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Column 963London Regional Transport should give real decision-making power to lower management. That has been done in connection with buses and in my constituency the bus service has improved as a result. After some initial teething troubles, Harrow Buses now runs a more comprehensive and reliable system than at any time since I have been a Member of Parliament. I have not had one complaint about the buses for six months. I shall probably now receive a torrent of letters complaining about them. Nevertheless, I have not had one complaint and that is a tribute to Harrow Buses. Real power has been given to local management and that could work on London Underground. This is a good report. It has not been allowed to gather dust as so many reports do. It is a blueprint for a safe and easy -to-use Underground system. I commend the report and I commend the Government's response to it so far.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) made a moving spech, as he did at the time of this particularly unfortunate tragic event. He paid tribute to the emergency services in London and elsewhere. We should be far more mindful of those services, not just when there is a tragedy--I regret that there have been too many transport tragedies recently--but all the time.
Words are cheap in this place. In some cases they are almost useless. We should not just wait for the occasion when the House unites in expressing profound regret at some calamitous event and then pays its normal orthodox tributes to the emergency services. Our capital city has superb emergency services. In many respects they are far better than we deserve, given the resources we make available to them. I hope that we shall return to provision for the ambulance service, the fire brigade and the police on an occasion other than after some tragedy that concentrates our mind. Then perhaps we can speak with a clear and easy conscience in the House. As far as I am aware, there are not many dangers in being a Member of Parliament. The only thing that we are likely to die of in this place is boredom. We do not face dangers such as those who serve the people of this country in the emergency services face daily.
I shall not go through the various points in the Fennell report in a forensic way--that has already been done for some time now. I want to draw some general conclusions about transport in London from the report. I was grateful recently when the Secretary of State found time, as they say, during his busy day to come to a meeting of the London group of Labour Members for a general discussion about transport facilities and provision in the capital. The right hon. Gentleman was helpful ; there was no great meeting of minds, but we were grateful to him for listening to our points and trying to answer some of them.
The Secretary of State said one thing that shocked all our members. We had pointed out that there were so many reports and inquiries in London at present that we wondered who was taking a strategic overview of transport in London. From the chair, I asked him whether, since he had removed the strategic authority--the Greater London council--he was now effectively the strategic transport authority for London. He said that he was not.
Column 964My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) invited him to assume that responsibility. This is one of the gravest problems we face in London. No one is looking at the overall pattern of transport provision. That is a fatal weakness, and the Government must deal with it soon.
Mr. Spearing : I would not have intervened but for the fact that I tabled a question to that effect, to which I have just had a written answer. The Minister for Roads and Traffic said that legislation had "established London Regional Transport and charged them with the duty of planning and providing passenger transport services for Greater London."
Apparently, the duty now devolves on LRT, which does not fill me with confidence.
Mr. Banks : That does not sound like what really happens. I cannot see how LRT can be responsible for the whole transportation system in London. Network SouthEast might have a few words to say about that. I went to see British Rail board members about the siting of the second London terminal for the Channel tunnel, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith). I asked British Rail about the strategic implications of more and more people coming through King's Cross station area and the problems that that would cause for central London. British Rail board members said that they were sorry but that British Rail was a commercial transport undertaking, charged by the Government with being just that. They said that British Rail was not the strategic transport authority for London or the south-east--and that is correct.
All this is nonsense. The CBI has now decided to make some noises about the chaos that is beginning to overtake London transport. It is not good enough for the Government, the Secretary of State, Ministers or their apologists on the Back Benches to say that the market can somehow deal with all those matters and that there is no need for a strategic transport planning authority in London--there manifestly is. Such authorities exist in other capital cities in Europe ; the Government must deal with this problem forthwith.
I should like to discuss capital and revenue subsidy for LRT and London Underground Limited in the context of what was done when the GLC was responsible. The Government have consistently pointed to high levels of capital investment on the Underground. I put it to the Minister that some of that capital expenditure makes the Underground system less safe. I refer immediately to the £165 million that is being spent on the Underground ticketing system and those infamous ticket barriers. They have been installed not for safety but to try to cut fare evasion. We join Conservative Members in saying that it is wrong for so many people to evade their fares. They make honest fare-paying passengers pay more. However, given the level of unemployment and social deprivation in London, it is not surprising that, with fare levels rising, people evade payment.
