HC Deb 11 March 1991 vol 187 cc685-723

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a further sum, not exceeding £124,318,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray charges that will come in the course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1991 for expenditure by the Department of Transport on support to nationalised transport industries and to ports; rebate of fuel duty to bus operators; and costs of drivers' testing and training.—[Mr. McLoughlin.]

4.15 pm
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

First, I thank the members of the liaison committee, particularly its chairman the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), for agreeing to the request from the Transport Select Committee to hold this debate today. I should also like to thank the members of the all-party Transport Select Committee for unanimously agreeing to accept my recommendation that we put in a submission to have this debate take place. The topicality of the subject has proved that it is in the public interest that the House should debate these estimates as they apply to London Regional Transport, and in particular to London Underground.

I shall be brief, as I am aware that this is a short debate and that many Members, especially those from London, wish to participate in it. I also intend to confine my remarks to London Underground and not to discuss the wider aspects of LRT.

In the past 18 months, the Transport Select Committee has held two one-off sessions interviewing the chief officers of London Underground. On each occasion, we decided subsequently to publish a report based on the evidence given to us as a result of our questioning of those chief officers.

On each occasion statements were made to us which astounded us. Eighteen months ago, we were told that overcrowding was so critical that London Underground had to increase the fares to put people off using the system in central London. Now we are told that because of its poor housekeeping, it will have to cut services, which in turn will further exacerbate overcrowding and even, perhaps, create more safety problems.

Only four months ago, we were told by the chairman of London Underground that the former finance director had many talents, but that controlling cash was not among them—what a condemnation that was of the process of selection and appointment.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with one who sat beside him on that Select Committee that we were also told—in view of an overspend of £93 million—that, apart from the financial side, it had been a fairly successful year? Does he agree that if they were given the job of cleaning Oxford Circus station, the people who run the underground could mess that up too?

Mr. Marshall

I do not know about the hon. Gentleman's final point, but I agree that the statement to which he refers must have been the mother of all midleading statements.

Although our report is short, it is all the better for that, and it highlights the serious financial situation facing London Underground. I can summarise the report by saying that in October 1990 there was an unforeseen deficit of £35 million, which rose to £93 million two months later and fell to £52 million net only after cuts worth £41 million were made.

The causes of the deficit are listed by London Underground as lower revenues from property and fares, higher spending on safety works, and the failure of accounting procedures.

The Select Committee concluded that the extra safety expenditure was justified, especially in the light of the Fennell recommendations. We believe, however, that the London Underground budget plan was greatly overoptimistic. Avoidable errors were definitely made in forecasting large revenue increases from property sales and fares when there were already signs of a slump, especially in the property and retail trades.

The accounting procedures need to be overhauled thoroughly, as it took far too long for London Underground to realise that its financial position was unsound. The Select Committee recommended that one the Department of Transport is satisfied as to the justification of the accelerated capital spending, it should allow London Underground to borrow forward on the 1991–92 external financing limit. We also recommended that the Department should undertake a detailed review of London Underground's capital programme in the three-year period covered by the next public expenditure White Paper with a view to making further increases in capital grant.

The Select Committee's main recommendations were that the internal review of the underground's financial systems should include improved financial accountability in the engineering projects directorate, improved monitoring by the finance directorate and closer co-operation between the two before the capital budget is agreed. We also recommended a clearer distinction between capital and revenue expenditure and accounting, and the proper authorisation and accounting of capital expenditure brought forward from future years. It should not have been necessary for the Committee to recommend such prudent measures, as they should have existed before the problems ever arose.

It is fair to say that London Underground now appears to be overhauling its procedures. The Department of Transport has financed the deficit for this year to the tune of £55 million.

Mr. Dicks

The hon. Gentleman has just praised London Underground for overhauling its procedures, but can it justify having to sack 1,000 people because of its own managerial incompetence?

Mr. Marshall

I shall deal with that later, but those redundancies are one of the saddest recent developments in a long sad history of mismanagement at London Underground.

Can the Minister tell me whether the £55 million, which has been advanced to finance the current year's deficit, is an addition to this year's money? Or is it simply borrowed from next year's money, and if so, will the situation get even worse next year?

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I had an Adjournment debate on 1 March on the subject of London Underground, when I raised that very point. My understanding is that the Treasury has the right to ask London Underground to offset that £55 million against its external financing limit next year.

Mr. Marshall

I am sorry that I missed the hon. Gentleman's Adjournment debate, but perhaps I had other business that evening. I am grateful to him for bringing it to my notice.

I hope that the Minister will clarify the situation. If, as the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) suggests, that £55 million must be clawed back from next year's money, it will make the situation even worse—the very point that the Select Committee has made.

I should like to record my appreciation of our Committee Clerk Mr. Doherty and of the specialist assistant Mr. Thompson for all that they do for the Committee. Without the back-up of such good staff, the Committee could not do its work and produce reports.

Our report concentrated on the reasons for the underground's financial deficit, but the story cannot end there. The consequences of the appalling financial mess inevitably lead to much greater problems and a serious deterioration in services. The ultimate responsibility for that must lie with the Government and it is at their doorstep that most of the blame must be laid. We have been asked to vote through the substantial supplementary estimate as the result of poor performances by London Regional Transport, London Underground and, most of all, by the Government.

This year's cash crisis is a symptom of more fundamental problems. The current expenditure plans show substantial increases in the external financing limit grant of £669 million, £769 million and £1,039 million in the next three years. Much of that grant, however, will go on additions to the system—for example, on the Jubilee line, crossrail and the docklands light railway.

The cash crisis has forced a stop on the planning work for the Northern line modernisation. In paragraph 35 of our previous public expenditure report, 'we stated our concern that the case for new tube lines should not obscure the need to improve the capacity and quality of existing systems. Suffice it to say that our call has been completely ignored. That has been borne out by the fact that most of the new money is for new projects and that very little will be spent on improving the existing system.

Mr. Dicks

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that we give more money to this group of incompetents so that they can waste it as they have wasted all the money that they have had before?

Mr. Marshall

I shall suggest later that we should indeed give London Transport more money, but I should like to think that the additional money will be properly accounted for and used, and that the expenditure will be properly monitored. I hope that the management of London Underground have learnt their lesson and are on their way to putting their house in order.

The lift and escalator programme may be a casualty of the financial stringency. Lift and escalator availability hit an all-time low in the late 1980s due to the penny pinching of preceding years, regardless of what the Minister may say. In a large city like London, it is absurd that dead escalators should make life difficult for the elderly and disabled and cause dangerous congestion at stations and on platforms. Can the Minister say whether lifts and escalators will be a casualty of the latest round of penny pinching?

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. A large part of the Northern line runs through my constituency. At Tooting Broadway, the lifts were out of action for months, and at Tooting Bec they have been out of action for a year. We were repeatedly told that they would be in service "next month", but they are still not in service. We are told that that is due to lack of funding. In reply to the question put by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), therefore, we should make the point that, although these people may not be fully conversant with how the underground system should be run, the problems on the underground system will never be rectified unless we have some money.

Mr. Marshall

My hon. Friend gives a splendid illustration of the end result of the lack of investment in the underground system. I hope that the Minister will give a guarantee that such necessary and vital facilities in running an underground system will not be held up because of lack of finance. On the contrary, they should be greatly speeded up by the disbursement of additional finance, as that would be in the public interest.

One of the great mysteries about London Underground is why, in the key financial years of 1986, 1987, and 1988, it underspent its grant by £123 million when so much needed to be done. The mess that it is in today did not happen overnight—it is the result of successive years of bad management. Oddly enough, there was a similar underspending by British Rail. It seems that, in the heyday of the previous Prime Minister, despite the Government-inflicted cuts in grants, both London Transport and British Rail management were so cowed that they exceeded the targets that the Government had set. Could that perhaps be described as machismo underspending?

We are now told that sweeping changes are to be made in the 1991–92 operating budget, and they are not changes for the better. For example, 1,000 jobs are to go, peak hour services are to be cut, the Central line service is to be reduced from 72 trains to 70, the Northern line service from 86 trains to 84, the Piccadilly line from 72 trains to 69 and the Circle line by one train between April and June. Other cuts will be dealt with in more detail by other hon. Members.

Mr Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I can give the hon. Gentleman an update. It has been announced today that 800 further job losses are to be made in this financial year.

Mr. Marshall

I am not grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, as it is even worse news than we had expected. One wonders where it will all end, and whether the underground will eventually come to a complete standstill.

I am sceptical about the proposed increase from 30 to 34 trains on the Victoria line. There should never have been as few as 30 trains in the first place. In view of all the difficulties on that line—the problems with wheels and so on—one wonders whether the increase will come about.

The cuts will do nothing to increase safety or improve staff morale or to help to recruit and retain staff—inevitably staff will have to be taken on later—and they will not instil confidence in travellers, particularly women and the elderly or anybody who travels alone or late at night. Whether one is male or female, one no longer feels safe when one sees groups of people on the underground.

When I became a Member of this House in 1979, I did not have the slightest hesitation about travelling on the underground—even on the last train. That is no longer the case. In fact, I do not use the underground after 10 o'clock in the evening. I feel a bit apprehensive—perhaps due to advancing years. There ought to be sufficient staff to make trains and stations safe for any intending passenger at any time. The new plans will result in the worst way to run a railway. I cannot think of words to describe the way in which matters are developing.

We in the Labour party want substantially increased public investment in transport, but we want to see such investment well managed and properly monitored, with proper accountability. We do not want creative accounting or mismanagement. The buck must stop at the door of those who appoint senior officials in public companies—and such appointments are made by the Government of the day.

It is not just the Labour party that wants proper management and accountability. The Confederation of British Industry has provided us with an excellent brief. Even if, as I suspect, the CBI has its Marshalls mixed up, much of the brief is to be commended. It says: If London is to maintain its position as the world's leading financial and commercial centre, the transport system must be world class. The CBI believes that traffic congestion in London can only be tackled by an integrated traffic system, in which road and rail complement each other. On the need for better transport in London, the brief says: An improved public transport system is essential because it transports 83 per cent. of commuters … On the Underground, after an increase of 64 per cent. in passenger kilometres between 1982 and 1989, an increase of at least 20 per cent. was predicted by the end of the century. More investment is essential if London Transport is to meet the growth in demand. That is the CBI's view. Does the Minister agree with it? If not, why not?

The Government must stop chasing the fantasy of significant private sector contributions to transport, and accept that there must be a public commitment to the transport system of London, which is still the largest city in Europe. The Government must face the facts, as the CBI has done, and accept that the underground desperately needs more investment—not subsidies—if many more crises are not to come home to roost in the years ahead.

4.32 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

A few days ago, I had an opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the level of service provided by the London underground. On that occasion, I made many of the points that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) has just made in his excellent speech. I received a courteous and informative reply from my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport, who made four main points. First, he reminded the House that we are dealing with an Edwardian railway.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)


Mr. Shersby

My hon. Friend pointed out that we had to cope with the problems of our Edwardian and Victorian predecessors, and that that is a very expensive undertaking.

