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House of Commons

Monday 30 October 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


London Regional Transport

1. Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chair of London Regional Transport ; and what matters were discussed.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson) : I last met the chairman of London Regional Transport, Mr. Wilfrid Newton, on 17 October. We discussed various issues relating to LRT's finances.

Mr. Cohen : Will the Secretary of State comment on LRT's waste in pulping thousands of fare rise tickets which were scrapped because they did not have the Minister's approval? Will he assure the House that fare rises will be kept below the rate of inflation? Will he undertake to provide the substantial new public investment called for today by the London Regional Passengers Committee so that a start can be made to end the squalor on London's public transport?

Mr. Parkinson : I have had discussions with the chairman about all aspects of LRT's finances --its fares, investment programmes and overall finances--and the

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results of those talks will be announced in due course. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we plan to maintain the tradition of huge increases in public investment in LRT.

Mr. Squire : Is my right hon. Friend aware how grateful I am to hear his answer to that question? Will he stress that the provision of public transport to the east of London is among the Department's priorities, given the existing imbalance between east and west London?

Mr. Parkinson : My hon. Friend makes an important point. When people talk about the Jubilee line as a line for developers, they ignore the impact that it could have on the lives of the many people in east London who are looking forward to its arrival.

Ms. Ruddock : Will the Secretary of State admit that he has instructed LRT to produce fare increases substantially below the 15 per cent. that LRT believes that it needs? If LRT carries out his wishes, does he intend to make up the difference between that fare increase and the 15 per cent?

Mr. Parkinson : I have had discussions about the whole range of LRT's finances, its investment programme and so on, as part of the public expenditure survey round. The result of those discussions will be announced shortly. I hope that if fare rises are lower than they would have been the hon. Lady will not be critical, because her hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), in his previous incarnation as spokesman on energy, was constantly accusing me of trying to push prices up. If they go down--I am not saying that they will--I hope that the Opposition will give us credit for that.

London Traffic

2. Mr. Irvine : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how new technology is being used to improve traffic management in London.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins) : New urban traffic control systems and traffic lights that adjust to changing conditions are planned to be installed at 700 junctions by 1993. Delays at these junctions should be reduced by about 12 per cent. Police traffic controllers

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use closed circuit television to monitor key locations. A large-scale pilot scheme for the autoguide electronic guidance system is being planned for 1992.

Mr. Irvine : Does my hon. Friend agree that the great merit of this new technology is that it maximises existing road capacity and greatly improves traffic flow along existing roads? Will he give the House further details about the new Scoot system for improving the flow through traffic lights?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right. The Scoot system is working extremely effectively. We have already installed about 180 signals and it is our intention to install more. My hon. Friend touches on an important point when he says that new technology can relieve congestion. He is quite correct.

Mr. Tony Banks : Is the Secretary of State aware of the growing traffic chaos in London? He surely must be. What discussions is his Department having with the Home Office to try to get some police priority for traffic management in London? Is he aware that unless there is an all- out campaign involving his Department, the Home Department and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the traffic will get worse and worse and in the end people will have to walk over the roofs of the cars because that will be the fastest way of getting along the roads?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. He will not be surprised to learn that, since taking office, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been looking at these matters with a great deal of urgency. We hope to be able to say something about them soon.

Mr. Cormack : When my hon. Friend is considering these matters, will he seriously consider a ban on deliveries between 7 am and 7 pm or 8 am and 8 pm because delivery vehicles are responsible for much of the chaos and congestion in London?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and it is one of the maters that we shall be considering.

Road Building

3. Mr. Prescott : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made on the new roadbuilding programme, outlined in the White Paper "Roads for Prosperity" ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Parkinson : The expanded programme set out in "Roads for Prosperity" is one of the Government's priorities. We are making good progress in preparing the schemes.

Mr. Prescott : I express my sympathy with the Secretary of State for being with us today. It must have been most disappointing for him last Thursday when he awaited the call that never came, especially as the Treasury is breaking all the commitments made by his predecessor. Is the Secretary of State now backtracking on the plans in the White Paper? Was not his predecessor quite wrong to believe that the private sector would always provide the necessary private finance, as can be seen by the chaos and confusion surrounding the tunnel links in the central

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London rail study? Is it not time for the Secretary of State to tackle the Treasury like a rottweiler rather than the Prime Minister's poodle?

