Transport

– in the House of Commons at 3:58 pm on 15th May 1989.

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Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling 3:58 pm, 15th May 1989

I beg to move, That this House congratulates the Government on the increase in spending on roads by 57 per cent. in real terms since 1979 and on rail by over 75 per cent. over the last five years; notes the substantial and continuing pressure by the public for further measures to be taken up to and after 1992 to relieve road congestion; further notes that additional significant increases in public spending of 25 per cent. on roads and nearly 50 per cent. on rail are planned up to 1992; applauds the encouragement being given to the private sector to develop a role in our roads programme; believes that the privatization of British Rail would improve the service for the customer in the years beyond 1992; notes the improvement in the quality and quantity of bus services following de-regulation, and the privatisation of the National Bus Company; believes that there is a need to take further in the years up to 1992 and beyond the steps already taken by the Secretary of State for Transport in liberalising air fares and routes in the interests of the travelling public; congratulates the Secretary of State for Transport on the steps he personally has taken to promote public discussion of radical as well as conventional solutions to these problems; and urges the Government to continue its efforts to identify ways of mitigating and resolving these challenges in the years up to 1992 and beyond, the cost of which can now be supported because of the success of this Government's economic policies. I must observe in passing that millions of our fellow citizens have been subjected to appalling inconvenience and disruption by today's strike action. Although that is not the subject of the debate, it is perhaps appropriate that it should be taking place today. In moving the motion, I am supported by a number of my hon. Friends who hope to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and who will develop a number of themes that my motion seeks to highlight.

I am grateful, too, for the opportunity that winning this place in the ballot provides to draw attention to a matter of great concern to my constituents. The motion seeks to draw attention to the Government's many successes in this important area of activity since 1979, in terms of deregulation, privatisation, investment and the removal of red tape. That record is there for everyone to see but in addition, my motion draws attention to the formidable challenges that we face, on which our constituents expect decisive action and a clear policy.

The solutions remain primarily with the public sector. The excellent state of our public finances, as a result of the success of the Government's economic policy, means that the necessary funds do not elude us. We should be clear that, while the Government have, in part, established a reputation for eliminating wasteful, unnecessary and imprudent public expenditure, the converse is equally the case where good schemes require public funding and provision. The Government have been more responsive and supportive with taxpayers' money than any previous Government.

The challenge does not lie—as it has so often under previous Governments—in how to find the money that we require. It lies in the use of the funds that are available to the maximum advantage in meeting our transport infrastructure requirements. Our geographical position on the edge of the EC makes that all the more important in the run-up to 1992, to which my motion draws attention.

I would also underline what I believe to be the personal contribution that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made in identifying ways of resolving the difficulties and moving transport infrastructure issues up the political agenda. He has given specific encouragement to the private sector to come forward with ideas and proposals. He has promoted an important debate about the future shape of British Rail, and the liberalisation package of late-1987 on air transport and related matters clearly emanated from him. He has done much to focus public attention on the things that need to be done.

Let me deal briefly with the current position of British Rail and the challenges that it faces for the future. It is right to note that under Sir Robert Reid British Rail has made substantial progress in recent years. In the past year, 20,600 million passenger miles have been travelled—the highest figure for 27 years—and £1·7 billion of passenger income has been received by British Rail. At the same time, there has been a 27 per cent. diminution in the support required from the taxpayer to run British Rail. Those are significant figures and accompany the significant investment that has been made in renewing and improving the rail network. No less than £2·5 billion has been spent since 1983 on 30 major investment programmes and many minor ones.

It is precisely because British Rail has made such progress that its return to the private sector can now be discussed as a serious option.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Suppose that British Rail had not been so successful in generating internal investment. Would such a lack of success have meant that management was so bad that British Rail would have to be privatised anyway?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

The hon. Gentleman misses the point about privatisation entirely. If a business can stand on its own feet and thrive and flourish in the private sector, it should do so. I am merely pointing out that British Rail fulfils those important criteria. The case for, and objective of, privatisation can only be the extent to which it will assist and enhance British Rail's service to customer and improve its efficiency.

