(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 12 February atSeven o'clock.
1. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his response to the representations of British Midland and other carriers about the decline in passengers carried as a result of the Gulf war.
Mr. Dalyell : Given the many empty seats on aircraft as a result of the Gulf war and instructions from some famous companies in this country that their executives should not travel by air, do the Government intend to pass by on the other side of the road the first time a major carrier encounters financial difficulties and just say, "Hard luck, it is because of the Gulf war"?
Mr. Soames : Has my hon. Friend had time to see the proposals apparently emanating from the European Commission to provide subsidies for state-owned airlines which would put British Airways--now in the private sector--at a considerable disadvantage? Does my hon. Friend agree that such behaviour by the European Community would be profoundly unsatisfactory?
"airlines are to receive subsidies from their Governments, the details will have to be notified to the Commission. We will consider each case rapidly but will have to ensure that competition is not unduly distorted to the detriment of consumers and of airlines whose Governments do not think that giving subsidies is an appropriate response to current problems."
That is satisfactory to the Government.
Mr. Flynn : Does the Minister agree that, in addition to reducing the number of road casualties by between 15 and 30 per cent., speed-calming measures have the great advantage of recivilising the centres of many towns and villages by removing from them the menace of fast-moving traffic? However, we are not enjoying the full advantages of that due to certain ambiguities in the law about vertical and horizontal alignments. When will the Department clarify the position?
Sir Anthony Grant : Is my hon. Friend aware that, particularly in the current bad weather, the least calming feature of our roads is the outrageous exceeding of the speed limit by heavy goods vehicles? If, therefore, as earlier reported, my hon. Friend plans to reduce the speed of HGVs, that is to be welcomed. Will my hon. Friend also consider confiscation of vehicles that break the law? That would have a salutary effect on irresponsible employers.
Mr. Chope : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. Last Thursday we issued a consultation paper which, when implemented, will ensure that new heavy goods vehicles would have to to be fitted with limiters so that they could not exceed the maximum speed limit, as many do at present. In the prevailing weather conditions, many vehicles are going far in excess of an appropriate speed even though they may be within the speed limit.
Mr. Burns : Does my hon. Friend accept that, despite the improvements on the Liverpool to Chelmsford line in the past four years, many of my constituents are still concerned about the quality and standard of the service on that line? When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he explain to him that many of my constituents believe that British Rail should be legally bound to compensate those who have to put up with delays and an unacceptable level of service which are not due to adverse weather conditions or vandalism?
Mr. Freeman : I am aware of the problems on the line to which my hon. Friend referred. Indeed, I visited his constituency with him to learn of the problems first hand. Compensation for failure to deliver services properly is a matter for British Rail, not for Ministers. As a general
Column 597principle, the Government believe that fare increases in real terms should come into play only when there has been an improvement in the quality of service.
Mr. Spearing : May I draw the Minister's attention to British Rail's proposal to withdraw guards from trains on Network SouthEast, particularly on the dense network of commuter lines on the southern region? Will he read the speeches made on this topic in the debate on the Public Safety Information Bill last Friday and will he assure the House that the savings achieved by such a method have nothing to do with Government pressures on Network SouthEast? Will he let me know what proportion of savings in train movements such policies will achieve?
Mr. Freeman : I shall be glad to write to the hon. Gentleman with the information that he requests. I can give him the assurance that he seeks. Driver-only operation on the south-western lines, for instance, will not jeopardise safety but will enable more trains to be run. British Rail is suffering from a severe labour shortage and cannot recruit and retain drivers and guards. With driver-only operation and the completion of resignalling at Waterloo, constituencies served by British Rail in that quadrant of London will get a better and safer service.
Mr. Dunn : When my hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Rail, will he undertake to express the great concern of my constituents who were so adversely affected by the poor services offered by Network SouthEast at the end of last week and over the weekend? Will he make it plain that in 1991, snow on the line, frozen points and the quality of the snow itself are not good enough reasons for such poor performance?
Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the chairman's attention. I visited Waterloo and Victoria this morning and learned that about 45 per cent. of Network SouthEast's southern region trains had been running. Although the problems relate to the rolling stock, I share my hon. Friend's concern--and, presumably, the concern of the whole House--that British Rail should find itself in this position with relatively modern rolling stock.
Mr. Tony Banks : To what extent is it the fault of Network SouthEast that, apparently, it is the wrong kind of snow, automatic doors will not open and points get frozen, and to what extent is it the fault of the Government, who have been taking funds away from Newtwork SouthEast? The Government cannot wash their hands of responsibility for something as desperate as the failure of Network SouthEast to meet the natural demands of commuters in the present bad weather.
