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Column 49an idea than the controlling majority party, but I hope that even the latter will realise in the end that that is the right way in which to run a major, multi-million pound undertaking which is providing an excellent public service. I fear that it will not be an easy task, as the deputy leader of Nottingham city council has already been reported in the local press as saying that he wants to return to the old arrangement whereby the transport undertaking was merely a committee of the city council, and councillors could engage in their customary meddling, as they did four years ago. To ensure that that councillor never has his way, Conservative members must guarantee that we win the next general election.
Mr. Snape : I hesitate to burst the bubble of euphoria on the Conservative Benches, especially two years before the election. May I ask the hon. Gentleman, however, why it is, if councillors who take an interest in their financial undertakings are meddling, that when Conservative Members take directorships in business they are keeping in touch with the public?
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's question follows from my remarks, but I think that he would be the first to admit that, for a variety of reasons which we all accept, in the main the quality of our councillors is not what we would wish. In effect, they are doing an unpaid part-time job, and not everyone has the time or the energy to become involved in local affairs. Many elected councillors get asked to go on this or that committee, and some used, unfortunately, to end up on the transport committee with no knowledge whatever of public transport and, probably, even less interest. Then they used to meddle. It was a case of, "The people in my ward would like an extra bus. We are in control : let us have it", irrespective of the merits of the case. That is what I meant by meddling, as I think that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) knows very well.
The stake in the undertaking allowed to staff and management must be large enough to make worth while their individual and collective commitment to that undertaking. It must be large enough to deter any pirate or asset- stripping bidder who might wish to take control, and large enough for the shares to go to ratepayers as well as staff : it must exceed the magic 51 per cent. I am perfectly happy for the local authority to retain a large minority holding, though perhaps not as much as 49 per cent.--that might be a little dangerous--but perhaps 30 or 40 per cent. To free the company from the Treasury rules, however, the holding of the outside shareholders-- staff, management, ratepayers or an even wider group--must be over 51 per cent.
It is not widely appreciated that a major company such as Nottingham City Transport cannot carry out its forward investment planning on the basis of its own commercial criteria ; the investment is part of the local authority's borrowing requirement. If the local authority seeks to spend all its allowed borrowing on housing, for instance, unless the bus undertaking can fund its capital investment entirely out of cash flow-- which would be unusual in the case of any major business--it will be defeated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has already referred to road infrastructure. I often travel up and down the M1, as I am sure he does as well. It is often described as the longest parking lot in Europe. Clearly something
Column 50must be done, and I hope that the major statement from the Secretary of State that was rumoured in the Sunday press to be expected this week will give the glad tidings that he is about to put extra lanes on to the M1. They cannot come too soon.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling pointed out, however, it is no good having the main arteries unless there is access to them for the major cities along the route. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport well knows, the city of Nottingham has been banging on the Department's door since 1971 asking for something to be done about the southern link between Nottingham and the M1--the A453.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially those representing urban areas--although, on reflection, I agree that this may apply elsewhere as well--will know that whenever someone wants to build a new road some people are bound to be disadvantaged, and there are screams of objection all round. The A453 is no exception. I shall not go into the details, but almost any option that the Secretary of State finally announces as his preferred option will be objected to, which means that there will have to be a public inquiry. All I am asking is that the Minister should make up his mind now. If it means a public inquiry, let us have it and get it over with. I do not want the southern route into the city of Nottingham to be dug up while I am in the middle of the next general election campaign.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : May I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on being successful in the ballot and choosing such a relevant and important subject for debate.
I welcome the motion, not only because it deals with transport policy after 1992 but because it calls on the Government to continue their efforts to identify ways of mitigating and resolving the challenges to transport in the years leading up to 1992.
The year 1992 will be a vital one for transport policy in particular because I hope and expect that in the parliamentary Session 1991-92, when we are in our fourth term of office, there will be a Bill to privatise British Rail. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that nowhere in these islands will the joy of the liberalisation of the commuters from the tyranny of British Rail be more overwhelmingly welcomed than in my constituency of Chelmsford.
Chelmsford is one of the largest commuting stations in this country, with over 12,000 long-suffering commuters travelling to work in London and arriving at Liverpool street station every morning. Quite frankly, they are fed up to the back teeth with the disruption, the delays and the poor service that Network SouthEast offers them. They are bored with sitting day after day in trains that have ground to a halt, usually outside Liverpool street station, and admiring the rather indifferent architecture of Bethnal Green railway station. My constituents are fed up with the cancellation of trains, with the running of trains behind time and with being herded like cattle into carriages where, all too often, there are not enough seats for them. What is even more infuriating is that my constituents are having to pay through the nose for the privilege of this treatment. The record of Network SouthEast is altogether
Column 51too depressing. Its punctuality target is 90 per cent. of trains to arrive within five minutes of their scheduled times. I would argue that that in itself is an extraordinarily lax target. Those figures seem, however, to be at odds with the experience of many of my constituents, even though they are, as I have said, a remarkably lax benchmark.
