Home Page

Column 1










House of Commons

Monday 14 October 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Mr. Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of the right hon. Alick Laidlaw Buchanan-Smith, esquire, Member for Kincardine and Deeside ; of George James Buckley, esquire, Member for Hemsworth ; and of James Richard Holt, esquire, Member for Langbaurgh, and I desire, on behalf of the House, to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the right hon. and hon. Members.

Oral Answers to Questions


Commuters (London)

1. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received from commuters about the difficulties of travelling into London.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : I receive a large amount of correspondence on a variety of issues from commuters who travel into London.

Mr. Taylor : I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend had an enjoyable and active recess. Does he

Column 2

sympathise with those in my constituency and elsewhere in the south-east who spend a great deal of time each day trying to get into and out of London and who face blocked roads and the M25 bulging at the seams?

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give the management of British Rail yet another kick in the pants, in the hope that it will try to overcome the problems faced by constituents who commute, such as cancellations, overcrowding, delays, lack of information and uninterested staff? Perhaps, then, more of the 58 per cent. of people

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a rather long supplementary.

Mr. Taylor : It has been a very long journey for some of my constituents, Mr. Speaker.

I hope that British Rail will get its act together and make my constituents a great deal happier in their daily journeys into and out of London.

Mr. Rifkind : I sympathise with my hon. Friend's remarks. We must recognise that life is extremely difficult for commuters. The Government are seeking to do what they can to ease the position, both through the major improvements to the M25 that we have announced and through the heaviest investment programme that Network SouthEast has enjoyed for 30 years. I agree with my hon. Friend that there are other ways, which do not involve the use of resources, in which the service to the travelling public can be substantially improved.

Mr. Fearn : The Secretary of State will know that the inquiry into the Clapham rail crash in 1988 recommended that there should be no more than 10 per cent. more passengers than there are seats. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that Network SouthEast continually breaches that recommendation? What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do about that, in view of the safety considerations?

Mr. Rifkind : As the hon. Gentleman knows, safety is one of the most important considerations for British Rail and it is involved in major investment to improve safety levels both on Network SouthEast lines and lines

Column 3

throughout the country. Currently, a large number of passenger vehicles and other forms of rolling stock are being manufactured and they will come into service with Network SouthEast. That will make an important contribution towards solving the sort of problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Sir David Mitchell : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that where there has been new investment, the service is acceptable, but that where new investment is still awaited, the service is often wholly unacceptable? Will he assure us that the Treasury's external financing limit will not restrain BR from pressing forward with its investment programme?

Mr. Rifkind : The level of the external financing limit is bound to have some effect--it all depends what level is set. The programme on which British Rail has already embarked is massive and certainly the largest since before the days of Dr. Beeching. On Network SouthEast alone, more than 800 passenger coaches and other rolling stock are with the manufacturers and when they come into operation over the next two years they will have a dramatic impact on the quality of life for the travelling public.

Ms. Walley : Is the Secretary of State aware that the annual report of the Transport Users Consultative Committee published last week showed that the number of serious complaints has doubled? Given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement last week about the channel tunnel and the extra strain that it will place on Network SouthEast, will he tell the House whether it is his intention to bring some public service obligation investment to that line?

Mr. Rifkind : PSO grant for Network SouthEast and for other services in receipt of PSO has been substantially increased and was increased during the financial year as part of the £400 million additional package that I announced some time ago. Although the Transport Users Consultative Committee referred, quite properly, to the level of complaints, it also acknowledged that the level of investment permitted by the Government is higher than it has been for generations.

Manchester Airport

2. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received about manning levels at Manchester airport ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : My hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic mentioned manning levels in an Adjournment debate that was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) in July. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission is likely to consider the issue next year, when it reviews the charging conditions that should apply to Manchester airport for the five-year period starting in April 1993.

Mr. Thurnham : Is my hon. Friend aware of Manchester airport's enviable growth record, now serving more United Kingdom airports than any other airport? Will he ensure future competitiveness by cutting excess manning costs of £3 million per annum, preferably by privatising.

Column 4

Mr. McLoughlin : We have received a number of representations about the privatisation of regional airports and we are carefully considering that important matter. My hon. Friend is right about the increase in passengers. In 1979, the number using Manchester airport was 3.4 million and in 1990 it was more than 10 million. That shows the growth that Manchester airport has been able to achieve because it has been allowed to compete and to attract more air services--which is good for both the airport and the people who live in that area.

