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Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool) : Will the Leader of the House accept the importance of the plight of hostages everywhere? Will he consider the need for a debate on that subject, even though the matter could be raised under a number of heads in the House? If we cannot have such a debate next week, perhaps he will provide a later opportunity for hon. Members to air the sensitivity of the matter. As some hostages have been held for so long, it is time that the voice of the House was heard.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's wisdom in underlining the sensitivity of the matter. That needs to be done on every possible occasion. I am sure that the whole House agrees on the importance to the families of hostages and to all hon. Members of securing the early release of people held hostage anywhere and in any circumstances. All that I can do at this stage is to join the hon. Gentleman in underlining how seriously the House views the matter. He can raise the matter during debate next week. I cannot promise anything beyond that.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Following the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), will my right hon. and learned Friend consider whether next week's debate on Merseyside and the interesting activity in Birkenhead and St. Helens could be extended to include Teesside so that we can discuss interesting events in Hartlepool? Is he aware that
Column 1170interesting allegations have been made about the replacement of the present Labour Member for Hartlepool by a new candidate?
Mr. Gareth Wardell (Gower) : Will the Leader of the House examine the report published last Friday by Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution on the levels of PCBs, dioxins and furans in Britain? Of the 78 sample points, 12 demonstrated serious local contamination. Will he arrange for a statement to be made as soon as possible on why the levels are so high? Is he aware that some of those 12 sample points were in Wales?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman has raised a matter of some technicality. I confess that I cannot disentangle all the acronyms that he mentioned. I shall look at the report as soon as possible and reflect on the point that he made.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. We have already moved on beyond the point that I mentioned, but I shall allow business questions to continue for another three minutes. Hon. Members whom I have not called will be given some precedence if they wish to participate in the debate on the motion for the Christmas adjournment.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : May we have clarification of why the junior Health Minister rubbished the findings of the Government's medical officers of health about the health risks associated with sugar? It seems that the Government are not interested in public health and health education, but that the profits of their allies come first. Was the Minister's cover-up a sweetener for the sugar industry?
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Will the Leader of the House reconsider his reply about a debate on democracy on Merseyside? For many years he was a Member for Merseyside and it would be nice to have a debate that included explanations from Tory Members of why there are practically no Conservative Members in Merseyside seats. There are now no Conservative Members in Liverpool and last time the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) won her seat by only 200 votes. Do Tory Members who raised the matter suggest that the people of Merseyside do not understand democracy? The people of Merseyside understand it very well and are using their democratic powers to ensure that the Conservative party is a spent force on Merseyside.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity of making a point in exactly the opposite direction. When I was adopted as candidate for Bebington, west of the Mersey, and the hon. Gentleman was adopted for Liverpool, Walton, the nine seats of the city of Liverpool elected six Conservative and three Labour Members, and there was a Conservative Member for Walton. At that time Merseyside was a great deal more prosperous than it is today.
Column 1171Several Hon. Members : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about new initiatives to relieve traffic congestion in London. My proposals are being published today, together with separate consultation papers setting out my provisional conclusions on the four London assessment studies. I am placing copies in the Library.
The economic boom of the 1980s has had a dramatic impact on London. Population, employment and incomes have all grown and demand for transport has exploded. There is every indication that this trend will continue. We must provide for planned commercial and residential development, and proposals for the transport systems will in turn be an essential element in the development plans which the London boroughs are preparing.
Last month, I announced our plans to transform London's public transport systems. Over the next three years, London Regional Transport plans to invest a further £2.2 billion on modernising and upgrading its systems. That includes work on the extension of the Jubilee line to docklands. Subject to further work, I expect that a Bill for a new line to relieve congestion in central London will be deposited next year. Network SouthEast plans to spend a further £1.2 billion over the same period to improve its services for London's commuters.