That answers the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), who said that no disincentive was caused by high fares. There is disincentive ; it arises from people not paying the fares and still using the system. Then expensive capital investment is needed to cut the fare evasion that was created by sticking up fares in the first place. The hon. Gentleman needs to adopt a more sophisticated approach.
Column 965The other point about deterrence is that it begs the question : how does the hon. Member for Harrow, West know how many people who are not travelling on the system because of high fares have been deterred by them? If he claims that the answer shows up in the level of passenger usage, I put it to him that, because of the chaos on the roads, more and more people are using the transport system, not because they think it wonderful or comfortable but because it is the only way in which they can travel. Some people cannot exercise any choice. The hon. Member for Harrow, West should take other social factors into account before saying that higher fares do not constitute a disincentive.
We have heard about the failure of the gates. One does not need a Ph.D in transport management to work out, having used them, that the gates are highly inconvenient at the very least, particularly for people with luggage, children and pushchairs. They have made it more difficult and inconvenient to travel on the system. As was shown with the introduction of one-man operated buses, LRT could not give a monkey's toss for what the customer wants on the Underground or the buses. It receives plenty of complaints and just ignores them. Unless the Government are prepared to exercise their function as the transport authority to which London Regional Transport reports, customers of the Underground and bus system will complain into empty air.
One quarter of the capital investment for the Underground outlined in LRT's annual business plan for 1987-88 for the three years to 1989-90 was allotted to stations. In 1985-86, £34 million was spent on station modernisation.
"The refurbishment of stations has done little for passenger safety. At some stations refurbishment has meant covering up old wiring and asbestos panels with plastic, creating new fire risks." That is the opinion of the London Hazards Centre. The hon. Member for Harrow, West mentioned overcrowding on station platforms--yet much of the modernisation has had the effect of reducing platform areas. They may look prettier when passing through but for those standing on them they become less safe. This problem, too, needs attention. The Government and Conservative Members have argued that they are spending more than the GLC did. I looked up the figures, because I guessed that the subject would come up in debate. The Government prevented the GLC from spending money on the Underground. I served on the Standing Committee considering the London Regional Transport Bill, in which the Government took responsibility for LRT from the GLC and vested it in themselves. That was done not because it was considered to be in the interests of the fare-paying public in London ; it was done as a prelude to the abolition of the Greater London council. The then Secretary of State for Transport--the present Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)--was warned time and again. I have been reading the report of our proceedings, and recall that I was one of those who kept jumping up to say, "You are going to cut back on safety." The right hon. Gentleman pooh-poohed it--as he always does--saying, "Nonsense. I have complete confidence " and so on. We were saying all this long before the tragic disaster at King's Cross, and we need no lessons from Conservative
Column 966Members who say that we are trying to gain a party political advantage from that disaster. We are not doing that, but we certainly do not intend to say nothing and to allow the tragedy to cover up the real political battles that have taken place in Committee and on the Floor of the House. Unless we fight and win such battles there will be more King's Cross disasters, and no hon. Member wants that to happen.
The GLC wanted to spend £669 million on transport in 1983-84, its last year as the body responsible for LRT. The Government accepted expenditure of £461 million. At the time, the GLC said :
"These cuts have meant that the programmes devised by the council to maintain and modernise London's transport infrastructure have not been fulfilled. In particular London's 10-year programme to modernise the Underground"--
we must remember that nearly all the central London system is more than 70 years old--
"had to be curtailed."
That was the result of a decision made by the Government on purely party political, ideological grounds. They wanted to ensure that the GLC did not invest in the London Underground system, and they wanted to cut public expenditure.
Capital investment may well have increased under the present Government, but subsidy has virtually disappeared. That cannot be ignored by the hon. Member for Harrow, West or his hon. Friends. When the Government took over public transport in London in 1984, the last year of GLC control, operating subsidy stood at nearly £200 million. For 1988-89, subsidy is expected to be £39 million ; next year it will be down to £7 million--and the only reason for that £7 million is a Government grant to LRT to operate the grossly under-funded door-to-door service for the disabled, dial-a-ride. That too was originated and paid for by the GLC.
