The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Paul Channon) : Road pricing is often suggested as a way of using road space more efficiently in urban areas. It has some attractions, and I do not wish to rule it out for the future, but there are some serious practical problems, and it clearly could not be an immediate option.
Mr. Stern : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that no remotely economic way of road pricing has yet been demonstrated anywhere in the world and that the chances of this wild idea becoming a reality remain very small?
Mr. Channon : I agree that there is nowhere on a comparable, or even approaching comparable scale to London--in respect of which road pricing is often mentioned--where anything is in place. The problems of congestion, for example, are much in the minds of all hon. Members. The issue needs careful study but, as I have said, road pricing could not be an immediate option. There are serious practical problems associated with it.
Mr. Roy Hughes : As the Treasury will collect approximately £17 billion in motor taxation during the current year and as less than one quarter of it will be spent on roads and maintenance, is it not diabolical that the Government should even consider imposing additional taxation on the motorist?
Mr. Channon : I do not think that I accept the hon. Member's figures in their entirety, but his general point is well taken. Motorists pay a great deal in taxation. It is a bit early for the hon. Gentleman to say that we are being diabolical because, as I said a few moments ago, road pricing could not be an immediate option. There are serious practical problems with it, and nothing could be done without a great deal of study. It is a bit too early to accuse us of all these appalling crimes.
Mr. Dickens rose --
Mr. Dickens : It is nice to be back. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have, somehow, to lower the density of traffic in our city centres? Taxation as a way forward would enable buses and taxis to move faster through our city centres and give people more of a chance to get about.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must encourage more private investment so that we can accelerate our major road building programme in return for, perhaps, a toll which would enable motorists and other road users to save many pounds in petrol?
Mr. Channon : My hon. Friend raises several important matters. There are other questions on the Order Paper on which the subject of road expenditure may crop up. My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government propose to publish a roads White Paper in the not too distant future. I shall bear what my hon. Friend has said in mind. I share my hon. Friend's concern to reduce inner-city congestion. Whether road pricing is the right way to go about it remains doubtful. The matter needs careful study. I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House--this is clearly not a party political issue--to bear in mind the experiences of other towns and the arguments that have been advanced in favour of the proposal.
2. Mr. Brandon-Bravo : To ask the Secretry of State for Transport if, when considering proposals for privatising local authority transport operations, he will give full consideration to the desires of employees to participate in buy-outs.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : Yes. When a company is sold by competitive tender, we encourage the vendor to give the employees a reasonable opportunity to acquire a controlling interest, and we have been prepared to consider some sales by single tender to employees.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : My hon. Friend knows that Nottingham City Transport was the largest municipal undertaking which was affected by the Transport Act 1985. Is he aware that that undertaking has confounded the prophets of doom as it is now a successful company which pays a dividend to its owners in the city rather than one which milks the ratepayer? The staff and employees of that undertaking want to share in the success. Above all, they want to secure their future. They are concerned about the future and they want to buy a stake in the business that employs them. What help and advice can my hon. Friend offer?
Mr. Portillo : I am very pleased with the success of the company and that the prophets of doom have been confounded. I see no reason why local authorities should want to own bus companies. I suggest that the staff should try to persuade the local authority to prepare a proposal for privatisation which includes employee participation.
Mr. Snape : Has the Minister seen the report on the future of West Midlands Travel, prepared by Peat Marwick McLintock? Does he agree with its conclusion that the breakup of West Midlands Travel would be generally disadvantageous to the travelling public?
Column 639week. We have sent a proposal to the passenger transport authorities requesting their response to a suggestion that the companies might be split. I look forward to reading their responses and shall consider them carefully.
Mr. Favell : Is my hon. Friend aware that the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority, having decentralised the operation of Greater Manchester Buses at the time of decentralisation, is now recentralising it, not for the sake of efficiency, but to make it more difficult for employees to indulge in buy-outs? Is he aware that there have been great successes? For example, the southern division has taken on enormous competition from the private sector, yet it is carrying more passengers than ever before? Is he aware that the engineering division will have to sack people because it has been forbidden to carry out private sector work?
Mr. Portillo : I am distressed at what my hon. Friend tells me. Greater Manchester is in very much the same position as West Midlands Travel in that a proposal letter has been sent by my Department and we are now receiving responses from the PTA and Greater Manchester Buses about the suggestion that there might be a splitting of the company. We shall consider their responses very carefully.
3. Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss the condition of stations and rolling stock where British Rail serves passengers arriving at Heathrow and Gatwick.
Mr. Portillo : The upkeep of particular stations and rolling stock is a management matter for British Rail. I am sure that it is aware of the commercial advantages of providing high-quality services from airports.
Mr. Speller : Is my hon. Friend aware that British Rail does not seem concerned about other circumstances? For example, Gatwick is the darkest, greyest of stations to welcome people, yet it provides an excellent service. At Heathrow, London Underground is intolerable in every way, and the route to the south-west is via Reading station, which is always dirty, where there are no seats, the buffets are awful and there are no porters, as on most of our stations. Does my hon. Friend agree that if British Rail is to survive as an economic entity it must do something about putting passengers as well as patients first?
Mr. Portillo : I am very disturbed by what my hon. Friend says, particularly about Reading, because I understand that £20 million has been spent on the modernisation of Reading station. However, I know that the management takes these matters seriously and I shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to their attention.
Mr. Gregory : When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Rail, bearing in mind that tourism is Britain's fastest growing industry, will he discuss with him the possibility of an incentive scheme for his staff, as tourists to this great country expect at major stations such as Gatwick the services of a porter and the ability to understand which train leaves any particular platform? Those facilities are almost non-existent, as are the trollies at Gatwick and at Victoria. That is a national scandal.
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend makes a series of interesting points, not least that the way in which British Rail is judged depends on the performance of every individual member of staff as that is its point of contact with passengers. I know that British Rail is most concerned to improve the standard and quality of the service that it provides to its customers. The shortage of trollies is partly a matter of passenger behaviour, and unfortunately many trollies go astray.
Mr. Channon : The only long-term cure for overcrowding is to increase capital investment in public transport. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that investment on London railways is now at record levels, and that London Regional Transport alone will be investing well over £1 million a day in London's transport systems.
Mr. Greenway : I welcome my right hon. Friend's assurance that investment is at record levels. However, is he aware that on London's bus, train and Underground services at most hours of the day and night people cannot move because they are so overcrowded? Is he further aware that it is predicted that within a short time surface traffic will come to a standstill if nothing is done and we will be unable to move either above or below ground? Will he initiate new underground lines and more trains and will he get rid of one-man operated buses and bus lanes and do everything that he can to get London's traffic moving?
Mr. Channon : I cannot agree with everything that my hon. Friend said. However, I agree with him entirely about the need to improve London's rail services, whether Underground or Network SouthEast. He will be pleased to learn that Underground investment is now about twice as high in real terms as it was in 1984-85, the last year of the Greater London council. I am sure that he will also be pleased to learn of the enormous investment in Network SouthEast since 1983--some 16 major schemes together worth over £500 million--and there is much more investment to come. The central London rail study and the east London rail study, about which my hon. Friend will know, show that much more improvement is necessary in London, which the Government are prepared to make.
Mr. Spearing : Is the Secretary of State aware that London Transport has confirmed to me that there are fewer trains running in peak hours on some Underground lines than there were 50 years ago and in the early 1950s? Is he aware that there are fewer trains arriving at Westminster on the District and Circle lines than there were 50 years ago, to the disadvantage of people living in places such as West Ham and Plaistow? Does he agree that, as a matter of urgency, some of the investment of which he speaks should be spent on restoring the signalling arrangements that used to be available for those trains so that more trains can be run on existing lines?
Mr. Channon : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that recent investment approvals include the provision of extra trains and the Central line modernisation, which is running at over £700 million. It is an enormous scheme.
Column 641They also include the reconstruction of Angel station, enlarged ticket halls and escalators at Liverpool street, new ticket halls at Tower Hill and a massive expansion of investment in London Underground all over London.
Mr. Bowis : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an urgent need for more and longer trains and for new lines on the overground such as the opening to commuter services on the west London line, and on the Underground such as the long overdue link to Clapham junction?
