§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
I hope that, before I start the new debate, it will be in order to congratulate the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) on instituting a successful debate in which many hon. Members spoke with great conviction and from the heart. It was also one of the best attended late night debates that we have had for a long time, although I think that some hon. Members should perhaps have spoken not from the heart but with the head. It was a pleasure to listen to it, but I do not necessarily expect the hon. Gentleman to stay to listen to this debate.
Although the debate refers to the Northern line, London transport goes much wider than the underground and includes buses. My hon. Friend the Minister will expect me to say something about the proposed deregulation and privatisation of London Buses. I greatly welcome the proposed privatisation, which has of course been preceded by the usual scare campaign. We are used to such campaigns before privatisations. Before British Telecom was privatised, we were told that payphones would cease to exist and that rural telephone services would be ignored. In fact, since the privatisation of BT, there are many more payphones and they work, which they did not do when they were owned by the state. There are also better services in town and country. Wherever we look, privatisation has led to increased investment, dramatically improved productivity and improved morale in the industry involved. I believe that there will be similar benefits for London Buses. As soon as London Buses is removed from the public sector, investment will be increased, and the same will be true of the underground.
§ Mr. Banks
On the contrary; I am not a refugee from the police, who acted in exemplary fashion. We had an interesting discussion, during which I learnt a great deal about how much the police dislike the Sheehy proposals. However, that is by the by.
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to talk about scare stories. I do not want to spoil his yarn, but it was the Select Committee on Transport which warned of a disaster on London's buses if deregulation is pressed. As he well knows, that Committee is Tory dominated.
§ Mr. Marshall
We have often heard of Select Committees being Tory dominated. My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) used to be Chairman of the Health Select Committee, which we were told was Tory dominated. That was a surprise to the Whips and to the House. As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) knows, most of the scare stories originate from Labour Members and we have seen similar campaigns before.
§ Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
I have experience of bus deregulation in a rural and semi-rural area. Many early morning works journeys and uneconomic services were lost and passenger numbers declined, even though in some cases bus mileage increased because of 874 competition. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Transport Research Laboratory studied bus deregulation and found that, in many instances, services had severely deteriorated?
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that there has been an increase in car ownership outside London, which is why the number of passengers has declined. He also knows full well that the number of passengers was declining before deregulation. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that the Select Committee had produced a wonderful report. The Select Committee pointed out that there has been an increase in bus miles, a fall in operating costs and a fall in public subsidy. Given the record of bus deregulation outside London, I am willing to say that it will be beneficial within London.
Until we had competitive tendering for bus routes in London, the service was very inefficient. Across the system, competitive tendering has led to a 20 per cent. reduction in costs, which surely emphasises the role of competition in achieving a more efficient service.
We must also consider the quality of the service in London. Before tendering, 92 per cent. of buses ran and 8 per cent. did not. Today, 98.1 per cent. run on the tendered routes. Instead of 8 per cent., only 1.9 per cent. now do not run—a much more efficient service.
I do not believe that deregulation will lead to hundreds of extra buses running down Oxford street, but there will be more mini and midi buses in the suburbs, we will have new routes and a more innovative service, which will be to the benefit of everyone in London.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to nail the wicked lie that is being put across London: that deregulation and privatisation will lead to the end of the concessionary scheme for senior citizens. All too often, those who want a few cheap votes in London go round frightening elderly people by saying that the concessionary fares scheme is at risk. I believe that the scheme, which is the linchpin of Government policy, will remain. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to underline that commitment.
The Department of Transport has a limited budget to invest in London Transport and in road improvement in London. The budget should therefore be spent in a way that is most likely to relieve congestion. That is the best solution for individuals and commerce, but if we are to relieve congestion in London we must seek different solutions for inside and outside London. Outside London, improving the M25, London's bypass and industry's archway to Europe, must be a major priority. The M25 succeeded in taking traffic off many London roads. The need to widen it so soon after its completion is a tribute to the lack of foresight of traffic planners and the excessive preoccupation of the Treasury in the 1970s with the short-term and not the long-term needs of this country.
Within London, the emphasis must be on public transport and on improving buses, Thameslink and London Underground. We must recognise that 83 per cent. of people in central London move around by public transport rather than by private car.
We shall never secure the objective of eliminating or reducing congestion within London by tinkering with our road system. Such a strategy would be prohibitively expensive, divisive—because most people do not want big new bits of concrete and tarmac within London—and 875 counter-productive, because, as the experience of Los Angeles confirms, urban roads are wonderful examples of Say's law that supply creates its own demand. All that new urban motorways do is entice more people into motor cars.
Any preoccupation with the private motor car will fail to solve the basic problem of London—the need to enable millions of Londoners to travel to work in the City, to the west end and to the suburbs, and to preserve London as a centre of employment for millions, a major retail city and the centre of a major international airport. The key to the survival and prosperity of London is a decent public transport system.
The problem of the 1990s is a legacy of the locust years of the early 1980s. After the change of control in the GLC in 1981, the emphasis within London Transport was not on the quality of service or investment in the future, but on the level of fares. When my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) was a member of the GLC, the emphasis of the then leader of the GLC was on subsidising fares for American tourists, rather than on producing a better metro system for Londoners to enjoy in the 1990s.
We are today reaping the whirlwind because on many routes in London the level of investment in the early 1980s was far too low to give us a decent service in the 1990s.
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. In the 1980s, the Government allowed local authorities to reinvest the proceeds of any capital receipts. The GLC was awash with unnecessary capital investment, as was shown by the way in which the London residuary body was able to flog assets all over the place. If the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) had not had a pathological desire to own large tracts of London, regardless of the use to which he could put those assets, the GLC could have invested much more.
§ Mr. Marshall
The hon. Gentleman, now that he has been released by the police. has a desire to speak from a sedentary position. I was, at that time, chairman of a London borough finance committee and I can confirm —no doubt my hon. Friend the Minister can as well—that local authorities were allowed to spend their capital receipts and to reinvest them. If the GLC of the day had been willing to sell assets, it could have reinvested those receipts.