Mr. Parkinson : I was thinking of buying a lead for my favourite rottweiler, but he is sitting opposite me and Ministers do not exchange gifts with Opposition Members. My predecessor produced an excellent White Paper. So far, we have commissioned studies and assessments on more than 40 of the schemes. I am glad to note that the hon. Gentleman is reading a better class of newspaper these days. If he keeps on reading it, he will become increasingly disappointed as the good news emerges.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need roads not just for prosperity but for safety? I had just managed to convince his predecessor to come and look at the St. Michael's bridge, which is a menace. Fortunately, I do not need to ask my right hon. Friend to come because he will know it well from his youth. Will he please ensure that Lancashire county council does not rat on us and that we get the bypass because somebody will be killed if two cars meet on that terrible hump-backed bridge?

Mr. Parkinson : I know the hump-backed bridge at St. Michael's, which is near my home town, and I will do my best to ensure that my hon. Friend is happy about the future arrangements.

Mr. Alex Carlisle : Has the Secretary of State had any further studies done, to add to the studies upon studies, to estimate the extra cost to industry in Wales and the north-west of England of sitting in traffic jams on the M6 and the M1 which inhibit movement of goods to the Channel ports? Is the Secretary of State aware that ports in my constituency will have no benefit from the Channel tunnel unless drastic action is taken to improve communications?

Mr. Parkinson : I am glad to have the hon. and learned Gentleman's endorsement of the White Paper, which makes proposals for the great improvement and widening of the two roads that he mentioned. We look forward to having his support in the months ahead for the work that is to be undertaken.

Mr. Lord : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the A140, which runs through Norfolk and Suffolk, is probably one of the most dangerous roads in East Anglia? This results from a staggering increase of traffic, particularly heavy goods vehicles and, more sadly, has led to a large number of fatal accidents. There was great amazement and not a little anger when it was announced that the A140 would be dualed north of Scole in Norfolk, but not south of Scole in Suffolk. Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are hoping for an announcement later this year that the whole of that road will be dualed, to everybody's satisfaction?

Mr. Parkinson : One of the main features of the White Paper was its recognition that East Anglia has an inadequate road infrastructure. There are substantial plans set out in the White Paper to produce an improvement, and we shall honour them.

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Channel Tunnel

4. Mr. Tony Banks : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his latest estimate of the likely increase of (a) road users and (b) public transport users in London as a result of the construction of the Channel tunnel terminal at King's Cross.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : The Department is examining the impact of the proposed terminal on the surrounding road network. The impact on the public transport network is expected to be small.

Mr. Banks : Does the Minister recall that when I saw him nearly a year ago I reported that the Channel tunnel and second London terminal projects would be chaotic and that political intervention would be required? Is he aware that confusion is now upon us and that we are in great danger of having three quarters of a tunnel, half a fast rail link and no second London terminal? When does the Minister intend to intervene to bring central political decision-making into the free market chaos which now surrounds us?

Mr. Portillo : Decisions on all these matters will be made shortly. The hon. Gentleman is alway urging me to take a strategic view, but I believe that it should be for British Rail to propose the railway line and the terminal that it wishes to build, see whether it can get private sector participation and then take a Bill through the House. If that is not successful, it is for British Rail to consider the options. If a strategic view were to be taken, I am not sure that one would not conclude that King's Cross, with its good access to the north, would be a better proposition.

Mr. Gerald Bowden : As British Rail's half-baked ideas for a Channel tunnel rail link terminating at King's Cross are now in disarray, having failed to attract any private financial support, will my hon. Friend the Minister consider the available options where there is private backing for viable plans that will serve the entire United Kingdom?

Mr. Portillo : I am well aware of my hon. Friend's concern and the assiduous way in which he represents his constituents on these and other matters, but the project has not reached the stage that he suggests. We shall have to wait and see whether British Rail will make an announcement in the coming days and weeks about a partnership with the private sector and whether it will wish to propose a Bill. If it proposed a Bill and that measure was not successful, it would then be appropriate to consider the options. A proposal has been worked out with a great deal of time and effort and I believe that it should be considered fully.