Mr. Channon : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a need for investment. He pointed out the need for investment on the Underground and I know of his constituency problems about that. I have described that investment to the House. There is also a need for investment in Network SouthEast. My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn--I am sure that he knows already--that over £2 billion of investment on electrification, signalling and rolling stock has taken place on British Rail in the past few years. I have recently approved another £60 million, or thereabouts, for Network SouthEast, new rolling stock for the Chiltern line, and the Cambridge-King's Lynn electrification. We also have large British Rail renewal programmes which are likely to increase.
Mr. Tony Banks : Is the Secretary of State aware that the biggest complaint on transport matters that hon. Members on both sides of the House hear arises from the installation of the ludicrous ticket barriers throughout the Underground system, which is giving rise to a great deal of congestion on the stations? Is the Secretary of State interested in the fact that I intend to introduce a Social Crimes (People's Tribunal) Bill soon and that when I have arraigned before the people's tribunal the idiots who got rid of trams and trolley buses, I shall then try to arraign those who introduced the ludicrous and unacceptable ticket barriers? If the Secretary of State does not want to appear before the people's tribunal, will he ensure that London Transport gets rid of those barriers because no one wants them?
Mr. Channon : It is particularly appropriate, 200 years after the French revolution, that the hon. Gentleman should start to be the Robespierre of London by introducing people's tribunals. It is typical of him.
On his serious point about the safety of the Underground ticket system, he will know that we are expecting a consultants' report and the House will be interested to have that.
Mr. Stanbrook : Whatever steps my right hon. Friend takes, will he please not deregulate London taxis or license mini cabs to ply for hire because if he does so, he will destroy one of London's biggest assets?
Mr. Channon : I take note of what my hon. Friend says. We have no plans to license mini cabs in the way that my hon. Friend describes. I note the strong views of hon. Members about taxis, which we shall consider carefully.
Ms. Ruddock : The Secretary of State has spoken mainly of trains, but as improving the railway network will take much time and as a substantial bus programme could be implemented quickly, will he instruct London Buses to put on the road the 30 Routemasters that are roadworthy but sitting unused in garages? Will he support proposals to strengthen bus lane rules to prevent lanes being clogged by cars? Will he instruct the traffic control support unit to step
Column 642up its programme of bus priority at traffic signals, which is enormously beneficial and could be implemented within six months?
Mr. Channon : I am not sure that I agree with all the hon. Lady's remarks. There is considerable controversy about bus lanes ; many hon. Members believe that in parts of London they have been put in the wrong places. I shall consider what the hon. Lady said about that. She will be pleased to learn that bus miles have increased significantly and that a further increase of 5 per cent. is planned for this year. Reliability is improved and we shall have more high-frequency mini bus services. Tendering has much improved bus services in London, and I shall welcome her support for all those measures.
Mr. Molyneaux : Can the Secretary of State do anything to persuade London Transport to open the Piccadilly line at Gloucester Road? Many travelling interests, especially those using Heathrow airport, wrote to London Transport about the problem as far back as a month ago. Fairclough, the main contractor, is showing no sign of urgency. Is it not deplorable that visitors from overseas arriving at Heathrow are treated to such a demonstration of incompetence?
Mr. Channon : I shall certainly look into what the right hon. Gentleman says. The right hon. Gentleman's remarks show that there are bound to be short-term problems while a large investment programme is going on. I shall consider specifically the point that he brings to my attention and write to him about it.
Mr. Arnold : My hon. Friend would probably like to know that the people of north-west Kent are looking forward with considerable enthusiasm to their deliverance from the current heavy traffic james of one or more miles every day north and south waiting pass through the Dartford tunnel. Will he give details of the steps that are being taken to ensure that approch roads to the Dartford bridge will be adequate?
Mr. Dunn : Is my hon. Friend aware that his announcement is most welcome? None the less, there are serious problems combining a need to improve the infrastructure and roads leading to the tunnel and the opening date, bearing in mind that every day the people of Dartford experience serious congestion problems? The fact that we can move forward to the opening will resolve that problem in part. I welcome what my hon. Friend has said.
Column 643develop and so that places that need special relief from congestion and extra jobs can benefit from investment, such as in this case, from the private sector.
Mr. Hughes : Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Wales has said that the second crossing will be in place by 1995, whereas his colleague the Minister of State, Welsh Office recently told the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs that there is no guarantee that the second crossing will be in place by the year 2000. Given that our governor- general, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), does not have the ear of the Prime Minister, who is telling the truth?
