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Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the District and Circle lines, which I and no doubt many other noble Lords use every day, have not been running properly for months? Yesterday's excuse was a shortage of train operators, which I presume means drivers? Surely, that is a question of management, not investment. Do the Government have confidence in the present management of London Underground not only to run the system as it is now but to accommodate the proposed new investment?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, there have been operational and management problems within London Transport for some time. That is why we have made radical proposals to change its structure. We recognise that the problems of London Underground arise not only from under-investment, important
Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is more important that arrangements for London Underground should be right than that they should be immediate? In the light of that, is the noble Lord able to say whether the approach described as "son of PPP" will be given full consideration?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I said in my first response that the points raised by Mr Kiley were being given serious consideration by the Government. The constructive discussions between Mr Kiley and the Deputy Prime Minister have involved looking at the process and possible areas in which we can agree the way forward. However, the contract process is going forward. It is important that we do not rush these matters. We have the terrible example of the political pressures which caused the previous administration to rush into the privatisation of British Rail, and we do not wish to make the same mistake. We shall give due consideration to what is being said by Mr Kiley and others while we continue to work with those who have bid for these contracts.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, in the light of articles in today's newspapers about the report of the National Audit Office, which appears to suggest that investment in London Underground has not been in particularly short supply but has been poorly and ineffectively applied, is the Minister satisfied that when the new structures are in place they will improve the record and effectiveness of the investment so that we do not have a similar report at a future date?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have already indicated that the problem is not simply the quantum of investment; it is also the management of that investment. In the past couple of years the Government have invested over #500 million in the core of the London Underground network each year, compared with an average of #370 million over the period of the last few years of the previous administration. During those last years investment was run down drastically and was planned to run down to zero this year. Therefore, there is a problem of quantum of investment. But I accept that there is also a problem with the management and correct application of that investment.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Government announced last month that we favour modifications to the current regime for economic regulation of BAA's London airports to enhance incentives for timely investment in capacity enhancement, where appropriate, and improved quality of service. The Civil Aviation Authority is taking account of this in its preparatory work towards setting the next price cap, which will apply for the five years from April 2003. The CAA will also take account of BAA's investment programme, which BAA updates annually, striking a balance between capacity enhancement, quality of service and the level of charges to users.
Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I am pleased that the Minister has these issues clearly in his sights. From first-hand experience as a passenger, and having spoken to operations personnel at Heathrow--some believing that the airport functions only at 60 per cent efficiency--why must we accept major computer breakdowns, air bridges and walkways that seemingly never consistently work all at the same time, inadequate standards of baggage transfer and carousels which do not function, and, I am sorry to report, poor standards of cleanliness, for example, in the lavatories? Should government shoulder some of this blame? And is it healthy that the operator is a subsidiary of the owner of the airport?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the quality of service is clearly part of the regulation which the CAA is looking at. During the future period of that regulation it will take into account any shortcomings on the current quality of service. Although there have been shortcomings, the quality of service at London's airports, particularly in the baggage handling area, have improved substantially and are competitive with major airports around the world, many of which are under less pressure of capacity than Heathrow.
The review of competition took into account the structure of the BAA airports. We concluded that it was unlikely that if the airports were independent they would be able to compete more vigorously for traffic than they already do. Therefore, the benefits of the quality to users and passengers would not be that obvious. We decided not to pursue the possibility of break-up of BAA, at least for the time being, and to concentrate on better regulation.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, can my noble friend ensure that BAA employs enough people, particularly in the lost property division, so that people who make oral representations by telephone are not kept waiting indefinitely for a reply on what for them is a very important issue? Can my noble friend ensure also that this matter is brought to the attention of the chairman of the BAA, because the situation is far from satisfactory?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, while it is not really the role of government to directly indicate to the private operator, BAA, where it should employ its staff, we have set the airport, and the aviation industry in
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, perhaps my noble friend, when looking at the infrastructure, will examine the provision at Heathrow and other major airports of adequate medical support for passengers arriving on incoming flights who find themselves in difficulty. I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, is in her place because she chaired an excellent report on health in aircraft. I was told at Heathrow, in connection with a matter in which I was deeply involved, that the airport had access to Ashford hospital. But that is some miles away. What is needed is immediate medical attention for those who need it at the airport.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. One of the points in the 10-point challenge is to provide better information on health issues associated with flying. The points made by my noble friend about health service will be drawn to the attention of the airport operator.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, given the increasing volume of traffic at Heathrow particularly, is there not something seriously wrong with the maintenance situation where travelators, lifts and escalators are switched off for days and days and no maintenance contractor seems to move a finger to remedy the problem?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the question of servicing, as well as providing investment in the infrastructure, is one of the matters that the CAA will have to consider in its future regulatory framework. I am aware of the kind of problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, refers. I repeat that if one makes a comparison with an airport with a similar throughput Heathrow is not bad. Improvements can be made. The Government and the CAA have responsibilities to ensure that the regulatory framework achieves those improvements. However, let us not say that the entire experience of being at Heathrow airport is a disaster; it is not. It is one of the better airports in the world.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we are aware of press reports of a Turkish incursion into Iraq across the border at Habur on 16th December. We have asked our embassy in Ankara to investigate these reports. We are not aware of the UN Security Council having received any notification by the Turkish authorities of an incursion into Iraq by Turkish troops. We have closely monitored previous incursions, including one in May and one in August. We shall continue to do so.
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