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Column 329reconsider his position so that we can have a fair comparison when judging the investment criteria of the two Departments?
On subsidies, it is clear that there is a link between subsidies and the quality of service. I have given the authority for saying that and quoted my own direct experience. The Secretary of State argues, "Why should we subsidise services that are overcrowded?" We have a pricing policy which seems to be geared to driving people off the trains and on to our congested roads. We know the consequences and cost to the economy of congestion. We know the environmental cost of exhaust emissions of more people going by car. It must be desirable to subsidise rail services. Network South East will soon be the only urban rail network in Europe and North America which operates without any public subsidy.
It is generally accepted that our fares are too high. In railway transportation it is not possible to secure all the operating and investment costs from the fare box and it is nonsense to attempt to do so. No other country has achieved that. Investment is absolutely crucial. There has been chronic underfunding throughout the 1980s. In both Labour and Tory Governments the Treasury's influence was such that the Government took a short-term view of long-term investment.
Mr. Prescott : I have said it constantly. The Minister should look at the record. The last bulge in investment was in 1955. In various Governments, the Treasury has taken the view that investment could be put off and trains could be made to last longer. Now we have the bunching of investment. [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] Investment is crucial and necessary but it means that we did not have a sustained level of investment in British Rail over a long period. [Interruption.] Yes, it is bunching. We are investing today because of a bunching of investment requirements. I cannot argue with the fact that there is an investment programme. I fully accept it. It is hard to deny that a £3.5 billion investment programme is going on. [Interruption.] Of course there is investment. The engines and coaches are 25 and 30 years old. They cannot go any longer. Investment has to be made. Before Conservative Members start cheering I shall tell them the problem with the programme. Does any Conservative Member know of any industry that tries to cover a 30-year replacement programme in a few years and obtain all the money from the fare box? It is nonsense. It is not done anywhere. It puts the penalties on the passengers.
France, Germany and Holland are investing far more in the railway revolution that is sweeping through Europe.
Column 330Throughout the 1980s, the French have invested heavily in developing the TGV and suburban networks. Some 30 per cent. of the cost of TGV and electrification schemes are met by Government grants. The Governments give capital as well as revenue grants to the railway system. We should recognise that the same is critical for our system.
If we are to have a railway system that is modern and meets the freight requirements of our industry and travelling public we shall have to find more investment for it--and larger sums than those available at present.
There are different ways and different priorities in financing such measures. We would not follow the crazy road programme that the Government have embarked upon-- [Interruption.] Yes, it is crazy because all that it has done is to transfer the money that has been saved from the public service obligation for railways across to the road programme. The Government have doubled the road programme at the expense of the rail passengers at the very time when we want people to come out of their cars and to use the railway system. That is the craziness of the Government's policy.
At the same time, the Government have ignored passenger accountability. Passengers feel helpless and the quality of the service is declining. I note that the Secretary of State is talking about a "passenger service charter". I am glad to see that he is pinching some of the ideas of the Labour policy document that we sent to the Secretary of State. That is not the first idea that he has pinched from Labour's transport programme and it will not be the last. However, we welcome that because it means an improvement. If the Secretary of State really wants to help the passengers he will have to do something about the fares and about greater public financial support for the railways. I give him another bit of advice--he should establish an independent body so that passengers can complain about what is happening. We shall set one up under the auspices of a public interest commissioner, who will have the Power to investigate British Rail independently, allow passengers to make complaints, award compensation against British Rail for its failures, and give passengers a real chance to exercise their grievances. A modern railway system needs additional public financial support, and such a system is absolutely crucial if we are to relieve the congestion that is a major cost to our economy and to do anything about environmental problems. That is not an eastern European solution. It is a good, sensible solution that has been adopted by most western European countries, which have far better transport systems than we have.
congratulates the Government on developing a balanced transport policy which recognises the economic importance to the United Kingdom of its rail, road and air network ; welcomes the biggest programme of investment in British Rail for 25 years and the massive increase in investment in London Underground which will relieve congestion and meet the increased demand which is the result of the economic success
Column 331of the United Kingdom ; welcomes the demanding quality of service objectives set by the Government ; welcomes the £1 billion which will be spent to ensure Britain's rail infrastructure is in place to service the Channel Tunnel when it opens in 1993 ; applauds the high priority that the Government gives to all matters of safety on transport ; and welcomes its recognition of the importance of the environment in transport policy.'.