Overcrowding is a major problem. The targets for Network SouthEast are that, on average, load factors should not exceed 100 per cent. on slam door trains and 135 per cent. on sliding door trains. In both cases, passengers should not have to stand for more than a maximum of 20 minutes. However, the actuality is radically different from the targets. Average loading of trains in 1986 was 114 per cent. on slam door trains and 139 per cent. on sliding door trains. As a commuter before I was elected to this House, I know from bitter personal experience that many users of the Chelmsford to Liverpool street line have to stand for far in excess of the 20 minutes that is meant to be the maximum.
The national British Rail cleansing targets for carriages are a joke. My constituents constantly have to travel up and down the line on trains that clearly have not seen water or cleaning plants for far longer than a month. Carriages tend to be filthy. Only a small amount of inside cleaning is done to them. In the past, the excuse by Network SouthEast was the need to invest and to improve the antiquated rolling stock, points and signals along the line to Colchester. We have always been promised jam tomorrow, but tomorrow never seems to come for my constituents.
To be fair to Network SouthEast, I must admit that over the last year or two there have been some improvements ; some new rolling stock has been bought. In the past, our part of Network SouthEast always used to get the rolling stock that had been used up on other parts of the network. It was then foisted on to this backwater of East Anglia--as though we would not notice that we were getting not second-hand rolling stock but third, fourth or fifth-hand rolling stock that was long past the age when it should have been put out to pasture.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West) : Does my hon. Friend agree that, once that rolling stock has been abandoned as unsuitable for Chelmsford commuters, it is then put to use for commuters who travel to Downham Market and King's Lynn?
Mr. Burns : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. I am sure that she is correct. I have a great deal of sympathy for her point. I know how dreadful the rolling stock is when it is fobbed off on to my hon. Friend's constituents, before going to the knacker's yard or whatever yard railway rolling stock finally goes to. However, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel earlier this year. We were assured by Network SouthEast that work on the new points and the new signals that are needed on the line would begin over Easter. Liverpool street station was to be closed not for one but for four whole days so that the work could be done. However, I am sad to have to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when Liverpool street station reopened after Easter Monday the disruption and the trouble on the line were worse than they had ever been.
Column 52British Rail had accepted that the work was to be done with equipment supplied by Westinghouse. What no one seems to have taken into account or to have looked into was whether the microprocessors on the trackside modules would be compatible with the overhead electrified lines. Needless to say, they were not. As soon as the line started up again, there were fuses and shorts left, right and centre, because the microprocessors were not fit for the job that they were meant to do.
The misery went on for a number of days before some bright person in British Rail found out that the equipment that British Rail was using at York--made by GEC, which is a major employer in my constituency--was compatible with the overhead lines. Therefore, they brought it down from York and put it into the Liverpool street trackside modules so that they could get the system to work. It is incredible that no one had considered at the tendering stage or at the testing stage whether the microprocessors would work. It is yet another example of Network SouthEast's short- sightedness, which once again did not help to raise the standard of service to my constituents.
Mr. Burns : I blame the disruption on whoever--I assume that it was Network SouthEast, or the British Railways Board--was responsible for placing the tender for equipment that clearly was not fit to serve the purpose for which it was put into the trackside modules. My constituents found--to add insult to injury, yet again--it absolutely unbelievable when recently they read that, whereas they believed--and I support them in their belief--that when the disruption to the service had been caused not by vandalism or by inclement weather but by problems that can be laid at the door of British Rail, that British Rail refused steadfastly to give any refund to season ticket holders or purchasers of tickets. It is steadfast in its refusal to do so. As a sop to public relations, it says that if someone has lost some money, due to not being able to go, say, to the theatre because of disruption on the line caused in one way or another by British Rail, it will be prepared sympathetically to consider giving refunds. That is a great deal! Most of my constituents do not travel at 8 am to the theatre ; they are travelling to work. When they return to Chelmsford in the evening, they are not usually going to the theatre, or anywhere else where they will have to pay out money. They are going home to enjoy the evening with their families. That does not have a price on it so that British Rail can then fulfil its promise sympathetically to consider making a refund.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take the board of British Rail to one side and ask it to think again. My constituents and those of other hon. Members should be given sympathetic consideration when asking for refunds when they cannot get to work or when the disruption in service does not involve a particular financial loss for them. They often have to wait 20 minutes or even one or two hours for a train that long since should have taken them on their journeys. My constituents were especially irritated recently when they heard that British Rail had paid a £17 taxi fare for one of its drivers who could not get
Column 53home because of the work to rule by other drivers. My constituents think that that driver should have had to find his own way home, even by walking if necessary.
