|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 61Environmental and safety considerations have constantly been downgraded. France has certainly shown how high-speed rail can spread growth and investment to the regions and at the same time protect the environment. The result of the Government's policy has been poor staff morale. I invite hon. Members to speak to railwaymen in their constituencies about how they feel about their future. Morale now is very different from what it was under Sir Peter Parker. At that time, ordinary railwaymen felt that at least there was someone fighting their corner--if that is the appropriate word after the European elections. They felt that at least someone was banging the drum for rail.
The uncertainties that derive from privatisation are another major factor affecting morale. Think tanks were at the margins of government a decade ago, but now they are front centre stage and there is talk about bringing back the Great Western and the LMS. The Government's road and rail investment policies are constantly out of balance. Surely a sensible policy would be for the Government to recognise that, even though the railway system cannot make a contribution on the scale that some of the advocates would like, it is there and a major but under-utilised national asset. It could make a major contribution to regional development and could reduce congestion in the cities.
We can anticipate regional demand. For example, in my part of the world in south Wales the heads of the valleys road was built at a time when there was little demand for it. However, we are told that there is no prospect of the electrification of the main line from Paddington to south Wales, because the investment criteria cannot be met. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) showed in his example, although the Government put their hand on their heart and say that they had accepted every project put up, only those projects are proposed by British Rail which they know will satisfy the artificially high criteria imposed by Government. Government have to take seriously the regional implications of the Channel tunnel. In all their transport policies, they have shown the hallmark that led to their massive defeat in the European elections. They have shown themselves to be out of step with our European partners. They are on their own in a corner in terms of their assessment of the contribution that rail can make to an overall transport policy. They have shown themselves to be environmentally unconscious by failing to understand the contribution that rail can make. One sees in their transport policy, as in their European policy, the personal stamp of the Prime Minister, which proved so disastrous for the Conservatives over the past few days. The Prime Minister never travels by rail and has consistently downgraded the contribution that rail can make. That prevents a serious and sensible policy on rail from being adopted by the Government.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson). I do not disagree with much of what he said. One of the advantages of a transport debate is that it shows the growing consensus--if I am allowed to use that word--not only about the causes but about the need for a solution to many of our transport problems.
Column 62The motion moved by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) would have us believe that severe congestion is caused by inadequate investment in public transport. It is actually caused by increasing prosperity. The hon. Gentleman failed to answer my intervention. There is no point in saying to people who have become prosperous that they cannot have cars because there are enough already. Prosperity has created the congestion and we have to find ways to solve it.
I agree with hon. Members who have said that better public transport is the only sane solution to the problem of congestion. At one time it seemed that the motor car would sound the death knell of the railways. However, by its very proliferation the car is the cause of the revitalisation of our railway system. We must take that on board. The Government's economic policies have caused congestion but they need not be ashamed of that because they created the prosperity.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State has been gracious enough to listen to many of my comments about coaches in London. Some of the policies of the Government, such as coach deregulation, have created micro-problems of traffic congestion and pollution in London. That applies especially to commuter coaches which come in and out during rush hours and park all day, often with their engines running and polluting the atmosphere with diesel fumes. We have deprived London's local authorities of the right and duty to designate coach routes. If we had the courage to re-examine some aspects of the deregulation policy, we might be able to deal with small but important parts of the congestion.
I should like to speak about two points made by my hon. Friend the Minister. The first is about the docklands light railway. Yes, we welcome that railway but no, we do not welcome the thinking that caused the Government to insist that the railway be built so cheaply that it was incompatible with the rest of London Regional Transport and British Rail. In a city such as London it is futile to try to save money by building bits of a railway that do not fit in with the rest of the railway system. I hope that we shall not make that mistake again.
When the Minister spoke about Snow Hill to Wolverhampton my heart leapt. There used to be a railway line from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton. It was called the Great Western Railway. A few weeks ago I went to look at Wolverhampton low-level station which had just been saved from destruction and is now being revitalised by Wolverhampton council. I shed tears when I thought of the investment in infrastructure that was put into our railways by our forebears and which we have thrown away.
