The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle) : Lane rental contracts have, on average, been completed 30 per cent. faster than conventional contracts since their introduction in 1984, and we estimate that that has saved more than £120 million in delay and other costs.
Mr. Couchman : My hon. Friend and I are probably more at one on lane rental than we will be on line rental later today. Coming as I do from cone county in Kent, I ask my hon. Friend to reassure the House that when he decides on major works on the A20/M20 and A2/M2--which are parallel roads-- he will make certain that the works are staggered and that interconnecting roads between those two major highways are not subject to road works at the same time.
Mr. Carlisle : My hon. Friend makes an important point. I am sorry if there is any congestion in Kent, but it is partly caused by our determination to get those roads finished in time for the opening of the channel tunnel. Lane rental has a considerable amount to offer. A maintenance contract that used to last one month will be reduced by 10 days by lane rental, which makes a huge contribution to cutting congestion and reducing frustration among local people.
2. Mrs. Bridget Prentice : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received on the level of services to the commuters of London and the south-east ; and if he will make a statement.
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : In the four years to the autumn of 1993, British Rail record a drop of 20 per cent. in London commuter passengers. British Rail has therefore been obliged to reduce services. Reductions in the new timetable amount to about 3 per cent. overall, which is half the recent rate of fall in demand. As demand recovers, services will be increased.
Mrs. Prentice : How can the Minister justify the 8 per cent. fare increase in January on Network SouthEast--the highest in the country--when last week peak-hour trains through Lewisham and north Kent were cut by 42 and the Sunday service was halved? Will he tell the House how that will enhance passenger comfort and persuade more people to travel by train?
Mr. Freeman : Fewer passengers are using Network SouthEast compared to four years ago. The recession has caused a reduction in London commuting. As we recover from the recession, demand will increase and additional services will be provided. British Rail, like any other great industrial enterprise, must tailor its services to demand. As to fare increases, I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the fact that British Rail has for two years been differentiating between lines. Where there is a better service, there are more than average fare increases, but where it is acknowledged that the service is relatively poor, fare increases are relatively low.
Mr. Sims : Many people living in outer-London constituencies rely on train services for social and leisure activities, as well as for getting to and from work. Although one accepts that the frequency of services must be matched to demand, does not my hon. Friend think that it is extraordinary that British Rail is reducing Sunday services to one train an hour? Is that not itself likely to lead to a greater fall in demand?
Mr. Freeman : As I said, British Rail must react to the fall in demand by cutting services, because that is the nature of a cash-limited nationalised industry. I hope that, with the gradual introduction of franchised passenger services, operators will take more commercial risks. I agree with my hon. Friend that one can easily fall into a downward spiral of service as services are cut and demand falls. I hope that we will be in a virtuous upward spiral with private sector operation.
Mr. Harvey : How soon do the Government envisage privatising commuter services in the south-east? We heard originally that most of the privatisation would take place during the lifetime of this Parliament ; later, that it might take 15 years ; and, on another occasion, that the floodgates were being held back until next year. Now we hear that another 18 areas are to be identified today. Has the Department of Transport listened to the Prime Minister's advice, that lessons should be learnt from the local election results? If so, what lessons has the Department learnt about the speed of this legislation?
Mr. Freeman : Our policy has not changed. We said in our election manifesto that the intention was to have a significant number of franchises in place at the end of this Parliament. I can confirm that the intention is to let the first franchise in the second half of next year. Thereafter, we shall proceed gradually. It is an evolutionary process ; it is not a process that involves a great number of franchises being let at the same time. We shall learn by the process. It will take a number of years, and certainly beyond this Parliament. But our policy has not changed. All that has happened today is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has spelt out what the long-term plan is for franchising all of Great Britain's rail services.
Mr. Ottaway : I remind my hon. Friend that not all commuters travel by rail ; many of my constituents travel into London by road. I remind him also of the complete lack of good main roads between Croydon and the centre of London and that this is the only sector where there is no good main road into or out of London.
Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me and the House of the need to improve road services in London. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London has already laid out the Government's policy on red routes. Both my hon. Friend and I have emphasised the importance of traffic priority measures to help public transport, such as buses, move more easily in the capital. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will have heard what my hon. Friend has had to say.
Mr. Prescott : Is the Minister aware that the recommendation to Network SouthEast is standing room for 16 in a carriage and that at present the number is about 160? By cutting services, the Minister would at least reduce the amount of time that people spend standing on our trains. When he talks about services, he has to take into account that people are travelling in congested, dangerous conditions on Network SouthEast trains.
Mr. Freeman : I would not agree with the hon. Gentleman that Network SouthEast runs an unsafe service. British Rail rightly places great reliance on safety. This year alone, British Rail will spend about £250 million on improving the safety of rail operations. When public sector franchisees run services, safety standards will be as high, if not higher.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor) : My Department already makes use of new technology for three purposes : assisting traffic management, enhancing road safety and providing information for road users. Closed circuit television and variable message signs are now well established on the busiest motorways, such as the M25. Cameras are also being used on trunk roads in London to detect drivers speeding and violating red light signals.
Mr. Evennett : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. I certainly welcome the use of new technology to improve traffic flows and reduce accidents. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the red light signal cameras that have been installed have helped to reduce accidents considerably in Greater London, particularly serious accidents, and that the Government will continue to use technology to improve traffic flow and reduce the number of serious accidents on our roads? Furthermore, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the numbers of road deaths and serious road injuries in this country are among the lowest in the whole of Europe?
Column 556considerably towards improving road safety. Since they were introduced, speed detection cameras have reduced fatal and serious casualties on roads by 50 per cent. Cameras at red light signals have reduced accidents by 60 per cent. The cameras also assist with traffic flow, the point of my hon. Friend's question, because if accidents are reduced, traffic flow is improved.
Mr. Barry Jones : Does the Secretary of State accept that some traffic jams will not be solved by technology, however interesting the case may be? I refer him to a problem on the England-Wales border, where a new River Dee crossing is required, which will cost many millions of pounds. Can he assure me that that scheme will go ahead and will not be subject to the public expenditure review? Does he know that the communities of Queensferry, Shotton, Connah's Quay and Kelsterton are suffering a tremendous environmental blight? They need the scheme urgently. Can the Secretary of State give us a promise about that scheme?
Mr. MacGregor : That point is a long way from new technology to assist traffic flow. I cannot comment on that scheme, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to table a specific question I shall do so. I note his support for our record road building programme to improve traffic flow generally. I hope that he will continue to support all that we are doing in that regard, including lobbying some of his colleagues who sometimes object to it, because there is no doubt that our record road building programme is greatly assisting our economic competitiveness by reducing congestion.
Mr. Burns : Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to install cameras on the M25 to detect speeding? If there are plans to put cameras on that and other motorways, will there be advance warning signs so that drivers are more aware that they may be exceeding the speed limit?
Mr. MacGregor : The knowledge that such cameras are around in itself discourages speeding, but I take note of what my hon. Friend says about warning signs. At the moment, the main technology on the M25 is designed to improve information for drivers. We are also experimenting with quite an expensive new scheme which will be introduced in due course to try to stop bunching and starting and stopping. I have no doubt that we shall also install cameras to assist in other ways.
4. Mr. Raynsford : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what consideration his Department has given to the advantages of saving Oxleas wood from destruction by means of a deep bore tunnel under the wood to connect with the east London river crossing.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : When making their decision to proceed with the scheme, the Secretaries so State for Transport and for the Environment took full account of all the evidence presented at the public inquiry. That included the independent inspector's conclusion that a bored tunnel under Oxleas wood could not be justified.
Column 557been universally condemned, and that even the British Road Federation is now calling for an alternative route to save Oxleas wood? When will the Government come to their senses and call a halt to this act of environmental vandalism?
