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Column 1124--publish a list of the road schemes that they wish to see discontinued, axed or scaled down. That is all I ask ; it seems a very reasonable request, in the real world of planning and transport policy. Then we and our constituents can know exactly what their policies on roads are. I am very pleased to oppose the motion. 8.44 pm
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) : I begin by declaring a personal interest in the debate, as I am the sole Member of Parliament sponsored by the rail union, ASLEF--a sponsorship which I carry with some pride. I also declare a special interest in the debate. As is not the case with previous speakers from Tory Benches, 56 per cent. of the people who live within my local authority have no access--nor will they ever have any access--to private transport. Therefore, public transport is a major issue for my constituents. I have no doubt that, given recent events in my constituency, they will be delighted by the timing of this debate on transport.
Hon. Members will remember that on 1 April--a date which says as much about the Government's presentational skills as it does about their transport policy--Britain's railways were privatised. On 8 April I received a letter from the newly created North London Railways train operating unit informing me and my constituents that, from the beginning of May, Hampstead Heath station, which under British Rail had been classified a zone 2 station for travelcard purposes, would be classified a zone 3 station.
The effect of that move has been to increase fares for commuters using Hampstead Heath station by £168 a year--an increase of more than 30 per cent. Presumably this is what the Secretary of State for Transport meant in his statement of 28 March when he welcomed what he called a "new era" on the railways and pledged :
"franchises will seek to attract new passengers by creating new standards of care at competitive prices."
I would be interested to know how a fare increase by 12 times the rate of inflation will attract new passengers and by which criteria a price rise of 30 per cent. can be judged to be competitive. I should add that North London Railways, under its new guise as a train operating unit, is making great efforts and some progress in improving the quality of the service that it delivers to its passengers. However, it is being hampered in its efforts by a new operating regime that places the need for a commercial profit above the needs of the passenger.
Sadly, the railway within my constituency is not the only system to have suffered in recent days from the Government's disdain for the public transport network. Yesterday, the lift shaft at Hampstead tube station, which at 181 ft is the deepest on the network, suffered a mechanical failure which resulted in 19 passengers being stuck within a lift for more than one and a half hours. They were rescued only when the lift was winched manually back to ground level, after which two people required oxygen from the emergency services. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries, but what is happening on our underground system when lift breakdowns, power failures and electrical short circuits start to become not isolated but monthly and almost weekly occurrences ?
On 25 March an article appeared in my local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express , which revealed that London Underground did not have the necessary resources to replace the wooden escalators at Highgate and Swiss
Column 1125Cottage underground stations as recommended by the Fennell report into the King's Cross fire, which was in 1987.
Seven years later, with the underground approaching the 21st century, how can it be that the world's largest tube network does not receive sufficient finance to replace wooden escalators with escalators that do not represent a fire threat to the travelling public ? Putting aside the safety implications, do the Government have no sense of shame ? That is a rhetorical question because I can answer it myself : no, they do not.
Is there not even an ounce of contrition among those on the Government Front Bench about the fact that the nation's capital city--a city that the Secretary of State for the Environment recently described as a beacon that attracts investment and visitors and competes directly with Paris, New York and Tokyo--cannot even afford a tube system in which elevators do not trap passengers for hours on end and in which escalators are not under constant threat from a carelessly discarded match ?
Yesterday I read the debate on the Government's response to the Fennell inquiry in 1987. The debate was concluded for the Government by the then Minister responsible for public transport, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo). On that day, the right hon. Gentleman boasted of the increased investment that London Underground had received and praised London Underground for its remarkable response to the Fennell report. Seven years on, the Chief Secretary no longer praises London Underground but attempts to bury it under financial restrictions.
The Government's attacks on our capital's public transport infrastructure do not stop at allowing sky-high fares to jostle with rock-bottom investment. As anyone who has been following the progress of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill will be aware, while the travelling public are denied the opportunity easily and speedily to travel in their own capital city, heavy goods vehicles are about to be given the run of London, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to Government proposals to abolish the London lorry-ban permit system.