I make a specific plea to my hon. Friend the Minister, to my hon. Friends and to the Opposition and I hope that the House can unite on it. Because of changing patterns of traffic it may be necessary on occasions to discontinue a rail service. However, there is never a case for destroying the track bed by selling it off, thereby preventing our descendants from reinstating a rail service should condition change. Can we please stop selling off temporarily redundant railway tracks? It was possible to build the docklands light railway only because, by sheer chance, the tracks and land had not been flogged off by British Rail.
There was the old Great Central railway ; and the Somerset and Dorset joint railway line which everybody used to laugh at, which stretches forlornly between the
Column 63great growth areas of Avon in the north and south-east Dorset in the south. Barbara Castle sanctioned the closure of such lines and if she had not done so we would now be able to reinstate our rail services and see more motions on the Order Paper by my hon. Friends congratulating British Rail on reopening services. There was one recently about the reopening of the line between Burton and Leicester, but that service would never have been reinstated if it had not been for the quirk of fate that kept the track bed in existence.
Mr. Snape : May I reassure the hon. Gentleman about the line that moved him to tears? The track bed between Snow Hill and Wolverhampton was preserved by the former and, sadly, now abolished West Midlands county council. In the county structure plan it had the foresight to envisage that that line would reopen in the 1990s--as indeed it will, albeit as a metro line.
Mr. Adley : Perhaps that local authority would like to move down to Dorset to give a few lessons to Dorset county council, which believes that transport means roads. The rail infrastructure in and around my constituency were destroyed in the 1960s by the Labour Government. I am not being partisan. One could weep at the opportunities lost then.
There have been references to the European election, if it was an election- -a non-election to a non-Parliament.
The substantial vote for the Green party could not and should not be ignored. It was a quiet message to the Conservative party, the Labour party and the Liberal and Alliance party, or whatever it is called this week. That vote is a clear message to all of us that environmental matters are of growing concern to the British electorate. Transport plays a major part in that environmental concern. In a brief debate, it is not possible to go into all the policies that one would like to see pursued but, in California of all places, the home of private enterprise, the state is legislating to ban the internal combustion engine by early in the next century. Surely we in western Europe must recognise that we have to tell the oil companies and the motor car manufacturers that, if we can send men to the moon, we must be able to develop the electric motor vehicle to a non-polluting form of transport, that we must get on with this and not allow the pace to be dictated by those who have a commercial investment and interest in continuing to provide forms of land transport that fill our air with fumes. It must be technically feasible, and sooner or later Parliament must do something about it. There is a similar problem about the railways. Electrified railways are clean and they are much the most economical to operate, but they cost a certain amount of money in capital investment. Why do we always have to look longingly across the Channel to see the attitude that our colleagues there take towards public investment in general and in particular towards public investment in their railways? The French provided and built the original
Column 64train grand vitesse--TGV--to Lyons. They thought that it would be 15 years before there was a return on their investment, but that was achieved in six and a half years. We should take a leaf out of their book, and instead of looking for reasons not to invest in our railway system look at the options available to us and the benefits that can flow from bold decisions. If we did, we would go some way towards alleviating the aggravation and concern felt by many of our fellow citizens.
We have discussed also the vexed question of rail investment versus road investment. My hon. Friend the Minister knows my views on this matter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came here a couple of weeks ago and announced what I can only describe as a roads bonanza. In that beautiful glossy document, among the proposals was a motorway from the Channel tunnel to Southampton. That will be marvellous, except for those who find that the road goes past their front door, but we shall not discuss that aspect of the matter now. However, a railway line already runs between the Channel tunnel and Southampton. A tiny piece of it on the stretch between Ashford and Hastings is the only part not electrified. It is a few miles long, but British Rail is unable to satisfy the Government and meet their investment criteria so as to link up the entire line to through traffic by putting down a third piece of metal to form an electric railway line. It is grotesque that we have these double standards in assessing road versus rail investment criteria.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) talked about the unofficial meetings that we all know take place between British Rail and the Department of Transport, and the hon. Member for Swansea, East mentioned this too. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister will be honest and straightforward. They must stop pretending that every single piece of new investment that British Rail wants to undertake it can undertake. We all know what that means. It is that when the private meetings have taken place, only when British Rail satisfies the Department's officials does it put in a formal proposition. However, dozens of schemes are thrown out informally. Occasionally, a scheme such as the one between Blackpool and Manchester gets thrown out even after it has been put forward by BR. There can be no justification for a short-sighted decision to throw out a scheme that would complete a whole railway system by electrifying one small section.