It should at least concern us that in the mid-1980s public transport in, for example, Turin covered 87 per cent. of operating costs. In Rome the figure is 81 per cent. In Amsterdam it is 80 per cent., in Paris 54 per cent., in Brussels 74 per cent., and even in that home of capitalism, the United States, Chicago and Washington have figures of 47 per cent. and 51 per cent. respectively. Why should the position be so different in London? The hon. Member for Harrow, West said that it was because we have the oldest and most extensive system, but that is an argument for funding it, and for funding it more generously than other capital cities fund theirs.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : No. That is an argument for spending more on capital, not for revenue subsidy. It was the hon. Gentleman and his friends on the GLC who did the opposite and caused so much damage.
Mr. Banks : I realise that the hon. Gentleman was chatting away when I read out the figures for capital and revenue, but he cannot keep repeating this one. It simply is not true. I thought I had explained at the beginning of my speech why I believe that it is possible through spending on the revenue side to avoid spending so much on the capital side--although I accept that capital investment is needed. The revenue side covers the number of uniformed staff who operate on the tranport system. That means that it is unnecessary to put capital investment into these ridiculous gates.
If we are serious about dealing with crime, safety problems and ticket evasion, we should consider the
Column 967revenue subsidies that would provide adequate staffing levels. Not only are they needed ; they are what the public demand. We need not one or the other, but both. At least the hon. Member for Harrow, West has come halfway to agreeing with us that not enough is being spent on the capital side. I hope that eventually he will also see the sense of investing far more on the revenue side, for the two cannot be divorced in the simple way that he suggests.
If the Government are serious about Underground safety, why are they allowing LRT to get rid of all the guards? It makes no sense. I will say for the Minister that he is far more attuned to safety needs in the transport system than the former Secretary of State--the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury--would ever have been. He showed not the slightest interest in, or concern about, London's transport system. In the enormous letter that he sent to the chairman of LRT, he did not mention safety once. That was how much such priorities obsessed him : he could not care less. It is he who should be here in the dock today having to answer for what happened at King's Cross and elsewhere, but of course he has got out from under and is causing mayhem somewhere else in the body politic. The Bakerloo line will be the next to lose all its guards. What will happen to passengers if there is a fire in a tunnel which incapacitates the driver? That is a serious possibility. There were 1,248 fires on the Underground in 1988, compared with 844 in 1987. A spokesperson for the London fire brigade tells me that there has been an increasing incidence of fires in tunnels. When the guards have gone, who will be responsible for safety if something happens to a driver?
According to a report in The Observer of 19 February 1989, there is still no automatic override to prevent driver operators from opening the doors on the wrong side. If the Government have really established the safety culture of which the Minister speaks, they must consider such matters, and I expect the Minister to do just that.
Let me conclude by asking the Minister a few specific questions. The Fennell report's verdict on the railway inspectorate is that it is mistaken in its interpretation of the law, which has been too relaxed, and that it has misunderstood its responsibilities. That is indeed an indictment. What progress has been made on Fennell's recommendation that consideration should be given to the establishment of a single passenger safety inspectorate, charged with monitoring and supervising standards in all passenger transport? If the Minister wants to prove his worth as one who subscribes to the idea of the safety culture, he should put it into effect. We do not want words ; words are cheap in this place. What we want is a testament that there will be action.
Let me also ask the Minister why journalists and Members of Parliament still find it difficult to obtain information about safety from both LRT and London Underground Limited. Fennell says that the travelling public have a right to know about the safety arrangements made by transport operators, and the safety of the places in which they habitually gather.
The Minister knows, as I know, that the new ticket barriers are not safe. He gave assurances to the House in good faith, but then had to write letters to hon. Members saying that he had been misled. I hope that he kicked the
Column 968posteriors of those who inadvertently misled him into misleading us. If those new barriers are unsafe, why did not LRT employ an independent safety consultancy to look at them instead of Mott McDonald, a civil engineering consultancy that has worked with London Underground Limited many times before? Will the Mott McDonald report be made public when it eventually lands on the Secretary of State's desk?