It is clear that public transport will always play the key role in moving people in and out of central London, but congestion on the roads must be tackled too. We are improving the quality and capacity of trunk roads wherever possible, but we must make the best use of existing roads. Our aim is to keep traffic flowing as freely as possible. The discussion document I am publishing today brings forward new proposals for traffic management and parking control. First, I propose a 300-mile priority route system--red routes. Stopping, loading/unloading, and parking will be severely restricted. A pilot scheme will start next summer to establish the best way of implementing the proposal. I shall begin the necessary discussions with local authorities and the police immediately.
Secondly, a consistent and businesslike approach to the management of these major routes is essential. I propose legislation to establish a traffic director to ensure the coherent development and operation of the red routes. The traffic director would not replace the existing highway authorities, but would have a co-ordinating role on these routes, with appropriate reserve powers.
Thirdly, I strongly believe that the fixed penalty level for illegal parking on the red routes and possibly elsewhere in London should be increased. The Government will consult representative organisations on possible legislation and the appropriate level of fine.
Fourthly, new traffic management guidance will aim to ensure that yellow lines are strictly confined to places where they are needed. Drivers must be convinced that where there are such restrictions they are needed and will be rigorously enforced.
Fifthly, effective enforcement of traffic and parking regulations will be a key element. The police and traffic wardens will remain responsible for enforcing parking bans. The role of the traffic wardens will be enhanced. They will be given powers to authorise removals and wheel
Column 1173clamping. Local authorities would take on the control of parking at meters and residents' bays, allowing traffic wardens to concentrate their efforts on the red routes and the more serious offences. We also need to go on improving the road system. We already have a substantial programme in London. This is geared mainly to upgrading the north circular and improving access to docklands and east London. One of the most notorious bottlenecks is the Blackwall tunnel, so I am announcing today my decision to add to the programme a scheme for a third tunnel. There will also be a review to see whether another crossing is needed between the Blackwall tunnel and Tower bridge. The four assessment studies have been detailed and intensive studies. They have looked at a range of public transport, traffic management and road improvement measures on a comparable basis. They show that public transport improvements are needed but cannot by themselves solve the traffic and environmental problems, however much we invest in the rail systems. Road improvements are necessary to increase the efficiency of the system, to reduce accidents, and to take traffic out of residential areas.
The consultants looked at a large number of options. They have narrowed these down to two or three recommended options in each area. Most of the major new roads that they considered have been eliminated. Even so, they have recommended some schemes which I do not consider should be pursued further. These have been ruled out. I am prepared to go forward only with the new road schemes that will bring significant overall benefits, taking full account of the environmental effects. I have selected for consultation a number of ideas for new public transport projects and a limited number of new road schemes, mostly to improve existing roads.
New proposals for the transport systems in London will be vital to securing environmental improvements and creating opportunities for new development. In preparing proposals my Department will therefore work closely with the Department of the Environment, local authorities, transport operators and the police.
Copies of the consultants' reports will be available at public libraries and town halls in the study areas, and will be sent to representative local organisations. Free leaflets setting out the consultants' main findings and recommendations will be circulated widely, together with a statement of the Department's initial views. This will set out clearly the options that have been rejected and those on which comments are invited.
It is now nearly 18 months since the consultants first published their options. There has never before been such wide and open consultation on transport studies. But I am conscious that it has caused great uncertainty. I am now determined to end the uncertainty, to reach early decisions and to remove the threat of blight as quickly as possible. I am therefore asking for comments by 28 February.
Any schemes entered into the national road programme will have to go through the full statutory procedures which provide for public inquiry. The amount and timing of any additional expenditure would be for decision in the public expenditure survey in the usual way. These proposals, together with those for the Jubilee line, the central London rail study and the massive investment in Network Southeast, show that this Government have a balanced approach to London's transport problems. The measures that I am announcing
Column 1174today, together with those that I have brought forward in recent weeks, will give our capital city the improved transport system that it deserves and I commend them to the House.