§ Mr. Banks
If the hon. Gentleman had been chained to the door for as long as I have been, he would realise that it is necessary, at my age, to make sedentary interventions. As he has forced me to my feet, let me just tell him that although the GLC had proposals for capital investments and for giving substantial revenue support to Network South East, we were told by the Government that we would not be allowed to put them into effect and that anything that we gave to Network SouthEast would merely be deducted from the central Government grant. What would have been the point in those circumstances?
§ Mr. Marshall
It would have been perfectly in order for the GLC to top up its capital programme by selling assets. The real trouble was that the then leadership of the GLC knew that it had assets that it was not using, but had a 876 pathological desire to cling on to them. There was a sort of machismo—one had to maintain one's assets. It did not want to sell them, to flog them off, to use sites to create homes or jobs; instead it wanted to keep them in the public sector. Without that approach from county hall, the level of investment in the underground system would have been substantially higher.
In recent times, there has been a substantial investment in modernising the Central line and I thank my hon. Friends in the Department of Transport for the money that they have spent on that. Elsewhere on London Underground, we all know of stations with defective escalators, platforms in need of a lick of paint and clocks that do not work, and of the fact that on many routes the rolling stock is old, uninviting, frequently graffiti-ridden, and often rather dirty. In fact, if the first impression of London for overseas visitors was based on the Northern or District lines, they would not return to, for example, the United States saying that London was the most modern city in the world.
The objective shared by all Conservative Members is the need for a decently modern metro. During recent years there has been great emphasis on the Central line, the Jubilee line and crossrail. However, by putting emphasis on those three main routes there has been inadequate investment in other parts of the core service.
In the autumn statement the Government gave a commitment to funding the Jubilee line provided that there was also some private sector funding. More recently, the House gave a Second Reading to the Crossrail Bill, but it has been made quite clear that there should also be significant private sector funding for that project. I welcome the Government's determination to get private sector funding for part of both those projects.
There is no doubt that the Jubilee line extension will lead to a dramatic increase in the value of Canary wharf. It will convert what looks like a white elephant into a very valuable asset. That was recognised by the Reichmanns with their original commitment to help fund the extension. It would be wrong for private gain to be financed solely by public funds. The autumn statement underlined the need for private funding and the tardy reaction of the bankers is to be condemned. They know that jobs and the viability of their own projects are at risk. I hope that they will be somewhat more aggressive in providing the necessary funding in future. Indeed, if they had been as slow in funding some property developments as they have been in funding the Jubilee line, they might be in a much happier position today.
Crossrail will also be a major bonus, not only to the private sector but to many people in London. Once the Paddington to Heathrow extension is funded, it will be possible to go from the City to Heathrow in 35 minutes. It is to be a joint private sector-public sector project, which is the way in which many of our routes will be funded in future.
In 1988 Sir Keith Bright, the then chairman of London Transport, described the Northern line as an abomination. Little has changed since, except that the rolling stock is five years older. The rolling stock is too old and the trains are graffiti-ridden, dirty and colourless. The stations are often dirty and they need modernisation. Those of us who use the Northern line, as I did this morning—or yesterday, to be more precise—and pass through Angel station have a reminder of what a modern station should be. We can rejoice for the people of Islington that they have a very 877 expensive, modern station. Those using other stations on the Northern line wish that they could also have equally good stations.
At Hendon Central, my station, the clocks do not work and the dot matrix system, which was once at the forefront of technology, is now hopelessly out of date. Many stations still lack automatic ticket barriers, despite the fact that they are self-financing. It is not unknown for escalators and lifts not to work.
The Northern line requires a major overhaul—modernised stations, new rolling stock and improved track. It has been estimated that there will be an 18 per cent. growth in the number of passengers using the line over the next nine years. Once the modernisation of the Central line has been completed, the southern aspect of the Northern line will be the most congested route in the whole of London. The mere replacement of the signalling and control systems on the line would lead to a 28 per cent. reduction in the time of the average journey and a 25 per cent. increase in the line's capacity. Given the anticipated increase in the number of passengers who use that line, those statistics show the need for improvement.
In the 1992 autumn statement, the Government confirmed approval for the conditional expansion of the Jubilee line, but cut investment in the core services in London Transport. Before the House returns in the autumn the public expenditure round will be well under way. The message that we must give to the Government is that we need a substantial commitment to modernising London transport and the Northern line. In my constituency, the decision not to maintain the grant to the core services at the previous promised level meant that the modernisation and refurbishment of Hendon Central, Golders Green and Brent Cross stations did not take place. Trains need to be refurbished and emphasis should be placed on passenger security measures.
I have two suggestions for my hon. Friend the Minister. First, in last year's autumn statement, the Government allowed British Rail to lease £150 million worth of rolling stock. If it is all right for Thameslink to lease rolling stock, why is it not right for London Transport to do so? Secondly, in 1992 there was a substantial reduction in the planned investment in the core services of London Underground—will my hon. Friend the Minister restore part of that cut? Such a move would be warmly welcomed across London.
My hon. Friend has already become a popular hero due to his decision over the Oxleas wood. I should like him to become a doubly popular hero by deciding that more money should be spent on London Underground as that would benefit all Londoners and would he warmly welcomed, not least in my constituency.
§ Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on his choice of subject and its selection for debate. However, his resounding support of bus deregulation in the context of a debate on investment in London transport seems bizarre when viewed in the light of the well-reported hiatus in bus investment in London. That hiatus results directly from the joint threat of bus privatisation and deregulation. Investment in London transport, the sensible purpose of 878 the hon. Gentleman's debate, is of fundamental importance to the future prosperity of our capital city, and the condition of the Northern line is of particular and vital daily concern to many thousands of Londoners.
I declare my interest in the debate. Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents in the Clapham and Balham districts of my Streatham constituency rely on the Northern line stations of Clapham Common, Clapham South and Balham for their day-to-day travel needs. In addition, I am privileged to be a member of the Select Committee on Transport, which was much maligned in the speech of the hon. Member for Hendon, South. Only last week it published its own highly critical report on London's public transport capital investment requirements. I shall refer to both my interests during my speech.
