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House of Commons

Monday 15 January 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of London (Various Powers) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read .

To be considered on Thursday .

Buckinghamshire County Council Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read .

To be considered on Wednesday, at Seven o'clock .

London Local Authorities Bill

[Lords](By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read .

To be considered on Thursday .

Medway Tunnel Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read .

To be read a Second time on Thursday .

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Oral Answers to Questions


Central Line

1. Mr. Arbuthnot : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what will be the total cost of re-equipping the Central line.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : The Central line is to be re-equipped with new trains that will carry more people, it is to have new signalling to enable more trains to be run and it will be thoroughly modernised. This investment will cost about £720 million.

Mr. Arbuthnot : My hon. Friend's answer shows that the Government are fully committed to improving the Central line, and it will be much welcomed in my constituency of Wanstead and Woodford. My hon. Friend has dealt with the long-term solutions to the problem of the Central line, but does he accept that short-term interim improvements are needed, particularly to the signalling and track? Is he able to give any good news about that?

Mr Portillo : I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I agree with him that my answer demonstrates the Government's long-term commitment to improving the Central line. We have brought forward the order for trains to the earliest possible date so that they will be running in 1992. More staff and trains need to be available to improve the reliability of the service. More staff will be available on stations to look after passengers. I am particularly keen that the escalators should be available for use more regularly. That point is covered in the objectives that have been set for London Regional Transport.

Mr. Tony Banks : As the Minister knows, the Central line rattles through my constituency to Stratford station, and more often than not stops there. How much of the new investment is Government money as opposed to internally generated LRT money? Furthermore, will the long-awaited and much -welcomed proposals to improve the

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Central line take into account the possibility of Stratford being used as the site for the second London terminal of the Channel tunnel link?

Mr. Portillo : If Stratford became the second London terminal, there might have to be some reappraisal, but the hon. Gentleman knows that a further £1 billion is to be invested to extend the Jubilee line to Stratford. There will, therefore, be additional capacity at Stratford in any case. It is also one of the candidates for a new railway line in the shape of the east-west cross rail link. The hon. Gentleman's point about Government subsidy gives me the opportunity to say that over the next three years Government subsidy to LRT will rise by 113 per cent. As a former chairman of the Greater London council, the hon. Gentleman will know that already the investment on London Underground is double what it was in his day as chairman of the GLC.

Mr. Harry Greenway : Is my hon. Friend aware of press reports that Central line and other London Underground drivers have been asked to switch off electricity to save it, thereby saving money? Will he confirm whether those press reports are true? If they are true, how much money is saved, who gains it and is it safe to switch off in that way?

Mr. Portillo : I read the reports to which my hon. Friend referred, but I am afraid that I cannot help him. I do not know whether the reports are accurate. I am not responsible for the day-to-day management of London Underground. The plans for the Central line include a 16 per cent. increase in capacity and a 12 per cent. reduction in journey times. Whatever may be going on at the moment, electricity is being saved. The long-term objective is to carry more passengers more quickly on the Central line.

Ms. Ruddock : Does not the Minister acknowledge that LRT would have liked substantially more money to be made available to it by the Government? Is it not a fact that the investment plans for the Central line and other parts of the Underground system may be delayed or cancelled because of the lack of and the cuts in Government support, as is happening currently over the investment that British Rail has sought but has failed to get from the Government?

Mr. Portillo : The hon. Lady surprises me. There has been no cut in Government support for LRT. There has been an enormous increase. I repeat, in case she had difficulty hearing me a few moments ago, that there will be a 113 per cent. increase in the Government grant during the next three years. LRT may wish more money, but it must recognise that those are record sums. Any child who goes into a sweet shop learns that what he wants is not what he can have. The Government have been generous in providing extra money to LRT.

London Regional Transport

2. Mr. Summerson : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much his Department invested in London Regional Transport for 1989-90.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Cecil Parkinson) : Government grant to London Regional Transport for 1989-90 is £287 million. That will enable

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LRT to invest approximately £400 million- -a 60 per cent. increase in real terms since 1984 when the GLC had responsibility for funding.

