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Column 819

Turner, Dennis

Vaz, Keith

Wall, Pat

Wallace, James

Waller, Gary

Walley, Joan

Wareing, Robert N.

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)

Wigley, Dafydd

Wilson, Brian

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Worthington, Tony

Wray, Jimmy

Young, David (Bolton SE)

Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. Harry Barnes and

Mr. Dave Nellist.

Question accordingly negatived.

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Opposition Day

[4th Allotted Day]


4.40 pm

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : I beg to move, That this House expresses its deep concern at the transport tragedies of the last two years of the Herald of Free Enterprise', King's Cross, Clapham, Lockerbie and the M1 air disaster ; condemns the Government's failure to invest in an integrated transport policy, which has created an unprecedented level of congestion in all modes of transport, has increased fare levels and produced a poorer quality of service in public passenger transport, has reduced safety standards and heightened concern for personal security, especially amongst women ; calls for an urgent inquiry into the Government's failure to ensure either that the nation is able to take full advantage of the economic and social benefits of the Channel Tunnel or that environmental concerns are protected ; and believes that the Government's policies of deregulation, privatisation and reduced public spending have met Treasury requirements but have also produced one of the worst transport systems of any developed economy, placing an ever increasing burden on both British industry and the travelling public who feel less secure and pay more for a poorer service, and that these problems have been worsened by a Department of Transport that does not believe in a public transport system and is inept in administering its responsibilities.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Before we begin the debate, I must announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Prescott : Transport debates like today's are normally called by the Opposition because the Government have provided no time for them. The making of the White Paper statement today was, I believe, a parliamentary tactic, reducing the time available to discuss the Government's record. I admit that such tactics are not unique to Tory Governments : Labour Governments have been known to do the same. Both parties, in such circumstances, do not wish to debate the issue that is to follow--in the present instance, the Government's record on transport. Again, the Government are attempting in their amendment to the motion to blame their Labour predecessors--after 10 years in office.

As well as the White Paper, our motion has produced a number of measures. The London Underground has responded to the Fennell report on underground safety. It was announced today that a freight integration centre is to be built in the Yorkshire-Humberside area in connection with the Channel tunnel, and I was told on the telephone last night of a new initiative by the Secretary of State to bring in yellow stickers advising air passengers of the part that they can play in improving safety. We can at least say that we have contributed to obtaining more information from the Government for today's debate.

Perhaps the most astounding development has been the report in The Independent today that tolls are to be introduced, despite the claim by the Secretary of State at Question Time that he did not believe in them. That may still be the case, but The Independent seemed very sure of

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its sources, and reported that he had been calling loudly in Cabinet for the return of private financing. Perhaps we shall learn his true stance this afternoon.

Our motion reflects the sad decline in what was once recognised worldwide as a good integrated public transport system, implemented by various Governments. Today we have increasing congestion, increasing fare levels and increasing violence, against the background of a reduction in quality and choice and lower safety standards. After 10 years of Tory ideology, a commitment to privatisation, competition, deregulation and massive cuts in public financial support have produced nightmare travel conditions and increasing insecurity in cars, trains, buses and planes. A decade of Tory rule and Tory policies has produced what last night's "World in Action" programme described as a national scandal. I think that anyone using public transport today will identify with that term, and with the description of the London transport system as a European black spot.

Unfortunately, we can only expect the position to worsen, despite all the Secretary of State's rhetoric and the plans that he has announced over the past couple of weeks. Certainly the possibility of Cabinet changes concentrates the minds and statements of various Secretaries of State. [Interruption.] If we are to accept that what the Secretary of State does is associated with his future, I am bound to say that he is more concerned for that future than for the travelling public.

Even if the Government's rhetoric and promises are accepted, their proposals will not deal with the growth in the transport system that we anticipate by the end of the century. It is predicted that the number of cars will increase by at least 25 per cent., lorry movements by 15 per cent. and London peak demand by 20 per cent. All the proposals in the central London rail study will at most deal with the growth--I do not believe that they will meet the new demands--leaving us with our present levels of congestion, even if promises materialise as resources.