The background to the Select Committee report is that of a persistent long-term decline in the quality and efficiency of our transport system in London. Gross overcrowding on our British Rail and underground lines and at our railway stations has been the normal daily experience of all London passengers for as long as any of us can remember. Since 1989, the Government-induced economic recession has brought an unanticipated, and hopefully temporary, relief to the unfortunate London commuter. There are simply fewer Londoners with jobs to travel to now, but if and when—as we all pray—the recession lifts, without drastically increased levels of investment, a future of yet more overcrowding in a decaying public transport still beckons us.
Londoners have long been familiar with the observation that traffic on our roads now proceeds at a slower pace than in the days of the horse-drawn carriage. The health costs of environmental pollution resulting from slow-moving, stop-start traffic are almost certainly reflected in the appalling growth of bronchial illness, especially asthma, and particularly among young children, in London's population recently.
But congestion and an inadequate public transport system bring formidable economic costs as well. In the late 1980s, the Confederation of British Industry estimated that £10 billion was the yearly cost to the London economy of late deliveries, missed appointments, cancelled meetings and stress-related illnesses associated with the chronic congestion and overcrowding of London's transport system.
The implications of that neglect of our transport infrastructure for London's already precarious economy are both dire and well attested. In May 1990, the Corporation of London published a report entitled "London's Transport: A Plan to Protect our Future". It should still be the bedtime reading of every Transport Minister, especially the Minister for Transport in London, and not merely because it identifies the extension of the Northern line to Streatham as an important scheme worthy of consideration. On the basis of extensive consultations with more than 20 major City financial institutions, the report concluded:There is an immediate crisis of high congestion and low quality of the transport system. What is at risk is not just the City as Europe's premier financial centre. It is London as an international capital, and as such one of the UK's greatest assets.In other words, it is not only environmentalists and long-suffering London commuters who are saying that things cannot go on as they are; the Government's friends 879 in the City are warning that London's future is now at risk. Certainly nothing has changed in three years since that report was published, unless it is to get worse.
It will not be good enough for the Minister to argue —as I expect he will—that, at £2 billion out of the Department of Transport budget of £7 billion, London already gets a disproportionate slice of the cake. The truth is that London's role in the national economy is unique, and its transport problems are also unique. With less than one seventh of the population of England and Wales, London produces almost one fifth of the gross domestic product, yet it has been uniquely ravaged by the current economic recession. That comes on top of a prognosis for the London economy that was already highly dangerous.
A major source of the threat to London's economy is the inadequacy of its public transport system, yet Londoners are uniquely reliant on public transport for their travel to work. For 30 years, Governments of all political shades—I fully concede that—have systematically starved London's transport services of the necessary investment.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
The hon. Gentleman was characteristically generous in attributing blame for past sins to Governments of all complexions. He seemed to be developing the argument that insufficient capital funds were expended on London. I ask him to expand that in one of two possible ways. Is he suggesting that, of the £7 billion currently spent by the Department, more than £2 billion should be spent in London? If so, can he indicate which parts of the Department's programme outside London he would cancel? Alternatively, is he saying that the whole budget should be bigger? If so, does he have policy clearance from the Labour Front Bench for that assertion? We are in dangerous territory, unless he is capable of substantiating both of those propositions.
§ Mr. Hill
With his usual prescience, the Minister anticipates precisely my proposition that, in the allocation of resources in the existing transport budget, more funds should be transferred to London. If he will have patience, that is precisely a point that I will address in my ensuing remarks. I have argued that, because of that history of neglect, there is a powerful case for sustaining higher investment. That was precisely the recommendation in last week's Select Committee report.
It is undoubtedly true, as the Minister will again undoubtedly argue, that there is record investment in the early 1990s, but two or three years of high investment following the lowest ever level of investment in the 1980s is a small swallow, and the summer has been remarkably short-lived. In its report, the Select Committee states:We received evidence from both Network SouthEast and London Underground Ltd that the absolute level of investment is insufficient to maintain or improve the system. The danger is that the speed, frequency and reliability of passenger services will decline rapidly if the railways' infrastructure continues to deteriorate.Such deterioration is inevitable on London's underground and, as London Underground's evidence to the Select Committee made dramatically clear, it is inevitable on the Northern line in particular. That is because London Underground was the special victim of the investment cuts that flowed from the autumn statement. Those cuts jeopardise the short-term upgrading and the longer-term modernisation of the Northern line.
880 When the Secretary of State for Transport appeared before the Select Committee, I asked, half in jest I confess, whether he had recently used Clapham Common tube station on the Northern line. He replied that he was sure that he had, but that it had not been recently. I suspect that that was something of an understatement. I also suspect that it would be helpful for Transport Ministers occasionally to discard the ministerial limousine and see London's public transport as it really is.
§ Mr. Norris
The first time that I asked to use the tube as part of my ministerial duties, London Transport was kind enough to provide me with a train of my own. Thereafter I have used the system incognito, which is a far better way to find out what the system is really like.
§ Mr. Hill
In that case, the Minister should be ashamed of himself for allowing its present deplorable condition to continue.
I regularly travel on the Northern line to and from my constituency—I did so today—and it is not an agreeable experience. At the southern end of the Northern line, the passenger walks through dank, dark and dingy corridors to the gloomy caverns of platforms at the end of those corridors. Stained plaster bulges on walls that do not appear to have had a lick of paint for decades. The stations are bereft of staff, which is the result of another of the forced economies on the underground. No wonder women are so reluctant to use the underground outside peak times.
That is no way for commuters to have to travel at the end of the 20th century. Yes, trains do keep running—just about—but passengers travel in antiquated, overcrowded and rickety rolling stock, which at the age of 35 years is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life. It is a miracle that the system runs at all. It is a triumph of managerial and engineering ingenuity over lack of financial resources, and it cannot continue for much longer.
