HL Deb 08 July 1992 vol 538 cc1247-62

10.12 p.m.

Lord Ezra rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether sufficient is being done to maintain and improve the underground railway system of London.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, tonight I raise a topic which has been debated and been the subject of questions many times previously in your Lordships' House—namely, the present condition and future development of London's Underground. I do so not only because it is the object of keen personal interest to many of your Lordships, who no doubt use it daily to reach this place and on other business, but also because the future of London as a world city, and hence the prosperity of a substantial sector of the nation's economy, depends upon the capital having an attractive and efficient transport system.

The London Underground, which carries more than half of all commuters who come into central London, and whose passengers make over 750 million journeys each year, is a vital part of that transport network. Those of us who have used and observed the Underground over the years have unfortunately seen a steady and discouraging decline in the quality of the system.

I believe that there is agreement on all sides of the House that the Underground has not been particularly well served by successive administrations. For certainly two and possibly three decades post-war, and since the 'sixties in particular, the Underground has been starved of funds for capital expenditure. Fares have in the past been subsidised from time to time, but I am talking here about expenditure on track, trains, signals and civil engineering. The Underground has suffered as much as any industry from the stop-go syndrome which has bedevilled our economy. I seek tonight to gain the Government's commitment to put matters right by backing the present management's endeavours and plans with adequate resources on a continuing basis.

During the 1960s and 1970s passenger numbers on the Underground were in decline and that was used as justification to restrict investment in the maintenance and renewal of the system's most basic assets. But failing to invest in a railway infrastructure is something of a time-bomb: nothing visible happens for a long time and then there is a catastrophic effect. There is a tendency to glorify the quality of Victorian and Edwardian engineering, but sadly, at least on the London Underground, all is not what it appears. The Underground was built for commercial considerations on a basic specification and the assets, which consist of 250 miles of track, 100 miles of which is in tunnel, 1,500 bridges and 250 stations, are in many cases passing or approaching their centenary.

The cost of making good the effects of years of neglect and of achieving an acceptable standard in these areas, deferred for so long, is now both unavoidable and very expensive. The report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission issued a year ago identified that historic shortfall in investment. Some of the figures are staggering. For example, the track requires a minimum of £500 million to be spent over 10 years to bring it up to a standard even as good as that of British Rail, which itself requires a good deal of improvement. A quarter of all escalators are more than 40 years old and require replacement or extensive refurbishment at a cost of upward of £30 million annually. The drainage system, which has remained fundamentally unchanged since its installation and is faced with a rapid rise in the water table, requires expenditure of more than £50 million over the next five years to prevent flooding.

At the same time that the price has to be paid for the years of neglect, passenger numbers on the Underground have increased by 50 per cent. in less than a decade. Today's passengers rightly expect more than an ageing and deteriorating environment which is only gradually being made good. They expect in return for the real increases in fares which they pay, a clean, bright and modern environment with good, clear information and frequent, rapid trains. Most especially they expect to be safe: safe from accident, attack and intimidation.

What has the record been, faced with that history of chronic underinvestment, a heritage of antique and collapsing assets, an unprecedented rise in the number of passengers and faced too with those passengers' expectations of the system on which they travel? Although the prodigious rise in passenger numbers began as far back as 1982, with the Government assuming responsibility for London Transport in 1985, investment during their early years of stewardship extended to only a few projects, such as the Central Line modernisation, which for physical reasons could not be deferred any longer. There was no apparent willingness to increase investment beyond that level until 1988; and then it was not to invest in new capacity and the decaying assets but principally for the measures necessary following the King's Cross fire of 1987.

While those works have certainly yielded a safety benefit, they have not yielded any other tangible benefits. Rather they have inconvenienced passengers by the closure of passages, escalators and ticket halls for their duration. They absorbed much management time, and the lion's share of government investment not already committed to those one or two major projects such as the Central Line renewal were committed to that safety improvement. It is only in very recent times, and particularly in last autumn's public expenditure round, that the Government have seemed willing to give London Underground the volume of extra funds that it needs to attack the problems of shoring up its existing assets and developing the kind of up-to-date innovations that its long-suffering passengers want. There is a great deal to be done, including the increased provision of information, facilities and safety for passengers.