The case for rail has never been stronger. We must respond to rapidly growing passenger demand. British Rail must woo freight off the roads. It is in a unique position to respond to a number of environmental concerns. Above all, it must continue to improve the quality and standard of its service. I believe that British Rail is most likely to achieve those objectives if its long-term future rests in the private sector. I shall not discuss what method of privatisation might be the most appropriate although some of my hon. Friends will wish to refer to that.

Let me mention one local matter of immense concern to my constituents—the future of the midland main line. British Rail, and many hon. Members, have recently received the midland main line strategy study, a document commissioned by a number of the counties affected. It is a positive and helpful document. The approach that British Rail is taking towards the midland main line is a good one. Many improvements are to be made later this year. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel in the cab of a train and to see for myself some of the improvements that need to be made, which are now to be made as a result of representations from a large number of people. The importance of upgrading the line to provide for greater speeds and of straightening out the bends is well known and the more sympathetic timetabling that BR has produced for my constituents' benefit is welcome.

It is essential for the region that British Rail accepts unquivocally the long-term case for electrification. I do not accept the argument that it is too far off to comment. Investment opportunities and inward investment in Nottinghamshire require investors to know that the region will have a first-class service linked to the Channel tunnel and the European rail network in the 21st century. That is why it is so important for British Rail's management to state publicly that it is committed to enhancing and improving the midland main line. On electrification, the issue is not "if" but "when". Anything that the Minister has to say on that will be reviewed and acknowledged with great interest when the Nottinghamshire authorities and my constituents have examined his comments.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that many hon. Members sympathise with and support his view about electrification. I hope that we shall sustain the cross-party nature of the campaign, as electrification is vital for our region. Does not the hon. Gentleman feel, however, that a chance was missed in the debate on the King's Cross Railways Bill last week, when a number of hon. Members refused to allow evidence to be taken in Committee, which would have opened up the debate? For example, it would have allowed the very good study to which the hon. Gentleman referred to be considered, along with other items. Does he agree that that was a missed chance?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He and I have made similar comments publicly in Nottinghamshire. I do not want to take up his comments about King's Cross, because that Bill is not strictly relevant to the debate.

The second subject covered by my motion—air travel —is also of great concern to our constituents. Their concerns are specific and refer to costs and delays. The agreement in Europe, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did so much to promote at the beginning of last year, has made a considerable difference. Fares to major European capitals have been cut, more routes have been opened up and new services made available to the public. There has also been steady progress in bilateral agreements.

Having said that, far more needs to be done. It is not right that some airlines should receive state subsidy while others, such as British Airways, do not. There should be access for competitors on routes and destinations. The travelling public, and not cosy cartels reinforced by Government intervention, should determine the nature and quantity of air services. It is the Government's job to arrange safety and regulation; it is not their job to interfere unnecessarily in the market process.

In particular, we should have three specific measures: all EC air routes should be open to free competition; there should be major controls on Government subsidies to airlines; and there must be clear and precise rules for route licensing.

Our regional airports, too, have started to take much of the strain in terms of delays. There has been a huge increase in traffic—nowhere more so than at East Midlands airport which was the fastest growing regional airport in the country. Over the weekend, we heard dire and, I hope, alarmist warnings about holiday air traffic. One commentator said that this year it would be finely balanced between muddling through and total melt-down. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case this year. I believe that regional airports have a major role to play in helping to solve some of the problems.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is absolutely deplorable that an increase in the number of transatlantic flights landing at Manchester—an important regional airport—has been blocked because of the failure to negotiate an international agreement on that?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments on some of the themes of Government policy, which have attempted to liberalise the arrangements and make life a great deal easier for the travelling public by offering them much more choice.