The daily experiences of most people as revealed on television and in newspapers does not coincide with the views expressed in the Government's amendment. Nor can we accept that the Labour Government, who have been out of office for 10 years, can be blamed for the transport mess that the Government claim they created. In the rail industry, demand since 1979 has increased by 20 per cent. and the number of seats has been reduced by 13 per cent. That inevitably means congestion.

The claim that passengers will not have to stand for journeys lasting for more than 20 minutes in the south-east, the inner city or the provinces is a national joke. Even the buses are less used, less reliable, less accessible--as minibuses--slower, dirtier, older and clog up bus lanes. That leads to some increases and redundancies. Inner-city car movement has declined from 25 mph under a Labour Government to speeds of 8 mph and 12 mph under the Tory Government. The Prime Minister promised us Victorian standards, and now we have them. We are moving as fast as the horse and cart of 100 years ago. When the Prime Minister said that she intended to put Britain back on its feet, I did not know that she meant that we would be walking because that was faster than using public transport in the inner cities.

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That is a humorous interpretation, but when inner London is so clogged that no one can be guaranteed an immediate response from the ambulance or the fire engine, a dangerous situation is developing. It is all very well for the Secretary of State or his Ministers to say on television that students are causing traffic jams, as though such incidents were unique. Super-jams are becoming a regular feature of inner- city movement in London and other parts of the country. It is laughable for the Secretary of State to tell the House that he has discovered a new solution, a new technical toy--the autoguide. We must all fit it on to our cars and ask where is the empty road to which we are to be diverted when our route is congested. I know of no roads that are free of congestion around London, and anyone who drives a car will have the same experience.

It is noticeable that more people are travelling on foot, and the increase in deaths and accidents among pedestrians is

worrying--although the improvements in other kinds of accident figures are welcome. Our motorways and main roads are massively congested. A report from the Civil Aviation Authority this week tells us that by the end of the century congestion and rationing of flights from Heathrow is likely unless immediate investment is made in airports and new runways.

In the British Rail system we see the Government's prejudice against any form of public transport. Tragedies such as the Clapham junction crash show that investment in the railways is inadequate. The Government's amendment claims that investment is at record levels and contrasts it with that under the last Labour Government-- [Interruption.] I refer the Minister for Roads and Traffic to the evidence given to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry into the rail system. He seems to be disowning the remark, and indeed it is not true. The report states that the average investment under a Labour Government, given 1985-86 prices, was £518 million a year, while under the Tories it has been £421 million a year. It simply is not true that the real investment in British Rail is higher under a Tory Government. It is another Tory lie.

Consider the resources available for British Rail, via the public service obligation grant. In 1983 it was running at £1 billion. It is now being reduced in real terms, at 1988 prices, to £800 million. I see the Minister for Roads and Traffic gesticulating. I do not understand what he is trying to tell me and I will willingly give way if he wishes to intervene. We have got used to his rhetoric, but unfortunately he never backs up his statements with facts. I shall continue to give him the facts.

The public service obligation grant at 1988-89 price levels was running at over £1 billion. That will now be reduced to £800 million in 1986 -87 terms. The Government have thereby saved £270 million. That represents a cut of 25 per cent. The Government are now requiring the grant to be cut further, saving another £200 million, or 25 per cent., by 1988-90. The grant is to be slashed to £470 million by 1990-92.

The Government have saved that sum in their public service obligation grant to the British Rail system. It means that almost £3 billion has been lost by BR in financial support. In other words, while the Government have withdrawn that huge amount from the BR system, fare levels have been increasing, and we shall see fares

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increase well above inflation levels in the coming five or six years. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say, when he replies to the debate, how he sees the future of fares.

