§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.—[Mr. Thorne.]7.24 pm
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I will be guided by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I wish to make some comments on the Bill. The Bill may have some merit; I want to take the opportunity to find out whether it has.
All hon. Members who represent London constituencies realise the importance of the underground. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), but I do not see any other hon. Members from south London in the Chamber. Hon. Members who represent constituencies and live in south London know about the appalling transport services which our constituents have to live with day after day. I want to speak specifically about the Northern line. Hon. Members, irrespective of party, have taken up with London Regional Transport the problems faced by our constituents—the irregularity of services, the condition of the trains, on-going problems with escalators that are not working—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech, but I must point out that this is a narrow Bill which deals purely with the construction of a new passenger concourse and subway at the underground station at Victoria. It is restricted to that.
§ Mr. Cox
I note your comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is why I said at the outset that I wished to speak on the Bill. I wish to develop the points because cost is involved in the Bill. Surely we are not being asked to approve something that does not involve expenditure. I am open to correction by the Minister or by someone else, but if the development involves expenditure, I assume that that expenditure will be made via LRT.
I and my constituents, as well as the constituents of many other hon. Members, would like to know why priority has been given to development at Victoria station. I do not see any figures in the Bill, but we know what work costs, and no doubt considerable expenditure will be incurred. I want to know how much the work will cost and who has given approval for it. Where has the money been found when I and other hon. Members who represent constituencies in south London, particularly constituencies through which the Northern line runs, are always being told by the authorities, "We know you have problems, but we do not have any money to make improvements"? We have been told that repeatedly during transport questions. When we have asked the Secretary of State for Transport what will happen to improve certain lines, especially the Northern line, he has said on countless occasions "Yes, I am aware that conditions are not good, and that there are staffing problems on stations, and escalators that do not work."
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is familiar with the constituency I represent because for a long time he was the Greater London council member for that area. He has dealt with the problems that I am seeking to raise in this debate, and he will know about them. I want to find out how this money has been found. 229 Why is this matter regarded as such a priority when there are hon. Members who know of greater priorities in their constituencies, through which the Northern line of London Regional Transport runs? We are repeatedly told by Ministers in this House, and in correspondence with officials of London Regional Transport, that they would like to help us, but do not have the money to do it.
What can I say to my constituents when they write to me complaining about the story I have told them about no money being available, although the supposed concern is there, when they get to know—as they will over the next few days—that we in the House tonight have discussed a Bill that makes improvements at the Victoria underground station? Apparently, there is no problem about finding money for that. My constituents have problems that have not merely arisen during the past few weeks or months, but have existed for years and years. What am I supposed to say when my constituents ask me what I was doing in Parliament when a Bill was being discussed which, in the eyes of the officials of London Regional Transport, was of such priority and importance when conditions on the Northern line, which they are forced to use to go to work, are so bad? They will say to me, "All we are ever told by you as our Member of Parliament—you tell us that it is what you are told by the Secretary of State for Transport—is that there is no money."
I shall not pursue the matter too far because I appreciate the generosity that Mr. Deputy Speaker has shown me, but it is a crucial issue. The problem for hon. Members, irrespective of party, is that there are far too few occasions when they can bring up issues related to the London Underground (Victoria) Bill. I believe that I have a duty to raise certain points, and it may be that other hon. Members will seek to raise other issues. We have a duty to the people we represent.
On the Jameson show—a popular show on Radio 2—I heard someone talking about the Northern line, which is apparently the oldest line of the entire London underground service. Jameson said that he used it, but it was an utter disgrace and passengers were treated like cattle. That was what the presenter of a popular radio programme said this morning. Therefore, what I am saying now is what is generally accepted in many parts of south London. There may be hon. Members who represent other parts of London who can make comments similar to mine. It is up to them to do so.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because he is obviously concerned about the Northern line, going through his constituency as it does. Is he certain of his facts in one respect? I ask this as a genuine question because I am not altogether certain of my facts, as happens from time to time. Is he certain that the Northern line is the oldest line? I always thought that it was the Bakerloo line. I thought that the Northern line tunnel was the longest tunnel in Europe, but I did not think it was the oldest line. I thought that the oldest line was the Bakerloo line. However, my hon. Friend is slightly older than me, so perhaps he can remember.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sure that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will know better than I, but I do not think that the Northern line goes through Victoria.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises that there are considerable problems with the interchange at Victoria station between the Victoria line, which runs through my constituency, and the District line in the main railway. I am concerned about possible loss of life and limb because of the crush. I assure my hon. Friend that the Bill is needed for that reason, and I hope that he will give us an assurance that he is not going to do a Livingstone on the Bill.