The Minister made what I thought was a most welcome admission—that the problems of the London underground today are partly the product of many decades of neglect. Those decades span the periods of office of both Labour and Conservative Governments. The Minister then referred to the lack of investment and to the policies that the Government were adopting to deal with that problem. He also stressed the importance of safety. He pointed out that one way of dealing with the problems facing the London underground was to increase capacity. He reminded us that the Jubilee line extension, the east-west crossrail and the safeguarding of the Chelsea-Hackney line had been given the go-ahead, and he made the point that the extension of the Jubilee line and the east-west crossrail were being fully funded.

My hon. Friend the Minister explained also some of the improvements that are being made on the Central line, on which about £700 million is being invested. That will result in new rolling stock, new track, new ballast under the track and new signalling. As a result, an additional 5,000 passengers will be carried on the Central line during peak hours. All those developments are welcome.

My hon. Friend the Minister was also able to tell the House of a feature of the improvements that has exercised my mind and doubtless that of every other Member of this place who travels in central London. I refer to the improvement that is about to be made to the Circle line, with the introduction of new or refurbished rolling stock at the beginning of July.

I welcome unreservedly all the developments to which I have referred. In addition, my hon. Friend the Minister assured me that the management of London Underground Ltd. is, in his opinion, of high calibre. He said that the chairman, Mr. Wilfred Newton, who has already run the Hong Kong mass transit system, had given an assurance to the Select Committee on Transport that the management of London Underground Ltd. will be able to cope with the problems facing it.

Mr. Dicks

As I did not have the opportunity to read the report of the Adjournment debate which my hon. Friend initiated, nor the Minister's reply, will my hon. Friend say whether the Minister said anything about the quality of the management of London Underground Ltd? Did he make any comment about the evidence given by Mr. Newton to the Select Committee on Transport? As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) said a short while ago, there was a good financial director, but he could not handle money. Did my hon. Friend the Minister make any comment about London Underground Ltd. having a successful year save for a £93 million overdraft? Was it a successful year in London Underground Ltd.'s history? Does my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) agree that, if the equipment, including the lines, of LUL are Victorian, the same must be said of the management?

Mr. Shersby

I can tell my hon. Friend that I advanced those arguments. He probably knows that I read the minutes of evidence of the Select Committee on Transport in preparing my speech for the Adjournment debate. In reply to my arguments—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) would have advanced them had he been present—my hon. Friend the Minister said that Mr. Wilfred Newton had no hesitation in taking the tough decisions that are needed to set London Underground's financial house in order. He said as much to the Select Committee on Transport."—[Official Report, 1 March 1991; Vol. 186, c. 1288.]

We are considering the estimates and the future of the London underground. We are considering also London Regional Transport. It has been established beyond doubt that LRT's major problem is a lack of adequate funding. That has serious effects on the quality of the day-to-day service and on the deferment of longer-term capital investment. If the problem is to be tackled, we must consider how adequate funding can be made available. It seems that a number of sources are available. First, there could be funding from central Government. Secondly, there could be funding from London boroughs. Thirdly, there could be funding from joint business ventures, involving LRT and other commercial operators. For example, there could be schemes involving LRT and the London Docklands development corporation, or a combination of the other methods of funding that I have suggested.

Funding by means of joint business ventures might appear on the face of it to be highly attractive, but I suggest that it is likely to take place only in relatively limited circumstances in which the commercial operator can see a commercial reward over a relatively short time. I suggest also that it is inconceivable that such funding would be made available to meet daily operational costs or to meet the major capital maintenance costs of the existing system—for example, new track on the Victoria line and the replacement or reconstruction of many old bridges and viaducts. We are talking about extremely big numbers.

The second option of funding by the London boroughs is likely to be feasible only on a limited basis. That is where the boroughs see that they are contributing to the maintenance or the creation of a service that they would otherwise have to fund themselves—for example, local shopping bus routes. Given the position that the London borough councils face—they must restrain expenditure to keep their community charge at a sensible level—that does not seem to be a realistic option.

There is no shadow of a doubt, therefore, that much of the funding over the short to medium term must come from the Government, as is the case in nearly all other major European cities and some cities in the United States. As a Conservative Member, I am not afraid to say that. Indeed, I believe that it is necessary to say it and that there is a great deal of cross-party agreement on the matter. It is easy for the Opposition to score points from the Government of the day because of the poor services provided by London Regional Transport and London Underground Ltd. I suspect that, if people studied the records, they would find that I probably did so myself when I was in opposition.

It is now as incumbent on me as it is on Opposition Members to approach those problems without trying to score political points and to try to bring home to the Government what is needed to deal with the problem. That may be wishful thinking, but, seeing the smiles on the faces of the hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), I hope that, whatever the political point scoring in which they indulge, they will address the problems in this extra day's debate on issues affecting London.

Central Government funding is necessary because much of the capital investment required by the underground services is simply not commercially attractive. The many projects to build new lines may take 20 or 30 years to provide a return on the capital investment and that is not an attractive possibility for commercial investors. Equally, the cost of replacing worn-out bridges and track has no commercial return potential, since it only prevents the existing service from collapsing altogether.

There seems to have been some suggestion, perhaps emanating from the Treasury, that the costs of investment could be met by substantially increasing the real cost of fares paid by existing passengers, thereby avoiding the need for further Government funding. If that suggestion is serious, it is extraordinary. It implies that passengers who currently travel on unreliable and overcrowded services should pay more for the comfort of future travellers. Such a suggestion is commercially illogical.

In my Adjournment debate on 1 March—I am sorry that the hon. Members for Deptford and for Stoke-on-Trent, North missed it—I tried to illustrate the problem of fares. I said that, in real terms, fare levels in 1990 were broadly the same as those in 1980 because the Greater London council's "Fares Fair" policy created a dip in the mid-1980s and fares rose again to their present level but have not gone up in real terms.

We cannot ask passengers on the London underground to pay more for an extremely uncomfortable service. I liken it to an ailing department store or, perhaps more topically, to an airline with a reputation for worn-out premises or aeroplanes. Such a company could not suggest that its existing customers could pay even higher prices to fund better facilities in five year's time. If it did so, the customers would soon disappear and the company would go out of business. Instead, any such business would have to find commercial funding to improve its facilities. It would be necessary to convince its backers that its forecasts for future improvements in its business prospects justified the investment. The better facilities would ultimately be paid for by future customers, but only after the level of service had justified the price increase.

London Underground is already losing passenger revenue as passengers are driven away by the combined effect of increased fares and massive deterioration in the service. It does not take much imagination to realise what would happen if there were substantial increases in fares. Most passengers would probably cheerfully pay more once they had a modern, frequent, reliable and customer-oriented service. I suppose that that is a classic case of cost-benefit analysis.

The London underground is a critical part of London's infrastructure. Its present inability to provide a decent service has an impact on its customers and a knock-on effect on other parts of London's environment. Its rather unreliable and freqently unpleasant conditions ensure that a large number of individuals continue to commute to central London by car. That means that the Government and local authorities must continue to spend large amounts on road maintenance, improving parking provision and parking restriction enforcement. The inadequate funding of London underground services ensures that further expenditure is necessary elsewhere. However, the nature of road expenditure means that it is not subjected to the same cost controls or to any form of balanced budget approach. It is taken for granted that building extra roads brings benefits elsewhere rather than being self-financing.

The unpleasant and frequently nightmarish journeys that many commuters now face are making it increasingly difficult for London firms to recruit the skilled staff that they need. In my constituency, people often prefer to work locally, perhaps at Heathrow airport or for local firms, rather than undergo the daily grind of a journey to London. The result is that many firms are now considering relocating elsewhere and a number have already done so. Those who stay face huge productivity losses as a result of staff arriving late. I wonder how many have arrived late in the past few months, leaving aside the extraordinary and worrying events of recent weeks.

An analysis of the problem leads to the conclusion that extra investment in London underground and British Rail services will lead to substantial savings and increased productivity elsewhere. That is precisely why most other European Governments are happy to provide major operating subsidies to their public transport networks. That brings us back to the CBI's attitude towards investment in the London underground and the need for our capital city to have a modern, efficient transport system if it is not to grind to a halt.

In my Adjournment debate, my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport told me that the autumn statement is the proper time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to announce the rate of subsidy for London Transport. If, in his autumn statement, he cannot substantially improve on this year's figure and provide a long-term strategy for the financing of London transport, the country and London will have serious problems.

London needs an immediate commitment to put its transport service into first-class shape. That must happen not only for the sake of its passengers, but to ensure the health of businesses in the capital. If those goals are to be achieved, London Underground clearly needs a substantial injection of large sums of money as well as the installation of a competent and dynamic management. The Chairman of the Transport Select Committee—the hon. Member for Shettleston—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) made that point. If Lord King of Wartnaby were chairman of London Underground Ltd. and had on his board people of the calibre of Sir Colin Marshall, Richard Branson, Michael Bishop and other leading distinguished and highly competent managers of our major airlines, I wonder whether they would be prepared to put up with the problems with which Wilfred Newton must now deal.

If that action is not taken, there will be a serious problem in the long term for London Underground Ltd. More and more United Kingdom businesses will tend to decentralise, and multinationals will think twice before locating in London. The financial, management and other attempts that have been made to sort out London Underground's problems have been patchy and somewhat half-hearted. They will not do. If the work to make improvements starts now, it will not take effect on a major scale for five to 10 years. If it does not take place soon, London could be at a great disadvantage in terms of being Europe's business and financial capital.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell the House more than he could during the short time available to him last Friday. I hope that my contribution and those of other hon. Members will provide powerful ammunition for him in making his case to the Treasury.

4.50 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I am grateful for the debate and for the fact that this subject has been selected from the estimates. I support the motion, which provides for the granting of about £124 million to Her Majesty out of the "balances kept at the bank" for charges which must be paid by the end of the year because we are going a bit short. It is vital that the money is paid. There is one matter on which there is no divide between the Government and the rest of us—London Regional Transport and the Department of Transport need the money.

We have already heard about the terrible state of London's transport. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), who introduced the debate, and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) repeatedly came to the central point. I think that the hon. Member for Uxbridge made it six times. Without additional money from the Government, we cannot run a decent transport system in the capital. The hon. Member for Shettleston, who chaired the Transport Select Committee, made that point equally strongly, and also dealt with the state of the transport system. Various phrases were used to describe the bad state of affairs, the hon. Member for Shettleston referring to the long, sad history of mismanagement. We have heard that there is a need for new money not only for new work and new projects but for existing projects.

Who is politically responsible for the mess? Almost uniquely in the House, my colleagues and I can ask that question in a political way. When the Greater London council ran London Transport, the Government argued that the GLC ran it incompetently, so they decided to nationalise it, although they were against nationalisation. Those of us who were selected to sit on the Standing Committee considered whether the transport system would be better or worse run by the Government. Because the Conservative party had a majority, due to the distorted way in which it is given a majority in the House the Government took over London Transport and managed it.

As the hon. Member for Shettleston made clear, it appears that for three years London Underground underspent, even in terms of the restricted spending allowed by the Government. British Rail underspent in London. Public expenditure was curbed, but the relevant managers did not even spend the amounts allocated to them. It appears that, subsequently, incompetent financial management resulted in a large deficit this financial year.

