The proposed A650 Saltair relief road is at a very early stage of development. The Highways Agency is currently pressing ahead with surveys which will facilitate the development of detailed proposals.
Mr. Sutcliffe: This road is vital to the people of Bradford and Keighley and to their economic success. Will the Minister today guarantee that the road will be completed, after £12 million has already been spent progressing the work thus far? Everyone in the area, of whatever party--including those who drew up the economic strategy of the district-- depends on the road. We have read in this morning's press that the Government will need to take transport off the road and put it on to rail. I accept that, but the road is vital to our area and we need guarantees from the Minister today.
Mr. Watts: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that this series of seven schemes is intended to bring a raft of environmental and economic benefits to the communities in the area. He will be aware that two have been completed; five are in preparation. I am pleased to note the hon. Gentleman's support for these schemes, by contrast with the stance of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who reiterated yet again today that the Labour party would impose a moratorium on all road schemes.
Mr. Waller: Is my hon. Friend aware that people find it difficult to understand why the Bingley bypass has only priority 2 status? Some very expensive preliminary works, including the diversion of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, have already been completed. I emphasise to my hon. Friend that the completion of the Airedale route, as soon as humanly possible, is essential to large numbers of businesses in Keighley and the Aire valley, and hence to much employment.
Mr. Watts: My hon. Friend's point is well made. There was, however, a thorough review of the road programme in March this year. As a result of that review, this scheme was placed in the priority 2 category--but I note what he
Column 1378has said, and what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) has said. The latter has already impressed on me the importance of these schemes to his constituency.
Mr. Merchant: Is my hon. Friend aware that the 15,000 commuters in my constituency have in the past three years seen the biggest investment in their local lines in living memory? Is he aware that that has meant whole new fleets of Networkers being brought in to run the services, a major modernisation of track, improvements to signalling, and a refurbishment programme for local stations? All this has considerably increased the quality of local services.
Mr. Watts: My hon. Friend has almost answered his own question extremely well. I can confirm that investment in 1992-93, which was £558 million, was the highest since Network SouthEast was created in 1985. I am pleased to learn from my hon. Friend that his constituents are benefiting so much from the substantial and worthwhile investment of the past three years.
Ms Glenda Jackson: How long will such investment via subsidy continue for lines that are having difficulty becoming economically viable, to use the Secretary of State's words? It is Railtrack's stated policy that it will not support every route, and that it cannot and should not take into consideration social issues. Just who will be defining policy for the railways in future--or is this another example of the Government not only failing to communicate but failing to think things through?
Mr. Watts: No. The hon. Lady confuses two things. Railtrack and the rolling stock leasing companies will make investments on business grounds. It is the franchising director who commands a substantial budget to be spent on ensuring that socially necessary services continue to be secured for the benefit of the travelling public.
Mr. Haselhurst: On the day when the case for a fifth terminal at Heathrow has been published, is it worth reminding my hon. Friend of the need to think ahead to ensure adequate capacity on the railway line out of Liverpool Street station to Stansted airport and stations in my constituency, because a third track and resignalling will be needed in the next few years?
Mr. Watts: I had the pleasure of travelling on that service when I returned from Stansted airport recently. I note what my hon. Friend says. He will be aware, in the context of airports generally, that the British Airports Authority has commissioned a half a million pound study of rail links to airports. We await that with great interest.
Mr. McLeish: Despite the Minister's complacency about investment in the south-east, can he confirm today that this is the first year since 1940 in which British Rail, or any of the 25 train operating units, has placed no new
Column 1379orders for rolling stock? Will he acknowledge that privatisation is tearing the heart out of the railways? It is affecting morale, service and routes and, of course, it will affect investment in every part of the country. Surely we have a right to expect, after the drubbing of Dudley, to see some humility and sanity from Transport Ministers on the Front Bench [Interruption.] The Minister is responding. I enjoy that. Or are they content just to sit back and wait until they see the humiliation of the poll tax, Post Office privatisation and VAT on fuel revisited on Ministers? Will they take action now to protect our railways well into the next century?
Mr. Watts: Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is complacent about investment in the railways. In the past five years, there has been more than £6 billion-worth of investment in the railway as a whole. The hon. Gentleman will know that the financing plans announced at the time of my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget provide for investment to continue at around £1 billion a year--three quarters of a billion pounds funded from taxpayer's resources and one quarter of a billion from the private sector. That is a very substantial and continuing investment programme.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Bearing in mind that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) told my constituents at the previous general election that the Conservative Government would not bring Networker trains to the north Kent line, may I congratulate my hon. Friends on the massive introduction of Networkers that has taken place over the past two years on that line? Can we be told something of the further extension of Networker trains to the Kent coast line?
