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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order. I do not know whether you are aware, Mr. Speaker, but last week when the business statement was made and in subsequent discussions--you know how they talk in this place--people said, "What is on the agenda for Monday?" They were told that it was the SLD Supply day and that its members would decide. They were told, "We can tell you on the record that it is about Hong Kong." I thought, "That sounds attractive and it might mean about 2 million or 3 million votes in the Euro elections if, perhaps, we can bring a few back." Since then, there has been a change and here we are about to discuss transport. I am not knocking that, but this place has to be regulated in a proper fashion. Very shortly, the television cameras will be coming in and the television people will want to know on Thursday what is to be debated. They will not be satisfied with this "anything will do" approach by people who are disappearing from view. They will want to know. They will ask, "What's on?" They will be told that it is Hong Kong and they will not be very happy when they find out that it is transport. I am giving some advice for future debates.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor) : I beg to move, That this House condemns the lack of adequate investment in public transport, which has resulted in severe congestion and low staff morale leading to the current misery for commuters ; and calls for a national transport strategy which invests in the public transport network, encourages a move from road to rail travel and ensures that benefits of new investment in projects such as the Channel Tunnel are shared by the regions and nations of the United Kingdom.
Given the impending chaos that will arise on Wednesday on the public transport system, especially in London, and that the transport crisis with which we are confronted is a major environmental problem, our debate today should be welcome.
The lack of investment by the Government in public transport is deplorable. In particular, the neglect of the rail system in comparison with the investment in the road system beggars belief. In the time that they have been in power, have the Government built any new railway lines? Given their admiration for Victorian values, they should be aware that the Victorians would find the Government's achievements in this respect laughable. What new rolling stock have they provided on the railway lines? What assistance has been given to staff?
This discrimination against the railway system is compounded by the loaded methods of investment criteria against the railway system in comparison with the road system. The Government only started to wake up to the problem of investment in our railways in 1983. Investment was in the doldrums from 1975 to 1983, and, at 1989-90 prices, investment dropped from £546 million in 1975 to
Column 35£347 million in 1983. One result of this failure has been congestion, especially in the south-east, where a massive growth in passenger traffic has resulted in misery for commuters. The Government have failed the nation with their transport policies and the congestion on Britain's roads is a direct result of the Government's failure to invest in public transport.
Daily, harassed commuters travel in overcrowded, tatty rail coaches that are a misery and, in some cases, no better than cattle trucks. These are overloaded, and it is no wonder that staff on the London Underground and Network SouthEast are at their wits' end. Only a massive investment in rail, both in the cities and in main-line electrification, will alleviate these horrendous problems. Meanwhile, behind the wheels of millions of cars and lorries, drivers are stranded in traffic.
Drivers are stranded in traffic jams. In London alone, this costs the economy £15 billion a year, and the cost to the environment and people's health is also enormous. My party believes that the Government must plan now for the future, for much more investment in public transport.
Mr. Bowis : I agree that it is important to invest in public transport and rail transport in particular, not least in the capital city. However, can the hon. Gentleman tell me which major rail schemes were started and implemented during the period when his party was in cahoots with the then Labour Government? That is the period that he has condemned as having seen no investment whatever.
I understand that this afternoon British Rail will seek a High Court injunction to outlaw Wednesday's planned 24-hour strike by the National Union of Railwaymen on the ground that the union did not properly conduct its strike ballot. The ballot of 70,000 rail workers turned on the rejected 7 per cent. pay offer and the abolition of national pay bargaining. The NUR will argue that it acted entirely within the law. With inflation running at 8 per cent., the loss of national pay bargaining is an important issue. The case for arbitration is extremely strong.
Last Friday, Mr. Paul Watkinson, British Rail's director of employee relations, said that BR had received information that several hundred of its employees had not had the opportunity to vote in the ballot. That is a claim that requires close examination. There is considerable frustration among British Rail staff, and that is understandable when so many trains are overcrowded. I believe that wiser counsels should resolve the dispute.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Whatever one's views on the merits of the strike, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the action of the British Rail management, in intervening in such a way at such a sensitive time during the course of negotiations, was crass and wholly inept?