The House has had the benefit of a clear report from the Transport Select Committee on London Underground's financial deficit, with a memorandum showing that, on 3 December 1990, there was a shortfall of £53 million—broken down into £27 million in lower property receipts, £18 million in lower fares income, £8 million in additional operational costs and £40 million in the costs of additional safety works. Reductions in project and operating expenditure came to £41 million. The Select Committee concluded that London Underground's money had not been managed properly.

A thousand job cuts were recently announced. In addition, a leaked document from the passenger services director, Ian Athurton, announced that 798 posts were to go, comprising 458 station staff, 246 train crew and 94 maintenance men—so a further 800 staff face the axe.

Whose fault is it that London Underground underspent for three years and, having got itself into a mess, now has to take draconian measures which will be hopeless at building up a proper management system for the long term? Is it the fault of the Secretary of State for Transport or, because this is a nationalised industry, is it the fault of Mr. Wilfred Newton? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Uxbridge is gesturing in a way that suggests an answer, but I shall not embarrass him by attributing a possibly unfair answer.

Someone must take responsibility. London Underground was given a job to do and made a complete mess of it—I just managed to restrain myself then from saying something much stronger. Politically, someone must be called to account, because this is not good enough. I respect the Minister for Public Transport. He is committed to his job and to sorting out the problems that he inherited. Who takes the blame? Whoever takes it must go, or he will be acting against the principle of accountability.

Mr. John Hargreaves, LUL's finance director, has been replaced by my namesake—so I suppose that he must be a relatively good man—Mr. John Hughes, the man from the Pru. He has been brought in to sort out London Underground's finances, and I wish him well. His first job is to review 1,773 redundancies. A report in the Evening Standard appropriately states that he must cope with the backlash of passengers and the workforce. I wish Mr. Hughes well, because there will be a large backlash.

Having asked the political question, I wish to suggest the political answer, and here I agree with the hon. Members for Shettleston and for Uxbridge. Decisions must be made by the Government because they hold the purse strings and because the method of raising money is under their control. Not enough is invested in London Underground. All other major capital cities invest more than we do. The Government subsidy in London is about 30 per cent. and falling. Paris invests 50 per cent. and Rome 80 per cent.

We cannot expect to run a decent underground system without a large amount of Government investment As the hon. Member for Uxbridge said, the private sector is not willing to invest in sufficient amounts to flake that worth its while. That has been proven over the years and is not in dispute. To catch up on what should have been clone and to develop a system capable of dealing with future needs will require a lot of investment. Much of the current investment is putting right what should have been put right before—making safer what the King's Cross disaster tragically proved to be an unsafe system.

We need a co-ordinated plan, a strategy for London transport. Currently, a million commuters come in and out of London. It is predicted that there will be 1.2 million commuters by the year 2000. Bus use across London has decreased by 30 per cent., yet I am advised that, in the rush hour, buses are filled only to the extent of between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent.

There is congestion on many tube trains, as everyone who travels on them knows. There is also congestion on some bus routes. The fares are certainly not cheap—in many cases, they are expensive and off puttingly so. Our system discourages people from using public transport. The result is that they use private transport, which leads to even more congestion, with the result that business, jobs and employment are pushed out. The Confederation of British Industry made the same point as the hon. Member for Uxbridge. The London Chamber of Commerce also stated that people will not do the essential jobs in the city —jobs in the health service, in public transport, road cleaing and mending, and jobs in local authorities. There will be no one to run the capital city unless there is a properly co-ordinated transport system.

I observe in passing that, uniquely in London, local authorities do not make a contribution. There is not a levy —as there now is in other metropolitan areas—made by the transport authority on the local authorities. That was one of the consequences of London Regional Transport legislation. Ratepyayers—or poll tax payers or post-poll tax age payers or whatever they will be called next year—do not contribute. Should they? I do not suggest that there is an easy answer. Many people come to London as tourists, business people or commuters—and perhaps they should pay an equal amount. Local authorities do not get their transport supplementary grant to help them fund public transport. It is based almost entirely—if not entirely—on road use and functions. That is an inherited distortion of the Government's system, which time and again biases all transport planning in Britain in favour of roads, to great common disbenefit.

The first problem is lack of investment, the second is lack of co-ordination, and the third is the fact that there is no secure structure for investment. Unless we solve those problems, things will get worse. Public transport will become more congested and less well used.

I will illustrate the rest of what I want to say by taking some examples from my constituency, in the way Members do. One of the largest passenger interchanges in London is at Elephant and Castle. Many bus routes, a railway line and the Bakerloo and Northern line intersect there. Many people change there every day—to go to work, for recreational purposes, for shopping and for visiting. Civil servants work over it in the Department of Social Security. Yet it is felt by many to be one of the grimmest underground stations to be found in any public transport system in the world. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment came recently, and the Government have been helping to improve the area by giving a £500,000 million city grant. That was welcome and was well spent on improving the underpasses at the Elephant.

However, the layout of the booking hall is temporary and too small. The lifts are inadequate—there are only two and they are often broken. There are no escalators, but there would be space for them if they were integrated with those in the shopping centre. There are some completely unsavoury public conveniences, which are meant to serve a huge number of people but are often closed, ill lit or simply in such a foul state that people will not use them. The entrance to the Bakerloo line is closed. I went there on Saturday, to find it was closed for no good reason other than that it needs a bit of money to complete the work to open it. Now, one has to go in through a hole in the wall into a half-finished place which looks like a war-time 1940s Polish film set, with light bulbs hanging on dangling wires and with uncovered brick work taken back to the bare bones. I spoke to a relief inspector on duty, whom I shall not embarrass by naming. He said that there were two vacancies for inspectors because it was so grim that people would not work there.

The Elephant is a major interchange; the local authority is trying to redevelop the area and the business community want to do something. There are schemes for hotel development and civil service offices. Yet the Elephant is the pits.

Improvements were started, but two weeks ago the money ran out and we were told that work would probably not start again for two years. Everything was left in a half-finished state. On Friday evening, after various approaches and meetings, after indications that this debate would be held and after it had been communicated to the management that I wished to go down to the Elephant, a rumour reached the work force that, some work would start again tonight. What a surprise! I welcome it and hope that it is rushed to completion, but a transport system cannot be run on a stop-go policy.

We cannot expect people to use public transport if they are presented at the beginning of their working day with such a grim place. It leaves them feeling as though they have gone through purgatory before they even get to their desks. That is no way to run public transport. It is an obstacle course in human, physical, spiritual and mental endurance. We are not in the third world. We are supposed to be a first-world country, and we should have a first-world public transport system.

Then recently we suddenly heard about what were called "a few modest changes." On 15 February, a letter from the head of public relations was sent to me and others, stating: I am writing on behalf of London Underground's General Managers to advise you of some modest changes being planned for London Underground services from April. The modest changes consist of closing booking offices early, and taking staff away from some stations. Whether it be Borough, London Bridge or Rotherhithe, they will be left with no personnel on duty at the times of day when people are most vulnerable. It is not as though there is a camera system to ensure that people are monitored as they go down the stairs or in the lift. Many people live in those areas, and for some elderly people there is no other access.

A councillor in Southwark told me that her mother who lives in Bexhill cannot come to visit her because there is no easy way for her to come if Borough station closes on Sundays or closes early. That was her easy access to get to her daughter's flat—by tube from London Bridge to Borough. She can no longer do that, and will not risk her life in a dark underground station in inhospitable surroundings, where there are no staff.

I understand that the London passenger consultative committee, which we included in the London Regional Transport Act 1984 as part of the statutory consultative process, objected on Friday and that everything has been put on hold. I hope that that means that the changes will be reviewed. We cannot encourage people to use the underground if stations are personnel-free, with no support staff, and therefore even more insecure.

My last point is linked to London Regional Transport rather than to London Underground. A few weeks ago, people were told, among other things, of a change to the route of the No. 1 bus, which ran from Bromley through the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), through my constituency, over the bridge and into the west end. There were many complaints that the buses were always late or came in threes. The solution was a lot of little routes, but no through route. It would no longer be possible to come from Bromley without three changes.

That is fine in theory, and the service may be more frequent, but it is not fine in practice. A friend of mine who has four young children says that she now has to pay fares for each part of the journey and to wait for each bus with her children or her luggage. One cannot be certain that the next bus will be there to meet the connection, without interruption of the service. Eventually, one has to stop at the Aldwych, where the underground station is to be closed. There will not be an underground station even at the terminus of the route, as there would be if the bus continued to Trafalgar square where there are plenty of connections. If one then wants to go to Trafalgar square and one cannot walk, one has to pay the higher-rate, short-hop fare of about 70p just to go down the Strand.

What incentive is that for people to use the bus, for heaven's sake? People have already been put off using the tube—if they happen to be in a part of London in which they can get to a tube station. They may think of using the bus, but although they once had a journey all the way from outer London to the middle, they now have three separate journeys. If they do not have a travel card or pass, they will have higher fares, more inconvenience, and more risk of being in the cold and wet and of buses never coming. That is not the way to run a system.

People are consulted but, so far, consultation appears to have had no effect. The public and their representatives —this is not a party political point—are telling Government and management what they want. They have been saying the same for years. No one says that we should do away with London transport, or that we do not want the buses or the tube. People want more, efficient, better, clean and hospitable public transport. Please, whoever is the Prime Minister and whatever local government finance system we have, can we get it right? I do not know why we have got it wrong for so long.

Unless we get it right, we are condemning ourselves not only to unnecessary misery and inconvenience, and to messing up something that every other country appears to get right now, but to making our capital city less prosperous, successful and pleasant. We shall condemn millions of people to a life that there is no excuse for not helping to get right. I hope that at last, with an all-party consensus, we can get the message through that London transport needs attention from people who will put it right after decades of it going terribly wrong.

5.10 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) on the Front Bench, because, before he was promoted to his present position, he played a major role in seeking to persuade London Regional Transport to improve the Northern line, which is important to him and to me.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked who was responsible for the present situation with London Regional Transport. He knows that a London Liberal Democrat can ask that question with relative impunity. The only thing for which London Liberal Democrats are responsible is the complete chaos that reigns in Tower Hamlets. If the experience in Tower Hamlets were multiplied across London, I should not like to say what would happen to London Regional Transport.

I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey watched television on Friday night. If he did, he will know that the present situation with London Regional Transport is due to the locust years when it was controlled by the Greater London council. There is a huge time lag between any decision to increase investment in transport and additional trains coming into service. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) was responsible, as Secretary of State for Transport, for ensuring a massive increase in investment in London Regional Transport. The hon. Gentleman also knows full well that none of the benefits of that investment will come through until many years after my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere has left the House. The decision to increase investment and the ability to get planning permission for new lines and increased investment in rolling stock take many years to become effective.

We are suffering now from the locust years when the GLC was controlled by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who was far more interested in subsidising the fares paid by American tourists than in increasing the level of investment in London Regional Transport.