Last week my constituents were given a reminder of the cost of that proposal when I received a copy of a letter from Mr. Brian Marsh, chair of the London Boroughs Transport Committee, addressed to the Minister for Transport in London. That letter, which describes the Minister as possessing a striking dearth of understanding of the operation of the permit system, goes on to warn :
"It is patently obvious that London's environment is not your first concern and that proposals to abolish the permit system reveal that your Department would find acceptable a substantially reduced level of environmental protection for Londoners."
That, in a nutshell, is the Government's transport policy : lorries on the loose, tubes on the blink, train fares up, investment down. For my constituents whose homes lie in the path of those lorries, whose trips to work are delayed by mechanical breakdowns on an aging tube network and whose household budgets continually dwindle as a result of rising fares, that is an unacceptable state of affairs. Ministers are fond of telling the House that there is no such thing as Government money, only the people's money. Well, the transport system of the capital also belongs to the people. Their money paid for the railway services that are now being sold off at knockdown prices to private investors. Their money paid for the buses that constantly adorn our roadsides with their bonnets up and
Column 1126their "not in service" signs displayed and for the tubes that have difficulty making it from one station to another without hour-long pauses.
Having paid for those things, the people of London have a right to see them work. If Ministers fail to maintain, invest in and modernise our transport system, making it one that Londoners can look on with pride rather than trepidation, then they will find themselves paying as heavy a price as those who do battle with the transport system every single working day.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : It is not just because I am an adviser to the Chamber of Shipping that I want to begin by warmly welcoming what the Secretary of State had to say today about changes to the taxation regime for roll-over relief for shipping companies. On both sides of the House there is a strong consensus that the importance of shipping to the United Kingdom economy cannot be overstated--not simply because of the 90 per cent. of our foreign trade that it carries to and from our shores but because of the 26 per cent. of domestic trade that shipping companies carry in this country. It is a shame that this debate, like so many others on transport, has understated the importance of shipping to the United Kingdom by overstating the importance of road freight, not making allowance for the fact that more than one quarter of all domestic freight is carried by sea. Besides this direct contribution to our transport, the shipping industry makes its contribution to the marine equipment industries that supply it and it underpins the City of London and all the marine services there.
I think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) would have been more impressive in his rather brief and peremptory remarks about shipping if he had praised not just the role of the hon. Member for Stoke- on-Trent, North (Ms Walley). I freely admit that she has played an interested role in the debate about the future of our shipping, but it would have been helpful if the hon. Gentleman had also praised my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Sir T. Higgins) and my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw), for Shipley (Sir M. Fox), for Dover (Mr. Shaw), for Slough (Mr. Watts), for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill)--not to mention my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. They have all consistently and convincingly argued the case for British shipping.
The measure announced today to the House will help some sectors more than others, but it will still help the whole industry. It is part of a series of measures that the Government have taken which will have an important cumulative effect on the fortunes of the British shipping industry. I now ask my right hon. Friend to conduct with the utmost vigour his battle against state aids in the rest of Europe. Although the playing field may have been somewhat levelled, there is still quite an imbalance. I particularly ask my right hon. Friend to deal with the attempt by the French Government to provide £1 billion-worth of subsidy to Compagnie Generale Maritime--a classic example of subsidy if ever there was one.
In this debate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State demolished a number of the myths that are often peddled about public transport. He demolished the myth
Column 1127that it is possible to remove the need for new road building by increasing the use of rail. The startling figure that a 50 per cent. increase in rail traffic would lead to only a 3 per cent. reduction in road traffic speaks volumes about that myth. My right hon. Friend also demolished most effectively the myth that the Government do not fund public transport adequately. With 90 per cent. of United Kingdom traffic going by road and 40 per cent. of his budget spent on public transport, it is clear that that argument cannot be sustained either.
I was slightly surprised, however, that one myth did not surface in the debate--the myth that it is possible to achieve the chimera of an integrated transport policy. Had anyone referred to the need for that, I would have happily referred him to the famous episode of "Yes, Minister", in which Jim Hacker is charged with the task of bringing about an integrated transport policy--described by the Cabinet Secretary in his diary as
"a bed of nails, a crown of thorns, a booby trap".
