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Column 960to build the system. If they wish to raise £300 million to £400 million the gross figure involved in property speculation in Bristol would be astronomical. That could have a profound effect on the city and its future development, raising difficult questions such as the development of green field sites and the green belt on the edge of the city. If that happened local and district plans would be breached. It is unreasonable to propose a project that raises all those questions without giving a clear understanding about how it will work.
We have asked whether the company can confirm that £14 million of public money will be sought in the construction of the No. 1 plan. Can the company say whether the money is being sought in Government grants that will not involve a contribution from the local highways authority? Can it also confirm that no local authority funding will be required for the costing and operation of the railway in future? If the company is not seeking public subsidy to meet the operating costs of the railway, it must know that its proposal is an international rarity. The subsidy that is usually required for the operation of light railways tends to be high. How can this company justify its proposals in relation to the studies that it has undertaken in Avon, including full ridership and revenue studies on a best and worst scenario?
We have asked many detailed questions, not because we want the company to tell us where the money is coming from, as we can understand the concept of commercial confidentiality, but this company seems to be unable to understand the ways in which it could tell us firmly that is has the money to complete the entire network. The advice given to me by experts shows that the first part of the system means nothing on its own, and it must be taken as part of an integrated transport network in the city.
I commented earlier on certain development problems, including the contravention of the green belt and other planning policies. We have asked the company frequently to explain clearly how the proposed land enhancement will work, how the land value will be liberated to pay for the project and its possible effects on the future of Bristol's environment. Bristol is a beautiful city and intends to stay that way. While I represent one of its constituencies, I shall certainly fight the proposal to allow unfettered property development across the city, whether or not it provides a free addition to our transport network. The price is too high for us to pay.
There has been rumour upon rumour about how the company would be financed. At the beginning we were told that it would be done by a rail consortium. Then we found that the consortium was just one railway enthusiast, who claimed to speak on behalf of many people, but did not. That scheme fell by the wayside. Next, we were told that the finance would be raised through loans, then grants, and then a combination of loans and grants. Then we returned to the idea of land enhancement. Now we are considering a proposal by this new company. It is unsatisfactory to proceed in this way in an area as crucial as public transport.
We sent the proposals to Mr. Barry J. Simpson, who is our main expert adviser, and who has given me support and advice. He is a planning and transport consultant and has done national and international comparisons of this kind of scheme. We asked him for his opinions on the proposals, which give us the most up-to-date information.
Column 961The company does reply to letters and provides some information, and we have regular discussions about the matter.
On traffic congestion, Mr. Simpson says that the revenue implications of the number of people the company expects to use the system is on the low side compared with other systems and that that makes the cost very suspicious. All other urban rail systems with that kind of ridership level- -that is, the number of people who decide to leave their cars and go on the trams instead--require heavy public subsidy. He goes on to say that evidence from other light rail networks shows that a light rail system by itself does not have a significant effect on road traffic congestion. While some motorists are persuaded to use the rail instead of their cars, other car users seem to replace them ; perhaps other members of the family use the car which has been left at home. Some cities, such as Marseilles, which has had a metro system of this type since 1977, still have terrible traffic congestion, and others, such as Gothenburg, Bremen and Munich, have used light rail as an opportunity to address a whole series of measures relating to traffic restraint and the environment.
It requires an integrated, co-ordinated response by all concerned with the provision of public transport to solve the problem of congestion and that certainly applies to the city of Bristol. That means co-ordination between the city council, the county council, the company promoting the Bill, the bus companies, British Rail and organisations such as the Civic Society, Cities for People, Cycle Bag and Transport 2000.
Those various organisations must meet and work out an integrated, complementary system of buses, car restraint, trams and pedestrianisation. Having done that, they should bring forward proposals of a similar nature to the Tyne and Wear system and others that have been shown to be successful. The House would then probably give a speedy passage to the enabling measure. But that has not happened in this case.