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : At the outset, may I say that I appreciate that fact that the Secretary of State gave me these reports at 2 o'clock rather than at 3 o'clock, which is the normal time? That helped a little, but the reports are somewhat complex and he will appreciate that it would not be proper to make judgments on the details of the scheme at this stage.
The statement confirms the sensitivity of the Government and the Secretary of State to the importance of transport. I welcome some of the limited steps towards intervention by the state, which in the past the Secretary of State has labelled as being eastern European in approach. No doubt the new views of the new Secretary of State for the Environment in the Cabinet and his attitude towards the car has concentrated the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Will the Secretary of State confirm that after 10 years of praising the values of the free market, the Department of Transport now seems to be learning to speak the language of planning, co-ordination, integration and even red routes, which have more to do with the blue rosettes of the local elections and the general election which are around the corner? As the Secretary of State knows, he received a delegation from Wandsworth, which has produced plans rejecting most of the ideas in his paper. Wandsworth is a Tory council which wants more public transport, not a road solution. If anything is clear from the statement, it is that it is fundamentally about what we all know the Department of Transport is always involved in--a basic road solution to a transport problem.
We have had statements from the Secretary of State and various bodies such as the central London rail study and the east London rail study, and we have had plans for the Channel tunnel. Next week we are to get British Rail's new corporate plan. Is it not time that we had a strategic body co- ordinating transport in London, such as those which exist in every other capital city in western Europe? That is the only way to deal with the major problems facing those cities. Does the Secretary of State agree with my calculation, after looking at the reports, that the adoption of all the preferred schemes would cost £7.3 billion and involve the demolition of 2,470 homes?
Has the Secretary of State discussed with the Treasury whether the resources would be made available to meet such commitments? Does he remember the Prime Minister giving similar assurances about who would pay for environmental improvements to the high-speed rail link just before the elections in Kent last year? Kent may have retained a Tory council, but the Channel tunnel link is in one hell of a mess. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how much of the £2.2 billion invested in LRT and the £1.2 billion investment in British Rail, as set out in his statement, is provided by the Government? Is it not the case that public transport in London receives less financial support from
Column 1175the Treasury than ever before, and that the amount is lower than for any other European city? Will he confirm that next week when he sets British Rail's new financial targets he intends to cut the last £150 million of financial support for Network SouthEast? Is it true that the targets will make London the only city in Europe whose rail network receives no financial support at all from Government? The Secretary of State claims that public transport, traffic management and new roads must all be judged on a comparable basis. Can he explain why the Department has assumed in the studies that rail, tube and bus fares will be increased by 46 per cent. in real terms over the next 10 years for commuters in the south-eastern and London regions?
We all know that the Department of Transport is obsessed with new roads. Can the Secretary of State explain the extraordinary claim in his statement that major new roads improve the environment? The first effect of the roads will be to knock down thousands of houses and they will increase the number of cars in our cities. The will also increase environmental damage and the levels of gases in our city and those gases are already at twice the international limits. The building of such roads flies in the face of the Prime Minister's statement in the House that she intends to reduce exhaust gases which are contributing to the problems of the ozone layer. It is more to do with rhetoric than fact and that is evident when we examine the statements made by the Secretary of State. Will the Secretary of State explain to the House how much growth in road traffic he expects in the next 10 years, and what effect it will have on pollution levels and the other consequences to which I referred?
Finally, on red routes, although we welcome the new initiatives to reduce congestion, can the Minister answer two relevant questions? First, given that only 2 per cent. of people who park illegally ever pay the fine, what measures will he take to increase and improve enforcement levels? Secondly, what assurances about access can he offer to people who live and work along red routes?
The Secretary of State's statement is one of the first examples of what we can expect from the Department of Transport. His language may change, but the Department's priorities do not, and the statement will do little to relieve Britain's and London's great transport problems.
