Column 831been able to find a non-inflammable escalator lubricant. I give that merely as an example of a recommendation that is difficult to follow up.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the Fennell report, irrespective of the recommendations that have been made, and welcome as they are, may I ask him whether he does not agree that some questions relating to the conduct of the inquiry and the degree to which matters should or should not be taken into account have not yet been cleared up? That can be done only across the Floor of the House, especially bearing in mind that the Secretary of State quite properly used the long-standing Act of Parliament to set up an additional inquiry under Mr. Fennell.
Mr. Channon : I made a very full statement on the Fennell inquiry. I know that the Opposition have been asking for a debate on that matter, and I think that in recent times my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has always given a fairly sympathetic answer. That is a matter that must be pursued through the usual channels. Of course, there will also be the debate on the London Regional Transport levy, which will have to come in the fairly near future. This is the time of year when that is always debated, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East knows well from his experience. Of course, after three serious transport accidents we have to look very carefully at every conceivable cause, but the search for underlying causes very often seems to result in broad generalisations which are either unhelpful or untrue.
The motion tabled by the Opposition seeks to suggest that penny-pinching economies are the real threat to safety. The suggestion is that private sector operators may take a conscious decision to economise on safety so as to boost profits, and that public sector operators may do the same to meet the financial targets set by Government. I simply do not believe that that is true. Cutting corners on safety is both socially and commercially wholly irresponsible. There should never have been any doubt in the minds of public sector operators--I do not think there was--about where their key duty lies. Nevertheless I have taken the precaution of reminding them that safety comes first so that there is not the slightest room for any possible misunderstanding on that point.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Is it not true that the Fennell report recorded that there was an atmosphere of pressure to cut back on safety expenditure? That arises from Government pressure on spending and the general concept of the enterprise culture.
Mr. Channon : It does not come from Government pressure on safety expenditure. The hon. Gentleman is right that there were severe criticisms of the management, and the chairmen of London Regional Transport and London Underground resigned as a result of the Fennell report.
The argument that no savings must be made in any quarter because savings would compromise safety is dear to Opposition Members, but it is wrong. It is a specious argument and should be exposed as such. I remind the House of what Fennell said in his report :
"In my judgment there is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to London Regional Transport was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spendings and retain safety standards."
Column 832On staffing, he said :
"I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster at Kings Cross."
I see no reason why efficiency and safety cannot go hand in hand. On the contrary, the drive for greater efficiency is likely to involve management in looking much harder at all aspects of its operations, including safety. Laxness and inefficiency would be far more worrying.
Another claim hinted at in the motion, though not so much in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, is that congestion also poses a real threat to safety. That is not the case. For example, despite the massive increase in air travel, there has been a considerable improvement in safety. [Interruption.] The point that I am making is that congestion and safety are two separate matters. We shall see what Mr. Hidden says in his report. The aviation point makes my case for me.
Mr. Adley : As the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), was afraid to give way in case I asked him a question, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees with me on two points? First, does he agree that the rapid increase in mobility is itself a comment on the Government's economic policy? Secondly, does he agree that it would have been helpful if the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East had made even one constructive proposal as to how any future Labour Government--if there were ever to be such a thing--could run the economy in such a way as to raise the money required to do all the things that the Opposition keep talking about?
Mr. Channon : I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. I have one final point about safety. Recent events have ensured that the safety of public transport will engage the attention of the House today. That is understandable, but I remind hon. Members that the safety of public transport--by road, rail, sea and air--is in general very good. Appalling though the recent death tolls have been, we should remind ourselves, as we were considering earlier, that more than 5,000 people were killed and a further 300,000 injured on the roads in 1987. Cutting road casualties by one third by the year 2000 must therefore remain a top priority. The White Paper published today and all the other measures that we are taking to improve road safety have far greater potential to save lives than any conceivable improvement that we could make to the safety of public transport systems.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Does my right hon. Friend accept his own thesis that motorways are safer to drive on than ordinary roads? In that context, how can the Government justify not extending the M1 to the north-east instead of fiddling about with junctions which are making the position worse?
Mr. Channon : I thought that my hon. Friend might make that point. He makes it vigorously on all conceivable occasions. Perhaps he will await the publication of the revised road programme to see whether his representations have had the desired effect. If they have not, no doubt he will be at me again.
