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Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend is very generous in his opening remarks. As far as possible, we try to make the criteria equivalent between road and rail. It is not possible to make them 100 per cent. equal because they are different. I do not know the answer to his other question, but I shall write to him about the 7 per cent. and the 93 per cent. of the traffic warden. However, I very much doubt
Column 45that the costing of a traffic warden is the critical factor in most investment decisions. I had better make progress if I am not to take up too much of the time of the House.
Let me give an example of the way in which road investment can be beneficial. Last summer, we completed the Blackwater, Okehampton and Saltash bypasses, and there are plenty of further improvements to the three trunk roads into Cornwall--the A30, the A38 and the A39. That improvement in road communications is vital for the Cornish economy. That would be appreciated by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) if he were in the Chamber. It has also benefited local communities by taking traffic from town centres--making them cleaner, quieter and safer places in which to live, work and shop. In the case of the controversial Okehampton bypass, for instance, the 1,200 trees which had to be felled to make way for the road are being replaced by 100, 000 trees--all of them indigenous species-- which will restore the valley to its original splendour, making good the damage done over generations.
There is no doubt in my mind that we must invest in road and rail. There are few cases where one is a direct substitute for the other. It is simply not right for Opposition Members to pretend that there is a realistic prospect of relying on rail transport for the movement of goods and passengers, when over 90 per cent. of passenger transport and 60 per cent. of freight transport is currently carried by road. If we were to assume that, overnight, by some miracle the traffic on our railways doubled, that would remove less than 10 per cent of traffic from our roads. Given that road traffic increased by 6 per cent. over the past 12 months, it would not take long for that additional road capacity to be used up.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Can the Minister give the House his Department's projections for the maximum capacity of the rail network in terms of its percentage of passenger traffic? He said that it is 10 per cent. at the moment and I accept that. What could it be if more investment were made?
Mr. Portillo : I suppose that that would depend on what investments were made. Many railway lines are currently very close to capacity, as the hon. Gentleman will know, but, particularly if freight trains were to operate around the clock, there is clearly scope for substantial increases in the amount of freight. Those opportunities will be opened up by the Channel tunnel, and if that comes about it will be interesting to note the attitude of the hon. Gentleman's party.
Congestion in central London is a key target. It has come about because of an unprecedented reversal in the long term declining trend of commuting to London. The economy in our capital has prospered and London has proved to be still one of the most magnetic cities for international business. Curing congestion is expensive, takes a long time and is disruptive. But the Government have not hesitated to set the necessary work in hand. On London's Underground, major station improvements are under way, many more are planned and the Central line is to be upgraded at a cost of more than £700 million. The central London rail study has recommended further renewals to the present system which would cost about £1.5 billion, and new lines running from east to west and north to south. Consultation with affected interests on the east-west crossrail have begun so that a Bill could be presented to Parliament in November.
Column 46Another welcome symptom of the attractiveness of London to world business is the development of docklands. Its phenomenal expansion qualifies it to be regarded as a city in its own right. It must have the transport links that such a city merits and we are determined to ensure that it is readily accessible by road and rail and by air and water.
A committee which I chair now co-ordinates the work of the London Docklands development corporation, the London boroughs, the developers, contractors, statutory undertakings, and representatives of local business. We work together with a single purpose to provide the new infrastructure while minimising disruption to traffic, to business or to local communities. Our efforts are presently focused on three objectives : to maintain progress on the Limehouse link and other vital road projects ; to improve and to expand the docklands light railway and to see a new Underground line built to docklands and east London.
The east London rail study is in its final stages and we are expecting the consultants' final report shortly. They will be recommending as the best option for improving rail access from central London to docklands an extension of the Jubilee line via London bridge and the Isle of Dogs and ultimately to Stratford. In central London, the study has established that two alternative routes are technically feasible : an extension of the Jubilee line via Westminster and Waterloo, or a continuation of the existing line from Charing Cross via Ludgate Circus.
The Government will be considering that report, and further work will be required before decisions can be taken. Approval of the new line and decisions on its alignment and phasing will depend on how it would be financed and in particular on the negotiation of satisfactory contributions from the developers who stand to benefit. Subject to those considerations, the Government would wish to see a Bill for a new line deposited in November. To facilitate preparation of a Bill, I can announce today that London Regional Transport will, without prejudice to final decisions, begin consultations immediately with local authorities and others directly affected by the alignments being examined.
In case I should be accused of any bias as a London Member, let me add that there are many other city projects up and down the country. The plans for Manchester Metrolink are well advanced. On Friday evening, in the west midlands, I heard more of how the passenger transport executive there is working hard on its proposals for a light rail network centred on Birmingham and the black country. It hopes to obtain powers soon to permit construction of the first line between Snow Hill and Wolverhampton, and I am sure that it will not be long before it is knocking on my door with a proposal for grant towards the new system.
