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My summary shows that we have a co-ordinated and coherent transport policy- -a policy that depends on getting the infrastructure that we require for the 21st century ; giving transport users the opportunity to respond to market forces ; and enabling our industries to be among the most competitive, in some cases in the world and certainly in Europe--for example, the road haulage and coach industries.
Mr. MacGregor : And the railways. Under our reforms railways will be increasingly competitive. The taxpayer will not be burdened with the colossal burdens that German and French taxpayers have to bear because of their railways. Our policies are doing the same for aviation and shipping. We have many measures contained in a substantial programme. Our policy is full of measures--many radical--to ensure that we are up to date.
We heard from the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras about a transport policy that is rooted in the past. He pretends that the cost will be met by a significant increase in public expenditure. In the months ahead we will probe to find out how much his colleagues would support him to carry through the substantial extra investment that he was urging. We know that he cannot count on their support, which is why he is putting a bogus prospectus before us. That is why I totally reject the Opposition's transport policy, such as it is, and the motion.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the opening part of the Secretary of State's speech, he said that he would say something about London Transport. I heard one general sentence about investment, but then he moved on. He did not speak about London Transport, so that was a dishonest statement.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter of procedure. Is it the case, as outlined in "Erskine May", that when a Member criticises another Member through an early-day motion and it can be proved that he or she knew that the criticism was inaccurate, under the Standing Orders the Speaker is vested with the power to amend the early-day motion or to insist that it be withdrawn ?
Mr. Heald : Page 325 of "Erskine May" deals with early-day motions and makes it clear that a matter concerning the conduct of an hon. Member can be dealt with only through a substantive motion, which allows for a distinct decision of the House. In the early-day motion in question
As many hon. Members have said that they want to speak and Madam Speaker has already announced a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm, unless hon. Members exercise considerable self-restraint before that time, many Members will be disappointed this evening. 5.49 pm
I want to say a little about an aspect of transport in London that has not been mentioned today--the use of the River Thames and river transport. London has one of the widest highways in Britain--a highway which is extremely under-used for freight and passenger transport, as becomes apparent when we consider the ways in which other European cities with equally important rivers make use of their rivers. The Minister for Transport in London, whom I am pleased to see sitting here today, announced in 1992 a new working group to encourage freight and passenger traffic to use the Thames. I welcomed that announcement, as I welcomed the subsequent work of the group, and since then he and I have entered into some conversations about certain aspects of river usage and we had a meeting about the subject. I know that the group has received many responses to its consultation exercise.
It is disappointing that there was not one mention in the Secretary of State's speech today about the river, the initiative and its progress. When the Minister replies to the debate, he should say what is happening to the working group. It seems that since the launch of the initiative very little has happened and there has been very little progress.
Following the launch of the working group, one of the first things that happened was that the river bus service in London collapsed--I am sure that it was nothing to do with the setting up of the working group. That was disappointing because the river bus was just beginning to
Column 1082turn around and to attract passengers and to work up to being a reliable and regular service and it was greatly of use not only for commuters but for tourists and for people who wanted to travel in and through London without using the roads.
If we consider freight transport, about 23 million road miles are saved by the Thames barges that take away our domestic rubbish. Cereals, sugar, paper, steel, wood, oil products and even coal are still brought into London by river. Although I am sure that everyone, including the Minister, would wish that that traffic could be doubled, why do not the Government more seriously consider measures to bring that about ? The Government are not adverse to dictating which heavy goods vehicles can use which roads at which times. Surely the logical extension of that would be to integrate those considerations with alternative options for use of the Thames.
The problem is that the Government's approach to the Thames is a mass of contrasts. There is no overall co-ordination. Although there may be some commitment to getting the Thames used more, the enthusiasm among some of the Ministers has not been passed on to the Department and some of the agencies involved.
There is a great contrast between what happens in London and what happens in other major river-based cities. I know of an example of a firm with headquarters in Bombay, which wanted to find a place along the river front here to import rice. The firm was considering three areas in the Greenwich part of the river. One site in which it was interested was owned by British Gas, which wanted a huge amount for it--between £400,000 and £500,000 per acre. That meant that it was out of the question. The firm immediately went to Rotterdam, obtained support, received help from the Government and was able to locate there.
Surely we should be able to make it more attractive for companies to set up operations here. A grant is available to attract businesses such as the one that I have just mentioned, but in that case the process took six months from when the firm first applied and it had to negotiate so many different bits of bureaucracy that, by the time that it got anywhere near the end, it had already been offered the base in Rotterdam. Therefore, we lost another opportunity to bring the river more into use.