Many of my constituents have the dubious pleasure of travelling every day by the Northern line. Some years ago, Keith Bright, the then chairman of London Regional Transport, at a meeting in the House, described the Northern line as "an abomination". He said that London Regional Transport, like any consumer company, would see that its reputation was determined by the worst part of the system. There is no doubt, for me and for many others, that the Northern line service is inadequate and unsatisfactory. Although the Northern line is now celebrating its centenary, the quality of service is more that of the Victorian era than a service that should prevail in the last decade of this century.

I and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet have frequently complained to Keith Bright, to Tony Ridley and to Dennis Tunnicliffe. I want to reiterate some of my complaints about the quality of service and about the attitude of management. There is no doubt that the attitude of the London Regional Transport management is sloppy and complacent. Following the disaster at King's Cross, London Regional Transport appointed one chap to be in charge of two stations. When one goes to the stations, one can see how concerned London Regional Transport is about the image that it produces to the public.

When I went to Hendon Central station this morning, I looked up at the clock. It told me that the time was 5.10 am. I could not decide whether I should have had another two and a half hours in bed or whether the clock was wrong. The clock, of course, was hopelessly wrong. It had stopped, and no one had bothered to start it again.

Later today, I was at Mansion House station wondering whether I would get here on time for Question Time. I looked at the clock, which said 9.58 am. The clock was still moving, because it then went on to 9.59 am. That shows a complete indifference to the needs of the travelling public. Even at 2.20 pm, the clock claimed that it was 9.59 am.

Mr. Shersby

European summer time.

Mr. Marshall

It was certainly wrong. It was either behind the time or ahead of the time, but it was not giving accurate guidance to the travelling public. This morning, as I went down the Northern line, I took note of the time at various stations. At the first station, the clock said 8 am. At the next station, the clock said 7.50 am. I was going backwards by some magic of London Regional Transport. The management's attitude should be less sloppy; they should be more determined to provide accurate information for the customer.

Mr. Dicks

My hon. Friend gave the game away when he talked about the management. Is he aware that the management say today that the 800 job losses added to the 1,000 last week are a sign that they are on the ball and a sign of their efficiency? Would my hon. Friend like to comment on that?

Mr. Marshall

When one looks at London Regional Transport, one is reminded of the old adage of Harry Truman: "The buck stops here." Unfortunately, with London Regional Transport, the buck does not stop at quite the right place. There is no doubt that some of the top management at London Regional Transport have not been as efficient as they should be. I do not include in that criticism Mr. Wilfred Newton, who has joined London Regional Transport only recently. He has come with a high reputation from elsewhere in the transport industry and from within private industry, where he worked efficiently at Turner and Newall.

It is not only the clocks on the stations that do not work: one thinks of the escalators and of the lifts. If one gets to Bank station and finds that all the lifts are working, one is likely to collapse with shock. It is a golden rule that at least one, if not two, of the lifts do not work. The same is true of the escalators. The escalator at Embankment station has not been working for months, and at London Bridge station, one escalator has been out of action for many months.

The dot matrix system is meant to inform commuters on the Northern line which train is coming next. At Brent Cross station the other morning, the indicator said that the first train which was due in two minutes would go to Bank station. It said that the following train was due in three minutes. No train appeared for another five minutes. I do not know what happened to those two trains. They must have been some of the invisible trains of the Northern line which somehow manage to get on to the dot matrix system, yet do not manage to arrive at the station on time.

Even when the trains arrive, one can almost guarantee that their destination will not be the destination that the dot matrix system said two minutes earlier that they would have. When I arrived at Hendon Central station this morning, the indicator said that the first train would go via Charing Cross. When it turned up, it was a Bank train. The public want decent. accurate information from London Regional Transport. If London Regional Transport cannot operate a dot matrix system that gives accurate information, that says something about the attitude of mind within the organisation.

Mr. David Marshall

The hon. Gentleman has just outlined an awful catalogue of mismanagement. However, he earlier laid all the blame on what he described as the "locust years" of London Regional Transport being controlled by the GLC. Does he not realise that it is now seven years since the GLC controlled London Regional Transport? How does he account for his description of events? Who is really responsible? It certainly is not the GLC.

Mr. John Marshall

It is always a pleasure to give way to cousins, however distant, from north of the border. My argument about the GLC was that the level of capital expenditure that it determined has affected the number of new trains coming into service with London Transport in recent years. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) ignores the fact that, in a large organisation like London Transport, which employs many thousands of people, one cannot change an ethos overnight.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Government have had seven years.

Mr. John Marshall

One cannot change the ethos of London Transport overnight.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, each year that the GLC controlled London Transport, from 1970 to 1984, its capital budget was set by the central Government of the day? Each leader of the GLC and each chair of finance had to go cap in hand to civil servants and Ministers to find out what capital expenditure they were allowed. Every time that we put up capital programmes, they were reduced in the initial stages by the Government of the day. That is an attack upon all Governments. If the GLC had had the freedom to run the system as we had wanted, these problems would not be with us now.

Mr. Marshall

I do not know how wise it was to give way to the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone). I suspect that it was not. When he was in control of the GLC, after his Paris coup, he was more interested in subsidising fares than in increasing capital expenditure. One of the first things he did, after he had stabbed his leader in the back, was to push fares down so that many non-Londoners and people who did not need cheap fares benefited. Every American tourist get a bonus from the hon. Member for Brent, East. He would have done better by going to the Government of the day and saying that he wanted to spend extra money to improve the quality of service offered by London Transport, rather than to give cheap fares to those who often did not need them.

Those of us who travel regularly on London Transport, as I do, find that trains on the Northern line are often dirty, graffiti-ridden and somewhat infrequent. I have never understood why one of the first tasks for people who are sent to do community service cannot be to remove much of the graffiti that they put on the trains and the streets of north London. The state of trains on all routes in London is a disgrace because of graffiti.

I am able to give a typical example of the sort of arrogance which has afflicted at least certain members of London Regional Transport's management. I recently went on a deputation with the right hon. Edmund Dell to complain about a proposal for closure in my constituency. I took with me a petition signed by about 5,000 people. When I was with Mr. Tunnicliffe, I was assured that my comments would be considered. At the time, a member of the staff on the Hampstead and Highgate Express was being briefed by a London Transport press officer, who told him that London Transport had already made up its mind and would ignore the petition that we had handed in. Subsequently, that was denied by the chairman of London Transport, but the fact that a press officer could say that to reputable journalists shows a degree of arrogance and unwillingness to listen to what elected Members of Parliament and prominent ex-Members of Parliament are saying.

I have frequently made proposals about the Northern line to London Transport and have received promises, but the Government have yet to receive proposals for the large-scale modernisation of the line. I welcome the fact that the money is being spent on a new station at the Angel, but the real bottlenecks are at Camden Town and Kennington, where much still has to be done. When London Transport altered its priorities and decided to improve the Central line before improving the Northern line, it got its order of priorities wrong.

Whatever our complaints about certain routes in London, every hon. Member must congratulate the Government on the large increase in expenditure that has been agreed in recent years. For Londoners, one of the real frustrations is the long delay which occurs after a decision has been taken to increase expenditure. It is strange that Labour Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Members for Brent, East and for Shettleston complain that not enough Government money has been given to London Transport. The Secretary of State then comes to the House and announces that more money is to be spent and that more new routes will be introduced. The private Bill procedure is used to provide for new routes.

What happens next? Do Labour Members of Parliament all stand up and sing "Hallelujah", and say that they will speed up the process? No, of course they do not. As we all know, Bill after Bill relating to London Transport has been held up by obstructive tactics, not from my colleagues on the Conservative Benches but from Opposition Members.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I think it is easier if someone else points this out—the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) was unfair in his last observation. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) spoke to a report which was agreed at a meeting when the majority of hon. Members present were Conservatives. As I understand it, that report from the Select Committee on Transport was agreed unanimously. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can suggest that that document was party political or that its strictures on London underground as regards the matters that we are debating today were not the subject of substantial cross-party agreement.

Mr. John Marshall

I did not say that it was only Labour Members of Parliament who wanted more money spent on London Transport. It is slightly ironic that Labour Members of Parliament come to the House, criticise the level of expenditure on London Transport but, when the private Bill procedure is used to facilitate new routes in London, certain Labour Members have been obstructive, with the result that the procedure takes longer than it might have done.

There is no doubt that the financial management of London Transport has not been of the highest. I cannot understand how any organisation can suddenly find that it is £50 million adrift. A private business would have discovered that something was wrong when it was £1 million or £2 million adrift. I am not surprised that the previous finance director of London Underground disappeared from the show. That underlines a much deeper malaise, and one wonders how deep the problems are.

Sometimes, when bus routes have been put out to tender, London Transport has won and sometimes the route has gone to another operator, but I welcome the fact that tendering has always resulted in substantial savings, which must surely be beneficial.

When my hon. Friend the Minister next introduces legislation to the House. we will give Londoners the benefits of deregulation of buses which have been enjoyed by the rest of the country. If we could deregulate London buses, there would be many more routes in the suburbs. Some people say that it would lead to more congestion. I do not agree for one minute that someone will run a route from Barnet to Bermondsey, but there would be many more local routes, which would benefit commuters in London and would lead to a better transport system for all the citizens of London.

The improvement of transport in London is a herculean task. It cannot be done overnight. I congratulate my hon. Friend and his right hon. and learned Friend, the Secretary of State on the improvements that they have made and that we know they will continue to make.

5.28 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), because he has touched upon many interesting issues that I wish to refer to. The Northern line passes through a great deal of my constituency.

The statements that we have heard during the debate are obviously to be welcomed. Anyone who sees the debate on television or in the news programmes today, or reads about it in the press tomorrow and learns that there will be an improvement to rolling stock, will think that it is not before time. However, that thought will soon disappear, and people will start to say that they have heard it all before. Hon. Members from both sides of the House know from what constituents have told us that countless promises have been made about improvements to services, stations and manning levels. Sadly, that has never taken off. In the debate, we heard about welcome improvements that stemmed from the benefits of extra staff, but now we are told that the extra staff are to be removed.

For the vast majority of Londoners, the underground is the major means of transport, but they all despair at the conditions in which they are forced to travel. The Northern line goes through the Balham and Tooting area in my constituency. It is an utter disgrace today, and it will be the same tomorrow and next month and possibly next year. One cannot even say that, although the station could be a bit cleaner, at least escalators and the lifts always work and that the trains are always punctual. One cannot say much in its favour. I am sure that hon. Members who have the Northern line and possibly other underground services passing through their constituencies are frequently asked when the services will be improved.

The Minister for Public Transport visited my constituency last summer and I wrote to him afterwards and thanked him, because his visit was well received. He met and spoke to the travelling public and travelled with them on the Northern line. Therefore, he cannot be in any doubt about how those travellers feel. If he made a return visit tomorrow, the same things would be said to him. No one has ever told me, and I am sure that no one told the Minister on his visit, that we have a good service. People cannot say that, because the service continues to worsen.

