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Mr. Prescott: I often travel on the underground and have done so two or three times in the past week. I think everyone in the House has a great deal of experience of it. I was grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) about the quality of the service despite the difficulties.

The difference between pre-qualifying and qualifying arises from the fact that it will be very expensive to bid for the deals, so we shall invite people to bid in the pre-qualifying stage, when they can say whether they are interested and what their plans are. If, by the autumn, they have done so--I believe that a number of them will--we will invite one or two to take the more significant step of making a serious bid. It is a very expensive proposition to make a bid under the proposals. The different stages are therefore intended to distinguish the serious contenders--some of whom, I have no doubt, will be consortiums--and we shall have to judge which of them we should invite to make a more permanent, serious bid.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): I welcome the statement, but I want to highlight the daily problems experienced by many hundreds of thousands of people who travel into central London from east London. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a problem of capacity on the Central line and that, despite his welcome announcement, there are difficulties that must be tackled so that capacity can be increased for travelling from east to west across London? Will he and his colleagues reconsider the possibilities of using crossrail or an alternative means to improve capacity for travelling across our city?

Mr. Prescott: I would not want to encourage my hon. Friend to think that we had in mind another £4 billion or

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£5 billion project for crossrail--certainly not during the next two years, when I would have responsibility for it. The proposals that I presented today allow for cross-London transport and will be welcomed. We are also looking at ways to increase the throughput of trains, which can be achieved by improvements to signalling and track to enable trains to go faster and to be better controlled. In that way, we will get more "flights", as they are called, along the routes, which will give us more capacity. Furthermore, the bids include the lengthening of some station platforms, so that we can put more coaches on trains. Even though there may still be the same length of track, we plan to work it much more effectively and efficiently than at present. That will be one of the benefits of the investment.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): First, does my right hon. Friend agree that the £7 billion announced today represents much better value for money to the taxpayer than the privatisation of Railtrack, which was sold for £1.9 billion and is now valued at £8 billion? Secondly, does he agree that we all welcome the fact that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) is going down the tube? Thirdly, does my right hon. Friend envisage the integration of the current tube network and the newly arriving tramlink in Croydon, which he was kind enough to mention in his proposals? The people of Croydon welcome the initiative and look forward to the integration of London transport, which includes the link-up of tramlink to the wider network.

Mr. Prescott: I certainly believe that the £7 billion is an investment in the future of London and will be welcomed by everyone. It is clearly needed, and we look forward to getting the agreements to achieve it. On the question whether the Croydon light railway system will be integrated, I have told my hon. Friend previously that various opportunities arise once one stops thinking of the underground, the national rail system and airports as separate, and begin to integrate them and find ways of making the system work more effectively. That is a practical example of how we can get value for money.

Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): May I tell my right hon. Friend how welcome his statement on joined-up transport for London will be to my constituents, many of whom are commuters? Can he reassure my constituents in Dartford that the channel tunnel rail link phase 2, including the Ebbsfleet station, is on target and will deliver the much-needed improved services for Britain and the whole of Europe?

Mr. Prescott: Yes.

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Point of Order

4.12 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. According to the front page of the Financial Times--not exactly our most sensationalist newspaper--the people responsible for leading the Kosovo Liberation Army are somewhat truculent and have stated that they will not lay down their arms to NATO and that they regard themselves as the core of an army for an independent state of Kosovo. Indeed, the report goes further than that and suggests that they might be part of a force for a Greater Albania. That has urgent consequences. Have you had any request from the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office to make a statement on the matter before Thursday's debate?

Madam Speaker: I have not been informed by Ministers that they seek to make a statement on such matters. Of course, the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that we have a debate on the issue on Thursday. If he tries to catch my eye, I hope that I may be able to allow him to speak, and perhaps he will raise the issue at that time.

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Safety At Sea

4.13 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I beg to move,


I am delighted to be given the opportunity of raising an issue that is important to many people and causes concern to hon. Members with maritime constituencies. There is an on-going problem in dealing with competency and safety factors relating to leisure craft.

If most Englishmen believe that every Englishman's home is his castle, every Briton believes that he is a born sailor and has gifts of navigation and knowledge of the sea, without ever attempting to gain such expertise. Because of that, every year--if not every day or month--people's lives are put at risk.

There are 3.5 million leisure craft in the United Kingdom and barely 35,000 of the people who use those craft have signed up for recognised competence courses. I accept of course that many more people have those skills, having gone through the recognised courses organised by the various sailing associations and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but a number of safety issues need to be addressed. My local newspaper, The Portsmouth News, has campaigned hard on this matter because weekly, and sometimes even daily, it records incidents in which people's lives were put at risk because they simply did not have the knowledge, or the equipment on their leisure craft, to get back to harbour safely or to summon help.