Let us consider commuter and passenger transport. Let us remember--it is worth remembering--that in 1905 the former London county council set up a river steamboat service for commuters travelling between Greenwich and Westminster. In 1906, it carried about 3 million passengers. Sadly, the service was closed, but in 1948 a new service was established between Kew and Greenwich. At its height, before closing in 1962, it still carried 2.25 million passengers a year.
Mr. Banks : Yes, I do. I was hoping that my hon. Friend would complete the story, because that successful river bus service was closed down by the newly elected Conservatives on the Greater London council.
The London river bus service could have continued operating if more support had been given by the
Column 1083Government. Subsequent ventures in 1963, 1972, 1973, 1974 and the most recent river bus partnership all suffered similar fates, due in large part to financial constraints, a matter which I want to discuss. The start-up costs for such new businesses are prohibitive and the running costs can prove crippling.
I know that the Minister knows that I am not an opponent of the private sector being used properly to get new initiatives going, but I hope that the Government will accept the basic principle that that form of public transport on the river should receive equal consideration for public subsidy with rail, London Underground and bus services. The river bus failed because it did not receive even the basic subsidy. The travel pass could not be used on the river bus so people who used the London underground and the bus could not simply convert to the river. Overall, no one was responsible for promoting the river as an asset.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) rose
Ms Hoey : I will not give way. I think that the hon. Lady wants to make a speech, as does every hon. Member. I will carry on. River-borne transportation has definite environmental advantages. One million tonnes of London's rubbish shipped from Wandsworth and the City of London by river to Thurrock takes 4.2 million lorry miles off London roads. No transport network is better placed to deliver the construction materials to developments in the east Thames corridor or to remove construction debris in an environmentally friendly manner than that on the Thames. We should do more. It is a question not only of resources and of sustained effort. It is important that there is co-ordination but, most important of all, there must be some faith, some conviction and some will.
As a result of the way in which the responsibility for the river is fragmented between the Port of London authority and various organisations, no one has overall responsibility. That brings me back to the fact that, from whatever angle one considers transport in London, one cannot fail to recognise that London still suffers from the lack of a strategic authority. Economic regeneration, business development, commuter transport, tourism and leisure, the environment, planning permission and even policing are all handled by diverse agencies or are simply not handled.
Although many organisations do their best to promote the river, the London Rivers Association produced a wonderful document called "The Working Thames : an Agenda for Action". Every single bit of that document, if adopted by the Government, could get our river used, and not only for transport and freight. With the right use of imagination, we could do that.
Finally, I pay tribute to the work of the Thames river police because they play a tremendous role in policing the river. Members might not be aware, or may have noticed, that as a result of the continued security alerts, which we are now so used to, a good proportion of the available personnel is occupied on the river round this area at any given moment and there are always river police there. Could extra resources be given to the river police for their additional work ?
The widest highway in Britain runs through the centre of its capital--never mind the proposed 14-lane M25 motorway--and it is virtually traffic-free. That is crazy,
Column 1084and the Government should do much more to get people to use the river and give everyone an opportunity to travel as they wish--in a pleasant manner on the river.
Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton) : It is important that, in a debate on transport, something is said about motorway development. I shall make my points as briefly as possible because many other hon. Members want to speak.
I declare an interest as a car driver and frequent user of motorways, so I am not anti-motorway or anti-motor car. I recognise that congestion occurs and must be dealt with. Many hon. Members have cherished projects for bypass schemes in towns and villages throughout the country and they have often been successful in relieving congestion. I wish all those hon. Members success in their projects.
My constituency, however, already has the benefit of the M25, which is expanding to two four-lane highways, making it an eight-lane motorway. The Department of Transport plans shortly to extent it further to 14 lanes. Although many of my constituents have written and, in the next few weeks, will write again in their thousands to the Department of Transport to express their views on those proposals, it is not just a local issue. Obviously, it is a local issue for those whose houses will disappear but the national question is whether our motorway provision should head in that direction. Clearly, nobody wants a motorway at the bottom of his or her garden, whether it is a six, eight or 14-lane motorway. However, I have been impressed in recent weeks by the number of people who have written to me from all over the country, who are not directly impacted by the loss of property or by noise. Naturally, I do not knock people who complain about those matters, but there is now a widespread feeling of unease, and a belief that we should not go in the general direction in which such a proposal takes us.