The evidence is that other networks of this type have not made a significant difference to traffic congestion. The company has continually been asked to substantiate its claim that traffic congestion would be solved by the scheme. It has not done that. Various questions about technical evaluation need to be asked, but time does not permit me to do that. However, I point out that we are talking of a system that runs on roads when it goes through the city and on overhead cables with gantries. We must note clearly the implications, including the construction time, the traffic disruption during construction, the frequency of running and what would happen if this private company decided at any stage that it no longer wished to run a private metro system in the city of Bristol.
Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend believe that the local authorities' reservations about the project arise because of the method of financing the construction by bank borrowing, as explained in the Bill? For example, if the company overreached itself and was forced into liquidation, perhaps after interfering with highways to facilitate construction, the local authorities would have to pick up the bill and bring the highways back into proper use.
Column 962local authorities, might have to take over the scheme or remove the whole system from the roads of Bristol. My hon. Friend has raised one of many technical problems that I do not have time to develop. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare spoke of employment, and in that connection one must consider the question of safety. As the hon. Member pointed out, the company will not run the system. It will be licensed to other operators and part of that contract will include a percentage of profit--we understand 5 to 10 per cent.--that will go directly to the holding company, ATA, to pay off its bank loan. So the operators will have to make a profit for themselves, pay their workers and pay a subsidy, a direct payment, to ATA.
I asked the company for its criteria in those licences so that I could see what measures were involved. It sent me vehicle specifications for the trams. Interesting though vehicle specifications are, they do not form the basis for criteria on the very serious considerations of who is entitled to operate a system and under what guidelines they will be expected so to do. We have seen many problems caused by the pursuit of profit affecting safety on public transport only too recently, and we know full well that there is a very delicate balance between making something economically viable and spending the money that is necessary to make it safe for the public.
I heard the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare say on the radio this morning that this project would create 2,000 jobs. I think that the Labour party will win the next general election, but Conservative members do not agree with me. Just because I say it does not make it true, and just because the hon. Gentleman says without proof or detail that 2,000 jobs might be created does not make it a reality, and it plays on the fears and worries of people who are desperate for work to suggest that this scheme would at a sweep create 2,000 jobs and that the only reason they have not got them is because I have the audacity to try to question the company on its intentions, its backers and its security.
A private company is being given the status of a public transport executive with compulsory purchase powers and all the other powers of a public transport executive. That is very important. We need to look carefully at whom Parliament gives the authority to run public transport and to make sure that nothing is left to chance. I am not saying that the company is not capable of running the scheme ; I am saying is that it needs to answer some questions before we can form an intelligent judgment on whether it can run the scheme. The safety arguments are linked to the accountability arguments, and it is vital that all the details of the scheme are in the public domain so that they can be properly discussed and considered. If the company's finances are unclear and the project goes ahead with tightly drawn financial criteria, it will not always be possible to guarantee safety, and we should be aware of that before we give the authority to proceed.
As I said earlier, international research shows that light rapid transit systems need greater public finance, both capital and revenue, or private finance and are more expensive than any other type of public transport system. We may be prepared to pay that price because we believe the system is superior to buses, and certainly there is a strong environmental argument about lead pollution and the problems of the city of Bristol to support that.
Column 963We are talking about establishing that accountability and control from the beginning. Parliament cannot make a decision on behalf of the people of Bristol about this scheme until we have all the information from the company and until the people of Bristol have had an opportunity to comment on all the consequences of this Bill. It is undeniable that Bristol's traffic congestion is appalling and that light rapid transit systems may well be part of the solution, but we must be sure that the traffic problem is not inadvertently made worse by our supporting a scheme that has not been properly worked out.
The company has initiated discussions with various authorities. It is unfortunate and regrettable that the local authorities have not done that before in moving forward, unlike other local authorities. There are many reasons for that, but I shall not go into those now. There is no short cut for deciding matters of public transport. Parliament must have the relevant information. It is legitimate for us to ask for that. Hon. Members should not face a barrage of misrepresentation and abuse. I have been told that if the Bill fails I will be to blame for Bristol's appalling traffic problems. Such accusations should be firmly rejected by the House. We should say that, while wanting to solve Bristol's traffic problems, we will not be bounced into a shoddy decision simply because something sounds like a good idea. Therefore, I ask the House to vote against the Bill.