What progress has been made in involving the unions more closely in safety matters? Fennell says :
"There must be more employee participation in the preparation and execution of London's underground safety programmes."
The management of London Underground Limited is still mediaeval. There is to be another strike next week. If the Minister is interested in safety he must investigate the present industrial relations in London's transport system.
The Government have been monumentally complacent about the underground system and, as the Secretary of State admitted, they have denied any responsibility for the strategic overview. In the past, they have shown themselves unfit to run the Underground and bus system of the capital city. I remember the former Transport Minister telling the House :
"Ratepayers are well satisfied at finding less than half the sum which the GLC would have required in subsidy to mop up the industry. Neither I nor the management are complacent."--[ Official Report, 23 February 1987 ; Vol. 111, c. 9.]
I wish that Ministers would meet the travelling public in London more often. Then they would realise just how dissatisfied people are. The Fennell report reveals exactly how complacent the Government and London Regional Transport have been, and indicts the Government as derelict and unfit to be responsible for the running of a transportation system. That is the accusation I level at the Government tonight.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : Order. There are still eight hon. Members, four from either side of the House, hoping to speak in the debate. Time is getting short, so I hope that hon. Members who are called will be fair to others by making brief speeches. 7.50 pm
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) : I shall honour your injunction, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and be brief. I apologise for not having heard the two opening speeches, but a member of the royal family was opening a hospital in Ealing and that detained me.
I shall make two quick introductory points. First, quite rightly, smoking is banned on London Underground, but a number of stations, including Ealing Broadway, are joint British Rail and London Underground. Platform 4 of British Rail backs on to the Central line platform eastbound. Smoking is banned on London Underground but not on British Rail. There is a common booking hall and other common parts of the station. It would simplify matters if smoking were banned throughout joint British Rail and London Underground stations as it would avoid the present confusion. Secondly, 18 months after the tragedy at King's Cross one man who died is still unidentified. It is sad that we live in a society in which someone can die and no one notices--no friends, no family
Column 969and no employer. If it is tragic to die in circumstances such as the King's Cross tragedy, how does one describe a death that no one notices?
I wish to make three points about the Fennell report which is excellent. In particular, I pay tribute to the diagrams which are essential if one is to understand the three-dimensional nature of the problem. Although the Fennell report relates to King's Cross, much of it has a much broader application. Chapter 14 on "The Auditing of Safety" recommends a structural response to safety issues which is equally relevant to construction companies and the airline industry. The concepts of introducing safety audits paralleling the financial audits, setting standards of safety and monitoring progress towards them are extremely relevant. I hope that the recommendations will be read not only by people responsible for London Underground but by people who have broader responsibility for safety throughout commerce and industry.
The same is true of chapter 15 which deals specifically with "Station Staffing and Training." The approach that it recommends is equally applicable throughout British industry. The concept of proper training, proper fire prevention drills and the evaluation of job training and joint exercises with the emergency services have a much broader application than London Underground. One can well imagine the shambles described in chapter 10 being replicated in other parts of our society if there were a similar fire. Much in the report has general application and I hope that the coherent response on safety issues that is recommended will be taken up more broadly. Secondly, I wish to raise some of the specific action taken by British Rail to deal with the recommendations. I declare an interest-- sadly, not a financial one--as a sponsor of the British Rail (King's Cross) Bill. Much in that Bill will not be controversial. Part of the work suggested involved an escalator and a subway connection between the Circle line platforms and the three tube line platforms. That will allow passengers to change lines without passing through the ticket hall as they do at present. That work would reduce the pedestrian flow through the ticket hall by about 30 per cent. and release enough space to accommodate further growth in demand for several years to come. I hope that there will be no difficulty about that. There are also plans to enlarge the existing underground ticket hall on the north and west sides to provide additional circulating space to deal with further growth in demand.
