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Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : The Labour victor at the by-election at Pontypridd described himself in a recent sitting of the Standing Committee on the Atomic Energy Bill as a late convert to the idea of bus deregulation. It is delightful that some modern members of the Labour party are late converts to that idea, and it is a pity that there are not more of them.
Mr. Mitchell : My hon. Friend makes the point beautifully, but, as always, there are at least two divisions within the Labour party--those who have come into the modern world and those for whom it is still a distant glimmer on the horizon.
Column 33The problems associated with roads are apparent to all of us. As hon. Members return to their homes on Thursday evening or Friday morning and as they come up to London on Monday morning, they see for themselves the appalling difficulties and congestion on our major arterial roads. It is interesting to note, en passant, that while President Gorbachev is busy disregarding the queueing system as a mechanism of economic control, we run our roads policy on that basis.
I believe that significant action should be undertaken on three fronts. First, investment in our roads should be substantially increased ; secondly, we need greater involvement by the private sector ; and thirdly we need a radical approach to the problems of London. Those problems affect not only Londoners, but my constituents, who either visit or seek to do business in the capital city. My hon. Friend the Minister will know better than I where the new roads need to be, but it is clear even to the casual observer that we need another north-south link. We need to widen many of our major motorways, particularly the M1, and the technology exists to do that without disrupting the other six lanes. We need to enhance the inter- urban links. I could not fail to mention the A453 which links Nottingham to the M1. That is a dreadful and extremely dangerous road which needs to be significantly enhanced.
The increasing size of our motorways might only add to the thrombosis suffered in London. Therefore, we must acknowledge the importance of an outer-ring road. Given the territory that it would go through, that development, by definition, means major tunnelling which also relates to environmental considerations that I strongly support. Tunnelling is far more expensive, but, increasingly, it is a necessity. We must acknowledge that environmentally sensitive schemes for road development are essential. We must also do something about planning delays. It now takes nearly 15 years to build a road, which is far too long. We need to find ways in which to reduce that appalling delay.
It would be remiss of me not to mention a local matter of great concern to one corner of my constituency--
The Gedling bypass has been awaited for many years by my constituents. The traffic problems, which are mounting in Gedling, are worse than anywhere else in the county of Nottinghamshire--the county council has acknowledged that. We understand that the county council has other priorities and that it is currently conducting a review to consider what those priorities should be. On behalf of my constituents, I earnestly urge the county council to consider whether the Gedling bypass can now be scheduled in its capital programme. I pay tribute to the Government for their support, as they have considered this scheme to see whether it might be eligible for 50 per cent. transport supplementary grant. It is important to note that the Government regard it as a scheme
"with more than local significance".
I hope that my constituents, who have laboured for so long under this intolerable burden, will see some light at the end of the tunnel in due course.
With regard to the role of the private sector, in building roads, some progress has been made on two of the three
Column 34pressing problems that it faces. In the past there was no little incentive for the Department of Transport if private sector schemes resulted in the departmental budget being effectively docked by the Treasury, but, recently, significant progress has been made in that regard. The private sector will not use its ingenuity if genuine progress is unlikely to take place, but recent efforts have been made to counter that problem. However, the private sector is still unlikely to come up with an idea and take it to the Department, only to see it go out to tender. I do not pretend that there is an easy solution to that problem because, above all, we must be competitive. Perhaps we could use the concept of intellectual property to see whether there is some way in which to encourage the private sector to use its ingenuity and thus develop new schemes.
The private sector can play a modest role in a number of ways, but I would not wish to overstate that role. My constituents note that the south-east is groaning under the weight of development. They are also aware that new roads are required to relieve the traffic, which is essentially commuter traffic. I do not believe that there is any reason why my constituents should pay for such development and I believe that toll roads could be the answer. Such a solution would bear all the hallmarks of a much more effective regional policy. Private sector involvement must carry a level of risk or it is merely an exercise in who provides for the debt. The level of risk to some extent dictates the return. The Department must accept, however, that planning and bureaucratic delays, putting in bids and design preparations are part of the cost that the private sector must bear. There are at least two ways in which the private sector can earn its return-- through tolls and by planning gain. I believe that through the latter the private sector could come into its own with interesting ideas and innovative schemes.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : It is especially appropriate that the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) should have introduced a debate on transport today. My colleagues and I have a great interest in this matter--[ Hon. Members :-- "Where are they?"] I was about to say that they are not here to express it ; no doubt they are suffering from the transport problems.