We have also witnessed a poorer quality of service, with overcrowding, poor arrival times, declining cleanliness and maintenance and longer ticket waiting times. All have deteriorated, yet all are measures of the quality of service.

I received a letter from a passenger who uses a route on the central Kent rail network system. Her letter complained about the deterioration in the quality of service. She informed me that the letter had also been sent to the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman did not reply ; somebody in his Office answered the letter and told the writer to complain to the central rail consultative committee. The lady then complained to that committee. Will the Secretary of State explain what difference such a complaint can make, when the central rail consultative committee said in its last report :

"The committee was unanimous in the view that the quality of British Rail services had been adversely affected by the reduction in subsidy and senior BR staff often cited this as a reason for cuts in service quality." ?

Here the central body dealing with consumer complaints is making precisely the point that, because the Government have reduced the level of support for BR, there has been a decrease in the quality of service. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I believe that that reduction in resources has had an effect on overall safety provision.

At the time of the Clapham tragedy I pointed out that the number of collisions on BR between 1982 and 1987 had increased considerably, that serious collisions were up by 18 per cent., that serious injuries and deaths had increased by 30 per cent. and that derailments had gone up by 5 per cent. My statement at that time was derided by the Secretary of State, who in a later parliamentary reply confirmed the statistics that I gave. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now retract what he said on that earlier occasion. It is clear that there is increasing concern about safety.

In personal security terms, the number of assaults and crimes of violence on the British Rail system and on the Underground have been increasing alarmingly. Hence the need for the Guardian Angels, who are arriving. Now the Government are rushing to bring in more police, an action that they should have taken from the beginning instead of deliberately keeping their numbers at a low level.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will comment on a BR report which received publicity in the Evening Standard recently. That newspaper spoke of a secret report produced by BR dealing with the fear felt by women when travelling on city trains and the fact that the report would not be published. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree that such evidence should be published and debated so that we may have a proper assessment of safety and security on BR?

The Opposition view is that more public resources must be put into the system if we are to improve the quality of service. Indeed, looking at the issue from a European point of view, instead of the £800 million in public support that we have at present, the figure--if we pitch it at the same level as that operating in France and Germany--should be £2 billion. That shows the sort of public resources given to the transport systems of other European countries. The Government's solution is to privatise everything, including British Rail, by the 1990s. With that in mind, BR has embarked on a policy, as with all privatisations, of

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creating surpluses and cutting costs. It is achieving that by selling assets and property, thereby receiving hundreds of millions of pounds ; it is reducing costs by sacking tens of thousands of workers ; and it is proposing to reduce the extent of the network, as we see with the Carlisle-Settle railway and the bus substitution possibilities. At the end of the day the consumer is worse off, the Treasury is better off and the railways are not able to do anything to relieve the congestion on the roads.

On London Underground it is the same old story, and King's Cross reminds us of the tragedy in the industry. The Government claim that no investment proposals have been turned down. I am reminded of the question in the Fennell report, when the manager was asked why he had not put forward proposals to change wooden escalators for metal ones. His reply was that, despite requests that had been made and recommendations in previous fire reports, the financial climate was such that there was no point in putting forward such a proposal. That is precisely the dilemma of BR in relation to Government investment today. It is another reason why Fennell greatly underestimated the contribution that the reduction in resources had made to safety standards and the quality of service on the Underground system.

Parliament is supposed to debate the London transport system since the Government nationalised it and took it away from the GLC. It is our task to debate the interests of Londoners. When will the Secretary of State provide time for us to debate the Fennell report and its conclusions? It is crucial that we debate the major considerations on safety and security that arise from that report. The congestion that is clearly visible in the whole system is relevant to the situation on the Underground. It is an over- priced system where the passenger has no choice. It is under-invested and less safe. I welcome the Government's proposals to bring in more police, but I must remind them that the Ministries involved and London Underground put a moratorium on the recruitment of police. That is why the level is low now. The Department has simply brought it up to the established level.