There is no comfort on the trains, and many stations are dirty and stay dirty—not just for a day or two or at weekends when there is a shortage of staff, but week after week. As other hon. Members have said, lifts or escalators are often out of service for months. When the Minister came to my constituency I asked him to get off at Balham station. To his credit he said, "Of course I will get off. That is why I am making this visit." He saw there a lift that had been out of service for about eight months and asked when it was proposed to bring it back into service. He was told that it would be in use again as soon as possible, but we are still waiting.

Eventually, such matters will be put right, but it is not long before there is another breakdown. That annoys people who want to use the service, and in the end they have to give up in despair.

Mr. Simon Hughes

If a ministerial visit cannot get the lifts working, perhaps a royal visit is required. If that does not work, we may as well all give up and go home.

Mr. Cox

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I could have a chat to see whether the next visit can be upgraded.

Against that background of despair, fares keep going up, and that also annoys people. Now we hear that there are to be further cuts either in staff or in services. The Northern line is the key service in my area. Sadly, it has a record for mugging offences not only late at night but during the day. Some of them take place on trains and passengers are terrorised. We are often told that women will not travel on the underground because of the fear of such crime, but many able-bodied men say that they will not travel on the line because they know what happens there, and that it could happen to them.

To the credit of London transport—we must give credit where it is due—because of what was taking place, extra staff were employed. That resulted in a substantial reduction in crime on the Northern line from Clapham to Tooting Broadway, six stations in all. Confidence started to come back to the travelling public. Now we are told that the people who were employed to inspire that confidence are to be removed.

I understand from handouts that London Transport classifies that as an efficiency measure. Perhaps the Minister will tell us how that definition came about. The travelling public when they become aware of that definition, as some of them are, would certainly not agree that reducing staff is an efficiency measure.

We are told that booking officies are to be closed at 8.45 in the evening. We can all imagine the scenario of a busy underground station with no staff on duty and the booking office closed. What happens if a crime occurs or a fire breaks out? Whom does one contact to report such matters? London Members with this branch of the underground in their constituencies are entitled to be told something about the thinking behind such decisions.

I have received a letter dated 26 February from a constituent about this matter: The proposals outlined are a complete and utter outrage to passengers and their safety. I suppose we can now look forward to a dramatic increase in crime again on the southern end of the Northern line in return for higher fare increases and the hollow promises of improvements in the quality of the service.

I also had a letter from an organisation that is respected not only in my constituency but in the borough of Wandsworth, the Wandsworth society. It is a non-political organisation, to which people from all walks of life belong. They have spent a great deal of time looking at London Transport, certainly in my area, and they have voiced enormous opposition to what they understand will happen following the efficiency measures that I have mentioned.

We have heard about conditions in Europe. I am a member of the Council of Europe and often go to meetings in Paris. Many comparisons are made between the Metro and London underground, and it is said that the Metro is a much smaller system. That may well be, but the real issues for the travelling public are the regularity and frequency of trains, the cleanliness of the stations and the number of staff. In those respects, the Metro is well above that which is provided for Londoners. No wonder the people of Paris use their system. The travelling qualities are better, and the overall cost is lower. On the Metro, one can buy a ticket for the equivalent of 30p, which permits travel on any part of the system. The Metro's individual services may be small in terms of the distances that they serve, but, overall, it covers an enormous area of Paris. We have much to learn not only from the French but from the Italians and others. Sadly, we do not appear to do so.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) know that, one year ago, road development was threatened in Wandsworth and adjoining boroughs. In my many years in politics, I have never known such enormous protest meetings as those which took place in the borough over that issue. They were arranged by a number of organisations, and it was a case of standing room only. At one meeting that I attended, it was estimated that there were more than 1,000 people present.

The residents who attended those meetings were deeply concerned about not only the proposed road development but the provision of better public transport. That came over time and time again. They did not object to the prospect of paying more for public transport, provided that better services were made available.

There is a need for a co-ordinated transport/traffic policy for London. Part of my constituency is not served by underground or British Rail services, but only by buses. That deficiency could be met by a transfer system that allowed one to purchase a bus ticket that could be used on the underground or on British Rail, or vice versa. That would benefit many travellers, and would encourage the public to use the capital's transport system more than they do.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we encourage the public to use the capital's transport system at times when demand is already high, that will compound the problem? There are times —particularly peak periods—when so many people are using London Transport services that stations have to be closed and queues begin to form. That happens at Victoria, for example—to the great inconvenience of the public. Encouraging more people to travel could in itself exacerbate the problems that we are trying to overcome. There is certainly a case for encouraging more off-peak travel, but at other times, one would not want to do so.

Mr. Cox

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The solution is to provide a co-ordinated transport system. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned bus services. If they were made more reliable, the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) could be met far better than it is today.

I never cease to wonder why we have failed over the years to develop the potential offered by the River Thames in providing transport for thousands of commuters, at least during the rush hour. In many European countries, river transport plays a vital role in their overall transport policy. Sadly, that is not the case in London. There is ample scope to develop that potential, and I hope that it will be examined as soon as possible.

Hon. Members have commented on the efficiency of London Regional Transport's management. I am reminded what occurs when Ministers—particularly members of the Cabinet—are sacked, when we are told how wonderful and knowledgeable they were, but a few months later, it is said that they followed all the wrong policies. That is happening now, in respect of the Government's economic policies. When a former Chancellor resigned, we were told that he had been wonderful in revitalising the country's economy, but now all its problems are blamed on his management of it.

The same happens in respect of LRT executives. I remember being told how marvellous and knowledgeable they were, but the first occasion that something went wrong, they left. I hope that whoever is managing London Regional Transport today will stay on long enough to fulfil their role in the way we want—and will have the authority to do so, in consultation with others, according to their abilities and knowledge of the system, for the benefit of the travelling public.

We have been made many promises. Let us hope that those made by London Regional Transport's present management will be kept. If that happens, I am sure that the travelling public will accept that improvements will take time to achieve—provided that they see a commitment to enhancing the services that they use day in, day out. Londoners have sought such improvements for years and years, but they have been let down. The real test of LRT's management will be whether the services for which it is responsible will improve. Whatever we may say, and whatever may be said by Ministers or London Regional Transport, that is the yardstick by which the people of London will make their judgment.

5.46 pm
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

If my reckoning is right, given the number of hon. Members in all parts of the House present who represent London constituencies, the score at the end of this welcome debate could be 10-nil against London Regional Transport. There is much cross-party criticism of the poor standard of facilities that it provides, and the Government must tackle the way in which LRT's management caters for public demand.

We can reassure ourselves that there is no call for the construction of more major roads in London, to cope with the growing volume of commuters. As the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned, a year or so ago he and my hon. Friend for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) joined the campaign led by Wandsworth council which argued a strong, united case to the Government that the assessment studies presented by various consultants urging a mass of new roads—all of them seeming to converge on Wandsworth bridge and the borough of Wandsworth in general—were not welcome.

To the Government's credit, they not only accepted that all-party case but a number of submissions made by other London boroughs. Road building is not the current buzz phrase, and I doubt whether it ever will be for the citizens of London.

Seventy-five per cent. of commuters travel by rail to their places of work, making a total of 2.5 million travellers a day—a 60 per cent. increase since 1982. It must be evident to London Regional Transport and to Network Southeast that that trend will not go away, and that the problems it brings will not diminish. The public cannot be expected to continue to put up with dirty stations, trains that do not run on time and are overcrowded—and may break down at inconvenient points—and the broken-down lifts and escalators mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House, which seem to remain stationary for far too long.

No one could claim that a shortage of resources is to blame. Investment of £3 billion is planned for the next three years, which will include the costs of the Jubilee line extension and the east-west crossrail. That is three times the amount that the Greater London council spent on London Regional Transport in its last year of existence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) strongly criticised the GLC, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) will respond to that criticism. I believe that the GLC devoted far too much money to the revenue side and not enough to the capital side. That financial mismanagement had a knock-on effect, which we are now experiencing in the form of old rolling stock that is desperately in need of replacement—although some has now been replaced and there are plans to replace more.

We must be careful when we compare London with other capital cities. The hon. Member for Tooting pointed out that the Paris transport network is smaller than ours, but we invest more per head in our network than do the authorities in Paris, New York and Milan—to mention just three of the capitals with whose systems ours is often disadvantageously compared.

Investment in public transport, as opposed to road traffic, has resulted in an interesting development. In Paris, the average speed of road traffic is 9 mph; in New York, it is 7 mph; in Brussels—which, as the location of the European Commission, represents the centre of the universe for many people—it is only 6 mph. In London, it is 11 mph. Some things are improving here and, rather than comparing London so unfavourably with other cities whose transport facilities can, in fact, be criticised fairly radically, we should set our own example. I simply urge my hon. Friend the Minister to call on London Regional Transport to improve its management considerably.

There is much scope for improvement of the bus service. In 1989–90, £28 million was spent on improve-ments, and the number of bus miles increased by 3 per cent. during that period—although only about 14 per cent. of the total travelling public use the roads, which is considerably fewer than the number of rail travellers. As several hon. Members have pointed out, buses could benefit the public considerably. The routes, however, are often far too long: by the time a bus which started its journey in north London—which may be taking an hon. Member to his south London constituency—has sat around in traffic jams, it will be running seriously off schedule and often in a convoy. Two or three buses will arrive together at the bus stop, which is no use to travellers. LRT's management should give more thought to shortening routes and making it easier for buses to run on time.

Mr. Simon Hughes

If routes are shortened, there must be connecting routes so that people do not have to wait at the point of connection. Moreover, the cost of the entire journey must not be more expensive, or those who do not have travel cards will be disadvantaged. Apart from that, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is logical.

Mr. Tracey

I entirely agree.

In parts of the capital, nearer the suburbs, smaller buses—Hoppas—are being used. They can move more flexibly through the traffic and can often negotiate roads down which a double-decker, or even a large single-decker, could not be driven. I think those buses must be used more.

Not enough strategic thought has been given to London's transport facilities—certainly not as much as I expected when I was a member of the Standing Commit tee considering the London Regional Transport Bill in 1984. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, there was a good deal of discussion on both sides of the Committee. It was said that the Department of Transport would keep a close eye on the new body's strategy and that hon. Members would be able to debate the way in which London's transport was being run. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether the Department is anywhere near establishing the strategic authority for London's overall transport network that we expected when we spent so many hours and weeks debating that Bill. A number of hon. Members who are in the Chamber served on the Committee. They know what was said.

Reference has been made to the deregulation of London's buses. The Minister and his Department of Transport colleagues can learn lessons from the deregulation of buses in other parts of the country. It is about time that London's travelling public benefited from those lessons.

6 pm

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

Between 1981 and 1984, I was leader of the Greater London council and had some responsibility for the administration of London Transport. Seven years later, with London Transport under Government control, Conservative Members still get up and say, "If only the Labour GLC had done something different, we should not be in this mess today." I intend, therefore, to refer to my discussions with a number of Secretaries of State for Transport between 1981 and 1984.