The motion refers to the Channel tunnel. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor will have read my excellent booklet called "Tunnel Vision". In it, I set out to discuss these problems a year or so ago. Have hon. Members thought about what will happen when the Channel tunnel opens? The result will be the M25 in spades. Who realises that all the rail traffic coming to London from the Channel tunnel will, in the initial years, use Waterloo, but will have to operate on a single track of railway line between Vauxhall and Waterloo? It is not even a double track. Hon. Members should think what that means in terms of congestion and delay. If my hon. Friend the Minister thinks that he has difficulties and troubles now with congestion and delay on the railways, to paraphrase a politician on the other side of the Atlantic, "he ain't seen nuthin' yet", because there will be serious problems.
We are desperately short of experiments in public transport. I shall mention one phrase, which may cause the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East to smile. It is slip coaches. In the old days the Great Western Railway experimented with, and then ran extensively for many years, a system of slip coaches. In it, trains slipped a coach off the back of an express, which then came to a halt at a designated station without causing the main train to stop. That was the only way to do it with a steam engine, but now, with electric tracks and light diesel traction, a whole new world would be opened up by an experiment into powered slip coaches. What people want is the opportunity to travel on a through train without having to change. This applies particularly to the Channel tunnel and to people travelling to airports. Will my hon. Friend the Minister ask British Rail how much it would cost to carry out an experiment into powered slip coaches to see whether they could be used as a way to help to alleviate transport problems?
I shall finish by dealing with railway privatisation. I am afraid that some of my colleagues know more about party politics than public transport. The two make uneasy bedfellows. I am delighted to hear that the confrontation of reality against expectation on the privatisation of the railway has meant that the timetable originally agreed by my reluctant right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for publishing his proposals has now to be delayed. I am prepared to be convinced that somehow we can discover what nobody else in the world has discovered--the way to run a private passenger railway system profitably. There may be reasons why the best railways in the world, in France, West Germany, Switzerland or Italy, are state- controlled and the worst passenger railway system in the world, that of the United States, is owned privately. There may be some hidden message there, which misleads me, and that may be an argument for privatisation.
I am waiting patiently, and I have an open mind about railway privatisation because, as a Conservative, I am in favour of the principle of privatisation. However, I am not prepared to allow political dogma to dictate my view as to whether we should privatise the railways purely for the sake of privatisation. If my hon. Friend the Minister can convince me that the criteria laid down by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State- -that it will provide a better service for the public--will be achieved, I shall support it. Unless and until he does, I shall not.
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : It is a great pleasure to take up the remarks of the train-spotter's friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). That term takes me back to the days when I was the chairman of my school's railway society, and the concept of powered slip coaches had us all extremely excited. I am sure that my hon. Friend has done more than probably anyone else in the House to advance the cause of the railways throughout our land. I am only sorry that in his strictures to my hon. Friend the Minister he was not able to congratulate him on having done the decent thing with the Ribblehead viaduct.
Mr. Howarth : I am sure that my hon. Friend has congratulated my hon. Friend the Minister on other occasions. For the record, I thank the Minister for what I consider to be a sensible and wise decision.
Mr. Howarth : The hon. Gentleman may say that, but I think that we are getting used to the idea of private money in the railway system. I think that the privatisation of the railway system will be advantageous when it comes to introducing improved services. I agree with the Minister that it is astonishing that the "Salads", or whatever they are called, decided on this topic for debate. They are surely on uncertain ground. Almost invariably, those who call for more investment in roads, bypasses and the infrastructure generally are those who organise residents' action committees to prevent developments from taking place. They tend to speak with forked tongue on matters on which my right hon. and hon. Friends have a good story to tell. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch feels that more could be done for the railways, but the railways have benefited from the £3,000 million that has been invested in them so far, and they will benefit further from the substantial programme that is to be implemented.
Those of us who use the InterCity services cannot fail to have noticed the vast improvement that has taken place. The services are fast, comfortable and generally punctual. I pay tribute to the friends of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) who are responsible for manning our railways for what they have done. I warmly welcome the significant improvement that has been made.
