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Mr. Dobson : I challenge the Secretary of State now to ask people in the west midlands or the north-west, in Strathclyde or Lothian or Tayside or Grampian, in Liverpool or Hull, in Bradford or Sheffield, whether they think that he has his priorities right ; whether he should invest money in their area, or bung money instead to Tory supporters in the City of London. That is what Labour will be asking up and down the country. We are asking it here and now, and we shall be asking it in the local and Euro-elections in every part of Britain : have the Government got their priorities right ?
What is the money going on ? Some of the £446 million is going on top people's pay. At one time, just one person was responsible for major decisions--the boss of British Rail. There is still one of them, but half his job is now being done by the boss of Railtrack, another part of his job is being done by the rail regulator, and another part of his job is being done by the franchising director ; and they are all being paid more than £100,000 a year.
That apparently is the new Tory idea of efficiency--top job shares. Split the job into four and give them all a top salary. As the managers multiply and mutate, the salaries go up, and the staff they manage come down. Since 1990, the number of blue-collar employees on the railways has come down by more than 20,000, while the total doing white-collar jobs has risen by more than 9,000. There is a marked resemblance there to what has happened as a result of the so-called health service reforms.
What else are the new appointees up to ? Well, Railtrack has announced that it wants to cut its investment in maintenance by one third over the next three years. That must be wrong. I do not know whether I am blind, but I cannot think of anywhere where one looks out of a window
Column 1060on the railway and sees somewhere that looks as though it could do with less maintenance. Everywhere I look out looks as though it could do with a lot more.
On top of that--this is a serious matter to which I ask Conservative Members to listen--Railtrack has said that it will no longer fund centrally the national school liaison programme, previously run jointly with the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen and the British Transport police, to warn children of the perils of trespassing and vandalism on the railways.
One can see what sort of priorities the new people who have been brought in have. One can see what priority they are giving to safety--no money for the kids' education programme, and less money for maintenance.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) rose
Mr. Bates rose
On top of that, consultants have now predicted that, to save money, the separated train operators will have their rolling stock brought in for maintenance after every 400,000 miles, rather than the present limit of 250,000 miles. That will not just be bad for safety and reliability : it will also be bad for jobs, particularly in Eastleigh, which relies on such work.
Mr. Bates : Although the hon. Gentleman was endorsing the remarks he made in 1992, when he said that company directors were stinking, lousy, thieving, incompetent scum, he then said that that did not apply to potential investors on the west coast main line, but that it did apply to other companies which exploited people on low wages. The hon. Gentleman clearly has a company in mind. Will he name that company and put it on the record ?
Mr. Dobson : Some Conservative Members may need to declare an interest in their shareholding in such companies. All I can say is, if the cap fits, wear it. If they could not be bothered to ask me questions when I was responsible for employment matters, I shall certainly not answer in detail now. But I will mention some industries.
Then I challenge Conservative Members to go away and see which people from those industries are making major contributions to Tory party funds. They should go and look at wages in the catering and hotel industries, then go and see how the people running those industries are ripping off their employees and bunging money to the Tory party--to ensure, for instance, that wages councils were abolished, so that they could pay even lower wages.
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I was diverted from the matter of the debate. But it will also be bad for jobs if the amount of maintenance is reduced. There has already been a falling off of maintenance orders at the Eastleigh works, and at other works, and the chances are that worse is to come.
Throughout the country, people are sick to death of the Government's costly obsession with privatisation and deregulation. Throughout the country, local people are looking for something better. They are looking to Labour to speak up for them and promote their interests.
Several hon. Members rose
Column 1061I have time for only a few examples of initiatives that have been taken by Labour and which have benefited people. In Grampian region, the Labour party pushed through a scheme to allow pensioners to travel on a bus anywhere in the region for just 10p. That scheme is now at risk of being overturned unless Labour increases its representation in Grampian region in the elections on 5 May. Even if we succeed in doing that--I hope we will--the scheme is unlikely to survive the break-up of Grampian region that will follow the Government's gerrymandering reorganisation of local government in Scotland.
Also in Scotland, Labour-led Strathclyde has led the battle against Railtrack's doubling of access charges for the use of the track and has forced it to try to justify its figures ; it is finding it very difficult.