§ Mr. Cox
In view of the bitter attack that I made on my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) about his behaviour in the House two weeks ago over a Bill to which I was committed, I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) that I shall not attempt to do that. I take his point, made from his own experience, about the improvements needed.
I am not questioning my hon. Friend's point or what the Bill's promoter is saying. I want some assurance that the Minister will outline why he believes that it is a priority, bearing in mind what I have said several times, that I and other hon. Members, irrespective of our parties, know that there are the most appalling problems for our constituents who have to use the Northern line service. I want some assurance that I can convey to my constituents so that I can say, "Yes, the matter has been looked at, but the feeling is that the Bill is the priority."
I am not aware of how you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have to come to work in the House but, without doubt, there are times when you have to use London underground services. I am sure that you, like many hon. Members and their constituents, feel utter despair at the conditions in which you have to travel—and they do not improve. In stations in my constituency there are escalators because of the depth of the services to which people have to walk, and when those escalators are not working, elderly people or mothers with young children face enormous problems. Sadly, we never get over those problems.
I have tried to make it clear that I do not wish to obstruct the Bill—my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood asked me about that—but I have a duty to my constituents. When a Bill comes under the auspices of London Regional Transport I have a duty to make forcefully known in the Chamber the grave dissatisfaction of my constituents, and I am sure of other hon. Members representing adjoining constituencies, at the deplorable service and the lack of any meaningful improvement.
I hope that the Minister will not simply say, "Yes, I have heard what the hon. Member has said and I shall pass on his views." I hope that he will say, "Yes, we are actively working, in conjunction with London Regional Transport, to consider the sort of improvements that the hon. Member for Tooting has sought to develop in this evening's debate."
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
The Victoria line serves my constituency of Walthamstow, and many of my constituents use it. They come down to Victoria and then disperse among the other lines or go to work in office developments around Victoria.
231 As the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) said, the crush at Victoria station during the rush hour is often extremely dangerous. I am sure that hon. Members know that there are occasions when the entrances to the underground at Victoria station have to be closed. People are not admitted because there is already overcapacity on the platforms and a danger that they may even be pushed under trains by the crush.
I support the Bill. I am sure that it will eventually result in a better service for those using the Victoria line and for my constituents. Doubtless there will be grumbles and complaints while the work is being done, but we must look forward to the time when the work is completed, when the station is safer and more pleasant and the Victoria line is once again efficient and a pleasure for my constituents to use.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) was short and to the point. It is always a great pleasure to follow Neville Chamberlain's Parliamentary Private Secretary.
I do not wish to delay the Bill, and I do not intend to try to talk it out. That would be a formidable task, since we would have three hours all but 40 minutes in which to do it. However, I want to ask a few questions about the Bill and the procedures whereby it appears before us.
I remember when the Victoria line was opened. It is still the most reliable line, with some of the best techniques and technology, on the underground, and it is surprising that after 25 years the same technology has not been used on other lines.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) talked about the Northern line, or the misery line as it is called. Everyone who uses the Victoria line and Victoria station knows the difference between that and the Northern line. I would not like your learned Clerk, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to lean too near to you to suggest that I am out of order.
The Victoria line was extended to Brixton when I was a member of Lambeth borough council, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I well remember when that line was opened. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was present on that occasion. I find it strange to look at the great Chancellor of the Exchequer today because all I can see is the vice-chairman of Lambeth housing committee, as he was then.
The Victoria line carries many people, and Victoria station is a great interchange which causes considerable concern for those who have to use it. Its layout is not good and many people have complained. Many tourists turn up there. People have to struggle through to the ticket points surrounded by people with back packs. They are welcome in our city—it is good to see young people here—but I wish that they would not all turn up with back packs and congregate at Victoria station. However, those hon. Members who say how uncomfortable Victoria station is make good and telling points with which all who use the Victoria line will sympathise.
Will the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) say whether the Bill will cover the ticket barriers? The ticket barriers play an important part when it comes to 232 easy entrance and egress at Victoria station. Those ticket barriers have upset many hon. Members. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) is not here. He seems to be peculiarly upset by them. He is almost of a stature to slip underneath them. However, we all understand his point. I know of no other railway system in Europe where a ticket has to be put into a barrier in order to get in and to get out. That is nonsense. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will be able to offer us some relief on that.