Mr. Howarth : The hon. Gentleman knows that any change brings in advance of its implementation a degree of uncertainty. If his friends and hon. Friends were to consult those who were employed in nationalised industries and have now been liberated by being brought into the private sector, they would find generally that they are happier in the private sector. They find it more fulfilling and more rewarding than employment within the state sector.
Mr. Howarth : No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) wishes to make a contribution to the debate, and I do not wish to impede him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will be pleased to know, as will the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East, that after 25 years the Walsall-to -Hednesford line, which runs substantially through my constituency, has recently been reopened. I pay tribute to Staffordshire county council for using the ratepayers' money to back the project, and I hope that ratepayers will support the line and enable it to become a financially viable service. New lines are being opened, and the railways are increasingly responding to the needs of the passenger. Those responsible for the inter-city services have announced that they are running earlier trains from various parts of the country to enable business men to
Column 67arrive in London by 9 am. We are beginning to see a concentration on the needs of the customer and a willingness to respond to those needs.
The deregulation of inter-city and local bus services has led to substantial improvements. The inter-city services are fantastic. The coaches are marvellous--they are fast, efficient and pleasant vehicles in which to ride. Minibuses are in profuse supply throughout the country. They offer frequent and comfortable journeys and are a substitute for using the car.
The Government have tried to grapple with the problems of London's third airport but I do not believe that the solution is entirely adequate. The Civil Aviation Authority's call for another London runway can be answered only by a second runway at Stansted to meet the demand that unquestionably will follow. The nettle had to be grasped in the first place.
Some of my hon. Friends in neighbouring constituencies are concerned about the Birmingham northern relief road. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State produced a splendid document setting out new proposals for the road system. It referred to the provision of "New Roads by New Means", including the introduction of private finance. It was only when I arrived back in the House about three weeks ago that I picked up the document and found encompassed within it a letter from my right hon. Friend telling me that the relief road was to be what amounts to the first toll motorway project. Initially, I welcomed the concept. I am not opposed in principle to toll motorways. Most of our fellow citizens who travel on the continent are happy to pay the French Exchequer for the benefit of using the French motorway system, but of course, there is a choice. I usually use N roads to avoid contributing to the French Exchequer. When French motorists come to Britain, I do not see why they should enjoy our fine motorway network without making any contribution to our Exchequer. Toll motorways can make a good contribution. After five years of deliberation, characterised by the closest consultation between Ministers and the Members of Parliament who represent the affected constituencies, it is distressing that a sudden announcement has had the effect of causing considerable consternation in south Staffordshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) will see his constituency affected by the Birmingham northern relief road. It will suffer particularly because all the options that have been canvassed go through his patch and will upset one section of his constituents or another. The project has been five years in development. As I have said, there has been substantial consultation with Members of Parliament as well as with local authorities and local people. The Department's preferred route, the so-called green route, was accepted with enthusiasm or resignation by the people in the area, there was a public inquiry and we were awaiting the inspector's report, which would have confirmed the go-ahead. It was then that we were told that all bets were off, and it appears that the issue is to be opened up again. There is to be competition, with tenders invited for an unspecified route. Those who sold their houses under planning blight arrangements could well find that their houses will not come within the new route ; there is great uncertainty.
Column 68The relief road was widely accepted by my constituents as a necessary development, and the same position was taken by the constituents of my hon. Friends. I have no doubt that the same view was taken by the entire nation. There is no doubt that the part of the M6 which runs through Birmingham is a grossly over-used road. The idea of a diversion was sensible. In my constituency, we can visualise substantial economic benefits deriving from the relief road, and many exciting projects have been put together. For example, the Poplars site--it is owned by Staffordshire county council--has produced a most imaginative scheme in partnership with the private sector. That scheme and others are threatened : everything has been put into the melting pot, and I cannot see what the gain will be.
If I could see that there was to be a clear gain, I would be in favour of it. However, I doubt whether there will be a gain. Many of the new exciting projects are likely to be put at risk. More especially, the Burntwood western bypass is under threat. Similarly, the Cannock eastern bypass is threatened because, unless the new road goes ahead, that bypass will go nowhere. That would be a lot of public sector investment for nothing.