In the north-west, Labour has led calls for the M62 relief road to be abandoned. The main trans-Pennine motorway
The relief road scheme will cost £320 million, just to provide 11 miles of road through Bury and Bolton. The Tories could attract passenger and freight traffic off the M62 by electrifying the trans-Pennine rail link at a cost of only £120 million, yet they persist in the M62 relief road madness.
Mr. Brandreth : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because in fact I do use the roads. I have a balanced approach to transport. I use public transport a great deal, but also the roads, as do people in my constituency.
The hon. Gentleman has talked a great deal about priorities and strategy, but has delivered neither. Given that the Government currently spend more than 40 per cent. of the transport budget on public transport, will he explain to us what is his priority, particularly in relation to roads ?
He described the Government's roads programme as "over-bloated". Does that include the Christleton bypass in my constituency ? What are his priorities ? What is his balance
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. [Interruption.] Order. Is the hon. Gentleman deaf ? I do not expect to have to call "Order" more than once. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be seeking to catch my eye too soon, because he may have a long wait.
Mr. Dobson : I have given examples. I will give them again, if the hon. Gentleman likes. I have said all along that there are examples that are right and popular, but for some bizarre reason the Government will not go ahead with them. They insist on going ahead with those that are wrong and unpopular. One would have thought that they might have adjusted their policies in the light of their present circumstances.
In Sheffield and Manchester, Labour initiatives led to the building of the Manchester metro and the Sheffield supertram, in the face of Government delay and
Column 1062prevarication. In Bristol, the Labour party led calls for the introduction of a light rapid transit system for the city. That would help relieve congestion and reduce pollution in Bristol, where levels of car pollution regularly exceed European Union limits. But the Government have refused to provide any support, and still the Tory Government will not help Bristol.
But, in fairness, I have to say that it is not just the Tories who try to block new schemes such as this. It is also the Liberal Democrats. In Sheffield, it was against the opposition of the two-faced Liberal Democrats, who voted against the supertram project no fewer than eight times. In view of that, I find it hard to take them seriously when their "Pocket Guide to Environmental Policy" pledges them to
"encourage new schemes, using light railways and trams in cities." To vote against something eight times is a novel way of encouraging it.
That brings me to London.
Nowhere in Britain better illustrates the inadequacy of Tory transport policy and their lack of an overall strategy to maintain the existing transport system and develop it to meet the needs of the 21st century than what is happening in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) will deal with a large number of matters to do with transport in London, the Government's plans for London's buses, and the threat that the Government's plans pose to people's pensions.
But we are all entitled to ask, where is the Government's strategy for developing the railway system, underground and overground in London ? They do not have one. It is a collection of piecemeal developments. They gave top priority to the Jubilee line extension, but it does not include the crucial station in north Greenwich. Then there is the Heathrow express, coming into Paddington, where it has poor connections with the rest of central London. Next there is crossrail--basically a good scheme, but only if it includes a connection with the channel tunnel link at Stratford and possibly at St. Pancras.
That brings me to the Northern line. Asea Brown Boveri, the Derby train makers, put forward their proposition for a leasing scheme for new trains for the Northern line as a follow-on order from the new trains for the Central line. That was delayed and obstructed by the Government, and by the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) in particular. He said that it was a bad bargain for the taxpayer.
Now, under pressure, the Government have allowed London Underground to invite tenders for negotiated contracts, but it is far from certain that the scheme will go ahead, because there is still the crackpot suggestion from the Treasury that ABB should take part of the revenue risks of operating trains. The Secretary of State for Transport should remember Winston Churchill's summary of the Treasury's attitude to anything new,, which he described as "like inverted Micawbers waiting for something to turn down". The Treasury will turn it down if it can. All that is delaying getting new trains on the Northern line and is threatening jobs in Derby, where the trains will be made.
Column 1063One of the things that deters people, especially women, from using public transport is their fear of assaults while travelling on bus, train or tube, and even more so when they have to walk home from the station or bus stop.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He seems to be under the impression that there is nowhere west of Cardiff. He has not mentioned Wales much, and has not referred either to Plaid Cymru. Does he agree that it is very important that Plaid Cymru's ideas about the development of freight transport, connecting the Irish Republic with the channel tunnel, be developed, and that the current study of pilot actions for combined transport be followed by action to upgrade the track so that we can get connections between western Wales and the European continent ?
