HC Deb 29 March 1985 vol 76 cc379-82W
Mr. Pawsey

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list his Department's principal achievements since 1979.

Mr. Ridley

The Government have increased competition in transport to promote better services to customers and greater efficiency.

The 1980 Transport Act deregulated the long distance express coach market, leading to a substantial number of new coach services and reduction in fares. The Public Transport Bill will remove restrictions on competition in the provision of local bus services throughout Great Britain (except for the time being in London) while maintaining standards of safety. The structure of the bus industry will be changed, including the privatisation of the NBC, to remove the dominance of very large public sector operators and to allow competitors an opportunity to enter the market. These proposals will end 50 years of protection and reverse the decline of the bus industry.

The Civil Aviation Act 1980 required the Civil Aviation Authority to give greater emphasis to competition between British airlines and to give users' interests equal ranking with those of airlines. The White Paper, "Airline Competition Policies", underlines the Government's commitment to this policy and the promotion of a sound and competitive multi-airline industry in Britain. We have obtained the agreement of the overseas countries concerned so that British Caledonian's exchange of routes with British Airways can go ahead on 31 March. As a result, British Caledonian will be strengthened and will be better placed to exploit new opportunities. We have also encouraged the development of services at our regional airports; Manchester in particular is becoming a major hub for both domestic and international services, with 17 new routes opening this year, including New York and Hong Kong. The Government have welcomed the Civil Aviation Authority's proposals for liberalising domestic services which, on many domestic routes, should enable airlines to operate in a virtually free market.

We have carried forward our commitment to the liberalisation of air services within Europe. We welcomed the adoption by the Council of Ministers of the directive on scheduled inter-regional air services although we regretted its limited scope. The Council has now agreed guidelines which, although not as liberal as we hoped, should allow further useful European Community measures to be adopted before too long. In the meantime, we have negotiated with the Netherlands new bilateral arrangements which are by far the most liberal in Europe. This and liberal arrangements we have recently negotiated with the Federal Republic of Germany and Luxembourg are already leading to improved services, lower fares and increased travel. We have secured routes from London to several major European destinations for a second United Kingdom carrier and have opened up the London-Hong Kong route to British Caledonian and Cathay Pacific in addition to the existing British Airways service.

In other discussions within Europe, the Government have been pursuing vigorously their commitment to liberalise road freight. The European Community has agreed to double the existing quota by 1989 and to work towards the elimination of quota restrictions. We have also achieved significant increases in permits in other bilateral discussions. The Government are continuing to pursue their policy that world shipping markets should be kept open to competition. In particular, we are taking a leading role in the efforts to secure an agreement between the consultative shipping group countries and the United States on competitive access to each other's ocean shipping trades; we will be striving within the European Community to achieve a liberalisation of the internal shipping market on the basis of proposals put forward by the Commission and we will soon be acceding to the United Nations code of conduct for liner conferences in the context of the Community Brussels package.

We have substantially extended opportunities for the private sector within the transport field. The National Freight Corporation was sold in 1982 to a consortium of its own managers and employees and is now operating more profitably. Associated British Ports has also made a good start in the private sector. We have sold 37 our of 38 English motorway service area leases, earning £50 million and leading to better, more compeitive services to motorists. British Rail's hotel, ferry and hovercraft activities have all been privatised, and more than £300 million of non-operational property has been sold. Legislation has been passed to privatise British Airways. In 1981 the design and supervision work on motorway and trunk road schemes worth over £2,000 million was transferred to private firms of consulting engineers and work on further schemes valued at over £700 million has since been placed with private firms.

The Government have encouraged a more competitive approach and greater efficiency within the public transport industries. In October 1983 we gave the chairman of the Railways Board clear and realistic objectives for his business. These included achieving a reduction of over 20 per cent. in real terms in the requirement for PSO grant by 1986 while providing attractive and reliable services to customers; we also made clear that we did not wish BR to embark on a programme of major route closures. With our encouragement, BR has established a firm policy on competitive tendering; and it has also drawn up criteria for assessing proposals for the introduction of competition for the provision of support services to the railway.

The London Regional Transport Act has established a better organisation for public transport in London. I have given the chairman of LRT objectives for his business including more attractive bus and underground services; involvement of other public and private operators; and improving value for money for passengers, ratepayers and taxpayers. I have set a tough but realistic financial target to halve revenue subsidy by 1987–88. The successful drive on efficiency by the new board of LRT has already resulted in a planned reduction in revenue support for 1985–86 by some £60 million, allowing increased investment while holding the ratepayer levy to some £50 million less than the amount of the GLC's budgeted grants to LRT in 1984–85. I have approved the formation of LRT's operating companies—London Bus Limited (LBL) and London Underground Limited (LUL)—which commence trading on 1 April 1985. Better co-ordination between LRT's and British Rail's services for London is being achieved.

The Transport Act 1983 requires PTEs to invite tenders for operation of any service or ancillary function where suitable, and under other provisions of the Act we have issued statutory guidance to the metropolitan county councils on the level of public transport revenue support so helping to protect ratepayers from unreasonably high public transoprt subsidies.

We have approved investment to improve services to the travelling public. Since 1979, BR has invested some £2 billion plus about £100 million each year installing continuous welded rail. Major schemes authorised by the Government include the electrification of the ECML and new builds of locomotives, coaching stock, and multiple units. Capital investment by LRT has been increased by some £45 million in 1985–86. An extension of LRT's Piccadilly line to Heathrow terminal 4 is under construction, as is the Docklands light railway costing some £77 million. We have approved the construction and financing of new passenger terminals and other improvements at Heathrow and Gatwick airports; we have also maintained a high level of provision for capital investment at regional airports.

Progress with the motorway and trunk road construction programme has been very good. The spending cuts in the programme made by the last Labour Administration have been reversed; expenditure is now running at 30 per cent. in real terms above the level in 1979. We have completed more than 480 miles of new national roads, including some 200 miles of motorway, and renewed to modern standards the equivalent of 380 miles of older motorway. Priority has been given to the completion of the M25; the final contracts have been let and the road is on target for completion in 1986. Schemes bypassing 145 towns and villages have been completed and a further 150 bypass schemes are now either under construction or in earlier stages of preparation. Important steps have been taken to promote competition in road construction and maintenance. Fee competition for consultants has been introduced and competition on time taken on site added to price competition for motorway maintenance schemes as an experiment.

We have also given generous support to local authority spending on roads. Transport supplementary grant has been turned into a capital-only grant for roads expenditure; the 1985–86 settlement covered £320 million of accepted expenditure including 289 major schemes.

We have taken action to help elderly and disabled people and to draw attention to their transport needs. In May 1983, my Department organised the mobility road show, a motor show for disabled people, which gave them an opportunity to test drive a wide range of cars. A second mobility road show is to be held later this year.

Good progress has been made in safety and environmental protection. We have introduced a package of measures to improve the safety of the heavy lorry, to make it less environmentally intrusive and to improve its efficiency so minimising the number of lorry journeys. In 1979 and 1984 we introduced noise certification orders giving effect to the latest agreed ICAO aircraft noise certification standards. This policy has contributed to the progressive phasing out by airline operators of non-complying jet aeroplanes and their replacement with quieter ones resulting in a real improvement in the noise climate around United Kingdom airports. We have improved motor cycle training and testing, brought in a new penalty points system for motoring offences, and improved the safety of children in cars. Following a vote in this House we have introduced compulsory front seat belt wearing. We have improved the enforcement of parking regulations and introduced a streamlined and more effective procedure to deal with drinking and driving offences. I have recently announced a review of road traffic law.