Column 1T H E
P A R L I A M E N T A R Y D E B A T E S
IN THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FIFTY-FIRST PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND
[WHICH OPENED 27 APRIL 1992]
FORTY-SECOND YEAR OF THE REIGN OF
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
SIXTH SERIES VOLUME 236
FOURTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1993-94
The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has regular meetings with Mr. Bob Horton, the chairman-designate of Railtrack to discuss a wide range of issues. I am glad to report that, as planned, Railtrack will become responsible for the railway network in April.
Mr. Freeman : The answer to that question is yes, but only in exceptional circumstances. We obviously wish to give Railtrack a national responsibility to maintain the rail network and invest in its improvement-- particularly electrification schemes--and a national responsibility for safety. But within those parameters, in certain cases the answer will be yes.
Mr. Freeman : In theory, it might be possible, but that would run counter to our policy, which is that there should be one body--Railtrack-- responsible for the whole of the rail infrastructure in Great Britain. That will benefit ease of access to the rail network by different rail operators. In cases in which rail infrastructure is sold, not only will it be the responsibility of Railtrack to consider that, but there will have to be open competition to ensure that best value for money is obtained.
Mr. Wilson : Not content with selling the family silver, it seems that the more zealous members of the Minister's party want to sell the table, too. Will the Minister confirm that within two and a half months-- [Interruption.] The problem with the hon. Member's question is that members of the public remember the answer. With allegedly two and a half months to go before shadow franchises, the Government have still not come up with a system for charging for access to the tracks.
Will the Minister confirm that the Government have now accepted that they will not manage to privatise even the Gatwick express in the current year? Will he further confirm that there is now minimal private sector interest in rail privatisation? Instead of taking on board daft ideas such as the one about which we have just heard and succumbing to the demands of the private sector in an effort to get the whole thing off the ground, it would be much better if the Government at least dropped this particular cross on which they are apparently intent on crucifying themselves.
Mr. Freeman : Her Majesty's Government have no intention of withdrawing their proposals to improve the quality and quantity of our rail services. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's specific questions, shadow running will commence on 1 April and sufficient progress has been made. I pay tribute to British Rail and Railtrack for ensuring that that could happen. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that sufficient progress has also been made on
Column 3access charges to permit shadow running to commence. As for his question about interest, there is substantial interest in the franchising of rail services.
Mr. Freeman : If the hon. Gentleman had read the draft directive to the Franchising Director, he would know that my right hon. Friend has asked him to submit a specific plan within the next few weeks on the timing of the franchises. Our proposals will be a great success for the railways.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor) : I last met the United States Transportation Secretary on 14 September last year in Washington. We discussed the progress of the liberalisation negotiations and how we saw the way ahead. Since then, there have been many contacts between our officials and I have also spoken to Secretary Pen a.
Mr. Colvin : Does my right hon. Friend agree that American and British airlines share one common characteristic : they are free-enterprise rather than state-owned airlines? Does not that mean that we share an interest in confronting the massive Government subsidies that are paid to nationalised airlines, particularly by European Union countries? Those subsidies not only distort competition, but mean that liberalisation is far from creating free competition, even across the north Atlantic, and that air fares are still too high? Was that matter discussed in the recent talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade and will it be on the agenda for the next meeting of the Council of Transport Ministers?
Mr. MacGregor : I do not think that those specific matters were discussed in the GATT talks, but I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. He is right to say that we have highly effective and competitive airlines in the private sector, which does not apply in most of the European Union. He is also right to say that state aids provide an unfair subsidy. He will know that we have fought extremely hard in the European Councils to ensure that state aids are given only in specific circumstances ; we will continue to fight for that. It is one of the major matters that I take up on every possible occasion. The issue may arise in the report that the Commission has requested from its "wise men", which will be discussed, although not specifically, at the informal Council at the beginning of next month. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that I am very alert to those issues, which we frequently take up.
Mr. Olner : The Minister will be aware of the representations about the opening of transatlantic routes that have been made to him by Birmingham international airport. I accept that the Secretary of State has had talks on the matter, but that is all that appears to have happened. The attempts of Birmingham airport to obtain transatlantic
Column 4routes have gone backwards. Those routes are vital to the economy of the west midlands. The infrastructure is in place and the airport is ready to take those airlines. When will the Government act to make the routes open to competition from Manchester and, in particular, Birmingham airports?