That has happened since the accident and the increasing number of violent crimes. Unfortunately, it is always after the event that the Government take action. The same has applied to the reduction in the number of inspectors in the shipping and aviation industries. Their numbers were reduced, and as soon as a tragedy occurred the Government lifted the recruitment embargo and the establishment levels were achieved.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) rose --

Mr. Prescott : I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. He is always writing to the Leader of the Opposition complaining about me. Perhaps Conservative Members are taught to take that sort of action in public school--writing letters instead of having it out verbally across the Floor of the House.

In terms of the level of Government grant, the Underground system expressed pleasure at being able to repay to the Government £100 million, as a reduction in the taxpayers' contribution, not in the two years over which the Government asked for the money back but within one year. The irony is that the first year's expenditure recommended by Fennell on all the safety

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proposals recommended before the Kings Cross accident is equivalent to the £100 million taken from London Underground and now being returned to it by the Government.

Will the Secretary of State make it clear tonight that the other £200 million will be made available so that the system can comply with necessary safety commitments? London Underground made it clear in its statement last Monday that the Government had said that they would provide the necessary funds for that purpose. That money must be provided because safety should have the highest priority in any public transport system. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make that clear, because there is increasing concern about escalator breakdowns--one in four is no longer working--about the fact that there has been a considerable increase in the number of fires, even since the King's Cross tragedy, and that people feel that ticket barriers will make it more difficult for them to get out of the system. London Underground is taking many of these measures because it wants to save on staff. By reducing staff numbers by 1,200, costs can be reduced--and this at a time when the visibility of staff, including ticket collectors and police, contributes to greater security. It is no surprise that we have the Guardian Angels.

The Government set great store by, and have great faith in, the roads system. They identify that as an expression of freedom. The Secretary of State, in a speech to the Tory party conference--his remarks were published in the Conservative Newsline --said : "So good roads bring increased personal mobility and increased personal freedom--two Conservative ideals".

One would think that the Secretary of State would want to give greater priority to roads. He said in the same speech that Government spending was

"50 per cent. higher in real terms than under the last Labour administration."

That is not true. I asked the Secretary of State and his answer can be found in the parliamentary written answers-- [Interruption.] It was a question put to the Secretary of State to find out what proportion, in real terms, had been spent on roads. The reality is that 10 per cent. more was spent on roads under the Labour Government than under the Conservative Government. If the Secretary of State wants the figures confirmed, he should look at the reply that he gave me.

Our road system is about a third of the size of that in France or Germany, and we have a programme to increase the road network by 200 miles of motorway by the end of the century. Germany and France, by contrast, plan an extra 2,000 million miles of road. If the Government's argument is that they cannot afford--

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : The figure is 2,000 miles.

Mr. Prescott : I accept the correction.

Let us consider the argument that we cannot afford to improve our road network. We must bear in mind that we have a lower car ownership than elsewhere in Europe, that the M25--designed for 80,000 vehicles--now carries 130,000, and that the M6 and the M1 have become virtual car parks. The National Audit Office is critical of the way that the Department of Transport deals with planning our road systems.

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No Government have ever used all the money raised through road transport taxes such as petrol, car vehicle or lorry tax. In 1979, £7 billion was raised from transport taxes. Under this Government the money raised increased to £14 billion, but the extra £7 billion was not spent on roads. Only £1 billion was spent on any form of transportation. To meet the Treasury's demand to cut income tax, the Government introduced what became a transport tax, while the poor public paid even more for the privilege of travelling.

The Labour Government spent, on average, 35 per cent. of the money raised. Under this Government, the amount spent has fallen to 24 per cent. If they were spending the same proportion of the tax as the Labour Government did, this Government would have an extra £2 billion in the kitty to spend on the roads and on transportation systems. In Europe, an average of 50 per cent. of the money raised in such taxes is spent.