Mr. Livsey : I agree that its actions were extremely inept and not an example of good personal management. If it was serious about finding a constructive resolution of the dispute, it would not have behaved in such a way.
There is misery for commuters. Our motorways are jammed because of lack of investment in the railway system. It is not surprising that the motorways are overcrowded, because the number of cars on our roads has doubled in the past 12 years. An additional 2 million cars per annum are being sold and driven on British roads and as a result the environment is deteriorating rapidly. Indeed, the countryside has been laid to waste and there is increased air pollution. I understand that delays in the south-east alone cost about £15 billion.
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the reasons why considerable disdain has been shown for his party over the past few days is that people such as himself say one thing when it comes to investment in infrastructure and then vote in exactly the opposite way when it comes to activating decisions? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his late colleague, David Penhaligon, fought tooth and nail to get the road system improved in the west country on a scheme backed by the Government? There was total support for his campaign in Cornwall, as well as support from David Penhaligon's colleagues--candidates and Members alike --but when the issue was brought before us in the Chamber and we were asked to support the scheme, two of his hon. Friends voted against it--the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).
Mr. Livsey : I accept that the late Member for Truro, Mr. David Penhaligon, campaigned for an improved road system in the west country. I listened to his speeches and I supported him when the issue came to a vote, as did many of my colleagues. It was a good scheme, which led to better access to the west country. That is why I supported it.
This Government, previous Governments and planners have demonstrated over many years a lamentable lack of vision and an inability to diagnose what is happening in the movement of people and goods. Things were done rather better during the previous century. No significant new railway lines have been built during the 20th century.
We are now entering a new era of investment in our infrastructure, including transport. I have no doubt that the lack of infrastructure will be the biggest internal problem facing Britain over the next 10 years. The decisions taken now will be absolutely crucial.
Mr. Adley : The hon. Gentleman has stated that the number of cars has doubled over the past 12 years. Does he believe that that has happened because the economy has been prosperous? He also said that we are building fewer railway lines than the Victorians. Does he believe that the invention of the internal combustion engine has had anything to do with that?
Column 37However, many people are turning to private transport because of the inadequacies of public transport. They are forced to get into their cars because the public transport system is unable to provide a proper, efficient or effective alternative.
The choices in transport confronting us at the moment should be incorporated in the provision of an integrated transport system which would combine rail, road, air and sea transport. We should be planning for a grand design which will link the regions of this country with each other and with the continent. We should cut congestion and pollution.
We need environmentally friendly investment, which means that we must invest more in rail than we are doing at the moment. The statistics show that, of the investment in road and rail, only a quarter goes to rail. I challenge the Minister to give us a commitment today that he will raise the level of rail investment to at least the same level as that on roads.
When we consider infrastructure, we must also consider the integrated approach. Any new road or rail investment should be subjected to an environmental audit. Cost-benefit analysis and the social implications of investment should also be taken into account for both road and rail investment. We should invoke a major 10-year infrastructure programme which should set priorities for roads and rail. The Government have proposed a scheme for a further 900 miles of road investment. Some of that is necessary. However, as we look towards the year 2000, such investment on the roads should be set against similar criteria for investment in rail.
The Government and the Department of Transport are undoubtedly too road- orientated when it comes to transport investment.
Was the £12 billion road investment announced by the Government approximately three weeks ago compared with the possibility of investing that sum in improvements in rail infrastructure? Was that investment appraisal made?
The provision of an additional 900 miles of roads will mean the loss of 25 acres of land for every mile of motorway. That will mean a massive loss of our countryside in certain parts of the country.
Mr. Redwood : Is it right that the original intention of this debate on transport was to encourage stronger links to Europe in the light of the federal manifesto of the Social and Liberal Democratic party, and particularly to strengthen the links between the borders of Scotland and central Italy in the light of the election campaign by the right hon. Member for Tweedale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel)? Is it true that he is now concentrating on national issues because we saw what happened both to the federal manifesto here in England and to his right hon. Friend in Italy?