My day started extremely early as I spent an hour on the picket line at the Holloway bus garage in my constituency. I went there because I wanted to talk to the bus drivers and conductors and to find out why they were taking industrial action today. Conservative Members should do the same, and talk to those people, although they may simply disregard my advice. Many of the people involved have given many years' service to London Transport, they have worked as drivers or conductors for many years, they are committed to public transport and they appreciate the value of the service. What they cannot cope with is being expected to give a donation to London Regional Transport year after year when they do not receive wage increases as high as the inflation rate, which they have not received for several years. They are also expected to suffer the growing trend of one-person operated London buses, which leads to a slower service, greater strain for the drivers and, I suspect, greater danger for other road users. They cannot tolerate having one
Column 35route after the other continually put up for sale, either through an internal mechanism in London Regional Transport or to an outside contractor. When outside contractors win the tender to use the route, they sometimes employ drivers on incredibly long hours who have already been declared medically unfit by London Regional Transport. Conservative Members might praise the virtues of the market economy, but when it leads to danger, as it has on the railways, Tubes and buses around the country, they should think again very carefully. The root of London's transport problems is the Government's obsession with reducing, year on year, the subsidy to London Regional Transport. They say that it should be able to make a workaday profit knowing full well that no public transport undertaking anywhere in Europe does that, or is likely to do so. The Government are also obsessed with promoting the use of private cars and road building as a solution to London's transport problems.
If Conservative Members found London a bit crowded today, it was as nothing compared to how crowded it will be if the Department of Transport gets its way on the road assessment studies and other major road building solutions. The House must face up to the fact that we cannot solve this country's transport problems by endlessly building more and more motorways, which attract more cars, create longer traffic jams at each end of the motorways and ruin the places to which the motorways were originally directed. I advise those who think that that is the solution to consider what has already happened in London and other major cities whose hearts have been torn out to make room for car-borne traffic. The communities' characters are destroyed. If we wish to preserve our urban environment and to protect the nicest parts of our countryside, we will not be best served by building major roads and relying on road transport as the basis of the transport industry.
I often travel on the Euston to Birmingham and Manchester line, on which there is a stretch where the railway runs beside the M1. As I sit in the train travelling in relative comfort at between 70 and 100 mph, I realise that it is a fast and efficient way to travel. As I look out on to the M1, I can see a sea of traffic going north and a sea of traffic going south. In it, I can see the tense expressions of people driving themselves to early coronaries as they tear along the motorway at 80 mph, flashing their lights and blaring their horns at the drivers in front of them as they desperately try to get to Nottingham, or wherever it may be, five minutes earlier. Part of the reason that so many of those people and freight vehicles are travelling on the motorway is simply that British Rail's pricing structure discriminates against rail transport in favour of road transport.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he can see the tense expressions on the faces of the people in their cars beside the railway lines if he is whizzing along in the train at 90 mph?
Mr. Corbyn : That is a clever intervention. Sometimes I see drivers breaking the speed limit and driving at 90 mph because they are trying to keep up with the train. That drives them to an even earlier coronary than they might otherwise have suffered.
Column 36I shall return to the substantive point that I was trying to make. Essentially, the Government discriminate against rail and in favour of road transport by continually reducing their subsidy to the railways, which, compared to that in other European countries, is very low. Therefore, the fares are very high. That means that railways are available for those who can afford to travel on them and are increasingly operating as a mass commuter transit system in the south-east or expensive business-class travel elsewhere. They are not seen as a popular form of transport, as they are in France, Italy, Germany and most other European countries.
There is also the increasing pressure on road building, which comes from the Freight Transport Association, which is ably represented in the House by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), many other such organisations and the construction companies, which want the road building contracts. I want a good transport system for this country, and I believe that its achievement will be based on the improvement and development of the railway system rather than on the development of more motorways.
Problems occur in urban areas at the end of motorways. I represent a densely populated urban constituency in north London. It has a low level of car ownership compared to the London average, which is lower than the average for the country. In some parts of the constituency, only 40 per cent. of households have access to cars, which, by national standards, is quite a low rate.
There is a vast volume of through traffic in my constituency which comes through the Holloway road, down Seven Sisters road and through Tottenham from the north. There are continually, enormous traffic jams which pollute the environment and affect the health of many of my constituents.
One might say that the solution to all that would be to build more roads. However, there is zero--I mean zero--support in my constituency for building more urban roads in London to solve the transport problems. For a long time, my constituents have recognised that the solution to London's transport problems lies not in building more roads, but in improving public transport, removing commuter traffic from the roads and persuading people to use the railways and buses. During 1981-82 when the GLC introduced the Fares Fair structure, and before it was outlawed by the High Court, there was an increase in bus and Tube traffic and a reduction in road traffic and road accidents. With the increase in fares came an increase in commuter traffic, and the old problems returned.
Through their road assessment studies, the Government are quite simply studying a series of road building options throughout London. There is no support of which I know from ordinary Londoners anywhere for this ludicrous idea to go back to the outdated notion of motorway ring roads around London. The east London assessment study, which involves my constituency, will ruin part of Highgate wood and the Archway road area by the building of a grade separated road. According to the Minister for Roads and Traffic, we must not use the word motorway to describe it because it is not one.