We heard the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, (Mr. Prescott) at his characteristic worst, full of bluster and wild promises. He may not have read the speech made yesterday by his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in which she said that the Opposition were determined to avoid any commitments to any major public expenditure programmes. She subsequently said that transport was one of a number of priorities--I repeat, "one of".
In the past 24 hours, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has promised to repeal section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, and has said that a Labour Government would underwrite the cross-Channel link. I hope that he cleared that with Sam McCluskie, who will find out today that his favourite son is planning to subsidise the competitors of the ferries and hovercraft on which his members depend for their living-- [Interruption.] As I said, I hope that the hon. Gentleman cleared that with his friend Sam ; otherwise, he might find tomorrow that he is no longer sponsored, which would be a terrible, terrible shock. The hon. Gentleman also made a series of wild remarks, implying that the subsidy under Labour is bound to increase enormously and that it will be centrally funded.
Over and over again, we hear the hon. Gentleman whingeing. It is not for nothing that he is called the prince of whingers in his time. It is not for nothing that he is universally distrusted and, if I may say so, fairly widely disliked. It is not for nothing that neither we nor the country take him seriously.
The hon. Gentleman made a modest claim tonight. He said that it was as a result of the Labour party's efforts that transport has suddenly become an important subject. I shall tell him why transport is an important subject--
Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Gentleman should check Hansard. Transport has become an important subject because, under a Conservative Government, this country has enjoyed 10 years of substantial economic growth. On the personal level, the net result is that 5 million more motor cars are now on the roads ; two thirds of families in this country now own a family car, and 20 per cent. own more than one.
There has been a huge increase in economic activity, which has resulted in a great increase in the movement of freight and commercial traffic around our country. In London alone, there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the use of light commercial vans. I do not know of any plans--even by the hon. Gentleman--for getting light commercial vehicles on to buses, which seems to be the hon. Gentleman's answer to pretty well everything else. There has also been a huge increase in the number of people travelling by rail, air and road as the country has become more prosperous.
Another factor is that the Government have been determined to avoid the mistakes of their predecessors,
Column 332who set out on ambitious programmes that they could not sustain, running the country into an economic mess and subsequently slashing all the capital investment programmes on which they had embarked. We were determined that that would not happen. As the country has become more prosperous, so the investment programmes, right across the whole spectrum of the infrastructure, have been improved.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : The Secretary of State has made great play of the importance of those economic benefits to the whole community. Will he therefore tell me why there is such deep concern in my part of the country, where there is no clear investment programme on either the roads or the railways that would ensure that we in the north-east and in the highlands and islands of Scotland can benefit from 1992? What are his Government's direct plans for Scotland to ensure that we have the road and rail network that we merit?
Mr. Parkinson : As the hon. Lady knows, roads in Scotland are the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. However, the train system in Scotland is my responsibility and a substantial investment programme is planned for ScotRail. A huge subsidy is being spent to maintain the rail system. The Government accept the need to maintain that system--
As a result of the country's increased prosperity--I am glad that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, started to admit that--there has been a huge increase in investment across the whole spectrum of our infrastructure. Our road programmes are running at a high level. Investment in the Underground, at £400 million per year, is at twice the level when the Labour party controlled it through the Greater London council. Next year, that figure will increase to 3.5 times the amount that was spent in 1984-85. We are also investing the highest amount for over 25 years on the rail network. The investment programme for the past three years represents a 26 per cent. increase over the previous three years and, as I have said, 1989-90 represents a record level of investment in British Rail.