An eastern ticket hall under the Bravington block on the corner of York way and Pentonville road is to be constructed to serve the three tube lines and the Thameslink platforms. That will replace the existing street entrance in Pentonville road, but it is in a far better position so is expected to take pressure off the existing entrances to the Underground and the ticket hall. The relocation of the Thameslink station, the expansion of the Thameslink services and the new subway connections between the Thameslink platforms and the main line platforms at King's Cross will segregate the British Rail traffic from that on the London Underground and avoid some of the congestion that has been referred to.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), who is not in his place, said that if King's Cross were to be the international terminal the problem would be made worse. I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate the matter more fully, but one can
Column 970argue exactly the opposite with some force. If King's Cross were chosen as the second international terminal for London, it would reduce the number of passengers who would otherwise have to cross London from Waterloo, many using the Underground. If there were through trains to the north going through London it would reduce even further the number of people who would have to travel to King's Cross to change trains. Therefore, the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury are not all one-sided and one can argue the opposite. Doubtless we shall do so on a suitable occasion. Thirdly, the problem at the heart of the Fennell report and our debate is congestion. Page 153 of the report states :
"We heard evidence about the greatly increased use of the Underground system in recent years and the effects of congestion on passenger safety at King's Cross station and more generally." Almost every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate has mentioned congestion on the Underground. All the forecasts that I have seen suggest that it will get worse. So we are confronted with the problem of increasing capacity. We have squeezed almost all the capacity out of the existing system. We could create some marginal extra capacity by introducing new signalling systems, new rolling stock and perhaps some adjustments to platforms, but ultimately we need new tube lines in London to reduce pressure on the existing system.
Finally, given the understandable constraints on public expenditure to which all Conservative Members subscribe, will my hon. Friend the Minister explore to the full the opportunities for joint funding of new tube lines in London? Will he engage urgently in negotiations with the private sector to find some way of expanding the public transport network in London without relying wholly on public sector finance? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Department have done sterling work by getting the private sector to invest in transport. The Dartford crossing is a good example and the Heathrow express linking Paddington to the airport will be privately funded. There is an opportunity for my right hon. Friend to pursue even further the initiatives on which he has already embarked to get at the heart of the problem underlying our debate. There is simply not enough capacity on the public transport system to cope with London's booming economy. If we are not to bust the public expenditure constraints which we accept, and if we are not to put up with the congestion, we shall have to look urgently at the solutions that I have mentioned to see if, as Conservatives, we can get the private sector to invest in the improvement of the capital's infrastructure and resolve the problem at the heart of our debate this evening.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : The Secretary of State said that the lessons of Fennell go wider than London Underground. That is true. The lessons of the Fennell report go to the heart of the Government's attitude to public service and public spending and I shall return to that later in my speech. Like thousands of my constituents in Hackney, I use King's Cross station and termini every day. Like thousands of people throughout London, when I heard the news of the King's Cross fire and heard about the dreadful way in which those people died, struggling to get to the surface, like millions of Londoners who are regular commuters, I thought, there but for the grace of God.
Column 971I remember--I doubt whether the Secretary of State or Ministers do because they do not use the tube regularly-- travelling through King's Cross station the day after the fire and looking at the set expressions on commuters' faces. It will not avail Conservative Members to read from the Whips Office briefing. It will not avail the Secretary of State to talk about more money being spent and more capital investment. I have used London Underground since I was a schoolgirl travelling to Harrow County school for girls on the Metropolitan line. I, like millions of lifelong London commuters, have seen its decline in the past decade under this Government. I have seen an increase in squalor, overcrowding and crime and I have seen the extent to which people, particularly women, are frightened to travel at night.
There is no doubt that, whatever their political persuasion, Londoners have seen a public transport system which was the envy of the world decline to a state of sad and seedy squalor. As this is now the triumphant 10th anniversary of Thatcherism and as the decline has occurred in the decade of Thatcherism, one does not need to be a political scientist or an expert on the politics of transport to know where to point the finger of blame. The finger of blame for the squalor, decline and seediness of the underground system points squarely at the Government. Every London commuter knows that. I want to raise three main points. I have been approached by some of my constituents and by members of the unions concerned to raise with the Minister the fact that on the very day of the King's Cross fire employees of London Regional Transport who tried to hand out leaflets to passengers explaining the safety problems on the London transport system--problems which have been fully justified and supported by the Fennell report--were disciplined for their pains. I also understand that in the aftermath of the Clapham accident employees were disciplined or threatened with disciplinary action for trying to raise those important safety issues.