Mr. Watts: We hear from my hon. Friends the real benefits that are coming from the substantial investment that has been undertaken and which will continue, in contrast to the empty rhetoric and scaremongering by hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench.
3. Sir David Steel: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what provision he has made to ensure that the vulnerable and elderly can still meet essential travel needs in rural areas following petrol price increases.
The Secretary of State for Transport (Dr. Brian Mawhinney): Local authorities already have sufficient powers to subsidise the running of additional bus services in rural areas where they see a need. In considering provision of those services, they are required to take into account the transport needs of elderly and disabled people.
Sir David Steel: Is the Minister aware that, following the recent petrol price increases, the local bus company in the Scottish borders has announced fare increases of 8 per cent.--well above the rate for either wage or pension increases? Does he accept that many people in areas that do not have bus services run vehicles that cost less than the annual road fund tax? When will he stop using petrol pricing as a mechanism to check the interests of the environment, and introduce road pricing policies in the cities, where the private car is a luxury not a necessity?
Column 1380prices announced last week when they voted as they did for VAT on fuel. Everybody understands that. It may be an embarrassment to them now, but it was my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor who drew attention to the consequences for the rural areas of the vote that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues cast.
Mr. Robathan: Thank you for your assistance, Madam Speaker. Should I require any advice on deportment or sartorial elegance I shall come to you because you are an example to us all, but I will not take advice from the scruffy yobbos on the Labour Benches.
Mr. Robathan: Has my right hon. Friend read the recent report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which recommends large increases in fuel prices? Does he think that that is one means, together with better public transport, by which to encourage a shift away from private cars? Does he think it curious that those who bleat about energy conservation and make political points about it do nothing about implementing measures that will conserve energy?
Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the Royal Commission's report and some of its consequences. One reason why we want a debate on transport in general and the proposals in particular is that the implementation of some of the proposals and recommendations would have a significant effect on the lives of literally millions of people and would focus in particular on those who live in rural areas. Unlike the Liberal Democrats, we do not have a commitment to a carbon tax, which would make their position even worse.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris): Subject to the availability of resources, the Government are ready to fund worthwhile improvements to all forms of transport in Greater Manchester.
Mr. Bennett: Does the Minister realise that the people of Greater Manchester have suffered a decline in the frequency of their train and bus services and a decline in safety standards at stations because of the removal of staff, while the only minor improvement has been the restoration of trams in the centre of the town? If people in Greater Manchester are to enjoy good public transport, that requires substantial investment in at least five or six more lines for the Metrolink.
Column 1381is prone to do on every occasion. He has an extraordinarily partial view of public transport in Greater Manchester. To describe the Metro as a minor improvement is to turn churlishness into an art form. It is a superb piece of public transport infrastructure, which serves its purpose extremely well. The Passenger Transport Authority has spoken to us about further extensions and when those are ready to be considered in detail, we stand ready to do so.
Mr. Sumberg: Would not one way of providing more money for public transport in Greater Manchester be to abandon the disastrous proposal for the M62 relief road? That would not only generate resources, but ensure a feeling of great relief in my constituency and end the planning blight that presently exists as a result of the proposals.
Mr. Meacher: As the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment report published today makes it clear that the economics of many road building schemes are unviable--that includes not only the M25, but the M62 road widening--will the Minister answer the question that he has just dodged and tell us whether he will now call a halt to any further work on the M62 road widening?
As the logic of the SACTRA report is that any cut in road building will only increase congestion unless investment is shifted into alternative public transport systems, will the hon. Gentleman now concentrate instead on extending the excellent Metrolink in Manchester and on financing the trans-Pennine rail link, which would be far cheaper than the road works on the M62, would be far more popular and would do far more to relieve congestion?
Mr. Norris: On the hon. Gentleman's latter point, as I told his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), the Manchester authorities have--unfortunately, at a late stage--brought forward plans for the second extension to the Metro system. We have said that we will be perfectly happy to examine those in detail, although no allocation has been made in respect of 1995-96 because it is not anticipated that work would start by that time, so to that extent the application is somewhat premature.
On the hon. Gentleman's more general point, my right hon. Friend has made it perfectly clear that the advice contained in the SACTRA report is valuable and entirely consistent with a number of the principles that the Department has been utilising for many years. If I may say so, the real difficulty that has emerged from the matter is the extraordinary commitment of the hon. Gentleman, and indeed his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, to a complete moratorium on road building. That has already got the hon. Gentleman into trouble with his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has just told the House how much he wants a road scheme. If the hon. Gentleman looks around him, he will find that every one of his hon. Friends favours abandoning the road programme in general--but not when it relates to their own constituencies.