In the 1992 autumn statement, London Underground's capital budget was slashed by a massive 30 per cent. A direct and immediate consequence of that cut will be the delay until 1998 of the full upgrading of the stations at the southern end of the Northern line. More alarming still is the fact that the cuts in the London Underground investment programme for this and the next two years will mean a delay in the total modernisation of rolling stock, track and signalling on the Northern line until the year 2005—more than 10 years away. Northern line commuters face another 10 years of train, track and signalling breakdowns, failures and delay—that is, if the modernisation ever takes place.
As Mr. Denis Tunnicliffe, managing director of London Underground, made graphically clear to the Select Committee, for London Underground to embark on a project involving £1 billion worth of investment—a massive proportion of the underground's budget—would require a level of confidence in the Government's commitment of resources that would be difficult to justify against the backdrop of the recent wild fluctuations in funding for the underground system. What a way to run a railway!
881 It goes without saying that the Minister will plead the necessity of cuts, in the light of the Government's £50 billion budget deficit. Let us leave aside the obvious comment that the London commuter is being forced to pay the price of the Government's economic mismanagement. Even within the constraints of the overall budgetary deficit—here I come to the point made by the Minister in an earlier intervention—the Government have made a clear decision to disadvantage the underground passenger.
The truth is that, wherever else the autumn statement cuts may have fallen, they did not reduce the overall transport budget: that remained stable. In the autumn statement, the Government made a conscious decision to shift transport spending away from public transport in London—and London Underground in particular—into road-building projects outside the capital. They could have chosen to sustain investment in London Regional Transport; they chose not to do so. The London commuter will not forget that act of discrimination in a hurry. Nor will Londoners lend any credence to the Government's pleas of poverty for London Regional Transport, in the light of the decision—announced last week, and much lauded by the hon. Member for Hendon, South—to devote £144 million to the lunatic creation of a 14-lane M25. That was an act of massive despoliation of the green belt, which will suck yet further resources away from London.
The Government still have an opportunity to make amends in their next autumn statement by committing a stable, sustained and higher level of funding to both British Rail and London Underground to permit the maintenance of services through infrastrcuture renewal over the medium term. I hope that they will heed the advice offered unanimously by both Conservative and Labour Members of the Select Committee:If no such funding is granted, passengers in London will inevitably experience a rapid decline in the speed, reliability and frequency of their services, which would seriously affect the quality of their lives and the competitiveness of business in the nation's capital.Those are sombre words which the Government ignore at their peril—and at the peril of London as well.
§ 1.7 am
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on choosing this subject for debate. After his customary out-to-lunch bit, he made a number of useful points. Having noted the expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), I felt sufficiently humble not to speak; after all, he can make a much better speech than I can. Then I looked at the Minister and thought, why not?
Few would deny that London's transport system is in a poor state. That is not to talk the system down; it is merely to acknowledge that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, it has been underfunded for years. Let me point out yet again to the hon. Member for Hendon, South that, when the last Labour GLC declared its intention to invest heavily in capital projects in London Transport generally, the Conservative Government of the day used various devices to block our aim. That is the truth of the matter.
One needs to look at the position today in terms of capital investment decisions and take it on a little to show 882 that the Government have let down Londoners badly. There was a time when we thought that perhaps the Government had changed their mind and saw how important it was to invest in an efficient transportation system for the capital city; it would be to the benefit of not merely London but the whole national economy. Just before the 1992 general election, in the 1991 autumn statement the Government made a commitment to provide investment to meet the target of a "decently modern metro"—the term which comes up time and time again —in 10 years.
In autumn 1991 the Government promised £633 million towards London Underground's capital investment in the core system mentioned by the hon. Member for Hendon, South—that is, in trains, structures and services of the existing network. The hon. Gentleman referred to new projects such as crossrail and the Jubilee line extension as if they were already up and running. They have not even been started. Those new projects are subject to separate ring-fenced funding. Such projects are often prayed in aid by the Government when they talk of record sums of investment for future years. As we know, construction has not yet commenced on any of the projects.
The Government safely won the election in April 1992, having promised such capital sums as I have mentioned and, I might add, not to increase value added tax or to cut public expenditure. They managed to renege on all those promises. The 1992 autumn statement is crucial to what is happening now to London underground in particular but to London transport in general. In the 1992 autumn statement the Government allocated only £416 million to the core system in expenditure year 1993–94. That was a shortfall of £217 million, or 34 per cent., on what was promised.
The Minister has always been very open and he admitted that the amount allocated in 1992 was less than was promised. But the investment is crucial. The Government said in the previous autumn statement how much was needed. To reduce the amount in the subsequent one seems like reneging on a firm promise. How can one expect London Regional Transport to plan adequately given that uncertainty?
In November 1991 the then Secretary of State for Transport pledged the necessary investment and said that by 1993–94 London Underground investment in the existing railway should be more than £700 million a year taking into account the Monopolies and Mergers Commission statement that that amount was needed to provide an adequately modern framework. [Interruption.] The Minister says that that was a London Regional Transport figure, but it was accepted by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. One must assume that both knew what they were talking about. The same statement was then emphasised by the Minister for Public Transport on 17 February 1992.
So one could have expected Londoners to believe that Ministers were speaking the truth and that London Underground and London Regional Transport could proceed in the full expectation of getting what they were promised. Of course, it has not worked out that way. In 1991 the Government promised London Underground £571 million for 1994–95. In 1992 that was revised to £343 million. That was a shortfall of £229 million, or 40 per cent. In the 1991 statement the Government promised 883 London Underground £585 million for 1995–96. In 1992 that was revised to £425 million, a shortfall of £160 million, or 27 per cent.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, that is no way to run a railway. I have heard the Minister say that, when one compared the position in the 1992 autumn statement with that in 1991, the Government could not proceed on the original basis because the circumstances looked bad. Yet the allocation from the Treasury to the Department of Transport remained virtually unaltered between those two years.
Then Ministers decided to change the allocation between the different transportation modes for which they are responsible, giving greater emphasis to roads than to London's transport system. By comparison with 1992–93, the total roads budget for 1993–94 increased by £125 million, or 4 per cent., but London Regional Transport's share fell by £132 million, or 30 per cent. The situation will worsen in 1994–95. The total roads budget is set to increase by £194 million, or 31 per cent.
