications of catering for its appetite. In London, there has certainly been a major shift of public opinion on this matter. In the past few years, there has been a swing against road construction and in favour of public transport.
1396 Our job as Back Benchers is to report that shift in public expectation to the House. That is what most of us have tried to do in the debate. The Minister's job is more difficult. It is to capture the changing public mood and to convert it into practical, realistic and affordable policies. No one could do that better than my hon. Friend who is a fellow London Member and who has finely tuned political antennae. Some of the guiding principles involved in making that difficult conversion from the gut feeling that we should spend more on public transport to devising and implementing he practical policies of building new lines and modernising others have been touched on in the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said in his excellent speech that we should avoid dogma. We have painted ourselves into a corner over the high-speed Channel tunnel link by saying that there should be no public money for the route. With respect to my hon. Friend the Minister, it is not just a question of a faster link; it is also a question of increasing the capacity. The capacity on the existing proposals will not be adequate if the traffic forecasts are right. It was doubtless a well-intentioned policy at the time to say that there would not be a public subsidy for the high-speed link, but that policy is now outdated and unrealistic and should be changed. We have insisted on high environmental safeguards, which have tipped the project from being viable to unviable. Therefore, it seems wholly sensible that the taxpayer should help to fund the project.
If the full potential of the Channel tunnel investment is to be realised we shall have to look afresh at the rail network in this country, at terminals and all the rest. The investment regime that may have been right when we were considering simply an internal network for this country may be wholly inappropriate when we begin to consider a network that is part of a continental network, with all the implications for competition and exporters that go with that.
I hope that we shall not be dissuaded by Opposition Members from looking to passengers for part of the contribution towards the greater investment that we all wish to see. We are not pushing up fares simply because we are reducing subsidies to public transport. Fares are being increased because the Government are committed to a major expansion in public transport and they rightly believe that as the passenger is the principal beneficiary, he has a role to play in funding the investment.
In retrospect, the worst days for London were when subsidy was diverted into keeping the fares down, when there was little expansion and when congestion worsened. In retrospect, that was short-sighted policy to which I hope that we shall not revert. I am prepared to defend higher fares to my constituents as long as they are linked to substantial investment and to an improvement in services from which they will then benefit.
We have had a debate about level playing fields. I was persuaded by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch that at the moment there is some discrimination against investment in public transport. I listened to what the Minister said: he hotly denied my hon. Friend's claim. I felt that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch had the balance of the argument, but I am prepared to be persuaded.
I also listened with interest to the remarks about the east-west cross route. That will be of major interest to people in west London because many people who live in 1397 Ealing work in the City. The Central line is congested and slow and an extension from Paddington to Liverpool Street would therefore be of major interest. I am not sure that I accept the argument, which we heard only when the Government said that they could afford only one link, that London's traffic could not cope with two links at the same time. That argument was put forward only after a decision was made that only one would be funded. I am not persuaded by that, because I believe that there is sufficient capacity in London and that London needs both.
I agree that there is a problem with exporting the spoil, but that could be done by canal, for example. Paddington is on a canal and much of the spoil could be removed by that route. The Jubilee line clearly has links with the river Thames and the Chelsea-Hackney route is not all that far removed from the river. Therefore, I do not accept those arguments and I hope that the east-west cross route, which was at the top of the list, is the one that goes ahead.
Two points have not yet been mentioned. The first is highly relevant. Much of the work for which hon. Members have asked during the debate involves legislation and would use the private Bill procedure. I speak as the sponsor of the King's Cross Railways Bill. I am genuinely concerned that the private Bill procedure will not be adequate to cope with the sheer volume of legislation that we want to see, which would be sponsored by British Rail or London Regional Transport. It is easy to put a sleeping policeman in front of a private Bill. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is an expert at it. I have come across it in his opposition to the King's Cross Bill.
If, as a nation, we are to invest heavily in public transport, is it adequate to expect one or two Back Benchers to persuade 100 people to stay behind after a debate on a light evening? Is it right that there should be no amendment in Committee because of the consequences on the Bill on Report? If we are to have a major expansion of public transport we need to examine the private Bill procedure. In my view it is wholly inappropriate.
So far in the debate no one has mentioned the disabled. Some 12 per cent. of the population have a mobility handicap. There are 500,000 such people in London. Much progress has been made in making public transport more accessible. Some 90 per cent. of all new buses will have the features recommended by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, including lower step heights, textured and colour-contrasted handrails, and bell pushes which can be reached without getting out of one's seat.
