HL Deb 06 December 1993 vol 550 cc746-8

3.2 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take to prevent breakdowns on London Underground due to ageing plant and equipment.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, responsibility for the maintenance operation of the Underground network lies with the management of London Underground Ltd.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that it is estimated that there are some 30 years of underspending on the Underground to be overcome in order to make the service reliable and efficient? In those circumstances, was it not a little unwise for the proposed investment in the Underground to be cut by something like one-third last autumn? Do the Government realise that, in the antiquated state of the infrastructure that presently serves the Underground, further breakdowns are almost inevitable, causing inconvenience, disruption and possible accidents? Is that not a matter that the Government should take seriously into account?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we do take the matter most seriously into account. That is why in the next three years some £3 billion will be spent by London Transport on investment. That is 10 times more than in a three-year period under the last Labour Government.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, how can the Minister give that appalling reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra; namely, that London Transport is the responsibility of London Transport, or words to that effect? Has he not heard that 5,000 to 6,000 Londoners were walking through mud and water to get to safety? Does he realise that people's confidence in London Underground is now diminishing? Will he agree that ultimately the safety of people travelling on London Underground or anywhere else in the United Kingdom must rest with our Parliament? That is why the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, put his Question to the Minister. Will he now endeavour—it will be a big endeavour—to give a straightforward, honest reply?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord surprises me. I answered the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. The reasons why the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, couched his Question in those terms are entirely a matter for the noble Lord. Obviously, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, knows the noble Lord's mind. As always, safety will be a top priority, and LUL will not run an unsafe service. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, would be the first to say that £3 billion over the next three years is a lot of money, and a great deal more than has been put in before.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, the Minister referred to what happened under the last Labour Government. I can tell him that the trains ran on time very satisfactorily, unlike today. The Government carry responsibility for the tragic circumstances in which the Tube system finds itself. Will the Minister agree that spending money in the future will not solve the problem, and that something must he done now?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, there has been a steadily increasing profile of expenditure under the Conservative Government since they came to power in 1979. That is why investment will be at record levels.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, would it be possible to persuade London Underground to spend all its available resources on restoring the quality of the equipment of its current services and to cut out expansions?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, London Underground will be spending some £1¾ billion on existing services, and that includes refurbishing the Central Line, which will be completed in the not too distant future. Fifty per cent. of the electrical faults at present suffered by London Underground are on the Central Line. That is why that line is being tackled first and as a priority.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, is the Minister aware that this morning at three Underground stations I encountered five escalators that were not working, including one at Embankment, which involved a very long climb, an occupation that is totally unsuitable for an elderly Peer? I do not know what the official statistics show about keeping up to the standards laid down by the Government, but my impression is that conditions get worse rather than better. The Government must presumably be interested in the impact that that must have upon our foreign visitors. Can the Minister say whether it is the result of shortage of money, or whether we are not very good at making machinery?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord suffered the problems that he did this morning; my sympathy lies with people who are not Peers who also suffered the same difficulty. I do not have the figures with regard to escalators; but I can say with regard to lifts that the target for 1993–94 was a 92 per cent. service, and the current performance is 91.3 per cent. I remember answering exactly the same Question from my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter some years ago. What I do know is that the service has improved considerably and we shall continue to set high standards for London Underground.

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