Since buses and coaches have been deregulated the public have seen more services, more operators and tremendous innovation. Minibuses now operate in 400 areas, often where traditional buses cannot penetrate, competition is flourishing in more than 100 areas, but operating costs have been reduced by more than 30 per cent. and tendering for services has saved local authorities £40 million. Have we seen any of the dire effects prophesied by Opposition Members? I am delighted by the presence today of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). Everything that he told the people of Nottingham before the previous election has come true. The service that suffered 50 years of decline and decay, accompanied by mounting subsidies from the taxpayer and diminishing satisfaction to the consumer has been transformed. It now thrives and flourishes, it is competitive and it is responsive to the consumer.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

It was pretty rich, even for the hon. Gentleman, to dismiss the latest report which refers to a drop in bus mileage since deregulation; in fact, the hon. Gentleman did not refer to it at all. He also dismissed the disastrous impact of deregulation on the bus industry in one nonsensical paragraph from a prepared written speech.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been since bus deregulation, but I can hardly have dismissed a document that I did not even mention.

Photo of James Arbuthnot James Arbuthnot , Wanstead and Woodford

The Labour victor at the by-election at Pontypridd described himself in a recent sitting of the Standing Committee on the Atomic Energy Bill as a late convert to the idea of bus deregulation. It is delightful that some modern members of the Labour party are late converts to that idea, and it is a pity that there are not more of them.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

My hon. Friend makes the point beautifully, but, as always, there are at least two divisions within the Labour party—those who have come into the modern world and those for whom it is still a distant glimmer on the horizon.

The problems associated with roads are apparent to all of us. As hon. Members return to their homes on Thursday evening or Friday morning and as they come up to London on Monday morning, they see for themselves the appalling difficulties and congestion on our major arterial roads. It is interesting to note, en passant, that while President Gorbachev is busy disregarding the queueing system as a mechanism of economic control, we run our roads policy on that basis.

I believe that significant action should be undertaken on three fronts. First, investment in our roads should be substantially increased; secondly, we need greater involvement by the private sector; and thirdly we need a radical approach to the problems of London. Those problems affect not only Londoners, but my constituents, who either visit or seek to do business in the capital city. My hon. Friend the Minister will know better than I where the new roads need to be, but it is clear even to the casual observer that we need another north-south link. We need to widen many of our major motorways, particularly the M1, and the technology exists to do that without disrupting the other six lanes. We need to enhance the inter-urban links. I could not fail to mention the A453 which links Nottingham to the M 1. That is a dreadful and extremely dangerous road which needs to be significantly enhanced.

The increasing size of our motorways might only add to the thrombosis suffered in London. Therefore, we must acknowledge the importance of an outer-ring road. Given the territory that it would go through, that development, by definition, means major tunnelling which also relates to environmental considerations that I strongly support. Tunnelling is far more expensive, but, increasingly, it is a necessity. We must acknowledge that environmentally sensitive schemes for road development are essential. We must also do something about planning delays. It now takes nearly 15 years to build a road, which is far too long. We need to find ways in which to reduce that appalling delay.

It would be remiss of me not to mention a local matter of great concern to one corner of my constituency

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on roads?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I have more to say on that matter.

The Gedling bypass has been awaited for many years by my constituents. The traffic problems, which are mounting in Gedling, are worse than anywhere else in the county of Nottinghamshire—the county council has acknowledged that. We understand that the county council has other priorities and that it is currently conducting a review to consider what those priorities should be. On behalf of my constituents, I earnestly urge the county council to consider whether the Gedling bypass can now be scheduled in its capital programme. I pay tribute to the Government for their support, as they have considered this scheme to see whether it might be eligible for 50 per cent. transport supplementary grant. It is important to note that the Government regard it as a scheme with more than local significance". I hope that my constituents, who have laboured for so long under this intolerable burden, will see some light at the end of the tunnel in due course.

With regard to the role of the private sector, in building roads, some progress has been made on two of the three pressing problems that it faces. In the past there was no little incentive for the Department of Transport if private sector schemes resulted in the departmental budget being effectively docked by the Treasury, but, recently, significant progress has been made in that regard. The private sector will not use its ingenuity if genuine progress is unlikely to take place, but recent efforts have been made to counter that problem. However, the private sector is still unlikely to come up with an idea and take it to the Department, only to see it go out to tender. I do not pretend that there is an easy solution to that problem because, above all, we must be competitive. Perhaps we could use the concept of intellectual property to see whether there is some way in which to encourage the private sector to use its ingenuity and thus develop new schemes.