Mr. Bottomley : If I were concerned, I would say that it would be difficult to have an extra crossing before 1995, even on the best of assumptions. The hon. Gentleman and many others on both sides of the Severn will be interested to know that we hope to invite tenders in the next week or two. The date of construction of the bridge will depend on the result of those tenders. We are moving forward and that should unite hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is glad that he asked that question.
Mr. Simon Coombs : Does my hon. Friend agree that a second Severn crossing will substantially increase traffic on the M4 as more and more constituents of the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) travel towards London? Will my hon. Friend therefore look, in conjunction with those proposals, at improvements to the road network nearer London between Maidenhead and the end of the M4 to ensure that the hon. Member for Newport, East is not back here in a few years demanding further improvements so that his constituents and mine can get to central London on the M4?
Mr. Bottomley : Yes. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) will have to talk to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who seems on occasion to have different views. It is worth remembering that the English Stones site was chosen for the second bridge because about 60 per cent. of the traffic coming across the Severn from Wales head south rather than towards London.
Mr. Wigley : Given the comments by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), will the Minister assure the House that his Department and the Welsh Office co-ordinate closely on this matter? Will the hon. Gentleman assure the House that as the scheme goes ahead there will be co- ordination in terms of the spin-off requirements and planning of employment opportunities so that there are opportunities on both sides of the channel for work on the scheme?
Mr. Bottomley : Those job opportunities are coming and that is generating the extra traffic. Better infrastructure means more economic growth and more economic growth means more traffic--they go together in a cycle.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the hon. Member for Newport, East. I suspect that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Transport and for Wales get on better than the hon. Gentleman gets on with either of them.
Mr. Prescott : Does the Minister's Department fully agree with the Secretary of State for Wales, who says that there is inadequate expenditure on our transport infrastructure and that 35 of the 51 programmes decided for 1985 have been delayed? Will the White Paper review the situation, especially the iniquitous toll system that the Department intends imposing on traffic over the Severn estuary?
Mr. Bottomley : Is that not very interesting? Suppose we ran a sweeptstake on which party introduced tolls on the Severn bridge? The Labour party was responsible. The hon. Gentleman turns away in Opposition from what he supported in Government.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : Construction of the motorway north of Wendlebury, remains on target for completion by the end of 1990. We are inviting tenders for the section south of Wendlebury today. Subject to the outcome and to the satisfactory completion of the remaining statutory procedures we hope to start construction this summer for completion as early as possible.
Mr. Andrew Smith : Does the Minister appreciate that everyone in the Oxford area remains deeply concerned at the prospect of chaos on local roads due to the mishandling of this matter by his Department? Will he confirm that, even on that timetable, there will be a period of eight to 12 months when an additional 9,000 vehicles a day will be piled on to the existing congested local roads? What additional financial support will the Government provide the local highway authority so that it can provide at least some protection to local pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and motorists from that chaos? Local resident in Headington, Risinghurst and north Oxford deserve better treatment than the Minister is giving them.
Mr. Bottomley : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been listening during the past two or three weeks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he wanted all the stops pulled out, and issued similar clear instructions, to ensure that the gap was as short as possible, not as long as possible. [Interruption.] If the period which I have announced today is still too long, the hon. Gentleman really has trouble.
Column 645We are all aware that the Pear tree roundabout has some of the longest weekend traffic jams in southern England. We know that we must try to accelerate the procedures. We need to pay attention to people's democratic right to object and accept their right to speak before an independent impartial inspector--that may be news to the hon. Gentleman. We want to ensure that local people decide whether they want roads. In the areas in which they want to put up with the casualties, environmental confusion and lack of jobs, they can go on objecting. In Oxfordshire, people are glad that my right hon. Friend has decided that this road should be completed and we now have the chance of closing the gap, rather than expanding it.
Mr. Tim Smith : Is my hon. Friend aware that since the completion of the M25, traffic on the M40 has increased considerably and, with it, the noise that local residents have to put up with? Does he agree that when the motorway is completed all the way to Birmingham, there will be a further substantial increase in traffic, especially in heavy goods vehicles? Will my hon. Friend come along to Gerrards Cross and discuss with the residents the problems of noise, or could we come to the Department to discuss what we are going to do about it?