The Department of the Environment's "UK Sustainability" report says :
"If people continue to exercise their choices as they are at present and there are no other significant changes, the resulting traffic growth would have unacceptable consequences for both the environment and the economy, and could be very difficult to reconcile with overall sustainable development goals."
The Government realise that their problem is how to reconcile people's ability to move around with their desire for peaceful environment and a sensible quality of life. When we leave this place tonight, we shall all want to jump into our cars and use the motorways but, with our other hats on, we do not want to destroy the countryside in the process.
Germany has a more sensible approach. Germans have greater car ownership than people in the United Kingdom, but they use their cars less. They appear to have found a way of providing and costing transport opportunities so that people can work out a better and more sensible way to get around.
The fundamental point, which the Department of Transport has not yet conceded although it understands it well enough, is that new provision always attracts more cars to take it up. That has been proved time and again, and the M25 is a good example. It was conceived as an orbital road around London to take traffic from the Channel ports away from London and it has worked well in that sense. It was not realised that people would take jobs at
Column 1085extraordinary distances. We have all met people who work in Guildford but live in amazing places like Braintree-- [Interruption.] Whichever town one chooses, the journey would have been unachievable before the motorway was constructed.
Many people are now tempted to drive, so more traffic is dragged in. That major question must be considered for the future. The 14-lane link road proposal will work in exactly the same way. If it is built--I hope that it is not--we shall have traffic jams on it in 2006, or whenever it may be.
On 24 January, Runnymede borough council, which is responsible for the area in which the first widening scheme will take place, produced a package of alternative proposals. I shall not go through it in detail, but it includes such proposals as high occupancy vehicle lanes, certain elements of road pricing, speed cameras, speed controls and better junction and carriage way management. All those measures are, to an extent, palliatives but the Department is trying them in various places.
The high occupancy vehicle lane proposals have been used in the United States and Holland. Will the Department recognise, if not in this debate then soon, please, that it should not automatically assume that the only way to meet congestion is by laying more concrete, although it may be right to do so in many cases ? If the Minister says in winding up that that is the right approach, I shall be delighted. People outside have the clear impression that it is not how the Department deals with the problem.
I hope that, when the public inquiry takes place into the widening of the M25, Runnymede borough council's proposals will be properly assessed and sanity will then prevail. Those measures are worth trying before one indulges in the colossal environmental damage of laying more concrete and I hope that that will be the outcome of the public inquiry. It is a long time to wait but I am prepared to have a side bet with the Secretary of State that the achievement of the proposals will never see the light of day.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon) : I, too, welcome an opportunity to debate the issue but regret that it has not been in Government time. In the two years that I have been in the House, the Government have not provided time for a comprehensive debate on transport issues across the board because, while they undoubtedly have some piecemeal transport policies, they lack an overall vision or objective for the transport sector as a whole.
I wish that the Government had issued a Green Paper or White Paper on their transport policy, as that could have lead to debate in the nation and in the House, but they resisted the opportunity to explain their overall transport policy. During the passage of the Railways Bill, the point was made that Britain was the only European country not to have an overall railways policy. The Government resisted any effort to develop one, saying that they did not want some glossy document. Whenever somebody tried to move amendments to broaden the terms of reference of the Secretary of State, the Rail Regulator or the Franchising Director to look at the overall part which the railways should play in our society, environment or economy, they were resisted by the Government.
I am not suggesting that the Government can do everything in the transport sector, but they should be
Column 1086willing to lead, to take the initiative, to plan ahead and, crucially, to set targets and stimulate investment. Public investment and private enterprise in tandem can deliver what the public want. The theme should be that of enabling and giving people the tools, opportunities and support to make the most of their life and enjoy the best possible standard of living. All we seem to get from the Government is blind worship of the unfettered market and an over-enthusiastic devotion to road building. The market, unaided, cannot deliver a transport network.
I shall suggest some long-term targets that could be set for road development, rail and bus services, as well as suggesting how they might be financed. Nothing so typifies the Government's approach to our railways as the saga of the channel tunnel high-speed link. Seven years after the deal was struck and the plans made, we are effectively back to square one. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money have been wasted on options that have subsequently been discarded.
I accept that the interests of communities alongside any of the proposed routes should rightly and properly have been looked at in great detail, but the country that led the world in steam locomotion has only just reached the point of agreeing a route. The fact that the link will not be open and running until the year 2002 at the earliest is not so much a disappointment as a disgrace.