Mr. Snape : I am anxious that my colleagues from Birmingham should not embark on yet another wasted journey by being turned away by the Minister when they knock on his door. As he has just changed the rules for urban transport, to get the go-ahead for the Midlands Metro it will be necessary to prove its benefit to non-users of the system, which is directly contradictory to the system that appertained until a few weeks ago. Will the Minister assure the House and those who are responsible for planning the Metro that that last-minute change in the rules will not unduly delay that worthwhile project which has been sought for so long?
Mr. Portillo : This afternoon, I was able to announce to the House that we have taken a further step forward on the south Yorkshire super-tram project, where the aim is to get the new system in place in time for the world student games in 1991. I have decided to make a 50 per cent. grant available now, so that the evaluation of this project can be completed as quickly as possible. If the evaluation confirms the PTEs' initial calculations, and if the financing and other issues are satisfactorily resolved, I see every hope that this project will benefit from our financial assistance. As many hon. Members will be well aware, there are many other light rail projects in the pipeline.
Mr. Portillo : The hon. Gentleman will be able to read in Hansard what I have said. I said that there will be a 50 per cent. grant for the feasibility study and that I see every hope that the project will benefit from our financial assistance.
I now turn to rail freight. The key factor is the Channel tunnel. British Rail's Railfreight business has already substantially improved its performance, of course, but the tunnel is the new factor in the freight transport equation which is causing customers to look again at the rail option.
Last Friday, my right hon. Friend was in Cleveland to open a new Railfreight depot--a joint venture between British Rail and ICI. From that depot, the tunnel should allow British Rail to offer a direct freight service to destinations such as Paris and Brussels, taking less than 24 hours. A direct rail service like that, straight to the heart of the European Community, will be an enormous boost to business throughout Britain. So let me, yet again, stress that there is no question of the tunnel being a perk for the south-east, with businesses elsewhere ignored. British Rail estimates that 75 per cent. of the freight carried through the tunnel will originate from points beyond London. As far as freight through the Channel tunnel is concerned, the regions are not the tail but the dog, and the dog will wag the tail.
British Rail is now engaged in detailed consultation on the direct services that it will offer. The British Rail freight network will stand comparison with the best in Europe, and I have no doubt that British Rail will be able to deliver the service that its customers demand. It will publish its plans at the end of the year, as required by law, and I regard that timing as absolutely right.
The area where there is a clear case for a new line is in Kent, where a high-speed rail link will be needed at some stage to ensure that Britain makes the best possible use of our access to the European railway network. That line will be for passenger traffic, but it will, of course, free capacity on other lines to handle freight. The House will have an opportunity to consider the case for this line and British Rail's detailed proposals in due course. I have no wish to pre-empt that debate, but I think that, even now, it is clear that British Rail's proposals show a willingness to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on protecting the environment--vastly more than is being committed on the other side of the Channel. Nor is British Rail neglecting what may appear to be the less glamorous but important provincial sector. As I
Column 48said, the SLD sometimes misunderstands the investment criteria that apply. We certainly do not apply the commercial- rate-of-return rule to investments needed to maintain a subsidised service. As a result, the proof of the pudding being in the eating, it is planned that, by 1991, 82 per cent. of provincial rolling stock will have been renewed over an eight-year period. All the moneys that I have talked about are over and above what our two railways are spending on safety. Over a three-year period, London Underground is spending £226 million on safety matters arising from the Fennell report. British Rail has been considering the installation of automatic train protection for some time. Unfortunately, we cannot buy such a system off the peg, but the Government have approved the installation of pilot schemes. If they are successful, the Government will give sympathetic consideration to a national scheme, if a satisfactory scheme emerges.
Before I leave the subject of railways, let me confirm that the Government are examining how and whether to privatise British Rail, sensibly recognising that decisions on how and whether must be taken together. Our consultant's analysis is progressing well, but that work is not yet at a sufficiently advanced stage for us to reject any options now. All five options set out in speeches made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State remain on the table.
