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7.17 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I join my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) in expressing opposition to clause 31. I was just trying to do some quick checking to see whether the notice of motion relating to the attachment of environmental assessments to the private Bill proposals would cover the aspects of clause 31. I think that it probably would. Clause 31 does not specify any of the buildings that might be affected, although I assume that plans have now been lodged. Perhaps the sponsor will indicate which historic buildings and listed buildings might be imperilled. Clearly, if the promoters of a private Bill were required to attach an environmental assessment, everyone would know precise details and promoters would be forced to look at that matter before they brought Bills to the House. That was one of the proposals made by the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure, of which I was a member. Several other proposals to change the Standing Orders have yet to be brought before the House.

It is important that the private Bill procedure should not be used to circumvent normal planning requirements. It is being used by several large corporations, local authorities, other statutory undertakers and transport undertakings deliberately to get round public inquiries and local authority planning procedures. That is wrong. We should not allow ourselves to be complices in creating a fast track round planning requirements for organisations such as London Regional Transport and London Underground.

Even if we accept the motion on environmental assessments, it will be too late for this Bill, because it has already started its passage through the House. The changes will apply only to Bills lodged from November.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) reminded me and the House that he was a member of the transport committee of the Greater London council. Undoubtedly he will be able to say, "Rejoice, rejoice" because tomorrow the Labour party launches its new proposals to establish a strategic body in London to be called the Greater London authority. I am glad to be GLA, but I do not know about the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Tonight we should have unity among colleagues on the two sides of the House. As Walworth road leaks like a sieve, I have read the document. However, I do not share the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm.

Mr. Banks : Perhaps it depends on which version of the document the hon. Gentleman has read. I understand that several versions have been produced and that in the process the letters GLC have been removed. I am one of those who feel that we should stand proudly by the reputation, standing and works of the Greater London council. The hon. Member for Harrow, West reminded me that he was on the council. If he is nice to me, I might invite him to the first reception at county hall when the new Greater London authority is set up. He will have a place at the reception as an ex- member of the GLC. The hon. Member for Harrow, West will be aware that when the GLC existed transport was under democratic control. Regrettably, that is no longer the case. One of the Labour party's undertakings in the document is that when

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we have a Labour Government after the next general election, transport well return to democratic control and be controlled by the Greater London authority based in county hall.

I do not intend to oppose the Bill tonight. However, I have expressed my reservations about clause 31. The works proposed for London Bridge, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn are desperately needed. The works at Tottenham Court Road are particularly necessary. The area is turning into one of the nastiest parts of London. The area around Centre Point, Oxford street, New Oxford street and Tottenham Court road looks filthy, tacky, nasty and run down. There are cowboys selling all sorts of things out of suitcases. As many tourists go to the area, we should feel ashamed that it reveals the picture of London that we want to remove. Again, the Labour party will address that matter in government and clean up the image of London.

It is clear that while the works continue there will be a great deal of disturbance to road surfaces in areas where the roads are already in an appalling condition. With the mess of deregulation, any number of bodies are allowed to dig up the roads. They include British Telecom, Mercury, Thames Water, British Gas and London Electricity. That is in addition to the development and building that is taking place in the area. The result is that London's roads are becoming ever more potholed. People find it dangerous to drive and walk around London's roads and pavements because of the appalling state of the surfaces. Damage to the surfaces is often caused by work carried out by the organisations that I mentioned.

I hope that, when the hon. Member for Harrow, West replies, he will give us some assurances that London Underground intends to take steps to avoid making our already appalling roads and pavements in London, especially in the Tottenham Court road and London bridge areas, even worse than they are now.

The hon. Member was right to say that the works were necessary to tackle overcrowding on the London underground. One of the reasons for the overcrowding is that the system has the least public support from central Government funding of all the urban networks in Europe. It is also the most expensive transport network in Europe. We have one of the most inefficient, perhaps the most overcrowded and dirty and the most expensive system in Europe. It is a wonderful combination of failings to come under all those headings.

I hope that when the hon. Member for Harrow, West replies about the state of the streets, he will also tell us as he sits on the Government Benches-- whether the Government intend to put more resources into London transport to give us the transportation system that a capital city such as London deserves. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to get it until we have a Labour Government in office and the Greater London authority sitting over in county hall.