Mr. Foulkes : Is the Secretary of State aware that, in spite of active representations from an all-party delegation, which included his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), his right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), several of my hon. Friends, and hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland, British Rail is to go ahead with cutting the last sleeper service between Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland and Euston? That has tremendous political implications for Northern Ireland and south-west Scotland. The local authorities have come up with some resources to advertise and promote the service, and there is a great possibility that it will be made economic. Will the Secretary of State
Column 333intervene personally, look at the case, and talk to the chairman of British Rail to see whether that vital service can be saved? If he does, he will gain a great deal of good will from hon. Members of all parties.
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I am so glad that InterCity is profitable. However, should it remove one of the last rail links between London and Ireland just because it is the least profitable of British Rail services? British Rail has a duty to keep the main InterCity routes going.
Mr. Parkinson : The service was withdrawn because it was not being used. I have never known what benefit it is to the public to keep a service going when the public do not want to use it. Running empty trains up and down the railway may give some people satisfaction, but I cannot see what good it does the public or the railways. The Government's policy on transport is straightforward and clear. It is to develop a balanced policy to improve all aspects of our transport arrangements. We have steadily built up two substantial programmes across the spectrum. For example, as a result of the "Roads for Prosperity" White Paper, the Government have recognised the need to improve the national road system. In spite of predictions from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and others about our lack of success in negotiations with the Treasury, this year we won a roads programme of £5.7 billion over the next three years--a 50 per cent. increase in real terms, which gives us a major programme. Hon. Members talk about the Channel tunnel and getting freight on to rail, but the Channel tunnel will be capable of handling only about 3 per cent. of our exports--97 per cent. of our exports will still have to leave this country by the traditional routes of ports and airports. The road system connecting those ports is a vital part of maintaining Britain's prosperity.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has at last admitted that the Government have approved the biggest ever investment programme for British Rail--£3.7 billion over the next three years--and £2.2 billion for the Underground. Other major public transport investment will be made. We have a record programme for the improvement of airports. Our air traffic control system will have £600 million invested in it to improve the capacity of our airways. Right across the spectrum, the Government are showing, in a controlled and sensible way, that they recognise the nation's transport problems and are making the investment to deal with them. We differ from the Opposition because we do not believe that strategic planners, drawing up strategic transport plans, are the people to determine the future of our transport system. They have an almost unenviable record of getting it consistently wrong. If the transport system is modernised, the public will be capable of making the choice about which transport method best suits it.
Mr. Adley : Let us not discuss the weather in Scotland. When there were floods a year ago and the Inverness rail bridge was washed away, the damage done to the roads in that area was paid for by the taxpayer. However, British Rail was expected to pay from its own revenue for the repair of the railway bridge. Is that a fair and equal comparison between road and rail?
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) rose --
Mr. Parkinson : I shall not give way, because the hon. Gentleman will have the chance to make his own usual boring say towards the end of the debate. I do not see why I should make way for him now. Mr. Snape rose --
Madam Deputy Speaker Order. I can hear only one hon. Member at a time.
Mr. Parkinson : I shall deal with the argument about the lack of public contribution to investment. ScotRail receives a subsidy that represents more than 70 per cent. of the costs. The passengers on ScotRail contribute less than 30 per cent. Therefore, the taxpayer is making a substantial contribution to ScotRail.
Opposition Members have been making great play about the level of this year's fare increases. The fare increases on British Rail are 8 to 8.5 per cent. and on London Regional Transport they are just over 9 per cent. There is one record that no Government will wrest from the Labour party. In 1975, the Labour Government increased fares by 50 per cent. in a single year. In no year under the Labour Government was any fares increase less than double figures--except, for some reason, the one that took place two months before the 1979 general election.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East has suddently become the great friend of the long-distance commuter, who pays about 40 per cent. of the standard fare to travel at peak hours. He pays less than the cheapest off- peak fare. That was regarded as unsatisfactory by British Rail, and last year it proposed that, over a three-year period, the discount should be reduced--not eliminated--from about 60 to 40 per cent.-- [Hon. Members : -- "Why?"] Because it is unfair to the rest of the travelling public to have heavily subsidised fares for people travelling in peak hours.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, in his normal wide-awake fashion, cottoned on to this two years late. It was announced two years ago, but it took him by surprise when the second stage was announced this week.