It is not a question of pleading a shortage of money. The sum allocated by the Treasury seems to remain the same between those years, but the Government's priorities changed in 12 months, and that is something that the Minister must address.
I presumed that the hon. Member for Hendon, South would concentrate most on the Northern line—and rightly, given that his constituents suffer a poor service on that misery line, as do many other commuters. I believe that it has one the longest tunnels in the world, extending 17 miles. As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham said, keeping that line running is a triumph of managerial and engineering expertise.
I remember travelling on exactly the same trains that run today when I made the journey from my school—Archbishop Tennyson at Kennington Oval—to Tooting. The stations also seem remarkably the same.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman is very kind. I wish that it were so, but it seems a long time ago to me.
Trams were running in those days. I do not know whether the Minister is old enough to remember trams and trolley buses. I was only a babe in arms at the time, but I still remember them, and much deplore their passing. Trams had their guaranteed road space, and no one got in the way of one of those great clanking vehicles. Introduced in their place were unenforceable bus lanes—but now Croydon is considering a tramlink, and there are trams in Manchester and Sheffield. Trams are making a comeback. They never left some continental cities. I agree with the hon. Member for Hendon, South that the Government got transport planning badly wrong, and London and other cities have suffered as a consequence.
The Northern line also has been affected by the change made between the 1991 and 1992 autumn statements. Some of its stations have been refurbished—London Bridge, Borough, and High Barnet to East Finchley inclusive. Refurbishment was to be undertaken at eight stations this year, but that work has been cancelled because of the 1992 cut in Government grant. The planned £56 million package of refurbishment of 10 stations at the southern end of the Northern line has been postponed until 1998.
884 The hon. Member for Hendon, South mentioned Angel station, but Mornington Crescent will remain closed until further notice. It cannot be reopened until its lifts are replaced. Because of the cut in the 1992 budget, London Underground does not have sufficient funding for that work.
As to passenger security measures at the southern end of the Northern line, it was planned, as part of the 10-station modernisation project, to replace the life-expired equipment at Clapham North, Clapham Common, Clapham South, Tooting Bec, Tooting Broadway and Balham stations and to install equipment at Oval, Colliers Wood, South Wimbledon and Morden. Those proposals also have stalled, and that work will not be undertaken in the current financial year. The money that London Underground was clearly promised by the Government before the general election is being cut.
Call me an old cynic if you wish, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I cannot believe that there was not some connection between the general election and London in the promises that were made by the Government in the 1991 autumn statement. If indeed, as the Minister for Transport in London said, it was because the situation looked a lot worse in 1992, perhaps the Government did not know enough about the way the economy was functioning. The Government do not show up in a particularly good light either way. Either they misled the electorate, or they did not know what was going on in the economy. Neither possibility reflects credit on the Government.
I hope that the Minister has studied the report produced by the Centre for Economic and Business Research. Its title is "The Economic Impact of the London Underground Core Investment Programme"—not what one would consider to be a particularly catchy title, but certainly it is a vital piece of research. We all want a "decently modern metro." As the report finds, that programme would deliver passenger benefits worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year. It would deliver an improved quality of life in the capital, enhance the availability of skills for employers, boost the economy and employment in both London and the rest of the United Kingdom, and offer value to the United Kingdom well in excess of its cost to Government and pay for itself in 10 years.
The Minister knows a good deal when he sees one, and he has concluded one or two in his time: he has the gold watch to prove it, I understand. That seems like a good deal to me. I cannot understand why the Minister does not reach out with both hands and grab it. There is a difference between borrowing money in order to fund current expenditure and borrowing money in order to invest for the future. One has to draw a distinction between those two aspects of expenditure. We are debating investment for the future. Unless we have a properly funded London underground and London transport system—not just properly funded but at a sustained and predictable level, for it is the unpredictability that tends to throw costings and plans up into the air—we shall not get London's economy right.
It is not just a question of pleading for more money for London—London Members obviously do that—but investment in rolling stock and new buses for London means jobs for people in cities outside London, because Greater London has lost most of its manufacturing capacity. Investment, therefore, means jobs for people outside London. That, again, must surely be what the 885 Government want to achieve. I cannot understand why the Government will not accept that to borrow money for investment in public transport is completely different from borrowing money merely to sustain a budget deficit, due to revenue spending problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham mentioned the two Transport Select Committee reports, in both of which he played a most conspicuous part. The first, on the question of capital investment, stated that London's public transport system is being crippled and, with it, the future of the city. It said that London Transport needs both a higher and a sustained level of investment, the very point that I made earlier.
These are not the ramblings of some wild-eyed Trot —the kind of person whom the hon. Member for Hendon, South seems to see all around him. This was the considered view of a Committee of our colleagues, with Conservative party Members of Parliament in the majority. The Committee was not in the hands of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is seen as a bit of a loose cannon on the Tory Benches; it was in the very safe hands of the former Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon). I am sure that the Minister would not put him in the category of being a wild and unpredictable maverick within the ranks of the Conservative party.
The second report—the hon. Member for Hendon, South touched upon it—deals with bus deregulation. It was even more damning. I went to get a copy, for greater accuracy. It says that deregulation, which already presents something of a gamble, could prove to be a disaster for London.
The Select Committee went on to make several recommendations to the Government. It said that they should not proceed with deregulation and should try something else. I have seen no response yet from the Government. Perhaps the Minister can give us a clue to encourage us in the belief that that Select Committee report will not be shelved and ignored like so many other Select Committee reports.
If he does not mind my saying so, the hon. Member for Hendon, South was very selective in his quotes from the Select Committee report when he referred to deregulation elsewhere. With regard to deregulation outside London, the report states:While bus mileage has increased, so have fares in real terms, and while operating costs are down, so is the level of patronage. Similarly, whereas in places like Oxford and Inverness, passengers have experienced genuine improvements in the quality of services, in larger cities such as Sheffield and Manchester deregulation has led to considerable problems of congestion and unreliability. This inconsistency is mirrored in the sharply contrasting views of passengers surveyed in different parts of the country.The report then refers to the lessons for London, and makes the very good and obvious point thatThere is no other city in the United Kingdom comparable in terms of size or population with London. That alone does not mean that the experience of deregulation in the rest of the country is entirely without relevance to what might happen in the capital. The fact that London is at least six times larger than the next biggest city in Britain implies that the problems to be tackled in introducing deregulation are of a different order of magnitude, but not necesarily unique in nature.Those are strongly-worded warnings from a Committee that considered deregulation very carefully.