Mr. Livsey : The hon. Gentleman is correct, and I shall refer to 1992 and to the European Community in the latter part of my speech. Rail is far too low on the list of priorities in respect of new track, rolling stock and staffing. There is no objection in principle--certainly not from us--to private investment
Column 38in track and to obtaining private finance for our infrastructure if it cannot be obtained from the Treasury. The wrong investment criteria are being used for British Rail. The one-off,
return-on-capital criterion of 7 per cent. needs to be questioned.
Mr. Livsey : About a month ago, I participated in a debate in which I said there was a danger that the figure would increase to 9 per cent. Perhaps that debate served at least to reduce the increased figure by 1 per cent.
The calculation must take into account a cost-benefit analysis, which is done as a matter of course on the continent ; France uses cost-benefit analysis for its rail system. All main lines should be electrified, yet by the current investment criteria they cannot show the return demanded by the Treasury. Through services must be provided to the Channel tunnel and to such formidable places as Italy. There must be direct links between all regions and countries. We are living through an era of immense change--
Mr. Livsey : Just because the hon. Gentleman is green with envy. The United Kingdom will one day be plugged into Moscow, Istanbul, Madrid and Rome by thousands and thousands of miles of rail. That involves a wholly new dimension and requires fresh thinking. As I said in the previous debate, I should like to see a London rail bypass running alongside the M25 --
Mr. Livsey : --so that commuters who are stuck in their cars in the constituency of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) will be frustrated to see high-speed trains overtaking them at twice or three times their speed of progress. That would provide a very worthwhile contrast.
The imposition of high fares to fatten up British Rail for privatisation is deplorable. British Rail fares are already the highest in Europe, and are almost double those of SNCF. Clearly, more freight needs to be moved from road to rail and there is a case to be made for repealing section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 to allow public investment in some schemes. The priorities must be new rail links for commuters, main line electrification, and direct links with the Channel tunnel.
There must also be direct links between the major London termini, especially from Paddington to King's Cross and to Waterloo, and better use made of the west London line. Links to the Channel tunnel bypassing London via Gatwick and Heathrow are also needed. Roads should be evaluated on the basis of better criteria, and there should be disincentives for people to use cars in cities. My country of Wales has little transport infrastructure and considerable investment is needed, particularly in the electrification of the north and south Wales railway lines.
In 1992 we shall join a single European market of 270 million people on mainland Europe, and we shall have tremendous problems providing transport to and from the Continent. At present, 50 million passengers and 40 million tonnes of freight travel from Britain to the
Column 39continent each year. We need an integrated transport system, and cheaper and more efficient public transport to attract people away from the roads. We need better pay for railway staff, and an immediate settlement of the current disputes. We must create an awareness of bottlenecks, and we need better promotion of the importance of public transport. We need public and private investment in our infrastructure, and an independent assessment and forecast of traffic growth. The woeful inadequacy of such forecasts in the past is the cause of many of our current problems.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) rose --
Mr. Livsey : I will not give way : I am about to finish. We need more investment in the railways : I challenge the Minister to come up with at least a doubling of current investment. The Government must face up to the transport crisis that confronts us. When, in the near future, people are decanted from the Channel tunnel into London, I believe that an already clogged city will come to a complete standstill.
"congratulates the Government on the record levels of capital investment in all forms of transport infrastructure since 1979 while at the same time reducing the burden on the taxpayer ; welcomes their plans to increase this investment further over coming years with both public and private money to meet the forecast growth in demand which is the result of the economic success of this country under the Conservative Government ; welcomes the Government's success in creating the conditions in which the private sector could both finance and build the Channel Tunnel ; congratulates the Government on its determination that the whole of the United Kingdom shall share in its benefits ; applauds the high priority that they give to all matters of safety on transport ; and welcomes their recognition of the importance of environmental conditions in transport policy." I congratulate the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) on his courage in coming to the House today. It is brave indeed to appear on the day after what was described by his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) as "a blinking awful result".