It pains me to say that there is a fundamental dishonesty underlying the policy of the SLD. This motion refers to under-investment today and calls for greater investment tomorrow, yet, as every one of my hon. Friends knows, so often, when any specific road or rail scheme is proposed, the local Liberal or SLD candidate is against it and allies himself with any protest group determined to stop the development. If there are roads, railways or runways unbuilt today that are needed, the SLD is probably much to blame. In transport today, there are clear issues. One is whether we follow policies for economic growth, without which heavy public sector investment is impossible. The second is whether, by relying on ever greater subsidies, we pauperise our transport operators, or whether we encourage them to operate more commercially, to attract passengers and so to generate the revenue for new investment. Between those two clear policy approaches, the SLD vacillates and prevaricates. It is now reaping its just rewards at the polls. 5.13 pm
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : The concluding paragraph of the Minister's speech, with its ringing phraseology, was about seven days too late. His speech was obviously written with the European elections in mind. It ended with a ringing plea for support at the polling stations. Regrettably, his speech was no more successful a week later than it would have been last Thursday. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the election is over. For all the resounding phrases that we heard, on Thursday evening the electors in this country gave a thumbs down with a vengeance to the Government and, sadly, to some of those who are responsible for the motion. I do not want to intrude on the private grief of the SLD. I do not want to be accused either of promoting or attacking the future career and prospects of the the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), but,
Column 49looking at the motion, I find a lot more relevance coming from the SLD or the alliance, or whatever they call themselves in the wake of Thursday evening's drubbing, than in the amendment tabled by the other losers of the election on Thursday night, Her Majesty's Government. If there are two words that sum up our transport industries after a decade of Thatcherism, they are "chaos" and "congestion". They apply to road, rail and air and, to a certain extent, other problems. Regrettably there is not congestion, but there is certainly plenty of chaos in our merchant shipping fleet. The air of smug self- congratulation with which the Minister surrounded himself was somewhat unreal. He made great play of what he called the Government's progress in transport over the past decade. He trotted out the usual, largely false, statistics about justification for road building compared with public transport. Opposition Members and, to be fair, one or two more knowledgable Conservative Members will continue to press for fairness in the evaluation of public transport schemes. Not for the first time, we pray in aid the conclusions of the Leitch committee back in 1977, which asked that such schemes be treated in a comparable fashion. It pointed out that there was no real reason why public transport investment should not be treated in exactly the same way as investment in our road network. Nothing that I have heard this afternoon or previously from the Minister shakes my belief that the Leitch committee was right 12 years ago, and it is right now. The Minister may have felt that my remark about the number of deaths within the railway industry being considerably less than those on our roads was tasteless. That was the word he used. It is a fact, anyway, and it is also a fact that, when putting forward financial justifications for road schemes, the Department of Transport justifiably and understandably points to the reductions that can be made in the number of deaths and serious injuries. Of course it is impossible to put forward similar savings for the rail network. Thankfully, with a few tragic exceptions, some of which have taken place in recent months, travelling by train in this country is probably the safest mode of transport in the world. Therefore, it is impossible to quantify the number of lives that will be saved by increasing the frequency, reliability or number of services of that mode of transport.
British Rail should be given at least a notional financial benefit for its success in carrying passengers millions of miles a year in perfect safety. Without such a notional monetary advance being made to BR, dependence on the newly revised investment rules--the 8 per cent. return on capital-- means that all too often British Rail does not put schemes forward. Of course, Ministers--not just this one--and their colleagues in the Department say to the House time and again that there are no investment proposals before them. The Minister's predecessor often said that, under this Government, investment proposals were dealt with and agreed faster than under any previous Government.
We all know that talks take place between the Minister's officials and British Rail's investment committee. It would be a strange world in which British Rail put forward schemes that did not meet the previously laid down criteria of Her Majesty's Government. Life is not like that. If investment schemes were continually put forward and rejected by the Department of Transport because they did not meet those investment criteria, one
Column 50could well imagine, at the start, a few irritated telephone calls between the Department of Transport and British Rail headquarters. Following that, there might be a strongly worded missive saying that something was amiss and that the schemes were being put forward without meeting the laid-down investment criteria. Finally, one can imagine an ascerbic telephone call with the demand that someone be fired for being silly enough to put forward such schemes in the first place when the Minister was unable to accept them because they failed to meet the criteria. We all know, accept and acknowledge that. That is how things work in the modern world.
The reality is that many of the more marginal schemes--those that approach the laid-down investment criteria--are not put forward because of British Rail's misgivings that a way will be found to reject them and that if they are rejected odium will somehow fall on those who put them forward. That is amply illustrated by the experience, if I may again be parochial, of my own part of the world and of the Birmingham cross-city railway line. It does not run through my constituency, but it covers the west midlands from Redditch to Lichfield. We have been hearing and have read in regional newspapers for the past two years, that the go-ahead for the electrification of the line is anticipated at any moment. Much of the line, such as the central core around Birmingham New street station, is already electrified. In a written answer only last week the Department told me that no such scheme had been formally presented to it. When asked what discussions had taken place about the scheme, the reply was--it has appeared in Hansard and I am paraphrasing it to save time--that unofficial discussions had taken place twice but that the scheme had yet to be formally submitted.
Those unofficial discussions will presumably take place for as long as the Department likes and while they are taking place the Department will repeat its parrot cry, "No formal investment scheme has been submitted." Like many people in the Birmingham area who are concerned about the scheme, I find such conduct unacceptable. I am sure that that example could be repeated for other schemes across the country. It illustrates the difference between two years of unofficial consultation about a railway electrification scheme that is relatively minor in the financial sense but which is significant to us in the west midlands, and the out-of-the-blue £10 billion White Paper "Roads for Prosperity"--its title is a misnomer to many of us--that was produced from under the Secretary of State's desk, a few days ago, much to the surprise of many of us, and probably to him as well.