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman's analysis is not right. There is no indication that the serious problems with Network SouthEast services have anything to do with revenue subsidy, investment or pay. The problem appears to be related to the design of the rolling stock, some of which is relatively modern, and the Government and British Rail must learn the lessons of the past few days.
Mr. Andrew Bowden : When my hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Rail, will he remind him that the Brighton line is one of the most profitable in the country and urgently needs new rolling stock? Will my hon. Friend also tell the chairman that last week, in common with
Column 598many of my constituents, I spent five hours on a train from Victoria to Brighton with no heating, no corridors and no loo?
Mr. Freeman : Much though my hon. Friend may sometimes wish to do so, he will appreciate that he cannot hold Ministers directly responsible for the operation of British Rail. The Government have ensured a significant investment programme. This September, on the Kent inner services--my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) will be one of the beneficiaries of this--400 new coaches and longer platforms are to be introduced. Many other lines--including, for example, the Chiltern services and services to Oxford and Reading--will have new rolling stock. I do not have immediate good news about the Brighton line, but I certainly convey my hon. Friend's views to the chairman of British Rail.
Mr. Prescott : Is the Minister aware that only last week a report from his Department referred to a decline in reliability and punctuality and to carriages being dirtier and more overcrowded than they were last year? That is precisely what the Transport Users Consultative Committee has been saying, and it has linked the situation directly with the fact that the Government have reduced the public service obligation by hundreds of millions of pounds. When will the Minister recognise the connection, reverse that policy and give people in the south-east the chance of a decent railway system?
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman raises a number of points, presumably referring to 1989-90, when undoubtedly there were problems of unpunctuality and reliability, caused in part by a series of strikes on British Rail and London Underground. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the public service obligation. The Government firmly believe that it is much better to devote resources to investment than to revenue subsidy. That does not rule out a continuation of revenue subsidy, especially for regional railways, but investment is the key to improving the quality of service.
6. Mr. Fearn : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss through trains from areas north of London to the continent via the channel tunnel following its anticipated completion.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind : I last discussed channel tunnel services from north of London with the chairman of British Rail on 5 December. My hon. Friend the Minister of State discussed the matter with senior officials of British Rail last week.
Mr. Butler : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that existing connections to the north-west seem unable to cope in cold weather, even when such weather is predicted? When he next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he remind him that on Friday night hundreds of passengers were treated like cattle and waited for hours for
Column 599trains that never turned up, without adequate seating and in disgusting dirty conditions? In general, they were treated like muck.
Mr. Rifkind : I share my hon. Friend's concern about the general quality of service. It is important that if circumstances develop outwith the control of British Rail every effort should be made to inform passengers, especially those who are waiting on the platform, about what has gone wrong and the likelihood of their obtaining the rail services that they require so that, if necessary, they can make alternative arrangements.
Mr. Fearn : At a time when rail transport, especially to the north of England, needs to be efficient, does the Minister agree that the lack of direct trains to the continent and the fact that none are presently planned harms tourism in the north and north-west? When he next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he ask whether a special train can go from either Liverpool or Preston direct to the continent?
Mr. Rifkind : I understand that night services are intended from the north-west, but the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that at present British Rail does not propose any day services for that route. It is for British Rail to judge whether there would be sufficient demand for such services. We shall certainly draw to British Rail's attention the view of those who represent constituencies in the north-west that such a service would be useful, but it will be for British Rail to conclude whether the likely demand would justify such a service.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is a great deal of concern about rail connections to the north- west? Will he please tell us exactly what is being done to improve the west coast main line, both now and when the channel tunnel comes into being in 1992?
Mr. Rifkind : Improvement to the west coast main line is in British Rail's programme. My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to this matter because the major investment by British Rail in electrifying the east coast main line and its proposals for the west coast line are clearly important to all parts of the country north of London if they are to receive maximum benefit when the channel tunnel opens.
Mrs. Dunwoody : Will the Secretary of State break the habit of a lifetime and lay down some transport plans for the future? Will he remember that it is not only British Rail which is responsible when our transport services go wrong? Have the Government no responsibility not only for the lack of planning in relation to freight villages, but for freight traffic and movements between the north-west and the channel tunnel?
Mr. Rifkind : I should have thought that the hon. Lady would be the last to raise such subjects, given that the investment proposals for British Rail approved by the Government give it the highest level of investment that it has had for 30 years. Such was the dereliction of duty by the last Labour Government that we have had to spend some considerable effort on reversing that neglect. That is why British Rail now has its highest capital programme for investment since the begining of the 1960s.