At the very least, my hon. Friend the Minister should tell us that he will confirm the Department's preferred route and ensure that, if there is to be competition, it will be competition on the preferred route. He cannot tell us that there will be no delay. The Birmingham northern relief road is not the same as the Dartford-Thurrock route, which has only two points, one at each end of the river. The Birmingham northern relief road has no fewer than four intersections planned in my constituency. Will a private sector developer have four intersections? I suspect that a private sector developer would be unable to afford four intersections and would have only one mid route. Therefore, we are likely to lose out.
Although my constituents have not expressed this concern yet, they may be concerned that while Londoners have benefited from a great deal of public sector investment in the M25, my constituents may have to pay for the privilege of having a road which elsewhere in the country would have been provided from the public sector.
I understand that time is short, but I hope that I have been able to endorse much of what my hon. Friend the Minister has done and has plans to do. The Government's record on transport has been first class. There is nothing of which we should be ashamed. Unquestionably, more must be done and the Minister must consider air transport. However, I congratulate him and plead that he will have more consultations with his hon. Friends.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : During this debate news has reached the House that the Hight Court has ruled in favour of the National Union of Railwaymen, and that Wednesday's rail strike will go ahead at the same time as the strike on the London Underground. The fact that London Transport is coming to a standstill is a reflection of the Government's policy on transport in the capital. Commuter chaos on a regular basis is a continuing capital crisis. The Minister appears to believe that the Government should not interfere with that chaos or even be concerned about it. The Minister hardly referred to the fact that there was any problem on the public transport system.
Column 69The Government have that blinkered view because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said, they assert that they are investing enough on transport. Our motion alleges that the Government are so significantly under-investing in public transport that they are condemning the country to an extremely uncomfortable and precarious economic future. When the Minister replies, we would like him to tell us whether he is prepared to consider some of the advice given to him by his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), who referred to other countries where the evidence was that privatising and pretending that Government could have a hands-off policy was a receipe for a deteriorating transport system.
It was interesting to note that the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) was in favour of privatisation of roads except where it affected his constituency. The Minister alleged that my hon. Friends and I and our party complain if schemes to invest in transport are proposed in our areas or near our constituencies. That is completely untrue. For example, on a consistent basis, my colleagues have campaigned for the Settle-Carlisle railway. My colleagues have also consistently campaigned for the Cambrian coast railway to remain open, and only today my colleagues are heightening their campaign to keep open the Lewes-Uckfield line.
We must remind the Government that communities comprise people, many of whom do not have private transport. There must be sufficient public transport. That does not mean a service like that which has arisen from deregulating the buses, where the system is fine if someone wants to travel at a peak hour in the morning or afternoon, but no good if someone wants to go off the main route at off-peak hours. There must be sustained investment in a public transport system because that is the only way to deal both with our macro-economic problems and ensure a public service.
Mr. Gerald Howarth : I want to help the hon. Gentleman to understand something which he clearly did not understand in my speech. Had it been proposed to us at the outset that the Birmingham northern relief road was to a toll motorway, I would have welcomed it warmly. However, my constituents and I find it difficult to accept, after a public inquiry and five years of agony, that that whole can of worms is to be reopened.
Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he supports a Government who will land their new ideas for privatised roads somewhere and that somewhere happens to be in his constituency, he cannot really complain about it. If he complains now, I assume that he would complain about something similar happening elsewhere. He cannot expect the rest of the country to put up with something which he would not want in his back yard.
As a proportion of our national expenditure, expenditure on transport has dropped consistently throughout the 10 years of this Government. It was 4.9 per cent. in 1978-79, 4 per cent. in 1986-87 and it is projected to be 3.7 per cent. in 1990-91. The Government are doing that clearly as a matter of policy. In his announcement today about the extension of the Jubilee line through my constituency, the Minister made it clear that the plan would go ahead provided that the private sector invested
Column 70in it. I am not against private sector investment, but the idea that we can regularly and consistently reduce as a proportion of our national expenditure the amount of Government money spent on public transport and sustain a decent public transport system is not credible.
Mr. Adley : I cannot allow the travesty of truth which the hon. Gentleman has just espoused to remain on the record. He cannot claim that his party led the campaign for the retention of the Settle-Carlisle line. Will he confirm that the formation of the all-party group to retain the line took place entirely as the result of the efforts of Conservative and Labour Members and that not one member of his party joined that group?