The private sector can play a modest role in a number of ways, but I would not wish to overstate that role. My constituents note that the south-east is groaning under the weight of development. They are also aware that new roads are required to relieve the traffic, which is essentially commuter traffic. I do not believe that there is any reason why my constituents should pay for such development and I believe that toll roads could be the answer. Such a solution would bear all the hallmarks of a much more effective regional policy.

Private sector involvement must carry a level of risk or it is merely an exercise in who provides for the debt. The level of risk to some extent dictates the return. The Department must accept, however, that planning and bureaucratic delays, putting in bids and design preparations are part of the cost that the private sector must bear.

There are at least two ways in which the private sector can earn its return—through tolls and by planning gain. I believe that through the latter the private sector could come into its own with interesting ideas and innovative schemes.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North 4:18 pm, 15th May 1989

It is especially appropriate that the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) should have introduced a debate on transport today. My colleagues and I have a great interest in this matter—[Hon. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I was about to say that they are not here to express it; no doubt they are suffering from the transport problems.

My day started extremely early as I spent an hour on the picket line at the Holloway bus garage in my constituency. I went there because I wanted to talk to the bus drivers and conductors and to find out why they were taking industrial action today. Conservative Members should do the same, and talk to those people, although they may simply disregard my advice. Many of the people involved have given many years' service to London Transport, they have worked as drivers or conductors for many years, they are committed to public transport and they appreciate the value of the service. What they cannot cope with is being expected to give a donation to London Regional Transport year after year when they do not receive wage increases as high as the inflation rate, which they have not received for several years. They are also expected to suffer the growing trend of one-person operated London buses, which leads to a slower service, greater strain for the drivers and, I suspect, greater danger for other road users. They cannot tolerate having one route after the other continually put up for sale, either through an internal mechanism in London Regional Transport or to an outside contractor. When outside contractors win the tender to use the route, they sometimes employ drivers on incredibly long hours who have already been declared medically unfit by London Regional Transport.

Conservative Members might praise the virtues of the market economy, but when it leads to danger, as it has on the railways, Tubes and buses around the country, they should think again very carefully. The root of London's transport problems is the Government's obsession with reducing, year on year, the subsidy to London Regional Transport. They say that it should be able to make a workaday profit knowing full well that no public transport undertaking anywhere in Europe does that, or is likely to do so. The Government are also obsessed with promoting the use of private cars and road building as a solution to London's transport problems.

If Conservative Members found London a bit crowded today, it was as nothing compared to how crowded it will be if the Department of Transport gets its way on the road assessment studies and other major road building solutions. The House must face up to the fact that we cannot solve this country's transport problems by endlessly building more and more motorways, which attract more cars, create longer traffic jams at each end of the motorways and ruin the places to which the motorways were originally directed. I advise those who think that that is the solution to consider what has already happened in London and other major cities whose hearts have been torn out to make room for car-borne traffic. The communities' characters are destroyed. If we wish to preserve our urban environment and to protect the nicest parts of our countryside, we will not be best served by building major roads and relying on road transport as the basis of the transport industry.

I often travel on the Euston to Birmingham and Manchester line, on which there is a stretch where the railway runs beside the Ml. As I sit in the train travelling in relative comfort at between 70 and 100 mph, I realise that it is a fast and efficient way to travel. As I look out on to the MI, I can see a sea of traffic going north and a sea of traffic going south. In it, I can see the tense expressions of people driving themselves to early coronaries as they tear along the motorway at 80 mph, flashing their lights and blaring their horns at the drivers in front of them as they desperately try to get to Nottingham, or wherever it may be, five minutes earlier. Part of the reason that so many of those people and freight vehicles are travelling on the motorway is simply that British Rail's pricing structure discriminates against rail transport in favour of road transport.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he can see the tense expressions on the faces of the people in their cars beside the railway lines if he is whizzing along in the train at 90 mph?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

That is a clever intervention. Sometimes I see drivers breaking the speed limit and driving at 90 mph because they are trying to keep up with the train. That drives them to an even earlier coronary than they might otherwise have suffered.