Mr. Summerson : Those are impressive figures. In view of the unprecedented increase in the number of passengers carried by LRT in the past few years, will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will make further sums available to LRT, so that it may enhance and improve services to the people of London in the next few years?

Mr. Parkinson : Yes, in our present plans we have announced an investment programme of more than £2.2 billion for the next three years, and we have announced that, as a result of the central London rail study, we shall come to Parliament with proposals for another line in November this year. Therefore, the figure of £2.2 billion excludes the substantial investment that is likely to take place in additional lines. That makes an all-time record of investment for London transport.

Mr. Leighton : Is it not a scandal and a disgrace that, after 10 years of Conservative Government, the situation on the Underground is so bad that fares are being deliberately pushed up by well above the rate of inflation to discourage people from using it, which is pushing more people on to the congested roads? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not invest in cross-rails from north to south, and east to west, and a line from Heathrow, through Paddington and Oxford Circus, to Stratford in the east end of London?

Mr. Parkinson : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the central London rail study made three suggestions. The first was the upgrading of the existing lines--£1.5 billion has been earmarked for that over the next three years. Secondly, it suggested an east-west cross-rail link. Thirdly, it said that a line from Chelsea to Hackney should be considered. As we have already told the House, one of those lines will go ahead, and we shall come forward with proposals in the autumn. We have also pointed out--and if the hon. Gentleman took a little more interest he would know--that we do not believe that London can stand the simultaneous construction of the Jubilee line, the east-west cross-rail and the Chelsea to Hackney line. They might make London a better place in 10 years, but they would make it impossible in the intervening period.

Road Construction

3. Mr. Stern : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any proposals to shorten the period between the announcement of a road and its construction.

Mr. Parkinson : We have set targets for reducing the average time taken to progress a scheme from start of preparation work to opening for traffic by four years. In introducing the changes, we have taken care to ensure that the rights of interested parties will not be affected.

Mr. Stern : I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that one of the ways in which implementation can be brought forward is by the earliest possible consultation with all interested and affected parties, rather than waiting for the inquiry? Does he agree that one way of bringing forward the Avonmouth relief road in my constituency would be to instruct the

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Department of Transport to talk to the owners and tenants of houses affected by the overhead section at the earliest possible date, in the hope that an alternative route might be found?

Mr. Parkinson : As my hon. Friend knows, the consultation period on the Avonmouth relief road has ended. We expect to make an announcement on the agreed route of the proposed road in the spring. After that, statutory procedures will have to be followed because it is vital that people whose rights may be affected should have the right to make representations. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend knows that I shall bear his comments in mind.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : May I remind the Secretary of State that it is nearly 20 years since the Government announced their intention to build a motorway around the east side of Manchester, in which time less than half of it has been built? It now finishes in Denton in my constituency and does not continue to Middleton, which is causing difficult conditions for people on the old road. Will he speed up its completion and ensure that we have a motorway around the east side of Manchester as soon as possible?

Mr. Parkinson : I shall look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I thank him for underlining something that does not always seem to be understood by many Labour Members--that roads will play a vital part in Britain's future transport infrastructure.

Mr. Higgins : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the present arrangements for compensating those whose property values are affected by the announcement of a preferred route are grossly unfair? As I understand it, at present, those who are in the line of a route cannot claim compensation until two years after the road has been completed. Is that not totally unfair and unjust, and what will my right hon. Friend do about it?

Mr. Parkinson : My right hon. Friend has touched on an important point. I am not convinced that the present arrangements are satisfactory. I believe that there is great concern among those who could be affected, and we must find better ways of dealing with the problem than we have at present. I have the point firmly on board.

Traffic Delays

4. Mr. Hardy : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is his estimate of the total value of the extra fuel used by motor vehicles in the United Kingdom due to delays in 1989.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins) : While accurate estimates are not possible, road congestion clearly increases fuel consumption, which must be a wasteful use of resources.

Mr. Hardy : Does the Minister accept that the volume of fuel consumed by stationary or almost stationary vehicles must soon equal the total that was consumed by freely moving vehicles not all that many years ago? Will he study the matter to arrive at an estimate of the cost of those delays and the other consequencies of traffic congestion and traffic thrombosis, which are experienced on almost every long car journey throughout the country?