There has been a massive deterioration in the transport systems of road, rail and buses. Private capital is not the solution, as the Secretary of State knows. It would be interesting to hear where he stands on the matter of tolls.

In my transport industry--shipping--the Government have partly solved the problem. They have reduced the British shipping fleet from 1,200 ships to 400.

We remember the terrible tragedy of the Herald of Free Enterprise. During the past year, as the Secretary of State will know from the questions that have been asked of him, the number of ferry fires in this country has risen by four times the annual average of the past four years. Why are ferry fires increasing--particularly on P and O ferries? For six months I pushed the right hon. Gentleman to prosecute a company for a clear breach of the law. It was not until the last day of that six months that the Secretary of State took any action, and that was because a Sally Line vessel caught fire in the channel. We shall have to wait to see what the courts decide. I used to hear in debates in this House that safety on ferries had not deteriorated. I then asked questions about it, because the rhetoric is so different from the reality. I do not see the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in the Chamber now, but he had much to say when he denied threats to the safety of ferries.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Many people heard the hon. Gentleman when he appeared on television addressing a rally on Saturday. He said that records showed that P and O ships were unsafe and asked holiday- makers if they were prepared to risk their lives by travelling on them. What specific evidence does he have of lack of safety on the St. Clair, the St. Ola and the St. Sunniva, which travel from the Scottish mainland to my constituency? If he has no evidence, will he retract his comments rather than jeopardise the livelihoods of many of my constituents?

Mr. Prescott : Fires on British ferries have increased recently, and a number of them have occurred on P and O ships. I have tried to obtain detailed figures from the Government. I was telling the people at that dispute that anyone travelling out of the port of Dover on those ships should bear in mind that fires have increased fourfold during the past year. That was a justifiable comment.

The aviation industry, Lockerbie and the M1 disasters and the problems over the manufacture of Boeing have increased concern about safety--

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Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Does the hon. Gentleman blame the Government for those disasters, too?

Mr. Prescott : I am not blaming the Government. I am concerned about passenger safety--and Conservative Members should be as well. The blame does not lie solely with Government, but airport security involves the Government.

The Secretary of State has come to the House after each incident and assured us that he is satisfied with the enhanced security and safety at Heathrow and other airports.

After again assuring us that airport security was satisfactory, the Secretary of State told us that the British Airports Authority's report has recommended a further 100 changes. Airport security has not given the Secretary of State his finest hour. I make these allegations not solely against the Secretary of State but against his Department. The Select Committee's reports on airport security made recommendations which, to its credit, all needed to be implemented. The Secretary of State has said that his Department has implemented most of the Select Committee's recommendations. Why then did he not answer when I asked him the same question in a letter a week or so ago? I shall tell him why : because not all the recommendations have been implemented. The important ones about the control of the police and on airport security fund were all dismantled by the Government in 1983, which made our airports less secure. The Government have much to answer for because of the reduction of security and safety at airports. [Interruption.] I shall not give way to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) because he merely goes off and writes letters to the Opposition Leader. He is a "snitch" or a sneak. I think that is the term used in public schools ; I did not go to one myself.

The Government amendment mentions the problems of planning and integration. It rejects central planning, but nobody is advocating that-- [Interruption.] It is quite all right, we have a decentralised way of dealing with planning. If the people of Kent thought that the people dealing with Channel tunnel matters and deciding on the route were concerned about the environment and the interests of the people of Kent, they might be happier. However, the Government have given over the responsibility of making the decision to British Rail. The private Bill is concerned about least cost, not public subsidy. The Government are happy for the Bill to contain a clause that no public money should be used to support the Channel tunnel investment. Public money will be necessary to develop the rail links in Kent and to improve the infrastructure investment for the Channel tunnel corridor to Scotland.