I shall return to the substantive point that I was trying to make. Essentially, the Government discriminate against rail and in favour of road transport by continually reducing their subsidy to the railways, which, compared to that in other European countries, is very low. Therefore, the fares are very high. That means that railways are available for those who can afford to travel on them and are increasingly operating as a mass commuter transit system in the south-east or expensive business-class travel elsewhere. They are not seen as a popular form of transport, as they are in France, Italy, Germany and most other European countries.

There is also the increasing pressure on road building, which comes from the Freight Transport Association, which is ably represented in the House by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), many other such organisations and the construction companies, which want the road building contracts. I want a good transport system for this country, and I believe that its achievement will be based on the improvement and development of the railway system rather than on the development of more motorways.

Problems occur in urban areas at the end of motorways. I represent a densely populated urban constituency in north London. It has a low level of car ownership compared to the London average, which is lower than the average for the country. In some parts of the constituency, only 40 per cent. of households have access to cars, which, by national standards, is quite a low rate.

There is a vast volume of through traffic in my constituency which comes through the Holloway road, down Seven Sisters road and through Tottenham from the north. There are continually, enormous traffic jams which pollute the environment and affect the health of many of my constituents.

One might say that the solution to all that would be to build more roads. However, there is zero—I mean zero —support in my constituency for building more urban roads in London to solve the transport problems. For a long time, my constituents have recognised that the solution to London's transport problems lies not in building more roads, but in improving public transport, removing commuter traffic from the roads and persuading people to use the railways and buses.

During 1981–82 when the GLC introduced the Fares Fair structure, and before it was outlawed by the High Court, there was an increase in bus and Tube traffic and a reduction in road traffic and road accidents. With the increase in fares came an increase in commuter traffic, and the old problems returned.

Through their road assessment studies, the Government are quite simply studying a series of road building options throughout London. There is no support of which I know from ordinary Londoners anywhere for this ludicrous idea to go back to the outdated notion of motorway ring roads around London. The east London assessment study, which involves my constituency, will ruin part of Highgate wood and the Archway road area by the building of a grade separated road. According to the Minister for Roads and Traffic, we must not use the word motorway to describe it because it is not one.

Another series of options includes building a toll road along what is now a beautiful stretch of park known as the parkland walk, from Highgate and Finsbury park. It is a two-mile stretch of disused railway which is a delightful piece of open space, particularly for children living on the housing estates nearby, who have no parks and very little open space in which to play. That is apparently fair game to be made into a toll road so that commuter motorists can speed through and destroy that bit of park.

The opposition to that proposal is strong. A few weeks ago we had a march along the length of that stretch, down to Camley street natural park at King's Cross. Even if the Government were to succeed—I hope that they never do, and I shall do everything to stop them—in building the Archway road or the parkland walk motorway route, or in widening Holloway road to take more traffic, the traffic will merely build up at Highbury corner, St. Paul's road and Balls Pond road through Hackney to give the inexorable pressure of more and more traffic, attracted on to the roads because new roads have been built. That will destroy more and more homes, businesses and what remains of London's open spaces and natural environment to make way for yet more vehicles to travel through London.

I hesitate to use the word crossroads lest that be taken as showing support for road building solutions, but we are at a crossroads of planning for London. The only solution to London's tranport problems is a resolute commitment to improving and increasing the number of staff on public transport so that it is a safer and cheaper to use and that means greater subsidy, which will reduce the number of people travelling by car in and out of central London. It also means reducing the size of the major lorries that use London as a delivery point.

London, like other cities, is grinding to a halt. It is an unpleasant, dirty and extremely polluted environment. I want London and other cities to be the precise opposite. The Government's policies are disappointing because they do not face up to the real needs of the mass of the people. Only 18 per cent. of London commuters' journeys are made by private car. Eighty-two per cent. are made by public transport, but one would think, judging from the amount of money that the Government propose to put into road building solutions in London, that it was the other way round.

