HL Deb 18 April 1995 vol 563 cc382-4

2.47 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to London Underground's statement, in presenting their annual plan on 16th March, that passengers are likely to be faced with a "patch and mend" service unless there is additional funding over the next five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Government's current funding plans for London Transport should allow London Underground to make significant progress towards improving the overall state of the network as well as maintaining or enhancing existing levels of service. London Transport's corporate plan for the next five years will be carefully considered as part of the process of determining future levels of government grant.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, does the noble Viscount recall that for 1992–93 the Government committed themselves to core expenditure on the London Underground of around £600 million per annum but that in every year since then that has been progressively cut until the forecast for 1997–98 in the last financial statement is no more than £368 million? Will he accept that while London Underground, through good management, is self-financing itself to an increasing degree every year it is still about £100 million per annum short of what is required adequately to maintain and refurbish the system? In view of the fact that that could lead to serious inconvenience to the travelling public at a time when more and more people are using the Underground, will the Government think again?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, in my original Answer I said that the Government believe that the existing level of funding was sufficient not only to allow London Underground to maintain its existing levels of service, but also to make inroads into the investment backlog. It is important to realise that spending on London Underground has been extremely high and that investment over the past three years has been at a higher level than at any time in the previous two decades.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the service provided by London Underground is very much appreciated by the Royal British Legion, particularly for those men and women—I hope that this is not a laughing matter among Conservatives—who were badly wounded in the last war, many of whom were crippled for life? They admire the London Underground service. If there are to be any radical changes, perhaps along the lines outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, can consideration please be given to discussions with senior officers of the Royal British Legion?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely important point. We of course realise how much the service is valued by all those who visit London. There are no radical changes planned and the noble Lord's remarks, as ever, will be taken fully into consideration.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, can a special gram be given to London Underground to enable them to employ someone who knows how to make escalators work and to keep on working?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, my understanding is that considerable sums are spent on keeping those escalators working.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that it is not only the travelling public who are suffering from these enormous delays, but that there is also planning blight? Routes have to be established otherwise vast numbers of people are unable to change their houses, by selling and moving, while this matter is under debate.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the Question here essentially concerns the level of investment in London Underground services, which we have discussed. I said that we believe that funding is fully adequate for inroads to be made not only into the investment backlog but for existing services to be maintained. We shall take my noble friend's remarks about planning blight fully into consideration.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his somewhat complacent observations fail to lake into account the fact that a great deal of the investment has been introduced in order to meet the requirements of the Fennell Report into the King's Cross disaster and that, even so, the situation has fallen short of what the Government promised? How does the Minister square what he said with the warnings given by the Health and Safety Executive about speed restrictions due to maintenance work clearly affecting safety and also the mobility of the people of London?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, we are in no way complacent about the London Underground service. Safety remains the highest priority and London Underground will not operate an unsafe service.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, how does the Minister equate what he said with the observations of the Health and Safety Executive, which has warned about speed restrictions because of maintenance work that is necessary due to inadequate investment?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, last year's settlement makes adequate provision for essential investment to ensure that safety is in no way jeopardised.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware of numerous reports about the risk of water getting into London Underground? In particular, has he looked recently at the westbound Metropolitan Line tunnel out of Baker Street? My noble friend's Question relics on the statement which, perhaps optimistically, uses the words, "patch and mend." What do we do when the patch will not mend?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I believe that the only answer is to replace. Our investment in London Underground has been, as I said, extremely substantial. When essential maintenance needs to be done then, of course, it must be done. It is not possible to cure decades of investment backlog overnight at the stroke of a pen. We are making substantial progress in curing that backlog. I believe that the service is improving.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, will the Minister accept that it is difficult to reconcile his view that spending on London Underground is now at an adequate level with the fact that most people travelling on London Underground regard the service as plain lousy? Is it not a fact that travellers on London Underground realise that there are daily delays caused by signal failure, train breakdown, points failure, escalators and lifts breaking down and that what was once the best Underground service in the world is now rapidly becoming one of the worst?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, of course I agree that there are infrastructure problems with the London Underground system. However, the level of investment which we have set for current and future years allows significant progress to be made. That must be the essential point.

Lord Rix

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 10 days ago London Underground, London Transport and MENCAP launched a video called "Use of the Tube for people with learning disabilities" which we hope is going to be of great use? Can the Minister assure the House that the level of training for staff on London Underground to help people with disabilities is at a high level?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, training is of course extremely important. We welcome the noble Lord's description of his initiative with MENCAP and London Underground. It is extremely important that disabled people should be able to travel properly on the London Underground system.