In the event the Minister falls for it.
The reason why such a policy is a crown of thorns is later revealed by Sir Humphrey, who says :
"Formulating policy means making choices. Once you make a choice you please the people you favour but you infuriate everyone else. This is liable to end up as one vote gained, ten lost. If you give a job to the road services, the Rail Board and unions will scream. If you give it to the railways, the road lobby will massacre you." It is perhaps this fear that lies behind the total inability of the Opposition parties to make any reasonable choices about the future of transport in this country. The Government face up to those choices, and I believe that they consistently take the right ones. There was a previous attempt to provide an integrated transport system, but unfortunately we had to repeal it in the Railways Act 1993. My friend Robert Adley, then the Member for Christchurch, and I were saddened by the repeal of the four Railway Road Transport Acts of 1928 and the four Air Transport Acts of 1929. The rail companies fought hard for those eight Acts, which gave them powers to co-ordinate road and rail transport and to take cross-shareholdings and other transport interests. The Great Western Railway took shareholdings in many bus companies and reduced its own operations. As a result of its experience, it began to experiment with diesel multiple units and produced the first diesel railcars.
Those Acts of Parliament were delivering co-ordinated transport through market forces and that process should have been allowed to continue, with proper scrutiny by the competition authorities. War, recession and the motor car all made the railways' task more difficult. It was the Labour party that finished the process off, with its ideology and dogma and its nationalisation of the railways.
That ugly monster, the British Transport Commission, created on 1 January 1948, was to blame. As a result of the Transport Act 1947, it had the duty to provide an integrated system of transport in Britain. However, as "The Great Western Railway History" published in 1984--the official history-- reveals :
"Sir Cyril Hurcomb, Chairman of the BTC, . . . made the mistake of organising rail, road and water in five separate Executives and . . . selected incompatible people for the Railway Executive, which left him with no hope of integrating road with rail, and no chance of integrating the four railways."
Nationalisation finally destroyed the proper hopes of an integrated public transport system in Britain. However, we
Column 1128should be seeking not an integrated system but a balanced one. In my constituency of Worcester I am happy to report that the combination of Government policy and market forces has achieved precisely that and enormous benefit is now flowing to our local economy as a result.
The widening of the M5, completed on schedule and within budget last year, has made an enormous contribution to relieving local road bottlenecks. I am appalled to hear that the Liberal party wants a moratorium on such widening. What do the Liberals think that failure to widen the M5 would have done for communications from the south-west to the midlands and north of our country ?
Investment in rail is also proceeding. The Cotswold Line Promotion Group, in its winter 1993-94 newsletter, described the effect of £3 million of investment in new rolling stock :
"The new service of modern Class 165 and 166 Turbo trains through to and from Paddington is now beginning to pay handsome dividends. Mike Haigh, District Manager for Regional Railways (Central) has recently told the Group that passenger numbers, since the introduction of the trains in May 1993, are 25 per cent. up and revenue is 32 per cent. up on the same period last year". That is Government money.
I am glad to report that we have good private sector bus services. Deregulation of bus services in my constituency has not produced any of the dire consequences predicted by the Labour party. Since the liberalisation of air services, Birmingham international airport is steadily expanding its range of international services, making the area attractive to inward investment.
In my constituency, there is clear evidence that the Government's policy is delivering a balanced transport policy in the interests of all my constituents. A number of my hon. Friends have spoken about the democratic imperative of having good transport policies. Freedom of movement for all-- those with cars and without cars--is almost as important in the modern world as another great democratic freedom--freedom of speech--and we are achieving it.
Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East) : Transport is central to people's lives and, understandably, it is high on the political agenda. It should be looked at in its entirety, not piecemeal. For instance, we need a transport system that gives access to people without cars : that means bus or rail, and deregulating bus services did not help. The cost of privatising British Rail is enormous, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pointed out. Money should be spent on electrification, rolling stock and upgrading lines. Instead, the Government are lining the pockets of consultants, advisers, merchant bankers and brokers in the City. How wasteful and irrelevant is the Government's action in relation to Britain's real transport needs. Money can be frittered away in that manner, yet in my constituency of Newport, East we cannot get the pittance to provide a simple rail halt at Magor, which could do so much for the transport needs of the area.
A look at public transport as a whole reveals 15 years of underspending on infrastructure, despite all the revenue from North sea oil and the massive receipts from the sale of public assets. The Government are hostile to public
Column 1129investment, subsidies and planning. Profit is the principal objective and consequently Britain is left with probably the worst transport system in western Europe.
I should be the first to recognise that we need a transport system to meet our economic needs. Goods have to be transported quickly and efficiently so that we can compete in world markets. Likewise, we should recognise the need to spread economic growth throughout the country instead of confining it to the south-east of England. We must face reality. Where would south Wales be today without the M4 motorway and the Severn bridge ? It would be an industrial wasteland. All the pits have gone and steel has suffered massive cuts in manpower. Our manufacturing sector tends to be based on motor components : Ford engines in Bridgend ; Lucas Girling in Cwmbran ; Bosch, the major German company, in the Vale of Glamorgan, and many more besides. Without a modern road network, none of those firms would now be based in south Wales.
We need to get as much freight as possible on to the railways. With the channel tunnel, British Rail has the opportunity to prove that it can move long-distance freight expeditiously and competitively. At present, 89 per cent. of freight miles are travelled by road. If we succeeded in doubling the volume of freight that goes by rail--an enormous task--it would make little impact on the tonnage travelling by road.
In the retail sector, people have become accustomed to fresh produce, wide choice and full shelves in stores and supermarkets. The requirement is for huge amounts of stock at the point of sale and at the right moment. In reality it is only the lorry that can give that flexibility. For short- distance deliveries, for service calls, for trips with multiple destinations, the choice is invariably the car or van.
Some 90 per cent. of passenger miles are travelled by road. Compared with other countries of western Europe, Britain has a relatively low level of car ownership, but the proportion of travel by car in the United Kingdom is the highest in Europe. Germany has far more cars per head of the population, but their owners use them less and travel is far less car- dominated. The Government therefore have a clear duty to encourage commuters and those travelling in urban areas to use cars less and thereby cut congestion on our roads. They could help, too, by providing better public transport. People are understandably concerned about the environment but some go over the top on that subject and are misleading many sincere people. The claim has even been put about that Britain is being concreted over. In fact, all roads cover only 1.5 per cent. of land. Even if the full road programme were completed, it would cover only 1.6 per cent. of land. The largest part of land is taken up by roads that have been part of the landscape since Roman times or the middle ages. They have been added to by road widening and the bypasses that are so helpful to the environment.
Nevertheless, I agree that we should all be concerned to minimise the intrusion into the countryside. People today value their mobility. A motor car provides the personal transport that was once the prerogative of the rich. The prosperous countries of the world--led by the United States followed by Germany--have the highest rate of car ownership. By comparison, Poland has the lowest rate, and we all appreciate the depth of economic depression in that country.
Column 1130I am one of those who regularly use public transport. In London I travel daily by bus. Down in south Wales I use the train frequently ; it is a most agreeable form of transport. I end where I began. Transport should not be treated in a piecemeal fashion. The Government's free market dogma has not helped. Likewise, it is no answer to throw out the roads programme. Our competitors, Germany, France and the Netherlands, are investing heavily in their road networks. Despite Jim Hacker, we need an integrated transport system linking road and rail in the public and private sectors. That is the way to a sound economy and the road to prosperity.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) : The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) started on what I thought would be a well- considered discussion of the various transport issues facing us today. For a while, I was not disappointed, because he began to make an attack on the Liberal Democrat party--indeed, he made a vitriolic and excoriating attack on it. I thought that I could agree with much of what he said, but then I thought a little more about what he had said and realised that he was perhaps being unfair. In the few moments that are left before those on the Front Benches wind up, let me explain why I think that, by drawing attention to what has been going on in my county of Leicestershire and what the Opposition parties have been doing about it.
