HL Deb 19 November 1990 vol 523 cc568-71

2.45 p.m.

Lord Brougham and Vaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action is being taken to improve the transport services for travellers in London.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, the Government have authorised substantial investment in all the transport services for London. Over the three years from next April London Transport plans to invest up to £3 billion and British Rail up to £1.3 billion for Network SouthEast. It has also authorised major longer-term projects, including East West Crossrail. There is a substantial programme of road improvements and legislation is being introduced to ease traffic flow on priority routes. We are working with London Transport to see how these and other measures can help to improve bus services.

Lord Brougham and Vaux

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that excellent reply. Does he not agree that this Government are investing far more in London Underground than the GLC ever did?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. That is certainly true. Investment over the next three years will be nearly three times the level in real terms that it was under the GLC.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, nevertheless, looking at the most recent statistics produced by London Underground Limited, is it not the case that the number of lifts out of service due to defects is higher than a year ago and that trend is continuing at an unacceptably high level? But having said that, one must recognise that the escalator problem has improved. I congratulate London Underground on that. Nevertheless, is it not true that the lifts are in a totally unacceptable state?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his acknowledgement that the situation of the escalators has improved. That is a subject of great interest to your Lordships as I remember from previous occasions answering such questions. The target is for 86 per cent. availability by the end of March 1992. The latest figures show that 84 per cent. of escalators are already in service. Clearly, it will be even better when 100 per cent. of the escalators are working full time. It is now up to London Transport to turn its attention to the lifts.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether anything is being done to improve the condition of London Underground and to reduce the enormous number of breakdowns both of vehicles and the signalling system which almost every day causes hardship to the travelling public? Can the Minister say whether anything can be done—if necessary, by making fresh appointments—to get London Underground on the move?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, a very large amount of money is being invested by London Transport at the moment. It is not possible to deal with every line at the same time. I give as an example the Central line, which will have 85 new trains and a new high technology signalling system costing over £700 million. That should alleviate the problems to which my noble friend has referred.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, notwithstanding what appears to be his encouraging Answer, London Transport is well aware of its shortcomings? It knows what a terrible ordeal it is to travel on the Northern line. London Transport is trying to alleviate the situation in order to prevent people using their cars and clogging up the roads. Does the Minister not agree that only if the Government are prepared to meet the London Transport Executive to try to understand its desperation, and also to increase the finance available, can some of the problems be resolved? Such action will have an immediate effect in reducing the chaos on London's roads and the appalling conditions under which people have to travel on some Underground lines.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord can have heard my original Answer. I made it quite clear that record amounts of money are being spent by London Transport on the Underground. Plans are also in hand for greater expenditure on the system. A very large amount of money is involved. The noble Lord may remember that during the past 10 years or so the number of people travelling by Tube has risen by about 22 per cent. That figure was reached after a long period of declining numbers.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that this serious social problem, which makes massive demands on the public purse, cannot be solved as long as one neglects a sensible and positive dispersal programme and a regional policy which will permit the better dispersal of industry and other activity throughout the country?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, we already have a policy which encourages regional development. Indeed, a good many civil servants have moved or are about to move out of central London. However, if this country is to prosper and if London is to remain the financial capital of Europe, it is essential that we continue to invest money in the transport services.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, what action, if any, have the Government taken to reduce the incidence of muggings on the Underground?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I do not have the figures with me at the moment, but not so long ago I answered a Question on the number of British Transport Police on the London Underground system. That number is increasing at the moment.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that with the increased investment, which although it is too late we all welcome, the transport system in London will begin to compare with the transport systems in most other European cities? That is certainly not the case today. What do the Government propose to do about the congestion resulting from the use of private cars?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord said that the investment in London Transport is too late. As I pointed out a few moments ago, investment under this Government is three times what it was under the GLC. I agree that it is better late than never —it would probably never have been under the GLC. The noble Lord went on to say that our transport systems in London are not as good as those in some other European capitals. I know that he probably has more experience of Europe than I have, but when I have visited other European capitals I have found congestion almost as bad, if not as bad, as one finds here in London.

Lord Birkett

My Lords, will the Government consider removing all those deeply user-unfriendly automatic ticket barriers and diverting the maintenance of them into lifts and escalators?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question is no; but the investment in lifts and escalators will go on despite that.

Lord Teviot

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he has one noble friend who entirely approves of London Transport? Does he agree that ticket barriers have been valuable in detecting fraud and that London Transport could do with a great many more? London Transport is the finest system in the world if one can use a map. In addition, London Buses has an extremely useful network. In the past few years since deregulation (which did not include London) there has been a 2.5 per cent. increase in bus usage. May London Transport, under the London Regional Transport Act passed by this Government, continue and prosper.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his question. I heard what he said about the increased use of buses. That is something which we would wish to encourage and which will be encouraged by the introduction of red routes.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, has the Minister any comment to make on the report that London Underground had a deficit of around £100 million in the last financial year? Do not the questions asked by noble Lords demonstrate the need for an overall authority for London, which is one of the few cities in Europe that does not have an authority to deal with transport problems over the whole of the city area?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord appears to be arguing for a return of the GLC to take care of our transport problems. The GLC was abolished about five years ago. Had it been as successful as noble Lords opposite would like to make out, we would not have the problems we have today; nor would my noble friend have needed to ask his Question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong. The problems of London Transport began five years ago when the GLC was relieved of its responsibilities. Then started the agony of the Northern line. The inefficiency of London Transport dated from the end of the GLC when transport was taken over by this Government.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord may well be right that the misery of the Northern line started because the GLC did not invest enough money in the transport system.