The privatisation of the rail network cannot come a day too soon. It will attract private companies that will have to pay attention to the wishes of their customers and provide a service that actually lives up to their claims. They will have to listen to their customers who want a decent journey to London and back again. That is not asking for a great deal because people pay a great deal of money to travel on the rail network. Year in and year out, fare increases are greater than the rate of inflation --with the hollow explanation that British Rail needs the extra money to reinvest to provide a better service. My constituents have not noticed a better service. The time for Network SouthEast to pull up its socks has long since passed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport will explain to it the facts of commercial life. After 1992, we will not have to worry about pointing out the facts of commercial life to a state-owned enterprise because it will, I hope, be privatised. I shall be returned to the House with an increased majority because I, like many of my hon. Friends, have identified the correct action necessary to obtain a better service for my constituents.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) for not being present at the start of the debate. Towards the end of my 180-mile journey to the House today, I was delayed for an hour in west London because of traffic jams. That illustrates many of the major problems in the London area. We can quite quickly traverse large parts of the country, but when we reach the south-east corner it is difficult to make progress.
A mere three and a half years from now Britain will be transformed when it becomes part of the single European market. For the first time, it will be integrated into a true community with our continental partners, sharing with them both opportunities and challenges. Britain, like any member state, must prepare itself for changes in both business and the lives of its inhabitants. I regret that the Government's policies have done little to achieve that, especially in the transport sector. Placing advertisements such as "Europe Open for Business" alongside railway lines may raise public awareness of our role in Europe--and as such are to be welcomed--but they beg the question of what the Government have done. They have done virtually nothing about infrastructure investment, which is a serious matter for both businesses and people in Britain. The south-east is suffering from severe congestion, which costs the country £15 billion a year. That is a great deal of money and it could be used in ways far better than on stationary vehicles needlessly using fuel. We can all imagine the environmental effects of that, and the cost to business of such delays is immense. Unless further investment is made in our motorway system, in another five years most motorways will have stationary vehicles along their entire length. The reason for that statement is clear. Twelve years ago there were 16 million cars on the roads ; today there are 28 million, with 2 million vehicles being sold each year. With such a rate of mathematical progression, it is not hard to envisage traffic on most of our
Column 54main arterial roads becoming stationary, especially on the motorway system. It is an immense challenge to any Government, whatever their colour.
Because of Britain's poor infrastructure, it will be largely cut off from the 280 million consumers on mainland Europe. We do not have an adequate transport system to cope with possible demand. The Government have not properly addressed the provision of an integrated transport system. They have neglected their responsibilities, especially in respect of funding. They are sitting back and watching the chaos develop around them. That is a destructive policy. They must surely realise that investment holds the golden key to our nation's economic future.
There are many anomalies, especially in the rail system. The Treasury requires British Rail to guarantee a 7 per cent. return on investment for each of its major projects. I understand that the figure is soon to rise to 9 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will either confirm or deny that when he replies to the debate. No other rail system in mainland Europe is required to produce such a high rate of return on a single investment. Indeed, SNCF of France takes into account the social benefits that might come from any investment. A 7 per cent.--or, even more horrific, the proposed 9 per cent. --return on investment in, for example, the electrification of lines simply does not add up when compared with the costs of motorway jams. My party advocates investment in the future. We argue for a transport policy that cuts down wasted time and enables increased export earnings by using each means of transport to its best advantage. Where traffic is too scarce to justify railways or too heavy to accommodate passenger cars, the bus is the environmentally sound and cheap vehicle to operate. For the long-distance traveller, buses, local railways and passenger cars should feed into a network of electrified railways that offer the passenger a through service in a comfortable environment. Regional air services should complement such a system. If that were the case throughout the country, our motorways and city centres would not be clogged up with cars and heavy vehicles.
Britain has two busy airports--Heathrow and Gatwick--in the south-east, yet neither is linked to the other by rail connections. The airports are linked by rail to central London, but they are not linked to each other.
The integration of London area airports, the building of new ones and the integration of all existing airports into the national and European rail network is especially important. The French are investing in their rail structure to integrate Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris.