Part II, page 4, clause 5(1) says:Subject to the provisions of this Act, the Company may, for the purpose of constructing the works, enter upon, open, break up and interfere with so much of the surface of Victoria Street in the city of Westminster as lies within the limit of deviation.I do not have the plans before me, so I do not know what the limit of deviation is, but will the hon. Gentleman assure us that Victoria street will not be completely disrupted by the work described in the Bill? I do not say that as a Member of Parliament who might find access to the Palace of Westminster hindered by roadworks. That would be a silly and elitist attitude to take. I use the London underground and I travel on the streets of London as much as any hon. Member, and one thing that I have noticed in recent years is the regularity with which our roads are being dug up, filled in and dug up again. It is appalling.
The Minister is new to his Department. It is good to see him again so soon after our excellent debate on Friday on the channel tunnel. But he must know that in his Department lies the Home report which desperately needs implementation in legislation. That could cover the sort of disruption to Victoria street that is proposed in the Bill. I hope that the Minister will say something about that when he replies. If he could tell us that the Horne report will form the basis of legislation at some early juncture, he would receive approbation and support from the Opposition Benches. The problems of the roads in our capital city need to be dealt with.
The Bill proposes more disruption in a street close to the Houses of Parliament. I assume that, because it is an important thoroughfare, the inconvenience will not be too great. From time to time, important people walk up and down it. Only the other day, I saw Lord Wilson of Rievaulx ambling along Victoria street. I would not like him to fall into a hole that had been dug there, perhaps especially for him. It could be a devilish Tory plot. I would not want him or anybody else, whether they are of great grand name or of no great name at all, to be beset by problems as they walk down Victoria street. But that is an important point. Because it is so close to this place, I am sure that the work will be done quickly and with the minimum of disruption.
That contrasts with the attitude taken by the statutory undertakers and others who have the power to dig up our roads. There seems to be a never-ending list of organisations, companies and individuals who have the right to dig up London's roads. I am sure that the attitude that will be adopted in Victoria street will contrast with that adopted in the east end of London, where the roads are dug up and left for two or three weeks. We in the east end are used to having to put up with the second-rate, other than in my representation of Newham, North-West.
It is assumed that we are not greatly worried about the manner in which our streets are left, but we in Newham are 233 very angry about the way in which we are treated. I trust that the people of Victoria will not be treated as we are in the London borough of Newham. I am sure that, if there is a great deal of disruption in Victoria street, the formidable Lady Porter will be banging on somebody's door in order to let the Minister know that that is the sort of thing up with which she will not put. Will the hon. Member for Ilford, South assure us that the disruption to Victoria street will be kept to a minimum?
I am also worried about part III, which gives the promoters power to acquire land. That lies close to my interest in the provisions of the Bill and the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure. I was a member of the Committee. We reported to the House in July 1988. Our report included recommendations about changes to the private Bill procedure. There has still been no debate to enable the House to vote on the Committee's recommendations to improve the private Bill procedure. Every hon. Member admits that that procedure is unsatisfactory. I do not blame London Regional Transport for using this method to circumvent Westminster city council's planning committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will be able to say what discussions took place between London Regional Transport and Westminster city council's planning committee. Is that committee completely happy with the Bill's provisions?
One of our complaints about this and other Bills is that they allow promoters to circumvent the normal planning procedures that were devised by Parliament to protect everyone, particularly those who wish to protest about a compulsory purchase order or about plans. A number of promoters, including London Regional Transport and British Rail, are using the private Bill procedure to get round all the awkwardness of having to go before a local authority, being rebuffed by its planning committee and then having to face a public inquiry and make their case before those who are protesting about the proposals. This Bill, like other private Bills, allows the promoters to circumvent all the safety valves that Parliament has built into the legislation that applies to planning applications.
The first recommendation in the report states:Promoters of a private bill should be required to prove before the committee on the bill that private legislation is necessary to secure the primary purpose of the bill.I hope that the hon. Gentleman will say whether the Bill is necessary. That question would have to be answered in Committee, but if the Bill is not opposed tonight, it will not be considered by an opposed Bill Committee and the question will not be asked. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to confirm that powers are not provided for elsewhere that London Regional Transport could have used to secure its objectives. The first recommendation in the report is that the promoters must prove that they need a private Bill in order to secure their objectives.
The second recommendation states:Where the primary purpose may be authorised through other means, the committee on the bill should insist that those means be pursued first, and that the approval of Parliament be limited only to the specific components which require its authority.I have sat on many private Bill Committees, and have chaired a number of them. It was an interesting experience in terms of learning about parliamentary procedure. However, it takes hon. Members away from the Floor of the House where all the action is.