The United Kingdom is working within the European Community to establish the best standards for wheelchair accessibility for buses. Over 2,500 taxis now operating through the radio circuit are wheelchair accessible. By the year 2000 all taxis in London will be accessible to the disabled. Then we have the Taxicard scheme which provides over 750,000 trips for the disabled and others each year, with the number ever rising.
Britain leads the rest of Europe in designing coaches that are accessible to the disabled. The French and Belgian railways have adopted a BR design for on-train facilities. By 1993 all rail routes in Britain will be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Indeed, many trains already have appropriate facilities. There are other services for the disabled such as dial-a-ride in London for which, I am delighted to say, the Government have increased the budget by £1 million. In this debate on public transport, let us not ignore the needs of the disabled.
1398 I was reassured by the commitment of my hon. Friend the Minister to support public transport. I hope that he will be influenced by pressure not just from Opposition Members but from Conservative Members. All my hon. Friends who have spoken wish to see a continuing shift in Government priorities. They are determined to see that public transport gets a square deal.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) is right to draw attention to the shortcomings of the private Bill procedure. I hope that the House will examine those matters seriously along the lines that he suggested.
I pay tribute to the way in which British Rail and Scot Rail conducted the centenary celebrations on the Forth bridge, the southern end of which is in my constituency. It was done with dignity, credit and aplomb and that should be recorded here.
As an hon. Member who is sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen, I draw attention yet again to the success of the Edinburgh-Bathgate line. It is a new line, the financial and other expectations of which have Car exceeded what was anticipated.
I welcome what the Minister said about the noise insulation on new lines. I wish that initiative well. It is important, and I take the point of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) about parity with motorways.
I interrupted the opening speech on the complex matter of the electrification of the Glasgow to Edinburgh line. There is a strong view, which I hope is increasingly shared by Mr. Bleasdale and others, who will take the decisions, that it would be much cheaper and more practical to electrify one of the southern routes than one of the northern routes. Both routes go through my constituency and Linlithgow is my local station. I recognise the problem of the cost of electrifying the line through the Queen street tunnel. Perhaps soon there will be a statement for expectant Scots on this important matter.
Lastly, I speak with some passion on an issue about which I hope the Department of Transport, including the Minister, will do something quickly, by which I mean this afternoon. It concerns the Department because for some years specialist rail equipment of great complexity has been fabricated at the Atlas steel works in Armadale. The steel works is unique in Britain in a number of respects. It was established originally to make armoured plate for the Dreadnought battleships. It has been taken over by William Cook plc. It is not part of my case to denigrate those who run Cooks. Andrew Cook is an extremely distinguished and imaginative iron founder and has a reputation for modernisation. In many of his actions he has not been an asset stripper. The circumstances of Armadale, however, are sad to say the least. It has been decided to close the foundry.
I may have other opportunities to raise in the House other aspects of the events that are taking place at Armadale. I have been lucky to secure a ten-minute Bill on 25 April to amend the Fair Trading Act 1973 to allow the courts further powers of interdict and injunction to prevent purchasers of assets of firms which are subject to potential inquiry by the Office of Fair Trading and the Monopolies and Mergers Commission from pre-empting possible decisions of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry arising out of recommendations of the MMC.
1399 This very afternoon—this is an indication of the urgency—Mr. Charles Cruickshank and his colleagues in the Office of Fair Trading are seeing William Cook plc about the decision to close the Armadale foundry. Immediately, before a possible recommendation to the MMC, the issue for this debate is where British Rail will obtain the important specialist equipment that it requires if it does not come from Armadale. What will it do if it does not have a guarantee that the equipment, which this very afternoon is being transported by lorry to the North British steel foundry in Bathgate, will be used for many years to come? There is a feeling that Aurora, for all its protestations, will not remain at the North British site at Bathgate for very much longer. If that is the position, and other than the rail-making equipment going to Sheffield, possibly to Whittens, British Rail will have to purchase vital equipment in France? Is it not highly undesirable, not least from the point of view of purchasers across the exchanges, that equipment which has been expertly made by Atlas for many years should have to be obtained in France? We should not have to be dependent upon the French or on any other source outside Britain.
Could the Department, this afternoon, contact Mr. Charles Cruikshank and Mr. Ray Woolley of the Office of Fair Trading to ascertain their point of view? Could the Department contact the officials of the Scottish Office? The Minister of State, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), and officials such as David McFadyen and Gordon Kincaid, have been nothing but extremely helpful in these circumstances.