Mr. Hughes : I did not claim that my party led the campaign. I claimed that my party was involved from the beginning in that campaign with local county councillors and district councillors at both ends of that line on a sustained and regular basis. We have argued the case in this House and outside, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. The record shows that we have consistently argued that the Settle-Carlisle line and others should be retained, while for a very long time the Government have prevaricated. We have had to wait months and years for them to make a decision on what was clearly a crucial matter for the environment and the communities concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor also made it clear that one of the reasons why it is important to invest substantially more in public transport than we do now is that in only that way would we have an environmentally acceptable transport policy. Private transport cannot increase at its present rate, with all the inevitable consequences for pollution and congestion, let alone mental illness and frustration, without severely harming the personal and the local environment. It is better by far to invest in the national rail network and, in urban areas, in an underground, a rapid transit network and a bus service. In that way, one maximises transport efficiency, especially if the subsidy system is properly regulated, with the consumption of the minimum amount of fuel and maximum travel occurring at the most convenient times. Encouraging and permitting private transport to grow, building roads to meet that demand, and in so doing automatically increasing demand--the M25 is the best example of that--is an unacceptable solution.
Today's issue of the Financial Times makes it clear how ridiculous are present policies. Writing about London Regional Transport in an article headed
"Raising fares and hackles on overcrowded Tube",
Rachel Johnson observes :
"Here's the good news for Tube travellers. London Underground is tackling its biggest problem--overcrowding--which has now reached dangerous levels Now for the bad news. London Underground's proposed solution to the problem, outlined to the Commons transport select committee, is to raise fares to such high levels that people are forced off the system."
Even the Transport Secretary expressed his doubts :
" I would have to hear convincing arguments from London Underground before I agreed to pricing people off the Underground'." I am glad to know that even the Secretary of State has doubts. The reason why our capital will completely clog up is that in a city in which 35 per cent. of commuters use the Underground--which represents a total of 2.6 million
Column 71passengers and a 60 per cent. increase in five years, with a further 30 per cent. increase projected over the next five years--the amount of subsidy and public money being spent on it is being reduced. The new managing director of London Underground seems to think that that is perfectly acceptable :
"We have to get the best out of our troops",
he said, justifying less expenditure, adding :
"McDonald's has shown the way in this. You don't have to have very highly paid and highly educated people to treat the public properly."
Although one often feels like a McDonald's burger squeezed between two halves of a bun when one goes on the Underground, none the less that is no way to treat the travelling public, be they commuters, visitors from other parts of the country, or tourists from abroad. Comparisons with expenditure in other parts of Europe make it obvious that not enough is being spent. Government funds account for 52 per cent. of public transport costs in Paris. The subsidy in Rome is 82 per cent. ; London's subsidy is just 30 per cent. and falling. The same applies to British Rail, which transports 40 per cent. of London's commuters and which, as with London Underground, has seen a 25 per cent. increase in demand. But has there been increased investment to meet it? No, instead the Government cut investment in British Rail by 25 per cent. over the past seven years, and cuts totalling a further 25 per cent. in the three years 1986-89 were recently announced.
The Minister carefully avoided quoting figures showing a cut in investment in real terms since 1979, though there has been increased expenditure in cash terms. Given the inflation over which the Government preside, it would be difficult for there not to be an increase in cash terms. Presumably increased expenditure in cash terms will continue as inflation endures.
Mr. Hughes : Not necessarily, as my hon. Friend says--because the Government could continue to cut public expenditure. They always gave the reason for inflation as too much spending from the public purse, yet inflation continues.
The third option of building urban railways to reduce inner-city congestion is also being ignored. Germany and Italy, for example, have substantially more urban railway track than we do. We are at the bottom of the league, with only Finland and Greece having as little urban railway track as we do. I challenge the Minister to deny that the following figures are wrong.
Network SouthEast, which is the most overcrowded sector of the British Rail network serving the capital, had its public subsidy reduced from £350 million in 1983 to £165 million in 1988. It is proposed to cut the subsidy to £85 million in 1992. It is unbelievable that, with demand for some provincial services growing by 50 per cent. and for London commuter services by 25 per cent., the Government respond by spending £7 billion on roads and cutting railway investment from £1 billion in 1983 to half a billion in the last financial year.