I recently visited London Underground to view some of the new programmes that they are now able to bring forward. Although I went with a critical eye, I was impressed by what I saw. I travelled on a Circle Line train which has been refurbished to meet fire safety standards; and it looks like an entirely new train. Edgware Road Station has had new lifts fitted and has been sensitively restored from top to bottom. I heard that the number of escalators not working has now fallen by a factor of three over three years. But, most importantly, I detected a will and an enthusiasm among the managers and staff whom I met to get on with the job and to serve the passengers' needs. I do not believe that always has been a feature of London Transport.

I believe that the Underground is currently running a more reliable service than for many years, despite the plague of security alerts which bedevil it and the fact that only recently has the funding been adequate. I put that new attitude down in part to a change in management but also to the decision of government to begin such adequate funding. Will the Minister assure us tonight that those higher levels of funding announced for London Transport last year were more than just a pre-election boost and that they will be sustained at the level necessary to allow the essential work to be properly planned and executed over the years? That means in round terms £750 million annually being spent on the existing network at least until the end of the decade. Such a level of funding would allow projects that are still currently on the back burner—such as the modernisation of the Northern Line, for which we still do not have a start date—to be activated. That is what is needed if London Underground is to become what so many other cities vying for international trade and finance already have: a modern, efficient and reliable transport system.

I have spent much of my speech talking about the existing Underground system. I believe that that is right because London Underground's first duty is to serve its existing passengers well. However, I also press the Minister on the expansion of the network. In central London, the vast majority of the lines predates World War Two. Only the Victoria and the small appendix of the Jubilee Line have since been built. The Edwardian system is groaning at the seams and while some work can be done to increase the cramped size of stations such as Tottenham Court Road—your Lordships may be interested to know that it now handles more passengers a year than do all the terminals at Heathrow Airport—new lines are needed.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, raised the issue of the Jubilee Line extension in a Question in the House on 11th June. To date nothing has happened in connection with that extension, as noble Lords well know, although the Bill has had Royal Assent and work could begin at once. The scheme has many transport benefits, apart from simply serving the Isle of Dogs. As the Minister pointed out to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, at least £100 million already spent stands to be wasted if the scheme does not proceed.

The Government run the risk of sacrificing the transport-starved areas of south-east and east London to what appears to be an outdated belief in the private sector as an adequate provider of socially necessary infrastructure. We were told that that line was not being built solely for the private sector's benefit; yet we find that the private sector can hold the whole process up. I hope that the Government will feel able to take a wider view, as other projects simply cannot be brought forward quickly to absorb the money set aside for that project. Can we assume that the imminent start of works relating to the extension outside the Palace of Westminster means that the Government's position has changed? Indeed there have been reports in the press of other indications of a possible change in the Government's attitude. We look forward to being enlightened on that matter tonight.

CrossRail, a scheme to relieve pressure on Underground lines by bringing longer-distance commuters directly into central London, is at an advanced stage of planning. I hope that the same delays experienced by the Jubilee Line extension will not affect it.

In east London a scheme to extend the East London line both north and south in very deprived areas could be carried out at extremely modest cost. Will the Minister explain the Government's position on that scheme?

Lastly, the projected Chelsea to Hackney line will certainly be needed if the King's Cross area develops with the Channel Tunnel rail terminal and in other ways. In the 1960s the Victoria Line was almost not built because planners believed that inadequate numbers of people would travel on it. How wrong they turned out to be! The Chelsea-to-Hackney line is needed to relieve not only the Victoria Line but many others too.

We must invest now for the future, both in the Underground's existing system, so that today's and tomorrow's travellers can enjoy the high-quality system that they deserve, but also in future capacity, so that our European colleagues and other overseas investors can have confidence in London and in the rest of Britain as a place to do business. Failure to do so will be a false economy. I look forward to the Minister's reassurance on both aspects of this important subject.

10.27 p.m.

Viscount Cross

My Lords, I shall be brief. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for having raised this important matter. As he said, the London Underground system was built largely during the previous century. It is a 19th century concept and in 1992 a great deal of maintenance, improvement and modernisation need to be done. I shudder when I think of the expense and the enormous disruption that will take place all over London should the extension to the Jubilee Line be built.