Mr. Adley : Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Minister to comment on the policy of "bustitution", that revolting word? Will he ask the Minister to deny that British Rail has been asked to find 20 or 30 routes where it might be possible to close railways and to replace them with buses? Will he also ask the Minister to deny that, while that is going on, no investment is being put into the lines by British Rail, which means that those lines are becoming less attractive as the weeks go by?
Mr. Snape : I would, if I thought that I could ask questions as perceptive as those of the hon. Gentleman. He has asked a relevant and valid series of questions that I am delighted to pass on. We can all guess the reply--that the Government have no intention of demanding that certain lines be put forward for what is meant by that dreadful
Column 51word "bustitution". Of course, there is no such intention because what will happen is that the same unofficial talks that have taken place about cross-city electrification will take place about certain railway lines. Across a desk, or perhaps even over a good lunch at L'amico restaurant down the road or at somewhere expensive-- certainly not in a Traveller's Fare restaurant in a provincial station-- some highly placed person in the Department of Transport will say to someone from British Rail, "Look here, old chap, what about bustitution?" They will order a round of brandies and once the PR man has got over that, he will be told that although the Minister does not want to say anything formally, "We in the Department feel that there is scope for just that sort of thing for some of the less well used routes."
As the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) has just said, while those unofficial discussions and that series of lunches are taking place--costing the taxpayer a great deal of money--there will be no investment of any sort in that line. Indeed, the position might even be worse. Other lines might well see a repeat of the Settle-Carlisle line experience. Although British Rail and the Department will say that no such discussions are taking place, minor adjustments will be made to the timetable to ensure that connections are missed here and there. Early morning trains will be withdrawn because "They're not particularly remunerative, you know" and in no time at all, over yet another lunch, perhaps at Lockets on this occasion if the two participants have become bored with the menu at other restaurants, it will be suggested that the lines are so unprofitable that bustitution may be the only answer because it is not possible to run an economic service on the existing railway line.
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. As I understand it, like the proposer of the motion, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), he is in favour of an integrated transport system, which would seem to imply that investment should be made where it will have the greatest return. If that is the case, does it not make sense to invest in British Rail routes with more passengers instead of concentrating on routes with few passengers?
To a certain extent, the hon. Gentleman is right. The problem about defining the right place for investment is that, like the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have crossed swords on these matters for a good many years, the Government believe that the only place to put money is where the 8 per cent. return is readily achievable. The Opposition believe that investment in public transport, especially in a railway network, brings environmental and energy-saving benefits, as well as the not readily quantifiable benefit of not killing on the roads the number of people that we kill at present. The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that he is obsessed with the contents of his and the Government's wallets rather than with the environmental realities of public transport, which are enormously beneficial in terms of these other not readily quantifiable matters.
Mr. Anderson : Does my hon. Friend remember the unhappy precedent of this symbiotic relationship between the Department of Transport and British Rail? When the Department of Transport said that it would like InterCity to break even within five years, British Rail rolled over like a lapdog and said, "No, we can do it in three."
Mr. Snape : British Rail's likeness to a lapdog has been referred to in the House many times before, but my hon. Friend is quite right. It is a matter of pride for the InterCity management that it is now running a profitable railway. To an extent, the management of that sector of the railways known as provincial services feel an understandable pride that they are not losing as much money as they used to and that they are expanding some provincial services in a way that I, and I think the House, regard as entirely creditable.
Mr. Snape : The Minister says, "Let us privatise." That is a parrot cry. We have not got round to that yet. His advisers have not yet done their sums. Railwaymen and women must pay today's bills with yesterday's money, without tomorrow's promises coming to reality. Their problem is that they are continually being told how successful the railway network is. It is much more profitable now than it used to be. Then those railwaymen and women say, "We work considerably longer hours than most people." They work considerably longer hours than most people in the House.
Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman says that that is not true. I do not know the hon. Gentleman particularly well, but he should be careful. If he clocks up some of the hours that I know are clocked up by signalmen and drivers, he is working far too hard and should go and have a lie down.
Railwaymen and women say, "If we are doing so well, surely we should be allowed to share in the prosperity." Instead, they have been told, "You are taking the 7 per cent." They have been told not to take it or leave it, but that it will be put in their pay packets regardless of the view of their negotiators. They have been told that, before any industrial action, there must be a ballot. They have held a ballot, and a majority--not a massive one, but one larger than that enjoyed by many hon. Members in the popular vote--voted for some sort of industrial action. During supposed last-ditch talks at ACAS only last Saturday, they were told by the same management, which has been boasting of its economic success on running the railway industry, that it would apply for a court injunction to prevent any industrial action next Wednesday.