I was delighted to learn that today's debate was to be about investment in transport--delighted, but slightly puzzled. It is usual on Opposition days for the Opposition to pick a subject on which they can point to their own strength and find something that is embarrassing to the Government. The subject of transport investment, however, does not fall into that category by any stretch of the imagination.
I do not want to pretend that everything in the transport garden is lovely ; it is not. We have plenty of problems to contend with. There is the perennial problem of maintaining and improving safety standards. There is the threat posed to air transport by international terrorism. There is the problem of congestion on Europe's air lanes, on our key motorways and in our city centres. There is the problem of catering for rapidly growing demand for transport while respecting our environment. All those are real problems, and the solutions are not easy.
Column 40The level of investment, however, is not a problem. There is no question of investment in any form of transport, public or private, being inadequate.
Mr. Neale : Can my hon. Friend confirm that he is astonished--his astonishment is reflected on the Conservative Benches--that, having seen the massive exodus from the Social and Liberal Democrats to the Green party in the elections over the past few days, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) did not once mention environmental considerations? Will he also confirm that, whenever a new scheme is launched, the Government take major steps to ensure that the environment is catered for--in terms of tree cover, for instance?
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor asked me to say something about investment levels. Let me start by giving some of the bald facts. Since 1979 the Department of Transport has completed 264 road schemes, adding 900 miles to the national network. Last year, our expenditure on motorways and trunk roads totalled more than £1 billion. This year we have a budget of £1.3 billion, which represents a real increase of more than 60 per cent. since 1978-79--in other words, a quantum leap in investment since the hon. Gentleman's party last participated in government at the time of the notorious Lib-Lab pact.
Mr. Anderson : The Minister has presented the figures for real investment in roads over the past decade as an increase of 60 per cent. Will he give the comparable figures relating to a real increase in rail investment?
The road investment figures take no account of the further increase in investment foreshadowed in our White Paper "Roads for Prosperity", which has proposed more than doubling the roads programme ; nor do they take account of our investment in maintenance--making good the backlog of neglect that we inherited--of local authority investment in local road schemes, or of the growing role of the private sector. It simply is not possible to sustain the argument that road investment is being neglected.
The dramatic increase in road investment has been accompanied by increases in other investment. For example, British Rail has invested £2.5 billion over the past five years, and 31 major schemes have been approved since 1983. It plans to spend more than £3.7 billion over the next five years. It is in the middle of the biggest renewal programme since the transfer from steam to diesel, and investment is at the highest level in real terms since 1962--well above the levels of the late 1970s.
Mr. Redwood : Drawing on his experience of the pressures affecting the choice of the new Kent rail link for the Channel tunnel, can my hon. Friend confirm or deny the Liberal suggestion that planning new railway lines across country or near houses is environmentally easy, whereas planning new roads is environmentally difficult? Has he received any submissions from the Liberal party nominating routes across green fields or near people's houses for new railway lines?
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend has made a good point. As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, it passed through my mind that it would be interesting to look at the manifesto commitments of all the SLD candidates in Kent for the county elections. I suspect that we should find that they are not quite so strongly in favour of new railway lines as they would claim when there is a specific proposal before the country.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Before the Minister leaves the subject of relative investment in rail and roads, will he confirm that, although there has been substantial investment in the road network, there has been a real decrease in investment in the rail network since 1979? Why is that, and why will the Government not ensure the investment of a similar amount in the rail network?
Mr. Portillo : I have already made it clear that we are now investing more than was invested in the late 1970s. There is an upward trend from year to year, and the amounts already earmarked for the years ahead are higher still. The current level of investment in the railways has not been seen since the early 1960s, and certainly far surpasses any amount invested in the late 1970s.
Mr. Adley : My hon. Friend will know that I always take a fair and objective stance on these matters. Can he confirm that the figure that he gave for the proposed level of investment for British Rail, over the next five years--sanctioned by the Government, although British Rail will be spending its own money--is about the same as the figure for West Germany's investment this year?