I wish to suggest as an alternative a concept which might be more appropriate to the coming 21st century. I emphasise that I am being totally serious in suggesting that we should build a monorail at first floor level straight down the middle of Oxford Street. We should allow it to wend its way through the City and to go on to Docklands and Canary Wharf. After that it should cross the River Thames and come back westwards along the south bank. There would be a frequent and fast service of monorail trains and in due course the line would become known as the "Outer Circle". Furthermore, it would pay for itself almost straight away because, apart from taking people to and from Docklands and Canary Wharf, it would become an ideal way of seeing the sights of the City of London.

I apologise for having strayed rather far from the Unstarred Question which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has placed on the Order Paper. Nevertheless, I commend my proposal to your Lordships.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I join with the noble Viscount, Lord Cross, in thanking my noble friend Lord Ezra for raising this subject this evening. As a humble consumer of the services of the Underground, I could not resist taking this opportunity to express some of the many reservations that I have about the service which I receive at present.

My noble friend Lord Ezra spoke about the massive investment which is now necessary for the Underground to provide a decent standard of service to its customers. He seems to me to have made a case which is extremely difficult to refute. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be able to give the assurances for which my noble friend asked both as regards the Jubilee Line and, above all, as regards the amount of investment required to the end of this century.

However, it seems to me that investment of that size should be well spent. Much of the investment in the past, even though there has not been enough of it, has not been well spent. A number of simple improvements could be made to the Underground which would make travel on it more pleasant and easier than it is at present.

I speak as a regular user. My station is on the so-called renovated Central Line, which needs a great deal more renovation than it has received so far. My station is Holland Park. A few years ago two new lifts were installed at that station. It took them no fewer than two years to instal them in an existing shaft and, presumably, the lifts were largely pre-fabricated. Those lifts have been notoriously unreliable. They were installed all over London. One was out of order this morning and it was also out of order last week. There are 88 steps down to the Underground at Holland Park. A woman with a child who arrives there when the lifts are out of order, unless there is someone to help her, is absolutely stymied. I see no reason why the lifts should be so unreliable. I hope that the new lifts which are being installed at Edgware Road, to which my noble friend referred, are of a different type and more reliable.

There are other silly matters which could be rectified with a little thought, which the management appears not to give to them. I give an example. The stairwell at Holland Park station, to which I have referred, was repainted two years ago. I pointed out to the authorities that they should mend the leaks which destroyed the paint before they repainted it. They told me that they could not locate the source of the leaks. They repainted the stairwell and it is now as squalid as it was two years ago before it was repainted.

A second point which I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention is that throughout the Underground there is a tannoy system. Either it is a very bad system or the people who use it are not trained to do so. It is almost always unintelligible. Either it is used when the train is coming into the station or the person using it speaks with his mouth too close to the machine so that one cannot hear what he has to say. It would be far better if there were in all stations the annunciators that there are in some stations which tell one when a train is coming. I cannot believe that that is very expensive. However, those annunciators have not been installed regularly or quickly, and I should have thought that that would be one of the first changes which could be made to improve service to the passengers.

The second point is that in all stations there are inevitably a large number of signs pointing to exits and advising passengers as to the whereabouts of platforms for other lines. Those signs are often hung so that one conceals the other. If one alights at Bond Street on the Central Line and wishes to transfer to the Jubilee Line, unless one knows where it is, one cannot see the sign which shows how to get there. That is simply bad and incompetent planning. It does not cost any money to position signs in the right places.

One of the most tiresome aspects of the Underground system is its unreliability. Six years ago I could travel from Holland Park to Westminster in half-an-hour. Today, to be sure of arriving on time, I have to allow three-quarters of an hour for travel. All too often the signalling equipment is out of date or not working. I would far prefer money to be spent on improving the reliability of the signalling equipment than installing pretty tiles in the Underground.

Those are but a few of the small changes which could be made in the way in which the Underground is planned and administered which would make a substantial difference to the comfort of its passengers. I hope that the management of London Underground will pay some attention to those minor and inexpensive suggestions.

10.35 p.m.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, I do not apologise for not including my name on the list of speakers. However, the House is entitled to an explanation. As the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, many Members of the House are keenly interested in this subject—that may he the reason the attendance is so large tonight. However, I do not blame them. I too did not intend to be present.