I wrote to the Secretary of State about the matter, asking his view of my suggestion that instead of leaving it to the House of Commons and a private Bill Committee to fight out the Bill line by line, he should accept--as he did with the central transport rail study--a 12-month study on the environmental and regional consequences. The Labour party advocated that when the White Paper on the Channel tunnel was issued. There should be an immediate inquiry so that the people of Kent and London can make representations about their concerns.

I thought that the Conservative party and the Government were concerned about the individual but it is

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clear that they are riding roughshod over the individual's rights in relation to the Channel tunnel and overriding the interests of the people in Kent and London. The Labour party offers a proposal that will give the Government a chance to listen to those representations but which will not delay or extend the planning blight, because the Bill will go through the House in two parliamentary Sessions. It provides a chance for justice, a chance for a voice to be heard, and a chance for public money to be used in such a way that we get the best route in the Kent area and in the London area.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does the hon. Gentleman realise that a delay of the sort he is suggesting would leave a blight throughout Kent?

Mr. Prescott : I do not know why I continue, because the hon. Member is not listening. It is my judgment that the private Bill presented to this House will certainly create an awful lot of injustice and environmental damage in Kent if it is left as it is. I believe that that Bill could be delayed a while here.

A central study similar to the central rail study could be carried out, because the Secretary of State is to receive an environmental report and a regional report. He has now received the northern local authorities' report on the Channel tunnel. If he were to treat it in that way, and within 12 months make a recommendation to his House, the blight problems would still be there because there will be no decision in this House--in my view--for 18 months, and the Channel tunnel will certainly not be opened until 1993 or 1994. Those are the realities of the case.

If the Government had accepted our amendment when the White Paper on the Channel tunnel came before this House we would not have this problem today. We foresaw these difficulties at that time, but every hon. Member now going along with his constituents in Kent voted against that proposal, and those Members are now ganging up with early-day motions and assuring their constituents that they are going to press the Government for change. Where were they when the vote was taken in this House? They were not looking after the interests of the people of Kent. But we will look after the interests of the people of Kent, and perhaps they will have a better representative here in the next Parliament.

The Channel tunnel is a classic example of how the public interest has to be taken into account. Public and private money will be utilised in the development of the transportation system, but it is important that people be taken into account.

A further accusation that I make against the Government is that the Department of Transport is indeed an inadequate Department, though I am bound to say that I thought it was inadequate also under Labour Governments. It is a Department that does not have a very proud history. I have always been ashamed that it has not given the highest priority to safety--and, as one who has been involved in the shipping industry, I say so in respect of the decisions taken there. It is a Department that is really the outpost of the Treasury. It refuses to fight for the travelling public and is for ever agreeing with the Treasury to impose more and more taxes by the reduction of subsidies on the travelling public. It is anti- planning and anti-integration and is obsessed with roads, though its record in that respect is not very good. It pursues policies that reduce the number of

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safety inspectors in aviation and shipping and on the railways, with dire consequences for safety in those industries.

It is also a Department that delays its inquiries. I refer, for example, to the Manchester air disaster three years ago and the loss of the Derbyshire eight years ago, and the delay in the production of these reports, to the Department's reluctance to instigate prosecutions in respect of the Herald of Free Enterprise or in respect of ferry fires, and to the handling of the Lockerbie tragedy and the fears for airport security, on which it appeared to be inept and incompetent. It suffers from a unique blend of ideological obsession and--yes, I must say it--ministerial incompetence. Overall, the policy is also at fault. It has insufficient commitment to public transport. It has starved our transport system of finance, thus making it one of the poorest in Europe, and it is shifting the burden from the taxpayer to the passenger, who will have to pay considerably more for lower and lower quality.

That is the reality of 10 years of this Government's transport policy. That is the reality that we shall take to the people of this country, the reality of which they know from their own experience. The alternative that we shall provide, whether to the voters in Kent or to the voters in Scotland or to the voters in Humberside, will be to vote for a sensible transport policy that meets the needs of our nation as I ask the House to do tonight.