I ask the Minister to respond to that claim, which was widely aired in the newspapers at the time, and to give the House an assurance that in the future no employee of LRT or British Rail will be disciplined for trying to bring to the public's attention the very real safety problems. There is nothing that members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen or the National Union of Railwaymen have said about safety on London's transport system that is not amply borne out by the Fennell report.
We have listened to speeches from some Conservative Members claiming that the problem was not a lack of investment. However, as has been pointed out, even by some Conservative Members, the Government are boasting that their main response to the Fennell report is an investment of £266 million. One cannot square the fact that their response to the report is that much- needed shot of extra investment with the claim that investment was not the problem. If it was not a problem, why is there to be new investment? It is obvious to every traveller on the Underground that it is suffering from a lack of capital investment and revenue expenditure.
Only a Government with a fixed and dogmatic opposition to public expenditure and the public sector in general could deny that public expenditure and investment
Column 972in public transport in the capital city ought to be the highest priority. The Government should be ashamed that public investment and public subsidy for our transport system in London have fallen so low. I should like the Minister at the Dispatch Box to defend that position. The level of investment and subsidy for London Transport is among the lowest in Europe.
The Secretary of State has made great claims about the new safety culture. That is not before time. I was horrified, in the same way as anybody who read the Fennell report must have been, to read that there was nothing explicitly about safety in the standing orders of either LRT or London Underground. That has now been rectified, but it was clear that until the tragedy which took so many lives the priority of the managements of LRT and London Underground was profit.
As the Secretary of State said, the lessons of the Fennell report go wider than London Underground. For a decade we have had a Government who say that the market and profit are all-important. They believe that the public sector, those who work in it and anything it does should be denigrated. Therefore, it is no surprise that we end up with public sector services in the poor state of London Underground today. The Government put mammon before everything and their motto, as J. Galbraith said, is public squalor and private riches. Therefore, it is no surprise that we had a terrible disaster such as that we saw at King's Cross.
Opposition Members hope, speaking for the millions of people in London who depend on public transport, that the terrible disaster has changed the Government's mind and forced them to focus on the importance of investment in the public sector together with the importance of public transport to London and a high level of subsidy. At the Dispatch Box today we have seen a Secretary of State who is perhaps, unfortunately, on his way out. Let us hope that the debate will encourage a new culture among the Government in which there is pride in public transport and the public sector. Let us hope that money for public transport is on its way.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : What the debate ought to be about and what it is about are two different things. It should be about the points made in chapter 2, paragraph 14, of the Fennell report. It should be about finding the cause of the disaster. I stress the word "cause" rather than "blame" because those two words are also different. It should be about ensuring that such a tragedy never happens again. In fact, the debate has been about who is to blame and what produced the causes rather than about the causes themselves. That amounts simply to raking over the past for cheap party-political gain.
We should have been debating the importance of improving the future of our transport system and reassuring the travelling public. We should have been asking constructive questions such as whether the Fennell recommendations are the right recommendations to which we may wish to add-- [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has come back to listen because I listened to his speech. I did not try to interrupt him, so I hope that he will listen to what I have to say in the same spirit. When I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, I did not hear a single constructive comment.
Column 973It was a knocking job from start to finish and his message boiled down to an assertion that the Government were to blame for the tragedy and that cuts caused the fire. He is wrong on both counts but, as we have seen in the past, being wrong does not bother him a bit. Facts must not be allowed to stand in his way when he wants to kick about. The needs of the public must not be allowed to stand in his way when he is searching for a scapegoat.
So far, we have heard nothing constructive from the Opposition--[ Hon. Members-- : "Get on with it."] If Labour Members are prepared to press their case, I am prepared to examine it in exchange. Labour's case is founded on the concept of the Government being to blame for everything--any Government, not necessarily the present one. Apart from naked self- interest, why do Labour Members say that? The reason is simply that they are still hooked on a Socialist ideology. To a Socialist, when discussing matters such as the King's Cross fire, every problem is the fault of somebody else. To a Socialist, every solution must come from the nanny state. Socialists need to be able to blame the Government to justify the Government taking over and running our lives in future.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman cease his strictures on the nature of Socialism today and get back to the Fennell report? It is far from him to accuse us of not being constructive when all he has done is to attack my hon. Friends and Socialism. Let us hear about the Fennell report and safety for the people who use the London Underground.