Dr. Hampson : Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the chairman of British Rail to institute an inquiry into why, when the Government have allowed huge investment to improve the services from the north, the money has been invested in equipment which repeatedly fails? Will he also find out why, after hundreds of millions of pounds of investment in electrification, the line from Leeds to the south came to a total halt yesterday?
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this. His question refers to the brand new IC 225 rolling stock, which operates on the line from Leeds to London. The main problem occurred when snow was sucked into vents in the engine units causing overheating and preventing the trains from being used. It is a matter of considerable concern that brand new rolling stock, only recently introduced, should be incapable of dealing with the weather conditions of the past few days.
Mr. Prescott : Does the Secretary of State recognise that ranting on about investment levels and avoidance of responsibility on behalf of the Government led to the dismissal of the past two Secretaries of State? When British Rail brings forward its plans for an alternative route in March, is he prepared to consider them and make a recommendation on behalf of the Government, or will he simply ignore that responsibility and leave the decision to British Rail?
Mr. Rifkind : I notice the hon. Gentleman's sensitivity when reminded of the last Labour Government's dereliction of duty in relation to rail investment. We shall consider proposals for new rail investment on their merits. I expect to hear from British Rail, although I doubt whether that will be as early as March. When we get its proposals on the high-speed link, we shall consider them on their merits and respond in due course.
Mr. Freeman : Our policy is that Network SouthEast should reduce its reliance on subsidy, which is equivalent to about 10 per cent. of operating costs, in order to release more funds for investment in a higher quality service.
Sir Anthony Durant : When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of British Rail, will he discuss subsidy with him again, with a view to slowing down the rate of cut in that subsidy, bearing in mind the fall in passenger traffic and the terrible effects of the weather, about which we have already heard? I am particularly concerned about the Oxford line.
Mr. Freeman : Breaking even in 1992-93 is a target, not an obligation. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be reviewing, with British Rail, the achievability of that target in due course. We have already realised the need for higher safety expenditure and the downturn in revenue in the off peak and have increased the public service obligation by £100 million this year. We shall continue to be realistic and pragmatic.
Column 601greater public support to the railway industry, particularly to investment in Network SouthEast, because lack of investment is leading to a reduction in maintenance costs, which has the knock-on effect of reducing the safety margins under which the railways operate? Does the Minister accept that he is responsible for the investment problems of the railways and therefore for the lack of maintenance that goes with it?
Mr. Freeman : No, I do not accept that. First of all, it was not an arbitrary target when it was set in December 1989 by the previous Secretary of State. It reflected a gradual 10-year progress towards recovery of a higher proportion of operating expenses from the commuting passenger. The passenger now pays 90 per cent. of the operating costs on Network SouthEast, so I should have thought that moving to paying 100 per cent. would not involve an issue of principle. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will carefully consider any problems in achieving that which British Rail puts to him. Investment is at a record level. Network SouthEast will have £1.3 billion in the next three years, including the delivery of 700 new coaches. That is a creditable performance.
Mr. Adley : Is my hon. Friend aware that while some may consider his change of emphasis from target to obligation to be a retreat, for me it is an advance towards my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's recently announced intention of improving public services? Will my hon. Friend confirm that he does not regard subsidy as an alternative to investment? Is he aware that West Germany spends three times as much annually on investment than is spent here and six times as much on subsidy? Is he prepared to say, albeit quietly so that not many of us can hear, that the reduction in the public service obligation grant concomitant with the decline in services must be related?
Mr. Freeman : If my hon. Friend, with his long experience of railways, goes back 10 years he will recall that at the beginning of the 1980s the PSO grant was twice the present level--it was then over £1 billion and it is now £600 million--and investment was half the current level. There is a relationship, when we consider the public purse, between that which can be afforded by way of revenue subsidy and that which can be afforded by way of investment. The Government accept that for the foreseeable future regional railways will have to be subsidised. They knit together the fabric of rural Britain. I have already commented in great detail on Network SouthEast in response to an earlier question.
7. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the achievements of London Underground Ltd. against its performance objectives for escalator availability.
Mr. Freeman : Following the King's Cross fire, London Underground began a major programme of escalator renewal and improvement. It was asked to increase escalator availability from 78 to 86 per cent. by March 1992. In the last quarter of 1990, it achieved an overall availability of 85 per cent. Immediately following the King's Cross fire, the figure was 67 per cent.