This is one of a number of private Bills providing for new light railway systems, or modern tramways, in our major cities. Light rail has many potential advantages--for example, faster speeds than buses where segregated from other vehicles, but with the flexibility to go on-street and to cope with gradients and curves beyond the capacity of conventional railways.
Therefore, we welcome the way in which transport planners in many urban areas are now examining what light rail has to offer. It can bring considerable benefits, as it has done in the case of the docklands light railway. Parliament has already legislated for the Manchester MetroLink project, which was promoted by the Greater Manchester passenger travel executive.
Now Advanced Transport for Avon is seeking to take an important new step-- the initiation as well as the development of a light railway by a private company. It is expecting finance from the improvement in land values which rail access would bring.
In principle, the Bill is acceptable to the Government, and we have no points outstanding on it.
The Department of Transport provided finance for the docklands light railway and we have said that the Manchester MetroLink is likely to be eligible for grant. Advanced Transport for Avon has not applied for grant. If it does so, we shall look at its case on its merits. I cannot forecast the outcome of that tonight.
We welcome the private sector initiative on which the project is based. That accords closely with the
Column 964Government's wish to see the private sector involved to the greatest possible extent in the efficient provision of public transport. I hope that we shall see more such proposals before long. I should add that we are satisfied with the railway's safety aspects as proposed in the Bill.
There are a number of petitioners against the Bill, and if their petitions are pursued they will have the opportunity to present their objections to the Select Committee. The Committee will be in a much better position than we are tonight to examine in detail the issues involved and it will have the added advantage of having expert evidence.
Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading to allow it to proceed in the usual way to Committee for detailed consideration of the issues involved.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : I listened with interest to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo). She rightly said that similar Bills now before the House have been put forward by passenger transport executives. Understandably, she talked of the need for an intetrated and co-ordinated transport system in Bristol. I agree with her, but, regrettably, under the present Administration such integration and co-ordination is anathema. Each system is supposed to compete one with another--a transport mode unique in the western world and one that is already causing considerable problems in London as in other cities, which, if allowed to continue unchecked, will presumably cause the sort of problems in Bristol outlined by my hon. Friend. There are four outstanding petitions against the Bill. I checked earlier today and found that there is still an outstanding point in the petition presented by Avon county council, but it is hoped that it will be resolved, thus rendering it unnecessary for the county council to take the petition before the Opposed Private Bill Committee. There are some outstanding problems that affect British Rail, especially about running rights for existing, virtually disused railway lines and their possible use for rail freight traffic at night. Again, it is hoped that those difficulties will be resolved before a petition is taken to the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South will know better than I about the detailed and protracted negotiations that have taken place with Bristol city council. Certain offers have been made and certain assurances have been given to the city council, which will be considered. The one other outstanding petitioner is a private steel stockholding company. It was originally offered an alternative site, which it accepted. Evidently, some difficulties with that site arose and an alternative has now been offered. Negotiations are taking place at present.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South discussed the problem of railway safety. That is uppermost in our minds when we remember the Clapham accident before Christmas. It is not for me to give my hon. Friend any assurances about that, and she will be aware that the responsibility for safety on the Avon system, as on any other railway system in the United Kingdom, will lie with the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport.
Mr. Snape : The Minister says that responsibility will lie with the operator, so it seems that the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport will have no part to play in safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South is right, therefore, to express her fears and concerns ; I should also express them officially on behalf of the Opposition. It has always been the custom for the railways inspectorate of the Department of Transport--or the Board of Trade before that--to be responsible, in any railway system, for overseeing the railway and seeing that safety regulations are in place and are carried out.
Mr. Portillo indicated assent.
It is a pity that these matters--with which my hon. Friend has dealt so ably and thoroughly--were not debated and decided before Third Reading. Had they been, we might have been deprived of my hon. Friend's speech, but the Bill might have received a fairer wind. It remains to be seen whether the outstanding points to which I referred can be resolved before the Bill is considered by the Committee. I hope that they will be resolved and although, like my hon. Friend, I feel that it would have been infinitely preferable for public accountability to be involved in the Avon system, we are stuck whether we like it or not--and of course, we do not--with a Government who have a crazy ideology that states that every mode of transport must compete against the others.