I am the Minister's political opponent, but in this matter I have no criticism of him. On the contrary, he is interested in the issue. Will the Department of Transport contact Scottish Office officials this afternoon to find out their view of the position? They could go one better and talk to Mr. Bob Mairs of West Lothian Enterprise, who has a detailed knowledge of the matter, to find out what I am talking about.
This is a matter of considerable consequence to British Rail. When the NUR group, of which I am a member, gave a farewell meal to Sir Robert Reid, he asked whether there were any last-minute requests. I made a request then, before I realised that the Atlas steel works was to be closed down, that the outgoing chairman should find out about the issue. I put that request to the incoming chairman of the same name, Bob Reid, recently of Shell. I hope that British Rail and the Department of Transport will find out urgently about this matter.
The Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, Jim Shaw, and I felt strongly enough about the matter to go to the High Court the day before yesterday to try to get an interdict. I make no criticism, public or private, of Lord Marnoch, the judge, for not giving us that interdict. In this country, fair trading is heavily weighted in favour of ownership and it would be difficult for the court to have come to any other conclusion. I am not criticising the judiciary, but this is an urgent matter of public interest and I want the Minister to find out more about it as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the foundry route. Courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) we have had an interesting ride—in railway terms, one might call it an excursion ticket—round the country's railways, ending in Scotland. I shall bring the debate chugging back safely to London to consider transport in our capital, and link this debate with the theme of my motion—that the solution to London's traffic and transport problems lies predominantly with public transport.
The background to my speech is the London assessment studies, on which we shall soon have an official announcement. If the reported conclusions of my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Transport, as set out in one national newspaper today and repeated on some radio stations, are true and some of the major road options, such as the Chiswick tunnel, the south circular and the western environmental improvement route, WEIR, were not to be pursued, it would be a great tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's willingness to listen to my hon. Friends and myself in the southern strip of London. I refer particularly to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Sir B. Hayhoe), and my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) and for Fulham (Mr. Carrington). That would best show that the Government have their priorities right on the future of London's transport.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot respond to this today because it is a leaked story. However, we must look for public transport solutions and imaginative solutions to our capital's problems. I set my arguments against the background of gridlocked roads and rat-run side roads where, as Lord Dewar said, pedestrians are divided between the quick and the dead as they try to cross some of our side streets. My argument is also set against the background of a public transport system which is overloaded, particularly central London, and the history of public transport in London. That history involves private company fighting private company, fighting public company, with no decisions being made.
The other day the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and I shared a morning assignation, courtesy of LBC radio. She departed from a separate starting point by rail, I started by underground and bus and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) started by taxi. We wanted to see who could reach the station first. I have to say that the taxi got there first followed by the railway train. My package came in last, not least because I started from Battersea square where there is no bus, no railway station and no Underground, so Shanks' pony came into play for the first half mile or so. When I found my Underground station I had crossed the river.
In answer to questions to my hon. Friend the Minister, I was told that there are 244 Underground stations north of the river and only 29 south. That would suggest that more than half the population lives north of the river, but that is not the case. A fair half of the population lives south of the river, yet we are totally unserved by the Underground system. Clapham Junction, the busiest rail 1401 junction in the world, is in my constituency with 1,000 passengers per minute passing through it at peak hours. That station is totally unconnected with the Underground system.
In London more than 80 per cent. of commuters into the centre travel by public transport, but 90 per cent. of people travelling to other destinations travel by car because there are no cross routes. The rail network is directed into the centre and our great capital city has no cross routes, particularly running from east to west.
§ Mr. Adley
Presumably my hon. Friend is aware that in the days of steam there used to be an excellent service from Clapham Junction to Kensington Olympia and to many other places in London. Does he agree that while the phrase "integrated transport policy" may be anathema to some of our hon. Friends, there is still a lack of adequate consultation and joint operation between British Rail and London Underground? Does he agree that Clapham Junction would have tremendous potential if some of the other lines were used?
§ Mr. Bowis
My hon. Friend says "Shame" now, but I am not sure that he would approve of steam trains puffing through Fulham.
We have not yet reached the stage at which British Rail is working out ways of bringing long enough trains into our capital city. The trains are too short because the platforms are too short. At one point there was an announcement that British Rail would start a programme of building extensions, but I understand that it has been held back. If we are to have trains which allow people to get in rather than to fall out, we need a serious programme for longer trains to run through inner London.