886 The Minister will receive slavish and adulatory support from the hon. Member for Hendon, South in his role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary and member of the payroll vote. However, most people who look at the matter objectively are unhappy about deregulation. The experience outside London is not consistently happy. That being so, one would have expected the more cautionary Conservative Members to say, "Let's halt for a while. Let's look at it carefully once more. After all, she's gone now and there's no need to prove ourselves as ideological loonies. We don't have to run around deregulating and privatising. Let's have a look at this one because if we get it wrong it could be hung around our necks at the next general election."
Far be it from me to pass on good advice to the Minister, but were I in his place, as I hope to be one day soon, that is the kind of thought that would have passed through my mind. However, the Minister can give us his initial thoughts about the report on bus deregulation in London.
I will conclude by asking the Minister some specific questions. He can probably guess some of them, but I might as well use this occasion to raise them. The hon. Member for Hendon, South referred to the Jubilee extension and to what it is going to do. It can do a lot of things, but it cannot do anything unless it starts. Will the Minister tell us the latest situation in respect of the Jubilee line? It is becoming rather tedious waiting for the final announcement that everything is okay and that it will go ahead. I would like the Minister to make that announcement in the House and not during the recess so that he can receive all the praise that I know that he feels that he thoroughly deserves.
What about the Crossrail Bill? The Government say that they support that, but we still have not seen the key reports on the scheme's viability or the potential for private sector support. We have heard that the private sector is interested, but we heard that about the Jubilee line extension. We need to see some of the old ackers up front, to put it in the crude parlance that the Minister and I fully understand.
Through London First, the private sector has asked the Government to give a clear commitment to the amount that they will invest in the scheme. One needs to know exactly how much the Government will pay towards the funding of crossrail. The Chelsea-Hackney line is safeguarded, but there is no clear commitment to proceed with the line. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.
Of course there still remains considerable uncertainty about the channel tunnel rail link. Again, we would like a commitment from the Minister in respect of the finance to be provided for the central London station and the importance of intermediary stations. He knows—I have thrashed this matter around for a long time—that my borough of Newham is working hard, hoping that we will get the international station at Stratford as part of the Government's strategy for the east Thames corridor. Given the amount of money that the Government are putting into Stratford, for which we are extremely grateful, it seems that that investment could be greatly enhanced by a decision on Stratford as an international channel tunnel station. Of course, there is also the east London line extension, again approved by London Transport but without the funds available to enable construction to go ahead.
887 London Transport recently published its report entitled "Making Vision into Reality"—and there is also the report entitled "The Economic Impact of the London Underground Core Investment Programme". The company is seeking a commitment to £900 million per annum investment and a total investment of £6.4 billion to generate employment and additional revenue to the Treasury and London Underground's operating costs. It can be shown, not by me in this debate but by those who have carefully studied the matter, that investment in the public transport system in London can pay for itself in all the ways that one could imagine.
I hope that the Government will join the Opposition in declaring themselves to be fully in favour of giving London the public transport system that it needs. We could then hold up our heads and point to our transport system in the capital city as being the envy of the world, as it certainly used to be. Of course, that does not happen by wishful thinking. It happens as a result of sustained work, sustained investment and commitment. We will gladly join the Government in that spirit of common purpose if only they drop some of their ridiculous ideological fixations about transport and start to realise that Londoners deserve a far better system than the one they have at the moment. When they have such a system, they may be prepared to look carefully at the Government's credentials when they put themselves forward at the next general election, but I would not count on it.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
At the conclusion of this enjoyable debate, I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) on raising this subject which is important to those who represent London, London's commuters and. dare I say, all right hon. and hon. Members who, along with millions of our fellow citizens, experience public transport in London as part of their daily lives.
I shall start with one of the ramblings of that well-known wild-eyed Trot, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), and what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to as a hugely critical report on London's public transport capital investment requirements. The quote is the first sentence of the conclusions of the report. It states:There is no doubt that in the past few years investment in London' public transport has been at a significantly higher level than in previous decades.I merely wish to record that point to underline one assertion which I might be entitled to make. That is, contrary to a lot of very misleading nonsense that I have heard—although not from the hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Streatham (Mr. Hill)—there is not a low level of investment going into public transport in London. On the contrary, in comparison with the investment made in the days of the Greater London council, we are now spending twice as much on London transport—in comparison with certain years, we are spending three times as much as the GLC.
Not all the difference can be accounted for by the assertion of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that that is all due to the dastardly Tory Government trying to deny the right of the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) to spend Londoner's money on his grandiose ideas for improving London transport.
888 One such gem of an idea was the Westbourne Park bus garage, which won an award from the national brick council, or whatever it was. That extraordinary creation is a wondrous celebration of the joys of the brick—if one can think in those terms at this hour of the morning. Its slight problem is that it cossets buses on the assumption that they must be kept in cathedral-like splendour overnight when not in use—presumably to keep their engines warm or to stop the rain falling on them.
§ Mr. Norris
No private operator in his right mind would spend that amount of money on the simple job of garaging a bus fleet. It sums up the difference between the Opposition and the Government that, when I point out the ludicrous waste of money on that particular edifice, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West says, "What is wrong with that?". There is not a bus operator worth his salt in the country who does not know precisely what is wrong with that. What is wrong with that is that it is a gratuitous waste of taxpayers' money. What is wrong with that is that it represents a ludicrous misappropriation of scarce resources in a manner that is little short of crass. I see that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, whose thirst for the battle has not been the slightest assuaged by his recent experience at the hands of the Metropolitan police, is dying to leap to his feet.