Mr. Greenway : I am glad to hear of the improved availability of escalators, but also rather surprised. When my constituents and I use the London underground system we often find the escalators out of use. At Greenford station in my constituency the escalator has been out of use on three occasions in the past 18 months to two years, including six months during 1990. As that means elderly constituents of mine having to use the longest staircase on the London underground, will my hon. Friend ensure that the escalator at Greenford station is permanently available from now on?
Mr. Freeman : I am happy to go with my hon. Friend, at his convenience, to Greenford station. He would have found the escalator working this morning. London Underground's investment programme is a substantial one. It includes, for example, complete refurbishment and modernisation of the Angel station at a cost of £70 million, and the introduction of a new service on the Central line at a cost of £700 million. That is evidence of London Underground's massive investment programme, which includes the modernisation or replacement of escalators.
Mr. Cohen : Perhaps the Minister will meet Neil Gerrard, the Labour party's excellent prospective parliamentary candidate for Walthamstow, who keeps telling me that the escalators at Walthamstow Central on the Victoria line are repeatedly out of action. If the Minister will not meet Neil Gerrard, will he at least see the chairman of London Underground to ensure that the escalators at Walthamstow Central work reliably?
Mr. Gill : My hon. Friend will be aware of my belief that many of the problems which face London Buses, London Underground and British Rail are essentially management problems, due to the failure of management to manage their operations directly. What plans has he to restructure and streamline the management of these essential services?
Mr. Freeman : The management structure of London Underground Ltd. is moving in the direction that my hon. Friend wants, because it now has managers of individual lines and of groups of stations. As for British Rail, London Underground Ltd. and London Buses Ltd., I agree that their management must be reformed, reorganised and strengthened, so that it can get the most out of the generous increases in resources.
Ms. Ruddock : The Minister tries to reassure the House about London Underground, but is he unaware that it plans to cut 980 jobs? Astonishingly, 66 of those posts are for engineers who work on lifts and escalators. Will the Minister acknowledge London Underground's financial crisis, which is leading to cuts in services on six tube lines, the destaffing of stations and the postponement of the Northern line's much- needed refurbishment? Is not it time that the Minister gave more grant aid to prevent a total collapse of London underground services?
Mr. Freeman : I do not recognise that there is a total collapse of services, but I agree with the hon. Lady that London Underground has serious problems. The hon. Lady will find that many of the staff losses relate to the introduction of automatic ticket processing, which brings
Column 603a saving in booking office staff. The Northern line replacement has not been cut. It remains in the programme for the mid-1990s, after the Central line's £700 million programme has been completed. I challenge the hon. Lady on the question of mileage, because there have been no discernible mileage cuts in London underground services.
8. Mr. Haselhurst : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received regarding the advice from the Civil Aviation Authority on traffic distribution rules at London's airports.
Mr. Haselhurst : Has it been put to my right hon. and learned Friend that to abandon most of the traffic distribution rules, as the Civil Aviation Authority recommends, would place much greater pressure on scarce slots at Heathrow? That inevitably raises questions of capacity at the airport. Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Miami international airport, whose runway configuration is similar to that of Heathrow, manages 120 movements an hour, compared with about 80 at Heathrow?
Mr. Rifkind : The number of slots available relates to the capacity of the runway and terminal facilities. The traffic distribution rules relate to whether the Government should continue to insist, irrespective of capacity, that only certain airlines should be allowed to use Heathrow airport. The two issues are not connected, in the sense that a decision on the latter will have no consequences, so far as the Government are concerned, for the other issues that my hon. Friend mentioned.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the CAA has made it perfectly clear that if the traffic rules are changed as it suggests, there is a great possibility that domestic flights to and from Heathrow--such as those serving Aberdeen, Glasgow, Inverness and Newcastle- -will be frozen out either to Gatwick or Stansted? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that, in addition to my representations, Lord King, the chairman of British Airways--a great supporter of the Government and of their competition policy--has strongly expressed his opinion that the rules should not be changed? Will the Secretary of State accept that combined weight of opinion and scrap the CAA's advice?
Mr. Rifkind : The idea of the hon. Gentleman and Lord King forming an alliance in respect of any matter is a novel introduction to our debates and something to which I must give all due consideration. The CAA's only specific recommendation in respect of domestic services is that new domestic services should be permitted to use Heathrow. They are forbidden from doing so at present. I am aware of the suggestion that removing the traffic distribution rules could lead indirectly to existing domestic services being compelled to leave Heathrow. Of course, they could not be deprived of their entitlement to use the airport, but the suggestion is that BAA might increase landing charges to force out those airlines.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the CAA has the power to prevent discriminatory action against individual
Column 604airlines or classes of airlines by BAA in respect of landing charges. If we accepted the CAA's recommendation on traffic distribution rules, I should consider it most improper if higher landing charges were used to try to force out an individual airline that would otherwise be entitled to use Heathrow.
