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Mr. Hanley : I have only a short time. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be making his own excellent speech in due course. Overall, a 5 per cent. increase in the level of service on the Underground is planned for next year. That will be achieved partly by increasing the number of scheduled trains and partly by reducing train cancellations. Better management will have--and is already having--a positive
Column 1110effect on the success of LRT today. Bus services must become more reliable, trains less crowded and average waiting times shorter. Unless that happens, demand for car use will increase and that is the way to disaster. People already complain about the unacceptable congestion on inner London roads. My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic is present. He knows that I believe that there must be an acceptable level of misery on London roads because improved traffic flow would merely suck in more and more cars, causing greater traffic density and further blockages. We need to increase bus and Underground use.
It has been said that fares have increased by double the rate of inflation, but even after allowing for inflation LRT fares have fallen well behind London wages since 1980 and in that respect are no higher than they were then. One must not match fare inflation with general inflation, pick out a particular statistic and then claim that we are hard done by.
London Buses is the Cinderella of the LRT network. During the GLC abolition campaign posters went up saying, "Come on in No. 9--your time is up." The No. 9 bus serves the northern part of my constituency. I am proud to say that it is still running despite the problems with Hammersmith bridge and I use it regularly, although, of course, it could be better.
The London bus network has been maintained and during the past few years there have been no major route cuts. Frequent midibus services operate around London, which are extremely popular, and in those areas where they operate more people choose to travel by bus than ever before. Bus miles have increased and are planned to increase by a further 4 per cent. in the coming year.
One poster used during the GLC abolition campaign said that pensioners would lose their concessionary fares, but that has not happened. I remember that in Committee the majority of Conservative Members present voted in favour of concessionary fares and subsequently the Government agreed not merely to accept concessionary fares for a short time but to entrench them in statute to protect London pensioners in a way never contemplated by the Labour party.
I remember the misery of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when he realised that London pensioners would be grateful to the Government and that the Government were about to reverse the lie that had been put about by the GLC scaremongers. London Buses had established CareLink between main line stations and has converted all its AirBuses so that they are equipped for wheelchairs. Dial-a-Ride facilities have increased dramatically and a further £1 million invested last year means that £7 million has been invested in the service. Since 1985-86, investment in that service has increased by more than 40 per cent.
Why are buses still considered unattractive alternatives to the Underground? It is because of illegal parking. My
Column 1111hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport must grasp this nettle quickly. We need to ensure that local authorities are better funded so that they can deal with illegal parking. We must have a better parking warden system and everything must be done on the major routes to end such parking, which is the major cause of delays to London's buses.
There are now 4,100 one-person operated buses and 600 Routemasters. The OPOs have not been universally popular and I am glad that LRT has been sensitive enough to retain Routemasters where they have a clear advantage over the OPOs. But the OPOs are more reliable than Routemasters because only one member of staff is needed before they are taken out, they are warmer because the doors close and they are safer because people do not drop off the back of the bus as they used to do in the old days. London Buses thus maintains a healthy network and a healthy list of equipment.
In regard to investment in LRT this year, £236 million will go to London Underground, £70 million to Docklands, but only £25 million to buses. Yet 80 per cent. of cars crossing London bridges contain only one person. That must be mad. Clearly people travelling in cars should be encouraged to travel in vehicles carrying many more people. If they need to be encouraged by ticketing, road pricing or fining, so be it, but the best way to encourage them would be to have even more attractive, flexible and fluid routing on London Buses. Finally, we have deregulation throughout the country, but we do not have deregulation in London. A date in the 1990s has been set. I believe that London Buses deserves and needs a fixed date to be able to work towards deregulation in London.
Demand on London Regional Transport fell by 25 per cent. in the late 1970s and early 1980s under the GLC, and, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) has said, it has risen by 50 per cent. in the past few years. The hon. Lady, while agreeing with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Minister said, again used transport and the deaths of individuals as a political football. She misquoted the Fennell report which states :
"There is no evidence that the overall level of subsidy available to LRT was inadequate to finance necessary safety-related spending and maintain safety standards".
In other words, it is not because the Government have not invested--it was partly because of failures at every level in London Regional Transport, which have now been put right, but the main reason for the fire was a genuine accident, although that may be unpalatable to those looking for a political scapegoat.
I am proud of the Government's investment in London Regional Transport. I believe that ratepayers in London want an ever better system and that the proportion of ratepayers' and central taxpayers' money spent on transport is basically fair. Nobody wants to pay more rates, but the system benefits mainly Londoners and Londoners should be proud to pay for it.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I do not complain that the subsidy this year has increased by 50 per cent. That is because the subsidy has been considerably less during the past two years. But the subsidy of nearly £290 million this year is less than the subsidy in 1986 which was £295 million or in 1985 when it was £325 million.