Another series of options includes building a toll road along what is now a beautiful stretch of park known as the parkland walk, from Highgate and Finsbury park. It is a two-mile stretch of disused railway which is a delightful piece of open space, particularly for children living on the
Column 37housing estates nearby, who have no parks and very little open space in which to play. That is apparently fair game to be made into a toll road so that commuter motorists can speed through and destroy that bit of park.
The opposition to that proposal is strong. A few weeks ago we had a march along the length of that stretch, down to Camley street natural park at King's Cross. Even if the Government were to succeed--I hope that they never do, and I shall do everything to stop them--in building the Archway road or the parkland walk motorway route, or in widening Holloway road to take more traffic, the traffic will merely build up at Highbury corner, St. Paul's road and Balls Pond road through Hackney to give the inexorable pressure of more and more traffic, attracted on to the roads because new roads have been built. That will destroy more and more homes, businesses and what remains of London's open spaces and natural environment to make way for yet more vehicles to travel through London.
I hesitate to use the word crossroads lest that be taken as showing support for road building solutions, but we are at a crossroads of planning for London. The only solution to London's tranport problems is a resolute commitment to improving and increasing the number of staff on public transport so that it is a safer and cheaper to use and that means greater subsidy, which will reduce the number of people travelling by car in and out of central London. It also means reducing the size of the major lorries that use London as a delivery point.
London, like other cities, is grinding to a halt. It is an unpleasant, dirty and extremely polluted environment. I want London and other cities to be the precise opposite. The Government's policies are disappointing because they do not face up to the real needs of the mass of the people. Only 18 per cent. of London commuters' journeys are made by private car. Eighty-two per cent. are made by public transport, but one would think, judging from the amount of money that the Government propose to put into road building solutions in London, that it was the other way round.
A small minority of commuters travel in and out of central London by car, compared with the vast majority who are forced to travel like cattle on their way to market on the Tube or overcrowded buses. That is not good enough, and the people of London are heartily sick of it and long for change. Any politician who underestimates the strength of feeling in London against major road building and in favour of public transport should have a careful look at his majority in the last election and consider what it might be in the next.
I notice that many Conservative Members are not rushing to welcome the Government's plans. On the contrary, they are asking for an end to road building solutions in London because, like me, they realise that they are nonsense.
As the hon. Member for Gedling mentioned it, I shall close by discussing the role of the private sector in road and rail building. The private sector seems to be slipped in all the time--as though somehow or other it will help to solve the country's transport problems. But it is not involved in road or rail building or anything else as an act of charity, despite being presented to us sometimes under that guise. It is involved because it is a business, and ultimately the public will pay more, not less, because of the private sector's involvement. I am appalled at the idea of
Column 38having privately built toll roads and privately built railways ; presumably, the latter herald the break-up of the railway system. We have the basis of a good transport infrastructure in this country in the shape of the rail system. It is underfunded and underinvested in and it needs more money. Instead, the Department of Transport seems to favour major road building proposals, to which there is enormous opposition.
This subject is important and it is regrettable that more hon. Members are not here to discuss it. One can only assume that they are stuck in traffic jams. If so, I hope that they will carefully consider solutions to London's problems which do not lie in providing more roads to bring in more traffic. That is not the way forward. The way forward lies in better, cheaper public transport in which there is proper governmental involvement.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on at least being here. The Opposition Benches are singularly empty this afternoon. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on his choice of subject. Transport policy after 1992 is a highly relevant topic, bearing in mind the years of distinguished service as a transport Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell), who also happens to double as my hon. Friend's father, gave the Government and Parliament. Clearly, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is a welcome chip off the old block and I sincerely congratulate him on all that he had to say.
Most of my hon. Friend's remarks concentrated on road and rail investment and on the privatisation of British Rail and the National Bus Company. I also welcome what he had to say about the liberalisation of aviation in Europe. I shall concentrate my remarks on the aviation sector, because my hon. Friend covered the other areas so well.
It is safe to say that any debate on civil aviation should take place at the height of the summer when the problems to which I shall refer are evident. The lovely sunny weather that we are enjoying this month does not mean that summer has arrived early. We shall know when it is summer because there will be a rash of strikes and go-slows at continental airports, air traffic controllers will take action and, once more, we shall see the sad sight of holidaymakers stranded at airports.
It is amazing that the British will put up with almost any inconvenience in pursuit of the sun. Britons of all classes have come to regard a holiday abroad as an inalienable right. As a nation, we are used to queueing, we accept some delays, but how would we react if we were told that only a finite number of holidays was available? The Romans rioted and overthrew their emperors when deprived of bread and circuses, so the party in power when departures to Benidorm are curbed may expect a similar fate.