The motion censures the Government on two main counts. It criticises us for allowing safety standards to slip, which is not true, and it also holds us responsible for congestion. I am very fair and I am prepared to do a deal
Column 833with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I am prepared to accept 50 per cent. of the blame if he will take the other 50 per cent. We will accept responsibility for having created the healthy economy and the competitive transport market that have led to a massive upsurge in the demand for transport if the Opposition will accept responsibility for the years of under-investment before 1979 when the nation was in hock to the International Monetary Fund. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said, there has been no under- investment in transport under this Government. We have been making good the backlog of neglect that we inherited in such vital areas as motorway maintenance as well as investing to meet the increased demand that our policies have generated. For instance, investment in roads has never been higher. We have behind us a major roads building programme, though not so great as my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) would like. Government expenditure has been targeted on the bypasses and relief roads which bring the quickest and most effective relief to traffic and to local communities. We plan to spend over £3 billion on new trunk roads over the next five years and £1.3 billion on maintenance. Let me assure the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, in case he doubts it, that maintenance expenditure is running in real terms at two and a half times the level that we inherited from the Labour Government.
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : The Secretary of State will be aware that there has been much complant about the Department's traffic forecasts prior to the building of new roads. This has caused much inconvenience, as well as huge expense, to the taxpayer, through attemps to rectify problems. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve the efficiency of his Department?
Mr. Channon : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that point. It is interesting that the M25 has been a target for criticism. I cannot remember the exact details, but the M25 was opened two or three years ago. It takes 10 years to build a road. The forecasting for that road was done in the middle of the Labour Government's period of office. I accept the criticism, and I understand why the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was critical of the Department of Transport under its ridiculous ministerial control at that time.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Perhaps the Secretary of State can tell the House whether the civil servants who gave the Labour Government that advice, which turned out to be wrong, are still sitting in the officials' box, or have they been promoted?
Mr. Channon : I believe in ministerial responsibility. I do not hold civil servants responsible for forecasts--I hold Ministers responsible for accepting the forecasts. I suspect that Labour Treasury Ministers may have had something to do with the blame for those forecasts. [Interruption.] I am coming to the Underground, but I want to finish with roads.
There are currently more than 300 schemes in our forward construction programme, with an estimated works cost in the region of £5 billion. We all know that there are serious congestion problems and bottlenecks that
Column 834have to be dealt with. If hon. Members want to know why we have problems, I will give them the two necessary pieces of information, at which I have already hinted, and leave them to draw their own conclusions. Fact A is that it takes 10 to 15 years to build a major new road ; fact B is that capital expenditure on roads was cut by a massive 40 per cent. between 1976 and 1977-78. I am very glad that I was asked about forecasting as it enabled me to make it clear that the cause of the present inadequacy is the time that it takes to build roads and the massive cuts in resources which took place under the Labour Government. The record speaks louder than the hon. Gentleman's words. I do not think that I can impress the hon. Member at all with the fact that we are spending record sums of money on roads, because he will say roads are a special case even if he agrees with it--which he does not--and that the Government are investing in the roads but only at the cost of ignoring public transport. Indeed, he has said something about public transport, but that argument will not wash either.
Let us consider the railways. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me about this. After decades of decline, in which we read of nothing but line closures and station closures, BR's business is now booming. More than 80 stations have been opened or reopened since 1983. BR has invested more than £2 billion in the past five years and plans to invest more than £3.5 billion in the next five years. I am glad to be able to announce today that I have just given approval for two further investments. Network SouthEast has been given the green light to purchase 77 new Network turbo vehicles to operate on services from Marylebone. I have also approved the electrification of the Cambridge to King's Lynn line and the associated purchase of seven four-car electrical multiple units. That is good news for rail travellers in the Chilterns and East Anglia and continuing good news for other travellers on Network SouthEast and elsewhere where there is a continuing and growing rail investment programme.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is indeed extremely good news that my right hon. Friend has announced a substantial investment for the Chiltern line. That will be good news for Metroland, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, and I suspect that there will be much rejoicing among the commuter public about that. To ensure that commuters actually dance in the streets, will my right hon. Friend please make it clear that he will shortly be announcing his decision on the final stage of the M40 link--because once the M40 is built and the Chiltern line complete, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire really will be able to take advantage of their geographical location.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : I am grateful for the announcement about electrification in Cambridgeshire. That will certainly be welcomed by people in my constituency, who have been campaigning for six years. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that without the support of local business and developers
Column 835and the £650,000 guaranteed by the local borough council the scheme probably would not have gone ahead? Can he also tell us when it will start and how much it will cost?