During the privatisation debate the Government offered only the fond belief that the private sector would modernise and make good the years of under- investment in the railways. All the marketing skill in the world will not make an inherently expensive service attractive to the private sector. Evidence of that can be seen in the excessively high charges that Railtrack is to charge any company wanting to come on to the rail network.
The Government should set a target--I would suggest doubling the number of rail passengers in the next 10 years. Another objective could be to double the amount of long-distance freight haul at the same time. To achieve that, we need a national network of road-to-rail depots. For a relative pittance- -by comparison with the money going into the roads programme--it would be possible to reconnect every town with a population of 23,000 or more to the rail network.
Setting such targets would set the scene to boost investment. They would prove the Government's commitment to the environment and quality of life.
The Government remain firmly committed to a policy of building more roads. The Department of Transport has finally recognised that more roads will lead to more traffic. The big challenge confronting us is the projected doubling in road traffic by the year 2025.
Towns are congested and the growing evidence of pollution leading to asthma and other health problems presents us with a challenge that we must meet. We must develop a response. Should we simply pander to the fact
Column 1087that traffic is set to double or should we say that enough is enough and we must put a stop to the increase in traffic ? One does not have to be anti-car or anti-road to regard the figures as unsustainable and to say that the decisions that we make now will determine whether we reach that statistic by the year 2025. We should freeze the motorway widening programme and conduct a comprehensive review of the roads programme. We should proceed with roads only where there is no public sector transport alternative. We need a switch of the funds that would otherwise go into road-widening programmes.
We need to switch some funds from the roads programme into public transport. If Liberal Democrats from around the country write to the Minister for Roads and Traffic asking for 14-lane motorways in their constituency or for road programmes where the Department of Transport is willing to fund a public transport alternative, I hope that the Department will write back reminding the authors of the letters of Liberal Democrat policy. If the Department cares to let me know about such letters, I shall gladly do the same.
The Secretary of State mentioned the possible congestion on our motorways in 10 years. If the Government are willing to freeze the motorway programme and switch the money to public transport alternatives, I shall happily return in 10 years and have that debate with them. If they will not, we should return in future to consider the growth in car usage figures. That is the challenge that, together, we must face.
I do not believe that the Government have carried out a comprehensive review of the roads programme. I think that they have had a change of heart on one or two schemes because Conservative Members such as the right hon. Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) have made clear how unacceptable the road programme is to their constituents, once the implications of it at a more local level are understood.
The Government have been rattled by seeing protests on their television screens, not from the sort of people whom they are accustomed to seeing protesting but from retired military folk of the country districts who are traditionally Conservative voters. The time has come to say that enough is enough. The Government should listen to the views of the Confederation of British Industry, the business community and the private sector in general, all of whom are urging that public transport should be improved.
Buses are the most cost-effective and flexible, the cheapest and quickest way to improve public transport. The contrast between the state of the bus service in London and that in the rest of the country proves what a disaster has been the total deregulation of buses in the countryside. Passenger journeys have gone down--in Wales by 18 per cent., in Scotland by 15 per cent. and in shire England by 16 per cent. But in London, where there is still some strategic planning and a passenger authority effectively buying services on behalf of the travelling passenger, there has been a rise in passenger journeys of 10 per cent. When
Column 1088we allow liberalisation, but within a regulated framework, we see a model for successful bus services throughout the country. At the same time, costs have been driven down by 30 per cent.
Instead, in the countryside there is a free market hotch-potch of jumbled journeys. A sensible objective to map out in the bus industry would be to return to 1985 levels of usage by the end of the century. The Government should establish targets for a comprehensive bus priority system in every town, for grants to modernise the bus fleets, for increased revenue support grants for comprehensive service networks in every area-- [Hon. Members :-- "What about finance ?"] I am coming to the question of finance. There should be modern information systems and user-friendly terminals throughout.
I wish to mention the light rapid transit system. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) referred specifically to the city of Sheffield. He knows as well as I do that everyone in local government is restricted by the financial straitjacket imposed by central Government. The Liberal Democrats in Sheffield are, of course, committed to public transport, but they are also committed to every other public service. They have to battle for their financial priorities within the straitjacket imposed by central Government. I find it as surprising as it is disappointing that the Labour Front-Bench team hide behind the Tories' handling of local government finance to score a political point.
As Conservative Members have been saying, the policies to which I have referred cost money. I recognise that the transport budget has grown. Whichever party holds office in the next few years, pots of public money will not be available to spend on public transport. We clearly need private money to be invested--but the market alone will not deliver it. The Government say that they regard privatisation as freeing British Rail and the new operators from the dead hand of the Treasury. The point has to be made that the Government make Treasury rules--they are not made by act of God.