Last summer, we got through the air traffic chaos with a combination of good luck and good management. We may do so again this summer, but I want to look ahead to 1992 and beyond and to consider how we might cope with a possible doubling of the number of passengers using
Column 39London's four airports by the year 2005. Do we have the air space and airport capacity to meet this demand without endangering the public, because safety must always be the overriding consideration? Nationally, there is no particular problem--at least not in theory. There are plenty of underused airports, particularly military ones, and some of our regional airports are crying out for business. But the trend is away from linear routes, as passengers and operators favour the so -called hub and spoke system, in which there are feeder services into major international airports for onward movement of passengers and cargoes overseas. Passengers now prefer frequency to price advantage, so the demand has been for more, rather than larger, aircraft.
This all means that the pressures exerted on London's airports have made the London area quite different from the rest of the country. However, even in the south-east there are enough terminals and runways, and there is sufficient air space. Why, then, is the average delay for aircraft outbound from the United Kingdom 15 minutes, which is exactly twice that in the United States of America? Unfortunately, the answer is that we impose artificial constraints on our capacity to handle these aircraft. For example, we underinvest in air traffic control, so that our air space is underused--it is thought by some--by as much as 40 per cent., and it may even be more. We impose planning restrictions on our airports and bans on night flying. Given the lead times for the construction of new facilities-- runways, terminals and air traffic control systems--it could be said that we are already running into a self-imposed problem of undercapacity in the south-east, especially with regard to air space.
There are two possible responses. First, we can treat air transport as a resource of fixed capacity, and control demand through pricing. I reject that option, as, I imagine, would the House. We should favour the alternative : to use investment in technological advances to expand capacity while reducing unit costs.
It was in the light of these problems that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport asked the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority to advise him on traffic distribution policy for airports serving the London area and on airport and air space capacity. The motion gives us the opportunity to debate the Civil Aviation Authority's response. I hope that the advice that we give to the Secretary of State will, to use his own words,
"be fundamental in helping to fashion civil aviation policies taking us through the 90s and beyond the end of the century." In its consultative document, CAP 548, the Civil Aviation Authority said that : By the year 2005 the number of passengers at London's four airports will have more than doubled to 123 million from 58 million that there were in 1987. Heathrow will be handling 55 million passengers, Gatwick 30 million and Luton 5 million. Stansted could be handling about 60 per cent. of London's longhaul traffic but only if an additional runway and terminal were to be built. Of course for that we have to come back to Parliament to get permission. Secondly, the CAA says that : Regional airports will increasingly handle the growth in air traffic as Heathrow and Gatwick become saturated. Although we would not disagree with that, none of us would want to see Heathrow and Gatwick saturated. There must be scope for expansion. The CAA also suggested that an extra London runway will be needed by
Column 40about the year 2000 and that planning should begin now if it is to be ready when needed. That is a most controversial suggestion, probably the most controversial of all the CAA's recommendations, and it is a pity that so much emphasis has been placed on it. The CAA also recommends that charter traffic should not be forced away from Gatwick by giving priority to scheduled services. I am delighted to see that recommendation and I hope that the British Airports Authority will take it on board.
Lastly, the CAA says that business and private aircraft should continue to be restricted to Heathrow and Gatwick and that these restrictions should be extended to their use of airways. The authority also concluded that no additional measures would need to be taken now to affect traffic distribution. It says that it is lack of airport capacity by 1995 that will present passengers with problems. I agree with the Civil Aviation Authority that the interests of airline passengers will best be served if major decisions on traffic distribution are taken by the airlines rather than through intervention by the CAA or the Government. In effect, that means a continuation of the present system, but there are two rules held in reserve by the Secretary of State which could be abandoned. At Heathrow route frequency capping could go. This is the system whereby instructions can be given to reduce the number of flights that airlines operate on a specific route. It is a way of limiting their slots in order to encourage them to invest in larger aircraft. The second reserve rule relates to Gatwick and it is that preference be given to scheduled services over charter services. That rule should also be abandoned.
Several people have suggested that if demand needs to be managed the preferred option would be for restrictions on small aircraft. But they must have somewhere else to go which still enables them and their passengers to interline with the main hub airports. We need a pricing structure for the use of air space that will encourage airlines to invest in larger aircraft which, of course, make more effective use of available air space and airport capacity. The present weight-related price structure, which favours small and slow aircraft, should be changed to a pricing structure based on movement-related charges which would encourage the use of larger aircraft. We all want to see that.
In the short term, we must look at ways of speeding up the improvements to our air space capacity, particularly in the London traffic management area, which is known as the LTMA. The CAA has already unveiled its plans for the so-called central control functions, the CCF, under which aircraft will fly one-way tunnels in the sky, each aircraft and tunnel safely separated from all the others. That will reduce the controllers' workload and enable them safely to handle 30 per cent. more traffic. Work is now beginning on CCF, but why do we have to wait until 1995 for it to be fully commissioned when the matter is so urgent?