The Unstarred Question is, To ask Her Majesty's Government whether sufficient is being done to maintain and improve the Underground railway system of London". I understood that to mean the present London Underground system. I never dreamt that under that heading we would be discussing the Jubilee Line. But we are. Perhaps I can explain. When I picked up the Evening Standard this evening it told me exactly what the noble Lord intended to say. I felt I should come along and hear what he had to say about the Jubilee Line. As I suspected, we heard a plea for the extension of that line.

I understand that the cost involved would be around £1,700 million as a starting figure. I understand also that the Treasury is in some doubt as to whether or not the public expenditure figure should de-escalate. I do not believe there is the slightest chance of the Treasury spending £1,700 million in addition to carrying out all the improvements that we have heard should be carried out to the present system.

Anyone in this city who travels on the Northern Line knows full well the problems that exist on the Underground. If they have only a minimum knowledge of public transport they will realise the cost of putting right that one line. It is not likely to done in the foreseeable future. We therefore come to the question of whether at this stage in our life—contrary to the planned improvements to London Underground that have been referred to and contrary to the Government's desires in regard to the priorities for the transport system—we should engage in the extension to the Jubilee Line.

Let me make one point perfectly clear. I sat through the Committee debates for a long time, and one thing was quite clearly established. London Underground did not consider the Jubilee Line to be a priority. The only reason that the Jubilee Line came into existence was the absurd and chaotic planning situation in London Docklands. If Canary Wharf had never been dreamt up in the mysteries of Olympia & York, we should never have heard of the Jubilee Line extension.

I am clearly satisfied that the actions of the Government, London Underground and the Ministry are of a sufficiently poor standard to warrant some kind of inquiry. When the Jubilee Line extension suggestion was first placed before the Committee in this House we were advised of several courses of action that the Committee could and could not take. One Member of the other place was so misled that she lost an opportunity to debate a certain point in the House of Commons. When it came to this House we were told that the Committee could do X, Y and Z, but when the Committee sat it found that it could not.

We then began a discussion on the actual construction of the line. Two reasons were given by the Minister as to why the Government supported the Bill—and we recently debated the difference between a Private Member's Bill and a Government Bill. But the Government gave two explanations.

The first was that there would be £400 million donated by the private sector. I was told quite clearly and unambiguously that an agreement had been made between London Underground and Olympia & York for it to pay that sum. I questioned that and raised the matter in this Chamber. I suggested to the Minister that there was a possibility that Olympia & York would not pay that £400 million. I was told to withdraw because it was considered a terrible thing to say. Now we know that there was no agreement made and there is no agreement. The Minister is nodding his head. Perhaps he will tell me when the agreement was signed. I shall give way.

There must be some explanation why the Minister was nodding his head. He cannot tell me that there was an agreement because there was no such agreement in existence with Olympia & York. Yet I and the Chamber were told that it existed and that the project manager of the scheme had seen the agreement. He knew that there was a time factor involved.

No proper, sensible consideration was given to what would happen to the rest of London when Canary Wharf was built. Nobody examined the planning considerations in order to see what it would do to the City of London or the West End. Now the estate surveyors are having worries about what will be done if Canary Wharf continues. So it leads on and on and we take one foolish step after another to get ourselves into another hole. There is an old saying by someone who is more famous than I am to the effect that if you are in a hole the first thing you do is to stop digging.

Now where are we? Marsham Street civil servants are going to Canary Wharf or somewhere thereabouts, if rumour is to be believed. Marsham Street is to be pulled down. No explanation has been given. The Government have said quite clearly that they have no intention of publishing the report which makes it essential to demolish Marsham Street. The whole rigmarole of the Jubilee Line is confused to such an extent that nobody knows where its influence finishes. It is Marsham Street and civil servants.

The latest we hear may not be true and no doubt the Minister will give noble Lords a true statement of the facts. But I now understand this from a reputable source, I suppose I can call it, because that source could tell me what was being debated tonight when I did not know. The Evening Standard suggests that some of the London developers are going to sell a block of property to the Government for a certain sum. The Government will then accept the money back as part payment of the £400 million unless the Jubilee Line scheme is continued.