Mr. Portillo : I do not have the figure for West Germany. Perhaps I can address that point when I wind up the debate, as I am not sure that my hon. Friend is correct. Certainly our current investment levels are historically extremely high. I have said that they are the highest since the early 1960s, and, as my hon. Friend will know better than anyone else, the rail network at that time was very much larger than it is today. Even the same amount, spread around a smaller system, would today imply a much higher level of investment. This year, £300 million is being invested in London Underground, which is double the level under the last year of GLC control. There is also investment in the Channel tunnel. Moreover, there is a host of schemes for light rail transit systems up and down the country, to which I shall refer in due course. I do not see how any of that can be represented as under-investment in our infrastructure.
Mr. Bowis : Will my hon. Friend be very wary, though, of the suggestion by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) that the west London line should be used increasingly for Channel tunnel freight? Many people in south London will note that that is SLD policy. They would much rather that the freight that is destined for the north-west and elsewhere should go on the Reading line and bypass London altogether.
Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend will no doubt want to point out to his constituents that that is SLD policy. In due course, the Government will see what proposals British Rail makes for its services direct from the regions to the continent.
There is no under-investment, either, in airports. Heathrow has acquired a fourth terminal. Stansted is
Column 42being developed as London's third airport. New terminal capacity is being added at Birmingham and Manchester airports. The Civil Aviation Authority has a major investment programme to increase air traffic control capacity. There is no shortage of new investment in our ports. Bus operators have also been investing heavily--witness the rapid growth in the total size of their fleets.
Wherever we look, there is no shortage of investment in transport. It is buoyant. The charge of under-investment today is plain silly. Furthermore, in the hand of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, the charge is a boomerang because we are recovering from years of under-investment when the Liberals and the International Monetary Fund shared power with Labour.
However, it is not just the total level of investment that matters : it is also the way in which the money is spent. Our aim is perfectly simple. We want to do all that we can to accommodate the rapidly growing demand for transport--safely, efficiently and with proper respect for the environment.
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Does my hon. Friend not agree that our ports are very badly treated by the Government? Light dues are still imposed on them. None of our continental competitors has to pay light dues. It would be far better if we could compete freely with Europe. We could do so if light dues were abolished.
Mr. Portillo : I am sure that we should all welcome free competition, but it is a moot point whether we should ask taxpayers to bear charges that really ought to fall on those who make use of the services or whether we should try to persuade our continental partners to come into line with us. I am sure that my hon. Friend welcomes the greatest gift that the Government have given to our ports industry--the abolition of the national dock labour scheme. That will help our ports industry to be competitive.
There are other approaches to transport policy. The Green party, for example, clearly takes the view that environmental considerations must lead us to a shrinking economy, with less for everyone, rather than an expanding economy. The car, the lorry and the plane must go and Britain must become dependent on transport by rail and inland waterway. Even judged on its own terms, the Green party's policy is not very sensible. Anyone who imagines that the construction of a new railway line can be achieved with zero impact on the environment should speak to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) or to any of my hon. Friends with constituencies in Kent. They will quickly put him right about that.
To forgo investment in new infrastructure, with resulting increased congestion, is not an environmentally sensible policy. On our roads, slow- moving, stop-start traffic generates more pollution than free-flowing traffic. If we asked those who suffer from traffic jams day and night outside their homes whether we should close our minds to relieving their plight by building new roads, of course they would say that we should not do so. As I have trespassed into this area, perhaps I should say that the recent European Community decision on vehicle emissions shows that we are determined to reduce the damage to ourselves from vehicle fumes.
It is against that background that I intend to give some practical examples of investment in transport and to explain how they have helped to improve the quality of life. We have targeted expenditure on road schemes that
Column 43bring the maximum benefit to both road users and the local community. In particular, we have concentrated on plugging gaps in the existing motorway network and on schemes to take traffic around built-up areas. These range in scale from short stretches of bypass around small towns and villages to major orbital motorways round London and Manchester. Across the board, every £1 that we spend on roads now yields £2 in measurable benefits to road users and the local community. That has to be a good investment, judged by any standards.