The long-distance commuter, of whom there are 18,000, will still receive a substantial discount, but it will be smaller. His fares increase this year will be about 13.75 per cent. Another advantage for long-distance commuters is that they can choose when to pay the increase. Most of them, having more sense than the hon. Gentleman, trade in their season tickets a day before the fares go up, and
Column 335travel for an extra year at the lower rate. If the hon. Gentleman has no group to worry about than that one, he is a lucky man. Through the whole of the hon. Gentleman's argument runs the theme that fares should not have gone up. That would have meant that British Rail's losses would be increased, because it does not make a profit. If the fares had not gone up but the expenses had, the losses would have gone up, and therefore the taxpayers' contribution would have gone up because there are only two sources of revenue. The hon. Gentleman backs every wage claim that is made, and wages represent 60 per cent. of the expenditure.
I shall quote a remark made by a more enlightened Labour Transport Secretary who had some experience of Government and running an organisation. The following statement was issued by the Labour Government in a Command Paper in 1977 :
"subsidies transfer the cost of a service from the traveller to the taxpayer or the ratepayer, and the traveller is often a taxpayer or ratepayer himself. To use subsidies to disguise from people the cost of the services they are paying for is pointless, and to subsidise richer people at the expense of poorer is perverse."
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) rose--
Mr. Parkinson : It was the Labour Government. If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about government, he would know that White Papers are issued in the name of the Government collectively. That was presumably the voice of the Labour Government. At the time, the hon. Gentleman was scrubbing around on the Back Benches, and many people think that he was at his best in those days.
Increasing British Rail's losses, increasing its subsidy at the taxpayers' expense or cutting investment would not be a sensible way forward. British Rail's services need to be improved, and the farepayers should make a contribution. There should be massive investment programmes. They are in place and they are being sustained. They will produce a better service, because British Rail will have better equipment at its disposal. We have set it service objectives that are designed to ensure that the passenger has a better deal--better punctuality, more cleanliness and more regular services.
I found it objectionable that the hon. Gentleman should complain about the decline in British Rail's standards and its record last year. In the four previous years, British Rail had a record of improved punctuality and service.
Column 336wasteful strike that ruined British Rail's reputation, cost British Rail £70 million and put at risk investment and jobs. The hon. Gentleman tacitly supported that strike throughout. The hon. Gentleman complains about an effect, the cause of which he supported.
Mr. Parkinson : We listened to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East with no surprise but with a growing marvel at his nerve. He represented a Government who presided over British Rail's decline, who increased its losses, reduced its investment and saw the number of passengers go down.
It is under a Conservative Government that investment has gone in, performance standards have been set, new equipment has been bought, new signalling systems installed and stations modernised and lengthened. We shall preside over an improvement in a system over whose decline the Labour Government presided and which many believe they sponsored. I invite the House to reject the Opposition's insolent, ill-informed and aggressive motion, and to support the Government's amendment.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) on initiating the debate, which comes at a particularly opportune time to consider the bleak future facing Britain's rail passengers and railway workers. I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent exposure of the failure of the Government's transport policies in general and railway policy in particular.
The Government's amendment is a huge joke to any regular traveller. The Government want to be congratula-ted on developing a balanced transport policy, but what they have developed is balanced chaos in our rail, road and air networks. Passengers are crammed in like sardines on London Regional Transport's Underground and on many British Rail routes, paying ever-increasing fares which are arguably the dearest in the world, and worrying more and more about safety on trains and platforms--especially on platforms which are unmanned in order to save money.
Sir David Mitchell (Hampshire, North-West) : When the hon. Gentleman speaks about overcrowding on the London Underground, should he not take into account the fact that we have the largest number of people in work in our history and we cannot have that without a massive increase in the number of passengers? That is what is causing the overcrowding, not a reduction in the number of trains or inactivity by LRT. It is congested because many more people are travelling.
Congestion on our roads is bringing many of our city centres and many lengths of our motorway system to a
Column 337grinding halt, at a cost of billions of pounds. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say how many billions of pounds congestion on our roads costs the nation.