Similarly, the new all-route centre, the NERC project, is only at the conceptual stage. Eventually it will introduce greater use of automation and other new controlling techniques which are already regarded as essential in the United States of America. I refer to such things as four- dimensional navigation, the traffic alert and collision avoidance system, or TCAS, which is already mandatory in the United States, the use of satellite communications, global positioning systems and data-linked air traffic control.
Column 41It is to be hoped that these improvements will all be part of the CAA's £600 million investment programme for the next decade. Will it be too little and too late? In view of the high priority that the Government are quite clearly now giving to road and rail transport and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling referred, it would be sad if civil aviation turned out to be the poor relation. Surely these programmes for investment in better air traffic control systems should be speeded up. TCAS alone would increase air space capacity by a further 30 per cent. by enabling the separation and intervals between aircraft to be safely reduced.
It is, of course, quite possible that the United Kingdom could increase its capacity to handle more aircraft movements in the south-east and yet be unable to find slots at European airports for the aircraft to land. Therefore, it is very important that the initiative taken by the Government in setting up flow control management via Eurocontrol should be extended to take in measures designed to increase European capacity overall. Changes in European national systems should then be co-ordinated through Eurocontrol in order to make them completely compatible. Eurocontrol should also be given greater executive power to specify common equipment standards and operating methods and to rationalise the European air traffic control systems.
I was discussing all this only last night with Mr. Jock Lowe, who is general manager, operations control, of British Airways, as we flew back from Washington in Concorde. He was keeping his hand in as a pilot on that occasion. He raised the important matter of manpower and stressed the need for recruitment and training programmes to ensure that we have enough air traffic control officers available to man the improved and expanding systems that we want to see. There is a greater chance of having these improvements operative sooner if National Air Traffic Services, or NATS, were separated from the Civil Aviation Authority as a plc in its own right. Although the CCF project has been given some priority by the Civil Aviation Authority, it is increasingly evident that the greater handling capacity of CCF will require en-route ATC sectors to be replaced by an entirely new facility which is called LATCC II which is planned to commence operating in 1996 and to provide the foundation for developing and further expanding ATC services into the next century. Why can we not speed up this proposal? We do not even yet know where LATCC II will be situated.
So much for air space. I should now like briefly to comment on airports. Having looked at the figures and assuming that current trends will continue, I see that we will get not only a higher frequency of aircraft movements in future through improved ATC but also larger aircraft. We shall require more terminals rather than more runways in the first instance. Although an additional runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick would be welcome now--by everyone except my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who has just entered the Chamber--
Column 42either until the evidence in support is overwhelming. I see my hon. Friend nodding, and I am glad that we agree on that.
One measure that we could take immediately is to provide a taxiway at Luton airport, where there is not one, which would improve capacity there. We should also consider moving business aviation and small aircraft away from Heathrow either to Northolt where there is a lot of capacity, or even to a new runway, which could be built on land available for it between the A4 and the M4 north of Heathrow, where it could easily interline with the main hub.
The south-east could run out of terminal capacity by the mid-1990s, which is even before the date at which the CAA identifies the necessity for a new runway. I think that it has got its priorities wrong here. The most obvious solution is s fifth terminal at Heathrow, on the site of the Perry Oaks sludge farm. With the privatisation of the Thames water authority, there will be an opportunity for British Airways to buy that site, which will enable it not only to develop its own unit terminal--it is extraordinary that British Airways, as our most important national airline, does not have one--but to become one of the biggest retailers of fertilisers for roses. That is an application I should like to see go in.
I know that the Government have said that they are not prepared to give a commitment about the fifth terminal at Heathrow, and they they are keeping the matter under review. However, the time has now come for that commitment to be made so that work can start on planning adequate surface access.
Mr. Jessel : Is my hon. Friend aware that what he has just suggested would be most strongly opposed and hotly resented by hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow in the eight or 10 parliamentary constituencies that already have to suffer, every day, 750 or 800 flights, which disturb people's peace and quiet in their gardens and homes?
Mr. Colvin : I accept my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter, but he must not be a Luddite about airport development. Other areas would be only too happy to see their local airports expand. Heathrow is uniquely placed to become an important European hub. Aircraft are getting bigger, which means fewer aircraft movements, and are getting quieter. The noise footprint made by aircraft is much less than it used to be. Furthermore, if my hon. Friend took the trouble to question everyone in his constituency, he would find that many are dependent upon the jobs and prosperity offered by Heathrow, and would be reluctant to see that airport reduced in size, rather than expanding as the rest of us would like.
These improvements at Heathrow would enable it to retain its status as a major international hub, bearing in mind that the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris is already bigger than Heathrow and Gatwick combined. It will soon have four runways and will be capable of handling 100 million passengers a year, and one will be able to travel straight from there to London in two and a half hours by the high-speed railway link, if we can agree on the route for that. Therefore, it will be a real competitor for transatlantic traffic. To beat the French, the Dutch at Schipol and the Germans at Frankfurt for this European hub business we need to be competitive.