Mr. MacGregor : It takes two to reach an agreement and we have put forward proposals for the liberalisation of air services on transatlantic routes to all our regional airports, including Luton and Stansted. That is one of the first items that should be carried through as a result of the current liberalisation agreements. In one or two other cases, smaller arrangements have been made on liberalisation before reaching a full agreement, which the American Administration have refused to accept. So far, therefore, we have not been able to reach agreement on that issue. The Americans are focusing particularly on Heathrow airport, but there are considerable capacity constraints there that I am drawing to their attention. I assure the hon. Gentleman that early liberalisation of services to our regional airports is very much our target.
Mr. Mans : When my right hon. Friend next negotiates the various agreements with his counterpart in Washington, will he make the point strongly that the United States should honour the existing law on code sharing and on minority shares in their own airlines? Does my right hon. Friend agree that he should decide whether he reaches various future agreements with the United States on the basis of how they operate their existing system? Until the United States honour present agreements, will it not be difficult to reach an agreement over code sharing and other matters in the future?
Mr. MacGregor : I think that the two things are separate. We clearly want to reach agreement on the wider liberalisation, but we also think it important that existing agreements should be honoured. To some extent, failure to achieve the second colours success on the first. I know that my hon. Friend is referring to the American Administration's decision to allow, as part of the BA/US Air deal, the code sharing with US Air to take place, not for 12 months, as should happen under existing agreements, but for a shorter period. We have made our protests known to the American Secretary of State about that, because we believe that it is important to honour existing agreements. I hope that, in March, the United States Administration will do so when they come to consider their next decision.
Mr. Bayley : Freight services are due to begin running through the channel tunnel in about six weeks' time. Why is it that seven years after the channel tunnel project was announced, when the French Government have managed to build a fast rail link from Paris to the channel tunnel, the British Government are only today publishing tentative proposals for the route, let alone introducing an Act of Parliament for that purpose? It will take until the end of the
Column 5century to provide direct links from the channel tunnel to serve the north of the country. Why are the Government spending billions on car routes in and around London and not a brass farthing on train routes around London to enable those trains to run direct to the north from the tunnel?
Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman does his constituency and his party a disservice by seeking to run down the substantial preparations for business and passenger services, once the channel tunnel is open. Freight will start to run through it on 14 March and passenger services will commence from Waterloo international station, which cost £200 million to build, as soon as the tunnel is officially opened. The country will then enjoy good travel connections, because it will then take three hours to travel by train from London to Paris. The construction of the channel tunnel rail link will be the subject of a statement that my right hon. Friend hopes to make shortly.
Mrs. Lait : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the tourism industry of the south-east will benefit greatly from traffic from the channel tunnel? Does he accept, however, that the weak link in the south coast railway is the Hastings to Ashford line? What progress has been made towards its electrification?
Mr. Freeman : The electrification of that particular line will be studied by Railtrack and we will ask it to produce a 10-year investment plan. Doubtless, it will reflect on the priority of electrification. I am glad that the local authorities have shown an interest in contributing to its cost.
A new international station will be built at Ashford and I hope that it will be open by the end of next year.
Mr. MacGregor : Government policies are designed to encourage passengers and freight to transfer from road to rail where that makes economic and environmental sense. Some 90 per cent. of passengers and inland freight traffic goes by road, but next year 40 per cent. of total transport expenditure will be used to improve public transport, so my Department's expenditure is positively skewed to public transport. The existing freight facilities grant scheme is also to be extended by the Railways Act 1993 and our new track access grant for freight services will start in April.
Mr. Grocott : Is the Secretary of State aware that it would take some believing to accept that the Government have skewed their transport policy towards the railways? Let me catalogue for the right hon. Gentleman three simple examples from my constituency of the rundown in services in recent years. First, we have lost the rail link to Donnington for freight. Secondly, we have lost the InterCity service to London and, thirdly, Wellington station has been subject to a serious rundown. Those important issues are of particular concern to many people.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take rail transport much more seriously and, more specifically, to agree to meet a delegation from my constituency?
It is noticeable that the hon. Gentleman simply ignores the facts and makes a general statement that is far, far from the facts. Public transport accounts for 40 per cent. of my Department's expenditure and that affects about 10 per cent. of overall traffic. If that is not skewing expenditure towards public transport, I do not know what is. The hon. Gentleman likes to believe a myth and not the facts. As to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, there has been a problem not only in this country but in all countries concerning the transport of freight on rail, because rail is not so well suited to provide the service required by modern freight transport. That issue must be tackled. I believe that the combination of measures that we have introduced, including open access under our privatisation proposals, the new grants that I have announced and the opening of the channel tunnel, offers the best prospect of getting more freight onto rail.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Wellington Telford West station faces no threat of closure. I understand that from next May the number of trains from that station will be increased--both the stopping service to Wolverhampton and the semi-fast service to Birmingham will be more frequent. It is therefore not necessary for me to receive a delegation.