I have been seven minutes and I do not want to be as long as anybody else. Do the Government know what is going on? When I came to the House this morning I understood that the Government intended to make a statement about when the Jubilee Line would start. It may be of information to them to know that London Underground has decided that it is going to start on 17th July. That is a very significant date. It is going to start work in Parliament Square and it is already apologising for the delay. I suppose that when all the MPs and Peers have gone home it will start ripping London apart. I wonder whether the Government know that or whether London Underground is a law unto itself.

I am beginning to wonder just how many organisations there are connected with this Government. London Underground goes along in its own sweet way and never even bothers to tell Ministers what is happening. It never tells Parliament what is happening. There is a wonderful exhibition of something on the other side of Vauxhall Bridge which somebody bought for £150 million. That is for a new building which looks like a Christmas cake. I understand that MI6 is to be located there. It is amazing that a secret body can be based in a building that attracts attention. It is almost farcical.

But that is not the worst of it. Having bought a brand new building for a government department, the Government are now saying that they will spend £90 million to adapt it to suit that department, which I understand is listed as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. To me that smells of downright inefficiency, if not of something worse. I think that it is about time that the Public Accounts Committee began to look at these things.

I have a whole list of reasons why I think that the Jubilee Line should not go ahead, but I shall finish on just one and refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, to sustain it. Of course all the things that the noble Lord said about London Underground are true and we all know the difficulties facing London Underground. If we are sensible people, we know how much money improving it will cost, and we know the kind of economic state that the country is in. I am not blaming anybody for that, but we know the economic state that the country is in and we know full well that we cannot afford to do both things. We cannot afford to bail out the developers at London Docklands and to do all the things that are necessary for the rest of the Underground.

One alternative is to extend the Jubilee Line and to start paying £1,700 million in order to bail out the terrible, stupid decision to plan Canary Wharf when everybody knew that the bottom was dropping out of the property market, but if one does that one cannot do anything else for the Underground. The Northern Line and all the other lines that are complaining will continue to complain, and nothing will be done.

It is time that the Government decided to take stock. They should look at the whole situation and then decide what will be done. We are being led by the nose by organisations that have a self-interest, and we are being led into a situation that will get worse by the day. I think that the Jubilee Line should be stopped.

10.47 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, despite the lateness of the hour we should express our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for raising the issue of London's Underground. I shall not say "Despite the lack of interest", but despite the small attendance in your Lordship's House this debate will be on the record and we shall have the Government's reply to the noble Lord's speech and to the speeches of other noble Lords.

I shall not stress the importance of the London Underground because that had been done by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, but I know that we all appreciate its vital importance to the city and its commerce. I could say that I agree with everything that the noble Lord said and then sit down, but I intend to use some of the many statements that have been made to reinforce what he has said.

The considerable criticism of the deficiencies of the system were first brought out in the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the London Underground in June 1991. In this connection it might be useful to look at London Underground's annual business plan for 1992–93 so that we can see exactly what it considers to be its duty. Paragraph 6 of the introduction to that plan states: LU is committed to providing a Metro System of which London can be proud. The improvements necessary to achieve this require both a high level of investment over a long period and radical changes in pursuit of higher performance standards while maintaining high standards of safety". The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred to the change in outlook in London Underground's management and to the commitment of the staff to the words that I have just quoted. Improvements can be seen in the performance statistics which are issued for each four-weekly period. The noble Lord gave a balanced criticism of the progress being made by London Underground.

As some noble Lords may know, MORI, which is a responsible polling organisation, carried out a passenger survey of London Underground and published a report last October. Although some 54 per cent. of 1,335 users of the Underground at some 31 stations expressed satisfaction with the standard of service, no less than 36 per cent. were dissatisfied. One point which should concern us all is that no less than 47 per cent. of those users expressed their dissatisfaction with London Underground's understanding of what passengers want and only 27 per cent. were satisfied on that matter. MORI asked those users a further question. It asked about their priority option. Seven per cent. thought that the Jubilee extension was a priority. Another 7 per cent. thought that CrossRail was the first priority. But no less than 81 per cent. of users considered that investment of capital to modernise existing Underground services was the priority at which London Underground should aim.