Building on false foundations, the Labour party's detailed case on the report is equally flawed. Throughout the debate, Labour Members have been citing a lack of money. They have tried to ignore paragraph 3 in chapter 19. I shall quote it once again. It says :
"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 spending and maintain safety standards. I accept the evidence that if funds were needed, funds were available."
Throughout the debate, Labour Members have ignored the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). When the inspector said :
"I do not believe there was a shortage of money",
counsel for the National Union of Railwaymen said,
"Quite so, Sir."
Labour Members have also ignored the huge boost in investment by the Government in the Underground system since the Greater London council lost control of it. The best they have been able to do is to try to muddy the water by pointing to subsidised fares in other European countries. Yet subsidised fares simply mean cheaper, not necessarily safer, journeys.
There are some issues in the report that arise out of the question of money. The report refers to the state of mind
Column 974within London Regional Transport. If those managers began to take the view that there was no more money available, the Labour party should be feeling guilty, because it has been saying over and over again that there is no more money. Labour Members can hardly be surprised when people start to believe them.
The second issue raised in the report is that of under-spending. It is made clear that money was available for spending, but was not spent. That gives the lie to the claim that money was not available and also highlights, yet again, one of the classic weaknesses of public bureaucracies the world over, which is that they find it difficult to meet their spending targets.
Mr. Prescott : Of late, I have heard the hon. Gentleman saying that a privatised airport at Heathrow was not up to dealing with safety. His point about whether money could be saved was addressed by Dr. Ridley himself, who said that he did not spend the full amount of £5 million because of pressures from the board to save and contribute towards cutting costs. The hon. Gentleman would have seen that in the Fennell report if he had read it, instead of taking selected bits and speaking on them.
Mr. Wilshire : I have done my level best to digest all the facts and to listen to the nonsense spoken by the Opposition. The truth is in the report. There are ample instances of under-spending against allocations and a higher level of safety could have been achieved if the money had been spent. That is a classic case of what happens in a bureacracy.
The third lesson that I draw about money is the issue of management criteria. One telling example in the report is the comment made about using train miles as a measure of expenditure when passenger miles might have been a better yardstick. If we are to go down such an avenue and if we, as politicians, are to allow ourselves to be drawn into management details at that level, heaven help the travelling public. It is the worst possible action for politicians to meddle in detailed management.
The second plank in Labour's case is the lack of staff. Labour Members ignore another section of the Fennell report, paragraph 6 of Chapter 19, which says :
"I found no evidence that the reduction in the number of operating or maintenance staff contributed directly to the disaster". If there are any issues about staff numbers arising from the report, they concern staff attitudes, skills and training--in other words, they concern quality rather than quantity. Those are the areas covered by some of the most fundamental recommendations in the report.
The only response from the Labour party to such issues is that we should be spending more and that we should be employing more people. It just goes to show how little they have learnt in 10 years of opposition. I also find it interesting to notice what has not been said by the Opposition. What about the thrower of the match? We have heard nothing about him or her from Labour Members because it would not suit them to mention that point. If we start talking about individual responsibility or if we say that individual members of the public should show some initiative, we are doing the opposite of what the Labour party wants in this country. It is equally fascinating that Labour Members have said nothing about the staff who ignored the debris.
Mr. Dobson : I wish that the hon. Gentleman had read the report rather than the extracts supplied by the Government Front Bench. He would note that Mr. Fennell made it clear that no responsibility lay with what he regarded as the humble members of staff for the cause of the fire or anyone's response to it. Before the hon. Gentleman directs his attention to the weakest, the poorest and the most over-worked in his nasty, slanderous and unpleasant way, can he turn a little attention to his hon. Friends on the Front Bench? He should remember that they run a Department and are responsible for a railway inspectorate, which either ought to have known or did know about everything that was wrong with safety on London Regional Transport and which did nothing. That is confirmed in the report.