Mr. Channon : I can probably give the figures for that. If I cannot, my hon. Friend will give them when he winds up. It will not take long. I agree with the earlier part of my hon. Friend's question. I am very glad that we have managed to approve the scheme and I hope that it will be of benefit to King's Lynn and to other stations on the line. Indeed, some of my hon. Friends have been very excited by that as well.
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) : Will my right hon. Friend accept from me that this is indeed welcome news, and does indeed have potential benefits for other stations on the line, including commuters from my constituency? Could I ask him, though, whether he would be prepared to listen to representations at a later stage about whether just one class of rolling stock is suitable for this project?
I think that the answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) is that the scheme will cost about £20 million and should be open in 1991.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said that we were not investing enough in British Rail, but investment now is the highest in real terms for 20 years. [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] Yes, it is--I have the figures. I have the famous answer that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East keeps talking about, and it is true--£560 million at 1988- 89 prices is being invested in British Rail now. What the Opposition will not understand is the difference between the public service obligation-- which does not go on investment--and investment, which is what is needed to improve British railways. In the next few years, far from remaining at £560 million in real terms, investment will go up to an average of £755 million--the highest for years. That is at 1988-89 prices, in real terms. When the Labour party was in power between 1974 and 1979 the highest it ever reached was £474 million, so let us hear less nonsense about underinvestment in British Rail.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : The Minister has been telling us how the Government are committed to the railways. When will he make the announcement that instead of being minded to close the Settle to Carlisle railway the Government will tell British Rail to make a success of it, to develop the success that the line has already become under the threat of closure and give it the new lease of life that it deserves?
Mr. Channon : I know the hon. Member's views about the Settle to Carlisle line and I am considering all the representations that have been made. They need careful study and I will make an announcement as soon as I can, but I think that it will be a little while yet. The point that I still cannot get into the heads of Opposition Members--I simply cannot understand why not--is that facts are facts. [Interruption.] Yes, they are. The fact is that investment in British Rail in real terms at 1988-89 prices will be £755 million on average for the next four years. That is about £200 million more than what it is now, which is already nearly £100 million higher than the highest figure under the last Labour Government.
Column 836Of course, BR is not the only undertaking investing in railways. The private sector is financing the biggest rail investment of them all--the £6 billion required to build the Channel tunnel. The London Underground also has ambitious investment plans. The re- equipment of the Central line alone will cost more than £700 million. Work is under way on the Bank extension of the Docklands light railway, and work is planned on the Beckton extension if Parliament approves the Bill now before it.
We have recently published the report of the central London rail study and have commissioned the east London rail study. I have no doubt that these studies will result in further investment in new railway lines for London. Moreover, London is not the only city to get new lines--Manchester will have its Metrolink, and a number of interesting ideas are in the pipeline for other cities.
There has been no shortage of finance for airports either. Two new terminals for Heathrow and Gatwick have been opened and the new terminal at Stansted is under construction. There is no overall shortage of airport capacity in the London area at this stage. Since 1981 we have supported more than £300 million worth of investment in the local authority airports through special capital allocations. Last December's regional airport allocations will allow work to start on the major new terminal at the East Midlands airport and, all told, the number of passenger movements handled by regional airports should double or treble between now and 2005.
The real problem of congestion in the airports last summer was a Europe- wide shortage of air traffic control capacity, aggravated by an industrial dispute. Even the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, with all his persuasive powers, cannot stop foreign air traffic controllers going on strike. Perhaps he will celebrate when they do and have his nice picket line, but I can and will tackle the problem of air traffic control capacity both domestically and
internationally. Last October I agreed a two-thirds increase in the Civil Aviation Authority's capital expenditure. There are very difficult operational problems in introducing a new air traffic control system while keeping the existing system fully operational 24 hours a day, but I can assure the House that finance is not a constraint. On the international side last year we used our presidency of Eurocontrol to promote a number of initiatives, of which the most important is the central flow management unit to streamline the routing of aircraft across Europe.