Our public transport system problems must be overcome. They include endemic overcrowding, appalling security, and ridiculous safety provisions. In last
Column 72Wednesday's debate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) demonstrated that, if one happens to be large, overweight, disabled, carrying luggage or accompanied by children, it is impossible to make one's way through the new-style safety gates. The situation is so problematical that there are now more staff supervising the gates than there were before they came into existence.
Massive strategic investment in public transport is required. Only then will we have a safe, cheap, environmentally pleasant and clean public transport system. Without strategic planning, which the Government abolished, it will not work. The transport system has been left to fend for itself, with both London Regional Transport and British Rail left to pay their own way. The Government are willing to announce massive road plans inside or outside the capital, but public money should be spent instead on public transport, to relieve congestion in our capital.
If the Government believe in improving the environment for the majority of British people living in urban areas, they should invest in public transport. The Minister dare not pretend at the Dispatch Box that the Government have been doing that. They cut public expenditure and have heaped misery on the public.
When on Wednesday the public complain about the lack of Tube trains and railway services, they will be criticising not those who are on strike but the Government who imposed that chaos as the penalty for lack of investment over many years.
Mr. Portillo : The complete inability of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to understand the difference between subsidy and investment is depressing. Subsidy is a measure of how much money a railway is losing. Fortunately, our railways lose less money year by year. Investment is a measure of how much money goes into renewing the railways' facilities. The highest figure ever reached in real terms between 1974 and 1979 was £546 million. The figure for 1987-88 was £594 million, for 1988-89 it is £629 million, and for the next four years it will be £781 million, £865 million, £928 million and £865 million.
In contrast, valuable speeches were made by my hon. Friends. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) for pointing out the absurdity of telling the public that at this stage in our economy we can allow no more cars on the roads. That would mean the predominantly white middle class which currently owns cars saying, "Enough is enough," and denying aspiration to car ownership to the working class, to blacks, and to the elderly--all of whom are increasingly the new road users.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough expressed doubts about getting private finance under way without subsidy. I do not regard private finance as a substitute for the public sector. We made it clear that there will be no scheme by scheme deductions for successful private sector schemes. We are experimenting with private finance and our minds are not closed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) expressed concern about the Birmingham northern relief road. I can reassure him that the time spent on the public inquiry was not wasted, because the work done will be useful to private sector applicants. We shall establish a short timetable for the
Column 73competition, and we have every reason to believe that the private sector is likely to follow the route already examined. The public inquiry report can be kept on ice, and that route can be used again in the public sector if the private sector scheme does not bring a result.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) for making a most interesting speech. I shall, of course, bring his point about powered slip coaches to the attention of British Rail. I feel, however, that it is a bit misleading to consider only the initial cost of the docklands light railway. Immense investment has been put into it since, and it is capable of great expansion.
I wish to pick up a couple of points made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). The hon. Gentleman mentioned bus substitution. British Rail is using taxpayers' money to subsidise transport services when that is merited on social grounds, and it must be right to test the use of that money against the cost of providing equivalent service by road. There has been only one case of bus substitution so far. I have not requested any particular number of such cases, and I point again to the substantial figures for provincial investment.
As for the cross-city electrification in Birmingham, the rolling stock there is very old. The question is how to replace it. Diesel would be cheaper, but it would be more expensive to maintain and also less reliable, while electric stock, despite its higher capital cost, would provide gains in maintenance and reliability. The sums must be done thoroughly--that is all that we require. I shall be happy to approve the most cost-effective replacement scheme when I receive a submission from British Rail.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East also mentioned section 8 grants. He will know that the Freight Transport Association has made a submission recommending an expansion, and I am considering that. The Government recognise the problems of transport congestion. We have produced plans for investment in roads and public transport. As a Government, we do not wish away the difficulties--we seek to meet them. In particular, we recognise that no project is without its environmental impact, but many projects are beneficial to the environment overall. That is why we are willing to approve them. Our policy is balanced and determined. Of course, any transport policy faces real problems, but the problem today is certainly not any reluctance on the part of the Government to invest in transport. That is why I invite the House to reject the motion.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :--
The House Divided : Ayes 65, Noes 213.
Division No. 246] [7.2 pm
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Duffy, A. E. P.
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Golding, Mrs Llin
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)