7.25 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : There will be a fair degree of unanimity tonight on one point and less unanimity but some support on a second, and short lists of constituency issues will be raised on a third.

I agree with the hon. Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) and for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) that it would be invidious to oppose a measure

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which will create better safety on London underground. We all start from the premise that we want a safer underground system. We all remember the horrendous tragedy of the King's Cross fire and we are all aware of the clear recommendations of the Fennell report. We all want to ensure that the most congested underground stations become much more pleasant and safe environments, and that points of access and egress become safer.

There is no dispute about the principle of the Bill. We wish it good speed. One of the odd things about being a London Member at present is that on several occasions in the year we can be called to do our duty here, when various private Bills which affect our constituencies are introduced. This year, London Underground has promoted three Bills in the House which affect the London borough of Southwark, and especially Southwark and Bermondsey. First, the London Underground Bill was introduced to extend the Jubilee line. Then, London Underground realised that the Bill did not do all that it wanted, so we had the London Underground (No. 2) Bill, which again affected Southwark, and especially London Bridge station. Now we have the London Underground (Safety Measures) Bill, which also affects London Bridge.

If ever there was an illustration of the lack or inadequacy of strategic planning of transport and legislation for transport provision in the capital, it is the Bills introduced this year. I am fully aware that, behind the scenes, British Rail is preparing a proposal to carry out other works at London Bridge, which are likely to be the subject of a private Bill next year.

First, we had to contend with proposals for underground line works which will affect London Bridge station. Now we are debating proposals for works on the Northern line, which already exists at London Bridge station, and next year we shall debate proposals on the railway line. By any definition, that is not a logical way to proceed. The sooner we return to strategic planning of public transport in the capital city the better. That means that underground, bus, railway, river bus, road and eventually tram provision must be co-ordinated.

Mr. Tony Banks rose --

Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman is bursting to make an obvious point.

Mr. Banks : It may be obvious, but I should like it to be put on the record that that is precisely what the new Greater London authority will do. We shall expect strong support from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman was almost bound to anticipate my next point. The Liberal party, newly named the Liberal Democrats--

Mr. Snape : Among other things.

Mr. Hughes : No, we have only ever had two names, thank God, in spite of many attempts to give us other names in between. The Liberal party, now called the Liberal Democrats, supports a Greater London authority. We have always said so. One of the jobs for such an authority would be to plan transport strategically. There has never been any secret about that.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) knows that if some of the predictions for the

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general election are right and there is no overall control in the country, as there is now no overall political control in London, his party and my party, which have similar views on many issues of co-ordinated planning, hope to implement similar policies. There is no secret about that. Together, we should have the votes in the House to bring it about. We would rescue county hall from being taken over by the private sector, or even buy it back if it had already been taken over.

Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Gentleman goes even further than we do.

Mr. Hughes : That is right, We are willing to put up taxes, too, which I heard the shadow Chief Secretary say yesterday in "On the Record" that the Labour party was not willing to do. Even if the Labour party goes less far than we do on the other matters, we bring it with us in relation to a co-ordinated London planning authority. I want to ask a couple of questions which I hope that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) will be able to answer if he is allowed to speak at the end of the debate. I want to ask him about the conjunction of four measures--three actual and one

anticipated--that will affect London Bridge station. It seems to some of my constituents that the planning for the London Bridge part of this Bill, which is concerned with the Northern line, is now effectively under the control of the Jubilee line team--planning for London Bridge has been transferred. I do not object to that so long as we can find out who is really in charge.

Soon we shall debate again the Jubilee line and its effect on London bridge, so it is logical that the same people should plan the improvements under the Bill and those for the Jubilee line. It would also help my constituents--private residents and businesses--to know with whom they are dealing, and it would help to co-ordinate London underground developments if one body only were involved. Are the same people, the Jubilee line team, dealing with the developments at London Bridge station?