Mr. Pike : Does the Minister accept that the growth of Manchester airport is due to local authority investment over many years and that the airport's success is the result of the foresight of local government in the Greater Manchester area over many years?

Mr. McLoughlin : We could have a long debate on the reasons for the success of Manchester airport, but it would not have occurred had it not been for the competition that our aviation policy injected, which gave regional airports an opportunity to attract more flights and to serve more destinations. That is an important policy and one which we shall continue to pursue.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Is my hon. Friend aware that Manchester airport's plan to construct a second runway is causing enormous concern among my constituents, who are worried about the effect that that development would have on the environment? Can my hon. Friend say what safeguards will be provided?

Mr. McLoughlin : It is important that Manchester airport should consider its long-term strategy and that any environmental impact assessment is fully debated. I imagine that if such a proposal were to come forward, it would be subject to the necessary planning inquiries--and I am sure that my hon. Friend would then make representations for a public inquiry.

Manchester Relief Road

3. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received in relation to the proposed Greater Manchester northern and western relief road ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Roads and Trafffic (Mr. Christopher Chope) : In addition to the representation made my hon. Friends the Members for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) and for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), 130 written representations have been received about the M62 to M66 section of the planned relief road.

Mr. Sumberg : Next Monday's meeting of SWARM, the motorway action group dedicated to opposing that development, will emphasise the widespread concern felt by my constituents because the Department of Transport has still not announced whether the relief road will go ahead or what route it will take. Will my hon. Friend put my constituents out of their misery by making an early announcement about the route, or, better still, that he intends to abandon the project altogether?

Mr. Chope : The delay in introducing the scheme is an indication of the amount of care that Department of Transport officials are taking. That is particularly so in

Column 5

respect of the route's environmental sensitivity. I cannot promise my hon. Friend that we will introduce proposals for public consultation before next year.

Mr. Churchill : Although my constituents in Manchester Davyhulme do not oppose the concept of the road, as my hon. Friend will be aware they are strenously opposed to the proposed blue route. Will my hon. Friend give some sign as to when public consultation will begin? Is there to be a public inquiry?

Mr. Chope : There is no proposed route--we are still preparing for public consultation which will start next year. I am glad that my hon. Friend agrees that there is a need for some relief to the existing road because it carries about 140,000 vehicles a day. Improvements to it are a key to future prosperity in the north-west.

Railway Policy

5. Mr. Adley : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will list the countries whose Transport Ministers he has met during the year to discuss railway policy.

Mr. Rifkind : Railway policy was discussed at two meetings of the European Council of Transport Ministers, resulting in the adoption of an important directive to move towards ending state railway monopolies in the Community. I have also had a separate discussion about railways with the Dutch Minister of Transport.

Mr. Adley : While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, may I ask him to confirm that there is an obvious difference between ending the monopoly and going for tooth and claw privatisation? Has he noticed that after 18 months' study Chancellor Kohl's government railway commission has come out firmly against railway privatisation? On behalf of our party, will he realise that those proposing privatisation are the same people who proposed the poll tax? Please do not let us have a poll tax on wheels.

Mr. Rifkind : I agree with my hon. Friend that the ending of British Rail's monopoly and the future privatisation of British Rail are quite separate issues. We have demonstrated our belief and desire that, even now, British Rail should facilitate new providers of freight and passenger services to use under-utilised British Rail track. We believe that any serious desire for increased use of our railways can only benefit from the ending of that monopoly. As regards the attitude towards privatisation in Germany, I note what my hon. Friend says, but I also recall reading a recent speech by the chairman of the Deutsche Bundesbahn--the Germany federal railway--in which he said that the ultimate privatisation of the railways might be necessary to ensure their best utilisation.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Has the Secretary of State also noticed that Germany has committed billions of deutschmarks to modernise railways in eastern Germany on the basis of a nationalised system? Will he make it clear to anyone who talks to the European Community that one cannot expect a railway to operate when it hears vague threats of privatisation, is given no clear management line and is expected to find an 8 per cent. return on the assets that it is investing?