234 No publicity or kudos is attached to being a member of a Committee that considers a private Bill. We all thrive on having approbation heaped upon us by our colleagues. No kudos is attached to doing good work by considering private Bills. If hon. Members knew that there was no need for the private Bill procedure and that the objectives of a Bill could be achieved by the promoters using other means, we should lose our temper if it became known that they were maximising their convenience while maximising the inconvenience of hon. Members, who are often forced to sit for many days on private Bill Committees. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will assure the House that London Regional Transport needs the private Bill procedure and that, if it does not, it has pursued all the other means of achieving what it wants to achieve, as set out in the Bill.
I refer also, in the context of the Bill and the report, to recommendation 14, which states:Each House should incorporate environmental impact assessment into private bill procedure by making new Standing Orders.I have referred to the disruption in Victoria street. I do not know what the extent of the disruption will be. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer that question. We are interested in his answer because of the proximity of the Palace of Westminster to Victoria street.
An environmental impact assessment would have assisted the House if it had been presented with the Bill. We should have known that the promoters had done their work—that they had consulted residents in the Victoria street area and the local planning authority. The assessment would have assisted us to gauge the disruption that hon. Members are about to inflict on the people who use Victoria street—shoppers, business men and women, and those who use both public and private transport.
The report's recommendations are extremely useful. I have sat on various private Bill Committees and listened to the arguments both for and against the Bill. One can never be absolutely certain that one has reached the right decision. The role of those who sit on private Bill Committees is to listen to all the facts and to make the best decision they can in the light of all those facts. If they knew that an environmental impact assessment had been made, lengthy proceedings in Committee would be unnecessary. Committee members would be much happier if they knew that somebody had considered all the points that have to be borne in mind when major works are carried out which cause great disruption.
I reiterate that the House must have the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the report of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure. It is a substantial report, which brings together the work of members of both Houses of Parliament over a long period. The Committee was asked to study the problem and to make recommendations in the light of criticism of the private Bill procedure. The Committee applied itself with enthusiasm to its task. It deserves something better from the business managers than that its report should sit around for about two years, the House never having been given an opportunity to vote on the recommendations. What is the point of asking Members of Parliament to sit on a Committee after a problem has been identified and then pigeonholing the Committee's report and not bothering to deal with the recommendations? It is discourteous to hon. Members to treat them in that way and it is not an efficient way to conduct our business.
235 One could ask many questions about the Bill, and answers ought to be given to them. I should not have had to ask questions if the recommendations in the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure's report had been debated, agreed and implemented. All the recommendations may not have been implemented, but I am sure that the House would have been favourably inclined towards a number of them. They would have ensured that promoters such as London Regional Transport and British Rail did not come to the House to ask it to do things that would enable them to duck all the other planning requirements that other developers have to meet. We should not give favour to a private corporation or a public corporation unless we are absolutely certain that that organisation is not using Parliament as a way of ducking its public responsibility to those who will be most affected by the works proposed in the Bills that we have to consider, including this one.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will be able to address some of the questions that I have raised. His young runner, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), has been going backwards and forwards most diligently passing him small pieces of paper, so I am sure that he is in a better position to answer my questions. I hope that he will give the House assurances, especially that the disruption in Victoria street will have minimal impact on the millions of Londoners who use that busy thoroughfare as pedestrians, drivers, passengers, shoppers or business people. How long will it take to complete the work? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address those questions in his usual fair and frank fashion.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I crave the indulgence of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for a few moments while I recite some of the essential features of the Bill. I assure the hon. Gentlemen that I will do my best to answer the questions that they have raised.
In terms of passengers starting and finishing their journeys, Victoria is the most heavily used station on the underground network. A total of 73 million passengers used the station in 1989 and approximately 270,000 people use it every day. That total comprises commuters, persons using Gatwick airport and tourists. During the morning peak 86 per cent. of passengers originate from the British Rail terminal. During the morning peak hour from 8.15 to 9.15, more than 33,000 people can be expected to pass through the underground station. During the evening peak hour that number rises to 35,000. During the morning peak hour 29 per cent. of the passengers use the Victoria line northbound; in the evening peak hour the pattern of movement generally represents a reversal of the morning peak, and the predominant flows are from the underground to British Rail, particularly from the Victoria line southbound and from the street to the underground. The main evening peak problems occur on the Victoria line exit from the southbound platform.