Column 43That raises the question of the British Airports Authority. Sir Norman Payne, as chairman of the BAA, is a dynamic and effective leader, and he makes the best use of the structure of British Airports Authority plc that Parliament, in its wisdom, gave him. However, I question whether BAA has the right structure to enable true competition to take place. In the paper that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) and I wrote on the privatisation of British airports, we suggested three separate plcs for the three London airports. I still think that that would have been a better structure. However, we were assured in Committee that there would be no cross-subsidisation and that each airport would act independently and commercially. I wonder whether that is happening and whether there is not some cross-subsidisation. I know that, from a legal point of view, it is probably too late to "demerge" the BAA into its three separate component parts, but I wonder whether there is a case for referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to see what it has to say.
The BAA is not the only company that may be acting against the public interest. As we consider the liberalisation of air fares and routes in Europe in the run-up to 1992, we should perhaps give European politicians a few lessons on how to retire from owning and running airlines and how they might be made profitable if they were sold to their electors. It is good to know that Britain has been in the forefront of denationalisation, and the move to deregulate European civil aviation. In most European countries, one would have difficulty finding three airlines operating international scheduled services. In Britain, at the last count we had over 20, and that excludes those who are providing purely charter services. Britain can and should take the lead in the liberalised European aviation market, and by that I do not just mean the EC.
Our eventual goal should be an open skies policy where any European airline can fly any route it chooses within the boundaries of the continent of Europe. We want to see airlines free to set the fares that their customers are willing to pay, just like any other supplier, and not to have them regulated by Governments. We want to see an end to restrictions on how many EC airlines can fly a particular route, or how many flights or seats an airline may offer, and an end to the many exemptions that apply to the present EC airlines rules. We must get our European house in order pretty quickly and do it in a way that enables us to unite in negotiating future traffic rights with the United States, which is where the great competition will come from.
The United States has always dealt with Europe on a basis of divide and rule and, as a result, the internal domestic air routes of the United States, wherein over half the world's airlines fly, remains barred and shuttered to those very airlines with whom the United States seeks the right to compete in the skies of Europe. This must end, but I fear that unless the rights of United States airlines to operate within Europe are argued from a common standpoint, the United States may continue to operate a successful policy of divide and rule.
Civil aviation in Europe will grow as fast as the economies of those countries, but there is another factor. People need to travel further in business and they want to travel further on holiday than ever before. In the United
Column 44States, only one person in 10 has a passport. When the American people suddenly realise that there are other places to see, or they have to travel on business--they will have to come to Europe as it expands following 1992--there will be a great explosion of air travel. I have spoken in an attempt to ensure that Britain is uniquely placed to capitalise upon that explosion, and that London's airports will provide the hub for Europe that we all want to see.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I shall not follow the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who has skilfully made in this debate the speech that he would have made about the second motion on the Order Paper. I intend to concentrate on the points in the speech of the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and in the motion. I welcome the opportunity to debate transport matters, although I do not agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Gedling or with what is in the motion.
We need to do much more for the regional airports--I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling about that. If this nation is to make the fullest possible use of regional airports, we must do two things. First, we must solve the problems of those who live in the regions and who find it unacceptable to travel to London if they wish to fly to the continent, America or elsewhere and of those who have to come into the country via London. Secondly, we must alleviate the problem of the fifth terminal at Heathrow to which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) referred in his intervention. The construction of that terminal could be delayed. The air traffic problem in the London area could be considerably alleviated if we were to use regional airports to their maximum potential. Surely there is great growth potential for regional airports.
The arguments that I am advancing apply to regional airports generally but I shall refer specifically to Manchester International airport, which is local-authority owned, controlled and developed. Massive investment is still taking place to ensure that the airport remains a major international gateway for the future. At the beginning of May the new terminal A was opened for domestic traffic. That is only part of the investment programme that is taking place to ensure that the airport continues to serve the needs of the region.
Mr. Mans : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was a tragedy that when the new terminal at Manchester was opened on 1 May it was not ready for use as a result of an electricians' strike? The conditions for passengers going in and out of the airport were appalling. That is an example of what happens under local authority control.
Mr. Pike : That is an outrageous statement. The important factor is that development is taking place and will continue to take place. The fact remains that Manchester International airport is a major and successful airport.
One of the problems that faces Manchester International airport is the internationally fixed agreements on which airlines can fly where. We want more liberalisation and an end to restrictions. If an airline believes that it can successfully fly in and out of Manchester International airport, or any other airport, it should be able to do so without becoming involved in all the red tape and the various agreements that now apply,
Column 45which make negotiations so difficult. In Manchester there have been continuing discussions for the past couple of years that involve new companies that want to operate services in and out of the airport. They have been unable so far to make much progress. I hope that further progress will be made. Some new routes have been agreed within the past three years, but others, especially those involving flights to north America, are still blocked.