Column 1112I agree with the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms. Ruddock) and I disagree with the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). It is the King's Cross fire which has produced the extra subsidy from the taxpayer and the ratepayer. If the Minister does not accept that, I quote back at him part of his own letter to London Members of Parliament earlier this month, much of which he repeated tonight :
"There are 2 main reasons why the grant to LRT and the associated levy on London's ratepayers needs to be increased in 1989-90 :" The first
"is increased spending on safety measures following the King's Cross fire".
He goes on to explain that :
"The Government has made full provisions for the £266 million sought by LRT for this purpose over the next 3 years and of this some £80 million will fall in 1989-90."
Only now have the Government recognised that safety and security have to be paid for and it is disgraceful that that was not recognised in the past. Therefore, I do not believe that the public in London will complain that more taxpayers' and ratepayers' money has to be contributed towards it. The Department of Transport's statistics confirm that revenue support in 1987- 88 was only a third of the support of 10 years ago. Central Government have been regularly reducing revenue and ratepayer support rather than increasing it. That this year a small alteration in this pattern has taken place is almost entirely because of the King's Cross fire. It appears from LRT's business plan, however, that the support is still not enough. First, it was calculated that inflation would be 4 per cent., and it seems that it is now more likely to be 7 or 8 per cent. Secondly, LRT states that the costs of safety improvements may be subject to underestimates. Thirdly, it says that the costs of the outcome of the central London rail study have not been taken adequately into account. Those are sums for the future and sums for now. The probability is that even LRT's needs, as it has assessed them, will not be met. As a result, we shall not be coping with passenger demand adequately. We appreciate that that demand is increasing, and that is good because passenger transport should have substantially greater use, but the possibility is admitted in the business plan that no visible improvements will be made to customer service, even with the increased sum that is to be granted. The reality is that passengers are being made to pay. They have just been asked to pay, on average, 12.5 per cent. more in fares. Many passengers are paying a substantially greater increase than that. Those who use monthly travel cards for the central and inner zones have to pay nearly 19 per cent. more per year than hitherto. The Government are still saying, however, even with the increase in grant this year, that it is principally passengers who should meet the cost of improvements. Even capital investment will have to be paid for by the passengers. Central London rail study implications and east London rail study implications are likely to be funded substantially by passengers.
I think that the Minister will confirm that passengers contribute more than two thirds of the cost of travelling on LRT. Between them, the taxpayer and the ratepayer contribute less than a third, which is in turn divided two thirds to the ratepayer and one third to the taxpayer. I have only one appropriate comparison but there are others. In Paris, passengers pay 34 per cent. of the cost of
Column 1113travel. That is more as it should be. If the capital has a good transport system, the nation is well served. The capital has to work well, and to work well it must travel well. That is an argument that the Government have always used.
It is also inappropriate for the Government to claim that there is adequate investment when in all their plans and projections they look increasingly to the private sector for that investment. The same policy does not apply to the road system. Announcements have been made of improvements to the A13 and the north circular, for example. The roads are enjoying substantial public sector investment but the railways, the Underground system and the buses are not. I endorse the argument of the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes that the buses especially are still the Cinderella service. I ask the Minister seriously to take into account that buses are not receiving anything like the investment that is needed in London.
Some areas of London are not served by the Underground system. Areas such as my constituency are not generally served by it. Southwark is an area that relies almost entirely on the buses, but it is the Underground system, because of the King's Cross disaster, which is receiving the greatest share of increased subsidy and investment, not the buses.
There is also not sufficient strategic planning for LRT. If the Government are seeking increasingly to cut public subsidy and to look to the private sector, new facilities will be built and provided that the private sector wishes to fund. That is not the way strategically to plan London's transport. I do not begrudge some of the potential initiatives. I am not against the proposal of a line from Waterloo to the Isle of Dogs to be funded privately, or partly privately, but that is not strategic planning. That is responding to a specific interest by a specific private sector developer.
Against this background, congestion will worsen. Congestion is self- generating. The Tube platforms become full and the train doors cannot shut as too many passengers try to enter the carriages. The delays are longer and there are therefore fewer trains, so more passengers wait on the platforms. Above ground, buses go slowly, then cars pile up and then the roads become full, so people decide that they will not go by bus because the buses go slower and the average speed is reduced. The whole process is cyclical. We must cut through the traditional reduction of the role of public transport. The situation will also become far worse with the implications of the Channel tunnel. As passengers disgorge at Waterloo, King's Cross, Stratford or wherever, there will be 5 million, 10 million or 15 million extra passengers and we clearly must have the capacity to deal with them. The increase in the use of public transport in London by people outside London, as well as the development in the East End, means that we need substantial public investment now if our capital city is not to grind to a halt in all respects in the 1990s.
