§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
Primary responsibility for developing the underground network rests with London Underground Ltd. A substantial part of the Jubilee line extension currently under construction runs south of the river and London Underground has plans for a southern extension of the east London line.
§ Mr. Dowd
I thank the Minister for that response. I realise that London Underground Ltd. will be the primary body involved in any work. I welcome the extension of the Jubilee line and the docklands light railway, but does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that they do no more than touch the periphery of south-east London? We need a major extension through south-east London and on to Bromley and/or Croydon. The commercial, social and, in these days, environmental case for that is overwhelming.
2 Will the hon. Gentleman's Department do all that it can to encourage London Underground to undertake detailed feasibility and preparatory work to determine what the options might be? We need an end to the present unsatisfactory situation in which almost 2 million people in south-east London are denied access to the most important strategic transport network in the capital.
§ Mr. Norris
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a study is currently under way, involving the five south London boroughs and London Underground, of precisely the problem to which he has referred. I accept what he says about the absence of a tube line in that area of south London, not least because I live there and am acutely aware of it. We rely on buses and on Network SouthEast, but there is no doubt that the tube would be a great addition.
As I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, a tube line would be an extraordinarily expensive proposition, so it would not be reasonable of me to suggest that there might be an immediate prospect of a transport improvement of that sort being delivered. As I said, however, work is being done on examining the feasibility and the benefits to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I will keep a careful watch over that.
§ Mr. Evennett
Although I welcome my hon. Friend's comments on proposals to improve public transport in south-east London, may I urge him not to forget the needs of the motorist and the travelling public who want to travel by car? The east London river crossing must be part of any overall improvement in south-east London. Although people living in Erith, Crayford, Bexley and other such areas want an improvement in public transport, they also need more crossing points on the river so that they can use their cars.
§ Mr. Norris
One of the improvements south of the river is £800 million-worth of new Networker trains on the Kent link line, which benefit my hon. Friend's constituents and others in that area. His comment about the need for more river crossings is well understood; however, he knows that many of the proposals for crossings have encountered difficulties, not least with local authorities such as his local authority in Bexley. For example, the proposal for a road 3 from the A13 through to the A2016 was not only specifically precluded from the original Oxleas wood public inquiry, but would—as my hon. Friend's local authority has pointed out—cause concern about localised traffic, not least in the Bexley area.
§ Mr. Keith Hill
On the subject of improvements to underground services south of the river, is the Minister aware that members of the all-party Northern line group recently visited the ABB and GEC Alsthom factories at Derby and Preston, both of which are champing at the bit to supply new rolling stock for the Northern line—as, I am sure, are their overseas competitors?
Will the hon. Gentleman reassure the House that the summer recess will be used as an opportunity not for delay but for the speediest possible consideration and favourable conclusion to that urgently needed improvement to the Northern line, both north and south of the river?
§ Mr. Norris
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the private finance initiative and his enthusiasm for its delivery to a safe conclusion. Although it is not for me or my right hon. Friend to show any preference at this stage for those who are competing to supply the Northern line trains, we follow the matter with interest and will certainly ensure that time is not lost unnecessarily.