As I said in an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall), a Labour Government—with the support of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) who at that time was Opposition spokesperson on transport—passed the legislation which transferred control of London Transport to the Greater London council. Capital expenditure control was still with local government. However, the Greater London council's capital expenditure, which included London Transport's capital expenditure, had to be agreed by the Government of the day. Otherwise, Greater London council money resolutions would not have been carried by the House. First, the Government, then the House of Commons exercised complete control over the GLC budget, not just when I was the leader of the GLC but throughout all previous GLC administrations.

When Sir Horace Cutler went to the then Labour Government with the proposal to extend the Jubilee line to docklands, his proposal was vetoed by that Government —no doubt on Treasury advice. Labour, then in opposition on the GLC, supported Sir Horace Cutler's condemnation of the Labour Government for blocking proposals which were supported by the whole council and by people throughout London. Had the Government of the day not blocked the Jubilee line to docklands, it would by now have been operating for many years.

One of the first acts of the new GLC Labour administration in 1981 was to go back to the Government with the same proposals. We did not need to ask for money. We did not expect the Government, after two years in office, to help the GLC to extend London's public transport. We were prepared, as happened with all our capital projects except housing, to make an investment from revenue towards capital improvements in London. But the proposal was vetoed. We also wanted to construct the Hackney-Chelsea line, but the Government vetoed the proposal. The Treasury, acting through the Department of Transport under both Governments during the last 20 years, vetoed successive GLC administration proposals for increased capital expenditure on London Transport. All Governments stand condemned, but I suspect that the major villains have been the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury rather than the Department of Transport.

The Government are painfully inching towards many schemes that we welcome. They now accept that London, with a population of 7 million and providing work for people who travel in from much further away, must have a good public transport system. The Government's final recognition of that fact, in their dying days, has the support of the whole House. The tragedy is that it has taken the Government so long to recognise it.

I remember my first meeting with the then Secretary of State for Transport. He has announced that he intends to retire from public life—it is a tragedy that that did not happen 12 years ago. His deputy was at the same meeting. He went on to devastate the national health service, and he is adopting the same approach to education. I told the then Secretary of State that we had been elected with a clear mandate to cut fares, which were the highest in Europe, so as to attract people back to public transport and reduce road congestion. We also wanted to initiate a major programme of capital expenditure so that there would be a major shift throughout the coming decade towards an improved and expanded public transport system. I told him that we wanted to build the Jubilee line out to docklands and the Hackney-Chelsea line, and that we wanted to extend some of the existing tube lines and build our own buses which could be specifically geared to conditions in London—a modernised version of the Routemaster for which Londoners have always had an affection.

All these proposals were vetoed by the Government when we debated the money resolutions. The GLC's chief officers had meetings with Treasury civil servants, at which they were told that they could not have this and they could not have that. We made the point every year that the Treasury was not giving us permission to spend enough money on London transport. Capital expenditure was needed. All that we asked was permission to spend. Let us not forget that the Secretary of State for the Environment's first act was to push through legislation giving the Government even more control over local authorities' capital budgets.

Conservative Members get up and say that the GLC subsidised fares and did not embark on capital expenditure. One reason for that was that in their first days in office the Government took over complete control of every penny of every council's capital spending. If the GLC had been left with the freedom to go in for capital spending, we should have a public transport system that was equivalent to that in Paris. The Government should not blame the GLC for their own policies.

We recognised that London Transport was not the first choice of transport for many people in London. The tubes do not run to many parts of south-east London. In many areas, people do not have access to the tube.

Mr. John Marshall

The hon. Gentleman talks about governmental control in 1981 and capital expenditure by local authorities. Will he confirm that councils were free to spend capital receipts if they generated them? It may be that, for ideological reasons, the GLC, when the hon. Gentleman was its chairman, did not want to generate any capital receipts.

Mr. Livingstone

On the day we took office, we instructed our officers to identify all capital assets which could be released. We sold land and houses to generate capital. In a perfect world, we should not have sold that land or those buildings, but they provided us with capital to do a little more. We were not happy about it, but we did it because we wanted every penny that we could get for capital spending. Some of the sites that we had to sell broke my heart, but we decided that it was better to spend that money on public transport than to keep those sites. Moreover, money that had been allocated to unpopular road schemes that we inherited from Sir Horace Cutler's administration was switched to public transport.

At that first meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport in June or July 1981, we said that, as the tube did not serve all parts of London, we had told British Rail that we would provide it with the same level of subsidy as we provided to the tubes so that all British Rail services in the GLC area could benefit from a fares reduction, in line with the GLC's fare reduction for London Transport. We wanted to create a common ticketing policy so that people could buy one ticket anywhere in London—a British Rail, London Transport or bus ticket—and use it anywhere in London. That policy has now been introduced for season tickets, which we welcome, but it has taken years to introduce it.

I remember the words of the Secretary of State for Transport: "For every £1 of subsidy that the GLC gives to British Rail, I'll withhold £1 of Government subsidy, thereby completely negating any subsidy that you may give." That was an act of sabotage. Who lost? The commuters lost. Those who live in the Tory outer suburbs of London—in Bromley, Croydon and Hendon—were denied a fares reduction and the integration of public transport services. I said, "We want to increase British Rail's rolling stock. We shall provide whatever subsidy is necessary to run more trains and attract people to public transport." Once again, that was vetoed.

The Government vetoed all those projects. Our only freedom was to cut fares and to squeeze whatever money we could from capital receipts to fund, the limited works that we could undertake. Had there been a Conservative GLC and a Labour Government, the evil hand of the Treasury would still have prevailed and would have vetoed the projects. Transport Ministers still have to bludgeon their way past the Treasury to get a little capital investment for London Transport.

Until Londoners elect an authority to control transport in London, it will never be responsive to the needs of Londoners. So long as it is controlled by the Treasury, the main concern of which is national economic issues, Londoners will never get a fair deal on public transport. That is why there must be an elected strategic authority for London which can concentrate on tackling such problems.

I would accept the judgment of any Londoner whom one stopped on the street in the three and a half years when the GLC was responsible for transport and the seven years which followed. Although the Government blocked all our capital investment programmes, when we cut fares we saw what we predicted—a movement of people from private transport to public transport. We saw an increase of about 10 per cent. in the use of public transport and a, reduction of about 5 per cent. in cars on the streets of London. That may not sound much, but it is the difference between the city moving well and effectively and being clogged up.

Almost a decade on, people still stop me on the streets, tubes and buses and say, "If only we could have the GLC's `Fares Fair' policy back." After a decade of slander and lies from, Conservative Members— "slander" a ter-minological exactitude—people still remember that policy, which they enjoyed, because, after 30 years of decline in public transport in London, the system began to improve. The Government of the day, who did not want popular public spending, were determined to put in their cronies and friends to run it, and they have run it into the ground.

That policy has been & disaster. Escalators can be out of action for three weeks, three months and sometimes more than a year. If that had happened while I was leader of the GLC, Conservative Back Benchers and Ministers would have condemned it as an outrage and an indictment of socialism. I received letters if an escalator was out of action for three or four days. Nowadays, people are amazed if they can complete their journey with all the escalators working. At times, 30 per cent. of the escalators have been out of use.

That has been a damning indictment, and I do not believe that it is right that the transport of the capital city should be a matter for central Government. Such problems will bedevil any Government who take office, however pro-public transport they are, because the body best able to run London transport is an authority elected primarily for that purpose which will be answerable to Londoners and therefore much more responsive to their needs.

If the Government think that they have any popular support for their maladministration of London transport for the past seven years, I suggest that they put a simple question to the people of London: would they prefer Ken Livingstone to be taken down to Westminster tube and tied to the rails because of the maladministration of the GLC, or would they like the same fate for Ministers who have run London transport into the ground for the past seven years? I know whom Londoners would choose to sacrifice for the incompetence that has been visited on them. The only problem is that Ministers strapped to the Circle line would die of old age before a train came along.

Public transport in London will be the nail in the coffin of every Tory who in the past decade has trooped through the Lobby as the Government have demolished London transport. Our message to the people of London at the election will be, "If you want to save London transport, get rid of the bunch of gangsters who have been running it with their cronies and friends, and elect people who not only want to run it but travel on it."

6.15 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Methinks the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) will remember with advantages What feats he did that day.

He should remember, as we do, that many Londoners liked, and like, the idea of reducing fares to increase the attraction of public transport. However, they wanted to ensure that the increased income was invested in improved services. Sadly, the GLC's management did not lead to improved services.

When the Conservative Government took office, they had to rectify the mess in which the economy was left by the previous Labour Government. We have turned the economy round, and can join forces across the Chamber to seek improvements to public transport.

At Transport Questions today, I offered my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport immortality if he would extend the underground from Hackney to Chelsea south through Wandsworth. The stone masons are ready to erect his statue if he agrees. We were in Balham the other day discussing the possibility of erecting a statue to commemorate the famous people of Balham. We mentioned a Roman centurion because of Stane street, and Peter Sellers because of the gateway that he provided for Balham, but my hon. Friend, the "freeman" of Wandsworth borough, would be a fitting subject for a statue if he agreed to extend the Hackney-Chelsea line south into that barren territory.

The problem is that there is little public transport in south London. Anyone reading an underground map of London would think that London's southern border was the River Thames. Five small tube lines dip beneath the river.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Bowis

I cannot give way; I am trying to speed through.

Although 85 per cent. of commuters into central London use public transport, there is no public transport for them to cross boroughs south of the river and they must use their cars. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to persuade London Regional Transport to make the southern circular connection, bringing the east London line across to Balham, the Balham line to Clapham junction and up through the west London line to Willesden so that, at last, we have the outer circle line that south London so needs.

We must provide more park and ride facilities on the outer rim of the underground network to encourage people to use it. When we consider access to the underground system, we must bear in mind people with disabilities, and ensure that, at all stations, trains are sufficiently flush to platforms.

I know that I must be brief, so I shall refer quickly to one or two subjects on which I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister. I again ask him to speak to the management of London Regional Transport about Dial-A-Ride. It is being run for the convenience of LRT management. I want to ensure that the service is provided for the convenience of the users—those with disabilities. That does not necessarily mean imposing a regional structure on the system; it means allowing local people with disabilities to run their own service.

I have to hand over to the Front Benches now, so I shall conclude. There are good signs of more investment in the underground and the Government can claim credit for that. More money is being invested in the underground than ever before and more in the whole rail system than at any time since the Conservative Governments of the 1950s. We now need a responsive management. My hon. Friends referred to the possibility of private assets being brought into the public transport system. The asset that we need above all is private management skills, so that better use can be made of public financial investment.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I call Ms. Joan Ruddock.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are the guardian of Back-Bench Members' interests. It is outrageous that London Back-Bench Members cannot speak in a debate on London transport which affects their constituencies. A short debate of about three hours on this important subject—virtually the only such debate in the year—is a poor show. More time should have been made available so that Back-Bench Members, like myself, could defend their constituents' interests. The lack of time is offensive: I hope that you can get that message across to the Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to take part in the debate, and I regret that he has not had the chance to do so. He will recognise that I am only following the conventions of the House.

6.20 pm
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

I share the dismay of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), who may wish to intervene in my speech. I hope that I defend the interests of his constituents as I do those of other London Members.