Column 1114The Government have no strategic planning. The central London rail study reports one week and the east London rail study is commissioned the next. In places such as my constituency, we still have poor public transport. It is no good having as the answers a little bit of investment one year, a central London rail study to deal with central London congestion and an east London rail study to deal with prospective growth in the East End in the next. Many parts of London are not affected by those area planning projects. South-east London, which has been a transport white hole for a long time, hardly benefits at all according to any of those plans. We really need to have a better, coherent, integrated transport policy for London. That will require--in the interests of the country as a whole, as well as the capital city--substantially increased public investment. It is no good saying that we have 50 per cent. more investment this year and to be apologetic about it. The Government should not be apologetic. We need the investment. The taxpayer and the ratepayer should be asked to pay and will willingly pay if they see the benefits of that investment in the capital's daily transport service.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The levy and the debate are about the level, the standard and the safety of the service. Many hon. Members have referred to safety, as is right. "Salus populi suprema lex"--people's safety is the highest law--is the old legal maxim. That is right in the context of the Fennell inquiry and report into the King's Cross fire. No hon. Member would begrudge the money being spent to put right some of the dangers that have been identified. I welcome the steps that have been taken to put that right. My questions relate to how that is to be paid for, who pays and who benefits.
A great irony arises from the fact that within the past year we have had two transport disasters within the London boroughs area. One was at King's Cross and the other at Clapham junction, in my own constituency. The irony relates to the inquiry that is looking into the Clapham junction disaster and will come up with recommendations. Each of them will, I hope, be agreed by the House and put into practice by the powers that be. But they will not be a burden on the ratepayers of London, but spread across the taxpayers of the country. To a considerable extent, the King's Cross recommendations are to be a burden exclusively on the London ratepayers. Sixty-six per cent. of the costs of safety measures will be a burden on London ratepayers, yet the people using London transport come from a wider area, as several of my hon. Friends have pointed out.
If one stands any morning at Waterloo station, one sees people coming in from Reading and Reigate, Epsom and Esher and pouring down the holes in the ground. Of course, if they go on the Drain to the City, they are on a British Rail line which is paid for by the taxpayer, but on any other line they pay the same fare as the Londoners travelling, but benefit from the extra subsidy that Londoners are paying through their rates towards the cost of the Underground and bus services. That is what some of us feel is a little hard to swallow. But even if I swallow hard and say that that is acceptable on the ground of safety, when I look at the figures--£190 million increasing to £287 million and a rate levy of 6p in the pound to 9p in the pound--I realise that that is a 50 per cent. increase in the cost to my constituents. Fifty per cent. and there has
Column 1115been no warning, no consultation, no explanation and no justification. If local authorities wanted to increase rates by 50 per cent. the whole House would rightly go mad.
Many of my hon. Friends, and especially my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), have suggested that there are good reasons for major investment and I do not disagree with that, but if we are to have a 50 per cent. increase in the levy, I want to see something approaching a 50 per cent. increase in the service. However, all that London Regional Transport boasts in its plans is a 5 per cent. improvement in its Underground service and a 5 per cent. increase in the bus mileages to be covered in the coming year. And, lo and behold, it also boasts that no major routes will be withdrawn. Although I am sure that we are all pleased about that, that is not quite the 50 per cent. increase for which we had hoped.
Of course, major routes are to cross London and go out to docklands and so on, but 90 per cent. of the area that I represent does not have an Underground service. As anyone who travels through it knows, it is the place where one starts to slow down when driving into work. It is the area in which we want to get people off the roads and on to public transport, but we cannot put them on the Underground because there is no Underground link connecting with Clapham junction. That is something on which I should like London Regional Transport to come forward with plans. I do not ask for it to happen tomorrow or under this year's plan but only that it should come about in at least a few years' time so that hon. Members can look ahead and say to our constituents and commuters, "Yes, there is a plan and in the course of time there will be schemes to link the Chelsea-Hackney line to Clapham junction so that we can then link it further south." I do have one little Underground line in my constituency. It is the black line, in fact the southern end of the Northern line. All the reports that I have been reading have stated that that is the one bit of the Northern line that cannot be improved. However, it could be improved if we could take some of the passengers off it. If one took the link down to Clapham junction and extended it to the southern end of the Northern line, one could improve even that line and make life more bearable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes painted a happy picture of his borough with buses all over the place, although I gather that people occasionally fall off the back of them. My hon. Friend is proud of theNo. 9 bus. All I can say to him is that if he comes across a No. 9, perhaps he will send it back to Battersea because we do not see them very often there.