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Mr Atkins : I defer to the hon. Gentleman's mathematical genius in doing such a calculation. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said earlier, that demonstrates the need for improved, wider and, where necessary, new roads, which is part and parcel of the Government's policy.

Mr Amos : My hon. Friend recently visited the north-east--we were very pleased to see him--so I am sure that he is aware of the amount of fuel that is wasted by drivers travelling from London to the north-east on the A1. Can he offer me and my constituents any hope that the A1 will be improved to motorway standard within the foreseeable future?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is a doughty supporter of the new requirements for the A1, and I give him credit for that. He will know that we are devoting much time, effort and commitment to improving the A1 and that we are giving much consideration to its conversion to a motorway between London and Newcastle. As he well knows, the problems involve several local people on either side of the A1, and they must be taken into account. My hon. Friend was right to raise the matter in the terms that he did.

British Rail

5. Mr. Butler : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail ; and what was discussed.

Mr. Parkinson : I last met the chairman of British Rail on 13 December, when a wide variety of rail topics were discussed.

Mr. Butler : Will my right hon. Friend tell me what British Rail's investment plans are for the next few years? Does he believe that its provision is adequate nationally and in the north-west?

Mr. Parkinson : Over the next three years, British Rail plans to invest £3.7 billion in the network, which, as Sir Robert Reid mentioned in his very interesting speech, represents a doubling of investment from when he began his job. It is a record level of investment, and, in his own words, is,

"practically as much as we can manage."

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does not the Secretary of State accept that rail commuters, wherever they live, are entitled to parity of services? Is he aware of British Rail's ludicrous proposal in my area to remove the Super Sprinters from the Inverness to Aberdeen route, to resolve some little local difficulties elsewhere in the network? Does he therefore accept the need for investment to cover the whole country, to ensure that some regions do not benefit at the expense of others? Will he look into that ridiculous proposal?

Mr. Parkinson : I shall happily look into that matter on behalf of the hon. Lady and write to her. One difficulty has been that much of the new rolling stock has failed to perform. British Rail has found itself in substantial difficulties, with new trains that do not meet the required specification.

Mr. Adley : Was there not something of a discrepancy between the recent speech by the chairman of British Rail and press reports of it? Given one of the points that the present chairman made about the need for assistance to

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complete an environmentally acceptable link from London to the Channel tunnel, can my right hon. Friend tell me whether the Government are unwilling to provide assistance or whether they believe that section 40 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 precludes them from doing so?

Mr. Parkinson : My hon. Friend has noticed what even The Observer noticed yesterday : the report of the speech and the speech bore little resemblance to each other. Sir Robert said that, at the end of his period as chairman, British Rail was in an unprecedented position of strength. His speech was widely misreported.

The Government's position on a fast link is clear. They committed themselves to ensuring that the existing infrastructure--road to rail-- would be improved to service the tunnel when it opened in 1993. The fast link is a private venture between British Rail and a private sector partner. The Government are precluded by section 40 from subsidising that line.

Mr. Snape : Does the Secretary of State accept that, according to the interpretation of at least such well-known Left-wing newspapers as the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, Sir Robert Reid's recent speech was a denunciation of the Government's investment policy? What proportion are the Government providing of the billions of pounds that are soon to be invested in British Rail? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, if he used the same cost-benefit analysis that he uses to justify the Government's road programme in order to electrify and modernise our railway network, Britain could have a railway system that is desirable as well as profitable?

Mr. Parkinson : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman reads the whole speech. He will find that Sir Robert pointed to the tremendous improvement in British Rail--69 million more passengers and record investment--and said that his successor would inherit a rail system that was infinitely better prepared for the 1990s than it was for the 1980s, when he took over. The Government will put in substantial parts of the programme.

Mr. Snape : How much?

Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has today tabled a question on that matter to the Treasury, and I shall not anticipate the answer. By the way, I should like to know where the hon. Gentleman is--this is the second Question Time in succession that he has missed. Perhaps he does not approve of televising the proceedings in the House and is making his protest. When the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) sees that answer, he will find that the investment is substantially funded from the public purse.