We also have overcrowded airports. Heathrow has insufficient terminal capacity to meet the demand and the delays caused by air traffic control problems which resulted from a lack of investment in air travel control infrastructure between 1979 and 1987. I defy the Secretary of State to deny that that is the case. He cannot do so.
Mr. Bermingham : The Secretary of State would not give way to me, but my hon. Friend has given me the opportunity to intervene while he is still here. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State, who talks of balance, shows no balance when considering the charges for the Mersey tunnel? Apparently, the Humber bridge's debts are to be written off by the Government because they must not fall on the local community charge payers, many of whom live in Tory constituencies. However, the cost of the Mersey tunnel will fall on the Merseyside community charge payers at a cost of £8 per head per year. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State shows a complete lack of balance?
Mr. Marshall : Of course. I would go even further and say that there is an unanswerable case for the removal of charges on all estuarial crossings and toll bridges in Britain. I look forward to the day when such tolls are removed.
The present investment programme in British Rail is welcome, but the tragedy is that there was no such programme between 1979 and 1987. There was nothing like the accelerated programme of the past two years. During those previous years, many of today's and tomorrow's problems were created as a result of the Government's deliberate lack of investment.
Sir David Mitchell : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that during the years to which he is referring British Rail was given consent for the biggest investment programme since steam gave way to diesel? Can he deny that? If that is true, does it not make nonsense of the point that he is trying to make?
Mr. Marshall : No, I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The Government underinvested in public transport, particularly in the railways, during those years. It is only now, because of the huge public concern about transport safety and the realisation that votes may be lost on transport issues, that the Government are committing those resources and additional investment to the railways. The public expenditure White Paper shows that the growth in passengers on LRT has almost completely tailed off over the past three years. That growth was largely generated by travelcards, sales of which have now evened off.
On 7 June 1989 the chairman and chief executive of LRT and his chief officials appeared before the Select Committee on Transport, which I have the privilege to chair. The Committee was astonished to be told that the Underground in central London was so near to an intolerable level of overcrowding that fares would have to be increased to curb growth in passenger demand.
Column 338That is the exact opposite of what public transport should be about. It was also made clear to the Committee that there could be no major expansion of capacity until well into the mid-1990s or late 1990s. If that is not an abject admission of the failure of the policies of the past 10 years, I do not know what is. The Committee was so concerned about the position that it took the unusual step of publishing a report after that single sitting.
When the Secretary of State appeared before the Select Committee recently, he was very dismissive of road pricing, which could take some cars off the road and compel people to use public transport. The right hon. Gentleman felt that that was a highly unattractive option. Why is a policy of pricing people off public transport, such as London Underground proposes to cope with overcrowding, seen as an attractive option? Such a policy can only lead to people being forced to use already overcrowded roads. Why should one option be unattractive to the Secretary of State but a comparable policy, apparently attractive to LRT's chairman, be deemed attractive?
Mr. Parkinson : It is not part of Government policy to drive people either off the roads on to the Underground, or off the Underground on to the roads. If the hon. Gentleman will study Underground fares, he will see that that is the case, because they have not been increased in real terms for 10 years. They have on British Rail but not on the Underground. I repeat, it is no part of our policy to price people off the Underground.
Mrs. Dunwoody : The right hon. Gentleman's Department made that appointment. That chairman then told the Select Committee that LRT could not cope with the increase in the number of passengers and would price them off the Underground. When he was asked to reveal with which financial theory such a policy accorded, he was unable to answer, so we assumed that the source of that policy was the Department.
Mr. Marshall : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point much more succintly than I could have done. I invite the Secretary of State and other Government Members to read the Committee's second report of last year.
Following that meeting of the Select Committee, on 12 June, in a parliamentary reply the former Secretary of State said that he would have to hear convincing arguments from LRT before agreeing to pricing the public off the Underground. Is that the present Secretary of State's policy? Does it apply also to British Rail? In some ways the right hon. Gentleman answered those questions with his earlier intervention. Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister for Public Transport, when he winds up, will give an example of what he considers to be a convincing argument. Is it not the case that there will be a 33 per cent. cut in InterCity's subsidy by 1992-93, and that consultants considering public transport alternatives to