We have to go a long way yet before passengers are offered the services and fares to which they are entitled when travelling to other parts of Europe. Fare levels for European flights are exceptionally high in Europe generally when compared with fares for transatlantic flights. That is another area in which we want to see progress.
The hon. Member for Gedling referred to bus transport and claimed that local government has saved about £40 million in subsidies following the deregulation of bus services as a result of the Transport Act 1985. I do not dispute that figure but the way in which the saving has been achieved is unacceptable. Those employed in the industry have a worse package of pay and service conditions now than before privatisation and deregulation. [Hon. Members :-- "Nonsense.] I hear what hon. Members are saying in interjections. They will have the opportunity of addressing the House if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The majority of those working for what were municipal undertakings and parts of National Bus, including those who work in the great conurbations, have inferior conditions of service compared with those which they enjoyed as an overall package before deregulation. If that is what deregulation and privatisation mean, I do not want them. It is unacceptable that working people should be given a worse package of conditions in 1989. We should remember that deregulation has yet to be introduced in London.
Some of the consequences that we feared as a result of the implementation of the 1985 Act have yet to be experienced, but I have no doubt that there will be continuing reduction in service levels in many areas and that some of the things that we said would happen will happen. Undertakings are changing hands rapidly. For example, Ribble has been taken over by a Scottish undertaking. The Government said that they did not want massive undertakings and that National Bus had to be split up. Now smaller undertakings are being taken over by larger ones. In parts of south Wales, for example, only one company is operating a service. Caerphilly is a specific example. There is no longer an alternative service. That was not the intention of the 1985 Act. There have been many failures and I think that we shall see more problems rather than fewer as the years pass.
I accept that there has been a tremendous improvement in many respects in British Rail over recent years. The present management seems generally far more determined than its predecessors to maintain and improve the rail service. However, there are still many problems within British Rail. The greatest problem is that Government investment and subsidy has been cut in many directions. There must be more investment if the rail service is to meet the needs of the nation. From an energy and environment point of view, the railways offer a far better way of travelling long distances within this country than any other
Column 46means of transportation. We should be encouraging them. We should also be encouraging more freight to be carried by rail.
The Channel tunnel offers British Rail the greatest opportunity that has come its way this century. It will never get such an opportunity again for many years. It must seize the chance to get freight back on to the railway system and to secure the investment programme that we want. That should be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I see no reason why goods going to the continent or coming from the continent should be taken by lorry to London or Folkestone and the Channel tunnel itself. We want railways services running direct to the continent from the major regions of the United Kingdom, whether the destination is Germany, Italy, France, or wherever. That must happen.
I voted against the Second Reading of the King's Cross Railways Bill, which was introduced on behalf of the British Rail last week, because there was a refusal to accept a direction that the freight needs and passenger requirements of the regions should be examined within the context of the Bill. I am far from convinced that the King's Cross proposals will meet the needs of the regions. That is regrettable. It seems that there will not be an acceptable solution. Because of the existing connections for Channel tunnel traffic that bypasses London it will take almost as long to reach the tunnel from Manchester, for example, as it will from France to the furthest parts of the EEC. That is not acceptable to the north-west. We in the north-west want our export potential to develop for our manufacturing interests.
There is massive investment in the east coast line. The west coast line was electrified some years ago and when compared with the east coast provision it is beginning to look distinctly jaded. It is a much slower line and improvements must be made to bring it up to standard. We need fast links bypassing London and terminating at the Channel tunnel and far better services to the north-west than we currently have, and more must be done to ensure that InterCity services connect with local services better than they do now. I refer finally to roads. I am by no means opposed to roads investment and recognise that it must be undertaken. I would criticise the Government for not investing enough. Certain sections of our motorway network are still being developed as two-lane highways when three lanes are clearly needed. That is not necessarily a criticism of Ministers because they come and go, whereas civil servants remain in office for longer and they have failed on occasion to take a sufficiently long-term view of future requirements. A number of motorways already suffer from under- capacity. On Fridays traffic on the M1, for example, is almost stationary all the way from its southern end to at least the M6 junction. People who daily travel along the southern section into London find themselves in traffic that crawls all the way, which is totally unsatisfactory. In Manchester, the M63 bridge over the canal at Barton has recently been widened, but it is almost at full capacity even though the whole scheme has not yet been completed--another short-term folly. The Government agreed to linking the M65 westwards with the M6 and M61, and now that that improvement is back in the programme we hope that it will be completed as soon as possible. I believe
Column 47strongly that a second east-west crossing will ultimately be needed, with the M65 extending eastwards into Yorkshire, joining the M62. We should not look to the privately funded sector for a road network. On the continent, there are toll motorways and autoroutes, and as someone who uses French autoroutes from time to time, I can tell the House that they are extremely expensive. The necessity to use toll booths itself causes massive hold-ups. French petrol is also dear, so the cost of motoring in France is extremely high. One could also argue that in Britain, road tax and VAT on cars and duty on petrol also mean that motorists here are heavily taxed and should not be asked to pay for travelling on a super- elite private road network.