Column 6

Mr. Rifkind : The requirement for an 8 per cent. rate of return is similar to the required rate of return for French railways. As regards the European Community, the most important breakthrough has been that, for the first time in railway history, all European Community Ministers called for an ending of the state monopoly of the railway structure. It will be interesting to know whether the Opposition and the British railway unions will be the last known defenders of state rail monopoly--no one else seems to believe it desirable.

Mr. Madel : In the overcrowded south-east should not future railway policy reopen lines for passenger traffic--lines which have not been used for many years? To that end, will my right hon. and learned Friend encourage British Rail to reopen the Dunstable to Luton railway line and say that we would rather that money were spent on that than on expensive television advertising campaigns telling us how many trains run at more than 100 mph?

Mr. Rifkind : I agree with my hon. Friend that it is desirable for railway lines to be opened or reopened where there is a demand for them. I am pleased that in the past few years under the present Government that has been happening. Throughout the United Kingdom about 17 routes have been reopened and six new lines initiated. I believe that, for the first time since the early 1960s, there is an ongoing increase in railway utilisation.

Mr. Wigley : I did not hear the Secretary of State refer to Wales as one of the countries with whose Transport Ministers he has had discussions. In view of Welsh Office Ministers' passing interest in transport and of the fact that the through inter-city railway service from Holyhead to London was halved from six to three trains a day two weeks ago, will he discuss urgently with Welsh Office Ministers and British Rail the reversal of that decision?

Mr. Rifkind : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales takes a keen interest in railways in Wales and we are already in regular contact with him. The circumstances involving routes such as the one to which the hon. Gentleman referred are for British Rail to determine in the first instance on the basis of the use being made of that service.

Sir Teddy Taylor : How does it help to advance the cause of railways for fundamental decisions about structure to be made in Brussels? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the residents of Southend-on-Sea have the second worst railway line in Britain--a line that has been condemned as totally unsuitable by his junior Minister--and that they are losing jobs in London solely because they have to use the Fenchurch Street line? They would be far happier if the Secretary of State concentrated on solving the problems of investment in that line, instead of trying to discuss railway structure and organisation with the EEC.

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend's question raises two issues. He is, of course, right to mention the unsatisfactory condition of the railway line that affects his constituents and I strongly endorse the points that he made about that. His remarks about the European Community, however, suggest that he may not yet understand the nature of the decision that was announced. That decision made particular reference to railway services operating through several Community countries.

Column 7

The opening of the channel tunnel will mean, for example, that British Rail could provide services from the United Kingdom through the tunnel to France, Germany or Italy and not be prevented from doing so by protectionist measures adopted by Governments on the continent. That is the nature of the breakthrough--and a breakthrough of that kind had to be achieved at European Community level if it was to be achieved at all.

Mr. Snape : Has the Secretary of State told other Transport Ministers just how well we in this country plan our transport infrastructure? Perhaps he will tell them how much they have to learn from his handling of the channel tunnel rail link, for example. As--in the words of the chairman of the Conservative party--political considerations dictated this choice, will the Secretary of State tell his fellow Ministers that the choice--[ Hon. Members :-- "Question!"] I am asking a question, as hon. Members would know if they were listening. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This takes up a lot of time. Will the hon. Gentleman ask his question, please?

Mr. Snape : We are pleased to see that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) is still here to ask me to do so.

As--in the words of the chairman of the Conservative party--political considerations will cost the taxpayer, through British Rail, about £1 billion in connection with this choice of route, may we have a little less hypocrisy from the Conservative party about local government expenditure on transport, or on any other relevant matter?

Mr. Rifkind : First, as the House knows, I propose--subject to your leave, Mr. Speaker--to make a statement on that subject later this afternoon. Secondly, the fact that my announcement of the choice of route was welcomed by the hon. Gentleman's party makes the hon. Gentleman's current remarks seem slightly absurd.

Rail Safety

6. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he proposes next to meet the chairman of British Rail ; and if he will be discussing rail safety on that occasion.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : My right hon. and learned Friend has regular meetings with Sir Bob Reid, the British Rail chairman, to discuss a variety of railway issues. Safety remains the top priority for both the Government and British Rail.

Mr. Pike : The Minister says that safety remains the top priority and the Government always say that it is paramount. Does he accept, however, that many people who work in the industry feel that financial pressures and lack of investment in the railway system are eroding the safety margin and that there is increasing concern in the industry about safety factors? What is needed is a major change in Government policy--or a change of Government.