5. Sir Teddy Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects that the Fenchurch Street line will be privatised; and which authority will have responsibility for reviewing fare levels.
Sir Teddy Taylor: For many years, commuters from Southend-on-Sea have enjoyed a rather inadequate and erratic service; the line has become known as the misery line. Will the Minister do all in his power to ensure that privatisation brings real benefits to the commuters of Southend? In particular, will the Government ensure that the financial arrangements are published shortly, so that we can attract a wide range of bidders?
Mr. Watts: The franchising director will publish further details of the first eight franchises early in the new year. My hon. Friend will know that £83 million has been spent on major signalling works on the line; I hope that, after years of misery, his constituents will now start to notice some improvement in the standard of service.
Mr. Mackinlay: Will the Secretary of State make it a condition of the franchises that no intermediate stations are closed, that the same volume of trains travel along the lines each week and that the length of trains is not shortened? Will the Minister give an undertaking that that will be a condition of the franchise for the Fenchurch Street line?
Mr. Watts: The hon. Gentleman will be interested to note that, for the first time ever, the franchises let by the franchising director will include provisions concerning passenger comfort. As has been made clear many times in the House and elsewhere, the franchises will be based broadly on existing timetables. That cannot mean, however, that they will replicate those timetables in every detail, because that would not provide scope for the private-sector franchise operator to improve the service that is offered.
Mr. Channon: Does my hon. Friend agree that the privatisation of the line will give travellers the opportunity to benefit from a more punctual service, with reasonable rolling stock and reasonable fares? Is that not a great step forward?
6. Mr. Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about the treatment by the Highways Agency and its agents of residents and other individuals along the route of the M11 link road.
Mr. Cohen: Has not the cost of policing and security on the Mll link road now reached £6 million, and is not the amount rising at a rate of more than £500,000 a month? During a recent week-long operation in Claremont road, which cost more than £2 million, were not many of my constituents bullied--including vulnerable people, and
Column 1383others whose only crime was living on the line of route? Should not the Minister give an early Christmas present to the long-suffering residents of Leyton, and many others in this country, by promising that there will never again be another rotten road scheme like this in Britain?
Dr. Mawhinney: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not stand up and say thank you to the police, who carried out an operation--on behalf of the people whom he represents--against those who decided unilaterally to break the law. May I remind him that three public inquiries about the route have taken place, and that what the Highways Agency did was entirely in line with statutory provisions that had been democratically confirmed three times? Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that £4 million of Highways Agency money--Department of Transport money--that could have been better used to provide safety schemes and bypasses has been used up in this operation, along with £2 million of police money, including hundreds of man hours, which could have been better used to provide security on the streets in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. And he has not even had the decency to say thank you to the police.
Mr. Cash: Although my right hon. Friend makes a good point about the M11, does he accept that the Highways Agency should deal with a national problem: the gridlock that is emerging in regions such as that covered by the M6 near my constituency of Stafford and that is causing massive congestion, not only in Stafford but on the M6? Does he agree that we should have electronically operated signs on approaches to motorways such as the M11 and M6 to ensure that people do not go on to motorways in the first place and proper diversionary roads in constituencies that are affected by people who wish to get off the motorway, as Michael Carey of Stafford borough council recommended recently?
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has abused the question on the Order Paper. I allowed him to proceed because he mentioned the Highways Agency and he kept mentioning the M11. But it was a total abuse of today's Question Time. If the Secretary of State could answer the question in half the time that the hon. Gentleman took to ask it, I should be extremely grateful.
Dr. Mawhinney: My hon. Friend is right to point out the need to provide drivers with more information than is available when they are in their cars and on motorways. I hope that he will be encouraged to know that I have increased the budget for that next year by about 20 per cent.
Ms Walley: Considering all the figures again--all the millions of pounds that have been spent on security--is not the real issue that the money for the roads programme is being spent on the basis of a formula that is rigged towards roads and that is not part of an integrated transport policy? Will the Secretary of State justify this road and all the other roads in the programme on the basis of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment report published today? Why does he not come to the House and allow us debate its contents with him?
Column 1384more on local road schemes. Today, she wants a moratorium on all road building. She has to make up her mind on which side of the street she wants to walk.
Mr. Wolfson: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the frequency of service on the Cowden line is only just over one half of what it was before the accident and that that is due to drivers' lack of confidence in the system? The provision of cab secure radios could go a long way to restoring that confidence. Will provision for them be made?