Mr. Norris : The hon. Gentleman tempts me to remind the House that such hyperbole is so wildly wide of the mark that it makes no rational contribution to the debate. The reality is that 89 per cent. of Oxleas wood will be unaffected by the scheme. Perhaps the House should be more aware of that--11 per cent. of the wood will be taken, but 89 per cent. will not. Perhaps that puts the issue into proper perspecitive.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : Will my hon. Friend remind the House that the inspectors recommended that the road should be covered if it went through Oxleas wood but that, since the inspectors' reports, the British Road Federation has said that if the bridge which would help Newham and perhaps Thamesmead were built, the road through Oxleas wood would not be needed and that, in line with the Government's east Thames corridor proposals, the road should go towards the M25 and Dartford-- [Interruption.] -- rather than coming down into Shrewsbury ward in the constituency of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) and into my constituency?
Mr. Norris : I have seen the BRF's scheme. My hon. Friend will have noted from the reaction that his mention of it has caused that it solves some problems but creates others. It is an interesting proposition which I shall, of course, ensure is fully explored, but we should not underestimate the fact that after the longest public inquiry on record--lasting 15 months --the inspectors concluded that the bored tunnel could not be justified and that, in the interests of what the scheme delivers, the environmental disadvantage was capable of being set against the greater strategic advantages of the new road.
Ms Walley : Why will not the Minister and the Secretary of State listen to what the people are saying about the £1 billion road programme and the way in which it appears to be immune from proper environmental impact assessment? Will he tell the House why he is not prepared to give us the right to know about the scheme, why is he not prepared immediately to make public the European Commission's full reasoned opinion on Oxleas wood and what action he is prepared to take to safeguard this site of special scientific interest from the bulldozer?
Mr. Norris : If the hon. Lady knew a little more about the matter, she would appreciate that the EC's reasoned opinion has nothing to do with the merits of the scheme. I am astonished that she is not aware that the EC's reasoned opinion is based on the merits of the transitional provisions of the appropritate directive. It is, incidentally, on a basis with which the Government have consistently disagreed. I see no reason, therefore, why what the EC has said should have had any impact on the route.
On publication, the hon. Lady will know that such communications between the Commission and the Governments of member states are always treated as confidential by both parties-- [Interruption.] I stress that they are treated as confidential by both parties--not just by the Government, but by the Commission.
Mr. Haselhurst : Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the period of dilatoriness up to getting agreement for the project is now finally over and that he will use his best endeavours to ensure that construction proceeds speedily? The project now has enhanced importance in view of the welcome decision to proceed with crossrail.
Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I was pleased to play some part in bringing the discussions to a conclusion, quite speedily towards the end. I also agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of getting on with the project. It is necessary for the technical details of the joint venture to be finalised between the parties and for some further detailed design work to be undertaken before construction proper can commence. We hope that that will be towards the end of this year and, if there are no unforeseen difficulties, the railway could be open to passengers by late 1997. I am sure that the whole House welcomes the successful conclusion of the discussions and the joint venture and I hope that it leads to many more.
Dr. Godman : The Minister will know that the issue is of considerable importance to all those who travel from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen to London Heathrow and who then have that disgraceful journey from Heathrow to the centre of London. Between now and 1997, will the Minister's officials speak to officials of London Transport to speed up the service between the centre of London and Heathrow? Some trains could, for example, stop at Hammersmith and then continue uninterruptedly to Heathrow terminal 4.
Mr. MacGregor : I shall put that point to London Transport. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the fact that the joint venture is now going ahead. Given that the question was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), the hon. Gentleman might also point out to some of his constituents and others from Scotland who come to London that there is also a good service from Stansted airport direct to London.
Mr. Dicks : Bearing in mind that the Heathrow express has a major impact on my constituents, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, with the coming of crossrail, people are not allowed to pop into Heathrow on their journeys, west or east, just to fill up the gaps left by the Heathrow express?