Secondly, my right hon. and hon. Friends and I share the strong reservations of the hon. Members for Newham, North-West, for Islington, South and Finsbury and for Westminster, North about clause 31. There is no justification for getting rid of planning controls over the civic heritage of London. This objection was also made by the Committee that looked into the King's Cross development. Planning controls are built into the system to protect our buildings and they ought to do so, especially when a major development such as the building of an underground station is to take place around them. Will the hon. Member for Harrow, West tell the promoters that, if they persist with clause 31, they will run into substantial difficulty? I hope that they will not persist.

When the Committee on the London Underground Bill reported, it produced what the hon. Member for Westminster, North described as a compromise on Bridge street and the Jubilee line. It did not insist that the local authority should control planning permission, but it did insist that certain aspects were under the control of Parliament, because parliamentary buildings were affected. That argument does not apply anywhere else, so the promoters cannot expect to reach a similar compromise anywhere else. I hope that the Bill will be changed.

My two last questions relate to specific sites. The sponsor and the Minister may be aware that one of my

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constituents petitioned the House of Lords, making the sensible and logical suggestion that the entrance to the underground station on the east side of Borough high street, rather than being one property south, down from St. Thomas's street, which would destroy the new Guy's restaurant, should be one property further up.

Mr. Snape : That sounds like a free meal.

Mr. Hughes : Even if there may be a free meal in the future, I have not had one there so far. Perhaps, as in the American legal system, one has to win the case before one gets the free meal. I shall have to try harder. Certainly I should be happy to have a free meal-- [Interruption.] We have to make sure that the Official Report records our words accurately, so I must explain that once the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) had implied that there was no such thing as a free meal, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that, coming from him, that was a surprising comment. That was an unfair allegation.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : But typical

Mr. Hughes : Indeed, it was typical.

The idea of moving the station entrance is logical, quite apart from the benefit to myself and other Members who might get together and vote to preserve the restaurant. The building on the corner is owned by Barclays bank, which could afford relocation more easily than could Mr. Conti for his restaurant. If the station entrance were on the street corner because of accessibility and visibility to the public, that would be a more logical site. It is more logical to put underground station entrances on the corner of two main roads rather than just round the corner, so that they cannot be seen from both directions.

The site has become controversial because it is the local underground entrance for Guy's hospital. Perhaps it is a question of opting in or out. [Interruption.] I do not bank at Barclays, so my account is not at risk.

My other argument is about the site, at Nos. 31 to 37, on the other side of Borough high street. Hon. Members will be aware that there is sometimes a suspicion that promoters of Bills get carried away with the idea that, if they have the powers, they can take over a much bigger site than they need. That allows them to hold on to the property and thus derive a financial benefit. Compensation is often inadequate for existing owners. There is no dispute about that in the House. Compensation has, for instance, been hotly contested in the case of the Channel tunnel.

British Rail or London Underground, for example, acquires a site, digs its holes and makes an underground station entrance. Thereafter it has possession of the site and can build office blocks or retail sites, or sell. I do not say that the entire site is not needed in this case, but two questions arise in relation to it.

First, there is some residential property on the site now, and I understand that an undertaking was originally given to include some in the rebuild. But now, during the negotiations, no such undertaking is forthcoming. We need to retain every residential unit we have in an area such as London Bridge. Every development there risks our losing residential property in favour of commercial property. It is difficult for residents to find other accommodation, and if they did so they would have to pay more, as they

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have either a mortgage on a property acquired at a low cost before values rose, or a protected rent such as they would not find if they had to move somewhere else. In the case that I have in mind, a young couple bought the property some years ago. It is their home ; they happen to live above commercial property. There is a strong general case for trying to preserve the mix. We should not remove residential property from our inner cities and replace it with office blocks. If nobody lives there, there is nobody around in the evening, and the environment is far less humane.

Why is there no clear commitment to keeping this residential property? We want a much more positive approach to the negotiations, so that, if the site has to be lost to the development, we secure a decent property at the end of the exercise.

I have asked several general and some specific questions. We are precluded from asking such questions in Committee, because we may not be on it. I hope that the message is getting through loud and clear. This may be the last time that London Underground or British Rail can, without environmental impact assessment, pursue legislation in this way. They should not assume that, because this is their last chance, there will not be a hard fight if they ignore what hon. Members seek.