Reading those reports has sickened me, and only a few weeks ago three men in a boat--none of whom were swimmers and all of whom lacked any competence--were nearly run down by a supertanker out in deep water. A supertanker has great difficulty in navigating in coastal waters, let alone trying to avoid three people in a small craft which is out of control in front of it.

Once again, we, the community, are faced with picking up the bill for the enormous cost of trying to help people and get them out of danger. I believe that prevention is better than cure and would hope that the Government will seriously consider introducing legislation which is long overdue. At least one person on board a leisure craft should be competent, understand the rules of the sea, know the tides and the area in which the craft is operating and have the necessary navigational skills to take the craft in and out of harbour. More important, there should be safety equipment on board, such as life-jackets or flares to summon help. On some occasions, a simple mobile phone could be the difference between life and death in coastal waters. Mobile phones should be part of the equipment taken to sea.

I am led to believe that the average cost of boats at the marina close to where I live is between £25,000 and £30,000. People will invest that amount of money and spend thousands of pounds a year on mooring fees, but they will not spend tens of pounds to supply life-jackets or to buy a box of flares, which would give them at least a chance should they run into danger. I recognise that organisations such as the Royal Yachting Association, the RNLI and the Coastguard Agency are all working hard to increase awareness of safety at sea, but too many people totally ignore their advice.

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Any one of us could buy a fast leisure craft, put it on a trailer and take it out to the sea, although we may be without much engineering skill apart from being able to get our cars started if they have a fault. We could invite two or three friends and their children along and take them out into deep waters--in the channel or anywhere around our shores--without at any stage having to prove whether the boat is seaworthy or whether we have the skills and the safety equipment necessary to ensure that they would at least have a chance if an incident occurred. We might also have no means of communicating with people on shore should we run into difficulty. That cannot go on, because too many lives are at risk.

According to recent Coastguard Agency figures there were 5,500 recorded maritime incidents in 1987. Some people might be critical and say that those figures embrace all sorts of incidents, which they do, and deal with commercial and ferry operators, but 251 people died in sea-related accidents in 1997. In 1998, there were 11,500 incidents and 249 people died. That is a horrendous waste of life. The Coastguard Agency says that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, many of those lives could have been saved if simple competence or life-saving equipment had been possessed. What a needless waste.

The cost to the agencies concerned is remarkable. Raising the coastguard helicopter for a search and rescue mission costs £4,000 an hour and a service helicopter costs £8,000 an hour. Launching a coastguard search and rescue squad costs £3,500 an hour and launching a lifeboat costs about £1,000. That is a horrendous cost for risking those people's lives just because the operators of such leisure craft have behaved stupidly and arrogantly in our waters.

We must give a lead, and act responsibly. Some have suggested the creation of a licence similar to those that people need in order to drive cars; others have proposed a tax to pay for the rescue services, an idea with which the Coastguard Agency has flirted. I do not want that. What I want is strong action, and for us no longer to allow incompetent people to take great risks, on their own behalf and on behalf of those whom they invite to accompany them--in many instances, young children, most of them without life-jackets, who could not swim in deep, rough water even if they wanted to.

Many hon. Members will have stood on a quay in a coastal resort and seen leisure craft leave the marinas and harbours. All of them look wonderful, but how many people on them are wearing safety harnesses? Professional sailors, and those who are keen on their sport--racing sailors, and the leisure yachting fraternity--take stringent safety measures. They are the ones who can stand up and be counted, but too many others cannot.

The stark difference is this. When a professionally organised regatta goes badly wrong in Weymouth bay and 55 people are in the water because of a sudden change in the weather, all of them have proper safety equipment, all are picked up, and the whole disaster--or possible disaster--is over in minutes. Let us compare that with what happened to three inexperienced sailors in the middle of the Solent when something went wrong. Such people risk their own lives, and the lives of others on ferries and other craft on the Solent. More important, they risk the lives of those who work on our behalf: the winchmen in the helicopter, or the lifeboat crew, who have to go out to save them.

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A colleague of mine recounted a story about what happened after a firework display after the end of Cowes week last year. As his craft was returning across the Solent, a sudden fog descended. There were dozens of boats on the Solent, most of them with no navigational lights. Their only means of getting back to harbour safely was to follow the Isle of Wight ferry into port. Can hon. Members imagine the disaster that could have occurred if at that time of night a large tanker had left the Fawley terminal? What if a tanker weighing a quarter of a million tonnes, steaming down the Solent and heading into deep water, were confronted with that sort of nonsense in the middle of a fog? There is no excuse for it. We simply cannot allow such arrogance to continue.

I hope that the House welcomes the opportunity for the issue to be aired. An abundance of literature from all the agencies asks people to join the safety campaign and to take note, but that is not enough. Fewer than 1 per cent. of those currently using leisure craft around our coasts have signed up to such commitments. That should not be allowed to continue. I commend the Bill to the House, and hope that we shall now see some action from Government to bring about a substantial improvement in the position.


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