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House of Commons

Monday 29 November 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

Northern Ireland

2.35 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is to be an important statement by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after Question Time. I do not know why the papers relevant to that statement are embargoed until after the Secretary of State gets to his feet. The effect is that hon. Members will not have the documentation available. Surely the House should be entitled to the documentation upon which the Secretary of State will expand. I have been informed by the Library and by the Vote Office that they cannot give any of the documents out until 3.30, at which time hon. Members will be in the Chamber listening to what is being said.

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is normal procedure. It is of course at the discretion of the Minister concerned whether he allows the documentation to be released before he makes a statement or when he rises. In most cases, the documents are released when the Minister rises. There is nothing untoward about today's statement in that respect.

Oral Answers to Questions


Rolling Stock --

1. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport how soon the train leasing companies created as a result of the passage of the Railways Act 1993 will be in a position to order the construction of new railway rolling stock.

The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : The new companies will assume responsibility for the provision of rolling stock from April 1994.

They will be able to order new stock provided they can make a sufficiently attractive investment case.

Mr. Bayley : Does the Minister accept that if no work is done by the leasing companies to prepare for giving orders early next year, some of the important manufacturing companies in Britain will have unacceptable, and possibly fatal, delays in their order books ? The Minister gave a press conference in my constituency a couple of months ago, at which he looked forward to a time when rail rolling

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stock manufacturers could look ahead over 10 years, see what sort of work was available, and decide how they could gear up for it. What will the Government do to create those conditions in railway rolling stock manufacturing, and stop making companies go from hand to mouth and from one order to another ? Will not the industry go from crisis to crisis if the Government approach continues ?

Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that orders totalling £400 million have been received for new rolling stock in the past few weeks, made up of £250 million for the Jubilee line and £150 million for Networkers. That is an excellent start.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we must move from a situation of companies going from order by order to one in which they can look forward 10 years. The best way to achieve that is to put the rolling stock companies and the train operating companies into the private sector. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) laughs, but his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) does not share his mirth. It is important that those decisions are taken by the private sector, not the public sector.

Mr. Gale : May I thank my hon. Friend for the considerable encouragement and support that he has given to the case of providing new rolling stock for the Kent coast line ? May I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team on securing the order for that line ? Will he continue to give every possible encouragement to other private companies to produce the kind of rolling stock on the coastal services that we used to expect, and hope to expect again ?

Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was a British Rail decision, but the House should be aware that the rolling stock supply industry has been delivering stock not wholly free from defects. If there is to be an improvement in the frequency and quantity of orders, the rolling stock industry must play an important role. The Kent link Networkers are already 12 months late, the class 323 Regional Railways electric trains are 18 months late, and the class 158 Regional Railways diesels were two years late. That is not good enough, and an improvement by the railways supply industry will help to instill confidence into the private sector.

Mr. Wilson : Does the Minister not realise the extent of the crisis in the private sector railway manufacturing industry, where tens of thousands of jobs are now at risk because of the blight on investment created by the run-up to privatisation ?

Mr. Riddick : More scaremongering.

Mr. Wilson : The hon. Gentleman may say, "More scaremongering," but he should go to speak to the private sector Railway Industry Association to find out what it thinks of the Government's performance, rather than mouthing nonsense from behind the Minister. Could the Minister tell us why, while every airline in the world uses leasing to acquire new planes and every European railway uses leasing to acquire new railway stock, we are still talking about a single leasing contract being authorised by the Government, while the west coast

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main line is starved of investment and, all over the country, local authorities want to be involved in new rolling stock deals ? Will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that, before we have anything of the new leasing companies, there will be a more positive approach to leasing to acquire new rolling stock, thereby saving jobs ? There is no need for the fragmentation of the railways or privatisation to get leasing schemes going and investment in railway rolling stock.

Mr. Freeman : We should have orders for new rolling stock to serve the passengers, not to protect jobs. The jobs will be protected automatically if two conditions are met first, that the railways can prove that they need rolling stock on a particular line one does not order it simply to keep the production line going, as I am sure that the hon. Member for York will agree and, secondly, the order can be classified as an operating lease. There is no need for British Rail to wait until 1 April 1994 to place another order. If both the major manufacturers step forward and make an attractive offer to British Rail between now and then, I am sure that such an offer will be well received and carefully considered.