My hon. Friend the Minister, in his earlier response to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch highlighted the Government's achievements and I pay tribute to them. For the first time we have a Government who are enabling British Rail to invest at a level not seen since the Conservative Government of the 1950s. That is a great tribute. We have gone back on to the rails in terms of investment. The same is true of London Underground and the docklands light railway. I want to see Portillo statues of my hon. Friend to match the Brunel statues all round our capital city, when we have expanded the imagination and opportunity that is lacking in the planning of our network.
§ Mr. Bowis
They should be outside London, perhaps on the Christchurch line.
When I speak to the planners in British Rail and London Regional Transport, I am impressed by their knowledge, dedication and striving to provide the service that they believe is required. But. I always feel that there is something lacking—that little spark of someone saying, "Let's try something new. Give us an idea and we will work it up to a scheme that we can put forward to our bosses and our paymasters." I want to hear bows rather 1402 than whys coming out of those offices when I put ideas to them. We could put forward many ideas to solve our problems.
Hon. Members have mentioned how one assesses the relative investment costs as between rail and road. There was an interesting dialogue between my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch and for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) as to the degree to which car drivers pay for roads through the tax system. Most rail passengers also contribute to road costs as car drivers, whereas car drivers often do not use the rail network to any extent arid therefore do not make a contribution to it through rail fares.
Rail investment embraces not only tracks but rolling stock.
§ Mr. Bowis
And signalling, as my hon. Friend says. However, figures for the road network include expenditure only on the roads themselves—not on the vehicles that use them. One must be careful to compare like with like.
Reference has been made to the central London rail study. I am an exponent of the Hackney-Chelsea line. The original study suggested an east-west link in addition to the Hackney-Chelsea line, or a north-south cross-rail. If we can have both, that will be fine—but if not, I want the Hackney-Chelsea line. It will not come as any surprise to hon. Members that that is because the Hackney-Chelsea line could be extended south through the virgin territory of Wandsworth, which is developing in terms of new businesses and other developments. It is territory where private sector finance could be brought into play. The line could be taken to the Southfields link with the District line, rather than to Fulham Broadway. At this point, I stand a little aside from my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham in case he has other ideas.
The London assessment studies contain imaginative ideas such as the light railway link to Roehampton, which could relieve some of the A3 traffic. My favourite proposal is the opening up of the west London line, linking it to Clapham Junction, and in turn linking Clapham Junction to the Underground network. If the line was extended from Willesden to Clapham Junction, there would be the option to extend it further south, to Balham.
Other schemes propose linking the east London line to Balham, and one begins to see a network building up that could provide precisely the kind of east-west link, and the links all round London, that the capital currently lacks. Proposals for many other lines are on the drawing board, in other, some private, studies. They include the new Fleet line, extending the Bakerloo line, the new City line, and extending the Piccadilly line to Clapham Junction via Chelsea and Battersea Bridge road.
Also proposed is linking the Jubilee line to the City airport, extending the Central line to Richmond, and taking the DLR down to Lewisham and up to Finsbury Park. Perhaps the most imaginative of all is the inner London rapid transport scheme, which comprises two intertwining circles. That could make the Gospel Oak connection to which the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred, with interchanges at Clapham Junction, Willesden Junction, Peckham Rye and Canonbury. That is an imaginative scheme for the future, but other schemes go way back in time. There was a 1403 proposal in the 1920s for a Wimbledon-Sutton line. We should consider them all, and decide which can be adopted.
If there must be a minimalist solution, I want the Hackney-Chelsea link, the west London line and the east London line to Balham. I would also like Clapham Junction to be rebuilt. It provides an important cross-link in the rail system, but it is totally inadequate in its present form. It is totally inappropriate for the disabled, for example, and consideration must be given to how the whole station could be redeveloped.
Comparisons have been made with the Paris Metro. I am often told that it offers a cleaner and more frequent service that is easier to use than the London Underground. I am sure that all those claims are true. The Metro also has more stations. Passenger journeys in London total 815 million per annum, whereas they number 1,484 million in Paris. The Paris lines are much shorter for the number of stations that they serve. London has 273 stations, whereas Paris has 351. The Metro provides a more convenient service, so it is used more frequently.
Having considered introducing some of Paris's ideas, perhaps we could consider transport over the Thames, which tends to divide London's traffic systems. People often speak of the need for a new river crossing in south and south-west London. Perhaps we need such a crossing, but it should be not a new road river crossing but a public transport river crossing. I can see the case for an imaginative new bridge, incorporating a light railway, a bus lane, a cycle lane and provision for pedestrians. That would add to local services.