Mr. Lidington : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the completion of the crossrail project would encourage many more passengers, including my constituents in Aylesbury, Wendover and Great Missenden, to switch from road to rail? Can he confirm, furthermore, that the project will now go ahead as originally planned?
Mr. MacGregor : It is certainly true that, in London and the south- east, where commuters predominate, public transport is more important. That is why our ratio of expenditure is 3 : 1 in favour of public transport.
As for crossrail, we have made the position clear. That means that the Bill will be able to go ahead tomorrow. It will be for the Committee to receive all the petitions, and for the Bill to make its progress through Parliament in the usual way. Earlier, we made it clear that crossrail will be a joint finance initiative.
Mr. Harvey : Given the Secretary of State's recent conversion to the idea that road passenger traffic cannot grow unchecked, will he rethink his motorway policy, which his right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) says is so startling that it forces one to stand back and ask whether it makes sense, while his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) believes that there is a policy for cars but not a transport policy? Or is the right hon. Gentleman more interested in cutting embarrassing words out of the Government's Rio strategy paper than in cutting motorway building?
Mr. MacGregor : It will be essential for environmental reasons, as well as for reasons of economic efficiency and competitiveness, that we continue to deploy considerable sums of public--and eventually, if motorway tolling is successful--motorists' money on improving our motorways. That is just as vital for environmental reasons. If we do not, with the growth of traffic there will be a great deal more diversion back to local roads, and there will be
Column 7environmental pollution, owing to congestion, and so on. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I are at one on the sustainable development policy, and we have worked together to produce it.
There is no doubt that motorways will have an important part to play for many decades to come in ensuring that we have a competitive transport system--that is why we have a transport policy.
Mr. Quentin Davies : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the very existence of the channel tunnel and of the proposed fast rail link--to which, thank God, we can at last look forward--will constitute a major factor in encouraging passengers and freight to switch from road to rail? Businesses throughout south Lincolnshire are of the view that if we are to enjoy the full benefit of these major infrastructural investments, we shall need a container terminal much closer than what is currently planned. Will my right hon. Friend therefore do everything he can to facilitate and encourage the construction of a container terminal at Peterborough to serve south Lincolnshire and large parts of East Anglia?
Mr. MacGregor : It will be for Railtrack after April to consider that matter. But my hon. Friend will know that about £450 million of public expenditure has already been deployed in providing freight terminals throughout the country and improving infrastructure to serve them. That is a large amount of money.
It is important to bear in mind that it is not only the channel tunnel high -speed link which is relevant to the channel tunnel. When it opens this year, the tunnel will be very competitive for both passengers and freight. This year, the journey from London to Paris and to Brussels will be competitive with air travel--about three hours and three and a quarter hours respectively.
will be a dramatic improvement in the amount of time spent by freight traffic on rail once the channel tunnel is opened. It takes 60 hours by road from Manchester to Milan, but more than double thatby rail at present. After the channel tunnel opens, rail freight wiltake only half the time that road takes--that makes it very competitive. Ms. Walley : But why will not the Secretary of State tell us where the money is going to come from for crossrail? Is not all we have heard this afternoon mere hypocrisy? Why are not the Government prepared to tell the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) that the railways and public transport are not having the necessary money spent on them--
Ms Walley : No, the right hon. Gentleman has not answered it. All we have heard from him is that public transport is safe in his hands. The men and women on the Clapham omnibus are beginning to rumble his policy. They know only too well that unless there is some sort of review of the decision to go ahead with the M25 widening, the Prime Minister will be unable to claim later this week that he has a sustainable transport policy in the aftermath of Rio.
Mr. MacGregor : I have made it clear that the Government support the crossrail project. It is being promoted by British Rail and London Transport and it will be in Committee tomorrow. As I told my hon. Friend the
Column 8Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), we have also made it clear that it will be a joint finance initiative and we expect a substantial contribution from the private sector. It is certain that it will go ahead.
The hon. Lady asked about public transport. Investment in the railways is way above what it was under the last Labour Government. It is currently at near record levels and will be about £3 billion in the next three years in the existing railway system. That is a substantial amount. If the hon. Lady is suggesting that Labour would spend more of taxpayers' money on the railways, where would she make the cuts, or is all this double talk about tax and the Labour party sheer hypocrisy?
Mr. Ottaway : Will my right hon. Friend accept that while investment in motorways is welcome, people travel by road because they want to? Will he ensure that the road programme is not diminished? In particular, will he ensure that the Coulsdon bypass is not taken out of the programme?