7.40 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : It may be helpful to restate the Government's view of the Bill. ThGovernment have considered its contents and have no objection in principle to the powers being sought by London Underground Ltd. The Bill will enable major works to be undertaken at London Bridge, Holborn and Tottenham Court Road underground stations, to relieve congestion and improve conditions for passengers. The works at London Bridge are essentially for the Jubilee line extension, so that more passengers can be carried to that station. The works at Tottenham Court Road station will have to be carried out before the planned east-west crossrail station can be opened.

I hope that the House will support the proposals for better safety access at these stations. There are some petitions against the Bill, and the petitioners, if they pursue the matter, will have the opportunity to present their objections to a Select Committee. I am sure that the members of the Select Committee will have a much better opportunity than we have had in this debate to examine the issues in detail. They will have the added advantage of hearing expert evidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) and the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) expressed concern about clause 31. I appreciate the firm views on this matter. As the House knows, the clause was substantially amended in the other place and now specifies only those buildings that will be affected by the works, showing whether they will be demolished or altered. The Government accept the amended clause and recognise that this is a sensitive issue.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment agree that there must be a compelling reason for making an exception to the normal statutory arrangements for protecting listed buildings.

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They are agreed on that in view of the condemnation of similar provisions by a Select Committee which examined the Bill dealing with King's Cross.

Restricted and strategically important projects are being promoted in pursuance of the Government's policy objectives. Those could be at risk if the promoters were not able to secure in one procedure all the necessary consents for their schemes. That has some force as part of the argument that, if Parliament saw fit to authorise such schemes, it would be unreasonable for the promoters to be required additionally to apply for listed building consent to demolish or alter the necessary buildings.

In accepting that compromise solution, the Government are concerned to safeguard the position of English Heritage as an expert adviser on conservancy issues. It is able to contribute to the consideration of the works by the Select Committee, and that will assist the Select Committee to make informed decisions about the listed building aspects of particular projects. That means that English Heritage should be allowed to appear before the Select Committee on matters within its competence.

The Bill's clauses should contain details of the buildings that will be affected and in what way. Blanket clauses disapplying the listed building controls would not be acceptable. The environmental impact assessment for a project, which we intend to make compulsory for such Bills, would contain an account of the effect on the built heritage.

Mr. Chris Smith : The Minister should bear two matters in mind. First, there is a precedent in the House for English Heritage being denied locus standi in presenting a petition about precisely such matters in relation to a private Bill. There is no absolute guarantee that that fate would not befall English Heritage again. Secondly, although the Minister says that the removal of listed building protection would apply only in a very specific way, it still removes the protection of primary legislation. What is the Government's position on the rightness or wrongness of an inadequate private Bill procedure overturning protection that is written into basic legislation and reiterated in several Acts of Parliament?

Mr. McCloughlin : I hope that I have given the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. My understanding is that English Heritage should be allowed to appear before the Select Committee. I am aware of the case that the hon. Gentleman mentions, in which English Heritage was refused a locus. I hope that what has been agreed will go some way to putting that right.

The promoters would be obliged to consult English Heritage throughout the passage of the Bill. That would also be helpful to the promoters. It is not helpful for people to be in conflict, and a general attempt to reach agreement makes the passage of a Bill much easier.

Mr. Tony Banks : Have the Bill's promoters given a clear undertaking that they will accept evidence from English Heritage? If they object to such evidence, it will become a matter for the Standing Orders Committee. Under Standing Orders, if there is no direct locus--and there is not under the current private Bill procedure--the Standing Orders Committee would be bound to uphold

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the promoters' decision. Have the promoters given the Minister a clear undertaking that they will accept a petition or evidence from English Heritage?

Mr. McLoughlin : I understand that that is the case. As I said earlier, there should not be a problem about that.

The Government are against Bills whose promoters seek a blanket disapplication of listed building control, or who do not consult English Heritage on these matters. We accept that the number of cases would be few and far between but, given the arrangements that I have outlined, the Secretaries of State would be prepared to support clauses which disapplied the controls in respect of specific buildings for particular works.