Under the GLC, investment in the London Underground was at a lamentable level. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is not here to justify the level of investment when he and his friends were in power. Lots of money was spent on subsidising fares but none on improving the underground system. That system, above all, takes time to improve because it cannot be closed while improvements are carried out and we all know that it is very old. Fare increases on the London Underground have been well below increases in average wages since 1980 and are no higher in real terms than they were then.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has got it completely wrong and cannot sustain with any credibility his criticism of the transport infrastructure. We also hear criticisms from the Opposition, though not so much today. Usually we are told that we have committed the heinous sin of asking those who benefit from new investments to bear the cost, but I must point out that in
Column 837the bad old days when we operated on the doctrine that the state alone must provide the state actually did not provide. Under this Government the state is beginning to provide and to improve all the systems. I live in hope, and tonight I shall go down on my knees and pray that one day I shall be able to make the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East understand the facts and figures on investment, although it is no doubt a forlorn hope that in Lent he will come to repentance.
The Opposition's second line of attack is to say that all the investment is unco-ordinated. That objection is even sillier than the previous one. The Government were wise to do away with central transport planning, but in reality it died a natural death before we took office. Our achievement was to do away with the burden of superfluous regulations, which no longer served any purpose, and to put something more effective--market forces--in their place. When we have just announced two more radical policies--one on transport in London and another on road safety--it is richly ironic for the Opposition to attack us for lacking a transport policy. Where is Labour's transport policy? The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East spent 35 minutes criticising us, but he has not one constructive idea to put forward. In recent months we have answered three debates on transport at the Opposition's behest, and we were expecting to hear something of their policies, but three times we have been deeply disappointed. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will tell us when he winds up. When shall we be told the Opposition's intention? Is the subject so low on their list of priorities that we cannot be told what they would do? Perhaps they need to go to Moscow to find out. Are their internal party wranglings so bitter? Perhaps Mr. Todd will not come on side. [Interruption.] Or is it merely that there is a complete dearth of original thought among Opposition Members?
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East spends far too much time on the picket line ; I have a charming photograph of him in a Sunday newspaper backed by the motto, "Loyalty and Honour"--qualities for which he is so renowned by his own leader. I am considering using that photograph as the Department of Transport's Christmas card this year.
This Government have made spending on transport a top priority. I understand that the slimmer right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has declared his intention to keep a very close eye on the expenditure commitment of Opposition spokesmen. Surely the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, in his blunt and succinct manner, should have told us the amount of money to which he is allowed to commit Labour on transport spending. He continually talks about the Treasury. What about his own future Treasury if Labour ever returned to Government?
Since the hon. Gentleman has proved unable to answer that question, the House must assume that he speaks with neither the authority nor the commitment of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East because he cannot tell us anything that Labour proposes to do. Everyone who takes a serious interest in transport deserves an answer to that question. The House will agree that the hon. Gentleman's failure to provide any
Column 838suggestions whatsoever has shown up all the Opposition posturing on safety and congestion as the sham and fraud that it is. Their silence speaks volumes and I ask the House to reject their ridiculous motion.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : The last words that will be heard in the House of Commons tonight, in emptied halls, are, "Who goes home?". It is a historic hangover from the time when Members of Parliament needed to be escorted by link men. Those words will not be heard by the majority of those who rush to the taxi point or out to their cars, but quite possibly they will be heard by a number of people who work in this building. I am very disappointed at the Secretary of State's performance this afternoon in which he displayed superficial but quite savage contempt for those people who are most concerned about public transport.
Most women in this country care about what happens to the bus system and to the railway system because almost without exception they use it. They know about the total unreality of the Secretary of State's figures for the provision of staff on the Underground and on the railway as it is reflected in the danger that they face when they leave here every night. The women who work in the Refreshment Department are a clear example. They are not particularly concerned about the billions of pounds that we are told are now being spent. They will be concerned that violent crimes on all the railway systems have increased noticeably. They travel in emptier carriages with fewer staff and with much less access to any help and they are in increasing danger of attack or assault. They know that the Government needed to be goaded by the most bizarre set of comic-book characters from America into beginning to face the fact that there are not sufficient transport staff on the system to defend those who use it. They will find it remarkable that a Government who put above all their commitment to the road system are now beginning to perceive, albeit vaguely, the need for providing through the railway and through more integrated planning of bus and other services a transport system that will enable people to travel safely and in comfort.
I have met many railwaymen who have been subjected to assault. They know exactly what happens. I have met 60-year-olds nearing retirement who have been beaten up for a £1 ticket. They would be singularly unimpresed by the level of this debate. I have met people in their early 30s who in attempting to save a woman from assault were beaten up so badly that they were off work for 18 months and have still not regained their previous posts.