This must not be a matter for party politics. We need a high-speed through rail link that connects the regions with the Channel tunnel. That can be achieved only by building a rail bypass around London. Such a bypass would not be environmentally damaging as it could be linked to further investment in the M25 to widen it. The high speed rail link could be built by the side of the motorway at the same time. A rail link running in a semi-circle from south of Luton to the Maidstone area would join Heathrow and Gatwick airports and solve many of the problems associated with getting rail and road traffic from Scotland, the north, Wales and the west country to Europe. London is already far too congested, and to bring more people and goods in from the Channel tunnel would make matters far worse. Such a course would present immense
Column 55costs to industry and to people who want to get from the regions and countries of Britain to the continent. This is one of the greatest challenges before the Government.
My nation of Wales will not even have an electrified rail link from Cardiff to London, let alone a direct through service to the continent, by the time the Channel tunnel is completed and working. The west country will not get such a link either, and nor will the far west of the west midlands. This is a very serious matter for industry, tourism and passenger traffic in those areas. There has to be a revolution in thinking about public and private transport.
Mr. Corbyn : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable interest and pressure in the Republic of Ireland for upgrading the Crewe to Holyhead line so that more rail freight can be brought from the Channel tunnel to the Irish channel ports?
Mr. Livsey : I am aware of that because of the studies made in north Wales to get the north Wales line to Holyhead electrified so that the Irish can use what they call the land bridge to Europe. Unless the line is electrified, traffic from Ireland will be seriously disadvantaged. I should have thought that the European Community could help with improving such links.
When we compare investment in rail transport infrastructure in this country with that in France--they are starting to build a 114 km Paris bypass costing £1.7 billion--we can see how far behind we are getting. After the Channel tunnel is constructed, when we see the far better transport infrastructure on the continent, we will realise how seriously disadvantaged we are. The Government must rethink their strategy for connecting the regions and countries of Britain to mainland Europe.
On behalf of Wales, I plead for an assurance that the second Severn crossing will be completed by 1995, as the Secretary of State has promised. It is a vital link to the south-east of England and to the continent of Europe. Unless this investment takes place and a policy for an integrated transport system is pursued, Britain's future, in economic terms, the quality of life and the environment is dire indeed.
The Government must make it clear that money must never again come in the way of safety. We must regret that we have had a number of tragedies recently. The Government must realise that they have to sponsor investment in transport so that, by the end of the century, we have an industry which is safe, environmentally sound, efficient and which serves all parts of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : I am grateful to be called, and I should like to echo much of what has already been said about a decent economic transport policy that will encourage economic prosperity. It is important to have an internal and an external transport network. I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said about Network SouthEast. I spent seven years commuting on Network SouthEast and I travelled more than 25,000 miles in the process. I assure the House that much needs to be done to improve it. I am convinced, as is my hon. Friend, that the way to improve it is to put it into the private sector. When in the public sector, British Airways suffered precisely the same
Column 56problems that British Rail now suffers. Now that it is in the private sector, British Airways is second to none in the world. We also need to improve our roads. One area where we can make an improvement now is the M40, part of which is yet to be built. One or two years ago, we talked of a 12-mile stretch of two-lane motorway. I understand that the specification has been increased to three lanes, but I submit that it might be an idea to think about four lanes now rather than to improve the M1 at some time in the future. In other words, it would be better to improve the M40 quickly to reflect the increasing rate of economic growth, because we can do something about it now as we already have planning permission for it.
Because of our geographical location, large seaports such as Liverpool were built up. It was a gateway to Europe and the rest of the world, especially the United States. The important point is the spin-off advantages of such development. Liverpool developed as a port, but many ancillary industries followed. That development had an effect on shipbuilding.
The same is true today of air transport. Once again, we are fortunate because of our geographical position. We are the gateway to Europe and a point of departure to the rest of the world. At Heathrow we have the most important hub in Europe. It is the result of our geographical position, but it is also the result of the deregulation of the past decade. It is the result of the privatisation of British Airways and the British Airports Authority and the fact that we have given aviation entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop air routes when the need arises.
That means that we are in a very good position to deal with a unitary market and the deregulation of air routes throughout Europe after 1992. But that position is now being challenged by airports on the Continent such as Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and particularly Schiphol, which already considers itself to be the third London airport. We cannot stand still, as we have to make certain that after 1992 the primary European hub of operations for air routes in and out of Europe remains in Britain and does not move across the Channel. The importance of that is clear. In the same way as we need to export products to survive, we should be able to export our air transport services. It is just as useful to sell an air ticket for an airline owned and operated in this country as it is to sell a motor car that is produced in this country.
How should we achieve that objective? First, we have to make certain that we have sufficient terminal capacity and ground facilities at our airports to cope with the increasing throughput of passengers. Secondly, we need to make certain that we have sufficient runway capacity at our airports. Thirdly, we need to tackle the problem of air traffic control delays.