I want a better bus service. I want one that is flexible enough to cope with the occasional disaster like the closing of Battersea bridge so that buses can be fed and people can walk across the bridge to board a bus at the other side. That does not happen at the moment. The buses are sent all round the park and people have to walk half a mile to get a bus to get to their jobs. I want a bus service that is flexible enough to allow Hoppa buses to cope with the developing areas of my part of London and buses that can go down those streets where the Routemasters and the one-person- operated buses cannot get because of low bridges.
Tonight I am issuing a challenge not to the Government, but to London Regional Transport. I challenge its officials to get from behind their desks in
Column 1116Broadway and look at their map. If they do so, they will see a wiggly blue line at the bottom. It is not the English channel ; it is the wiggly blue line beyond which London Regional Transport rarely travels. It is the boundary of the river Thames. All that I ask is that the second, the lower, the southern half of London is given a chance in the investment made by London Regional Transport, especially in Underground services, but also in bus services. If London Regional Transport puts us on its drawing board, we shall put it back on our giving list next Christmas for an increase in the levy.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leytonstone) : The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) is right that the increase in the levy is not justified. I oppose the 50 per cent. increase imposed upon London ratepayers to pay for an unaccountable Tory-run quango. I say "Tory-run" because the new chairman is a failed Tory candidate, carrying out the same failed Tory transport policies as his predecessors. The Government are presiding over an increasingly run-down, deteriorating and dangerous service for which London commuters and travellers are being asked to pay more and more.
I draw attention, on behalf of the bus users in my constituency, to the new yellow bus fare zone that has been imposed across Leyton. I wrote to LRT about it and was told in a letter that the extra zone "is not restricted to passengers from your constituency I recognise the fact that they have enjoyed relatively low-priced travel for some years in the past."
LRT could have fooled my constituents that it was low-priced travel, although they enjoyed that brief period when the GLC cut fares substantially, before the Government blocked that move and increased the fares again. The letter went on :
"I recognise that that will be of little consolation now to those who have had to pay what is effectively a catching-up' rise this time. I am afraid that these changes are necessary if we are to meet our financial targets."
Those targets were, of course, imposed by the Government. We are talking in this case not just about a 12.5 per cent. fare rise imposed by LRT on top of the annual inflation increase, but an additional rise for local residents who cross that yellow zone line. It means that residents of Leyton pay four times for worse services as staff are sacked and roads become increasingly congested. Under the levy order they are having to pay a rates increase of 50 per cent., a 12.5 per cent. fare rise and an additional amount for the yellow zone. I protest most vigorously about that.
Mr. Corbyn : My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and I, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Newham, North (Mr. Banks), served in 1984 on the Standing Committee which considered what became the London Regional Transport (Amendment) Act 1985. We fought that measure line by line and everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton predicted has come to pass. He predicted that the Government's proposals would result in a worse service and higher fares, leading to the sort of problems and chaos that now exist. He was far-sighted in 1984 and he is right again tonight.
Column 1117predictions had not become reality. London's travellers would benefit if we did not have a regime which imposed those sort of burdens on them.
Like many Londoners, I regard the new automatic barriers at Underground stations as unsafe, especially after the King's Cross fire, and inconvenient, particularly for women with prams and people carrying luggage. The Minister referred to consultants having been appointed to look into the matter. Who are they? Nobody has heard of Mott McDonald. Perhaps they have been used by LRT to do a little whitewash job in the past, and now they are being used for a big whitewash job. Even while that exercise is in progress, 118 barriers are being installed and other stations are having exits blocked. It looks very much like a PR fraud and I warn the Minister that we will be watching the situation closely.
Mr. Tony Banks : I commend my hon. Friend for campaigning so vigorously against the ludicrous barriers that are now being installed in the London Underground system. They seem to have been designed by a man carrying nothing but a newspaper under his arm. People carrying packages in both hands find it virtually impossible to pass through. They were designed by a cretin and LRT must think we are cretins if it believes we are going to carry on using them.
The Minister should have the decency to require of London Regional Transport publication of the fire and health and safety reports for every station where automatic barriers are installed. We have a right to know whether those stations are safe, and what the fire and safety experts have to say about them. That information would contribute to the public debate, and might allow changes to be made. It is immoral of the Government not to publish those reports.