Mr. Norris : Negotiations are continuing on the precise terms of the funding agreement between London Underground and the parties concerned with the financing of Canary wharf. I am hopeful that they will soon be successfully concluded.
Mr. Austin-Walker : Whether it is the dead hand of the Treasury or the dithering of the Prime Minister, does the Minister agree that the time to invest in our infrastructure is before we come out of recession? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 85 per cent. of the contracts for the building of the Jubilee line are ready to go, with the prospect of between 10,000 and 30,000 jobs being created? Will he further press the Cabinet for extension of the Jubilee line to Woolwich? Will he confirm that a rail crossing of the River Thames at Woolwich could be built at a quarter of the cost of building the east London river crossing?
Mr. Norris : On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, we have, of course, made it plain that we are prepared to commence construction of the line as soon as the private sector contribution is in place. On the hon. Gentleman's point about the Woolwich crossing, he will be aware that that was extensively investigated by London Transport and the conclusion was that it should not proceed at this stage.
As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the river crossing, he will be aware that the road crossing--the east London river crossing--is of major strategic importance to London, particularly the east of London, and that it will, in due course, play a very important role in enhancing infrastructure in east London.
Mr. Channon : I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that this is a matter of very great urgency, not only for the obvious reasons that have been outlined on many occasions in the House, but because it is impossible to proceed with phase 2 of the parliamentary building programme--as the overwhelming majority of hon. Members want to do--until we know one way or the other when the Jubilee line extension is likely to take place. Will my hon. Friend bear that in mind, as it is very important and urgent?
Mr. Norris : I, too, understand what my right hon. Friend has said. Any delay to the start of the project is regrettable. However, my right hon. Friend will appreciate that the position that the Government have adopted has remained as it was originally. When the private sector is able to put its contribution in place, construction of the scheme can begin. It clearly cannot begin before that date.
Mr. Simon Hughes : Does the Minister accept that the position on the Jubilee line is absolutely unacceptable? It is 14 months since the Bill received Royal Assent ; we have had promises that construction of the line was about to be announced and completed ; the money has been standing by for a year ; we have had rumours one week that documentation for the scheme was about to be signed and the next week that it was not ; two weeks ago, the managing director of London Underground told the Transport Select Committee that the documents between London Underground and the private sector had now been agreed ; and every day that passes businesses are blighted and go under. People want an underground line and they want the Government to put their hands on and
Column 560not take them off. The people concerned should bang their heads together and get the line agreed. Is that going to happen or not? For heaven's sake, tell us the truth.
Mr. Norris : I deeply resent that last suggestion. It is quite obvious that all the way through our message has been very straightforward. The Government are prepared to contribute around £1.5 billion to the project on the basis that the private sector comes forward with its own contribution of £400 million in cash. I regret the delay as much as the hon. Gentleman. He and I have debated the issue many times. We are making progress and that progress will continue. When the process is complete--and it is impossible for me or the managing director of London Underground or anyone else to set a date at this stage--we will begin construction of the line.
Mr. Dunn : My hon. Friend will be aware that the Jubilee line extension project will make a massive contribution to employment prospects in the centre of London. Will he confirm that he will do all he can to ensure that the project starts at the earliest opportunity? Will he also confirm that the east London crossing will remain in east London and not be shipped off to Dartford, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley)?
Mr. Norris : On the first point, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear in his autumn statement that the Government are committed to their contribution towards building the Jubilee line. That substantial contribution is well in excess of £1.5 billion. As to my hon. Friend's point about the route of the east London river crossing, he will appreciate that its whole strategic importance is predicated on the assumption that it links the A406 with the A2 where it currently does.
Mr. Tony Banks : Surely the Minister recalls that his Department has issued more press statements on the Jubilee line extension going ahead than I have had hot dinners--and I have had one or two of those? Once again, it looks as though the Government have changed the rules. We now learn that the contracts and understandings that have been negotiated with the private sector have been changed in terms of Government requirements. Have there been any changes in Government requirements since last November with regard to deals with the private sector?
