HL Deb 01 December 1998 vol 595 cc355-7

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How fare rises of up to 16.7 per cent. on London Transport further their policies on combating global warming and encouraging brownfield development.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the overall package of revised fares amounts to an average increase of 4.5 per cent.—1 per cent. above the rate of inflation. No single Underground or bus fare will rise by more than 10 pence. Fares income provides a steady source of revenue for London Transport to allow it to invest in the system and to improve services to passengers. This will encourage public transport use which in turn will contribute towards our broader objectives for the environment and sustainable development.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for his reply does he accept that the average which he cites conceals a 10 per cent. rise for a zone 1 travelcard and a 16.7 per cent. rise for a short hop bus fare? Does the noble Lord agree that Londoners have borne price increases over the past 15 years of 50 per cent. in real terms while motoring costs have fallen? How does that provide an incentive for Londoners to leave their cars at home and use public transport and thus achieve the goal of cutting carbon dioxide emissions? Further, how does it provide an incentive to people to reside in London and not to move out and cause greenfield development which spoils the countryside?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the shift to public transport that we need to achieve in London will comprise a package of measures, including the improvement of London Transport services which requires investment and funds. It is true that within that package some increases are significantly higher than 4.5 per cent. That is the average increase. There are some areas—for example, the carnet of 10 zone 1 tickets—where prices will be frozen to encourage commitment to the long-term use of the Underground system. As to the encouragement of people to move out, I am not sure that a 10 pence increase in Underground fares will encourage people to go and live in Reigate.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will the noble Lord draw to the attention of London Transport the track problems that affected the Circle Line yesterday? Will he ascertain from LT its long-term plans to improve the southern section of the Circle Line where there is intense competition between at least three or four lines?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, essentially those are operational problems for the management of London Transport. However, I shall make inquiries about the noble Lord's point in relation to the Circle Line. Our strategy is to provide additional investment for London Transport which has been so sadly neglected in recent decades.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to additional investment in London Transport. Can the Minister say what is to happen after 2000, or whenever the mayor of London takes over responsibility for London Transport, when I understand that all government subsidy will cease? Will the future burden then rest upon the London fare-payer or ratepayer? Many people believe that all of the extra money that the Government have offered to London Transport so far will be used to complete the Jubilee Line extension.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, noble Lords will be aware that the Government are looking to a public-private partnership. London Transport is considering that matter at the moment and is due to report shortly to my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister. No decision on the situation beyond 2000 will be made before that report is considered. As regards fare income, clearly that will make a contribution towards the investment programme, but there will also be a need for new funds, which is what the PPP discussions are all about.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I declare an interest in asking the Minister whether he is aware that one of the factors that encourages travellers to use cars instead of the Underground is the increasing unreliability of the service. Is he aware that major tube breakdowns are no longer regularly reported even in the Evening Standard? But does he agree that in this case no news is bad news?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I certainly agree that an increase in the number of breakdowns is bad news and that London Transport has an obligation to address that problem. To do so requires a long-term investment programme which the Government will back.

Lord Blackwell

My Lords, the Minister refers to public-private partnership and the creation of money for investment. The noble Lord may remember that the former government proposed to raise over £1 billion by selling the assets of London Transport and re-investing that money in better services. Unless the Government have better proposals, will they reconsider that proposition?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Deputy Prime Minister and his colleagues considered that proposition and drew the conclusion that the way they are proceeding would be the better approach in terms of mobilising funds and delivering the service to Londoners.

Baroness Ludford

My Lords, the Minister jokes about people having an incentive to move out to Reigate. Does the noble Lord accept that the whole quality of life is important in London? It is important to ensure that our towns and cities are good places in which to live and that we keep cities dense and do not spoil the countryside by unnecessary new development.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness to that extent. She will know that we would not wish to spoil the countryside by engaging in substantial development, in particular in the crowded areas of the south-east.