A small minority of commuters travel in and out of central London by car, compared with the vast majority who are forced to travel like cattle on their way to market on the Tube or overcrowded buses. That is not good enough, and the people of London are heartily sick of it and long for change. Any politician who underestimates the strength of feeling in London against major road building and in favour of public transport should have a careful look at his majority in the last election and consider what it might be in the next.

I notice that many Conservative Members are not rushing to welcome the Government's plans. On the contrary, they are asking for an end to road building solutions in London because, like me, they realise that they are nonsense.

As the hon. Member for Gedling mentioned it, I shall close by discussing the role of the private sector in road and rail building. The private sector seems to be slipped in all the time—as though somehow or other it will help to solve the country's transport problems. But it is not involved in road or rail building or anything else as an act of charity, despite being presented to us sometimes under that guise. It is involved because it is a business, and ultimately the public will pay more, not less, because of the private sector's involvement. I am appalled at the idea of having privately built toll roads and privately built railways; presumably, the latter herald the break-up of the railway system.

We have the basis of a good transport infrastructure in this country in the shape of the rail system. It is underfunded and underinvested in and it needs more money. Instead, the Department of Transport seems to favour major road building proposals, to which there is enormous opposition.

This subject is important and it is regrettable that more hon. Members are not here to discuss it. One can only assume that they are stuck in traffic jams. If so, I hope that they will carefully consider solutions to London's problems which do not lie in providing more roads to bring in more traffic. That is not the way forward. The way forward lies in better, cheaper public transport in which there is proper governmental involvement.

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside 4:34 pm, 15th May 1989

It is a great privilege to be called to speak in the debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) on at least being here. The Opposition Benches are singularly empty this afternoon. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on his choice of subject. Transport policy after 1992 is a highly relevant topic, bearing in mind the years of distinguished service as a transport Minister that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell), who also happens to double as my hon. Friend's father, gave the Government and Parliament. Clearly, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is a welcome chip off the old block and I sincerely congratulate him on all that he had to say.

Most of my hon. Friend's remarks concentrated on road and rail investment and on the privatisation of British Rail and the National Bus Company. I also welcome what he had to say about the liberalisation of aviation in Europe. I shall concentrate my remarks on the aviation sector, because my hon. Friend covered the other areas so well.

It is safe to say that any debate on civil aviation should take place at the height of the summer when the problems to which I shall refer are evident. The lovely sunny weather that we are enjoying this month does not mean that summer has arrived early. We shall know when it is summer because there will be a rash of strikes and go-slows at continental airports, air traffic controllers will take action and, once more, we shall see the sad sight of holidaymakers stranded at airports.

It is amazing that the British will put up with almost any inconvenience in pursuit of the sun. Britons of all classes have come to regard a holiday abroad as an inalienable right. As a nation, we are used to queueing, we accept some delays, but how would we react if we were told that only a finite number of holidays was available? The Romans rioted and overthrew their emperors when deprived of bread and circuses, so the party in power when departures to Benidorm are curbed may expect a similar fate.

Last summer, we got through the air traffic chaos with a combination of good luck and good management. We may do so again this summer, but I want to look ahead to 1992 and beyond and to consider how we might cope with a possible doubling of the number of passengers using London's four airports by the year 2005. Do we have the air space and airport capacity to meet this demand without endangering the public, because safety must always be the overriding consideration?

Nationally, there is no particular problem—at least not in theory. There are plenty of underused airports, particularly military ones, and some of our regional airports are crying out for business. But the trend is away from linear routes, as passengers and operators favour the so-called hub and spoke system, in which there are feeder services into major international airports for onward movement of passengers and cargoes overseas. Passengers now prefer frequency to price advantage, so the demand has been for more, rather than larger, aircraft.