I congratulate the Select Committee on Transport on its timely and concise, but damning, report on the finances of London Underground. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for his presentation as Chairman of the Select Committee. On 22 October, in advance of its deliberations, I wrote to the previous Secretary of State for Transport expressing alarm at the then newly identified and previously unforeseen deficit of about £40 million.

I urged the Government to step in with a rescue package, but the right hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) replied that London Transport like any other business must live within its means", and that he had no plans to increase their grant ceiling for the present financial year. Months of unnecessary uncertainty have followed, but it is to the credit of the new Secretary of State that he has responded positively to the combined pressures of the all-party Select Committee report, Opposition Members and trade unions by increasing London Transport's grant in this financial year.

Perhaps the Minister will bring us more good news today. He knows that, welcome though that increase is, it does not solve the continuing crisis of London's most important mass transit system, or set it on a secure financial footing for the future. Indeed, the Select Committee found a gross deficit in London Underground's finances of £93 million, leading to a net budget shortfall of £52 million.

The Select Committee examined the causes and made some recommendations for immediate action. Sadly, it did not report substantially on the consequences of the deficit, although it ended its report by saying: we are concerned that services to the public should be affected as little as possible. That is a pious hope. Drastic measures have already been announced by London Underground. I challenge the Minister to demonstrate today that the planned cuts in staff and services will not further undermine confidence in London Underground, lead to a further drop in ridership and yet another cash crisis.

The Select Committee found that poor forecasting of income from both property and fares made the 1990–91 Business Plan impossible to achieve. That statement came as no surprise to Members on this side of the House. We have constantly criticised the fundamental philosophy on which London Transport's business plans are based. The Government, oblivious of the fact that it is achieved nowhere else in Europe, have charged London Transport with making a profit. It is their wholly unrealistic and unjustified approach which led London Underground into flights of financial fantasy that ignored the collapse of the property market and the limits of passenger tolerance.

The Select Committee identified the three causes of the immediate crisis as a drop in ridership, a drop in property sales and the safety programme. A drop in ridership was inevitable. We predicted that it would occur if the Government persisted in their philosophy. Only a year ago, the chairman of London Transport said that his policy was to price people off the tube. In August last year, the managing director of London Underground said: I see no reason why the customer should not pay the cost of running the system, and that includes replacing assets and repairing trains.

Ms. Gordon

Bus services are being cut, too.

Ms. Ruddock

Indeed they are. The managing director went on to say that it would require five to seven years of real fare increases to achieve that objective. This year's increases are a good example. Tube fares rose on average 10 per cent., with some passengers facing an increase in season ticket prices of as much as 11.7 per cent.

Does the Minister not accept that combining the highest tube fares in Europe with one of the poorest services is likely to prove a disincentive to passengers? Does he think it desirable for people to be priced off the tube? Does he think it desirable for people to take to their cars instead? Does he not accept that such consequences impose wholly unjustifiable costs on London's environment, hospital casualty wards and overall business efficiency, through increasing congestion and accidents on our roads? What does he make of Mr. Newton's admission in the Select Committee that, although the pricing-off policy was supposed to apply to peak hour travel, there has been a reduction in discretionary demand"? Such a reduction in demand is a clear indictment of Government policy, exposing yet again the lack of strategic planning and co-operation in the capital's transport system.

I shall digress to give the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who is active in transport debates, but unfortunately cannot be with us because he is in Brussels. He has asked me to record tonight the fact that the closure of the Acton Railway works, wholly owned and operated by London Transport, has meant that rebuilding and major overhauls of some underground stock must now take place elsewhere. It is ludicrous that stock must now be run up British Rail lines to the Birmingham area to be attended to.

My hon. Friend also points out that the new timetables for the Circle line trains to operate from April to July include some gaps of 15 minutes. He asks us to note that, in 1885, there was a regular timetabled service by steam-hauled trains on the Circle line, serving Westminster station at regular 10-minute intervals. Today, the service is worse than it was 100 years ago.

Mr. Cohen

My hon. Friend has referred to fares. If I had had the opportunity to make a speech, I should have talked about the impact of fares on the many people in my constituency and in those of other hon. Members who live on low incomes. Is my hon. Friend aware that, if a person on low income buys a five-day travel pass of the £2.60 variety, it will cost him about £13 a week? From April, income support will be £39.65 a week, and unemployment benefit £41.40. So almost a third of such people's weekly incomes will go on fares, even before they have paid for their poll tax, food or rent. Is not that scandalous?

Ms. Ruddock

I wholly endorse what my hon. Friend has said. As we have said repeatedly in the House, we have the highest fares in Europe for any comparable service.

The other two causes of LUL's financial crisis were identified as falling receipts from property sales, and safety measures. On that score, the Secretary of State has much to answer for as well. Surely he must accept that it is nonsense to make public policy in an area as vital as the capital's mass transit system dependent on speculative gains in a notoriously unstable property market. Does the Minister accept that that source can no longer be relied upon? As for the £40 million deficit which is said to have arisen from additional safety works, the mind positively boggles. How could LUL not have been able to predict the pace at which it would do the works and thus know in which financial year the costs would fall? Why, as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) asked in Committee, did not LUL immediately seek an extension of the external financing limit to cover these works?

What proportion of the £62.55 million payment to London Transport announced on 14 February will go to London Underground? The Minister implied in an Adjournment debate on 1 March that £55 million dealt specifically with the cash flow problems of London Underground. As I understand it, that is not what London Underground believes. I repeat the question that has already been asked: is this a grant or is it forward borrowing against the EFL of 1991–92 which must subsequently be repaid? If it is forward borrowing on next year's EFL, does the Minister accept that the same cycle will repeat itself next year?

The Select Committee's report has provided us with a quantitive insight into London Underground's affairs, but it is of course on quality that the travelling public will pass their judgment. Does the Minister accept that the recent reductions in service made by London Underground because of its financial difficulties are already undermining passenger confidence, and are thus likely to undermine the revenue base for the next financial year? We predict that the financial crisis revealed by the Select Committee's report is but the thin edge of the wedge. LUL is negotiating staff cuts amounting to close on 1,000 posts.

In a recent Adjournment debate, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) questioned the Minister for Public Transport on this same issue. The Minister replied: there will be no significant change in service. I understand that the proposed staff cuts of 1,000 are related mainly to the introduction of new automatic ticket barriers … Those moves are designed to make the underground as efficient as possible. They are not a reaction to a financial crisis".—[Official Report, 1 March 1991; Vol. 186, c. 1290.]

Mr. Tracey

Before the hon. Lady sits down, will she tell us how much extra money a Labour Government would spend on London transport? And does the hon. Lady have the approval for her answer of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)?

Ms. Ruddock

The hon. Gentleman knows better than to ask such silly questions. We are dealing with the Select Committee's report and the Government's policies.

The Minister said that cuts in staff were not a reaction to a financial crisis. I say that LUL's staff would regard that statement as a joke, were the consequences not so painful. LUL's senior managers appear to have done their best to follow the Government's line. Memos to staff speak of good housekeeping and efficient use of resources, but even the most loyal among them seem to think that the Government's financial policies have something to do with the problem. The general manager of the Northern line told his staff in a memo that the Government were faced with huge demands for education and health and as yet did not know the full costs of the Gulf war. The manager of the Victoria line—12 trains short for much of last year; six trains short now—told his staff that their new timetable will be more realistic to operate. As there are to be 10 fewer train operators, we can assume that there will be fewer trains. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that only 24 trains are running regularly now at peak times on the Victoria line.

The manager of Central line acknowledges that the volume of his customer traffic fell by 4 per cent. in 1989 and by 5.5 per cent. in 1990. At Question Time today, the Minister denied that ridership was falling. Perhaps I can press him to say whether it is falling on Central line, and whether he expects a further fall in ridership on that line, given that it too is scheduled to sustain significant staff cuts and a 3 per cent. reduction in peak hour services.

The actual list of job cuts over which the Minister drew a veil today includes but 300 booking office clerk jobs—out of a total of 980 jobs, including those of train operators, guards, leading railwaymen, station foremen, and passenger services support jobs and engineering operations. How does all that accord with the Minister's statement that the job losses are related to the automatic ticketing system and not in response to the financial crisis?

It is our contention that the financial crisis is deep and continuing. We welcome any assurance that the Secretary of State can give about better financial management. Indeed, we would welcome an all-round improvement in management in LUL, but the problem remains: if the Government set unrealistic targets, London Underground will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis. The current round of cuts will, I predict, be self-defeating. Booking offices at more than 100 stations are to have severely restricted opening hours and real time closures. Some booking offices are to be closed altogether, and some stations to be entirely unstaffed. Does the Minister really not believe that these closures amount to a reduction in service, or that ridership will not be adversely affected?

Many people, especially women, are already deterred from travelling outside peak hours by the lack of staff on stations. These latest measures can only exacerbate their fears and contribute to yet further decreases in ridership —and to further problems for LUL's staff morale, to more violence against staff, to vandalism and to graffiti at stations. What does the Minister expect to happen to the crime figures?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) pointed out, those wonderful experiments on the Northern line which have proved successful and which Ministers have frequently applauded are to end. It appears again that, although the Minister was not aware of it at Question Time, the additional staff are to be withdrawn from the Northern line from April and reductions in the numbers of revenue protection and ticket office staff will also be implemented.

Does the Minister expect the crime figures to rise? Does he deny that this measure too is related to the cash crisis? If, as I suspect, he shares our dismay at the thought of the underground becoming less safe, will he see that the staff cuts are reversed?

I could go on and on about the cuts, not least about the sad plight of LUL's award-winning cleaning and premises department, which was a success story—cleaner es-calators, platforms and station premises, even with reduced staffing—yet the department is to be chopped. What price safety, when the King's Cross fire showed all too tragically the need for a strict cleaning regime?

Even all this is not the end of the story, however. Just before the debate began, I received a leaked copy of the passenger services directorate's proposed operating costs budget for 1991–92. It takes account of the so-called stage 2 cuts—the 1,000 jobs to which I have already referred —but it ominously looks forward to a further round of —stage 3—job losses totalling nearly 800 posts.

It cynically argues that the management expect there to be industrial action as a result of the current 1,000 job cuts, and that that will provide the opportunity to put in place more radical working practice and employment changes arising from Level 3. Those changes had already been rejected in 1989 by LUL workers, and it was agreed that they would not be undertaken. That is a cynical move.

The level 3 changes will result in the loss of 248 train staff, 458 station staff and 94 train maintenance staff—a total of 798 posts. Does the Minister believe that LUL management should hope for industrial action in order to force through more staff cuts? Is that the style of management of which the Minister approves?

The Select Committee's report must be seen as a dire warning of continuing financial crisis within LUL. It is all too evident that it cannot run a safe, efficient and passenger-friendly service without more Government financial support. It is patently clear that the Government's policy towards public transport in the City is a disaster. No number of promises for the future can make up for the fact that the day-to-day running of services falls far below the reasonable expectation of Londoners. The Government simply cannot blame that state of affairs on London Transport's poor financial management, although it is obvious that it was in such a state and needed to be tackled, the political responsibility for the mess clearly lies with the Secretary of State, who has set himself up as the strategic authority for transport in London.