Although the Secretary of State tried to score a point at the expense of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras by referring to his suggestion for the new Northern line train system as an accounting device, I rather agreed with the Secretary of State that there should be some transfer of risk. But even the accounting device which he accused the hon. Gentleman of using would be better than absolutely nothing at all.
The Government should look at the way in which other countries are financing their public transport. I think that they will see some obvious solutions to the financial conundrum in which we find ourselves. I have already referred to some possible solutions, such as switching money from the road programme and using revenue from road pricing. The Government should explain exactly where the revenue from road pricing will go. They should examine some models from abroad, as they would find that there are policy alternatives. For example, in America bonds are frequently issued for infrastructure projects. In San Francisco a business rate supplement to be used for transport improvement was widely accepted by the business community. In France there is a generally accepted payroll tax for the improvement of urban public transport. Sir Alistair Morton, the chairman of Eurotunnel, has called for the establishment of a transport investment fund to be paid for by a pollution tax.
Column 1089Of course, there is still the relatively unexplored area of taxation hypothecation. The public might be prepared to pay more if they were convinced that as a result there would be an improvement in public transport networks.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : The hon. Gentleman is in important territory, although he is meandering a little in getting there. Given that the most popular routes in London, according to passengers, are those operated on tendered routes by private companies and given that the most obvious way of injecting private capital into bus services is to sell the nationalised bus companies--which are an anachronism, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman acknowledges--do I take it that the Liberal Democrats support the privatisation of the London bus subsidiaries ?
We need a public transport system that is clean, reliable, safe and cheap. For all the Government's big schemes and for all the fun that they have had announcing again and again that some of them would go ahead, absolutely nothing has happened. The picks and shovels lie dormant. There is no movement, there are no jobs and nothing is being put in place for the future.
The market cannot deliver unaided the transport network that we need. The Government need to have an overall vision and plan. A combination of public investment and private enterprise could build a network that would be the envy of Europe and a pleasure to use. 6.22 pm
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : I listened with some incredulity to the speech by the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey) and I will pick up one point he made. He said that all towns with a population in excess of 23,000 should have the right to be linked automatically to the national mainline railway route.
Mr. Dunn : Is that the hon. Gentleman's policy or is it the policy of his party ? In this place, we are used to hearing Liberal Members of Parliament making statements which are then denied by the party. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me how many towns in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with populations in excess of 23,000 would have to be connected automatically to the main line ? What would happen if a town with a population in excess of 23,000 which did not enjoy a connection to the main route was surrounded by an area of outstanding natural beauty, such as the Peak district, parts of Yorkshire, or parts of East Anglia, which are represented by my colleagues on this
Column 1090side of the House ? Would the link go through irrespective of the wishes of the local people, if population were the only trigger ? I think that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was right when he said that it would happen unless it proved to be unpopular. It will be a very expensive proposition, not only in financial terms but in terms of the environment, public accountability and democracy, but the point is that it is the official policy of the Liberal party.
The Liberal party is also in favour of an energy tax, which would increase the price of petrol. Petrol charges are important for a variety of reasons well known to us all. The rural dweller--perhaps someone from north Devon-- needs a motor car perhaps more than the urban dweller, who has easier access to shops, schools and places of leisure. But the policy of the Liberal party is to increase the energy tax, and therefore increase the cost of motoring for the country dweller. The Labour party spokesman, who is no longer in the Chamber, declared his personal interest in transport.
Mr. Streeter : Before my hon. Friend moves from the contribution of the hon. Member for North Devon, is he aware that the hon. Member not only would trample on his constituents by introducing an energy tax which would increase their fuel costs, but also has called for the closure of major road programmes--despite the fact that north Devon has benefited from the north Devon link road, which has brought untold inward investment to his constituency ? Is that not a double standard ?
Mr. Dunn : My hon. Friend is right. We are sick and tired of Liberal spokesmen, of whatever level, saying one thing in this place and another thing back home ; one thing in the council chamber and another thing in a different village ; and one thing in one street and something different in the next street. The policy of the Liberal Democrats is "all things to all men".
Mr. Waterson : Will my hon. Friend comment on a document that was recently released by the East Sussex county council, which is currently controlled by a Lib-Lab pact ? The document is entitled "Time is Short", and has the temerity to criticise the Government over the slowness of their trunk road improvement programme in East Sussex.