The most immediate decision on terminals should already have been taken. There should be a fifth terminal at Heathrow. That must happen very quickly indeed. Heathrow has sufficient runway capacity, but it will not be able to deal with the extra number of passengers passing through the airport because of the larger aircraft that are increasingly being used by airlines.
We also need to examine those airports that remain the responsibility of local authorities. The best example of an airport that is not being run as well as it should is Manchester. I know that I struck a chord or drew blood from one or two Opposition Members when I mentioned terminal A at Manchester airport. It is most unfortunate
Column 57that that terminal was opened on 1 May. I do not know whether the significance of that date had anything to do with who runs Manchester council, but the opening of that terminal was a disgrace and compared most unfavourably with the experience of the first day of the north terminal at Gatwick airport. The electrics did not work, the doors did not work and the catering facilities did not work. I was at the opening of the north terminal at Gatwick and the first day of operation of the new terminal at Manchester. The comparison between the terminal at Gatwick, opened by the British Airports Authority, and the new terminal at Manchester, for which Manchester council was responsible, is a good example of the difference between the private sector and the public sector.
Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman drew blood, at least metaphorically, when he was stupid enough to suggest in an intervention that strikes only occur in the public sector. It would be equally stupid for me to say that because the privatised BAA plc is anxious to screw its retailers into the ground at Gatwick and Heathrow and those retailers are protesting to hon. Members on both sides of the House, the private sector deliberately exploits its customers who are also its victims. That is as stupid as the hon. Gentleman's earlier remark that strikes happen only in the public sector at Manchester airport.
Mr. Mans : The hon. Gentleman should look more closely at what I said. I said that Manchester airport is run by a Labour-controlled local authority that tried to open the new terminal without the correct preparations for that opening. That was at least partly the result of an electricians' strike, but there were other causes. I do not think that that has anything to do with what he said about retailers at Gatwick.
I should like briefly to mention runways and air traffic control movements. If we get the terminals right and increase the throughoutput of passengers in the south-east, we shall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said, be able to wait until the turn of the century before we need another runway in the south-east. But by the year 2000 we shall certainly need another runway at Stansted, Gatwick or Heathrow.
We can ensure that we have adequate runway capacity for the increased traffic after 1992. The hub and spoke argument about air traffic control movements is that if we provide the necessary feeder services in and out of the main hubs, we are liable to attract more traffic. One of the problems is that our three London airports contain a great deal of charter traffic which tends to clog up the works at certain hours of the day. We have to distinguish between scheduled operations, charter traffic, which is, for all intents and purposes, almost scheduled operations, and the package holiday market, which in many cases can be moved to other airports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said, some of that traffic could be moved to other airports and possibly to RAF airports such as Manston, Greenham common and Brize Norton. We should also consider business aviation. We have to make certain that we do not throw out business aircraft from the major airports until we have somewhere to put them. If we did that, we would make Heathrow and Gatwick less attractive to business men.
We can increase our airport capacity through regional airport development. I agree with the hon. Member for
Column 58Burnley (Mr. Pike) about the importance of improving services out of Manchester. However, the hold-ups involved in transatlantic routes are on the other side of the Atlantic with the Federal Aviation Authority which cannot decide what it wants from the reciprocal arrangements that we have with the United States. I have no doubt that we can develop further regional airports. We can develop Manchester as a hub for operations in northern Europe so that people who want to go to north Germany and Scandinavia would fly into Manchester first and then fly on to various destinations. By doing that, and by following my other suggestions, we shall be able to meet the demands of increased air traffic in the next 10 or 20 years. We must examine air traffic control which is the key to the whole issue. We can have as many runways and terminals as we like, but unless we sort out our antiquated air traffic control system it will be wasted money. The introduction of universal flow control last year did nothing to increase the number of air movements ; it did the precise opposite. It is high time that the national air traffic control centre was hived off from the Civil Aviation Authority. We also need to look beyond 1995 and the introduction of the central control function to the production and building of the new air traffic control facility which will replace the one at West Drayton. The sooner we do that the better. We cannot afford once again to fall behind in terms of the air traffic control facilities that our airlines need if we are to maintain our position as the primary hub in Europe.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : Why did my hon. Friend say that he would welcome the idea of privatising the air traffic control operation? Does he believe that there is spare capacity or that it is an inefficiently run organisation?
Mr. Mans : The term I used was "hived off". I was suggesting that the regulatory function of the CAA should not be mixed up with the operations of the air traffic control network. They are separate functions and they should be run separately. I should like to see the national air traffic control system in private hands, possibly as a result of an employees' buy-out, but other hon. Members may have other thoughts. It is most important that the two should be separate.