I trust that the Minister will explain how LUL fortunes will be turned around to provide the high-quality services and safe and affordable public transport that Londoners demand.

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

The hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has encouraged a hare that has been running around the Chamber tonight to run even faster with her allegation that a further 800 jobs are to be cut imminently. I repudiate that claim.

London Transport cannot complete its budget until my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has concluded the review of the external financing limit for 1991–92. However, the current budget, which has been drawn on a prudent basis, does not provide for a further reduction of 800 jobs. That allegation is alarmist, unnecessary and without foundation in terms of its likely impact on London Underground. I am sure that budget options are under consideration by the middle management of London Transport, but I hope that the hon. Member for Deptford is not encouraging industrial action on London Transport.

Ms. Ruddock

No—the management are encouraging that.

Mr. Freeman

I am glad to hear that the hon. Lady is not giving such encouragement. I therefore hope that she will not give credence to leaked documents, which probably come from the unions involved, commenting upon options which have no foundation in reality.

Ms. Ruddock

In fairness, the Minister should know that the document to which I referred comes from Ian Athurton, the passenger services director, and it was he who referred to industrial action.

Mr. Freeman

I assure the hon. Lady and the House that there is no prospect of which I am aware of a further round of job reductions.

The hon. Member for Deptford referred to 1,000 jobs which might be affected—I stress "might", as we are still talking about proposals. I have already said on several occasions from the Dispatch Box that the job reductions relate primarily to the introduction of modern ticketing equipment and that they will not jeopardise the safe and efficient operation of the underground. I would share the hon. Lady's concern if any hon. Member provided examples of where that safe and efficient operation was jeopardised.

Mr. Cohen


Mr. Freeman

The hon. Gentleman was denied the opportunity to speak because of the effluxion of time, but if he would like to come up and see me some time, I should be happy to spend half an hour with him.

Mr. Cohen

The Mae West Minister.

Mr. Freeman

I must get on, as I have only 16 minutes at my disposal.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), the Chairman of the Select Committee, for not being in my place when he spoke. The Committee's report is most helpful and I hope that, in answering some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Deptford, I shall answer some of the points raised, by the Committee.

The £55 million increase in grant that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has anounced is part of an overall increase which is higher than that, and includes additional provision for the Jubilee line and the east-west crossrail. That provision is ring-fenced in the estimates, but the £55 million increase is for LRT, as we do not deal directly with the underground. That grant is a once-and-for-all increase in the cash resources available. The underground is part of LRT, however, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has sought to address with that cash increase the problems, rightly referred to in the Select Committee report, caused by property shortfall and unavoidable increases in safety expenditure and so on.

The hon. Members for Deptford and for Shettleston asked about the budget for next year and we are at present considering what changes are needed to the external financing limit for 1991–92. I am unable to make any announcement on behalf of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State tonight, but undoubtedly an announcement will be made shortly. We are realists, and we understand that, if there is a property shortfall, it reduces the resources available to LRT. My right hon. and learned Friend has already demonstrated that we appreciate the problems that London Underground faces by awarding the £55 million. We also increased the public service obligation grant to British Rail this year by £100 million.

The hon. Members for Deptford and Shettleston also asked about distinguishing between the existing underground system and new schemes undertaken by LRT. This year, investment in the existing systems on the underground is at a record level of £400 million. I am aware that London Underground would like more money: I shall say something about that later. In the next three years, the grant for LRT will be £2.4 billion, and roughly £1 billion will be allocated for new lines—the Jubilee line and the east-west crossrail—and £1.4 billion for the rest of the existing business.

Hon. Members will appreciate that, judged by any historical standards, the £1.4 billion represents a substantial investment programme. It will cover the refurbishment of the Central line at £700 million—new carriages will be in use by September next year and the resignalling should be completed within three years. The Angel station on the Northern line will receive £72 million for new work—the sums to be allocated are enormous. Circle line trains will also be refurbished. Earlier, I said that I expected those new trains to come into operation next year, but I was wrong: they will be in operation from this summer. I invite the hon. Member for Deptford to enjoy with me those pleasantly refurbished, graffiti-free trains.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made a perceptive contribution and spoke about non-user benefits—I assume that that was the burden of his argument. He said that the underground would never be profitable in a commercial sense, and he is right. The new underground lines have been approved largely because of the decongestion benefits to central London. We apply that principle to light rail systems as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge asked about the future and to what extent London Underground Limited could, generate sufficient cash to replace its existing assets without having to find the resources internally to build the new lines. I do not anticipate that LUL will ever be able to generate sufficient cash to build new lines, but in the years ahead it might be able to find some of that cash without radical fare increases. I know that LUL would like to be in that position.

During the summer, in the course of the public expenditure survey bidding round, my right hon. and learned Friend will consider proposals from LRT for additional investment. The Select Committee referred to that when it spoke of the investment programmes for the next three years. I confirm that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider any sensible proposition.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) asked who should take the blame for financial mismanagement. I do not want to get into a detailed attempt at passing the buck, but the hon. Gentleman may be aware that LRT has appointed a new financial director, Mr. Sheppeck and that LUL has also announced a new financial director, Mr. Hughes. I hope that they will be able to contribute to a better system of financial control. The hon. Gentleman should be aware, however, that operating any nationalised industry, which is subject to cash controls as a commercial business is extremely difficult whether under a Labour or a Conservative Government. The revenue may suddenly fall, operating costs may suddenly rise for various reasons, and the industry has either to go to the Treasury for additional funds or to cut its investment programme. That problem has been with us for years.

The problems of financial management, faced by both British Rail and LRT, are formidable. To blame them for getting the figures wrong is unfair and unreasonable. They have to operate under peculiar restraints. That is not to say that they should not be able to plan and control cash expenditure and to know the cash position. The Select Committee has done the House a service in pointing out the shortcomings in LRT.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey argued that LRT needed more money. In a timely intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) asked the hon. Member for Deptford what further resources a Labour Government would provide. He was put down and told that that was a silly question. My job is to defend not the operational record of BR or LRT but the Government's position on resources. We have doubled in real terms the resources available for LRT over the next three years.

Granted, there is a significant burden for the new operating lines—the Jubilee line and the east-west crossrail—but that burden falls on the taxpayer, because it is a non-repayable, non-interest-bearing grant. The money comes straight out of the Exchequer and goes straight to LRT. That is a creditable record, although we could do better, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will consider new investment schemes. In the next general election campaign, the hon. Lady will have to face up to what resources a Labour Administration would be prepared to put into London Transport.

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the Northern line. I always associate the hon. Member for Tooting with the problems of the Northern line, problems that we understand. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is getting up at 5 o'clock on Wednesday morning to travel on the Northern line with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South so as to see the problems. I know that the Northern line is called the misery line, but we cannot sensibly afford the resources to refurbish both the Central line and the Northern line at the same time. The Central line refurbishment is costing £700 million. Refurbishment of the Northern line will follow.

Mr. Cox

I have heard all this before.

Mr. Freeman

When? Our constituents suffer from overcrowding—today, tonight, tomorrow morning. The Central line refurbishment is on schedule. A substantial sum is being spent on it; the new stock will come into service in September 1992 and the resignalling should be finished two to three years after that. We shall make a start on the Northern line as soon as resources permit. Refurbishment of Angel station, which is on the Northern line, is costing £72 million.

My hon. Friends the Members for Hendon, South and for Surbiton both spoke about buses. The Government are grateful to them for their support for the principle of deregulation. This afternoon, my right hon. and learned Friend published a consultation document on deregula-tion and privatisation of London buses. The document spells out the arguments for deregulation and tendering. I am sure that the House will return to the subject. Some 4 million passengers per day travel on London Buses. As has been said, that is the same number as travel on Network Southeast and London Underground combined—a substantial number. That patronage has not fallen.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey said something about bus traffic being down by 30 per cent. If it is, it is not in London. There has been a fall in patronage in the provinces, but since 1979 the number of journeys on London Buses has remained unaltered at 1.2 billion per annum and the number of passenger kilometres has also remained unchanged, at between 4.3 billion and 4.4 billion per annum.

I am glad that patronage in London is broadly holding, but our proposals for deregulation are based on the principle that we can bring valuable benefits to Londoners by providing for more services to be offered with new technology, servicing different parts of the capital at different times, by commercial operators. We do not want to see the end of the traditional double-decker red bus, and that will not happen, but we want to permit new operators to come in and provide a service so as to get more people travelling by bus.

Some faint hearts have argued that deregulation will exacerbate the problem of congestion in Greater London, but the reverse is the case. Our aim is to reduce congestion in Greater London by persuading more people, of all ages and callings, to leave their motor cars at home, and to travel by bus. I am grateful for that welcome to the publication of the deregulation paper by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

I am also grateful for the recognition by the hon. Member for Tooting that crime statistics on the Northern line, and the southern section of it in particular, have improved, in that there has been less crime. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) has asked me about crime statistics, and I will look at them. Crime statistics for London Underground as a whole have also improved, in the same way. The trend is encouraging. British Transport police are to be thanked and congratulated. In part, the improvement is due to the introduction of new technology such as cameras, panic buttons and mirrors, and the new technology which has allowed staff to be released from the mundane tasks of isssuing and collecting tickets.

The hon. Member for Tooting referred to the escalators at Balham. I am told that they were working this morning and that they have been back in service two weeks after our joint visit. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman thinks that they are not working or that they have broken down. If they have, perhaps he will let me know.

Ms. Ruddock

The special measures for the southern section of the Northern line included a 100 per cent. increase in staffing levels for particularly vulnerable stations. That 100 per cent. increase will be done away with from 1 April. That was the point of my question and of that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall.

Mr. Freeman

I understand that there is a relationship between the number of staff available and crime—that is true on British Rail and London Underground—although there is not an exact correlation between crime statistics and staff. At Question Time, I gave the hon. Member for Vauxhall an undertaking that I would pursue the point, because I share her concern about the fear felt by women travelling alone on public transport. This is not a party political matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton rightly drew attention to the GLC's low fares policy. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) is no longer here, but I thought that my hon. Friend was right. Irrespective of the permission which may or may not have been given for capital investment while the Labour GLC was in control of London Transport, by pursuing a low fares policy the GLC ensured that the resources needed for ploughing back as investment were not there. Whatever the rights and wrongs of 10 years ago, we have to address ourselves to the situation today.

The underground is overcrowded. To go back to a policy of reducing fares would be ridiculous. It would result in less resources and more overcrowding when what is needed is more investment. That investment, on the whole, can come only from the Government. We have already supported a significant underground building programme and I dare say that more projects are yet to come.

My hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton called for a strategy and, by implication, for a long-term co-ordinated strategy for London. Nothing about a co-ordinated or a long-term strategy is anathema to Conservatives. The hon. Member for Deptford smiles—perhaps she is surprised at that. Perhaps we have been hiding our light under a bushel all these years. Co-ordination must be at the heart of any sensible transport policy, and long-term thinking must be one of its essential features. Our policy should be seen to have both.

The Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates) and the Resolution [1 March].