One element in the tally of benefits is the improved safety of new roads. In the recent report on road safety in the European Community, the Belgian Institute for Road Safety cited the high quality of Britain's roads as one reason why we have the best safety record of the 12 member states.
Mr. Livsey : If the Minister can quantify the benefits of investment in roads, surely he should be able to do the same for investment in railways and say what the pound-for-pound benefit would be if the rail system were improved.
Mr. Portillo : I partly blame myself for this. Over a period, the hon. Gentleman has consistently misunderstood our investment criteria for the railways. I intended to allude to that matter later in my speech. He believes that we apply a commercial rate of return to all investment decisions relating to the railways. That is absolutely untrue. We do not apply a criterion of that sort to investment in the non-profit making and non-commercial sectors, such as the provincial sector. There we are concerned with cost-benefit analysis and with what investment will yield the best results in terms of keeping the railways functional.
We never consider the possibility of closing the railways down. When we assess investment in provincial railways, we give a benefit over and above what we give to roads. Roads have to pass the cost-benefit test, whereas we assume that the provincial railway service will continue. We are simply trying to find a means by which renewal can be achieved most efficiently. In that respect, the railways have a considerable advantage over road schemes.
Mr. Snape : I congratulate the Minister on the artful nature of his reply, which covers only a very small proportion of the railway network. Is he unable to tell us whether British Rail has to justify investing its own money in InterCity and freight transport? The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) was suggesting that a very different picture would emerge if the same criteria that are applied to roads were to be applied to those two parts of the railways industry.
Mr. Portillo : Those sections of the railways that are commercial-- including rail freight and InterCity--have to meet, for their new investment, a rate of return criterion, but the hon. Gentleman will recall that I have just said that for every £1 that we spend on roads we get a £2 yield. He will recognise that that is a different order of magnitude from the rates of return that I am talking about on the railways. There is no shortage of road schemes that would qualify, using the cost- benefit basis.
Column 44important than the saving of time for those who travel on public transport--and also a calculation of the number of road deaths that have been saved as a result of constructing new roads. The problem with the railways is that they do not kill enough passengers to justify expenditure on the same basis as roads.
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman refuses to recognise that roads and railways are different and that they have to be assessed on different bases. However, we try to make the basis of assessment as similar as we possibly can. I believe that we have achieved our aim. The hon. Gentleman's tasteless remark about deaths on railways and roads does not help us forward with that argument.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : I am interested in my hon. Friend's argument about orbital or circular routes. Why, after six years, has the Secretary of State thrown into the air the Birmingham north orbital route? Ten million pounds have been spent on engineering investigations and a public inquiry, the report of which has been delayed. Its planning has taken six years. Why has there been this delay when the benefits to be derived from additional roads have been spelt out? When will the Birmingham north orbital route be completed? This is also a cause of concern to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape).
Mr. Portillo : I am not convinced that there will be a delay. If there is, I hope that the delay will not be long. The time and effort that have been invested in planning the route will not be wasted. The Birmingham northern relief road, as proposed by the private sector, might easily follow the same route as the one that was proposed at the public inquiry. Although we have received the inspector's report, there is normally a considerable delay before the Department is able to respond to a report. I hope that we can now establish a timetable for the competition for that private sector road to minimise delay and to minimise any nugatory expenditure.
Mr. Adley : My hon. Friend is very generous to allow me to intervene again. He takes great trouble to answer questions and the fact that he is taking so many interventions means that we can have a discussion with him on these important matters.
I should like to echo the question asked by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) : why are road and rail assessed in different ways? Can my hon. Friend justify one piece of information that his Department has given me? As he knows, I have pursued the criteria employed by his Department in assessing the costs and benefits of road schemes. I was informed that 7 per cent. of the cost of a traffic warden is assessed as allowable to the cost of building and running our road schemes. Where on earth does the other 93 per cent. go? If a traffic warden is not 100 per cent. costed to the roads, how on earth is the other 93 per cent. costed?