Mr. Chris Smith : Does the Minister agree that King's Cross is already the most congested location in London both above ground and below? Is it not sheer folly to propose funnelling a further 10 million or 15 million passengers per year through an over-congested location by locating the second Channel tunnel terminus there? Is it not time to think again and consider other options?

Mr. Portillo : King's Cross is extremely well connected in terms of public transport. There are more tube lines there than in any other place in London. There are also extremely good connections to the north of England. In

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that sense, it is very well connected. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to traffic congestion, he should remember that that problem will arise with any site that is chosen. My Department will be giving evidence to the Select Committee on Transport on the railway proposal and to the London borough of Camden on the lands development proposal, which will be a matter for Camden to consider.

Severn Crossing

5. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what conclusions he has drawn from the latest round of public consultation meetings in connection with revised routes for approaches to the proposed second Severn crossing ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Atkins : We are still considering the many helpful comments received following the exhibitions held in June and July. I hope to issue a statement shortly concerning modifications to the routes of the approach roads.

Mr. Stern : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he consider with some sympathy the suggestions being made for an intermediate link between the industrial areas of the north of Bristol and the southern relief road linking the second Severn crossing to the M5, which would be welcome to industry and commerce in the area?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend makes a plea for his constituents and for others nearby. The plan has considerable merit. I shall be looking to local authorities and developers to provide the resources for such a link

Mr. Flynn : Does the Minister agree that extra roads mean extra hazards and that this weekend we took a step that will involve extra danger on the roads when we put the clock forward by one hour? Does he recall the transport and road research laboratory saying that daylight saving, would reduce the numbers of serious and fatal accidents by 600 per year? Will he therefore impress on other members of the Government the need for daylight saving, which will mean life saving?

Mr. Atkins : Such matters are for the Home Office. One of the reasons why that Department is currently involved in a number of consultations is that there are many differences of opinion--not least among trade unions and between people living in the north and those in the south. No doubt common sense proposals will come out of those consultations, and I look forward to that happening as much as the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Knapman (Stroud) : Is my hon. Friend aware that river pilots are very concerned about the siting of the bridge and, in particular, about its effect on access to the port of Sharpness in my constituency? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that their views will be taken fully into consideration before any decision is taken?

Mr. Atkins : Yes, Sir.

Underground Railways (London)

6. Mr. Spearing : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement concerning future plans for new underground railways serving east London.

Mr. Portillo : We are considering the cases for schemes proposed in the central London rail study and for extending the Jubilee line to docklands and Stratford. A

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key factor for the Jubilee line will be the contributions forthcoming from developers who will benefit from the line.

Mr. Spearing : Does the Minister agree that there is also an important cross-rail link? Does he recall that the concept of such a link dates back to the Royal Commission on London traffic of 1905? Which does the Minister regard as more important? The Waterloo to Canary wharf line is concept of Messrs. Olympia and York and essentially a developer's railway. If the Minister gives preference to that rather than to the cross-rail link, will he not be favouring the stockbrokers and providing them with seats for tomorrow, rather than seats for east London straphangers of today?

Mr. Portillo : The Jubilee line is important in public transport terms and would provide an important connection to Stratford, which I thought would be welcomed by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who spoke earlier. I feel sure that the people of east London would find it of considerable value. It would be of value also in terms of regenerating the inner city, which the Labour party supports. I cannot make a statement about our priorities as between the Jubilee line and the east-west cross-rail--that decision will be made shortly--but as developers also benefit from the Jubilee line it must be right that we should attempt to secure the maximum contribution from them and to minimise the contribution that the taxpayer will have to make.

Mr. Haselhurst : I am embarrassed to be in even partial agreement with the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), but is my hon. Friend aware that however admirable the idea of extensions to the Underground system, which I support, they are no substitute for the east- west cross-rail tunnel, which would do much to relieve pressure on Liverpool Street station and thus assist commuters entering London from Essex constituencies?

Mr. Portillo : The east-west cross-rail showed up very well in the central rail study as being a decongesting railway. However, my hon. Friend will recognise that the Jubilee line also provides an important link between east London and the west end, and its extension would help to establish docklands even more firmly as a new centre of activity. That in itself could also help to relieve congestion in the central area.