Mr. MacGregor : I cannot comment on any particular bypass project. I agree with my hon. Friend's general point that we believe in choice. The way in which the vast majority of our citizens exercise that choice when they reach the age of 17 is clear. They wish to be able to buy cars and to travel freely in them. It is necessary for any Government and any Secretary of State for Transport to ensure substantial investment in the roads system to enable that to happen and to avoid the disbenefits, environmental and otherwise, of congestion.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : The relative priority for the east London crossing is being considered as part of the national review of the trunk road programme. I shall make a further announcement when the results of that review are known.
Mr. Austin-Walker : In view of the Minister's failure to give an assurance that the east London river crossing will not go through, over or under Oxleas wood, what action does he propose to reduce the blight on properties in Plumstead and Abbey Wood along the line of the original proposal? Is he prepared to publish and place in the Library the specifications of the transportation study for the south-east for which he has recently invited tenders? Does he welcome the results of the rail study published last week showing the cost effectiveness of the Woolwich rail tunnel link?
In view of the Secretary of State's earlier comments about the relative importance to London of public transport compared with roads, will the Minister now embrace the Woolwich rail tunnel link and the public transport alternative to the east London river crossing?
Mr. Norris : The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government rightly decided that the original proposals for the east London river crossing were inappropriate and withdrew them. That decision was widely welcomed. The hon. Gentleman is sensible enough to know that the underlying demand for improved transport, across the Thames in particular, still exists. In that context, it is
Column 9perfectly appropriate that the compulsory purchase orders should expire in November. The line orders will remain in place for a sensible reason. Much of the line of any proposed route in that area is, in a sense, self diagnosing and it would be quite unproductive to abandon the line orders. They also concentrate blight, such as there is, only on that line, rather than spreading it more widely, which would be the case if the formal line orders were abandoned. The studies on possible rail links about which the hon. Gentleman spoke are useful. One of my Department's aims over the next few weeks will be to make sure that we take account of all the available options to improve crossings of the river east of the town.
Mr. Evennett : Does my hon. Friend agree that the number of road crossings of the Thames to the east of the city is inadequate and that the Blackwall tunnel is totally inadequate for the traffic currently using it? When my hon. Friend visited my constituency, he met many of my constituents in Thamesmead and Erith and many business people who were looking to him for proposals. Many local people would like to see another crossing of the Thames in our area.
Mr. Norris : My hon. Friend is right, but he will acknowledge that we now face propositions in relation to the docklands light railway extension to Lewisham, the Woolwich metro, the Blackwall third crossing, a full east London river crossing and a truncated river crossing. Rather than dealing with those on a piecemeal basis, it would be sensible to ensure that they are all evaluated so that the options that we pursue are the right ones to improve the infrastructure east of the town.
Mr. Raynsford : What discussions, if any, has the Minister had with interested parties about the possibility of paying for the construction costs of an east London river crossing by means of a toll? What are the implications for other river crossings? Will there also be tolls at Blackwall, Rotherhithe and Tower bridge? Will we soon have to pay tolls to cross Westminster bridge? Does the Minister admit that Tory transport policy, like Tory taxation policy, means everyone paying more?
Mr. Norris : As to the general proposition on tolling, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that either the taxpayer or the user pays. There is general and common consent that it can be a useful way to provide funding. For example, the Dartford crossing was completed at least 10 years earlier than it would otherwise have been because the private sector was able to finance the construction from tolls. I have discussed generally, with officials in the Department and others, the idea that one or other of the new crossings over the Thames should be tolled. I did that because it seems to me perfectly sensible that we should do so. If the hon. Gentleman is now saying on behalf of his party that the Labour party has decided to reject the notion of congestion charging in London, I must tell him that, first, that contradicts what he said at a public meeting that we were at only a week ago ; and secondly, that is an unwise hook for his party to have got itself on.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Key) : The AA and RAC have publicly recognised the potential benefits that motorway charging could bring. Both organisations favoured electronic technology as the means by which charging should be implemented.
Dr. Twinn : My hon. Friend will be aware from the representations that he has received that there remain concerns about tolling on existing motorways. He will be aware that the concerns are particularly strong in outer London, where the effects of tolling on the M25 could lead to diverting traffic back to London. In my constituency of Edmonton, and in Enfield, we do not wish to see the North Circular and the Great Cambridge road congested.
Mr. Key : My hon. Friend is right. Diversion of traffic off tolled roads is a major problem that must be addressed sensibly, not hysterically. That is precisely why we suggested, in the Green Paper published last year, low tolls on tolled motorways, perhaps up to 1.5p a mile, which is about a quarter of the rate elsewhere. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that doing nothing is not an option. It is precisely because we are not doing enough to upgrade our motorways, including the M25, that we already have problems of diversion back to his constituency.