The main purpose of the powers sought in the Bill is to relieve congestion on the approaches to the platforms serving the Victoria line, especially the northbound platform. The congestion arises due to the fact that a large number of passengers wishing to travel on the Victoria line 236 use the ticket hall and escalators which provide an interchange to Victoria mainline station. Those escalators descend to a concourse at low level containing short passageways leading to the platforms. The concourse is situated at the southern end of those platforms.
There is a tendency for passengers wishing to travel to Green Park and beyond to congregate around the southern end of that platform. Despite announcements asking them to move further along the platform, the accumulation of passengers is frequently such that it is necessary to close the station several times each morning peak until the platform is clear and safe to use again. The current situation is unacceptable from the customer's point of view and in relation to safety objectives. Therefore, in the short term, at the very least, positive action is needed to alleviate what must be one of the worst examples of station congestion on the underground network.
The short-term congestion relief package comprises an extended lower concourse to the main escalator from the Victoria line ticket hall, additional access to the platforms being provided by an extra cross-passage and an extended lower concourse to the interchange escalator with additional access to the Victoria line platforms with an extra cross-passage. The package also comprises an additional escalator in the existing District-Circle to Victoria line interchange escalator shaft, replacing the existing stairs. Perhaps more importantly, it is proposed to construct an additional subway between the eastbound District-Circle line platforms and the concourse at the head of the Victoria line interchange escalators.
When the works are constructed, passengers will have an alternative means of reaching the Victoria line by using the existing subway between the Victoria and District line ticket halls and proceeding to the Victoria line through the new subway. The entrance to the platform from that route is much further to the north on each of the Victoria line platforms. That will allow a much better distribution of passengers along the platform than at present.
The short-term works will reduce the frequency with which blocking back of passengers occurs at the southern end of the northbound platform and, in turn, station closures will be less frequent. The new relief subway will provide an evacuation route via the District-Circle line ticket hall which avoids the District-Circle line eastbound platform. In addition, in times of service disruption, the relief subway will ease the dangerous levels of congestion which can occur at the eastern end of the eastbound District-Circle line platform. That is why the promoters ask that the Bill be given a Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Tooting raised a number of important points regarding the underground network, particularly his concern about the Northern line. Many commuters will sympathise with his remarks because the Northern line has acquired a poor reputation. I have good news for the hon. Gentleman, however, in that no special Bill is required to improve the Northern line service. Signal alterations have reached the planning stage and I understand that new railway carriages are being constructed and that money has been allocated to improving facilities on the Northern line service.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the costs involved in the Bill. I know that they have increased since last year and are currently estimated at £6,100,000. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, in view of the importance of the measure for safety reasons, it is money well spent 237 and we cannot really allow the possibility of people being pushed on to the line. That is why the service has been disrupted so frequently by the entrances being closed, and that is why it is important that the work should proceed as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West raised a number of points. He asked about ticket barriers, about the effect on Victoria street, and about the private Bill procedure. The hon. Gentleman will know as well as I do that I am in no position to answer the points that he raised about the private Bill procedure. That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and for Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the disruption to Victoria street. The works will cause obstructions outside Victoria underground station at the top of Victoria street, where there are four lanes of traffic. The work is likely to obstruct two of them for up to two years. That has been done in the past without too much difficulty, but clearly some congestion is inevitable in anticipation of the work to be carried out.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
The CBI estimates that congestion costs London about £7.5 billion per year. The proposed works will obviously add to that. Reducing the road width by half for up to two years will cause enormous traffic congestion, not only in Victoria street, around Buckingham Palace gate and down Vauxhall Bridge road, but all the way to Parliament square and probably down Whitehall to Trafalgar square. That will be an enormous imposition on this part of London. Is the hon. Gentleman wholly satisfied that everything possible has been done to minimise the disruption to London that these important works will cause?
§ Mr. Thorne
My information is that it is essential that that part of the roadway be used for this purpose. However, it should clearly be used for as short a period as possible and London Underground is conscious of that. The position is not quite so serious as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West suggests. There have been obstructions here in the past and the limiting factor is the traffic lights. On the best information available from the traffic engineers, the congestion should not be unduly great. There will not be the present completely free flow outside Victoria underground station, but the traffic flow will not be so disastrous as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West suggests.
§ Mr. Cox
The hon. Gentleman is frank in explaining to the House what he has been informed will be the problems. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has said, the problems will be massive. I have two questions for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne). First, what consultation has there been with businesses in the area? Are they aware of what is about to happen to them? Secondly, what will the hours of work be? The hon. Member for Ilford, South has said that the work will take two years. The longer the working hours that can be put into the project each day, the shorter will be the overall time span. If the work will take two years, we must ensure—as is done on the continent and in other parts of the world—that there is round-the-clock working so that the work is done as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Thorne
The usual notification has gone to the appropriate bodies, which would, of course, include the 238 business community as a whole. The business community can object to the Bill when it is in Committee, if it so wishes. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Tooting about the length of working hours and I will write to him as it is an important point.