This all means that the pressures exerted on London's airports have made the London area quite different from the rest of the country. However, even in the south-east there are enough terminals and runways, and there is sufficient air space. Why, then, is the average delay for aircraft outbound from the United Kingdom 15 minutes, which is exactly twice that in the United States of America? Unfortunately, the answer is that we impose artificial constraints on our capacity to handle these aircraft. For example, we underinvest in air traffic control, so that our air space is underused—it is thought by some—by as much as 40 per cent., and it may even be more. We impose planning restrictions on our airports and bans on night flying. Given the lead times for the construction of new facilities—runways, terminals and air traffic control systems—it could be said that we are already running into a self-imposed problem of undercapacity in the south-east, especially with regard to air space.

There are two possible responses. First, we can treat air transport as a resource of fixed capacity, and control demand through pricing. I reject that option, as, I imagine, would the House. We should favour the alternative: to use investment in technological advances to expand capacity while reducing unit costs.

It was in the light of these problems that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport asked the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority to advise him on traffic distribution policy for airports serving the London area and on airport and air space capacity. The motion gives us the opportunity to debate the Civil Aviation Authority's response. I hope that the advice that we give to the Secretary of State will, to use his own words, be fundamental in helping to fashion civil aviation policies taking us through the 90s and beyond the end of the century. In its consultative document, CAP 548, the Civil Aviation Authority said that: By the year 2005 the number of passengers at London's four airports will have more than doubled to 123 million from 58 million that there were in 1987. Heathrow will be handling 55 million passengers, Gatwick 30 million and Luton 5 million. Stansted could be handling about 60 per cent. of London's longhaul traffic but only if an additional runway and terminal were to be built. Of course for that we have to come back to Parliament to get permission. Secondly, the CAA says that: Regional airports will increasingly handle the growth in air traffic as Heathrow and Gatwick become saturated. Although we would not disagree with that, none of us would want to see Heathrow and Gatwick saturated. There must be scope for expansion. The CAA also suggested that an extra London runway will be needed by about the year 2000 and that planning should begin now if it is to be ready when needed. That is a most controversial suggestion, probably the most controversial of all the CAA's recommendations, and it is a pity that so much emphasis has been placed on it.

The CAA also recommends that charter traffic should not be forced away from Gatwick by giving priority to scheduled services. I am delighted to see that recommendation and I hope that the British Airports Authority will take it on board.

Lastly, the CAA says that business and private aircraft should continue to be restricted to Heathrow and Gatwick and that these restrictions should be extended to their use of airways. The authority also concluded that no additional measures would need to be taken now to affect traffic distribution. It says that it is lack of airport capacity by 1995 that will present passengers with problems.

I agree with the Civil Aviation Authority that the interests of airline passengers will best be served if major decisions on traffic distribution are taken by the airlines rather than through intervention by the CAA or the Government. In effect, that means a continuation of the present system, but there are two rules held in reserve by the Secretary of State which could be abandoned. At Heathrow route frequency capping could go. This is the system whereby instructions can be given to reduce the number of flights that airlines operate on a specific route. It is a way of limiting their slots in order to encourage them to invest in larger aircraft. The second reserve rule relates to Gatwick and it is that preference be given to scheduled services over charter services. That rule should also be abandoned.

Several people have suggested that if demand needs to be managed the preferred option would be for restrictions on small aircraft. But they must have somewhere else to go which still enables them and their passengers to interline with the main hub airports.

We need a pricing structure for the use of air space that will encourage airlines to invest in larger aircraft which, of course, make more effective use of available air space and airport capacity. The present weight-related price structure, which favours small and slow aircraft, should be changed to a pricing structure based on movement-related charges which would encourage the use of larger aircraft. We all want to see that.

In the short term, we must look at ways of speeding up the improvements to our air space capacity, particularly in the London traffic management area, which is known as the LTMA. The CAA has already unveiled its plans for the so-called central control functions, the CCF, under which aircraft will fly one-way tunnels in the sky, each aircraft and tunnel safely separated from all the others. That will reduce the controllers' workload and enable them safely to handle 30 per cent. more traffic. Work is now beginning on CCF, but why do we have to wait until 1995 for it to be fully commissioned when the matter is so urgent?