Mrs. Anne Campbell : Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State for the Environment on the British strategy for sustainable development, in which he says that projected traffic increases will have unacceptable economic and environmental consequences? Is the Minister still insisting that the information that 55 per cent. of the schemes for motorway programmes will affect 50 sites of special scientific interest should be deleted?
Mr. Key : I never comment on leaked documents. The hon. Lady will have to contain herself until later in the week. I can assure her that we keep traffic forecasts under constant review. She may recall that, as recently as November 1993, I answered a parliamentary question and said that we were reviewing the methodology of traffic forecasting. I wish that the hon. Lady and people who think like her about traffic forecasts would recognise, whenever they hear the figure of 1.5 million new cars a year being bandied about, that that is the gross or total figure. About 80 per cent. of new vehicle registrations are replacements for vehicles already scrapped.
Mr. Shersby : Will my hon. Friend initiate immediate discussions with the motoring organisations about the severe traffic congestion that occurred last night on the eastbound carriageway of the M4 after 10 pm, and again this morning, when traffic was banked up as far as Reading?
Is my hon. Friend aware that the works that he has authorised for the overlaying of the M4 are causing congestion throughout the western approaches to London? Why could they not have waited until the completion of the work on Western avenue at Long lane in Hillingdon, and the ending of the chaos caused by the Olympia bridge works? Does my hon. Friend realise that people coming into London simply cannot afford to be held up for so long? Will he extend the deadline from 10 pm to 11 pm, as that would make a great difference?
Column 11has been at great pains to ensure that traffic management is optimised ; he has discussed the matter with both the police and the motoring organisations.
It is also essential for the work to be done concurrently. We are anxious to avoid a repetition of what happened last summer, when the M4 was closed because the 30-year-old section of road leading to the capital's major airport at Heathrow could not cope with the level of traffic or, indeed, with the hot weather. It is worth doing the work early so as not to have motorways that cannot stand the British summer.
7. Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary for Transport what representations he has received concerning the need to improve railway services along the north Wales coast railway line ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Wigley : As the Minister will know, Professor Stuart Cole published today a report about transport in Wales, which mentions the need for advance investment in transport to avoid a build-up in the use of cars. In the context of the north Wales railway line, does the Minister accept that the medium-term objective must be the electrification of the line from Crewe to Holyhead, while there is an immediate need for the track to be upgraded to a 90 mph standard--not only for InterCity services, but for the 153 and 158 classes? Can he ensure that Railtrack is given a directive to proceed with that immediately?
Mr. Freeman : Significant progress on line speeds has already been made, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to convey to the chairman of Railtrack his view that further improvement is necessary, I shall certainly do so.
Electrification is a longer-term project. It is for Railtrack to decide the priorities. As for the west coast main line, I can confirm that I know of no proposals to terminate the InterCity services at Crewe ; they will continue to run through to Holyhead. When the west coast main-line services are franchised, they will include services all the way to Holyhead.
Mr. Brandreth : Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance to the north-west of the electrification of the line from Crewe to Holyhead, especially in view of the advent of the channel tunnel? We need a high-speed link between Ireland and the continent, and the north-west is concerned about the speed at which that can be done.
Mr. Freeman : I share my hon. Friend's desire to ensure that there are good transport links not only to connect the island of Ireland with the continent through this country but to serve the population in Wales, particularly along the north Wales coast line. Electrification in itself does not improve the running speeds of trains, although it makes services more efficient and provides electric services all the way from London. I shall, however, bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said. As we all know, he has always been a great supporter of British Rail services in the north- west, especially those to Chester.
Column 12it will be necessary to get ahead with the modernisation and uprating of the west coast main line that leads to them? Can the Minister tell us when that modernisation and uprating will be completed just on the line as far as Crewe?
Mr. Freeman : No, I cannot, but I tell the hon. Gentleman that Railtrack expects to announce very shortly the winning private sector consortium to assess the performance requirements of the line. I hope that, by the end of this calendar year, Railtrack will be able to let a contract to the private sector, so that the work to improve the west coast main line infrastructure--which may cost as much as £600 million--can begin. How long that takes will depend on the contract, but the improvement of the west coast main line is a priority, not only for Railtrack but for the Government.
Mr. Garnier : My right hon. Friend will agree that improving the west coast main line will increase and improve traffic going to north Wales, but would not one of the best ways to encourage trade to go to north Wales and to the island of Ireland from Europe be to extend the A1-M1 link? When is that road likely to be completed?