I also accept the point made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that it is time that we built into the cost of any project the cost of the disruption to London generally. We have put up with the disruption for far too long, so we should now take it into account and not dismiss it as a fact of life.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I referred to the Horne report, which took that point on board. It suggested that an element of rental should be paid by developers for the amount of road they use when undertaking work. That would add to their costs, but it would encourage them to speed up the work, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) described, to minimise their own costs. At present, there is nothing to discipline builders and developers in London in relation to the disruption they cause because no great cost is charged to them for the congestion that they cause and the road space that they use.
§ Mr. Thorne
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The problem is to be able to assess accurately what the figures should be. Research is taking place, but it is not easy to lay down a general figure which would apply equally to all areas. However, I am aware that some developments cause unnecessary congestion. So long as residential occupiers are not disturbed—they want some rest at night and will be especially anxious that noisy work should not stray into the hours of darkness—the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is valuable. I understand that night-only work will be carried out on the platform. The rest of the work will take place around the clock.
I stress to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that there is a need for the Bill. The House has laid it down that private Bills are required for railway works, especially where they trespass on land, whether under ground or on the surface. The construction of the tunnel undoubtedly trespasses on land. I commend this important safety measure to the House and I hope that the House will speed it on its way towards its Second Reading.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
All of us who use Victoria station, whether the main line or underground area, are aware of the considerable congestion for much of the day. We should support any measure to alleviate that congestion. However, I readily understand and sympathise with the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) who pointed out, quite properly in view of the present scarce resources—unaccountably scarce for public transport—and given a Government whose enthusiasm for public transport expenditure is less than total, the failings of the Northern line among others, and how those failings affect his constituents. I hope that the reply from the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will go some way towards satisfying my hon. Friend that some action is being taken to deal with the delays on what is commonly called the "misery line" of the London underground.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) appears unaccountably to have flitted from his usual place. He caused some consternation earlier. 239 When I arrived in the Chamber I found him sitting on the Government Front Bench. I thought that while I had been away for a couple of days the nation had come to its senses and had properly elected a Labour Government and that, predictably, and understandably, my hon. Friend was playing a prominent role in that Government as he is about to do again in this debate.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
When will the leader of our party come to his senses and elevate me to the Front Bench?
§ Mr. Snape
That had better be a matter for private consultation between my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). If my hon. Friend feels that my personal endorsement would be of any great value, I assure him that I will relay the welcome and glad tidings to my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South, in his customarily thorough manner, described the intentions behind the Bill and the need for the works outlined in it. He mentioned the congestion caused, especially on the northbound platforms, as a result of passengers wishing to proceed to Green Park and beyond. If the works help to alleviate that sometimes dangerous congestion, they will be more than welcome.
There is also a problem for southbound passengers, which the hon. Member for Ilford, South did not mention. I do not expect an immediate reply, but I should be grateful if he would use his habitual contacts with London Underground management to see whether anything can be done about the problem. As a regular traveller on the Victoria line, it seems to me that more and more southbound trains are stopping in the tunnel outside Victoria station for up to two or three minutes. That is caused, no doubt, by trains in front crossing from one line to another to return to north London. The hon. Member for Ilford, South will be aware that many trains on the Victoria line terminate at Victoria station. Presumably, that is what is causing the hold-ups.
The build-up of passengers for Pimlico and beyond to Brixton which takes place on the southbound platform is considerably worsened by delays involving southbound trains having to be held for a considerable time before they reach the platform. That seems to be happening more and more frequently these days. Whether it is caused by the increasing number of passengers who use the Northern line, I do not know, but I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Ilford, South would find out about that, because regular travellers on the line would certainly appreciate a solution to the problem.