Mr. Parkinson : If the House were to judge my statement and the hon. Gentleman's reaction to it, it would draw the conclusion that the rhetoric was in his remarks and the practical proposals were in mine. The Government have a totally balanced approach to transport problems, as we have shown through our proposals to the House. The hon. Gentleman talked about public transport. We shall be spending more money than ever before on the national roads programme, in the three years starting next April, but in the same period we shall also spend more money on public transport, and the biggest ever road programme will be exceeded by the biggest ever rail and tube investment. I am extremely sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot do the arithmetic and see that for himself.
Column 1176The hon. Gentleman talked about demolition, and that is a serious issue. Under the studies as originally set out, more than 10,000 homes in London were threatened, and that has caused enormous uncertainty. As a result of combining our reaction with the publication of the proposals, the threats have been removed from more than 85 per cent. of those houses, and I suspect that that figure will be reduced substantially by the end of the consultation period, which for that reason we want to keep as short as possible. We are removing uncertainty with this statement.
The hon. Gentleman has often talked about investment and resources. I have told him time and again that under the previous owners--the Labour GLC-- subsidies were increased and investment was reduced. Under the present Government, subsidies have been reduced and resources have been made available for huge increases in investment. We think that producing a better system is the right priority.
At a time when the use of the tube system at peak hours has increased by 35 per cent. and off peak by 85 per cent., it seems extraordinary that Opposition Members persistently argue the case for subsidy rather than investment. Why subsidise a service which is already hugely in demand, and for which people demonstrate that they are prepared to pay a reasonable price? The increase in fares is a figment of the hon. Gentleman's imagination. No proposals of any kind exist to increase fares by 46 per cent. during the next 10 years. I simply do not know where that figure was dreamed up. It does not feature in any documents that I have seen, and there are no such proposals.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned red routes. I accept that he has not had time to absorb all the proposals, but the discussion document makes it clear that transferring some of the responsibilities to the boroughs will relieve police and traffic wardens of a substantial part of their existing duties and leave them to focus on the enforcement of restrictions on red routes and on parking offences which break the law and are criminal.
Finally, I agree with the hon. Member that these proposals have substantial implications for people who live or have shops on red routes. That is why we propose substantial consultation.
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is to be congratulated on the massive increase in investment in public transport that he has announced, which reflects economic success and is in marked contrast with what the Labour Government did? Is he aware that the existing traffic management schemes in, for example, the Aldwych, to the south of Westminster bridge and last week in St. George's road have on the whole been disastrous in that they have been completely counterproductive? Will he seriously consider whether his Department should take over control of transport in London so that we can have a more unified system?
Mr. Parkinson : We do not think that London's experience under a strategic authority is a great recommendation for strategic authorities. We had one--the GLC--and the House, with one or two notable exceptions, was glad to see the back of it and has no wish to recreate it. We believe that traffic management schemes have an important role to play. We have been impressed by improvements as a result of new traffic control systems in places such as Hanger lane--the so-called SCOOT system.
Column 1177Some 120 independent junctions are controlled by it at present, and we plan to increase that number to 700 over the next five years.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermonsey) : Will the right hon. Gentleman accept my conditional welcome for his announcement? He has obviously backed off from the original proposal, which was to have a network of new roads. That is welcome. I also have a conditional welcome for red routes and an increase in fixed penalty fines, which I believe will be vital. A worrying consequence of that is that there may be fewer yellow lines. I ask the Secretary of State not to go too far in that direction because other roads need protection from unthinking parking.
Having done half a U-turn, the Secretary of State should do the other half. All the opinion surveys show that the vast majority of people in London do not believe that there should be more roads. Rather they believe that there should be less traffic. We need to decrease the supply of traffic, not to increase the supply of roads. In that context, will the Secretary of State consider, seriously and urgently, the possibility of further restraining trafic coming into London, including the possibility, which he said that he would consider, of a central London licensing system which would discourage people from driving into London? He knows that traffic has increased during the past decade.
