HL Deb 12 December 1983 vol 446 cc1-3
Lord Gainford

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many passengers have travelled on the Tyne Metro in each year since 1979–80.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the Tyne and Wear Metro has been opened in stages, starting in August 1980. Passenger carryings have been as follows: 5.4 million in 1980–81; 27.6 million in 1981–82; and 40.7 million in 1982–83.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for those very encouraging figures. Arising out of them, has he any information about how the success of the system compares with the other forms of public transport in the locality?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the metro is a very effective public transport system which is well used by Tyneside people. It is also a very expensive capital investment. It will cost some £280 million by the time it is finished. As to how it compares with other forms of transport in the locality, I have to tell my noble friend that it is not possible to divide the different modes of transport in terms of their cost, since the authority aggregates the total costs.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, would not the Minister agree that although the Tyne and Wear Metro is a great success it is merely part of the county's integrated transport system? Taking into account the whole of the county transport system, would not the Minister confirm that over the last five to six years the increase in passenger numbers has been phenomenal, bearing in mind the very heavy unemployment in the area? Would not the Minister agree that this is due to linking transport policies to the land use and planning policies for the metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear and that it would be very sad indeed if the metropolitan authority were to be abolished?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, to deal first with the last part of the noble Lord's question, there is no question of the Passenger Transport Executive being abolished. The system represents a huge benefit to the people of Tyneside, but it has to be related, as I intimated in my first supplementary answer, to the total cost of £280 million, 70 per cent. of which has to be met by the taxpayer, which is a not inconsiderable sum.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that those of us who know the metro system and use it frequently regard it as one of the best underground railway systems in the world and that without it Tyneside would come to a standstill? We regard it as fully justifying the vision of the people who originally planned it. The need now is to extend it, in particular to Newcastle airport. Would the noble Lord say whether there is any plan to authorise its extension?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, of course we accept that it is a splendid system, but I have to repeat that it has to be related to the overall cost. Happily, the Tyne and Wear local authority have been prudent in the level of subsidy which they have attached to transport; they are among the better metropolitan counties. Any proposal to extend the system to the airport would have to be considered on its merits, but the construction costs would be substantial and the financial receipts and social benefits would have to commensurate with its extension.

Lord Glensmara

My Lords, I apologise for pressing the noble Lord, but is he aware that the metro terminates very near to the airport, that there is an old, disused mineral line running the whole way and that the cost of extending the metro to the airport would be very small indeed?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, whether or not the cost of the extension would be very small, it would depend upon the type of scheme and upon whose eyes one were looking through as to whether it was a short or a long distance. Nevertheless, any suggestion to extend the line has to come from the local authority and not from Her Majesty's Government

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, while paying tribute to the many people who work so hard to provide facilities for disabled people on the Tyne and Wear Metro, could I ask the Minister how many disabled people are making use of it?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the noble Baroness can certainly ask, but I very much regret that the Minister is unable to answer. However, I shall be delighted to send the information to the noble Baroness.

Lord Hawke

My Lords, can my noble friend say how the fares charged on this metro compare with the extortionate fares charged on London Underground?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, the two systems are not comparable.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for paying tribute to this system as an outstanding example of public enterprise, can he give an undertaking to the House that it will not be privatised?

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, in answer to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, I am not in a position to give such an undertaking, but so long as the PTE operate the system for the benefit of those who currently enjoy it, at no greater cost than hitherto, I can see no justification for making any change.

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