Traffic (London)

6. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received any representations on the implications of the traffic assessment studies for London on traffic congestion in the outer London boroughs following his statement on 14 December 1989, Official Report, columns 1184-1202.

Mr. Atkins : Not yet, but any such comments received by 28 February will, of course, be considered carefully.

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Mr. Dykes : I thank my hon. Friend and the Department for handling this matter flexibly and creatively. Does my hon. Friend agree that, after so much waiting, hesitation and uncertainty, it is essential that we proceed rapidly? Does my hon. Friend further agree that we could call Marsham street Robert Atkins avenue if he said that the period of consultation would be completed as rapidly as possible?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right to suggest that the proceedings have gone on too long and that there should be early completion of the consultation. I am grateful to him for his kind remarks, but of course I should defer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in these matters.

Mr. Chris Smith : The Minister will be aware that the proposals in the east London assessment study for a major highway from Archway through the heart of my constituency to King's Cross are causing my constituents enormous concern. Can he assure me that the consultation exercise, which ends on 28 February, is not simply a cosmetic exercise, that the Department will listen to the representations that are made and that, if it becomes obvious that the overwhelming majority of people in my constituency are opposed to the road going past their doorstep, he will abandon the proposals?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman is to raise the matter on the Adjournment later this week, and I look forward to debating it with him in detail then. He may or may not know that the Archway road saga and related developments have been going on since 1947, if not before. As someone who served on that local authority, I understand only too well the concerns about the Archway road. The hon. Gentleman's point about consultation was well made and I can assure him that any representations will be listened to most carefully and that, depending on what the consultations show, we shall take appropriate action.

Mr. Jessel : Would not traffic congestion on the west side of outer London be increased by the construction of a fifth terminal at Heathrow?

Mr. Atkins : I know that that subject is dear to my hon. Friend's heart. He could possibly tempt me into making a long comment about it ; suffice it to say that his views are well known and that we shall consider them carefully when we consider the question overall.

British Rail

7. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has had with the chairman of British Rail concerning freight facilities in south Wales.

Mr. Portillo : In December Ministers were given a presentation on British Rail's plans for rail services between the Channel tunnel and every region of the country. Those plans envisage a major terminal in south Wales.

Mr. Hughes : May I draw the Minister's attention to the importance of the area bordering the proposed second Severn crossing? Does he appreciate the fact that local interests are now calling for the reopening of closed railway stations and for more extensive use of existing

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stations, for park-and-ride facilities, for a rail terminal and for the electrification of the main lines from Paddington to south Wales? Will the Minister assure the House that he fully realises the importance of the area stretching all the way along the coast to Newport?

Mr. Portillo : Certainly, British Rail recognises the importance of the area and that is why, in its plans for the Channel tunnel, it has included a freight terminal somewhere between Newport and Cardiff. The exact location is yet to be determined. British Rail recognises the importance of the development for passengers, too. It envisages services connecting south Wales to Waterloo to give passengers an easy interchange with the international services and so that there can be night passenger services direct from south Wales to the continent. In all those respects, British Rail recognises the vital part that south Wales has to play in the post-1992 European structure.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Pembroke dock in my constituency, at the end of the west Wales railway line, is conducting an increasing amount of trade with Ireland and Spain. Will the Minister bear in mind the merits of a terminal in that region so that we can take advantage of the increasing trade in 1992?

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend would expect me to reply that, if private sector elements wish to develop the dock further and if trade is available from Ireland, through Wales to the United Kingdom, we shall look favourably on investors coming forward with proposals. I am sure that British Rail will want to play its part in any such venture.

Mr. Anderson : Did the Minister note reports published over the weekend of a Belgian study showing that the older industrial areas of the United Kingdom, such as south Wales, could become increasingly marginalised as a result of European Community developments unless there is major investment in infrastructure? Will the Minister look at the implications for new freight terminals and acknowledge that the regional implications of European Community developments are properly a matter for central Government and not just British Rail, and that central Government should be co-ordinating regional arrangements to deal with the impact of the EC?