Had I had more time, I would have spoken of buses, midi-buses and the opportunities offered by more bus services. The red route scheme is important in enabling buses to travel through London. If that scheme were linked with a transponder system to enable buses to travel through traffic lights, we would have a bus system in our capital city of which we could be proud.
I shall be the first to erect statues of my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport if he gets transport in London right—every station could have one. In summary, I shall completely misquote Petruchio from "Taming of the Shrew", which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) might at least recognise. He said, "Say that she rail, while then I'll tell her plain she sings as sweetly as a nightingale." The more my hon. Friend the Minister rails, the more we shall give him the plaudits that he deserves.
§ 2.1 pm
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Friday socialism is about to be practised, and I am sure that someone will tell me how much I have so that we may share it evenly until 2.30 pm.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on the motions that they have tabled. I cannot understand why they are in the minority in the Conservative party. Their suggestions not only make sense but are very much in demand among the electorate—certainly among the electorate in London, where transport is becoming a hot political issue.
Even the Government are becoming aware of that. A number of stories have been trailed in newspapers that 1404 about next Tuesday the Secretary of State will make announcements taking him somewhat out of the realm of the craven supporter of the road lobby. The Labour party welcomes that. It is not anti-car or anti-road, but it believes that the Government are anti-rail, which is demonstrated by their policies. We want more public transport, specifically more rail use, because we believe that rail travel is cost-effective, environmentally friendly and socially desirable. The Labour party is not anti-car, but it is fervently pro-rail and pro-public transport.
What annoys me is that the Government have washed their hands of responsibility for an integrated national transport policy. No one is taking a strategic overview of transport requirements in Britain or in London. The London group, of which I am chair, met the Secretary of State, who said, "I am not in the strategic transport authority"; and British Rail said the same. Who is the strategic transport authority for London? Labour Members and many Londoners are asking that question.
I looked back through some Greater London council publications and found the 1981 Greater London transport survey, which followed the surveys that it commissioned in 1971 and 1962 as the London county council. It considered all forms of transport in London—road, rail, river—and pedestrians and cyclists. Who does that now? The Government have abolished the GLC and taken away the natural strategic transport authority for London and the south-east, but they have not filled the void. Many of the decisions are dictated not by transport requirements or social desirability but by who can put up the most money, and the transport policy follows. That is happening increasingly in London.
I went to an exhibition that was mounted by Olympia and York, which is putting up some of the money—not a great deal—for the Jubilee line. We have agreed that that is not perhaps the first priority for a new line, but the Government favour it because some money is coming up front. Olympia and York is a responsible company which has transport planners who could show the Department of Transport a thing or two. It even has in its offices a model of London including transport lines which the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment use. I am all for socially responsible private sector investment, but the idea that the Government have to go to these people for not only money but expertise shows that the Government are derelict in their duty to Londoners and to transport requirements in the south-east.
I have a specific question which has been asked before but about which I am concerned because it relates to the Channel tunnel and the repeal of section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987. Will an announcement be made? We know that public money must be invested to save the project. The Government have painted themselves into a corner by saying that no public money will be invested. I want the Government to make it clear either that they stand by that statement or that if public money is to be invested in some covert way—as a green dowry or money provided in extra subsidies because of commuter traffic—there will be a proper public inquiry to determine the best route to serve the interests of the south-east and the country generally, linking the Channel tunnel and London.
§ Ms. Ruddock
Is my hon. Friend aware that yesterday a joint statement was issued by the London boroughs of Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Greenwich making 1405 the very points that he has made and saying that they totally oppose any overground routing of Channel tunnel rail links for freight or passengers through their boroughs?
§ Mr. Banks
I well understand the points that are being made. The Minister and I have discussed this matter. There should be a public inquiry. We should not leave matters as they are, with British Rail being able to cobble together a deal with someone who comes up with the money and having to use the arcane procedure of a private Bill to get the legislation through. The Government cannot keep washing their hands of what is perhaps the most important transport decision to be made this century and perhaps the next. The Government cannot walk away from the issue of responsibility.
I want a public inquiry. As hon. Members know, I favour the idea of a second Channel tunnel terminal, to be located at Stratford in my constituency in the London borough of Newham, and there are good reasons for doing that. The case is good: it would be £1 billion cheaper; there would be minimal environmental damage; the project is supported by the relevant local authorities; there is a prospect of providing 10,000 jobs in the area; and it would revitalise the east end of London. It is no good my just continuing to make that point. I should like to see a proper, independent public inquiry so that we can find out what is considered to be the best location for the terminal and the linking fast route. I should be happy to abide by a decision of that inquiry.