Mr. Parkinson : We do not propose to reduce the number of yellow lines substantially. We are saying that they should be there only if they will be enforced. Not enforcing them discredits the system. We are saying that boroughs should examine their systems and that if they do not or cannot enforce yellow line restrictions, they should not discredit the system, and that where they exist they should be rigorously enforced. We think that that is a more sensible approach. We have to recognise that the public are quite capable of making a choice if given a choice. That is why road traffic commuting has fallen by 11 per cent. and rail traffic commuting has increased by 25 per cent. We are putting very large sums of money into ensuring that people have a choice. If the hon. Gentleman examines the assessment studies with his usual care, as I am sure that he will, he will see that most of the proposals feature extensions of public transport. There are fewer road proposals and more public transport proposals, but we have to recognise that there is still a demand for road movements, and that is what we are catering for.
Mr. John Moore (Croydon, Central) : I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, especially on the assessment conclusions that he has produced for those who have a constituency interest in this matter. I congratulate him on the balanced way in which he has put together a package of proposals combining substantial investment in public transport with excellent conclusions on red routes.
Perhaps I may include you, Mr. Speaker, the most distinguished Member of this place, as you are not able to speak on behalf of your constituents in Croydon, North-East, in welcoming wholeheartedly, for yourself and myself and our constituents, the clear decisions that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken--this is made clear by his conclusions on rejected schemes--which will remove the blight and the difficulties that many of our constituents have suffered for 18 months or more? I thank my right hon. Friend for listening so carefully to
Column 1178the representations that have been made throughout Croydon--Croydon, North-East, Croydon, North-West and Croydon, Central--
Can I-- [Interruption.]
I congratulate my right hon. Friend specifically on keeping the remaining consultation period very brief. There was an extensive period of consultation throughout the London area.
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my right hon. Friend and you, Mr. Speaker, for your welcome, through my right hon. Friend, for the decisions. I accept that in Croydon, in particular, there has been tremendous uncertainty and blight. I hope that today's announcements will remove most of that and that we can, as my right hon. Friend said, keep the consultation period brief. We have substantially narrowed the range of options to be considered because we recognise that there are still nearly 2,000 families who feel threatened. We do not think that we should prolong their uncertainty.
Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will recognise that we have a transport crisis in London. The capital is dirty and congested and traffic is moving slower than it was in the days of the horse and cart. This is due basically to lack of investment. Plans have been available for four or five decades to solve the problem, but nothing has been done. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the basic need is public transport? It is the only way to get the capital going. Yet the Government are reducing the public contribution to public transport. The right hon. Gentleman says that there is more investment, but it is not Government money--it is permission to borrow, which increases fares. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that there is not enough public transport and too many people want to get on it, so he will solve the problem by pricing people off public transport by increasing fares. That is the only way in which he is getting investment, and it is the wrong approach. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not put proper investment into public transport, which is the only way to get London moving again?
Mr. Parkinson : I will give the hon. Gentleman three figures which show that he is talking nonsense. In the past five years, the number of commuters coming into London on Network SouthEast has increased by 25 per cent. The number of people using London Underground at peak times has increased by 35 per cent. The number of people using London Underground off peak has increased by85 per cent. During that time subsidy has been falling and
Column 1179investment has been increasing. If the hon. Gentleman studies the figures he will realise that he is drawing entirely the wrong conclusions from the facts.
Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his decision to spend more money on investing in public transport than on roads will be greatly appreciated by all those who are concerned with transport problems, as will his determination to make better use of existing roads by having better traffic management? He is to be commended heartily for those decisions.
I wish to be more specific and to raise a constituency issue in Chiswick. The removal of the threat of a major road being constructed along the line of the railway from Kew bridge to Barnes will be seen as a most welcome Christmas present. It is extremely good news for thousands of my constituents who have campaigned against that old proposal, which I hope is dead and will be buried for ever more. I remain unconvinced about the need for massive new investment in urban roads in London, but careful consideration will be given to the proposed road tunnel from Chiswick to Wandsworth. We shall examine carefully its effect upon the local environment where it goes into the ground in my constituency--that is, if the tunnel is ever built--and its effect on local housing. By and large, however, my right hon. Friend deserves many congratulations on his statement.