Mr. Redmond : Will the Minister ensure that the next extension more than meets the specifications made for the previous section and will he ensure that the delays and traffic hold-ups are cut to the minimum?
Mr. Bottomley : We will do the best we can. My right hon. Friend has said that he wants to end the inter-urban congestion. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are building the M40 as dual three-lane, which will help the traffic north of the west midlands as well as the west midlands itself. There is a problem for the Opposition. If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is properly reported, he seems to be against the building of roads this week.
Sir John Stokes : Is my hon. Friend aware that I have lived by the M40 since it first started? As the route progressed, I moved further out, but the motorway always caught me up. Now the wrong route has been chosen and the butterflies have been preferred to local residents. Can we please clear up the mess as soon as possible?
Mr. Cran : I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware that the industrial community has estimated that traffic congestion in this country is costing British industry about £6,000 million per annum, which illustrates how difficult it is for companies in the north of England and which are trying to export. Against that background, does my right hon. Friend agree that one solution is an accelerated construction programme, but that another is a review of planning methods, which seem to allow a minority to hold up infrastructure expenditure for far too long?
Mr. Channon : On the first point, it is right to review the roads programme which, as my hon. Friend knows, is done every two years. We will come forward with proposals in the next few months. I hope that they will be to his satisfaction and to the satisfaction of most other hon. Members. On planning permission, there is a difficult balance between allowing people to have their democratic rights and not having unreasonable delays. Rather than concentrate so much on planning delays, I have been concentrating on the internal procedures, which take a considerable time-- and have done for many years--before a road reaches the planning inquiry stage. I have identified ways of cutting that time by a considerable margin and I look forward to roads being built far more quickly than in the past.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Is it not gross complacency for the Secretary of State to base his projections on what he himself says are unreliable statistics, especially against the background of looking forward to the 1992 European market? Is it not extremely important for our industrialists in all areas of the United Kingdom to ensure that they have adequate communications and to ensure that export-led industries are not disadvantaged? His own proposals pale into insignificance when we consider the projects being undertaken at present by the French Government.
Mr. Channon : It is a bit early for the hon. Lady to accuse me of complacency. I have already announced that we shall have a roads review and a programme announcement in the next few months and when the hon. Lady has studied that, she will be in a position to decide whether she thinks it is adequate. I strongly agree with her that it is in the interests of all parts of the United Kingdom that we should have a decent roads programme so that people can get their goods from the United Kingdom to the continent-- [Hon. Members :-- "And railways."] We must also improve the railways, but the hon. railways, but the hon. Lady's question concerned roads, and I agree with the thrust of her comments.
Mr. Channon : It is not my only way of dealing with congestion on the roads. I am extremely anxious--as, I know, is my hon. Friend--that the advent of the Channel tunnel should lead to a substantial increase in the amount of freight carried by British Rail. I look forward to British Rail's report and its proposals for achieving that north of London. We shall receive that report some time this year. I am certain that, if British Rail handles the matter correctly--as it must and will--substantial opportunities
Column 647will be created for businesses in the north and elsewhere to send their goods economically and, above all, reliably, to the continent. That will benefit both BR and the road user.
Mr. Prescott : Does the Secretary of State agree with the Secretary of State for Wales that there is insufficient expenditure on our roads infrastructure, and does he agree with the CBI's estimate that insufficient expenditure is costing industry £15 billion? After 10 years of this Government will he now agree that average expenditure on roads in real terms has been higher under Labour than under the Conservative Government?
Mr. Channon : I certainly do not agree with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. I am surprised that he makes that boast. No doubt he was wrongly reported in the Morning Star, and that is very understandable--
Mr. Channon : Yes, every morning, that is where I find the hon. Gentleman's most authoritative speeches. According to the Morning Star, he is against all this expenditure. I am glad to learn that that is not the case and that he is in favour of it. I agree that we must have an adequate road infrastructure to meet the challenges of 1992 and the turn of the century. I have not read the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales to which the hon. Gentleman referred but I seldom, if ever, disagree with my right hon. Friend.
Mr. Thompson : The Minister's disappointing reply will not go down well in the north-east of England. Will he consider instituting a full- scale survey of the A69 east-west and the A1 north-south as the Romans did 1,900 years ago?