We accept the amended clause. The works at London Bridge and Tottenham Court Road stations are essential for the construction of the proposed underground line for London--notably the Jubilee line extension and the east-west crossrail route. I note that the Select Committee will examine the Bill relating to the Jubilee line. In allowing the Bill to proceed, agreement has been reached on a compromise clause, albeit with certain conditions in respect of the proposed parliamentary buildings. In these cases, the compromise clause maintains a proper regard for legislative controls designed to protect the national heritage while avoiding any duplication of effort and the potential risk of Parliament's wishes being overridden by a planning authority.

I hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading. Those hon. Members who spoke in the debate have welcomed the Bill. Congestion on our transport system is an important matter of public interest. If we delay the Bill's progress, we shall hold up, perhaps for some time, measures that are urgently needed to relieve the congestion on London underground.

7.48 pm

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : The House has given an unqualified welcome to most of the Bill's clauses, especially those which relate to the work that is necessary to relieve congestion and improve safety at London Bridge, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn stations. All those who have used any or all of those stations know how essential these works are, and the Bill shows the importance of that work to the future operation of London Underground Ltd. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes), who is in charge of the Bill on behalf of the promoters, spoke about escalators at those three stations and in other parts of the underground system. Those of us who have used the London underground for a number of years are aware of the recent severe deterioration in that organisation. We are all apt to look back on our younger days as a halcyon period in which the trains ran on time and the sun shone every day, but having used the London underground system regularly for about 30 years, I know that I have never seen it in the state that it is in today. Regular and continuous work on escalators is, in my view and I suspect that of the vast majority of passengers, long overdue.

Like other hon. Members, I regularly use the underground between the terminal station at which I arrive in London and the House. For months, I have wandered around the bowels of Euston undergound station trying to get to the Victoria line to make my way to the House. The only work that I have seen on the

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escalators at Euston has been the replacement, every six months or so, of the notices telling passengers that the escalators are temporarily out of order. There appears to be no sense of urgency about doing the work. As with other public sector industries since the Government's axe fell upon them, the work that needs to be done on the London underground can be done only if a budget exists. All too often, the budget does not exist, so the work does not get done. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Harrow, West, as a member of the Greater London council between 1980 and 1986, did not refer to these matters. Like other hon. Members, I served on the Committee considering the Bill abolishing the GLC, thereby removing from it responsibility for running the London underground. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the GLC at that time, even if I cannot honour him with the description of "distinguished member". I am sure that he was, but I do not know.

Mr. Tony Banks : No, he was not.

Mr. Snape : I accept my hon. Friend's view, as he knows the hon. Gentleman better than I do.

While the Bill was going through the House, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), continually assured us that the London underground would be far more efficient when it was freed of the ideological constraints of the GLC. In Committee, one got the distinct impression that the right hon Gentleman hated members of the Greater London council even more than he hated the Germans. I am afraid that that hatred appeared to embrace all parties represented on that authority, although I am not sure how well the right hon. Gentleman knew the hon. Member for Harrow, West.

Over and over again, we were told that freedom from the political control of the elected strategic body would benefit the passengers. It is apparent from this Bill and from the words of Conservative Members that that has not been the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) gave us his objections to clause 31. He has made a similar point during the passage of other Bills through the House and it is no less relevant for that. He was joined in his strictures against clause 31 by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) who, as far as I am aware, was not a member of the GLC. However, according to "Dod's Parliamentary Companion", he is chairman of a body called the Conservative Greater London area Members committee. That sounds an influential body, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would use his chairmanship to point out to the newly freed managers of London Underground Ltd. how objectionable clause 31 is not only to him but to his democratically elected and Conservative-controlled authority. Given the well-known antipathy of the hon. Member for Westminster, North to the GLC and all its works, I am surprised that he is criticising a body to which he had given his whole-hearted support in the past. I should tell him and the hon. Member for Harrow, West that, if one creates a body like London Underground Ltd. and tells it that its only remit is to work within the financial constraints laid down by the Department of Transport, it will not be too keen on provisions such as those in the Bill, outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and

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Finsbury and Conservative Members, to preserve listed buildings and other important sites. If it has no remit to concern itself with such matters--unlike an elected strategic body--it is not surprising that it has drafted clause 31 in that way. However, it is surprising that Conservative Members have said that they are disturbed by the inclusion of that clause.