The Victoria line was opened as far back as 1968 and was regarded at the time as being in the forefront of underground railway technology. It is strange that we have not seen similar developments in other parts of London. New underground lines are expensive but so, too, are new roads and the present Government appear to regard the funding of new roads as a more palatable prospect than the funding of public transport, including the under-ground. I extend a belated welcome to the new Minister for Public Transport, and I hope that he will consider that argument.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West has miraculously reappeared yet again. He pointed out to 240 the hon. Member for Ilford, South the likely costs of the congestion that will result while the work is taking place and suggested that if two lanes are closed around Victoria station the tailback of traffic is likely to reach Parliament square. I think that I can set my hon. Friend's mind at rest because if the Jubilee line is extended as promised we shall not have to worry about congestion in Parliament square because for a couple of years it will be a building site anyway. I can well understand my hon. Friend's anxiety about the prospects of any of us getting in or out of the Palace while the work is taking place.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
I do not see how we can possibly avoid major congestion around Victoria station and down Victoria street as a result of the works. I know that my hon. Friend will not necessarily be able to answer this question, but I hope that when he is Minister for Public Transport or Chief Whip, whichever post he is trying for today, he will ensure that if such works take place there will be close co-ordination between the developer—in this case, London Underground—the police, the traffic warden service and the local authority. Unless all parking meters in the area are to be suspended for the duration of the work and illegal parking descended upon with all the ferocity that Plod can muster, an awful lot of additional problems will arise. What does my hon. Friend think about that?
§ Mr. Snape
That is a very good idea. Whatever lies ahead in my career, I know that my hon. Friend will agree with me that the reinstatement of a strategic transport authority for London would take care of a great many of the problems that he has outlined. The lack of co-ordination between the various organisations has arisen directly from the abolition of the GLC and from the fact that the different organisations have no central planning procedures to bring their work together. My hon. Friend may well be Minister for London in some future Labour Government—we shall then have the enormous pleasure of listening to him speak from the Dispatch Box and explain away any difficulties that may occur even under the aegis of the thorough and detailed planning body that he, as Minister, will head.
I welcome the proposals, and I hope that the congestion which will result from their implementation will be minimised.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I shall be extremely brief in commending the Bill on the Government's behalf. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) on their support for the Bill and the hard work that they have put in to its preparation.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to the Horne report. The Government support the recommendations in that report and look forward to its early implementation. The hon. Gentleman also asked about congestion in Victoria street, and I shall pursue that matter with representatives of London Regional Transport next time I meet them. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South will also do that, but I shall certainly ask about the length of time and the degree of congestion involved.
241 The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) asked about the Northern line. As he probably knows, a major modernisation of the Northern line is included in the programme. That will follow the modernisation of the Central line, which will cost more than £700 million. I plan to visit the Northern line and, following the hon. Gentleman's remarks, I shall certainly go down to the south of that line. I intend to visit the Angel, where a major programme of modernisation is in hand.
§ Mr. Cox
I welcome the Minister's assurance that finance will be made available for the modernisation of the Northern line. I hope that he will visit the line during the rush hour, rather than during the late morning or early afternoon. Unless he goes then, he will get no feel for the enormous problems that commuters who use that line have to endure daily.
Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to his point about congestion. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) talked about a tailback from Victoria station to Parliament square and beyond to Whitehall. That may well happen, and the Minister must be aware of the area to which we are referring and of the enormous amount of traffic that comes over Vauxhall bridge and makes its way around the Victoria area. We are talking about congestion not just along Victoria street and in Parliament square and Whitehall. The whole area is already enormously congested not only during the rush hour but throughout the day. I beg the Minister to take the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West made. We are talking not just about one area but about several major routes to various parts of London which will be seriously affected.
I close by saying—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh: if they represented areas such as mine, they would realise that it is no good saying in six months or a year, "We never thought that the work would cause so much congestion." We know that there is already congestion and the Government should do as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West suggested: they should get their act together and reduce the congestion as much as possible.
§ Mr. Freeman
As I said, I will visit the Northern line, and I shall certainly do so during the rush hour, as that is the right time to see it at work.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
As the Minister is here, I should like to put in a bid. At some stage during his ministerial odyssey round the various stations of London, will the ministerial loins find themselves at Stratford station?
§ Mr. Freeman
The hon. Gentleman must have forgotten our debate on Friday, when I said that I would visit Stratford. That and my commitment to visit the Northern line are the only two commitments that I have given at the Dispatch Box, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied.
The Government take seriously the congestion on the underground—not only on the Northern line. That is why London Regional Transport has an investment programme of £1.7 billion over the next three years, which will bring relief, not only to Victoria but to the Northern line. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I apologise for not being in the Chamber for most of the debate. I did not realise that we would reach this stage of our proceedings so quickly. Indeed, there was appalling congestion en route.
I have previously objected to the Second Reading of this Bill. I tabled a blocking motion which, after discussions with London Underground Limited, I withdrew. I share the concerns of my colleagues about the congestion in Victoria street and the surrounding areas as the building work progresses. The reason for my blocking motion and why I had discussions with London Underground Limited was that I was concerned about: access for the disabled on to the Victoria line and other lines in London.