Dr. Mawhinney: I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that both British Rail and Railtrack committed themselves at the public inquiry to putting cab secure radios on the Uckfield line. I shall encourage them to do so as soon as possible.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Will the Minister give hon. Members an undertaking that if the report makes it clear that, because of the cost of privatisation, safety measures are not being put in place either in the Cowden region or elsewhere, he will make money available to ensure that all safety measures are implemented as soon as possible? Some of evidence at the inquiry shows that British Rail is resiling from original decisions that it took some time ago.
Dr. Mawhinney: Clearly, as a member of the Select Committee on Transport, the hon. Lady will understand that I shall not comment on evidence that has been presented to the Committee, not least because the report will come to me in due course. I am happy to assure her, however, that my commitment to safety being paramount is unchanged.
Mr. Evennett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware of the considerable congestion at the Blackwall tunnel every day and of the fact that my constituents are getting rather cross because their journey to work is bad? Furthermore, does he agree that the development and regeneration of the riverside, including
Column 1385the Thamesmead, Erith and Belvedere areas of my constituency, desperately require another crossing point to make it feasible for industry to relocate there?
Mr. Norris: My hon. Friend makes two very important points. First, he draws attention to the Blackwall tunnel, about which I can sympathise with him. He will be aware of our efforts, which mean that vehicles do not now collide with traffic from the north-bound tunnel. Nevertheless, we still have a problem trying to avoid the stoppages that occur too frequently. I can promise my hon. Friend that I am considering the problem urgently to see what more we can do. Secondly, I endorse the general principle that he outlined which is that, essentially, the river crossings are about the economic regeneration of areas north and south of the river, areas that are represented by him and by other hon. Members. I am sure that he will agree that the appropriate outcome of our consultation on the various options will be a solution that local authorities themselves accept as being in their best interests in getting the right balance between any environmental impact and the economic regeneration which we all agree is so urgently needed.
Mr. Townsend: When deciding the future of the east London river crossing, will my hon. Friend persuade the Secretary of State to pay far more attention to the crucial environmental aspects of the route and, in particular, will he ensure that Oxleas wood is not damaged in any way? May I invite my hon. Friend and his dog to walk the route with me on new year's day?
Mr. Norris: His hon. Friend does not have a dog but I am sure that I could hire one for the day. Were I not otherwise committed, my hon. Friend's offer would not be unattractive. I have, in fact, walked that route a number of times. My hon. Friend will know that some time ago-- nearly two years ago, I think--I made it clear that we would not be proceeding with the Oxleas wood scheme, for precisely the reasons that he has outlined. I did not think that it was an appropriate way to proceed but, as he knows, what remains at issue is the strategic objective that the east London river crossing was planned to deliver--that is, a link between the A13 and the A2, which remains of considerable importance for the economic regeneration of the region, as I said earlier.
Mr. Spearing: Is the Minister aware that I have opposed the east London river crossing unless an extension of the docklands light railway were to run across it? As for the objective that he has just outlined-- joining two trunk roads--would it not be good value for money, in the light of today's report, to extend the DLR by a single line tunnel under the Thames to relieve the congestion at Blackwall and on the other road crossings, which are a second priority for east London at the moment?
Mr. Norris: Without speculating on how the crossing might be achieved, I acknowledge the appropriateness of the hon. Gentleman's observation. Clearly, if the DLR were to be extended on whatever crossing were provided for the road, the value, certainly in terms of value for
Column 1386money, would be in attaching the rail crossing to the road crossing. If the consequence of that were, for example, the ability to revitalise Thamesmead, which I know is of concern to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) and to others, that would clearly commend it as an option. However, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that local authorities in the area, especially Bexley, Greenwich and others, have been concerned about the impact of locally generated traffic on such a crossing, and it will be necessary to take their concern into account. That is what the consultation process is for.
Mr. Austin-Walker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) for inviting the Minister to my constituency. Does the Minister agree that today's report by the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment casts severe doubt on the supposed economic advantages of the east London river crossing? What about the environmental damage that would be caused in an area where pollution already exceeds European guideline levels? Does the Minister not think that now is the time to put some resources into the railway crossing at Woolwich and into the provision of a Woolwich metro, which would do so much to regenerate the Thames gateway north and south of the river?