Mr. Dobson : The hon. Gentleman kindly acknowledged that I had mentioned Cardiff. I am aware that there are parts of Wales both north and west of Cardiff, but I simply did not have time to mention them all. I do not claim any familiarity with the transport policies of Plaid Cymru. I apologise for that.
London Underground and the British Transport police have made a tremendous and successful effort to cut assaults on people on the tube, but it still remains a problem, and the Government have been doing little or nothing. The initiative has been left to people such as my hon. Friends the Members for Dulwich (Ms Jowell) and for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice), both of whom have drawn attention to the problem of assaults.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich has persuaded Network SouthEast to provide a £40,000 grant, in addition to the significant contribution from Labour-controlled Southwark council, to improve safety at four of the eight stations in Dulwich. [Interruption.] Let me answer the churlish inquiry about the whereabouts of my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich. She is in hospital in my constituency, because she is ill.
One of the factors that have contributed to the rise in violence and vandalism is the reduction of staff on buses and trains, and in stations and station car parks.
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I crave your indulgence for just two seconds ? There is clearly an organised Conservative campaign to disrupt the speech from the Opposition Front Bench ; I assume that, if Opposition Members intervene equally energetically during the speech of the Secretary of State for Transport, they will be allowed the level playing field that Conservative Members seem to think necessary.
Column 1064beyond what is reasonable, and I think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras is well able to take care of himself.
Mr. Dunn : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker--for the fifth time. Conservative Members are entitled to resent the point of order of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). The truth is that there is no organised Conservative campaign against the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor, and it is clear that there is no organised Opposition campaign in his support.
Having people around in uniform deters crime. The introduction of more and more automatic ticket machines may save on wages, but they have their disadvantages : there is still no recorded case in history of a ticket machine coming to the aid of a passenger being assaulted by a drunken lout.
All over the country, Labour people and Labour councils have been taking initiatives similar to those that I have mentioned. In Lancashire, the Labour-controlled county council has been funding part of the cost of raising station platforms to make it easier for pensioners, and everyone else, to board the newer trains whose doors are further from the ground. Now the money has run out, but the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) may be paying off : British Rail has initiated talks on improvements to other stations.
Of course, not only transport services are suffering under the present Government. The staff have been badgered from pillar to post, and forced to accept lower pay and poorer working conditions to avoid being thrown out of work. Worse still, pension arrangements are threatened. People who thought that, whatever else happened, their pensions were secure are now not so sure. All over the country, existing railway and bus pensioners are getting jittery about what is happening to their pension funds, and they are right to be concerned.
The Government still have not presented the House with the pension proposals they promised. Until they do, railway pensioners in Eastleigh, York, Crewe and Derby--indeed, throughout the country--will not feel secure. At the very least, the Government should sort out the pension issue : they owe it to all the people concerned. They must not do a Maxwell by Act of Parliament.
Throughout our transport system, the lack of any long-term strategy is obvious. In recent times, the Government seem to have had little or no strategy for British merchant shipping, other than to make its life harder than that of its competitors by ending roll-over tax relief in 1985. I understand that today, having for years resisted and voted down Labour's amendments to secure roll-over relief, introduce capital allowances and secure other concessions to help British shipping, they have at long last announced that they will do something about roll-over relief.
We have taken our campaign out to towns and communities the length and breadth of the country--from
Column 1065Dover to Liverpool, from Southampton to Hull and from South Shields to Aberdeen. In maritime communities, people have asked how a Government could sit back and watch the number of United Kingdom seafaring jobs fall from 40,000 in 1984 to fewer than 20,000 today. The Government somehow give the impression that sending goods around the world by ship is no longer fashionable. That is not true : more goods are being carried by ship today than ever before. If today--in response to pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley)--the Government have finally acceded to Labour's call for roll-over tax relief, it is no credit to them ; the credit belongs to those who have campaigned on the issue for so long.