I have referred to the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission which was published in June 1991. In paragraph 1.3 the commission concludes: The public's perception of an erratic, overcrowded and poorly maintained service in many areas is broadly correct, although the picture for the Underground as a whole is more favourable. For the most part the deficiencies in the levels of service are the result of chronic underinvestment in both new capacity and the replacement and renewal of existing assets, an unforeseen dramatic growth in traffic and the disruption arising from radically improved safety provisions". I have related that conclusion to London Underground's view on the matter. In paragraph 3.5 of London Underground's company plan published in 1991 I find the following: As the MMC concluded, funding issues dominate the debate about the pace of change, and this is ultimately a matter of Government policy. Fares increases have the potential to realise additional funding for investment, and to assist in the management of demand, but they are rightly a factor in wider transport policy, and therefore outside the control of the Company. The same is true of grant funding, in the context of overall Government spending priorities, and the constraints here are reinforced by the strict annual Government spending cycle, and the restrictions imposed by the LRT Act on borrowing". The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, stressed the point that a good deal of the Underground infrastructure is old. Many parts of it are 100 years old. London Underground has stated that one of its key concerns is the chronic backlog in maintenance and the renewal of basic infrastructure—the rolling stock, signalling, the 245 miles of Underground track and the 275 stations. As the noble Lord reminded us, we are told that we need to spend £500 million over the next 10 years merely to bring the track up to standard.

I travel on the London Underground Central Line—not on the western section but on the eastern section—from Mile End out to Essex.

Lord Graham of Edmonton


Lord Underhill

My Lords, I hear my noble friend say, Loughton; but I live in Buckhurst Hill which is part of Loughton.

The sum of £750 million is to be expended on modernising the Central Line. That means new trains and improved signalling and, I hope, new track replacements. I know what that will do: it will make travelling much easier and more comfortable. At present, it is impossible to read a newspaper while travelling between many of the stations because one is buffeted about so much. Moreover, it will also mean an increase in the number of passengers to that line. It will take many people like me, who travel occasionally by car, off the roads and on to London Transport.

In paragraph 3.4 of the Company Plan to which I referred (published in November last), London Underground recognised that future plans will have to take into account a number of transport decisions that have been taken. Reference is also made, first, to the threatened deregulation of London's buses and the effect that that will have, especially as regards integrated ticketing; and secondly, to the impact on wider transport planning should the Government proceed with their intention to set up, on deregulation of the buses, a bus executive, independent of London Transport.

That seems to indicate the hopelessness of a policy which has no single unit controlling London's traffic. The appointment of the Minister of Transport for London (who happens to be the MP for my parliamentary constituency) is not the answer; no one is responsible for working out London passenger transport details. To decide to have a separate bus executive—that is, if there is to be deregulation of buses—with no relationship whatever to London Transport, seems to me to be a major disaster.

There is another point that I should like to add to the questions regarding future policy which will affect London Underground's proposals. It is estimated that, soon after the start of the year 2001, there will be an increase of about 20 per cent. in the number of cars on London's roads. We have to ask: will London Underground be ready with proposals which will help to take many of those cars off the road? I believe that that will only be done by making the Underground system one to which people will readily wish to turn.

The MMC's report which I mentioned refers in paragraph 1.6 to discussions with London Transport and London Underground which revealed a conflict between London Underground's commercial object of generating enough finance to cover operating costs and the funding of renewals and replacements, and the legal obligations to have regard to London's public transport needs. The report comments that to follow the market could lead to fares increases which would be politically unacceptable. Those are statements from the MMC's report.

There must be full and comprehensive planning of what is needed for London. In my view, there must be both long-term and short-term planning. In the long term, there must be new lines, bearing in mind the fact—as London Transport has stated quite clearly in the documents to which I referred—that 15 years is needed from conception of a project to its actual completion. There must also be an assurance that, if such plans are to be made and the projects considered, funding will be available for the schemes.

I should like the Minister to report on the position of certain projects. For example, where does the CrossRail now stand? Where does the Chelsea to Hackney line stand? Where does the East London development stand? Moreover, in the light of questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and my noble friend Lord Sefton, we want to know where the Jubilee Line stands. I have a Starred Question down for Oral Answer next Tuesday. That asks about the financing of the Jubilee Line. I shall be interested in what the Minister says in answer to the points raised tonight so that I can follow them up next Tuesday.