In my constituency there is a road called the A427, which goes from Market Harborough and crosses into the constituency of Blaby at a village called Kilworth. On its way there, it passes through villages such as Lubenham, Theddingworth and Husbands Bosworth. There is a crash nearly every day on that road. Either a lorry goes into someone's garden or house, or a car crashes into another car and endangers the life of one of my constituents. It is a county council road, not a Department of Transport road, and thus comes under the auspices of those on the county council transport committee, which, I regret to say, is run by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party. They are in an unholy alliance on the council.
That is why I think that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was being just a touch unfair to the Liberal Democrats : outside the House, in my county, the Labour party is in alliance with the Liberal Democrats
When the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made his terrible attack on the Liberal Democrats, he was clearly not advised by those who write his speeches for him that, not so very far away from the House--just 100 miles north of here--a county council is running a transport system and a road system that fall into the trap that he has set himself. The county council has refused to place the A427 at the top of its list of priorities for road improvement. Every time I write to complain, it uses, day in and day out, the mantra, "We are waiting for the completion of the A14--the A1-M1 link."
The A1-M1 link is much needed and will soon be completed. It goes from just west of Huntingdon across to the M1 just south and west of my constituency. I am happy to say that the Department of Transport has made sure that the funding for it is there and that the project will shortly
Column 1131be completed. The road will make a tremendous difference to the economic well-being of my constituency, where, only yesterday, it was announced that the unemployment figure is now as low as 1,937--a reduction of nearly 29 per cent. from this time last year. One of the reasons why the unemployment picture in my constituency is so good is that the Government's transport policies have ensured that the Government's end of the transport system in my constituency is well looked after. The fact that communications are good attracts business and investment and allows people in my constituency to do business and trade and therefore increase employment. The Liberal Democrats and the Labour party on the county council refuse to improve the A427, however, so, until they are removed from the county council, we will have to carry on listening to the lorries and the cars crashing about on that road.
What else have the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats done in my constituency to improve the public transport or road infrastructure ? They have failed to complete the eastern district distributor road, which goes around the city of Leicester. It is all but complete. The bit that is not complete is the two to three-mile section in my constituency. I am sure that it is a coincidence that my constituency is represented by a Conservative Member of Parliament, while the city council is run entirely by Labour and the county council is run by Labour and the Liberal Democrats ; doubtless that is not the reason for the councils' failure to complete the road but it is a fact, and one about which the House should know. Two much-demanded public transport schemes have thus been neglected by the Opposition parties, which makes the vitriolic and excoriating attack made by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras on his allies in my county doubly unfair.
Hon. Members may ask whether I would like to compare that record with the Government's policies, which have produced good transport developments in my constituency. The Market Harborough bypass, for instance, was opened by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport 18 months or two years ago-- [Hon. Members :-- "How exciting."] It is exciting. I am sorry that it embarrasses Opposition Members, who have nothing useful or constructive to say about the issue.
The Market Harborough bypass is of great value to my constituents. Not only does it serve a useful transport purpose ; it is environmentally beneficial. A huge number of trees have been planted alongside it, and Market Harborough itself has gained tremendously from the absence of smoking lorries queueing up in the high street and destroying the infrastructure, buildings and general pleasantness of an ancient market town. Would that Labour and the Liberal Democrats would do the same, and improve the A427.
The other Government-sponsored road in my constituency is the A47, the Leicester to Peterborough road. It, too, has had the benefit of Government money, and I am happy to say that it is another of the many roads throughout the country that have been greatly improved by the Government. It is a pity that the Opposition's friends in county hall, be they Liberal or Labour, have not had the foresight to organise their priorities to the benefit of the constituents whom I have the honour to represent. I say that
Column 1132it is a pity, but perhaps it is not surprising : most Liberal and Labour county councillors live in the city or represent wards in it, and most Conservative wards are outside the city. All the money is therefore sucked into the city, and none of it is spent in the county.