Mr. Cartwright : Is the Minister aware that south-east London is the forgotten corner of the city when it comes to the tube system? Can he give any grounds for hope that the proposed extensions through east London will cross the river, to give hundreds of thousands of south-east Londoners more alternatives to British Rail services?

Mr. Portillo : There are two proposals on the stocks. One is to route the Jubilee line through the Greenwich peninsula, but that is a more expensive option which would not provide good connections to the rest of the network south of the river. The other is a Lewisham extension of the docklands light railway, on which I recently received representations from a number of hon. Members and others--but as I have not received a formal proposal from London Regional Transport I am not in a position to comment on that scheme.

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Mr. Roger King : Is my hon. Friend aware that while many people living outside London view investment in its infrastructure with sympathy and hope, they too have their priorities for modernisation? I refer principally to the cross-city line in Birmingham. I hope that if my hon. Friend approves all the Underground schemes proposed for London there will be a few shillings left in his coffers to undertake investment schemes in our area.

Mr. Portillo : The Government are extremely even-handed in such matters. Only last week it was my great pleasure to announce our investment in the Manchester metrolink, which I am sure is a popular decision. The proposal for the Birmingham cross-city electrification has just arrived on the desk of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and I am sure that he will deal with it quickly.

Channel Tunnel

7. Mr. Macdonald : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received on the need for a fast rail link between Scotland and the Channel tunnel.

Mr. Parkinson : We have received a small number of such representations.

Mr. Macdonald : Does the Secretary of State appreciate that the uncertainty hanging over the link between the tunnel and London threatens to make nonsense of British Rail's plans to run a through service from Scotland to the continent? Does he agree that such a service is vital if Scotland and the regions are to benefit from the single market and the tunnel? Will he undertake to ensure that it will be in place by 1993, as BR plans, whatever the problems may be about private finance for the link with London?

Mr. Parkinson : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point. The position has been completely misunderstood. The high-speed link is not the only proposed link with the Channel tunnel and in fact will not be available until around the turn of the century. Arrangements are now being made, and large sums are being invested in both road and rail infrastructure, to ensure that Scotland and the regions have access to the tunnel from the day it is opened. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the east and west coast routes into Scotland are extremely good. British Rail has a statutory obligation to present its plans by 31 December to ensure that the

regions--including Scotland--benefit, and it will be doing just that.

Mr. Amos : Does my right hon. Friend accept that a second terminal at King's Cross is vital to meet the needs of the north of England and Scotland? Will he examine the quality of service on the Newcastle-Carlisle route, which is appalling at present?

Mr. Parkinson : As I said earlier, British Rail is under an obligation to present its plans, and it is working hard on that. I cannot honestly answer my hon. Friend's question about the Newcastle-Carlisle line, but if he would care to write to me I will certainly look into the matter.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : The Secretary of State is well acquainted with the city of Aberdeen through his previous job as Secretary of State for Energy. Will he now look

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particularly at the rail communication links from Aberdeen, and at the clear demand that has emerged from Grampian regional council for a scheme to link Aberdeen with Edinburgh and the Channel tunnel through electrification?

Mr. Parkinson : I will bring the hon. Lady's remarks to the attention of British Rail. As part of the plans for Scotland, two major freight terminals are being considered, one of them at Gartcosh ; I cannot remember offhand the site of the other. The Government's whole aim is to ensure that the regions benefit from the best possible access to the tunnel.

Road Building

Mr. Gregory : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how many miles the expanded road programme will add to the trunk road network ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Atkins : The expanded programme will add more than 2,700 miles of new or widened roads to the trunk road network.

Mr. Gregory : I congratulate my hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the increase in capital expenditure by the present Government is nearly 60 per cent. higher than that in 1978-79, the last full year of Socialist government? How much of the proportion that my hon. Friend has to spend will be spent in Yorkshire?

Mr. Atkins : The expanded programme will result in 51 new miles of road in Yorkshire, together with 51 miles of improved roads. All in all, that is worth some £430 million. We put our money where our mouths are.

