HC Deb 11 March 1991 vol 187 cc656-8
8. Mr. Carrington

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the chairman of London Underground to discuss future improvements to the system.

Mr. Freeman

The next regular meeting will occur within the next two weeks.

Mr. Carrington

My hon. Friend will be aware that my constituents suffer badly from overcrowding on the District line and look forward with eager anticipation to the construction of the Chelsea-Hackney underground line. What progress is being made in the plans for that line? Can my hon. Friend give an assurance that the plans will include the construction of a new station at Stamford Bridge which, as well as serving Chelsea football club, will serve the new Chelsea-Westminster hospital which will also need adequate transport facilities?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend refers to the Chelsea-Hackney line. He will realise that we are talking about a new underground line between Chelsea and Hackney which will permit people living as far south as Wimbledon as well as those who live in Essex to come into central London. The service provided will therefore be much greater than is apparent at first blush from the description of the new construction works. Nothing is firmly resolved at this point about the new station or the possibility of extending the line south of the river into Wandsworth. The leader of Wandsworth council is coming to the Department of Transport shortly to make representations on that subject.

Miss Hoey

Does the Minister agree that one of the most worrying aspects of travelling on the London underground, particularly for women, is fear at night? Will he take up with London Underground its intention to withdraw the extra staff who have been on the southern part of the Northern line and ensure that they are not withdrawn? I have seen the improvements at Stockwell in terms of computers and television, but nothing makes people feel safer than knowing that uniformed staff are present at night.

Mr. Freeman

The hon. Lady is right that the presence of staff on the underground and on British Rail contributes to a feeling of security, but obviously both nationalised industries must live within their means. The proposed staff reductions on the underground, including the Northern line, relate mainly to ticketing staff, but I will look specifically at the southern part of the Northern line to see what consequences there will be for staff, particularly those who could be on the station platforms.

Sir William Shelton

My hon. Friend will be aware that a consultant last year recommended the continuation of the Northern line down to Streatham. Is he aware of the enormous importance that my constituents and I attach to that, and does he have any news of how it may be proceeding?

Mr. Freeman

My hon. Friend has raised that matter assiduously with the Department of Transport, pointing out the benefits of extending the Northern line further southwards. London Underground is looking initially at the need for refurbishment and improvement on the existing Northern line. That is badly needed and it will follow what is being done to the Central line.

I will certainly convey my hon. Friend's comments about extending the line to London Underground, which I am sure will take his representations into account in its planning.

Ms. Ruddock

Will the Minister accept that no promises of improvement for the future will offset the misery that Londoners feel when travelling on London Underground now? Does he accept that the projected loss of 950 jobs, with the consequent closure of some stations and booking offices and reductions in service, will thoroughly undermine public confidence in the tube system and jeopardise future ridership?

Mr. Freeman

I am afraid that I do not follow the hon. Lady's line of argument. As I have said, reductions of up to 5 per cent. in the number of staff are related mainly to London Underground's greater efficiency and ability to issue and collect tickets automatically. I believe that the confidence of the travelling public in the underground is much more related to increases in capacity in the system, which derive from the building programme, and to the improvements that will be manifest on the Central line next September, when new rolling stock comes into service, and on the Circle line when new, clean, refurbished and reliable rolling stock comes into service next year.

Mr. Bowis

Will my hon. Friend seek immortality in south London by agreeing to the extension of the Chelsea-Hackney line south through Wandsworth—not only because many Wandsworth residents support Chelsea football club and want to go to its matches, but because there is not one inch of underground track between the Northern line and the Wimbledon branch of the District line?

Mr. Freeman

As I have already said, we have merely safeguarded the Chelsea-Hackney line; its construction will depend on satisfactory completion of the east-west crossrail. No final decision has yet been made on the Chelsea-Hackney line. I understand the arguments either for extending the line or for changing its line of route so that it will serve Wandsworth, which is relatively under-provided for in transport terms. My hon. Friend has diligently represented his constituents' views on this score, and I shall certainly take into account what he has said.

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