My rural villages are being denied the bypass at Theddingworth that is so desperately needed. As I said earlier, the people of Theddingworth are daily having to deal with the detritus of car crashes ; the health service is daily having to send out ambulances, and the police service is daily having to send out policemen to deal with the accidents. The cost benefits that would result from a bypass are so obvious as hardly to require analysis.
I have had the honour to represent my constituency for two years. In that time, I have seen great improvements in its economy--brought about, as I have said, by the transport benefits conferred by the present Government. I often look in my local newspaper to see what the Liberals are doing at county hall ; I look across at them in the Chamber, and wonder what on earth they think they are doing. I used to believe that rotation was something to do with the management of crops, but I have now concluded that it is nothing other than the policy stance of the Liberal county council, which changes day in, day out, week in, week out. What the Liberals say in the House is different from what they say in the county council ; that is different from what they say in the borough council ; what they say differs from street to street. I think that that is the experience of other Conservative Members.
I should like the Government to warn the members of the county council in my constituency that, unless the A427 is improved and placed higher on the list of priorities when the council applies next year for transport supplementary grant, it will be denied further funding for projects outside the southern half of Leicestershire. For too long, Government money has been going into the city and near-city without any benefit to my constituency. Those whom I represent have just about had enough.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras opened the debate by attempting to criticise the Government ; he spent 40 minutes saying an awful lot but exuding more heat than light. I have no doubt that we shall hear something of interest from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport when he winds up. I hope that he will take on board my concerns about the A427 and will ensure that its improvement goes ahead.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich) : This debate has exposed the inadequacy of Government transport thinking and highlighted the alarming absence of any coherent policy. We heard the continuing neanderthal voices of those Conservative Members who believe that more and more road building, irrespective of the social and environmental consequences, is the Department of Transport's only purpose. We heard in excellent speeches from my hon. Friends example after example of the decay and rundown of public transport services because of lack of investment and failed Government policies. We have witnessed at first hand the Government's confused and bungling approach to Britain's transport needs. There is no vision, strategy or sense of direction. We get only a jumble of unco-ordinated ad hoc responses to
Column 1133short-term crises. We have seen also sad attempts to put into practice some of the barmiest ideas ever to emerge from the intellectual morass of right-wing think tanks.
Nowhere is that lack of strategy more evident and damaging than in London and the south east. When we highlight transport problems in Scotland, Wales, the north-east, Manchester, Birmingham and many other parts of the country, most Conservative Members show little or no interest. They probably switch off because they have little or no experience of those areas transport needs.
They cannot, however, ignore the transport needs of London and the south- east. Whether they are stuck in a car or taxi in a traffic jam, delayed because their train to London is late, trying to survive a power failure on London Underground, stuck waiting in the rain for a bus that shows no sign of arriving and generally experience the day-to-day horrors of transport in London, Conservative Members know what a mess the Government have made of London's housing policy. [ Laughter .] I mean, London's transport policy. They certainly made a mess of London's housing policy, but also of transport policy. What a different prospectus existed when the Government, in their characteristic high-handed fashion, took control of London's public transport from the Greater London council. Moving the Second Reading of the London Regional Transport Bill in December 1983, the then Secretary of State for Transport, the late Nicholas Ridley, did not mince his words :
"The purpose of the Bill is to enable us to provide the most convenient, attractive and efficient service possible for London's travelling public."- -[ Official Report , 13 December 1983 ; Vol. 50, c. 865.]
That was the Government's promise more than 10 years ago. We know their unenviable reputation for wildly misleading election promises, that their forecasting is--to put it mildly--rather wide of the mark and their predilection is for being economical with the actualite . Given that, yesterday, the Palace of Westminster was yet again surrounded by Evening Standard billboards proclaiming "Thousands hit by tube chaos", it is difficult to imagine any other field of activity in which people who so manifestly failed to deliver their promises would not have been hounded from office years ago. I am pleased to say that the people of London will be voting in two weeks' time. In doing so, they will undoubtedly be casting a richly deserved verdict on the representatives of the Tory party. That is the party which took away from London its right to determine its own future through a democratically elected citywide authority. It is the party which arrogantly claimed that it knew best how to run London's services. It is the party which promised that it would deliver, "the most convenient, attractive and efficient service possible for London's travelling public".