Ms. Quin : Is the Minister aware of the strength of feeling in the north-east about the fact that the expanded road programme does not deal properly with the upgrading of the A1, either in Yorkshire or between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and also about the failure to address the problem of a proper cross-country road between Newcastle and Carlisle? Will he review the programme to meet those concerns?

Mr. Atkins : I spent all of Thursday in Newcastle talking to a wide variety of people--about the A1, among other things. They were quite satisfied with the commitment that I offered them, which was also offered in the White Paper--that we were reviewing the whole of the A1 in regard to motorway status. As the hon. Lady and other hon. Members will know, making a motorway from an existing trunk road is not as easy as it may at first appear. All those points are, however, being considered urgently.

Sir Hal Miller : Is the Minister aware that any delay in the expanded programme will prolong uncertainty and blight for those affected and add to the costs of congestion and later construction? Will he therefore do his best to ensure that construction is carried out as per the programme?

Mr. Atkins : That is certainly my intention.

Mr. Snape : Is it true that the Minister's mouth is not big enough to take the Birmingham northern relief road which has been delayed for a considerable time while the project has been hawked around the private sector? If and when it

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is eventually built, will the developers pay for the cost of providing policing, ambulances and lighting services along that road, or will those charges fall on the taxpayer?

Mr. Atkins : I should say that many of my hon. Friends and I are delighted with the number of people who have expressed interest in the Birmingham northern relief road. We are very pleased to have been approached by three major consortia. If that demonstrates how this scheme and many others will work, we shall be delighted. While I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's quip, I remind him that his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), is known as "Humber mouth".

British Rail (Public Service Obligation)

10. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress is being made in reducing the central Government public service obligation grant to British Rail in line with financial targets set in 1986.

Mr. Parkinson : The objectives that we set in 1986 called for a 25 per cent. reduction in British Rail's grant requirement by the current financial year. British Rail succeeded in achieving this target a year early, in 1988-89.

Mr. Sumberg : May I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's answer? Is not the way forward a combination of public and private capital? In that context, may I say how grateful my constituents are to his Department for the investment in the Manchester metrolink which will considerably improve communications between Bury and Manchester as well as in the south of Manchester?

Mr. Parkinson : Yes, the metrolink is a good example of how the public sector and the private sector can co-operate to produce an improved service for the citizens of a very fine city.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Is it not clear to the Minister that every time the PSO grant is cut while British Rail is asked to improve its investment in new services, and improve safety and services to the customer, the customer pays through the nose? Is he aware that British Rail is in danger of becoming one of the most expensive, but not one of the best, railway systems in Europe?

Mr. Parkinson : I have to admit to the hon. Lady that there is a difference in philosophy between her party and mine on this matter. We believe in cutting the grant and increasing investment. The Opposition believe in increasing the grant and reducing investment. The net result of that was ever more heavily subsidised lines getting into ever greater disrepair. We thought that that was a foolish policy, so we changed it.

Mr. Franks : Does my right hon. Friend accept that British Rail operates under the apparent inconvenience of having customers, not least the inconvenience of having customers who expect a modicum of service? When he next talks to the chairman of British Rail, will he inform him that while the first faltering steps to improve the service have been taken, there is still a long way to go before the appalling service is improved?

Mr. Parkinson : British Rail is certainly open to criticism, and I have received many letters. But it is quite wrong to pretend that the system is not slowly but steadily improving. A large investment is being made, and I wish

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that once in a while people would give British Rail credit where it is due for improvements in services--and there is credit due.

Mr. Prescott : Is the Secretary of State asking us to believe that it is pure coincidence that countries such as West Germany and France, which have a higher PSO level, also have lower fares, higher quality and a safer system? That fact has been confirmed by the Government's own central transport consultative committee. As he is about to abandon the plan for the privatisation of British Rail, will he now set British Rail new financial targets that do not lead to exorbitant fare increases accompanied by a poorer quality of service?

Mr. Parkinson : We shall shortly announce the new objectives for British Rail. We see no point in subsidising journeys for which people are prepared to pay a fair price, but we see the case for subsidising rural areas where it is impossible to make the service pay. We think, and I repeat, that the policy of the Greater London council--the last example of the Labour party in charge of a public transport system--of increasing subsidies and cutting investment produced disastrous results for London Transport, which is why we are having to sort it out.

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