§ Mr. Banks
Before the Minister goes into orbit on the question of the bus garage, may I tell him that many contractors now store buses in the open. That is not a good practice. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that the standard of bus cleanliness is deteriorating rapidly. That is in part due to the fact that many buses are stored in the open because when some people get hold of bus operations they sell off the real estate, which makes them a nice bit of profit.
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman is normally a reasonable chap, but he is wrong on two counts.
First, the hon. Gentleman is wrong to suggest that there is anything wrong with the idea of leaving a few buses out in the open. These days they are built to withstand the odd night of rain or even snow. Secondly, he is wrong about whether buses are cleaner than they were. He will be aware that the cleanliness of the service is one of the indicators of performance that London Transport is keen to see customers determine, not some statistician with a clipboard. On that basis, London Transport's stock is reckoned to be consistently cleaner now than in the past.
I do not want to labour the point about Westbourne Park bus garage, although it is a gem of its kind. I merely stress that, in the past few years, substantial investment has been made in transport provision.
The hon. Member for Streatham said that things got a lot better in the early part of the 1990s. He should appreciate that things are likely to get better in the middle years of the 1990s, after the return of the Conservative Government. I have no doubt that things will then go on to get even better in the late 1990s.
There is much evidence to back the Select Committee's statement that current investment in London Transport is significantly greater than that made in previous decades.
We are in the process of completing the £800 million renewal of the Central line, as the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will know from his constituency 889 interest. A £300 million programme is under way to refurbish a great many of the trains. I shall also run through some of the other projects that have been mentioned, so as to provide the answers for which I have been asked.
The Jubilee line extension will begin when the agreement with the private sector is in place. I make no apology for using that tried and tested form of words. The hon. Gentleman will know that putting the agreement in place with the Olympia and York administrators was a difficult and complex business, but it is worth fighting hard to secure a private sector contribution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said, that contribution of about £400 million towards the cost of the scheme will compensate the taxpayer for the immense benefit that the private sector developer of Canary wharf will derive from it. I hope that we will be able shortly to make an announcement that will please the House.
The hon. Gentleman knows that crossrail is funded for the next three years, which is as far as the public expenditure survey extends. By contrast, there is no expectation of any significant expenditure on Chelsea-Hackney during the next three years. Such expenditure as is necessary will be subsumed in LRT's general vote. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out, however, that the line is safeguarded. There is no question but that the scheme should follow on after we have completed the Jubilee line extension and crossrail.
I take this opportunity to tell the House that London Regional Transport is securing agreement to the proposals for the northern extension of the east London line, and is negotiating with local authorities and others. The extension has been universally welcomed. Subject to the availability of finance, LRT would then hope to turn its attention to the equally important southern extension of the line.
The channel tunnel rail link will continue as a joint public-private sector proposition, the precise details of which are yet to be established, but the underlying principle of which is clear. To build the line, it will be necessary to seek large amounts of both public and private sector money, because the private sector can then enjoy the benefits that the line will bring.
I cannot help the hon. Member for Newham, North-West on the prospects for Stratford, because the work undertaken by Union Railways and others to refine the route and the positioning of the stations is still in hand and it would be wrong to anticipate the findings of the studies. I am not yet in a position to say what they may be, although I often have discussions with Newham council, whose interest in the matter I shall bear in mind.
I accept the Select Committee's later conclusion that larger investment in the system would be desirable and that it should be consistent. I do not come here with trite words that turn night into day; I do not suggest that reductions in LRT's capital spending were desirable, or that variations over two or three years were helpful. I must tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that when the Government became aware of the urgent need to deal with the public sector borrowing requirement, it would have been wrong to exempt this area of expenditure.
There is a straightforward explanation for the apparent imbalance in the distribution of the "pain" between the 890 various aspects of the programme. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a great deal of the road programme is committed some time in advance, which means that there is a need to devote a proportion of the Department's total resources to the continuance of that programme in order not to frustrate work which has already begun. In the case of London Transport, it is true to say that the decision to reduce the level of grant affected its ability to invest, but, in historic terms, it still left it substantially above its baseline of only two years ago.
I have also read to the McWilliam study to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall not make a detailed critique of it, but it is the only point at which I can refer to my gold watch. The House will know that the hon. Gentleman has yet to make a speech as my shadow—long may that continue to be the case—without making an overt, or covert, offer for my watch. It is an unremarkable item and I am perfectly happy to negotiate with him. What has prevented him from turning his expressions of interest —as we used to call them in the trade—into anything more positive is that he cannot put up the money. I appreciate that his extensive television career is now accruing large royalties and that Mrs. Banks is probably constrained as to how they are dispersed, but the point that he has frequently made is, to put it crudely, that he cannot afford it. In Professor McWilliam's report, affordability is an even more important criterion than desirability.
I draw a veil over my bungled and feeble attempts at humour to underline the serious point, which is that it is not enough for investment to be desirable to enable schemes to stand on their own when, in the public sector, they have to queue behind so many other calls on the public sector. Affordability becomes the key criterion. That is and always has been the fundamental advantage conveyed by privatisation, as proved by British Telecom, British Airways, the British Airports Authority or even the current proposals in the Railways Bill.
There are innumerable propositions for investment in Network SouthEast, which would lead to a positive cash flow in five years but which are not entertained because the resources are not there. As long as British Rail is in the public sector, it calls on the Exchequer's liberality, along with London Transport, roads, hospitals and schools. In the private sector, the situation is entirely different. If a scheme is good and will bring a positive cash flow within three to five years, no bank will refuse to finance the investment. Once investment is made, the quality of service is improved, the public purse is relieved and we all gain. Even at this stage, I urge members of the Opposition to recognise that privatisation is not a matter of dogma; it is a matter of recognising one of the great truths, which is that, however much money is available to a Transport Minister, of whatever party, there will always be more demands than funds to meet them. In those circumstances, we should be tapping the private sector market, which after all is the only other real source of capital available to any Government beyond that which they can raise by taxing, borrowing or printing. Regardless of which party is in power and how much the Chancellor gives the Secretary of State for Transport, there will be more demands on the public purse.