Let us look at the reality. Yesterday's further disruption on the underground, which was caused by a derailment on the much-troubled Central line, was only the latest in a long series of incidents, the most serious of which effectively shut down the eastern section of the Central line for a whole week last November.
The catalogue of failure is depressing. There were more than 2,000 incidents on the London Underground last year which resulted in passengers having to wait for more than 20 minutes. On average, just under 10 per cent. of London Underground escalators were out of action during 1993 and on some lines the figures are much worse ; more than 15 per cent. were out of action on the Piccadilly line.
Column 1134In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) rightly highlighted the horrifying experience of her constituents who were trapped yesterday in the lift at one of the stations on the underground. In 1993, nearly 1,500 stations were closed for more than 20 minutes, more than 100 were closed for more than one month, and Mornington Crescent station was closed throughout the year--and it remains closed now.
I sometimes suspect that the Government have a vendetta against those who live in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). My hon. Friend's constituents must suffer the continued closure of their station at Mornington Crescent ; my constituents suffer a slightly more cruel form of torture. As we have no underground lines to Greenwich at present, Ministers cannot close down any of the stations. However, they have found a more subtle way of going about it-- they are refusing to build the stations that they promised on the Jubilee line. North Greenwich station--proudly announced by the Minister and his colleagues in the past--will not be built at the moment because they are still haggling with British Gas over the price that British Gas is expected to pay for the station. If the Minister wants to announce that the station is going ahead, I will be happy to give way--I hope that the Ministr will give that assurance.
Mr. Norris : The Minister would announce that no one is talking about deleting stations on the Jubilee line extension except the hon. Gentleman. There is absolutely no reason why the negotiations between the owners of the land and London Underground will not result in that station being built. It is only the hon. Gentleman who consistently talks the system down in his constituency and, indeed, all over London.
Mr. Raynsford : Hon. Members will note clearly the Minister's failure to give the pledge that I asked him to give--that the station at North Greenwich will go ahead. He knows that London Underground has not been able to sign the contract for the station.
Mr. Raynsford : Tough negotiators. Eighteen months after the scheme was due to begin, London Underground still has not signed the contract, because the Government are incompetent negotiators and cannot construct a proper underground line.
Like so many of the problems of London Underground, the episodes that I have highlighted emphasise the extent to which the service is chronically underfunded. The Minister for Transport in London admitted it candidly on Budget day when he said :
"It's perfectly obvious to a blind man that more money needs to be spent than we have got at the moment."
That might seem to be refreshingly honest if it had not come from the Government who, before the last general election, promised London Underground £3.5 billion for investment over the next three years, only to abandon that pledge at the first opportunity that they could after the election--the autumn statement in 1992.
The decently modern metro--a rather less ambitious target than the
"most convenient, attractive and efficient service possible", which was promised eight years earlier--will remain a pipe dream or be postponed yet again to the first decade of
Column 1135the next century as London Underground is able to invest no more than £475 million in its core business in the current year, compared with the £750 million which is required and which the Tory party promised before the last election. That was an election pledge which, like so many others, they have broken.
If breaking election promises is one characteristic of the Government, spitefulness towards anyone who has the temerity to remind them of it is another. Hence the fiasco last month when Sir Wilfred Newton had to postpone his retirement from London Transport because his deputy, Dr. Alan Watkins--whom everyone expected to take over and who was eminently qualified to do so--was turned down for having had the temerity to tell the truth about the Government's failure to honour their election pledges.
If London's ailing underground system is one monument to the Government's funding failure, London's buses are victims equally of the Tories' ideological fixation on deregulation and privatisation. The prospect of deregulation which hung over London until last autumn has now been mercifully abandoned. There are many other parts of the country where the problems of deregulation sadly are all too evident.