Mr. Snape : If it is necessary, my declaration of interest has been in the Register of Members' Interests since I was elected to the House. I do not think that it is necessary for me to say when I am at the Dispatch Box that I am a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. At this
Column 53Box I speak not for the National Union of Railwaymen but for the Labour party-- [Interruption.] No, it is not the same thing. Conservative Members constantly and deliberately misinterpret the relationship between the Opposition and the trade union movement. I believe that most fair-minded people would think that those who have delivered in terms of economic performance on the railways deserve a better reward than that offered them at present. The feeling among those who work in the railway industry is one of widespread dissatisfaction with the way they are being treated. If I might have the attention of the Minister for a moment, I should like to put to him a number of points about the railways. I make no apology for asking him to explain to us once again the reason for the differences in the criteria that he uses to judge the merits of road and rail schemes. Although he attempted partially to answer that point earlier, I ask him to reconsider the recommendations of the Leitch committee in 1977 and, in some subsequent debate, to give us detailed answers as to why the Government have not implemented those recommendations. Before he says that the Labour Government did not either, I should tell him that I asked them to do so at the time. Of course, then the transport team was led by those well-known raving moderates, Messrs. Bill Rodgers and John Horam, who, of course were most highly regarded by the popular press. One of those has since found his rightful home in the Conservative party, by way of the Social Democratic party, and the other has left politics altogether--which is a tragic loss, I must say. I did my best at that time to convince them that the recommendations should be accepted, although they were not.
Will the Minister look again at the cross-city electrification scheme in Birmingham and tell us if and when a decision is likely to be forthcoming? Perhaps he can jog the elbows of those responsible in his Department for the unofficial talks that are taking place about that scheme.
The Minister said a few welcome words about the Channel tunnel and how much the Government wanted to see the benefits of that scheme spread throughout the country. I understand that an investment submission is being prepared for a number of passenger trains to be used in connection with cross- Channel services, which must carry some, if not substantial, accommodation for customs and immigration, depending on agreement finally and belatedly being reached about such matters being dealt with on the trains.
Will there be any leeway in the 8 per cent. investment criterion for those trains, because much will depend, at least initially, on the total number of through services that will be run from the Channel tunnel to provincial cities, such as Birmingham, Newcastle, Manchester and into Scotland? Obviously, if that 8 per cent. criterion is to be adhered to rigidly, there will be a reduced number of train sets, because they are obviously sets that cannot be used for any other purpose. Presumably, the fact that they can be used only for that purpose may weigh against them in terms of investment criteria.
We welcome the fact that the Minister has pointed out the contribution that the Channel tunnel can make, not to transferring existing freight from road to rail--regrettably, at present, there is not much rail freight--but to mopping up some of the projected increase, at least in the next few years, and perhaps making deeper inroads into reducing the number of juggernaut lorries cluttering up the roads in the south of England.
Column 54The Minister will be aware of the falling number of section 8 grants in recent years. Will he look again at the criteria for section 8 grants, especially those referring to lorry- sensitive miles? As I understand the system, if it is possible to show that a number of lorries can be taken away from unsuitable roads--however unsuitable roads are defined--obviously it becomes easier for the applicant to receive a contribution towards the provision of private rail sidings. The problem is that the more motorways and dual carriageways we build and the more road improvements we carry out, the fewer lorry-sensitive route miles there will be. I should have thought that, given the problems of congestion, for example, on the M25 and on some of our other motorways, anything that helps to reduce the number of lorries on those motorways-- although I accept the fact that that is why motorways were built in the first place--would be welcome.
Will the Minister assure us that he will at least look at the rules on section 8 grants to see whether they can be widened, so that the graph of grants for section 8 private sidings starts to turn up again instead of falling away as dramatically as it has in the past few years?
If we confine our interest to reading the newspapers, we would think that all our roads and motorways are absolutely choked and that the forecasts about road traffic are invariably understated. Of course, in some cases, they are. No one needs reminding of the congestion on the M25. There are those of us, however, in the Opposition who believe that there are better ways of alleviating congestion than spending £10 billion on new motorways or widening existing ones. A transport package would be much more beneficial than the usual behaviour of the Department of Transport, which appears to act more as a Ministry of Transport than as a Department. Does the Minister agree that many roads are being built on the basis of traffic forecasts that have been greatly overpitched? For many hours of the day and night it is possible to picnic in comparative safety on the outside lane of the M45 from the M1 to Coventry because there is little traffic. The M18 is another road that was built to motorway standard but, for much of the day and night, appears to be under-utilisied. It was built on the basis of projections that have not yet come to fruition and, in the opinion of many, never will.
Mr. Snape : Of course. If the Conservative party is trying to tell us that at no time has it produced figures to back up a political necessity, I do not believe it. The Conservative party should reconsider the problems caused by congestion and tolls. I hope that, now that the Minister has made his political pitch, he will agree that the projections that were made to justify building those roads have frequently not come to fruition.