Mr. Portillo : The whole of the United Kingdom is at one extremity of the European Community and the issue therefore arises about our becoming peripheral in some sense to Europe. As the hon. Gentleman knows, train services between south Wales and the south-east of England are extremely good. He may know also that Britain has more train services running at more than 100 mph than any other European country except France. We already have a very high standard of infrastructure use and British Rail has expressed its wish to develop that further.

Network SouthEast

8. Mr. Moate : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much Network SouthEast plans to spend in the next three years.

Mr Parkinson : Network SouthEast has plans to invest some £1.2 billion between 1990-91 and 1992-93. This represents an increase of about 30 per cent. in real terms over the previous three-year period.

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Mr Moate : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the long-suffering commuters of the south-east are entitled to a much fairer deal than they have received in recent years in terms of restraints on prospective fare increases and travelling in comfort? With regard to the latter, when can we expect delivery of the new rolling stock that we have long been promised?

Mr Parkinson : In August I approved an order for £257 million worth of new rolling stock for the north Kent lines. The first of those trains will come into service in January 1992. I expect to receive an additional application for further investment for the 471 series trains which will serve my hon. Friend's constituency, and they will come into service a year later.

Mr Dunn : In considering Network SouthEast, will my right hon. Friend undertake to make representations to British Rail to the effect that all interested parties should be involved in the process of policy and decision-making leading up to the final delineation of the high-speed link through Kent to south-east London so that there will be no loss of service in Network SouthEast as a result of the development of that link--if and when it takes place?

Mr Parkinson : British Rail recognises that its early handling of that issue and consultation with the public left something to be desired. It also recognises that Network SouthEast is one of the fastest-growing networks in terms of passengers, with a 25 per cent. increase over the past five years. British Rail recognises that additional capacity will be needed, and that is one reason why the high-speed link is under consideration.

Mrs. Dunwoody : The Secretary of State did not answer the question about the price of developments in the south-east. It is clear that passengers will not continue to pay high fares for poor accommodation. Will the Secretary of State accept that too many passengers throughout British Rail's network are paying for almost the entire investment programme?

Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Lady's latter assertion is not true. During the past five years, the subsidy has been reduced, the income of the system has risen and investment has increased enormously. We now have more passengers while the system is less heavily subsidised, and passengers are using an improving service. I believe that that is the right way forward, not the Labour party's policy of subsidies to passengers and no investment.

Heathrow and Gatwick

9. Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to auction aircraft slots at Heathrow and Gatwick airports to the highest bidder.

The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : My right hon. Friend has no such plans. He is awaiting advice from the Civil Aviation Authority on how the price mechanism might be used to make the most effective use of airport capacity.

Mr. Steen : In the light of the link-up between Air France and UTA at the weekend, which will give Air France control over all domestic flights in France and regional and international flights, and in the light of the non-aggression pact between Lufthansa and Air France, is my right hon. Friend aware that two blocs will emerge

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--Air France and Lufthansa together and British Airways, Sabena and KLM--which will control 60 per cent. of the slots at Heathrow? Is he also aware that, as a result, British Midland Airways, which was granted seven licences by the Civil Aviation Authority to fly to Europe, cannot use any of them because of the absence of slots at Heathrow? What will my right hon. Friend do about that in connection with the Government's competition policy?

Mr. McLoughlin : My hon. Friend makes an important point. We are addressing ourselves to the matter, and we have asked the CAA to advise us so that we can ensure that smaller airlines receive equal opportunities to some of the larger ones.

Mr. Alfred Morris : To ease pressure at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, what progress are Ministers making in their negotiations with the United States about more transatlantic flights to and from Manchester airport? Is the Minister aware of the considerable urgency of that important issue?

Mr. McLoughlin : Indeed, I am. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met Secretary Skinner last week, and we are hopeful of the outcome of that meeting. We are aware of the important role that regional airports can play. During the past 10 years, the Government have made a considerable amount of money available to regional airports. There is nothing to stop regional airports attracting private sector involvement. which would provide greater user potential. Both Manchester and Birmingham airports issue scheduling rights.

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