Mr. Wilshire : The great difficulty with an issue of this sort is that, to try to give it comprehensive coverage, we must tackle difficult and emotive subjects such as individual people and members of staff. Far be it for me to repeat what Labour Members have been saying all day. They are only points about the role of the Government, and they have been made time and again. It must fall to somebody to tackle the issues which, for whatever reason, Labour Members do not wish to be tackled. We must ask questions about individuals who throw matches and ignore smoking rules, and about individual people at work. Individual people at work are capable of showing initiative and of taking responsibility. Again, if people at their workplace do things of that sort, it is the exact opposite of what the Labour party wishes to see.
Mr. Wilshire : All I am suggesting is that the Labour party would have us believe that the Government must do something and that no one else need take any responsibility for what happens in this country. That is crazy.
Sixteen months ago, an awful tragedy took place in this country. The whole nation--every single one of us--shares the grief of all those who were bereaved. The whole nation shares the admiration for the rescue services that took part in dealing with the tragedy. The whole nation shares appreciation and respect for Desmond Fennell and the recommendations in his report. But the whole nation also shares my disgust at the Labour party's response to recent transport tragedies. Time and again, we have heard the same response. On transport matters, Labour Members increasingly appear like a flock of vultures, wheeling overhead waiting to swoop, and trying yet again to score cheap party political points. They are almost willing some other tragedy to happen so that they can blame the Government and, if possible, berate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) spoke about individual responsibility. I disagree with the tone and content of his speech. For the first time in the House, I publicly disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He rightly praised
Column 976ambulance men and women, but he talked about the magnificent emergency services. Magnificent they could be, but, alas, the London ambulance service is far from magnificent. As a London Member, irrespective of his party, the hon. Member for Spelthorne has a public responsibility to do something about it.
I have had three Adjournment debates on the chaos that now exists in the London ambulance service. That chaos is caused by a lack of funding and the lack of the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health. This debate is not about health ; it is about the problems that arise from disasters. Individual ambulance men and firemen perform magnificently, but, in terms of back-up to the London ambulance service, for which he has a personal responsibility to the public and to the House, the hon. Gentleman should do something about the chaos. If he does not know about the chaos, I will tell him about it.
That brings me to the subject of the debate. On the terrible day after the King's Cross disaster I had the good or bad luck to put a written question to the Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to list the incidents on London underground railways which had caused risk to human life from electrical, mechanical or human failure. For too long before the King's Cross inquiry, London Members were concerned about the issue and were exercising their individual responsibilities to try to do something about it. I now put to the hon. Member for Spelthorne something which I hope that he will accept as wholly constructive. I also put an oral question to the Secretary that day. At the opening of the Liverpool-Manchester railway, a well-known Member of the House, the then Secretary of State for Trade, was killed. Since that day the House has properly been concerned with railway safety.
During the 19th century, a series of regulations were adopted, first by the then Board of Trade and then by the Department of Transport and its inspectorate, which established a threshold to protect human life. If one did that on the basis of free market economics, it would probably be worthwhile for aircraft operators or London Transport to pay out large sums of money for compensation to balance the additional safety costs. Hon. Members rightly believe that market forces should not operate in such matters. I hope that I take the hon. Member for Spelthorne with me in that respect. I wish to operate in the spirit of cross-party accord. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree with me when it comes to aeroplanes or other forms of mechanical transport.
We are told that safety should have been uppermost in the minds of the operators. It is in the Act, even if it was not in the long, additional and unnecessary instruments which the then Secretary of State, the present Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), brought forward. As we know from the Fennell report, there was no item on the agenda of any board meeting in which safety was mentioned. That is remarkable. Underground railways are endemically liable to fire. They are full of high tension and low tension electric currents, and insulation can break down. There are accumulations of rubbish and building adjustments--such as those at Tottenham Court road- -where fire originates. There are false draughts, chimney effects and the damaging effect of smoke underground. All that has been known for 70 or 80 years, yet, for reasons which I cannot understand, safety was not a regular item of report at board meetings.