Safety for people on the Underground and the railways is not a matter for superficial and supposedly clever propaganda in the House of Commons. It is a day-to-day and night-to-night worry for women who find it a nightmare to try to get from their place of work to their homes in safety.
Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend accept that the Government are further encouraging the difficult circumstances that she has described? Last night they gave their backing to a Bill which imposes penalties on fare dodgers. Those penalties will have to be collected by railwaymen and railwaywomen and the British Rail board has declared an undertaking to get rid of staff and replace them with automatic ticket machines. Therefore, women
Column 839who go home late at night will find not a friendly railway person to guide them but a ticket machine which probably will have been vandalised.
Mrs. Dunwoody : The Secretary of State and those who support him who refuse to connect the provision of money with the provision of staff must face the fact that the reiteration of the argument that there has been no financial restraint will fall badly upon the ears of those who use the public transport system. One gets the distinct impression that very few Conservative Members use public transport. Therefore, they do not see what happens.
Some years ago, the guards in the Liverpool area told me that they were being continually assaulted and required assistance. For a short time they were escorted by British Transport police. However, as soon as they moved from one section to another, the British Transport police left the train and the same guards were assaulted again. That is the day-to-day reality of public transport. It is directly connected with money.
When I spoke to a former senior representative of London Transport about the provision of safety on London Underground, he said, "Where is the money to come from?" The Government will not provide it, so it has to come from the passengers. The money will not be forthcoming in the present circumstances. If one constantly harps on about the need to cut staff because they are expensive, the result is empty stations and women hurrying through darkened corridors wondering whether they will get mugged. If one constantly cuts back on proper staffing and takes any contract from any cheapjack firm, one will get people whose commitment to the system is minimal and who will do the minimum required of them. If one consistently says that the only thing to be considered is an ability to balance the books, the result will be what we have in London today--a dirty, dangerous and unattractive public transport system. The women of this country pay the price for that attitude every time they use the public transport system. The staff pay for it in increasing numbers of assaults and, in the final analysis, the public pays for it.
The Secretary of State asked why it was that he had not heard from the Labour party about its policy. The simple answer is that every member of the travelling public could write a public transport policy for him tomorrow. It would ask for decent investment and for a level of comfort that does not mean that on the trains between Crewe and Carlisle there is sometimes 200 per cent. overcrowding with people standing in the corridors and the guards being unable to walk from one end of the train to the other. They will tell the Secretary of State that investment is needed, not just in more concrete roads, but in the provision of proper rolling stock, properly guarded stations and decent, clean and properly serviced public facilities. The public will say to the Secretary of State, "Whatever your statistics, try travelling on some of the public transport that most of the people of this country have to use every day of their lives." Even the Secretary of State might then begin to take a less rosy view. 5.52 pm
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : Even in a debate as short as this, I must begin by recording the profound concern in my constituency about the proposals put forward by the Government's consultants for the redevelopment of the A27 in my constituency. Far from
Column 840meeting the Government's policy of taking traffic away from towns, the proposals would effectively cut the town of Worthing in half and that is why one sees Worthing covered in notices saying : "A bypass not a through pass."
The matter is still being considered by Ministers and I hope that they will consider it in the light not only of that report, but of the report commissioned by the local council and the enormous petition they have received and that they will ensure that Worthing has a bypass that avoids the town completely.
I want to take up a point made in the Opposition motion and the Government amendment about the deep concern that every hon. Member feels about the recent rail and air tragedies. I repeat the comment that I made in an earlier intervention about the unnecessary anguish caused to vast numbers of people who are not affected by the disasters, but who are concerned because they think that relatives or friends may have been. We must improve the arrangements for telephone communication in those circumstances. I hope that it will be possible to establish a single telephone number to be used when a major disaster takes place which everyone knows is for information, just as we use 999. I hope that that can be done, but even if it cannot the emergency numbers must have a queuing system in which a recording tells people that they are in a queue and that if they hang on they will eventually receive an answer. There is, of course, tremendous strain on resources at such times, but at present people have to keep ringing and they receive the engaged tone over and over again. That covers far more people than those involved in any particular accident because people do not know whether their friends and relatives are involved. On humanitarian grounds, we should put in the extra resources that are needed.