Will the Minister make it quite clear that he is not being pressurised by the Treasury into scrapping the Jubilee line extension altogether? That is what the newspapers and various people in the private sector are saying. Is not the Minister fully aware that unless the Jubilee line extension goes ahead, a large number of question marks will hang over the development in docklands, the City airport, Canary wharf and the whole of the east Thames corridor initiative?
Mr. Norris : I shall not swap tallies of hot dinners with the hon. Gentleman because I recognise that I might lose. I am delighted to confirm that there has been no change whatever in the Government's position. Nor is there any ground between the Department of Transport and any other Department of Government. The Government's position has been clear throughout and I will restate it for the avoidance of doubt. It is that the Government remain committed to putting money into the project once the private sector contribution is concluded and assured. I readily accept the hon. Gentleman's point about the
Column 561impact of the Jubilee line extension, particularly on those areas south of the Thames which stand to benefit substantially when the extension is built. I hope that a satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at so that the line can go ahead. But it must depend on the private sector contribution.
Sir Michael Neubert : If that is so, could I confirm from the Government Benches the intense frustration of Londoners that, six months after the announcement of the Government's commitment to the project, one of the principal purposes of the project, the creation of jobs and a recovery in the capital, is being frustrated by continued prevarication by the bankers? Is there nothing more that my hon. Friend can do to persuade them to get their act together?
Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend mentioned the responsibilities of some of the creditors of Olympia and York. The complexity of arriving at an agreement with the creditors of Olympia and York, which I understand was the largest property company in the world when it went into administration, was underestimated. That has necessarily meant that the process of arriving at a new arrangement has been extremely complex and hazardous. I should like to put it on the record that the Government believe that all the parties to negotiations have acted throughout in good faith. Important and difficult negotiations have taken place. I regret the delay in the creation of jobs and opportunities, but I am convinced, as I know is my hon. Friend, that it is right to press the developers, who will gain materially from the development in return for their contribution.
Mr. Spellar : Does the Minister recognise that that was an unsatisfactory response? Concessionary fare schemes and bus passes are a vital lifeline for many pensioners : for many they are the difference between existing and living. Why will not the Minister make a straightforward statement that the Government are committed to the continuation of these enormously important schemes and that they will do everything in their power to ensure that the schemes remain? Why will not the Minister give pensioners some assurance and give them a straightforward answer? Yes or no--will he protect the schemes?
Mr. Freeman : Concessionary fare schemes specifically for buses, but also for other forms of local public transport, are the responsibility of local government, not central Government. Local authorities, including passenger transport authorities, have the responsibility for ranking their schemes in priority. It is a matter for local government.
Column 562have operated, especially in the Greater London area, most local authorities have acted responsibly and have seen fit to maintain the schemes?
Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will know that local authorities in Greater London currently provide about £120 million a year for concessionary fare schemes. Local authorities in London are to be congratulated on continuing to support such schemes. It must be for other local authorities to fix their own priorities and continue such schemes as they see fit.
Mr. Snape : Instead of hiding behind the local authority smokescreen, why does not the Minister acknowledge that it was the irrational and arbitary decision of the late Lord Ridley to prevent local authorities from acting as precepting authorities which has brought about the present financial problems and the direct threat to concessionary fares? For once, cannot Ministers tell the truth and admit their responsibilities?
Mr. Freeman : The advantage of the levying system in comparison with the old precepting system is that passenger transport authorities have to reach agreement with local district councils about the political priorities. That seems to be essentially democratic and I believe that the system should continue.
Mr. Dickens d, the new franchisees may even come up with better ideas. Am I right in saying that the Railways Bill makes the provision of railcards for disabled people an obligation?