Mr. Norris: On the first point, I do not believe that the SACTRA report has a significant implication for the scheme about which the hon. Gentleman is talking. On the second point about the environmental consequences of the scheme, which is a slightly different issue, I remind him of what I said earlier. No one doubts that infrastructure of any sort will have some environmental implications. The decision for him, for his constituents, for his local authority and the local authorities on the other side of the river, given that there is widespread agreement that we need more crossings of the river to facilitate economic regeneration, is how to balance the environmental consequences of the scheme and the economic consequences, and the job mobility that goes with that, of not providing the scheme.
The Woolwich metro is a good scheme. It is one of the options at which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will look in the context of London river crossings. At this stage, it remains a good scheme, on which we are working.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to meet a cross-party deputation to discuss the Woolwich rail link, which would make a great deal of difference to all. Does he accept that about four fifths of extra traffic growth comes from increased economic prosperity and not from building new roads? If we want east London, north and south of the river, to share in that prosperity, we must have the crossings that we are contemplating. Will my hon. Friend try to ensure that whatever comes across the Thames does not turn south-west towards Brighton, but goes towards Dover, as that would meet the crossing's published purpose?
Mr. Norris: I will, of course, meet a delegation if my hon. Friend cares to bring one. If it is an all-party delegation, it will be so much the better for that. I note his other observations, and I believe that there is a great deal in what he says.
Mr. Norris: Public transport fares in London strike a reasonable balance between the farepayer and the taxpayer in meeting the costs of improving and maintaining the system. It is right that those who use the services and benefit directly from them pay their share of the system's costs.
Mrs. Roche: What does the Minister have to say to all the Londoners who, because of cuts in the Budget will, in January, face fare increases of, on average, three times the rate of inflation? Is it not about time that the people who use the transport system in London get some benefit from it and do not get clobbered, yet again, by this Government?
Mr. Norris: That is the most extraordinary economic analysis I have ever heard. I am delighted to be able to confirm that, such is the low level of inflation, as a result of the policies of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, any increase in real terms looks like a sizeable multiple of the rate of inflation. I am delighted to put it on record that in reality--I note the hon. Lady's amnesia on this point--this is the lowest increase in cash terms in eight years. People in London understand clearly how important it is to have a reliable service, and they know that that relies on investment. Given the record levels of investment already coming from the taxpayer, it is not unreasonable that farepayers should make their contribution.
Mr. Ottaway: Inasmuch as fares affect my hon. Friend's budget, may I congratulate him on finding room in his budget for funding the Croydon light railway--the tram link in Croydon? It will do much to enhance Croydon's prosperity and to regenerate the area.
Mr. Norris: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was delighted to be able to say that funds had been reserved in our budget this year for that scheme to go ahead, subject to satisfactory bids being received from the private sector.
Mr. Simon Hughes: Would London farepayers not be happier about paying their fares if the Government had kept their promises on investment, which last year was £130 million short of what was promised in 1991 and which next year will be one third down on what London Underground has asked for? The money saved on the road-building programme in the budget has not been transferred to public transport, which is what the public have asked for and what today's report has confirmed as useful and necessary.
Mr. Norris: I am entirely satisfied that the public transport services in London have received record levels of investment over the past four years under this Government, in stark contrast to the pitiful levels of investment available during the 1970s under the Labour Government. It is really quite staggering to see that, in today's money, the Labour party was investing under £100 million a year in London Transport services, in
Column 1388contrast to nearly half a billion pounds on LT alone and another half a billion pounds on Network SouthEast today.
Mr. Meacher: When will the Minister stop being so self-satisfied and wake up to the fact that London is now the most expensive capital in the European Union for commuters--more expensive even than Paris, Brussels or Rome--and that London fares are now almost twice the European average? What sense does it make to push up London's rail, bus and tube fares next month for the second year running by more than double the rate of inflation, since all that will do is force more commuters into cars and increase the levels of pollution and congestion? When will he call a halt to what is really at the root of this action--the Government's plans to remove all operating subsidy from rail services to the south-east, which an independent report recently predicted will increase fares by a further massive 65 per cent. over the next decade?
Mr. Norris: The one thing on which I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman is smugness and self-satisfaction. If there is one person who epitomises that on the Opposition Benches, it is the hon. Gentleman. As for his ludicrous scaremongering about fares and public transport services in the south-east, he really should know better. But then, we have come to expect no better from the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the only important statistic he appears to have overlooked is that when the Transport Research Laboratory looked exactly at what would happen if, for example, fares were reduced, it concluded: "cutting fares by 50 per cent. reduces traffic and emissions by only 1 per cent. to 2 per cent."
That is the reality and it is a reality which, of course, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues conveniently ignore, as they do on so many subjects where the facts contradict their own ludicrous assertions.