The Government's decisions are based not on the transport needs of Londoners but on where they can get the most money. The transport decisions follow. The majority of people in London think that transport is one of the most important of issues. Transport chaos looms in the capital city. It is not just a matter of alarmist talk by the Opposition; everyone who moves about in London—whether on the roads, on the Underground or on Network South East—knows that to be a fact. This is the Government's responsibility. They cannot walk away from it. We demand action from them today.
§ 2.9 pm
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
In view of the time, I shall compress my remarks.
I welcome the debate on railways and public transport policy. It is interesting that whenever railways are debated in the House, there is an inevitable comparison between the investment that British Rail puts into the industry and the investment that is put in by our continental cousins, especially the French. The comparison between British Rail investment and that of SNCF with the TGV concept is always made. It is true that the TGV is a glamorous form of rail transport and that every country would like one. With France's land mass and ability to drive railways through the countryside more easily than we can, it has a transport system that is the envy of most of us.
How modernised are the rural railways in the Pyrenees or in other parts of France when one goes off the main glamour rail routes into areas that do not have the benefit of such investment? There is no doubt that railway investment in the United Kingdom stretches from Penzance to Thurso. Wherever the railway is in operation, especially in rural areas such as mid-Wales and the north of Scotland, new forms of signalling equipment, radio telephone equipment and rolling stock have been introduced. That has transformed the railway system in 1406 the area. That is the sum total of our investment, which has reached all parts of the country. The French railway system does not reach every part of France. We must be sure in our minds that we seek from a modern railway system not necessarily high speeds of 180mph or 200mph, nice though that might be, but punctuality, cleanliness and reliability.
We still have some way to go, but I am convinced that the people on the east coast route, who are in the process of receiving a brand new railway system, as we did on the west coast route 20 to 25 years ago, will come to appreciate the terms and concept of investment that the Government, through British Rail, are bringing to a large part of the country. I warmly welcome that.
I also warmly welcome the investment in Birmingham. The cross-city line electrification scheme was long overdue. It is now to start in May, with the erection of the wires and the gantries. It is unfortunate that, such is the loading on British Rail workshops to produce new rolling stock and equipment, it is likely that by the time the wiring and signalling have been completed in two years' time, we shall not receive brand new rolling stock as we were promised, and to which British Rail committed itself, because the factories cannot produce it in time. That emphasises, if it needs emphasis, the investment taking place. As Sir Bob Reid, the outgoing chairman said, railway modernisation and investment are up to the limit that we can handle. We need not endorse the achievements of the railway investment programme any more than by emphasising that statement.
I also endorse the 8 per cent. return on investment. It is very easy to be seduced by representations to throw money at and to give blank cheques to a nationalised industry. That money is then absorbed within the ramifications of the industry so that no one knows where it goes. That happened in the railway modernisation programme in the 1950s, when we embarked on a £1,132 million investment. I can never forget that number. I was and remain an avid rail enthusiast. I saw the new equipment cascading into the railway system. Stations were modernised and marshalling yards were built that were never used and were subsequently closed. Rolling stock and locomotives were ordered to the wrong specifications. They were phased out long before they had reached their life expectancy. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) will know that the western region specified diesel hydraulics that were given the kiss of death long before their motive power had been exhausted.
Mistakes were made because a lump sum was given to the railways, which was spent accordingly. It was spent in the best interests of the industry which thought that it was doing the right thing, but the safeguards that we introduced by demanding that all investment should have a return must be the only sensible way forward. I do not think that that has stopped any worthwhile investment programme for which British Rail has asked. It has been given practically everything that it has requested.
I want briefly to touch on the role of the bus. I remind the House that I am a non-executive director of a national coaching company, so obviously I have an interest in this matter. The bus is the most flexible form of public transport that we have and it operates extremely efficiently. The Government's policy of deregulation has encouraged new and innovative bus services the benefits of which we have seen throughout Britain. In the west midlands, new operators are beginning to come in and 1407 offer a worthwhile challenge to monoliths that have been in place for a considerable time. It is causing established companies to reflect on their services and to seek to achieve higher standards of service and efficiency. I welcome what deregulation has achieved. I warmly applaud—
§ Mr. Adley
I am glad that my hon. Friend declared his interest; it would have been unfortunate had he not done so. Does he think that all the additional costs that his coaches have caused the Metropolitan police and others to incur should be borne by the bus companies? Or does he think that London community charge payers and taxpayers should bear them all?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to draw to the attention of the House his comments about coach congestion in London. There is a distinction between tourist coaches meandering through the streets, their passengers rubber-necking at all the sights, and commuter coaches that come in first thing in the morning, park somewhere and go home in the evening. My company is not a party to that. The company of which I am a director—National Express—operates a daily and hourly national service throughout Britain, of which services to London are only a part. Our coaches come straight to Victoria coach station, unload and leave the capital. Very few remain parked here unless, for example, mechanical problems arise.