The Opposition motion--which is more a book than a motion--is an own goal because, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, in reality there has been a massive increase in the resources devoted to all aspects of transport. I want to congratulate him--perhaps I should not, as a former Treasury Minister--on the way in which he has fought his Department's battle with the Treasury, which has been reflected in the substantial increase in infrastructure expenditure and real resources. That is a success.
As the debate is brief, I want to produce a shopping list rather than anything else. My first point concerns sea transport. I began my commercial life in the shipping industry, where I was for about seven years. In the docks at that time the inter-union rivalry was so tremendous that the troops finally had to be sent in to deal with the immediate problems. In that context, we have seen the port of London shrivel while others grow, for a simple reason--the national dock labour scheme. I find it extraordinary that, after 10 years of Conservative Government, we have not dealt with that problem. I know that the matter is partly one for the Department of Employment rather than for my right hon. Friend, but the time has come when we must consider whether it is a satisfactory arrangement. I say that it is not a satisfactory arrangement for the future development of our ports in relation to our European competitors.
I shall say a brief word about rail. The central London rail study has made imaginative proposals for improving the rail network and that is an exciting prospect. My right
Column 841hon. Friend envisages a timetable with a Bill in November 1989. That excites the imagination and will lead to an improvement if we take the opportunity.
I want to make some specific suggestions on road transport. It is noticeable that the Opposition have made little mention of buses and the extraordinary change as a result of which the ratepayers' subsidy has been reduced, to the great benefit of my constituents, while there has been an increase in consumer choice and competition. However, I am concerned about the situation in London. We are suffering from a hangover from some of the Greater London council's so-called road improvement programmes. One needs only to look at the extraordinary situation on the other side of Westminster bridge. The boroughs are not doing an adequate job in this respect, so I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider seriously taking road transport in London back under the control of his Department, where it used to be. One example I want to give is that of coaches parking on Westminster bridge, especially continental coaches from which passengers are discharged into the middle of the road. Yesterday morning and this morning there was a string of coaches with the drivers on the wrong side discharging passengers into the middle of the road. There will be a serious accident, but Westminster council seems to be doing nothing about it.
If one considers bus lanes in, for example, the constituency of the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock), one realises that the traffic flow, including buses, is seriously slowed down by bus lanes. If one waits until 10 am to drive in, it is equally apparent that even then bus lanes are restricting traffic to one lane, partly because cars are parked in the bus lanes and partly because people no longer drive in bus lanes after 10 am because the lanes are painted red or have lines. The bus lanes should be reviewed.
Motor cyclists are another serious matter. The White Paper, which is greatly to be welcomed in many respects, refers to the appalling loss of life for motor cyclists. They account for about 14 per cent. of road deaths and 20 per cent. of serious accidents, although motor cycles form only 2 per cent. of traffic. Weaving in and out of moving traffic is a serious offence in New York and the police enforce it. We should consider making it an offence as well. I also do not understand why, when there are such stringent regulations for other commercial drivers, we allow courier motor- cycle companies to employ learner drivers who have passed no test whatever. I ask my right hon. Friend whether he would be prepared to accept and support a private Member's Bill designed to deal with that problem.
I want to talk now about the M25 and all that that entails. I use it four or five times a week going to and from my constituency. Whenever there is an accident or bad weather and there is a massive traffic jam, drivers are locked into it. At appropriate points on the M25 there should be gates that the police can open with traffic signals, so that if there is a tailback for five or six miles before the next exit drivers would have the option of turning round, going back off the motorway and taking some other route. The same applies to warning notices because it is all too easy to come on to the M25 and find a 10-mile traffic jam straight ahead. If there had been a notice about 100 yards
Column 842further back, one would not have gone on to the M25 and would have avoided the traffic jam, with corresponding reductions in the congestion faced by everyone else.
I approve of my right hon. Friend's announcement about cameras. Obviously there are technical problems that we must all consider carefully, but I hope that cameras will be used to deal with speeding on motorways because we all know perfectly well that there is virtually no speed limit enforcement at the moment. I hope that cameras will also deal with the problem of tail-gating, which is undoubtedly terrifying for many people, especially when it involves heavy lorries. As I understand it, there are proposals for governors on coaches which are also a serious motorway hazard. When will coach governors be introduced and enforced?