Mr. Robert Hicks : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the possible adverse affects--either directly or indirectly--on regional airlines such as Brymon Airways, which services the south-west? Does he agree that if those airlines were squeezed out, for whatever reason, it would have serious consequences for regional economies, especially in trying to attract inward investment? More than 80 per cent. of Brymon's passengers using the Plymouth to Heathrow run go on to or come from foreign destinations.
Mr. Rifkind : I note what my hon. Friend says and I am, of course, sensitive to the interests of regional airlines and conscious of the importance that some of them attach to using Heathrow with a view to attracting investment to various parts of the kingdom. I emphasise that nothing in the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendations would remove the current entitlement of any regional airline to use Heathrow. The concern is with regard to any future BAA landing charge policy. It is important that its right to determine landing charges should be based on proper and legitimate considerations and that such a right should not, either now or in the future, be used for ulterior purposes.
Mr. David Marshall : When does the Secretary of State expect to announce his decision on the Civil Aviation Authority's advice? Will it be before or after he concludes his negotiations with the Americans on bilateral agreements?
Mr. Rifkind : On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot give him a specific date. As the exchanges today have demonstrated, hon. Gentlemen and other interests have put a number of inter-related issues before the Government to which we should like to give more consideration before responding to the Civil Aviation Authority. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the Bermuda 2 negotiations with the United States have not yet reached a conclusion. However, I was interested to read in The New York Times a few weeks ago an article which said :
"US passengers would be wise to forgo rooting for the America negotiators and instead root for the British."
That seemed to be very sensible advice from The New York Times.
Mr. Mans : When taking account of the advice given in the traffic distribution report, will my right hon. and learned Friend also take into account European airlines' access to the London terminal manoeuvring area and especially the subsidies proposed by the European Commission for nationalised airlines on the continent which are both uncompetitive and unfair to airlines such as British Airways and British Midland?
Mr. Rifkind : I assure my hon. Friend that the European Commission is not proposing any such subsidy. In response to suggestions from some other European countries that they might wish to introduce subsidies in the current climate, Sir Leon Brittan, the Commissioner, said that the Commission would consider requests for approvals such subsidies against the criteria of the impact
Column 605that they might have on the competitive position of airlines in countries, such as the United Kingdom, which do not intend to provide them for their civil airlines.
Ms. Walley : It is all very well and good for the Secretary of State to say that he is sensitive about regional airports. How will he safeguard their interests and how will he ensure that the local economy is taken care of? Are not shareholders concerned about maximising revenue rather than maximising services?
Mr. Rifkind : I do not want to pre-empt the consideration that I am giving to the Civil Aviation Authority's recommendations. The only way in which regional airlines' interests could be affected by the CAA's recommendations would be by what could be described as improper use by the BAA of its power over landing charges. Therefore, that matter needs to be given further thought.
Mr. Freeman : British Rail's planned investment in freight over the next three years includes a freight terminal in central Scotland and new services between Scotland and the continent through the channel tunnel.
Mr. Clarke : Is the Minister aware of the excellent record of the work force of the Coatbridge container base and Freightliner depot? Will he match their commitment by ensuring adequate investment so that they will have jobs in the future? When British Rail takes a decision about the Freightliner village which will arise from the channel tunnel, does he accept that it would be outrageous if it considered a location in Glasgow in view of the problems of the Kingston bridge? Given the infrastructure that already exists at Coatbridge and Gartcosh as well as Mossend and the huge job losses in Lanarkshire--many of which were due to the Secretary of State--can we return to the prosperity that we once had under a Labour Government and ensure that that development takes place in Lanarkshire?
Mr. Freeman : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman supports the concept of a new freight terminal in central Scotland and I shall certainly draw his comments to the attention of ScotRail and the chairman of British Rail. It is true that any new freight terminal on which British Rail decides--it is currently considering three possible locations in central Scotland--will involve private-sector investment, which I hope will reach a significant level. It will also involve the creation of extra jobs and the haulage of freight on an intermodal basis, which means collecting freight by road and then shipping it by train for long distances. The routes will include the channel tunnel. I believe that that will bring more jobs and extra prosperity to central Scotland.
Mr. Cran : The Government have already accepted that the Humber bridge is a special case for the purposes of partial debt write-off. When will the negotiations with the Treasury be completed and when does the Minister expect to make an announcement about the write-off? I am sure that he agrees that the matter is causing enormous uncertainty and has dragged on for far too long.