There is a twin problem because, by its nature, traffic forecasting is an inexact science. I ask the Minister about the saga of the M40 from Oxford to Birmingham. In the mid-1970s, under the two moderates to whom I have referred, the Department of Transport decided that no motorway was necessary between those two cities. The Department talked, justifiably, about the need to improve
Column 55the existing trunk roads, the A34 and the A41, and to bypass towns and cities such as Banbury and Warwick. The Department costed the exercise and said that it would do all that was necessary to cater for traffic growth in the foreseeable future.
By the early 1980s, it had been decided that that was all a mistake and that a motorway was needed. Because of the traffic projections, it was decided that a two-lane motorway was needed for much of the road's length. It was then decided that the projections were wrong and that a three-lane motorway was necessary. In a decade we have gone from no motorway to a three-lane motorway.
Earlier this year, a public inquiry was set up to consider the possibility of setting up a service area on that road. The inquiry sat for some months, and these things do not come cheap. Recently, the inquiry was adjourned because someone in the Department of Transport decided that the traffic projections were 42 per cent. too low.
This is a saga worthy of the late Mr. Peter Sellers. How does the Department justify such wide fluctuations of opinion between no motorway and a three-lane motorway, the traffic forecasts for which will be exceeded by 42 per cent. by the early 1990s? What kind of computer is used to produce such fluctuating forecasts?
Mr. Snape : As the hon. Gentleman says, a fairly slow Peter Snow swingometer--with a vengeance. The Minister will forgive me if I sound somewhat cynical about some of the projections from his Department, given the saga, as yet incomplete, of the M40. Is the public inquiry to be resumed later this year? Will the hon. Gentleman give us accurate projections on road traffic between Oxford and Birmingham? Little mention has been made so far of congestion in the air, or on the ground for those waiting to take to the air. The experiences of last summer and the likely experiences of this summer are no cause for the Government to congratulate themselves. I do not suggest that it is all their fault, but some of it certainly is. Patting themselves on the back when would-be travellers spend hours at airports is no way to impress either the House or the electorate. We need greater investment in our air traffic control facilities and greater involvement in Euro-control. It is a pity that it takes at least one and probably two summers of discontent for air travellers before the myth of sovereignty of the air is dissipated. Euro-control is largely nominal. In addition, there are 42 centres and 22 different control systems in Europe. This makes no sense, and certainly will not make any sense this summer, for those who are sitting in extremely overcrowded airports.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : The hon. Gentleman and I have taken an interest in this matter and, in fact, visited Gatwick together to discuss air traffic control, among other matters. He should be gracious enough to acknowledge that the Government have taken the lead during their presidency to persuade the EEC to broaden the scope of Euro- control. There is a good reason for that--the United Kingdom has more to gain from the liberalisation of air services in Europe and the streamlining of air traffic control than any other country, because we have about 20 airlines that provide international services. We are taking the lead in Europe.
Column 56I should like the Government to speed up their programme of investment. Expenditure of £600 million in air traffic control sounds like a lot of money, but it is peanuts compared with investment in roads and rail. Failure to make that investment will result in Charles de Gaulle airport becoming a main European hub from which one can travel to London in about two and a half hours. To preserve our lead in civil aviation, we must do more to improve the capacity of our airports in the south-east.
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Three speeches have been made in an hour and a half and, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), we have had virtually a miniature speech from him. Some of us have been waiting to make our contribution. There is little time for Back Benchers to speak in the debate, so I ask for your protection.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : I think that the hon. Member is asking me to make an appeal for shorter speeches so that as many hon. Members as possible can contribute. I gladly accede to that request.
Mr. Snape : I gladly accede to it, too. I apologise if we have all been deprived of the doubtless wise words of the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). Perhaps I allowed myself to be led astray by the number of interventions during my speech.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said. I wish that we could get away from the idea that we have to take the lead over the rest of Europe. That justifiably irritates people. The thought of the Prime Minister appearing through the door of any conference centre brandishing her handbag and threatening to take the lead would be an instant turn-off in many EEC countries. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, whoever takes the lead, the present system is unacceptable. As he rightly said, £600 million sounds like a great deal of money, but it is peanuts compared with the amount required to do something about the ever-mounting delays and congestion in European air travel. Bearing in mind your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall not produce the statistics to refute some of the Minister's boasts about the level of investment in railways since the Government took office in 1979. It is true that investment for the current year is fairly high, as it was last year, but the early years of the present Administration mark some of the lowest levels of investment within the railway industry for 20 years or so. If one takes the global figure, the public service obligation and investment, the Government are still a long way behind their predecessors. Current expenditure is a fraction of that spent on the railway network throughout Europe. In relation to the more developed countries of the EC, we are eighth out of eight in terms of the proportion of GDP which is spent on railways, which is no cause for self-congratulation.
Our transport system suffers from chaos and congestion, and the sooner the Government lose their air of smug self-satisfaction, which has been typified by the Minister, and the sooner they acknowledge that a deep- rooted problem exists which only money can solve, the better.