Mrs. Browning : Will my hon. Friend confirm that, once small lines such as the Tarka line, part of which goes through my constituency in Devon, are privatised, when there is a need for new rolling stock, those franchisees will not be precluded from providing the rolling stock and, contrary to the scare tactics of the Liberal Democrats of the south-west, those small lines will continue to be run and to be well stocked ?

Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I can assure her that the Tarka line, like many other small branch lines, has an excellent future. I am not aware of any proposals for closure. She is right. We look to the private sector [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) seems to find that funny. If the hon. Gentleman did not hear it, I will repeat the answer. That branch line and other branch lines are not under threat. Members of the Labour party and Liberal Democrats put about those scare stories unnecessarily.

London to Midlands Rail Link --

2. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent representations he has received from industry and commerce in the west midlands in respect of infrastructure and investment requirements on the London to midlands rail links.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor) : I have received a number of representations about upgrading rail links to the midlands. We announced in July the appointment of advisers to work on a joint venture to renew the west coast main line infrastructure.

Mr. Rooker : Does the right hon. Gentleman understand the importance of that line to west midlands manufacturing and to all the constituencies there, including yours, Madam Speaker ? Does he also understand that the signalling belongs to the last century, trains regularly have to slow down to 20 mph, it is faster to get from London to York than it is to get from London to Wolverhampton, and that it is a disgrace that even the public and private sectors,

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meeting in Birmingham today, which want to put forward joint schemes, see the opportunities diminishing as the Government stick to their dogmatic policies ?

The line needs upgrading, and if the Secretary of State wants to win any support for himself, to show firm support for manufacturing, and to prove that not all the infrastructure goes to the south-east, he must come forward quickly, rather than shovelling the matter off to one list of consultants after another.

Mr. MacGregor : The infrastructure is not all going to the south- east. I fully recognise the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am sure that he knows of the £550 million of investment that has been made in the east coast main line. I recognise the need to get on with improving the infrastructure of the west coast main line and I recognise that it will be a massive undertaking, costing on infrastructure alone probably up to £600 million. The priority is the older part of the line south of Crewe. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the appointment of advisers to investigate the possibility of a joint venture between the public and private sectors is not a postponement of consideration of the matter. We have been getting on with it very quickly and we are making good progress. He will recognise, however, that, given the need to keep the line running, it is probably a 10-year project.

Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is acute anxiety in the west midlands not only about the main line, but about ancillary lines because the local service is a disgrace ? Will he give me a real and realistic time scale within which my constituents will have a service that compares with the east coast line ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am sure that my hon. Friend recognises the £6 billion of investment that British Rail has made in the past five years. There has certainly been no shortage of investment ; the question has been priorities. I assure my hon. Friend that we have been getting on with the study by the financial advisers and I hope to be able to make an announcement shortly. The extent to which we are successful in making the west coast main line infrastructure programme a joint venture involving private finance will determine whether we shall be able to release more of the available resources for other parts of the BR infrastructure.

Mr. Dobson : When will the Minister recognise the deplorable and declining standard of service on the line from London to the west midlands and on to the north-west and Scotland, which connects Britain's major industrial centres and most centres of population ? Aside from all the waffle about joint projects, further inquiries and guest studies, when will work start on the ground to provide the service that the people of the west midlands, the north-west and Scotland want and deserve ?

Mr. MacGregor : I hope that, first, the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge the £6 billion of investment that has been made in the past five years. British Rail has been conducting some study work on the infrastructure requirements and all the detailed assessments that must be made before final decisions can be taken about the west coast main line. I assure the hon. Gentleman, who does not seem interested in the answer, given the way in which he is looking around, that there is no question of waffle. We are getting on rather rapidly, with the prospects of a joint venture study [ Interruption .] The hon. Gentleman seems

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to think that guffaws are a substitute for serious thinking. We shall then get on with the further technical work that will have to be done on this major infrastructure project, bearing in mind that it is a busy line and that trains will have to pass over it all the time. I assure him that we are getting on with it rapidly.

M12 --

3. Mr. Burns : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to hold a public inquiry on the building of the M12 from the M25 to Chelmsford.

The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : It is too early to say when we would hold a public inquiry. We would expect to consult the public about this route next spring.

Mr. Burns : May I make a suggestion to my hon. Friend that would help to save public spending and to get rid of this unloved, unwanted and unasked for road ? No doubt he will be aware that nobody in the area Members of Parliament, local authorities, local residents wants this road, which would be an environmental disaster. If he wants to become a much- loved local hero, he will kill this proposal here and now. If he does so, he will be feted in every village and town between the M25 and Chelmsford from here until eternity.