Long-term planning must be accompanied by short-term plans for improving the existing system. The suggestion of having long-term and short-term plans accords with London Transport's thinking. The Minister for Transport in London, Mr. Norris, has set out 12 new objectives for London Underground. That requires money; and in setting out his objectives, the Minister gave no indication that the money will be available. It is no use talking about long-term and short-term planning unless money is made available. We need to have the comprehensive planning considered quickly. I hope that the noble Viscount will give the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, careful consideration.

11 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity of responding on behalf of the Government to the Question on this important issue asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, set out clearly the problems facing the Underground. I am pleased that he has also acknowledged the Government's recognition of those problems through increased investment.

London has one of the oldest underground railway systems in the world, as well as one of the largest and most complex. I agree with the noble Lord that such antiquity is a mixed blessing. Many of the Underground's essential assets, some dating from Victorian times, are now badly in need of repair and renewal. As a result, passengers are sometimes less than happy with the quality of service which they receive. The Government, I am afraid, are familiar with the kind of tales told by noble Lords this afternoon, an example was the one told by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. Today's Underground is not in perfect health. But I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords today that the prognosis is extremely positive. The Government and London Underground are already working together to bring about radical improvements to the state of the Underground system. We are committed to continuing that process of improvement, and to developing the Underground into a network capable of transporting London into the 21st century.

The Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report on the London Underground mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was published on 5th June 1991. That wide-ranging report identified significant room for improvement in the way the Underground was funded, operated and managed. London Underground took notice. The Government took notice. Following the MMC's report, three key and ongoing initiatives have been set in motion to produce the required improvements: more money from the Government for investment, better efficiency and management through London Underground's company plan, and higher standards of performance through the Government's new quality of service objectives.

Taking increased investment first, last year's Autumn Statement announced a record £3.7 billion of grant to London Transport over this and the next two years—double the amount for the previous three years. The hulk of that will be directed towards investment in the Underground. As a result of those increased resources, passengers can look forward to improvements in the areas described by noble Lords. On stations, London Underground will be embarking upon a comprehensive programme of station modernisation and refurbishment. Some of the first stations to benefit will be 10 stations on the southern branch of the Northern Line. Slightly less obvious, but essential, are the plans which are already under way for the renewal and repair of basic infrastructure such as track and tunnels.

More striking will he the refurbished trains, which noble Lords may already have seen on a number of Underground Lines. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ezra has been on one. Most passengers have reacted in similar fashion to the noble Lord when travelling on one. They are, indeed, like new. As well as all the trains on the Victoria, Circle, Hammersmith and City and Bakerloo Lines, one-quarter of the Northern Line's trains will be refurbished, along with all the stock on the Metropolitan Line—the latest contract to be let by London Underground. These trains will be safer, brighter, easier to clean and will improve the travelling environment tremendously.

I know that I have not mentioned the Central Line on which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, travels, but he has an advantage over us. My right honourable friend the Minister for Transport in London is his Member of Parliament, as well as that of the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I hope that they will gain advantages from that in the future.

Following on from this theme of the travelling environment, the noble Lord mentioned that passengers expect to be safe on the Underground. I thoroughly agree and it is a credit to efforts made by London Underground and the British Transport Police that crime on the Underground has fallen for three consecutive years, with violent crime dropping by 40 per cent. over this period.

Returning to investment, current major schemes such as the £750 million modernisation of the Central Line and the £72 million reconstruction of Angel station on the Northern Line are progressing well. The first new Central Line train was delivered in May, and part of the revamped Angel will be opening next month, with final completion in the spring. Station capacity schemes planned include Waterloo, King's Cross and Victoria, and passenger information systems, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, are to be upgraded, with the new dot matrix indicators on the Bakerloo, District and Northern Lines. The noble Lords, Lord Ezra and Lord Underhill, asked for a commitment from the Government that the level of funding announced last year will be sustained. With this year's public expenditure round under way, noble Lords will be aware that there is little I can say on the matter. However, the Government are working with the Underground to produce a strategy for the next 10 years that will bring the decent modern metro that we all want to see.

I now turn from investment in the existing network to say something about the planned investment in new lines, of which the Jubilee Line extension is an excellent example. The Government stand ready to commit £1.5 billion towards the cost of this scheme once the contribution pledged by the private sector is assured. They are prepared to make a significant commitment in recognition of the substantial benefits of the extension which, although many noble Lords will be familiar with them, I think bear repeating.