We heard clearly from my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) about some of the problems. I am thinking in particular of the horrendous example of the exploitative conditions imposed by an employer whom my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras would rightly describe as scum. That employer's exploitation of the work force in a most unscrupulous way was rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East.
That horror of deregulation, exploitation and near-slave labour conditions has been withdrawn from London in the short term. That is unofficially, of course, until after the next general election. It has, of course, been withdrawn full stop, because it will not happen after the next election as the Conservative party will not be sitting on the Government Benches.
Privatisation is proceeding in the meantime for the usual tawdry Tory reasons. Public assets are being flogged off at knockdown prices and pension funds are being eyed by latter-day Maxwells as suitable opportunities for plunder. There is no concern whatsoever for the public interest and no thought for the impact on London Transport. Instead of a coherent and integrated transport scheme, we have the prospect of fragmentation, deteriorating services and increased prices.
The Government's preoccupation is to drive down and eliminate subsidy, whatever the impact on the number and quality of services and whatever the impact on fares. One interesting issue is the travelcard. How long will the travelcard--by unanimous agreement, one of the few success stories of London Transport in recent years--survive this fragmentation ?
Ministers rush to promise that the travelcard will continue, because they know how popular it is with the travelling public. How much value can we place on their assurances ? We know their lamentable record of broken promises on investment in London transport, tax, VAT and so many other things. But what is one to make of the Minister for Transport in London, who categorically
Column 1136assured the House last year that the travelcard would continue in form and in substance in terms of price and in real terms ? The Minister knew that, just one month later, the travelcard would increase in price by more than 6 per cent.--far greater than the rate of inflation--and, on the lower bands, it would increase by some 9 per cent. [Interruption.] I gave the Minister the quote and the reference. He promised that the travelcard would remain at the same price in real terms, and the pledge was broken within one month. That is an indication of how much trust one should place in the promises which are made by the Minister for transport in London.
To add insult to injury, users of the Northern line have been stung by a shifty redesignation of their zones, which leaves some facing a rise of £168 a year in their travel costs. I know that it is fairly common practice for Government Members to shoot themselves in the foot, but, by pledging that there would be no increase in real terms in the cost of the travelcard when he was fully aware that his own policy would involve the price increasing within a month, the present Minister for Transport in London is rivalling the Prime Minister for incompetence and ineptitude.
If the Government's stewardship of London Transport is found wanting in almost every count, their record with British Rail is equally deplorable. Many hon. Members rightly highlighted the concerns about the way in which the rail service was being broken up in deference to the ideological prejudices of the right-wing think tanks. Ministers will continue bleating unconvincingly about increasing efficiency, but no one will believe them. The only growth that we can expect is in the number of separate bureaucracies spawned by the botched privatisation, which, as we all know, did not command the support even of the late Lord Ridley.
As train operator units, leasing companies, track authorities, regulators and other quangos proliferate, each backed up by its own small army of public relations advisers, logo and uniform designers, image consultants, accountants, administrators and parliamentary lobbyists, the day fast approaches when the serried ranks of the rail quangocracy brought into existence by the Government will far exceed the number of train drivers, the number of trains operated and the number of passengers on the network.
While all this is being done supposedly in the interests of efficiency, the facts tell a different story. In an interesting and revealing article in February's journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, a man called Michael Asteris concedes that
"in efficiency terms, BR compares fairly well with many of its continental counterparts. The productivity of the workforce is among the highest of any European railway."
He goes on to give the game away. He says that the true test of the privatisation of BR will be how many jobs it sheds and how many lines it closes. Of course, he was not referring to members of the quangocracy--the highly paid salary earners brought into post by the Government's privatisation.
He holds out as good examples British Gas, which cut its work force by 17 per cent., British Steel, which cut its work force by 28 per cent. and British Telecom, which cut its work force by 32 per cent. Then he spells out exactly what the future holds for passengers in any area in which the service does not cover its costs. He says :