Mr. Key : What a wonderful invitation. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his advice. I might even hold him to it one day.

Transatlantic Air Routes --

4. Sir Ivan Lawrence : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress he has made towards liberalisation of transatlantic air routes.

Mr. MacGregor : My aim is to work closely with the United States Government to meet the objective of agreement on liberalisation of UK-US air services by April next year. The refusal of the US Government to grant British Airways for a reasonable period the code-sharing rights to which it is entitled is a step backwards. Sir Ivan Lawrence : Is it not shameful that our close friend and ally, the United States, should adopt such an outrageous posture in this matter ? Working closely with the United States is clearly not sufficient to protect British airlines' interests because my right hon. Friend is, I presume, doing that already. What action does he propose to take, and when does he propose to take it, to hold the Americans to their international obligations ?

Mr. MacGregor : I assume that my hon. and learned Friend is rightly referring to the US Government's decision to grant British Airways its code -sharing rights for only 60 days. That has nothing to do with the liberalisation talks that we are undertaking this year with the US Government. It is entirely to do with a breach of the United States existing international obligations. We believe that it is breaching those in allowing British Airways only 60 days for its new code-sharing rights. That is wrong and we therefore have no option but to prepare for retaliatory action against US services that were introduced as a result of the Heathrow deal, from which BA's rights come. On 17 November, we accordingly warned the US Government that we proposed to limit United Airlines services to

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Washington and American Airlines services to Chicago from 12 January the date on which BA's code-share approval expires unless the approval was renewed by the United States in the meantime. I am sorry to have had to take that action, but I believe that we had no option, given the United States decision.

Mr. Olner : I shall fully support whatever action the Secretary of State takes on transatlantic routes, especially those into Birmingham airport which are so badly needed for the west midlands.

In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's previous answers, may I advise him to put some money into the west coast main line, because it will soon be quicker to fly from Birmingham to America than to travel on the west coast line from Birmingham to Heathrow ?

Mr. MacGregor : That simply cannot be right. However, I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman a positive reply. In our liberalisation talks, the position of regional airports is very much in our minds and we seek to increase the number of flights to regional airports. On investment in Birmingham airport, the hon. Gentleman will have been pleased to see the consideration that Birmingham airport is now giving to seeking private sector finance for its expansion.

Mr. Wilkinson : Will my right hon. Friend ensure that a robust stand is taken to protect the interests of principal British carriers, such as British Airways and Virgin, on transatlantic routes and to ensure that they have sufficient gateways into the US ? Will he also ensure that, to reciprocate, we are more willing to accept US carriers wishing to come to under-utilised British airports such as Stansted ? Was it not sad that Trans World Airlines was refused an air service agreement into Stansted ?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree with my hon. Friend. I hoped that we could reach an interim agreement, while the main bilateral liberalisation talks were going on, to agree the TWA flights to Stansted in the summer. I put proposals to that end to my American counterpart and obtained some reciprocal benefits for the United Kingdom. I am sorry that, on that occasion, he could not agree and that he wanted to wait for the wider liberalisation talks. But I assure my hon. Friend that his point about flights to airports that still have capacity is very much in our minds.

Air Quality, West Yorkshire --

5. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will publish the dates, times and locations of any surveys carried out in West Yorkshire to monitor the air quality along the routes of the A1 and other motorways in West Yorkshire ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Key : Four surveys have been carried out since October 1992. Twenty-four hour surveys were carried out on the A1 at Aberford and on the M62 at Thorpe in October and November 1992 respectively. There were 10-hour monitoring surveys in August this year on the A1 and M62 in Ferrybridge. The levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and lead measured at all locations were well below the designated values defined by the EC or World Health Organisation.

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Mr. O'Brien : Does the Minister accept that the M62, which runs through my constituency, is one of the busiest motorways in the north of England ? Although monitoring exercises have been carried out to measure the lead in the air, does he accept that people who live near motorways, particularly those near schools, are worried about the sulphur, nitrogen and other pollutants that are emitted ? Should not measurements be taken more frequently so that people can at least be assured that the Government are doing something to ensure that there is no danger to people's health, particularly children's health, along motorways and where motorways are planned ?