Little or no strategy is discernible for the aviation industry. The development of regional airports is being deliberately held back, and we now hear that another madcap privatisation is on the cards--the privatisation of air traffic control. That should send a shiver down the spine of any sensible passenger. Just imagine the exchanges between cockpit and control tower : "Zebra Alpha to Group 4 : are you receiving me ?", or "Zebra Alpha : we cannot speak to you now. This is an answering machine. There is no one here to take your call at the moment. We are having a meeting with the receivers"--like the privatised Astra Training Services.
It is, however, in railway transport that the lack of strategy and investment is most obvious. Investment in the railways has declined as money has been diverted to investment related to the channel tunnel. Orders for traction equipment and rolling stock have almost dried up : just 164 vehicles have been ordered this year, compared with 841 in 1990-91.
Current British Rail orders run out this year, and no further domestic orders from British Rail or any of its successors are on the books of any British train builder. That is bad for rail users, but it is disastrous for both companies and work forces in Crewe, Derby, Eastleigh, Doncaster, Glasgow and Milton Keynes, and for Metro-Cammell in Birmingham.
The trouble is that the Government never consider the industrial consequences of their policies. We have a railway system denied new investment in rolling stock, without a fast link to the channel tunnel, with a decrepit west coast main line, and with an inadequate plan for European freight depots around the country. Getting those things right was the Government's responsibility, and they got them wrong. They have tried to shift responsibility on to the private sector, and it has not worked.
When the Government--a Tory Government ; in a sense, this Tory Government-- still accepted responsibility for major railway projects, the east coast main line was uprated ; now, the west coast main line is left in limbo. For years, Labour said that the Government should raise money from the private sector--or allow British Rail to do so--to invest in the system. The Government refused. They used to mock my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) when he suggested it. Instead, they did nothing.
Now they say that they want private sector investment : it could be the answer to all their problems. They still cannot manage it, however. They have not a single penny piece of private money invested in the relatively straightforward channel tunnel link--so what are their chances of succeeding with the infinitely more complex west coast main line ?
Column 1066It is all so slow. It took Robert Stephenson just three years to build and start operating the line from London to Birmingham ; on the Government's best estimates, it will take them 10 years to uprate it. That is why we say that their incompetence is not just bad for Britain now : its consequences will be with us well into the new century.
At every stage in its economic development, a society needs a transport system that meets the current needs of industry and commerce and allows individuals to get around easily so that they can enjoy its benefits. A good transport system is a prerequisite for a civilised and economically developed society. By those standards, the Government are failing the nation.
Unless they change their policies, our country and our children will be left with a transport system incapable of meeting the needs of the new century. I remind the House that that new century is just six years away.
strongly supports the Government's transport policies which are providing more efficient and effective delivery for all users, in particular through the programme of privatisation and liberalisation in transport which allows the market to provide the transport services users want rather than the services which central planners dictate they should have ; believes that the Government's rail reforms will build on the improvements in passenger service quality already achieved under the Citizen's Charter and offer the best opportunity to transfer freight from road to rail ; noting the increased levels of public investment in rail, road and London Transport infrastructure, welcomes also the innovative means of financing new transport infrastructure developed in the Private Finance Initiative ; supports the initiatives taken by the Government in the European Union to deal with sub-standard shipping ; and applauds the Government's drive to liberalise aviation in the European Third Aviation Package and elsewhere.'.
I am delighted that we are having this debate, because it is revealing in all its stark emptiness the poverty and paucity of the Labour party's transport policy. I have rarely read such an unimaginative Opposition motion. It is totally lacking in content and analysis and wholly negative-- qualities matched only by the speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who clearly does not know the facts. The hon. Gentleman accused us of lack of investment. I will show later that investment under this Government has been a great deal higher throughout than under the last Labour Government--particularly in relation to London Transport.
The hon. Gentleman does not understand either that our private finance operations are progressing extremely well and have received a tremendous response from the private sector. I will also demonstrate that. He accused us of neglecting safety. Yesterday, I announced the best road safety figures ever : there were fewer road fatalities than since records began, despite a fourteenfold increase in traffic. That was brought about by a heavy emphasis on all sorts of safety programmes. The same is true of rail, and I will refer later to our rail safety plans.