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Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : I am most grateful, and I only hope that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) will regard my comments as words of wisdom. I always enjoy listening to his contributions. He is always worth listening to and bullish. I understand why he is so cheerful today. If I were a member of the Labour party and had had his majority at the last two elections, I should be happier than usual today.
The debate has developed in a disappointing way. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) began by giving a blinkered view. One would always think that the only mode of transport worth considering was railway. The debate so far has centred on road investment versus rail investment, but the argument should be opened up.
I came to the House as a member of what was loosely called the road lobby, but I consider myself as good a friend of British Rail as of the British Road Federation, because I have come to the well-thought-out conclusion that as the pressure on transport in this country is increasing, and has been increasing for a number of years, it is pointless to have futile arguments about whether we should invest more in road than rail or more in rail than road when we all realise that, particularly in large urban areas, all modes of transport have a contribution to make if we are to ease the pressure on our cities and means of communication. There is little doubt that today's problem will become considerably worse before it gets better, despite the record levels of investment listed by my hon. Friend the Minister this afternoon.
We are suffering not merely from what the Opposition describe as the neglect of investment in transport infrastructure, which has occurred even during this Administration, but from a lack of investment which goes back 15 or 20 years. A major new road project probably takes 15 years from initial concept to completion. One of the problems of today's debate is that, even if someone in the Department of Transport were to bring forward a wonderful plan and persuade the Treasury that it could be implemented, and even if the finance were advanced, it would take many years to tackle the growing congestion and the tremendous problems that we face. That is why I am sad that the debate so far has concentrated on what has gone before rather than on arguments for the future.
My hon. Friend the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have shown determination and flexibility, which were sadly lacking in the Department of Transport for several years. The team at the Department of Transport is determined that there should be extra investment. One aspect that I particularly commend is that, unlike those of other Administrations, the team is prepared to consider virtually any option if it will improve the overall position. It is all very well to dismiss spending on roads, but we are told that the number of motor cars is to double by early next century. It is all very well telling people that they should not have a motor car and should travel by public transport, by rail, but once the average person has bought a motor car, he or she will continue to use it and to want to use it because it is the most convenient form of transport. Any Government who fail to recognise that and suggest that people's use of motor cars should be too greatly inhibited will find themselves on the receiving end of public dissatisfaction whenever the next election takes place.
Mr. Snape : The hon. Gentleman put a question. I will return it by asking him one. How much money would have to be spent on roads to alleviate the congestion that we see most days in and around our major cities?
Mr. Fry : We cannot build our way out of trouble. I have just returned from a visit to the United States, where it is now accepted that it is impossible to build enough roads to satisfy the overwhelming demand. That does not mean, however, that we should do nothing but consider what each mode of transport contributes. We might find that it is best to concentrate on light rail, heavy rail underground, British Rail services or using car sharing more than we do at present. We may need some road improvements or even to build new roads. It would be taking a blinkered view to pass today's motion, as though voting more money for the railways would solve the problem.
As I said earlier, the difficulty arises because the problems are increasing. One interesting aspect of modern travel, particularly travel for work, is how much more complex it is becoming. More and more people travel, not merely in a radial line from outside the city into its centre, but across the city and its suburbs. Yet our public transport systems are nearly all based on radial lines of communication.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that one measure that should be taken is to charge motorists who insist on driving into towns and city centres unnecessarily, and even to charge those who drive in as a matter of course? A leader in today's Evening Standard suggests two methods of doing this in London as the only way of preventing unnecessary congestion from bringing the capital city to a standstill.
Mr. Fry : It is possible to use a more rigid parking policy to deter the motorist. The number of commuters coming into London by car is a small percentage of the total number of people coming into the city. Many would argue that that percentage comprises essential users, perhaps Members of Parliament who cannot travel home any other way if the House sits late. It is all very well saying that we should make them pay, but most of them, because they are in business, would pass on the cost to someone else and the charges would hit and therefore penalise people at the lowest end of the income scale. The problem has been exacerbated recently. Yesterday's Sunday Telegraph states :
"Between 1983 and 1988 daily rail journeys into London during the morning rush hour increased from 380,000 to 460,000 During 1981-82 there were 498 million journeys completed on London Underground rising to 798 million in 1987-8".
Increases on this scale have come upon us remarkably quickly, and the decisions needed to deal with them must be made as early as possible because they take so long to implement. The Government, the Secretary of State and the Minister have at least come forward with some imaginative ideas, such as the central London rail study, for which we have been waiting a long time. Even if we agreed all the studies and decided to go ahead with all the projects, the difficulties would continue to multiply.
The Minister and I had an interesting Adjournment debate a few weeks ago about the contribution that private capital can make to transport infrastructure shortages. We differed, in that he felt that private investment could be encouraged to come in without any sweeteneers from the
Column 59Treasury or the Government. I welcome the Green Paper ; I am not entirely sure how the ideas expressed in it will work out in practice, but I remain convinced that many projects, especially road projects, cannot stand on their own without some form of tax relief on the money invested or some sort of payment by way of shadow tolls. I do not especially commend either form of assistance, but something is needed.