Conservative Members have, at least implicitly, criticised the management of London Underground Ltd. because of the necessity both for the Bill and the works included therein. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is not with us tonight. I noticed in the London Evening Standard --surely one of the most appalling evening newspapers in the western world--some sage advice from the hon. Gentleman, a man known for understatement and delicacy of thought and mind, who represents the intellectual wing of the Conservative party. He had some harsh words to say about the management of London Underground Ltd. "Sack the lot" was the headline that proceeded his customary thoughtful words. If he feels like that about the management, it is understandable that there should be some criticism from others in the House. It is understandable, too, that two mild-mannered men like the hon. Members for Harrow, West and for Westminster, North should express those views.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), like the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), expressed support, to a greater and lesser degree--I am not saying which is greater and which is lesser--for an elected Greater London authority, the GLA. My hon. Friend reminded us of the need for such an authority to co-ordinate not only the matters dealt with in the Bill but transport, street works and road planning within Greater London. Labour Members endorse that, and I suspect that if they were allowed to do so, one or two Conservative Members would like to do the same. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, in between plugs for a restaurant and Barclays bank, was forward in telling us how advanced are his party's views on the need for the election of a strategic body and how it would put up taxes--in the unlikely event that it were ever in a position to do so--to pay for this and other desirable objectives. I am not sure whether it would be right and proper for me to draw those remarks to the attention of the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but no doubt whatever the demand, whether for lower or higher taxes, for a strategic authority or not, for greater or lesser planning in transport, both public and private, in Greater London, a member of the Liberal Democrats can be found either to support or reject it.

Mr. McLoughlin : While the hon. Gentleman is drawing the attention of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) to spending plans, will he tell us whether his commitment to various transport policies in London is an overriding commitment, a first commitment, an immediate commitment, a top priority or a commitment for a Labour Government many years away?

Mr. Snape : I am always fascinated by the interest of the Conservative party in pouring scorn and abuse on any Opposition Member who dares to suggest that our public

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services--our transport system, our national health service and all other services where the rest of Europe has long since left us behind--

Mr. McLoughlin : Answer the question.

Mr. Snape : If the Minister will contain himself for a moment or two, I shall do just that.

Why should scorn be poured on any proposal to improve the services provided by London Underground Ltd., for example, so that they match similar services that are provided elsewhere in Europe? If he reads the document that is entitled "Moving Britain into the 90s"--if he wishes, I shall send him a copy free of charge--he will learn how the Labour party proposes to make improvements and how a Labour Government would pay for them. I shall be pleased if the Minister shows the document to the hon. Member for Westminster, North after he has read it. The hon. Member for Westminster, North can take it to a meeting of the Conservative Greater London area Members committee. It appears that it does not have a great deal to do in terms of clause 31 and other provisions. When the Minister has read my party's document and digested it, I know that he will agree with me and other Opposition Members that the works outlined in the Bill and the document are essential and agree with us on how sensible are the Labour party's proposals to pay for them.

8 pm

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate) : I shall start by talking about clause 31. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) said, but I do not trust promoters of Bills. I want to see an undertaking written into the Bill that will guarantee a locus for English Heritage. I think that that is the view of everyone who has spoken this evening and that it will be endorsed. I congratulate my hon. Friend on welcoming a compromise, but I do not believe that the compromise goes as far as it should in the interests of English Heritage.

I shall now make the one political remark that I intend to introduce into the debate. For seven years, I had the pleasure of being chairman of the Greater London Council Conservative Members Committee. For seven years, I had the privilege also of being vice-chairman of the Conservative party for London. During that time, we won more borough council elections and more parliamentary seats than hitherto, and we also won the Greater London council. We did so because we understood what the people of London wanted. We told them that a vote for the Liberals was a vote for a Lib-Lab pact. I am glad that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has repeated this evening the support that he and his party will give to the Labour party. There is a new Lib-Lab pact afoot, but, as the Liberal Democrats will not have the chance of supporting the Labour party except in opposition, I do not mind.