Further development of air transport provides huge opportunities for wealth generation, job expansion and export earnings. We have to plan for the next 20 years, not the next five or 10, in order to get the right answers. We have already made certain that the United Kingdom's major airports provide a gateway to Europe and a departure point from it. We need to ensure that our airports' capacity and air traffic control network provide the support for our highly efficient airline operators to take on the rest of the world.
Mrs. Gillian Shephard (Norfolk, South-West) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on his choice of subject for debate and on the skill with which he introduced it. I must commend him for drawing the attention of the House to the importance of transport, if on this day of all days we need it drawn to our attention, and for putting the importance of transport and communications in the context of our needs in 1992 and beyond.
Column 59I represent an East Anglian constituency, and East Anglia is particularly well placed with regard to the European Economic Community. It is so well placed that on a foggy day fortunate viewers in north Norfolk may find themselves viewing Dutch television without adjusting their set. Although that is a telecommunications point, it illustrates that East Anglia faces continental Europe.
Several flourishing ports, including the exceptionally successful Felixstowe, mean that exports can leave easily and cheaply for continental Europe--a point increasingly appreciated by trade and industry not just in East Anglia. I do not imply that development and optimism are limited to Felixstowe. The ports of King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth have ambitious expansion plans for 1992 and beyond. If East Anglia is to flourish as the obvious gateway to Europe, continuing investment and improvement in both road and rail networks is essential. There have been considerable improvements in both the A11 and A47, which are two of the region's most important roads and certainly those most vital to Norfolk over the past years. Yet Norfolk has only 20 miles of dual carriageway out of a total of 5,000 miles. That means that of Norfolk's total road network 99.8 per cent. is not dual. I wonder whether that is a record. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell me. Moreover, although the position in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire is slightly better, the overall percentage of dualled roads in the three counties is still only 2 per cent.
Those figures would be curious anyway and they are certainly unacceptable to people in East Anglia who see with envy the large sums of cash expended elsewhere. I must emphasise that this Government have invested an enormous amount of public money in an excellent infrastructure of good road networks. East Anglians are also aware that undualled roads and those which switch from dual to single carriageway systems cause twice as many accidents as those which are fully dualled. Therefore, they feel themselves under-privileged compared with other areas and with regard to accident rates.
The figures are curious because, although East Anglia has the smallest population of all the English regions, it has the fastest population growth, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know. It also has twice the national average traffic growth. That is again highly significant. The three East Anglian counties have a much higher car ownership than elsewhere. It is 10 per cent. higher in Cambridgeshire, 12 per cent. higher in Norfolk and 10 per cent. higher in Suffolk. Therefore, our roads are needed and are used.
A particularly interesting contrast can be drawn with Scotland, which shows what we in East Anglia believe are defective ways of making judgments on where expenditure and investment should be made on roads. Scotland has a population of 5 million, whereas East Anglia's population is 2 million. In 1986-87, East Anglia had 19 per cent. of the expenditure spent on Scottish roads. If the figure had been calculated on comparative geographical size or population size, East Anglia would have had 25 per cent. of what was spent on Scotland, or 40 per cent. of the total. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can say how these sums are calculated.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) said, this weekend there have been
Column 60rumours of a possible White Paper which would include future investment schemes. The A11 and A47 are included in those rumours and I hope that they will prove to be true. I commend the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling about the role that the private sector may take in the investment, given the enthusiasm of industry and commerce in East Anglia for good access to the ports which I described at the beginning of my speech. In particular, planning gain may be interesting to those industries and firms which want a good speedy communication network to the East Anglian coast. I am sure that the hearts of all hon. Members present, with the exception of one or two, bled for the plight of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and his constituents. In East Anglia we should all be delighted with the investment in the electrification of the Liverpool street--Norwich line, on which Chelmsford lies, and the promise of electrification between London and King's Lynn. A good dose of consumerism, possibly injected by private sector interests into the management of British Rail, could only be in the interests of its users. I am thinking particularly of cleanliness. Unfortunate commuters between Liverpool street and King's Lynn never see the view. Not only is the rolling stock excessively old, but it is consistently coated with a think layer of grime. It is their impression that they are travelling at night. Moreover, although breakdowns are frequent, and have been frequent while engineering works have been taking place between Liverpool street and Norwich, there is seldom a word of explanation or an apology to the commuters who, by their payments, are making the whole operation possible.