The deregulation of the bus industry has proved very successful. It has given the public choice—and choice is what the public wants—between using railways and using inter-city coaches. It has also done wonders in providing the impetus for British Rail to provide an ever more efficient and commercial service.
The problems of London and most of our cities could be partially alleviated if we ensured that buses and coaches could travel along the busways allocated to them, free from the vehicles—frequently illegally parked—that lie in their route at present. I welcome the red routes, which will go a long way to overcoming the worst problems of congestion for public service vehicles, which move the bulk of commuter traffic in our city centres.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister kindly re-examine the introduction of a form of bus grant? As a result of deregulation, many changes have taken place in the structure and ownership of our companies. Our rolling stock—the fleets—are aging and need replacing. I am convinced that the industry will find the wherewithal to replace those vehicles. But what should we replace them with? We have congestion and pollution—it is absolutely right to say so—but the technology is there to produce buses and heavy goods vehicles that are largely pollution-free. That can be achieved by means of filtration traps and the like. I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of providing grants for environmentally responsible public service vehicles. They would emit fewer fumes and, although they would be more expensive to buy and slightly more costly to run, they would be highly beneficial to the environment.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am sorry that I missed the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). He has done an enormous 1408 amount over the years in support of the principle of railways. I pay tribute to him for that and for introducing this timely debate.
I detect that most Conservative Members are rushing like Daniel to judgment. They seek to give the impression that no Conservative Member ever supported the policy of major road building or of cutting investment in British Rail. They speak as though no one had supported the demand for a return on capital or advocated the privatisation of the railways or any other forms of public transport.
I suspect that the planners at the Department of Transport believe that, under the cost-benefit analysis system, road building is essentially a good thing. The team does not take sufficient account of the serious environmental problems of building major roads, the increased pollution from car exhausts and the internal combustion engine or the loss of open space and public land that the building of major roads entails.
It has been said that the amount of land taken up by the building of major roads in comparison to that for railways has damaged the environment. However, the Government still promote major road building which encourages more car commuting and more road freight which, in turn, causes more pollution and congestion in our cities. That encourages the kind of crazy solutions that were foreshadowed in some of the assessment studies as answers to London's transport problems.
The Government's attitude to railways and railway financing appears to be one of reducing investment and encouraging privatisation by stealth and the rapid sales of BR property. I believe that in the long run that will be detrimental to the interests of the railways because those sales remove capacity for later operational requirements that may be necessary if the railways continue to expand at the present rate.
The Government's attitude does not take sufficient account of the overall environmental impact of developing railways instead of roads. The use of energy by the private car is the most wasteful, most polluting and most depressing aspect of transport policy. The major source of pollution in every city is not industry, but internal combustion engines in private cars. Catalytic converters and emisson filters will not solve that problem because carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, will still be emitted.
As a form of mass transit, the railways are most energy-efficient. Railways give the greatest sense of mobility for people in cities and form the best inter-city network. I strongly support rail development for all those reasons.
I draw attention to rail investment and development in London. London is in chaos. Anyone who tries to travel round the city on foot, by bicycle, in a vehicle for disabled people or on a tube train will recognise that London is dirty, dangerous, congested and polluted. That has a bad effect on the children in our capital city and on the health of everyone else. When fire engines and ambulances cannot move round central London, it becomes downright dangerous for all of us. It is time that something was done about that.
I believe that next Tuesday the Secretary of State for Transport will announce his response after the consultation period on the assessment study. In the month after consultation ended, I hope that he read every letter and the top of every petition and I hope that he has taken account 1409 of all the objections. Seventeen thousand people from my constituency objected to the proposal to build a major road through north London. All the postcards, letters and everyone who objected supported improvements to public transport. They called for better funding, lower fares and the better use of public transport.
In my constituency, 27 per cent. of the electorate registered their objections. Only one person muttered to me in the street that there might be a case for road widening, but he had not really thought about it. Therefore, the ratio is 27,000:1 and that one was not very certain.
On Tuesday I hope that the Secretary of State will announce that he will abandon all the road building options for London and instead introduce a refunding of London Regional Transport which will result in lower fares. I hope that he will also announce a major study on safety in LRT, including getting rid of the mechanical Rottweilers at Underground stations so that we no longer have to face those ludicrous ticket barriers. I hope that he will also announce a serious evaluation of railway development potential.