The 15.5 kilometre extension, with a planned capacity to carry 15,000 passengers in each direction in the peak hour, will provide a fast, direct link from central London to Docklands, thereby facilitating the regeneration of the area. It will, however, as the noble Lord said, do more than that. The extension will provide direct connections to the West End and west and north-west London and improve access to Waterloo and London Bridge. Moreover, it will greatly improve accessibility for those areas south of the Thames which are poorly served by public transport at present. Finally, it will relieve congestion on the roads and existing rail networks.

The Government have repeatedly made clear their commitment to the Jubilee Line extension. They have been ready to provide the sum of £1.5 billion towards the cost of the Jubilee Line extension. Olympia & York had undertaken to contribute £400 million. The Government's commitment is contingent upon this private sector contribution being honoured.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, twice this matter has arisen in the Chamber. Can the noble Viscount give us the details of the agreement by which Olympia & York gave this undertaking? I asked the question before and did not receive a satisfactory answer. The noble Viscount made the point clearly that Olympia & York undertook to pay £400 million. Can he tell us how it was done?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I was about to come to that, if the noble Lord will allow me. The Secretary of State for Transport has made clear that he sees no prospect of authorising the start of construction on the Jubilee Line extension unless and until the contributions pledged by Olympia & York are assured. Olympia & York recognises the financial advantages in its development being served by the extension. That remains the case for any subsequent owners of the property.

A schedule of terms was agreed and signed between the Government and Olympia & York in 1989. It was then for London Underground Limited and Olympia & York to work out, settle and put into a formal agreement the details of the railway which would be provided, the precise terms on which Olympia & York's contribution will be made and the rights and obligations of the respective parties. Negotiations on that formal agreement reached an advanced stage but the agreement was not concluded.

Lord Sefton of Garston

My Lords, thank you.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as we have seen this evening, there are many different views on the Jubilee Line extension. I was most interested in the proposal of a monorail made by my noble friend Lord Cross. It is a concept that is of course overground rather than underground, but I am sure it offers us food for thought.

Of course the Jubilee Line extension is not the only new line in the pipeline. There is also currently before Parliament a Bill to allow construction of Cross Rail. This new rail line, to be operated jointly by British Rail and London Transport, will provide much needed relief of congestion in central London and improve access from both the east and west. When CrossRail opens around the turn of the century it will improve the Underground railway system in and around London significantly. The proposed alignment of the Chelsea-Hackney line which would provide a link between the Wimbledon branch of the District Line and the Epping branch of the Central Line was protected in safeguarding directions issued in February 1991. The Government's position on the East London Line is quite simple: we await an appraisal from London Underground as and when it feels able to include the scheme in its investment programme.

So far I have concentrated on various aspects of London Underground's investment programme for the coming years. But I am sure that noble Lords will agree that, while it is critically important, investment alone cannot be guaranteed to deliver high quality services. London Underground itself recognised this fact in producing its company plan, alluded to by the noble Lord, which was published in November 1991. The purpose of this plan is to bring about a step change in standards of safety, quality and efficiency on the Underground network, through more flexible working practices and better service management. The plan is due to be implemented by 1995. The Government support London Underground in its efforts as a positive step towards ensuring that the resources which the taxpayer puts into the Underground system are used to best effect. For our own part, we have recently set the Underground 12 testing new quality of service objectives. These are designed to bring about improvements in areas such as peak train, escalator and lift reliability, quality of information on trains and at stations, and staff helpfulness and availability. We have pinpointed aspects of the service most important to passengers, and their views on performance in key areas will tell us how London Underground is performing—the best yardstick there could be. Over the next two years we shall be looking carefully at the Underground's progress in meeting these targets.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me about the Chelsea-Hackney line. I cannot give any commitment as to when that line will be built: it will depend essentially on when it can be afforded, although there are also issues of public disruption and the construction industry's capacity to be taken into account when we consider the timing of mega-projects. In the meantime, though, safeguarding will ensure that the route is protected.

In the light of these three strands—increased investment, the Company Plan and performance targets—I am confident that more is being done than perhaps ever before to bring London Underground up to the standard that people expect and deserve. I hope that, on the basis of what I have said this evening, noble Lords will feel more able to share my confidence.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes past eleven o'clock.