Mr. Key : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as I am sure is the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Mr. Lofthouse), who, by virtue of his office, cannot ask that question. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are taking careful steps to monitor air quality and that when the draft orders are laid before the House next summer, they will include an environmental statement. That will include air quality monitoring and assessment details.

Mr. Waller : Can my hon. Friend confirm that the internal combustion engine tends to emit most pollution, particularly carbon monoxide, when vehicles are either stationary or slow-moving ? That being the case, does he agree that, whatever the arguments for or against any scheme bypassing a settlement, it is unlikely that air quality will be one of the arguments underpinning opposition to such a scheme ?

Mr. Key : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is nothing more polluting than a traffic jam. On the whole, when traffic is moving freely, the dangerous emissions are minimised. That is something we take seriously when we are considering our road programme, whether it is widening a motorway or improving, or indeed bypassing, a particular village or community.

Road Construction --

6. Mr. Clifton-Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimates his Department has made as to the number of miles of new roads that will be constructed in the UK in the years 1993 to 2000 inclusive.

Mr. MacGregor : In 1993-94, we plan to start construction of some 130 miles, the vast majority of which is improvement to existing roads, including widening, and to bypasses, which are environmentally desirable and much in demand. For future years, the amount of road construction that we can do will depend on the availability of funds and the progress of schemes through statutory procedures.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : I thank my right hon. Friend for those figures. In sustaining that level of road building programme to meet the exponential rise of car ownership, has he considered what monetary instruments he might use to redress the balance of the use of the motor car in favour of other forms of transport ?

Mr. MacGregor : One of the points that I wish to make clearly, as my hon. Friend talks about the rise of car ownership, is that we are not talking about vast new green field roads or roads over green field sites. Fifteen out of the

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130 miles about which I have talked this year are concentrated on green field areas ; the rest is widening and so on.

As to my hon. Friend's question about pricing, I imagine that what he had in mind was the consultation paper that I announced earlier this year about the possibility of motorway charging. I am currently considering all the many responses that we have had to the Green Paper from more than 230 organisations. We had a very constructive response, and I hope to make an announcement as soon as the paper is completed.

Mr. Harvey : In the light of the National Audit Office report about the spiralling costs of motorway widening, does the Secretary of State accept that the costs have got out of control ? Given that public opposition to motorway schemes is widespread and growing, is he aware that all eyes will be on tomorrow's Budget, particularly on the ordinary roads programme and the public transport spending side of it, and if those areas, like others, are suffering constraint, would it not be quite wrong to continue pressing the case for super-freeways ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not going to comment in advance of anything that may or may not be said tomorrow. The hon. Gentleman will know that there is also widespread concern from most motorists, but significantly from industry, at the congestion costs that arise when motorways are not able to take the flow of traffic. The congestion costs to British industry can be very serious. We have to have a real mind to the competitiveness of British industry, to which improved motorways can make a substantial contribution.

However much we devote public expenditure to rail investment, there will still be an ever-increasing demand for freight on the road, because so many of the journeys are comparatively short or are not made in accordance with the rail infrastructure. There will continue to have to be a substantial road programme if our economy is to remain competitive.

The NAO report looked at only 10 schemes, introduced since 1989. We are looking at that report, but if the hon. Gentleman reads it, he will see that the Department is taking a lot of action along the lines suggested by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Mr. Dykes : I welcome the Government's acknowledgement that the era of massive road building is over, because it is too expensive and it merely adds to congestion. Will my right hon. Friend confirm yet again, however, that over the next 10 years as we win successive general elections it will be Government policy to enhance the role of the railways, in whatever form, to ensure that, in this densely populated country, we focus just as much on rail travel ?

Mr. MacGregor : As my hon. Friend will hear when I answer a later question, we devote substantial resources to public transport, especially considering the amount of traffic that it takes. In effect, we are skewing departmental expenditure plans significantly in favour of public transport.

My hon. Friend should recognise, however, that the railways are simply not suitable for large elements of freight transport, so it is necessary to ensure that we have thoroughly up-to-date motorways. My hon. Friend will note that we are concentrating pretty well all the road

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programme on the improvement of motorways and principal roads and not building new ones. We are also concentrating on bypasses, for which there is a great demand.