I wish to make only two other points as I am anxious to leave time for other hon. Members to speak in this short debate. My right hon. Friend should consider carefully, with the Home Office, the problem of car theft. Cars are often stolen for so-called joyrides, which is dangerous because there is no insurance. Car theft, based on the idea of taking the car without the owner's permission, is a totally absurd offence with totally absurd penalties. One could steal a car worth between £10,000 and £20,000 and attract a penalty of the kind that might reasonably be expected if one had picked a pocket for, say, a £5 note.
Finally, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will stick to his proposals in the White Paper for not extending clamping. I do not believe that clamping has been helpful in central London, but whether or not that is so I am clear that it would not be helpful in a broader context.
I am against Privy Councillors making long speeches and hope that mine has not been too long. I ask my right hon. Friend to support my suggestions.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : When serious accidents such as those mentioned in the motion and the amendment occur it is a matter of form in this House to express sympathy to the victims and to extend congratulations to the members of the rescue services. However, I doubt whether any of us know how traumatic it is for the victims of such accidents who survive and for the relatives of those who do not. Nor, I suspect, do we really know what young policemen and policewomen or young soldiers have to face in the aftermath of such major disasters. I entertain great doubt whether I could do what they have to do in the course of their duty. I suspect that when we express sympathy or extend our congratulations we do so as much out of a sense of relief as from any other motive.
If I may be forgiven the expression, the Opposition motion has an "omnibus" quality about it. It is guilty of a certain imprecision in language. However, it raises sharply an issue that the Government amendment complacently ignores. In such a debate, some things cannot be challenged. Congestion in London is now a national issue. No doubt all of us could give illustrations of that from our experiences. It took, for example, seven minutes for the nearest fire engine to reach King's Cross Underground station--a distance of 1,400 yards, at a speed of approximately 7 mph. When students sat on two bridges
Column 843near the House of Commons before Christmas the traffic in central London took between three and four hours to return to normal. If any hon. Members who go to Heathrow ever travel west on the M4 between 6am and 7am, they will enjoy a relatively easy passage, but they will see the stagnant east-bound lanes, of private or seemingly private cars containing drivers but no passengers, nose to tail for many miles. That is hardly surprising because 2.1 million vehicles cross the old Greater London council boundary every day and 1.5 million vehicles come within 1.8 miles of Aldwych. It is easy to say that all the drivers on the M4 should be on public transport, but what consequences would that have? There would be more overloaded trains and more overloading on the Underground.
Those of us who use Heathrow regularly are ashamed of the first impression that many foreign travellers to Britain must get. The facilities on the Underground from Heathrow to central London are grossly inadequate, with no proper provision for luggage. The trains are frequently unclean and unpleasant and in the rush hour it is often difficult to get a seat when travelling from central London. Anecdotal evidence is always to be found in such debates, and on Saturday, in a state of modified rapture, I came back from Twickenham to Waterloo and then attempted to travel from Waterloo to Heathrow by tube. To do so, I sought to go down one of the three escalators leading from the forecourt to the tube system, but only one was operating. The other two had clearly been out of operation for some considerable time, with little explanation and the inevitable congestion. One finds that kind of breakdown far too often in the system. It inevitably results in inconvenience and congestion. It has been estimated that the cost of road congestion in London now amounts to about £1.5 billion per annum and about £10 billion for the United Kingdom as a whole.
It seems clear that the forecasts of growth, upon which investment has been made, have rarely been accurate. One cannot believe that the present level of congestion would arise as a result of a planned or forecast expansion. It is also the case that the lead-in time to the substantial improvements that are required is unnecessarily long. The problem is that commuters do not sit quietly at home waiting for the improvements to be effected. I suspect that most commuters would have little interest in the statistical to-ing and fro-ing that has characterised the debate. They have an interest only in being comfortable, safe and efficiently conveyed to their place of work. We are now paying for years and years of neglect. We still rely on a system which, so far as the railways are concerned, has more than a hint of Victorian values about it. The scale of the problem that we face, especially in the south-east, requires massive investment, plus a recognition of the necessary interdependence between different modes of travel. I fail to see how that can be achieved without central direction and public-led investment.
There must also be a recognition that improvements must meet changing environmental aspirations. The public expect and demand it and are right to do so. It necessarily follows that environmentally sympathetic improvements of the transport system will be more expensive. We cannot expect to preserve the environment on the cheap. However offensive that may be to other elements of the Government's philosophy, they must accept that the
Column 844maintenance of the environment will require central direction and in important and significant cases possibly central decision-making also.