The hon. Gentleman's speech lacked consistency. At the beginning of it, he accused us of not making any investment in the channel tunnel rail links but towards the end complained that we were not investing elsewhere in the railways because we have been diverting public funds to the channel tunnel rail links. The hon. Gentleman is right
Column 1067on his second point, because we have spent £1.4 billion already on the channel tunnel rail links infrastructure. I suppose he does not think that that is very much money.
Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman talks about the channel tunnel link. He must understand that we have invested--[Hon. Members : "Answer."] I am answering the question. We have invested £1.4 billion already in the channel tunnel rail links and the infrastructure, including nine freight terminals throughout the country--some £450 million invested--to capitalise on the channel tunnel. Those big sums have been invested already. The second channel tunnel rail link will meet the capacity available at the beginning of the next century, and we will have that capacity in place because that scheme is going well.The hon. Gentleman does not understand that a Bill must pass through the House before we can start incurring expenditure. Above all, the hon. Gentleman missed the point that a substantial amount of money has already been spent on the link.
Mr. Arnold : Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are delighted that he invested time and money investigating an alternative route at Pepper Hill from which they could benefit ? Had my right hon. Friend taken the advice of the Opposition's transport spokesman, a line would have been bulldozed under houses at Pepper Hill.
Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I decided to re-examine the situation at Pepper Hill and Ashford, but the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras accused me of ignoring the needs of the community. In fact, the community and the councils asked me to take a further look, and I did so in their interests. The hon. Gentleman was wrong about that, too.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is not present. I thought that he would be, and apologise for not giving notice of my intention to refer to him. His contribution and that of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras over the past week show up the sterility and triviality of their thoughts. They attacked the salaries of the chairman of Railtrack, the Franchising Director and the Rail Regulator. They fail to understand that if one is appointing people to top jobs that involve huge responsibilities, it is important to go for high quality.
I want Railtrack to be the most efficient and effective provider of track and signals possible. That is in the interests not only of all who use the railways but of those who work on them. If the management does well, the employees will do well. I want high quality and the best skills for the challenging and important post of Franchising Director, because it matters to passengers that he gets it right. The Rail Regulator will be there to ensure fair competition and to protect the consumer. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras lives in an old-fashioned, outdated world. If one wants high quality and the best skills, one must pay for them. That does not mean a big increase in cost--only a tiny increase. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is wrong, he cannot want the best management for the railways and the best skills for the jobs.
Column 1068Privatisation costs for British Rail and Railtrack this year will be about £88 million, some £30 million of which will be valuable new investment, including investment financial and information systems. That is a tiny proportion of their costs. If one improves management and systems and achieves greater efficiency, one yields substantial savings.
British Rail's operating costs are expected to fall considerably in the year just ended, with something like a 7 per cent. reduction in operating costs because of improved efficiency. The costs of restructuring the railway system in one year are, proportionally, a good deal less than the savings that BR has already achieved this year, and which the rail system will continue to achieve as a result of the new management and systems. The hon. Gentleman got that completely wrong, too.
The other big contribution made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North in the past few days was to table an early-day motion--early-day motion 1040--on child safety in coaches and minibuses. It
"deplores the fact that the Secretary of State turned down this offer"
of a meeting with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras "saying it would not be wise to consider making further regulations in this area'."
From that, right hon. and hon. Members would take it that I do not intend ever to make further regulations. In fact, my letter to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras dated 21 January, from which he quoted--and that shows how up-to-date he is in getting around to tabling his early-day motion--stated :
"However, as you may know we are currently reviewing the full technical and cost implications of seat belts in these vehicles. Until this review is complete and we have full reports of the tragic accidents which occurred last year, we feel that it would not be wise to consider making further regulations in this area."
That statement has been turned into an early-day motion that implies that I did not think it would be wise to make further regulations. That is the most disgraceful way of carving up a single sentence and is grossly misleading to the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will apologise.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : The Secretary of State spoke of attracting top people. Is it true that the person appointed as chairman of Railtrack, and paid £120,000 for a three-day week, is the only BP chairman in that company's history to take it into a loss, and that he was forced out by the unanimous vote of BP's other directors ? Is that the right hon. Gentleman's idea of a top person ?
Mr. MacGregor : The chairman is an outstanding business man who is well regarded in the business community. Everyone in the business community knows that he is doing an extremely good job and is well worth the salary that he is paid.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) rose
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) rose