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reception of the proposals. He has been a great defender of his constituents' interests. I am glad that he realises that the very radical proposal for the tunnel is worthy of further consideration, and I look forward to receiving his comments and those of his constituents.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : May I congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on at least recognising, at long last, that there is a transport crisis in London? Londoners know that fact to their cost, on a daily basis. They have had to live with it for years. They also know the reasons for the crisis--first, the Government's failure over the past decade adequately to invest in public transport infrastructure and, secondly, the abolition of what was the only strategic transport planning authority, the Greater London council. That authority found itself in great difficulties because of the Government's hostile reactions when it wanted to invest in London Regional Transport.
Despite what the Secretary of State said about the level of investment, is he aware that while British Rail will receive £605 million per year from the Government for investment purposes, the rail system in West Germany receives £4.8 billion per year? That is the only way to deal with our crisis. The Government have created the crisis, yet they come to the House and expect us to be grateful to them for a few packages of measures designed to deal with the crisis that they created. It is too little and it is almost too late--
Mr. Parkinson : Until four years ago, London Transport was under the control of the Greater London council. If there has been a failure in investment during the past decade, for the first six years the hon. Gentleman was party to that failure. During the period since we took over the control of London Transport, investment has increased substantially and we now have the biggest investment proposal that London Transport has ever had, amounting to more than £2.2 billion in the next three years.
As I said earlier, there has been a substantial increase in the number of passengers. That has clearly produced a substantial increase in resources. That is how, with a reduction in the subsidies, London Transport still finds itself in a better position to invest.
Sir. John Hunt (Ravensbourne) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that most reasonable people will warmly applaud his statement, which I am sure will bring both relief and reassurance to most people in London? Does he realise the amount of unnecessary anguish created for many of my constituents, and for others in Croydon and elsewhere, by the premature publication of a large range of various options, most of which have since been abandoned? Will he ensure that in future the faceless planners and consultants will not be let loose on London's traffic problems in the way that has happened on this occasion?
Mr. Parkinson : That practice was a feature of transport planning a few years ago. I remember a time in my constituency when seven possible routes for the M25 were declared, which meant that seven areas were blighted. The idea that there should be open discussions, with every conceivable option put on the table, although well intentioned, actually causes enormous alarm and concern. It is for that reason that we have accompanied the publication of the final assessment studies with our decisions on which of them will be pursued. That has relieved more than 85 per cent. of the people who felt threatened of the threat that caused them such concern. We want to reduce the number still further. That is why I hope that all colleagues will urge the boroughs to co-operate in keeping the period of consultation sensibly short.
constituency--first, the third bore of the Blackwall tunnel, which will relieve severe congestion ; secondly, the commitment to the extension of the docklands light railway, which will help to link homes and people in Greenwich with jobs in docklands ; and, thirdly, the abandonment of complicated schemes through Blackheath village which would have devastated it, about which there will be great relief? At the same time, however, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the balance or emphasis between private and public transport with a view to the future of London's roads and the increasing number of people turning to cars? Whatever modifications are made, congestion will probably continue for the next decade. The inclusion of south-east London on the tube network would be greatly appreciated and I should be grateful if the routing of the Jubilee line to include Greenwich could be further considered.
Mr. Parkinson : I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks. I think that all hon. Members will agree that south London is badly served by the Underground. As she knows, the ground there makes tunnelling difficult and that is why most of the tube network is concentrated in north London. I have no decision about the Jubilee line, but I too like the prospect of it going south of the river to the Greenwich peninsula. That, plus an extension of the docklands light railway to Lewisham, which is another possibility, would link that part of south London into the Underground system. That is badly needed and would contribute a great deal to the relief of congestion.