Public transport need not all be publicly owned, but the overall pattern of public transport must be established with the public interest in mind. The Government have a duty to establish that pattern. I regret that so far in the debate there has been precious little evidence that they have done so or that they are willing to do so. For that reason, my hon. Friends and I will support the Opposition motion.
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test) : I rise simply to ask the question which I wanted to ask earlier this afternoon and which can be incorporated in this wide debate on transport. I am becoming a little concerned that the police are being given ever-increasing powers. Motorists are normally law-abiding citizens and have no intention of getting 12 penalty points.
The police are harassed because of the amount of legislation that has been passed during the last few years. I feel that some of the points made by my right hon. Friend could mean that once again my constituents, who use the Winchester bypass, the M3 and the M25--which appears to be in complete disrepair--will be feeling harassed. There have been 5,000 deaths caused, for example, by drink-driving, disrepair of motorways or by a basic fault in the car's structure. My right hon. Friend must, however, from time to time pat motorists on the back for the reduction in road casualties, which I am sure would go down well.
Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend has made an important point. I strongly sympathise with him. The point of the White Paper is to provide the most severe penalties for those who drive badly. However, those who commit trivial offences--as any hon. Member could--will be treated more leniently than in the past. They will receive more warnings.
The reduction in road accidents over the past few years reflects great credit on drivers. I shall continue to make that clear. I am sorry if I have not made that point clear enough this afternoon.
Mr. Hill : There has been a lack of good propaganda for the police. A television film was made about the M4. In a recent court case in Winchester, policemen, along with private investigators, were found guilty of using the police national computer to find out information mainly about motorists. That is something which cannot be allowed to continue. The police national computer must be readily available, especially to police patrolling motorways, but there must be a safeguard to ensure that those who earn money from such information cannot gain access to it.
My right hon. Friend has lived with the problem of the M3 for many years, but let us hope that it will not go on much longer. Will it go through St. Catherine's Hill, around St. Catherine's Hill on the existing Winchester bypass or where? Such a city as Southampton, growing in leaps and bounds, needs that information.
On a completely different subject, there was a debate in the plenary session of the Council of Europe last week on aviation security. I believe that there must be an overall European overview on aviation security, but that it should be carried even further. When my right hon. Friend
Column 845receives the completed resolution and a copy of the report of the debate--in which I spoke--he will notice that it goes far beyond Europe. After the Lockerbie incident, we could point to security in Frankfurt and in London, but, of course, planes come in from the far east, Canada and the United States of America. An international body must set down the guidelines for aviation security. There must be a points system for airports. All airports are not safe. I believe that we all agree that my right hon. Friend was right to refuse to issue a licence to an employer at London airport who had not taken the necessary precautions to find out the background of his employees. That happens, however, in practically every airport throughout the world. Generally, the back doors of airports are not guarded. There is no end to aviation security. I suppose that we members of the Council of Europe must be brave as we travel throughout the world. The sooner that my right hon. Friend can create a good image of the police, of the motorists and certainly of his Department, the better. It is not just a matter of money.
We should think seriously about the provision of toll motorways. My right hon. Friend has probably already thought about them. There is no reason why there should not be toll motorways alongside existing motorways. Those of us who use the M3 would be delighted if, by paying a toll, we could drive to London that bit quicker. My right hon. Friend would be well advised to drive from Calais to Strasbourg on the French toll motorway so that he can appreciate the efficiency of that system.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury) : I listened with considerable astonishment to the Secretary of State's contribution to the debate and I read with equal incredulity the terms of the amendment to the Opposition motion. Both were essays in complacency which sits completely at odds with the daily experience of my constituents. The majority of my constituents use London Transport in some form or another virtually every day of their lives. Their day by day experience is of increasing congestion, of dirty stations, of overcrowded trains and buses, and fares that are rising at considerably greater rates than the rate of inflation. They are concerned about the safety of the transport system which they use. My constituents' worry and anger about the system that they must use are completely unreflected, and unanswered, by the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Smith : I knew that I was wise to give way to the hon. Gentleman, because it enables me to point out that time is extremely short in this debate. Many of my hon. Friends were present during the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). Many of my hon. Friends representing London constituencies-- those who were here and those who were unable to be present--have mentioned similar concerns to my own.
Many recent London Transport decisions have made matters worse. One example is the continual drive by London Transport to introduce an even greater