I conclude by mentioning a problem on the railway line between Thetford and Norwich. Recently, the number of trains stopping on that line has been cut from 14 to five. The number of trains travelling along the line has not been cut ; what has been cut is the number of opportunities for passengers to get on them. It is extraordinary that a service which is supposed to exist in the interests of the people who use it could provide any rationale for running trains through stations while the interested parties stand on the platform unable to mount the train. I am sure that there will be an explanation and, I hope, a complete reversal of that policy. I am following up the matter with British Rail in conjunction with all the enraged commuters who used to travel on the line between Norwich and Thetford and are now unable to do so. They are reduced to waving to the train as it passes briskly by.
The private sector, in helping our communication network both on road and rail, can do two things. It can provide a useful injection of cash but, almost more importantly, it can introduce a positive attitude towards its consumers and customers which, all too sadly, British Rail anyway seems to lack.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The timing of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) is impeccable. Not only is there a rising interest in transport, but today, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said, the old saying about it being better to travel than to arrive has never been truer. Some hon. Members have said that the Opposition Benches are a little empty, but I know where Opposition Members are. They are in my constituency trying to find their way through to
Column 61the centre of London, and there are no Opposition Whips present because they are all on Lavender hill and the south circular searching for Labour Members who are desperately trying to get through to the House.
It can never be gainsaid that I represent not so much a constituency as a traffic jam. When my constituents get up in the morning--this has been especially true today--they get their cars out, they drive a few yards and then they sit in a traffic jam. So they go back home and decide to catch a train. They wait at the platform, but the trains do not come. If they do arrive, they are not so much things that people get into as things that people burst out of when the doors open. Then my constituents must wait for the next one or the one after that.
My constituents then go down the road and try to get on a bus. The bus stop is probably about half a mile away, and then the bus probably stops at one of the bridges in my constituency because a barge has run into it and the bridge is closed. So they go down the road still further and decide to get on the Underground, but they suddenly realise that we have none. Mine is the bit of London that the planners forgot when it came to transport. It has no Underground stations.
It is not surprising that, as they sit in their gardens, having given up the idea of travelling anywhere, listening to the buzz of traffic and smelling the fumes from the stalled cars, my constituents think that it would be a good idea to have some integrated planning for transport. I agree with the many hon. Members who have referred to the need for integrated planning for London, instead of doing a bit here and a bit there. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take the message on board. It is not within his gift to appoint a Minister for London transport, but I ask him to make the suggestion to people who may have that gift. It would be a blessing for mankind if we had someone to co-ordinate all aspects of transport within the M25 area.
Mr. Corbyn : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many Opposition Members have always wanted a strategic planning authority for London and were disappointed when the GLC was abolished and was not replaced by a strategic planning authority? Does he agree that there is an overwhelming case for an integrated planning authority that deals with transport and planning for London? If not, the chaos that we have seen today will be as nothing compared with what will happen in the future.
Mr. Bowis : We certainly do not want the GLC back, because it did not invest in transport in London. But I agree about integrated planning in London, and that is why I am asking for a Minister or someone else to take charge of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling will forgive me if my remarks are somewhat London-based, but I come from my constituents with a shopping list. The first item on the list relates to heliports. My constituency has the only heliport in London, which seems a little de trop. Sometimes we are pleased to provide this service for mankind as people bustle down our roads to reach Battersea heliport. But the heliport has become rather full, and people are trying to increase the number of flights by 50 per cent. When my hon. Friend the Minister talks to the people who make the decisions, he should say, "If you want to have flights into London, they must go up and down the river and must not cut corners and cross over houses ; nor must they go during the night". It may be a
Column 62good idea to have radar screens so that we can tell where the flights are going. The Minister should also talk to the planners of the City airport and suggest that it is about time that heliports were built in other parts of London to share the load. Many of the people who use Battersea heliport come from the City airport, and the last thing that they need or want is to come all the way down to south-west London.
My shopping list also includes roads. Ministers should listen when there is agreement across the Chamber. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned opposition to roads. There is similar opposition from all parties in all the boroughs in my area to the proposals put forward to the Department of Transport by the consultants. That is not the proper solution. It would simply bring more traffic into our area. If the road exists, it will attract more traffic. Nor do we want WEIR--the western environmental improvement route--unless we can find an expensive way of diverting it underground and bringing it out on the A3 beyond the Robin Hood roundabout. If that could be done, I might begin to consider it, but to take traffic down from Shepherds Bush to the river, where it would have nowhere to go but on to my already overcrowded roads, would be nonsense. Several minor things could be done to improve the roads of London, including odd bits of straightening and widening and better co-ordination of traffic lights. My hon. Friend should consider carefully a scheme that some of us have been promoting called red routing, which would stop parking on through routes. There should be no parking, waiting or delivery between 7 am and 7 pm on through routes into London. It is unnecessary, and every time that one thoughtless person parks or double parks, 10 people are delayed and may suffer the coronaries to which other hon. Members have referred. People should park on side roads, and deliveries should be made outside rush hours. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to introduce heavy penalties on people who offend in that way.