Ms Walley : Is the Secretary of State not shifting his position in that he does not believe in the roads policy any more ? Is it not time we had a real debate in this place on the National Audit Office report, and time there was a much greater shift towards public transport and away from a roads policy which is already £6 billion out of control ?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not agree at all, and I am not shifting my ground. I make it clear again that we still need significant investment in our road programme if we are to have the road network that we shall need in the 21st century. Large numbers of our fellow citizens are buying cars in increasing numbers and have the wherewithal to use them more and more and they will want to do so. They, too, will demand such a network quite apart from the problems of congestion for industry.

I have also made it clear that we are investing substantially in public transport, which represents nearly 40 per cent. of our total spending. Only about 10 per cent. of traffic goes by public transport, so we are clearly and disproportionately weighting our expenditure in favour of public transport and have been doing so for some time.

Dr. Spink : When will my right hon. Friend report on the lower Thames crossing ? Has Canvey Island been identified as one of the sites for that crossing ?

Mr. MacGregor : I am not in a position to say. It is too early to give my hon. Friend the kind of information that he requires.

Bus Deregulation --

7. Mr. Bryan Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action he takes to monitor the effect on services of bus deregulation.

Mr. Freeman : The effects of bus deregulation outside London have been fully monitored through a programme of research undertaken by the Transport Research Laboratory, which has published a number of reports on the situation nationally and locally.

Mr. Davies : What has caused the Minister to change his mind about London ? If deregulation will not work for London, why should Greater Manchester suffer, especially when unrealistic bids by private operators can work only if services are cut, workers sacked and fares raised ?

Mr. Freeman : I am pleased that Greater Manchester passenger transport authority has got on with splitting the bus company and selling the resulting two companies. The hon. Gentleman refers to an unrealistic bid by one company for Greater Manchester Buses (North). I do not believe that it is unrealistic. It is for the Greater Manchester PTA to make the decision and I hope that it will make it quickly. I wish the two companies, once split and sold, the very best.

London is wholly different from Manchester, Glasgow or Liverpool. The number of buses, the ridership and the intensity of use in London are very different. Next year, we are going to get on with privatising London's buses and providing a better service.

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Mr. Harry Greenway : I welcome the fact that the Government intend to provide a better service on London buses for Londoners. Does my right hon. Friend accept that that service is already a great deal better than it was 10 years ago ? Will he assure the House that, in the improved and deregulated market that he describes pensioners' and disabled people's travel passes will always be safe ?

Mr. Freeman : There is no intention to change either the operation of the travelcard or the concessionary fares scheme.

Mr. Raynsford : Why does the Minister not come clean and admit that the real reason for hter suburban areas, the consequence of which would have been electoral annihilation for the Government ? Why does the Minister not take pride on this one occasion in having done something sensible and allowed common sense to prevail over unnecessary dogma ? Deregulation was not right for London and should be abandoned as a policy.

Mr. Freeman : Obviously the common sense approach in London is what we shall follow, which is net cost tendering and privatisation of all London bus subsidiaries next year.

Mr. Milligan : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the effects of bus deregulation has been to create companies which offer a range of transport services ? In my constituency, the private bus company Southern Vectis is preparing a franchise bid for the loss-making coastal line. This will increase the frequency of railway services on that line from one per hour to one every 10 minutes. Does that not demonstrate that deregulation and privatisation will lead to an improvement in services, contrary to the allegations from the Opposition Front Bench that it will lead to a closure of unprofitable railway lines ?

Mr. Freeman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right. Since 1989, bus mileage has increased by about 20 per cent. and operating costs per mile have fallen by about 40 per cent. [Interruption.] Do the Opposition disagree with that ? Those are the facts. A deregulated and privatised industry will, I hope, bid for rail franchises and bring about a new dimension and improvement in railway services.

Asthma --

8. Ms Coffey : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what representations he has received about the incidence of asthma in residents living in areas of high traffic volume.

The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : I have received a number of representations, both from individuals and from organisations, about the incidence of asthma and high traffic levels.

Ms Coffey : Is the Minister aware that 39 per cent. of the population are at risk from respiratory diseases and that the treatment of asthma, now the most common disease, cost the national health service an estimated £344.4 million in 1988 ? Many studies have shown an association between asthma and residence in areas of high traffic volume. Will

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the Minister initiate a proper national survey of the relationship between asthma and traffic volume so that any future transport policy will take into account the health of the nation as well as the pressure from the road transport lobby ?