The Government have had the courage to think much more adventurously than their predecessors, but if my hon. Friend discovers, as he undoubtedly and unfortunately will, that the considerable investment now being made is insufficient to deal with the congestion, now and in the future, I hope that he can assure me that the Government will keep an open mind when considering alternatives. I am all in favour of my hon. Friend trying to encourage the private sector to come in, as the Green Paper suggested, but it would be wrong to close off all the alternatives. We are on the verge of a tremendous explosion in the movement of people. It is a fundamental responsibility of any Government to safeguard the freedom of that movement, which is one of our basic liberties. It has taken a long time for Governments in this country to give transport and expenditure on it the high degree of attention that it enjoys today. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to my hon. Friend the Minister for recognising the challenges that transport problems pose. Given the extra expenditure that they have already announced, I am confident that they will have the determination to deal with this problem and to bring relief--if not tomorrow, perhaps in a few years--to the people of this country.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) asked some basic questions about transport policy and outlined the great explosion in transport use that will happen over the next few years. I wonder whether he and other hon. Members are prepared to face the implications of, for instance, making motorists pay the marginal social costs involved in relieving inner-city congestion. The hon. Gentleman also asked why there had been so much concentration in the debate and in the motion on rail, as opposed to road. He said that transport should be seen as a whole. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that hon. Members have concentrated on rail because its potential contribution to our transport system has been consistently devalued over the years. That is why we seek positively to put the case for rail.
Having heard the Minister's speech I am tempted to ask : if things are so good, why are they so bad? People like me who use public transport in London expect that at least one of the lifts in an Underground station will not work and that, when they change tubes, at least one of the escalators will not work. We expect the honeyed words over the loudspeaker--at least they tell us now why things are wrong--informing us of delays.
International comparisons provide some indication of the Government's neglect. In an editorial on 19 May, The
Column 60Independent said something that might be labelled Marxist by Conservative Members. Under the heading "Neglected transports of horror" it said :
"For nearly 10 years, Margaret Thatcher paid scant attention to transport. Nor did she give any Cabinet Minister a long enough term of office at the Department of Transport to master the subject and push through major reforms. Six men, several of them distinctly second-rate, have succeeded one another during a period which has seen a single Prime Minister and two Chancellors of the Exchequer. This was a sign that Mrs. Thatcher regarded transport as a relatively unimportant portfolio, an error to which her own access to special travel facilities, coupled with her well known antipathy to railways, made her especially prone. The nation is suffering for this lack of interest."
No hon. Member, based on his own experience or on talking to his constituents, can gainsay this lack of interest from on high in transport in this country. Our people travel nowadays. They see the quality of the railways in France and Germany and can compare them with ours. They can compare the glistening newness of the underground in Paris with the squalor and age-old feeling of the Underground in London.
Comparisons of projected investment over the next few years show that West Germany plans to spend £12 billion on major rail programmes. France plans to spend £1 billion a year until the end of the century. These countries display a far more bullish attitude to their railways, and that is reflected in staff morale and usage by passengers. Spain intends to spend £10 billion ; Italy proposes investment of up to £18 billion. Even Holland, a small country, is spending £3 billion. The current investment programme of British Rail is £3.8 billion over five years.
Britain is virtually at the bottom of the table of European countries when it comes to building urban railways to relieve inner-city congestion. We plan to build only 1.5 km of such rail, in the form of the Bank extension of the Docklands light railway in London. That is the only domestic urban rail project under construction, and it compares with West Germany's 116.1 km, Italy's 79.7, and France's 62.8. The Railway Gazette International year book survey, published in May of this year, showed that the United Kingdom was sandwiched between Finland, with 1.6 km, and Greece, with 0.9. We should be seeking ways of using rail positively to relieve inner-city congestion.
The schemes for 752 km of urban track have been held up because of the Government's insistence that a large proportion of expenditure must come from the private sector--yet it is clearly not providing enough. High-speed railways can fuel the arteries of the new Europe. We have seen a difference of attitude among our European partners in this respect. Rail can also be a major solution to congestion in our inner cities.
I accept that the Government have, in principle, welcomed the central London rail study. I have no doubt that the Minister and his colleagues are seeking additional cash for LRT and British Rail from the Treasury, but, in response to the study, which was published in January, the Treasury has yet to provide additional sums on a scale remotely comparable with what is available for roads.
All in all, the comparisons speak badly for the attitude to rail in this country. Vision is lacking, at a time when our constituents can see increasing squalor in the rail network. The Government's narrow theme is that the passenger must pay. That is rather different from the criteria for investment in roads. They seek to maximise property sales, selling assets as part of their major rail policy.