Last week, I asked for a speedy answer to my question about the cost of installing automatic barriers. I hoped to receive that answer by today, but I suspect that I shall receive it tomorrow--long after this debate has ended. I suspect that the cost of installing that wasteful system runs into millions of pounds--and London ratepayers will be charged 50 per cent. of that expense. What a scandal that is.
A "World in Action" programme a couple of weeks ago described going into the Underground as being like a descent into hell. But apart from the discomfort, there is danger there--with many serious accidents and even death a likely consequence of the overcrowding which has been caused by underinvestment and the lack of co-ordinated planning over the years.
Another element in overcrowding is the Government's employment policy. They have sold out to the land and property speculators in the suburbs, so that factories that used to provide local employment have closed down, with the people who used to work there being forced to travel to London to work. As Government policy contributes to overcrowding, the Government ought to pay to overcome it, and not compel London ratepayers to do so.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to give the Government credit for re-equipping the Central line, which serves his constituency, at a cost of £700 million.
Mr. Cohen : I give the Government credit for nothing in respect of their transport policy. It has not been particularly good for the Central line. The hon. Gentleman should have used his minute to talk about the escalators at Walthamstow Central station, which have not operated for months on end.
Mr. Chris Smith : Will my hon. Friend reflect not only on the Government's delay in making much-needed improvements to the Central line, but the total absence of any progress in improving the Northern line--which is the real Cinderella of the system?
The order concerns ratepayers, and the Conservatives should be known as the party of high rates. That is what they are. They have cut rate support grant by about £24 billion, forcing rates up in borough after borough. On 15 February, the House discussed business rates, and the newspapers carried headlines such as
"Ridley defends steep rate rises".
Some businesses face a 193 per cent. increase in their rates over five years.
Mr. Corbyn : In addition to the Conservatives being known as the party of high rates, they should be known as the Government of central diktat. London local authorities have lost the opportunity to make any serious decisions on planning issues. Once a year, we are allowed to spend one and a half hours in the middle of the night debating a vital issue such as transport. That makes a nonsense of democracy and of participatory planning.
Mr. Cohen : I agree completely that we do not get a proper opportunity to make London Regional Transport accountable. The Tories are the party of high rates. Putting 50 per cent. on to the burden for ratepayers is conclusive proof of that. Even the leader of Bromley council, Mr. Barkway, said that the move was absolutely outrageous. There is fury in all camps. How can the Government make a statement that the rates can only go up by 2 per cent.? The Department of the Environment is clearly not aware of what the Department of Transport is planning. How can the Government allow this to go on without consultation? It shows the fraud that the Government have perpetrated on ratepayers over the years. Conservative party members in my borough went out with hard-pressed ratepayers to demonstrate when the rates were forced up a couple of years ago because of the huge penalties imposed by the Government. They sponsored demonstrations in many cases. Yet here we have Conservative Members supporting rate rises. The Conservatives are the party of high rates. They should not be allowed to get away with such hypocrisy.
Mr. Tony Banks : Can my hon. Friend imagine what the position would have been if the Greater London council had gone for a 50 per cent. increase? The debate would not have been reduced to one and a half hours at this time of night ; it would have been blasted across all the newspapers
Column 1119--not just the London newspapers but the national newspapers. This is what has replaced the GLC and democratic debate. It is a load of rubbish and a farce. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out in his speech, which I hope will last at least another three minutes.
The director of finance in Waltham Forest has said that the rise will mean that ratepayers will have to contribute an additional £980, 000. One reason, suggested perhaps cynically, is that 1989 is the last opportunity for London ratepayers to be asked to contribute towards LRT's costs, as no levy is to be made in the future. The Government are soaking London ratepayers when they can get away with it. Next year they will soak poll tax payers, albeit in a different way. They will take away the grant from local authorities and the poll tax will be higher and higher.
The Government have pretended that it is a question of safety, but safety has been a low priority for the Government year after year. That was clear in the wake of the King's Cross fire. The Government have not been putting in a proper contribution. They are still not contributing enough to make up for the years of cuts and neglect of London's transport system.
The Tories should be known as an anti-ratepayer and an anti-public transport party in London. That is why I oppose the levy. It is an imposition that should not be put on London ratepayers on top of the recent fare increases. We need more than one short debate to make that known to the people. Transport will become a vital issue in local elections and in the next general election. It will be a contributory factor in sweeping the Government out of office. It will be one of the few things that moves the Government. If the transport system--
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business) :--
The House divided : Ayes 106, Noes 10.
Division No. 114] [11.43 pm
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Fishburn, John Dudley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fox, Sir Marcus