Mr. Norris : The hon. Lady seems unaware that the Department of Health has an independent expert committee on the medical effects of air pollutants. The committee has looked at this issue and a sub-group is specifically looking at the relationship between traffic and asthma. Had the hon. Lady considered that, she would be aware that, while there is no doubt that asthmatics need to use their inhalors more when nitrogen dioxide levels are high, there is as yet no evidence from studies carried out in this country and America which relates traffic emissions to the cause of asthma or to its onset. It is too early to say what conclusions we can draw ; we will have to wait for the working party to report.

Sir Thomas Arnold : Will the Government be more vigorous about building the Stockport north-south bypass ? Would that not be a useful way of tackling the problem to which the hon. Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) refers ?

Mr. Norris : I agree with my hon. Friend's general observation that in all this great talk about every road being somehow inherently evil it should be remembered that when bypasses are in place some tens of thousands of people who previously suffered from traffic volumes, noise and emissions are provided with welcome relief.

Mr. Grocott : Would it not be better for all of us if the Government made serious attempts to transfer traffic from road to rail ? The Minister should talk to his friends at the Ministry of Defence. In the past 12 years, the Ministry of Defence has closed down half the rail links from MOD depots to the main rail network, thereby as a matter of deliberate Government policy transferring freight from rail to road. One of the links that was closed was at the central ordnance depot Donnington in my constituency. Is that not one example of where one Government Department has not a clue what another Department is doing ?

Mr. Norris : As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has pointed out, a disproportionate amount of the Department's overall budget is already spent on public transport. In London, for example, some £3 is spent on public transport for every £1 spent on roads. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the announcement that my right hon. Friend made earlier this year, he would know that the Government have considerably enhanced the provision of freight facilities grant to allow the transfer of traffic from road to rail, to effect precisely the kind of change to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.

Departmental Budget --

9. Mr. David Martin : To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of his Department's annual budget is currently spent on roads and what proportion on public transport.

Mr. MacGregor : About 55 per cent. of my Department's expenditure is spent on roads ; the bulk of the remainder is devoted to public transport. Given that 90 per

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cent. of passenger and inland freight traffic is by road, this indicates the priority that Ministers give to public transport.

Mr. David Martin : I recognise the importance of public expenditure on public transport. Is my right hon. Friend aware, however, of the horrendous problems caused by the traffic jams and delays on the A3 between London and Portsmout at present affecting Hindhead, which is the last bottleneck in a road that has seen many improvements under the present Government ? Can my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all that he can to advance the cause of a bypass around Hindhead so that we can complete the excellent work being done on the A3 ?

Mr. MacGregor : I recognise the importance of a bypass at Hindhead to my hon. Friend's constituents in Portsmouth. Route and environmental issues have caused the delays to date, since the first public consultation in 1987 which led to the rejection of the first preferred route.

The detailed design is now being undertaken on a new preferred route, following an announcement earlier this year. That will lead to the publication of draft orders, expected in 1995. Meanwhile, a number of surveys are being carried out, including traffic and topographical surveys, and a ground investigation is due to start in the new year. I hope that that demonstrates to my hon. Friend that we are getting on with it.

Mr. Dobson : Does the Secretary of State recognise that much of the money that is shown by the Comptroller and Auditor General's report to have been squandered by his Department on the road programme would have been better invested in London Underground ? Ministers in their chauffeur-driven cars may not appreciate it, but people who travel on the tube every day know that the system is falling apart that lifts and escalators are not working, signals are overloaded and tunnels are swilling with water because the Government have failed to invest the necessary funds to make the tube system safe and sound. When will the Secretary of State change his priorities and ensure that the people of London get the decent tube service that they desperately need ?

Mr. MacGregor : Investment in the existing underground network is higher than it was at any time in the 1970s and 1980s, including the period of the Labour Government. Moreover, the Central line is benefiting from a £750 million modernisation scheme. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends will note that Opposition Members dismiss that £750 million and laugh at it, but it is a significant amount of taxpayers' money. The scheme is due to be completed in 1995 and includes provision for an upgrading of power supplies.

I believe that London Underground has traced last night's fault to power cables at Lots road power station. They have been repaired and we must hope that the service will be able to resume as soon as London Underground is satisfied that the trains can run properly. I have every confidence in Sir Wilfrid Newton and his management and staff, who have worked around the clock to identify the problem and get the Central line operational again. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) should recognise just how much money is being given to London Underground by the taxpayer.

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