Mr. Freeman : Railcards are different from local authority concessionary fare schemes. I agree with my hon. Friend that British Rail introduced the cards not as a result of pressure from Government or individual Ministers, or parliamentary legislation, but for good commercial reasons. There is no reason to believe that franchisees will not wish to continue to provide the same service.
Mr. Prescott : Is the Minister aware that his own Government, in the London Regional Transport (Amendment) Act 1985, took statutory powers to force local authorities to impose a concessionary scheme for London pensioners? Why does he draw a distinction between the two schemes?
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman will know that local authorities have always arrived at voluntary agreements. The Act contains a reserve power, but authorities have reached voluntary agreements every year since they have had responsibility for these matters and I believe that they will continue to do so.
Mr. Freeman : The deregulation of bus services outside London has resulted in a 20 per cent. increase in bus mileage, with many new services to areas not previously served by buses. Operator costs have been reduced by more than a third.
Mr. Congdon : Given the real success of deregulation in providing more buses, will my hon. Friend confirm that Londoners can expect to receive similar benefits when it is introduced here? When will we have an opportunity to experience those benefits?
Mr. Freeman : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Deregulation will permit new operators to provide additional services at different times of the week and in different parts of Greater London. That is the experience of deregulation outside London.
Mr. Ian Taylor : Will my hon. Friend note that in Surrey, as in other areas, some of the services that are now provided are much more responsive to the needs of local people? That is extremely welcome and if deregulation enables it to continue in London, it will be welcomed by Londoners as well. There is no doubt, however, that it is essential for the Government to ensure that the rules and regulations enable bus services to continue : they are much in demand.
Mr. Freeman : My hon. Friend will know that the Government intend to introduce a Bill in due course and to set up a central agency in London to continue to subsidise socially necessary services. Outside London, the position is different : subsidies are provided by local authorities.
Mr. Redmond : The Minister is talking a load of rubbish. He knows that deregulation does not work. It has meant higher fares, clapped-out buses and, in most cases, no buses at all in both rural and urban areas. Will the Minister accept that deregulation has not worked? Will he go up to South Yorkshire and ask old-age pensioners about it?
Mr. Freeman : We have issued a consultation document to all local authorities--and, I hope, to all local bus companies--asking them to comment on how the 1985 arrangements are working. If improvements are necessary to ensure that services are provided flexibly by the private sector, we shall consider introducing legislation.
Mr. Wilson : I am sure that the Minister knows--as does everyone else with an interest in these matters--of the 30 per cent. reduction in the number of passengers in urban areas outside London and the 30 per cent. increase in fares. If the Tories regard that as a success story, they are welcome to it.
I am sure that the Minister's colleagues are anxious for parallels to be made with rail privatisation today. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many private operators run schemes offering discounted through-ticketing for journeys covering more than one operator's area?
Column 564private sector now participates in, multi- modal travelcards. That is true of Manchester, where representatives of the Manchester Metro are discussing with local authorities the introduction of a local travelcard. The hon. Gentleman was right about the reduction in patronage, but that has been happening since the second world war. There has been a gradual decline in the use of buses because people prefer the flexibility of using a car. We must face the challenge to halt and reverse that trend--Conservative policies will meet that challenge.
Sir Thomas Arnold : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is an urgent need to speed up those procedures? Does he envisage reaching a stage where either amending or primary legislation will be necessary? Will he do everything possible to speed up the construction of his Department's proposed Stockport north-south bypass?
Mr. MacGregor : I think that my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic has been answering parliamentary questions on my hon. Friend's latter point, which I have noted. I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of speeding up the procedure. On average there is an interval of about thirteen and a half years between a scheme's entering a programme and finally being opened and 12 of those thirteen and a half years are spent discussing the route and giving all interested parties the right to argue their case. I do not wish to affect the rights of interested parties to do so, but I wonder whether the process needs to take an average of 12 years. Some proposals that I introduce may require primary legislation, but I am anxious to do as much as possible without such legislation.