Provided that the petitioners can be reassured, it seems that within the narrow parameters of that ideology a start will at least be made on a new transport system for the Bristol area. Given the amount of congestion in that city, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that an initiative-- perhaps a more detailed and integrated initiative than the present one--is essential. However, perhaps we should put up with the half loaf that we have instead of having the proper system that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, myself, and all Opposition Members at least would like to see. 9.54 pm
If a Bill is presented to this House, it should be correctly worded so that we can understand it. Parts of the Bill frighten me in so far as they relate to protecting individuals against legislation of this nature. Clause 14 states :
"The Company may"--
that word "may" is very important ; indeed, I almost take "may" as being the opposite to "must"--
"at its own expense, subject as hereinafter provided, underpin or otherwise strengthen any house or building within 30 metres of any of the authorised works, and for this purpose the following provisions shall have effect :-- ".
that the company may underpin houses, buildings or factories if it so desires. It may be right or it may be wrong to do so.
However, the worst part of these provisions for any individual who may be a houseowner are contained in subsection (c), which states : "If any owner, lessee or occupier of any such house or building, shall, within 10 days after the giving of such notice,
Column 966give a counter-notice in writing that he disputes the necessity of such underpinning or strengthening, the question of the necessity shall be settled by arbitration".
I repeat that only 10 days are given. How many hon. Members go on holiday for more than 10 days? I should think that the answer is many. I have gone on holiday many times for 12 days. If the Bill is to be seriously considered, we must consider the importance of giving a poor house owner only 10 days to answer the notice. The house owner might go to the beautiful Yorkshire coast of Scarborough for a fortnight's holiday, but this subsection means that he has no chance to appeal. The work will go ahead and his house will be underpinned, or anything that the company desires may happen, because the clause states "may".
The Bill is wrongly worded. It may have passed certain rules of the House and some examination, but on balance, I should not like to think that somebody might underpin my house within a period of just 10 days when I might be in Scarborough on a fortnight's holiday. I should be terribly hurt on my return and, being a Yorkshire lad, I might even lose my temper. The consequence would most probably be that the chap who underpinned the house would end up on the floor and I would end up in court. I should not like that to happen to anybody.
No hon. Member, of whatever political party, should accept such limiting wording. Indeed, many Conservative Members go away for three months' holiday. If they went away for that length of time, they might return to find their houses underpinned or even pulled down, without knowing anything about it.
However, it would be too late for them to do anything about it because it would have been done under an Act of Parliament. If that happened, those Conservative Members would come crying to us, saying, "We should have voted with you. We should not have allowed the Bill to go through."
Let us be fair if a Bill of this description is introduced, it should at least be written so that everybody has a reasonable chance to object, through the law of the land, to the decisions that are made in this House. That subsection is absolutely wicked. If we consider the Bill further, we come to clause 18 which deals with the extinction of private rights of way. I know that many Conservative Members and many of my hon. Friends do a tremendous amount of walking. It is a great sport in this country to go hiking with one's wife or family and to enjoy being in the countryside. There are ways of protecting the countryside under certain Acts, but this Bill will take away the right to go walking in the countryside and to push a pram down the highway. That cannot be right ; it is almost immoral to take away the right of people to go strolling in the countryside, but this Bill would do that.
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Motion made, and Question put.
That, at this day's sitting, the Avon Light Rail Transit Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
The House divided : Ayes 182, Noes 57.
Division No. 49] [10 pm
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Column 967Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bevan, David Gilroy
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Boscawen, Hon Robert
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Browne, John (Winchester)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon John
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Fishburn, John Dudley
Fookes, Dame Janet
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fox, Sir Marcus
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodhart, Sir Philip
Gower, Sir Raymond
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Maude, Hon Francis
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Miller, Sir Hal
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Mitchell, Sir David
Moynihan, Hon Colin
Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Patten, Chris (Bath)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Sackville, Hon Tom
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Skeet, Sir Trevor
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Steel, Rt Hon David
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townend, John (Bridlington)