Mr. Freeman : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I pay tribute to British Rail--not only the board but the staff--for making sure that safety is a top priority. Last year, British Rail spent about £140 million on safety and the board plans to spend about £200 million in the year

Column 8

that we are halfway through. That, in my view, places the right emphasis on safety and British Rail's objective is to ensure that that emphasis continues in the future.

Sir Bernard Braine : Is my hon. Friend aware that it is not merely safety that concerns my constituents in Castle Point, who, in order to get to work, are obliged to use the worst-- (Interruption.) Yes, the worst railway in the country? That railway is completely unreliable. Will my hon. Friend give me an assurance that the chairman of British Rail--who so far has been oblivious to all this--will be told that it must stop? Safety and reliability : that is what we want and demand.

Mr. Freeman : My right hon. and learned Friend and I share my right hon. Friend's comments about the quality of service on the London-Tilbury and Southend line. It needs resignalling and reinvestment in new rolling stock. It is operated safely, but its unreliability is due to the age of its infrastructure. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are addressing those problems right now.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does the Minister accept that the public should have the fullest confidence in the transportation of both freight and people? In that context, can he tell us what safety discussions he has held with British Rail about the transportation of nuclear waste to Dounreay from places as far afield as Iraq, Canada and Germany, as there is widespread public concern in Scotland about that? May I have the Minister's assurance that he will advise the House of the details of the routes that are to be followed and the dates and that the police forces will be informed?

Mr. Freeman : The operators follow strict criteria as to the safety of their loads, whether carried by road or rail. If the hon. Lady is ignorant of that and cares to table a question, I will answer it. Prior publicity of the routes followed would not be in the best interests of the safe conduct of such material.

Mr. Cormack : Will my hon. Friend arrange to see the chairman of British Rail at a different main line station each month? If the chairman fails to turn up on time, will my hon. Friend fail to renew his contract?

Mr. Freeman : From my knowledge of Sir Bob Reid's interest in railways, he has visited not only all the London termini but most of the rail services in the country. He is extremely assiduous in his task. My right hon. and learned Friend and I meet the chairman frequently out of the office on British Rail's network.

Mr. Prescott : Will the Minister discuss the safety implications of the creeping privatisation proposals that were announced by the Secretary of State at the Tory party conference? Can he now make it clear that those proposals will not go ahead, as the Bill is unlikely to be included in the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Freeman : There are two parts to that question. The Government have made it plain that any privatisation of British Rail will be a matter for the next Parliament, not for this. There is no question, therefore, of any Bill being presented to Parliament in the next Session. The Government have always made that plain. Any railway system, whether it is in the public or the private sector, has to be operated safely. The roles and responsibilities of Her Majesty's railway inspectorate will continue.

Column 9

London Transport

7. Ms. Ruddock : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how much he expects to be invested in London Underground Ltd. and London Buses Ltd. during 1991-92.

Mr. Freeman : The level of investment undertaken by London Underground Ltd. and London Buses Ltd. is a matter for London Transport to decide within total funds available. However, I understand that the Underground is planning to invest some £500 million this year and London Buses some £30 million.

Ms. Ruddock : I thank the Minister for his answer. However, does he agree with the Monopolies and Mergers Commission that deficiencies in the level of service are the result of chronic under-investment in both new capacity and the replacement and renewal of existing assets? Is he aware that the chair of London Transport has said that investment must rise to £1.5 billion a year simply to maintain the existing level of service, a service that cannot even run when it rains because stations get flooded? Despite what he said today, will he acknowledge that existing investment programmes are threatened because of lack of money? Can he also confirm that rumours that crossrail will be delayed by two years?

Mr. Freeman : I can confirm that British Rail and London Transport are proceeding firmly on the basis of depositing a Bill for crossrail in the next Session. It is far too early to give a commitment on the start and completion of construction. The grant of £2,500 million to be paid by the Government to London Transport over this and the next two years is double in real terms the grant that was paid in the past three years. The Opposition are not promising one penny more to London Transport over the next three years. Our record on funding London Transport is second to none.

Mr. Evennett : I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about increased investment, but where is that investment being spent, because there is little evidence of where it is being spent?

Mr. Freeman : I could give my hon. Friend one example--one of many-- and I should be happy to answer a parliamentary question if he tables one. The refurbishment of the Central line is costing well over £700 million. It will involve the replacement of the rolling stock and resignalling and will lead to an improved service for all passengers.