§ Mr. Keith Hill
The hon. Member dilates on the advantages of the private sector, but the blunt truth is that, in the Government's spending programme for 1993–94, London Underground lost precisely £300 million. That 891 went to Government spending on the roads programme. Which roads programmes benefited from London Underground's loss in the 1993–94 capital programme?
§ Mr. Norris
The hon. Gentleman knows that, even if I wished to, I could not answer that. If he has any pretensions to assuming office in this Department, he would do well to recognise that well over 90 per cent. of goods and people are transported by road. It beggars belief that Opposition Members can treat the road programme as if it were entirely dispensable—as if there were no value in relieving city centres of the appalling problems of pollution and of asthma among young children, which they are keen to allege but not so keen to see relieved by a bypass. The hon. Gentleman should be careful about assuming that all the shortfall in public transport expenditure could necessarily be made up merely by massive transfers from the road programme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South did the House a service by raising the subject. I emphasise the positive aspects of the work of Denis Tunnicliffe of London Underground Ltd. and of Clive Hodson of London Buses. LUL's company plan led to the rationalisation of more than 1,000 pay and grading agreements, which previously created a climate of jobsworth that made any management improvements on the underground almost impossible to achieve. The company plan, which was not an easy task, rationalised those pay and grading agreements into an intelligent managerial structure. That has allowed London Underground to make huge leaps in quality, although I recognise that much investment is needed in the Northern line—a case that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South prosecutes assiduously on behalf of his constituents.
I share an interest in the southern half of the line, which is where I live, and I know the stations to which the hon. Member for Streatham referred, running from the Oval down to Morden. There is, none the less, clear evidence, to which the Monopolies and Mergers Commission referred in its 1991 report, of the way in which management action has transformed the quality of the line. My hon. Friend will know that we now receive few complaints about the line compared with only two or three years ago. That has been achieved not by large investment but by tremendous management effort. I take the opportunity to congratulate all those who are involved in the management of the Northern line because they have done a superb job. On present form, it looks as if the refurbishment of the line will now he completed before 2003, not 2005. I accept that that is too long away for any of us to take great pleasure from, but the programme is there and we plan to take it forward. I know that if there is any opportunity to do so, my hon. Friend will urge me to urge, in turn, LT to give that scheme high priority.
The management improvement means that, in the second year of the LT customer charter, we see standards improving across the board, and those standards being monitored not—I am sorry to use the analogy again, but it is important—by a man with a clipboard, but by customer reactions, obtained live by independent survey. They are a serious sign of whether we are getting the system right.
Both the hon. Members for Streatham and for Newham, North-West spoke of bus deregulation. On the evidence, my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South is entirely right. I accept that the trade unions, many 892 Labour local authorities and, I am sorry to say, normally quite intelligent Labour Members of Parliament all hate it, for obvious reasons, but bus deregulation has achieved exactly what my hon. Friend has said—a great deal more bus miles run.
If one wants to get people on buses, the first thing that one has to do is run a bus. That is a simple proposition, but it is one that even Labour Members should be able to get their minds around. Once one has done that, it also makes sense to try to get the operating costs of the buses down, and they are down by about a third. Far more importantly, the subsidy required from the taxpayer has been reduced by half. That is the experience of deregulation outside London.
I congratulate on behalf of other hon. Members the hon. Member for Streatham for his part in the work of the Select Committee, which produced a rather helpful report on bus deregulation. I know that it is a matter of great political importance, so it imported a note of potential danger, which is perhaps understandable, in suggesting that unless certain steps were taken, there could be dangers in bus deregulation in London. I accept that proposition. It would be irresponsible to introduce any significant change into a market as sophisticated as London unless one were entirely clear what the changes were designed to achieve. One should take account of experience elsewhere —whether in Sheffield, Glasgow, Oxford or Bristol—the good and the bad, the advantages and the disadvantages.
I welcome the opportunity to tell the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that the Department has not yet formally responded to the Select Committee's report. I want to take some time to give it the attention that it deserves. I can say now that I think that it was right to point out that we need to know clearly what we shall do about the extra buses that are the happy consequence of bus deregulation. I am convinced of the need to ensure, by legislation if necessary, the continuation of, for example, the travel card. The concessionary fares scheme will continue, and continue to be funded by the boroughs as now, and it will apply across the board, not simply among selected operators in selected areas.
I give those commitments for a straightforward reason. If I were not to do so, it would imply that I did not understand what the market for public transport in London was. I hope that the House will give me credit for at least understanding that. Anyone who bothered to examine what makes London's public transport tick would understand why the travel card is important. It is the key to the willingness of people to use the system and to their ability to use it. I want to see it developed with such things as stored value ticketing. That is not available at the moment, but technology is bringing it forward, and it will open up a whole new market.
I believe that about 85 per cent. of routes will be run commercially in London. That has been the experience outside and the London bus executive will be funded to secure those socially necessary routes that are not profitable. That would again be a necessary part of the deregulation process. If, with those caveats, we can move forward, it is with one signal proposition as our banner —that deregulation does not mean no regulation.
I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will take some comfort from the fact that I do not foresee deregulation as meaning a free-for-all. It is important to learn lessons from elsewhere in the country and from our experience of the workings of the 1985 Act. I believe that, 893 in general, the experience has been good, but it would be crass not to open our eyes and look at experience elsewhere.
Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South on giving us the opportunity to have this useful debate. If I may say so without incurring the wrath of the Whips, we enjoy each other's company in these debates. At least, I do; I cannot speak for the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. God knows, his taste is so eclectic that I have no idea what he enjoys, but I am prepared to make my statement on a unilateral basis—
§ Mr. Norris
I will indeed see the hon. Gentleman afterwards. I hesitate to think what, at 2 o'clock in the morning, he has in mind. Still, with his rather eclectic tastes I have no doubt that we can think of something amusing.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to set out the Government"s response to some of the points that have been raised. I believe that the future of public transport in London is exciting. It will involve more commercialisation, more private initiative and investment and an awareness of the need to achieve yet better and better standards. I hope to take that work forward through the interesting days that lie ahead over the next 12 months.