The hon. Member for Gedling seemed to advocate that one solution would be the provision of some private roads within the network. I hope that neither the Minister nor the Government will adopt that line. In Britain, most towns are closer to each other than they are in many continental countries. In France, for example, all the autoroutes stop well short of Paris, Lyon and other such places. Were such a system to operate here, one would hardly get out of London before one was having to pay to use an autoroute to Coventry or Birmingham and then leaving it again. That is not a realistic option for Britain. The only people able to use autoroutes in this country would be those whose travel expenses are met for them, and the very wealthy. Nevertheless, the Government must improve the M1 and the rest of the motorway network. I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling that the time that elapses between agreeing and designing a motorway concept and the completion of its construction is far too long. Something must be done to speed up that process.
The debate has covered a wide range of subjects. I am glad of the opportunity to make points different from those of the hon. Member for Gedling, and I am pleased that he chose transport for the subject of his debate.
Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South) : We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) for allowing the House to debate the subject of transport, and I am particularly grateful to him for his complimentary remarks about me and about the small role that I played as a Back Bencher in the Transport Act 1985 as it passed through the House.
I was not the only Member who was hammered by local authorities opposed to that legislation. I was subjected to a barrage of abuse both locally in Nottingham and in the shire. That abuse was backed by the spending of massive sums of public money by the city and county councils on a campaign to oppose the proposed changes. It is beyond question, that whatever criticisms remain, the prophets of doom were certainly wrong in respect of the city of Nottingham. It would be foolish to suggest that deregulation proved equally beneficial and successful throughout the country. I am sure that that is not so, but the House will forgive me if my remarks are relatively parochial and deal with how deregulation worked in my area and with the transport problems and policies that flowed from it.
One major campaign four years ago suggested that the Government's proposals would be detrimental to the
Column 48interests of pensioners' and senior citizens' concessionary fares--that they would be abolished or that it would no longer be possible to provide them. I shall be interested to hear from any right hon. or hon. Member who can tell the House of any area of the country where pensioners no longer enjoy the concessionary fare schemes that existed before deregulation. However, the threat was made by the Labour party in my county--where, to the best of my knowledge, the concessionary scheme is as good as ever it was. In many respects, it is even better. It is shameful when political debate sinks to the lowest levels, with the Opposition usually telling pensioners, "If the wicked Tories get their way, you will not get this or that." Their screams of outrage are invariably proved false two or three years later. They get away with it almost every time, which is a matter of great sadness to me.
Another issue that concerned hon. Members in all parts of the House was quality control of public service vehicles. Prior to deregulation, it was said that traffic commissioners would not have the teeth to impose desirable levels of quality control--or, if they did, that they would not have the will to do so. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but in Nottinghamshire the traffic commissioners are fulfilling the role that was set for them. Only recently, they ordered 35 public service vehicles used by one operator off the road because they failed to meet the desired standards. That operator was clearly incapable of bringing those vehicles up to standard, so in the public interest, rightly, they were taken off the road. Despite that major plank of Labour opposition, the traffic commissioners clearly have teeth and are prepared to use them.
Having made his little speech, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) promptly disappeared. That is a pity, because he let the cat out of the bag by saying that Labour's fears had not materialised. How right he is. It is a shame that he is not here to tell us how many tens of thousands of pounds his local authority spent on telling us what a disaster deregulation would be. I hope that when he comes back, or when he reads Hansard tomorrow, he will have the courtesy to apologise to the House for that waste of public money. Again, I can speak only for our municipal undertaking, but the running of the Nottingham company--and, I am sure, many others--is no longer bedevilled by the meddling of elected councillors who have other fish to fry. It is still owned 100 per cent. by the city council, but it is being run as a proper commercial undertaking with a sensible board. To our delight, the staff who have places on that board co-operate with the managers and directors to ensure that the undertaking is run properly. Now, believe it or not, Nottingham City Transport pays a dividend to the company's owners--the Nottingham ratepayers--instead of draining off hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to subsidise their work, money that could have been better spent on other services in our city.
Only about a fortnight ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, answering questions from me, expressed the hope that at some time in the future the staff of Nottingham City Transport--and, indeed, the staff of many municipal undertakings--would be given the chance of taking a real stake in the company by becoming shareholders. Since then I have talked to management and staff in Nottingham and encountered a genuine desire for such a course.
I intend to talk first to the minority Conservative group in Nottingham, who may be a bit more receptive to such