5.14 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :

"expresses its deep concern at the transport tragedies of the last two years of the Herald of Free Enterprise', King's Cross, Clapham, Lockerbie, the M1 air disaster and the daily toll of deaths and injuries on our roads, and extends its sympathy to all those affected ; applauds the Government's determination that safety and security must remain paramount, and welcomes the urgent steps it has taken to that end ; congratulates the Government for bringing about an economic revival which has resulted in record levels of investment in roads and railways, and for recognising that the only way to provide customers with an efficient and safe public transport system is to set demanding objectives for quality of service and performance ; welcomes the Government's record of approving every investment scheme put to it by British Rail and London Regional Transport, and its radical proposals to extend the public transport system in London ; congratulates the Government for having recognised the limitations of central planning ; and calls on the Opposition to acknowledge the legacy of neglect and under- investment which this Government inherited.".

I must say that I thought that the good temper of the earlier statement would pretty soon disappear, and it has, though the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is in quite a jolly mood, I have to confess, and I hope that he will remain jolly throughout my speech. I will try to deal with the subjects that he has raised--at slightly less length, in view of the shortage of time available for this debate. [Interruption.] I think that the House of Commons would have been very cross if we had had a major statement on safety immediately after the debate. I can just hear what hon. Members would have had to say about that.

I want to start with a point on which I think that there is no controversy. I shall not take long on it, but it is

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nevertheless important. I refer to the three terrible tragedies in the past few months--in particular, the two disastrous air crashes. As the House knows, everyone is appalled by these disasters, so I need not go into that again in any detail. I should just like to remind the House where we stand at present. The investigations into the causes of the Lockerbie and Kegworth tragedies are being handled by the air accidents investigation branch of my Department. It produced a formal interim statement on the Lockerbie disaster once it had been established conclusively that the crash was caused by an explosive device in the front cargo hold. It has not yet issued such a statement on the Kegworth crash, but it will do so once the range of possible explanations has been narrowed to the point at which a statement is justified.

As to Clapham, as the House knows, the formal inquiry will be conducted by Mr. Anthony Hidden QC, with three expert assessors. It will be for Mr. Hidden and his assessors to decide which matters are relevant to their work and which are not. Until the causes of the Clapham and Kegworth tragedies are established, there is a limit to the amount that can usefully be said about them. I have said before, and I say again--I think that I have the support of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East in this--that it is futile to speculate about the causes of such disasters ahead of the evidence. It is not only futile--it is extremely unfair to the parties involved. That does not mean that we have to delay action until the final reports are received. Indeed, British Rail is checking, for example, that there are no wiring defects in the signalling system elsewhere. British Rail conducted an internal investigation into the Clapham crash, but that is not intended to prejudge the conclusions that Mr. Hidden will reach. The same is true of the various checks that have been carried out on Boeing aircraft in the wake of Kegworth. We can also tighten up our own domestic security arrangements.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is wrong about Sir Norman Payne's report. It does not say that 100 actions need to be taken--if refers to 100 actions that have been taken, are in course of being taken, or will be taken. There are a whole host of them, and BAA is well advanced in implementing them.

We also have to promote international action. The modern terrorist threat, as we all know, has an international dimension--and so must our response. That is why the British and American Governments sought a special ministerial meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. I want to see tighter controls on what is taken on to aircraft, tighter controls on people who have access to aircraft, and changes to aircraft design so that they offer fewer places to hide a bomb and are easier to search. Only concerted international action can achieve this, and I hope that in Montreal next week we can move towards such action.

As to the Fennell recommendations addressed to London Regional Transport, my hon. Friend will have more to say about this when he winds up the debate. I believe that the statement made yesterday was a serious and responsible answer to the points raised in the Fennell report. The overwhelming majority of the recommendations in that report have been accepted and are being implemented. One or two, however, cause genuine difficulty. For instance, London Underground has not yet

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