I understand that London Underground has an informal policy of permitting wheelchairs and prams on the sub-surface lines, the lines that run in shallow tunnels such as the Metropolitan line, Circle line, District line and Central line. However, wheelchairs and prams are discouraged on the deep-bore lines. That policy cannot be enforced because if someone wants to carry a pram or pushchair down to a deep line, he can do so. However, London Underground discourages that strongly.
In London as a whole the transport facilities for the disabled are not good. The changes in the dial-a-ride system have made it very difficult for people to get around and few buses are designed to make easier transport for people with disabilities. The Careline system is limited and covers only certain areas. Therefore, many disabled people use the underground system, and they find that very difficult.
I want to ensure that, as Victoria station is revamped and its interchanges altered, there are proper facilities for people with disabilities of all sorts—not just people in wheelchairs, but people with hearing difficulties or sight problems. They should be able to get around the station more easily than they can at the moment. Most of the London underground network is not geared to meeting the needs of the disabled. Disabled people are often placed in danger because of the crush and the crowds.
I hope that either the sponsor of the Bill or the Minister, if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will respond to my points. Although the Bill is limited in that it deals only with the changes to Victoria station, there is a case for considering the transport problems facing the disabled around London and on the underground network as a whole.
London Underground Limited frequently presents Bills to the House promoting changes to the network. Indeed, a Bill on the Hackney to Victoria line will be presented to the House some time in the future. Unless we have clear assurances from London Regional Transport about its policy towards passengers with disabilities, we may feel minded to delay or obstruct those Bills until we get the assurances. Why should transport around London be made more difficult for the disabled than it already is?
§ Mr. Thorne
With the leave of the House, I will reply to hon. Members' comments. I have taken note of the points raised by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. 243 Snape) about the problems with the lines that go into Victoria. I will investigate that and write to him, as he suggested.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) referred to the disabled. We are becoming more aware of the need to provide adequate facilities for the disabled in buildings and on transport. London Regional Transport is aware of that concern. The hon. Member for Islington, North will be aware of the amount of work that has been carried out on the docklands light railway to ensure that every possible consideration is taken, and provision made, for the disabled. Obviously it is a little more difficult to make provisions for the disabled in existing stations and on existing concourses where facilities are being renewed and changed. However, wherever that can possibly be done, it is being done.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I accept the point about the docklands light railway where the facilities for the disabled are better than anywhere else. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into that, and I welcome it.
I use the Victoria line every day when I travel from Finsbury Park to Victoria and then on to Westminster. With the changes at Victoria station, I hope that there will be escalator connections to the Victoria line from all the lines that enter the station. There is not a complete escalator connection for some lines at Victoria. For example, if one changes platforms from the District and Circle lines to the Victoria line, or vice versa, half the descent is made via an escalator—when it is working and frequently it is not—and the other half is made on a rather steep extremely busy curving staircase. Someone with a walking problem or a disabled person in a wheelchair would have enormous difficulty changing platforms in that way.
Disability could happen to any of us tomorrow, and we should consider the matter more carefully. I hope that London Underground Limited will do that and will consider that transport should not simply be for the ambulant.
§ Mr. Thorne
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. We must be very careful and give every possible consideration to the disabled. We should include facilities for them wherever possible.
I said earlier that one of the proposals for the present scheme at Victoria is to remove one of the staircases and to install an additional escalator. Hopefully that will obviate some of the inconveniences caused by breakdowns that occur from time to time. With more escalators, not all of them are likely to be out of action at the same time.
244 The hon. Member for Islington, North made a very good point about providing escalator transport from all levels. I cannot give him an assurance about that at the moment. We are talking about essential improvements to Victoria from a safety point of view because of the danger of people being pushed on to the line. The hon. Gentleman has made his point well and I will ask LRT to consider the matter urgently to make the kind of alterations that he has requested as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I have taken this matter very seriously, and I spent a morning at Victoria station observing the safety of passengers through the television monitors. I witnessed the difficulties facing passengers and the need to control the flow of people on to platforms. I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) would ask the promoters and the developers to consider the steepness of staircases, their width and also better signing on them. They must be aware of the problems facing a slow walker, perhaps with a walking frame or a stick who might be crushed from behind or slow up the flow of people on narrow staircases.
§ Mr. Thorne
I will ensure that that point is considered over the next few weeks. I hope that the House will give the Bill a unanimous Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.