Many hon. Members have mentioned rail, which would provide some solutions to the transport problems of Greater London. But we should examine the unused and underused lines of London. We should examine existing lines to see whether we can make trains and platforms longer to improve comfort, reliability, speed and safety. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the west London line and to the possibility of reopening a station in Battersea. Battersea High street station was closed during the war and was never reopened. That station could be linked with Chelsea harbour, where I believe a station is proposed. When it is electrified, it could provide a new through route into Clapham junction and thence to Victoria.
Many of my constituents, and people throughout the south-east, come into Waterloo station and then go down what is called "the drain"--the Waterloo and City line. The Waterloo and City line has trains, if one can call them that. They may be the third-hand and fourth-hand trains going back 50 years to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) referred. It is
Column 63high time that that rolling stock was replaced. I know that schemes are shortly to be introduced to do that and I hope that the Minister will give them a swift go-ahead.
The other main request on railways is that the Underground should be brought to Clapham junction. If we do that, we shall have the option of taking further south the Hackney to Chelsea line proposed in the central London rail study, which would relieve the southern end of the Northern line.
There has been talk of British Rail having requested a Bill for only one item in the central London rail study--the east-west line. I am told that that has been requested for November. I hope that that does not mean that the other options will be ruled out. It is important that the Hackney to Chelsea line should be kept to the fore as a real option.
There are many other options that we could discuss in this splendid debate- -not least the use of the river by river buses and river taxis. Other hon. Members have referred to bus deregulation and Hoppas. I shall not, as the one thing that I ask of transport is that it should be punctual and I am told that the Front Bench spokesmen are waiting to speak at this very moment. As I pull into my station, I invite them to take off.
Mr. Snape : Or even a puffer ; certainly not. Even so, I am prepared to forgive the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) because his speech was excellent. I hope that I shall not prejudice his prospects if I say that the Department of Transport needs men like him. The sooner that common sense the like of which we have just heard emanates from the Government Front Bench, the better. The hon. Gentleman ought to take the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who initiated the debate, on one side. I had some misgivings when I saw today's Order Paper. It was full of statistics, one or two of which were misleading, and of sentiments which, when they were not cloying, were completely wrong. I am afraid that my forebodings were soon to pitch up against the rock of reality when the hon. Member for Gedling started his speech by praising the Secretary of State for Transport. I shall not attack the Secretary of State in his absence--he has had enough of that from other quarters--but I must say that I should not have considered the present incumbent of the post to be the most successful that we have had over the years.
The right hon. Gentleman is certainly not the worst ; that accolade belongs to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has long been remembered as the worst Secretary of State for Transport the country has had. He is rapidly on his way to proving to be the worst Secretary of State for the Environment that the country has ever had. It is a pretty unenviable double. It is not accurate to describe the term of office of the present Secretary of State for Transport as especially successful, or to say that he has enhanced his prospects. Besides the inevitable dash of sycophancy that one has come to expect from the younger Conservative Members, I was struck by the fact that the remarks of the hon.
Column 64Member for Gedling contradicted those of his hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Gedling talked about British Rail making substantial progress, whereas his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was livid--I think that that is a fair description--about the lack of progress that has been made in one part of British Rail, Network SouthEast. A contradiction runs through all our debates about British Rail. On the one hand, BR is making very good progress in meeting financial targets, while, on the other, we have the decline in services that makes the hon. Member for Chelmsford gnash his teeth. That is because financial targets and quality of service do not go together very well. The fact that British Rail meets its financial targets in obedience to the Treasury, or to the Department of Transport, which is subordinate to the Treasury, inevitably gives rise to the fall in standards that has made the hon. Member for Chelmsford, among others, wax so indignant.
The hon. Member for Gedling also made the plea that is habitual from hon. Members in his part of the world for the electrification of the midland main line. I do not wish to patronise the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out to him that if the midland main line electrification scheme does not meet the criteria laid down by the Government, the line will not be electrified. It is as simple as that. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that those financial criteria are wrong, he should say so.
I hope that the Minister will confirm or deny the point put to him by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). I hope that he will confirm that the investment criteria that have ruled out the electrification of the midland main line--for at least the next seven to 10 years, I would estimate--will not be worsened by the increase from 7 per cent. to 9 per cent.