Many lines have been mentioned today which could be developed and improved. In an intervention I referred to the north London line and the Barking to Gospel Oak line. The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) talked about the west London line. There are many other under-used rail facilities in London that could be developed, and by building links we could have a first-class rapid transit surface level rail system in London. We should also be integrating transport in the way that was envisaged by the Greater London council and is now advocated by the CBI.
I also believe strongly that we should be looking more closely at the conditions for proper mobility and safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) referred to the safety of women on the Underground and on buses. Problems are caused there because of understaffing. We must also consider the safety of cyclists and the lack of mobility for disabled people. The loss of the previous dial-a-ride services and the introduction of LRT dial-a-ride services have not been a happy experience because the zoning system that has been introduced reduces the mobility of the people whom the scheme was designed to support.
There are major decisions to be taken. We lack the democratic forum within London to make them, because the GLC was abolished and there is no transport authority for London. The Minister might not be very keen on bringing back the GLC, but he must recognise that part of the cause of chaos, congestion, dirt, danger and noise in London is due to the lack of an integrated transport planning system. That is what we require in London and require now.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I support the motion which was to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), although I am happy to intervene under the wing of the motion introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). The motion highlights the excellent campaign that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has been waging in south London to turn the attention of our right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Transport more towards public transport and away from road building. If the 1410 rumours about the Secretary of State's announcement some time next week or in the near future are correct, they are a credit to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea.
The Opposition have suggested that some Conservative Members have had a last-minute conversion on public transport in London. I assure the Opposition that it is not a conversion, but a realisation of the present position. Over the past eight or nine years, because of Her Majesty's Government's policies, there has been a great economic revival in the capital city. Many people are coming to our capital city to work and to indulge in wealth creation. Statistics show a 23 per cent. increase in the number of passengers travelling on Network SouthEast and, in turn, using the London Underground.
As we need to move many people to London from a great distance, it makes absolute sense to do so by rail and to some extent by bus. Constituents in inner London boroughs and in the suburbs recognise that fact when they say that they are not willing to countenance more major road building. That feeling has been behind campaigns against the major road proposals that were put to the Department, by the engineers.
In their strategic role in the Department of Transport, the Government have most certainly turned their attention to public transport. There has been far more investment in recent years in British Rail and Network SouthEast and in the London Underground than at any time in the past 25 years. There is no doubt that the Department of Transport has encouraged London Regional Transport to concentrate on far more investment now than ever took place during the time of the GLC. Certainly, far more passengers now travel on London Regional Transport than at any time under the GLC.
I encourage my hon. Friend the Minister to consider light rail systems and far more use of hopper buses on short routes in outer London suburbrs such as Surbiton. I am convinced that we should be pursuing far more public transport systems as the way forward and that we should not encourage road building in either inner or outer London.
§ Mr. Adley
With the leave of the House, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), neither of whom have left their places this morning.
I have just one last word for my hon. Friend the Minister. The Government have generated considerable economic success in the past 10 years and have raised expectations about public expenditure on our transport infrastructure. We have converted a public sector borrowing requirement into a public sector debt repayment. Can we use some of those well-earned moneys to build transport infrastructures for the future?
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the Government's statement in their objectives set to British Rail, that projects not meeting the required rate of financial return but having social, environmental or other external benefits, should be assessed by cost-benefit analysis; further welcomes the Government's commitment to maintain the existing railway network, and to continue to pay the Public Service Obligation grant, whilst noting the report of the Central Transport Consultative Committee on British Rail; notes both the investment regime and subsidy policy pursued by the French and West German governments; calls on Her Majesty's Government to assess road and rail projects on an equal basis in the light of the
congestion, pollution and aggravation caused by the proliferation of the internal combustion engine; welcomes the Government's important decision to refuse closure of the Settle and Carlisle railway line as a significant change to policies pursued by previous governments; and requests British Rail to end the policy of selling off railway trackbed from which services have been discontinued.
§ Mr. Dalyell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not criticising the Minister, but is it not unsatisfactory that in today's debate there has been no opportunity for a reply to be given to particular questions asked of the Minister? I specifically asked whether the Department of Transport was prepared to take action in relation to the Atlas steel works and the fabrication of rails, but there was no opportunity for a reply. Perhaps by some alchemy the Minister will indicate that his Department is doing that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has made his point, but he knows that it is not a matter for the Chair.