Mr. Simon Hughes : As we do not know what will happen after the next general election I invite thehon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg)

Mr. Snape : Will the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) be here?

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Mr. Hughes : I shall be here. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate has said that he will not be.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate knows that, at present, London is a capital city without the overall control of one council. All the authorities post-GLC are participants in some form of shared decision making. He knows also that, in those circumstances, there is no Lib-Lab or Lib-Con pact. Decisions are taken differently according to the authority and the subject on which a decision is to be taken.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : I believe that London was better run when there was a Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association and a Conservative GLC, but I make that the end of the politics. I want to talk about the Bill, and especially about provisions that have been omitted. I hope that, by the time I have finished, which I hope will not be too short a time, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West, who speaks for the promoter, will be able to give me an understanding. If he is able to do so, I shall not try to talk out the Bill this evening. If I am not given an undertaking, I ask my hon. Friend to understand that there are at least two more stages in the Bill's consideration and that there are four more London Transport Bills, all of which I shall block at every stage. I wish to make my intentions clear.

From the time that I first entered the House, I have put my constituency interests ahead of everything else. I believe that my constituents are being given a raw deal by an insensitive and incompetent management of London Transport. In that context I refer to the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (Extension to London, &c.) Act 1893.

Sir John Wheeler : I know it well.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg : My hon. Friend will appreciate that it contains only 139 pages. I do not propose on this occasion--I do not commit myself for future occasions--to read the 139 pages. I want, however, to make some references to the Act.

First, I shall explain to the House why I am blocking the Bill. In west Hampstead, by Broadhurst gardens, there is a series of railway lines. There is the British Rail line to Marylebone, the Jubilee line and the Metropolitan line, which are spanned by a footbridge. The bridge was built well over 100 years ago, and it has an interesting history. When I was a small child, I was taken by my uncle to the bridge to watch railway engines. I was a steam railway buff, and I still am. I am a non-executive director of the Bluebell line and I still like steam trains.

The footbridge was known as Granny Dripping's steps, a name that intrigues everybody. It seems that it received the name because an elderly lady was alleged to have sat on the steps eating bread and dripping. I never saw her, but the bridge retained its name. Towards the end of last year, the bridge, which London Transport prosaically calls bridge No. 26, was closed. The chairman of London Transport replied to the letter in which I inquired when the footbridge would be brought back into operation. He wrote : "The footbridge is jointly owned by London Underground and British Rail, with the maintenance responsibility vested in London Underground."

Perhaps I should put British Rail on notice. As the bridge spans its lines, I shall be blocking its legislation so that it puts pressure upon London Transport to carry out its

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responsibilities for the reason that the "maintenance responsibility" for the bridge is "vested in London Underground." The letter continues :

"The footbridge is 110 years old and has been the subject of heavy repairs over the years. Recently, several of the stair treads on the BR side of the bridge collapsed and consequently the bridge was closed for safety reasons.

My civil engineers have again inspected the bridge. It is seriously corroded and even if the steps were repaired, it would not be safe for public use. We now appear to have two options ; rebuilding a little used facility"--

how the chairman knows that I do not know, because no count has been taken. Those of my constituents who use the bridge are not too few and the chairman of London Transport has not been briefed about a major development that is in progress in the area. I shall come back to that matter in half an hour or so.

As I said, the chairman wrote :

"We now appear to have two options : rebuilding a little used facility at a cost of perhaps £400,000 or to seek parliamentary powers to close the footpaths and demolish the bridge."

I remind the House that the bridge has already been closed by London Transport in breach of parliamentary powers. The letter continues :

"You will recall"--

that is a reference to myself--

"that we pursued the latter course about eight years ago." I blocked legislation on that occasion and, lo and behold, the bridge was reopened.

The chairman adds :

"I am advised"--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. The hon. Member is an experienced parliamentarian, and I have never known him abuse the procedures of the House. He has always adhered strictly to the terms of the business before the House, but I fear that tonight he is straying far. I understand that he wants to block the Bill. I am sure that he knows, however, that he must find reasons for doing so that come within the proposed legislation. I ask him to read the Bill carefully and to relate his comments more closely to the business that is before us this evening.

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