Mr. Leighton : When the Minister considers investment, will he recall that he wrote to me some time ago telling me that the lavatories on Stratford station in east London would be put in good working order in the summer of 1990? The summer of 1990 has gone, but the lavatories on Stratford station are still not working. How does he justify that to the commuters of east London?

Mr. Freeman : I recently visited Stratford station with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I know that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) will be interested in the statement that is to follow on the channel tunnel rail link, which will mean big improvements for Stratford. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the public toilets.

Column 10

Fare Refunds

8. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to encourage public and private transport bodies to refund fares when their vehicles fail to run or are late ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind : Arising from the citizens charter, British Rail and London Underground are preparing charters for their customers that will set out the level of service that can be expected and what compensation will be available. Private sector transport operators must decide how best to serve their customers in a competitive market.

Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the time has come to compensate all passengers, particularly my constituents in Ealing, North, when trains and other transport are late? Would not the charter place a discipline on British Rail and other bodies responsible for transport, as they would know that they would have to compensate passengers when trains are late or when passengers are kept sitting in sidings for hours in anticipation of an arrival? Should not something be done, and what will be done?

Mr. Rifkind : It is, indeed, desirable to improve compensation measures, and under the citizens charter that is what British Rail and London Transport propose to do. There is the practical question of identifying the passengers who travelled, or who wished to travel, on a train service, but once those practical aspects can be accommodated the principle of compensation will be irrefutable where the service has been grossly inadequate.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Is the Minister aware that the 7.05 am from Manchester to London was more than two hours late this morning? Does he realise that for many passengers on that train it was the second time in a month that the service had been unsatisfactory? Is he aware that although they would like some compensation for that, what they really want is a train service that runs on time? The only way to achieve that is effective investment in rail stock. When shall we get some new units on the line from Manchester to London?

Mr. Rifkind : As the hon. Gentleman knows, British Rail has a substantial investment programme. I travelled today on the new east coast main line service and arrived within three minutes of the scheduled time of arrival, on which BR can properly be congratulated. We should like such punctuality to apply throughout the service, and the hon. Gentleman's point is well noted.

Mr. Dunn : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the worst railway line is not in Essex but is the Dartford loop line, which serves my constituency? When will British Rail announce its policy to levy only small fare increases on what are deemed to be poorly served lines?

Mr. Rifkind : I understand that British Rail is likely to make its fare increases known in the near future. In determining what those levels should be, it is important that some account is taken of lines that are known to provide an especially bad service. There should be some connection between the two aspects, and we very much hope that British Rail will take account of that.

Mr. Prescott : Did the Secretary of State read the Daily Mail story today which said that the Prime Minister had

Column 11

intervened in respect of British Rail fares, that those fares are no longer British Rail's responsibility and that the Government intend freezing them? How does the Secretary of State intend to provide the capital that is necessary to meet his hon. Friends' complaints about Network SouthEast and about which line is the worst? It is clear that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to reduce subsidies for the south-east by 1992. Does he intend to continue that silly policy?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friends have been referring to investment in Network SouthEast lines. The hon. Gentleman should know two things--that investment in Network SouthEast is at an historically high level and that, under the last Labour Government, for three years investment was cut, not increased. It is the practice of Labour Governments, not the rhetoric of Labour spokesmen, to which the House and the country will pay attention.


10. Mr. Robert Hicks : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he intends announcing his Department's preferred route for the A38 trunk road improvement Liskeard-Bodmin section and the proposed options for the Saltash-Trerulefoot section ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Chope : I expect to announce the preferred route for the proposed improvement of the A38 between Liskeard and Bodmin in December. Public consultation on proposals for the Saltash to Trerulefoot section of the A38 will take place next year.

Mr. Hicks : I welcome the December 1991 date for the announcement of the preferred route between Liskeard and Bodmin. Is my hon. Friend aware of the increasing worry about delays on the Saltash to Trerulefoot section of the A38? Will he confirm that much of the investigatory work was undertaken 10 to 12 years ago, when various options were published? Is not it about time that this A-class cart track was improved?

Mr. Chope : The Government intend to improve that A road substantially and as soon as possible. I hope that my hon. Friend will not miss an opportunity to explain to his constituents that only with a Conservative Government is there any prospect of that happening.

Next Section

  Home Page