Similarly, the new all-route centre, the NERC project, is only at the conceptual stage. Eventually it will introduce greater use of automation and other new controlling techniques which are already regarded as essential in the United States of America. I refer to such things as four-dimensional navigation, the traffic alert and collision avoidance system, or TCAS, which is already mandatory in the United States, the use of satellite communications, global positioning systems and data-linked air traffic control.

It is to be hoped that these improvements will all be part of the CAA's £600 million investment programme for the next decade. Will it be too little and too late? In view of the high priority that the Government are quite clearly now giving to road and rail transport and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling referred, it would be sad if civil aviation turned out to be the poor relation. Surely these programmes for investment in better air traffic control systems should be speeded up. TCAS alone would increase air space capacity by a further 30 per cent. by enabling the separation and intervals between aircraft to be safely reduced.

It is, of course, quite possible that the United Kingdom could increase its capacity to handle more aircraft movements in the south-east and yet be unable to find slots at European airports for the aircraft to land. Therefore, it is very important that the initiative taken by the Government in setting up flow control management via Eurocontrol should be extended to take in measures designed to increase European capacity overall. Changes in European national systems should then be co-ordinated through Eurocontrol in order to make them completely compatible. Eurocontrol should also be given greater executive power to specify common equipment standards and operating methods and to rationalise the European air traffic control systems.

I was discussing all this only last night with Mr. Jock Lowe, who is general manager, operations control, of British Airways, as we flew back from Washington in Concorde. He was keeping his hand in as a pilot on that occasion. He raised the important matter of manpower and stressed the need for recruitment and training programmes to ensure that we have enough air traffic control officers available to man the improved and expanding systems that we want to see.

There is a greater chance of having these improvements operative sooner if National Air Traffic Services, or NATS, were separated from the Civil Aviation Authority as a plc in its own right. Although the CCF project has been given some priority by the Civil Aviation Authority, it is increasingly evident that the greater handling capacity of CCF will require en-route ATC sectors to be replaced by an entirely new facility which is called LATCC II which is planned to commence operating in 1996 and to provide the foundation for developing and further expanding ATC services into the next century. Why can we not speed up this proposal? We do not even yet know where LATCC II will be situated.

So much for air space. I should now like briefly to comment on airports. Having looked at the figures and assuming that current trends will continue, I see that we will get not only a higher frequency of aircraft movements in future through improved ATC but also larger aircraft. We shall require more terminals rather than more runways in the first instance. Although an additional runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick would be welcome now—by everyone except my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who has just entered the Chamber—

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

—I am not convinced that the case for either is overwhelming. My hon. Friend and I agree on that. It would be a mistake to start the planning process for either until the evidence in support is overwhelming. I see my hon. Friend nodding, and I am glad that we agree on that.

One measure that we could take immediately is to provide a taxiway at Luton airport, where there is not one, which would improve capacity there. We should also consider moving business aviation and small aircraft away from Heathrow either to Northolt where there is a lot of capacity, or even to a new runway, which could be built on land available for it between the A4 and the M4 north of Heathrow, where it could easily interline with the main hub.

The south-east could run out of terminal capacity by the mid-1990s, which is even before the date at which the CAA identifies the necessity for a new runway. I think that it has got its priorities wrong here. The most obvious solution is s fifth terminal at Heathrow, on the site of the Perry Oaks sludge farm. With the privatisation of the Thames water authority, there will be an opportunity for British Airways to buy that site, which will enable it not only to develop its own unit terminal—it is extraordinary that British Airways, as our most important national airline, does not have one—but to become one of the biggest retailers of fertilisers for roses. That is an application I should like to see go in.

I know that the Government have said that they are not prepared to give a commitment about the fifth terminal at Heathrow, and they they are keeping the matter under review. However, the time has now come for that commitment to be made so that work can start on planning adequate surface access.

Photo of Mr Toby Jessel Mr Toby Jessel , Twickenham

Is my hon. Friend aware that what he has just suggested would be most strongly opposed and hotly resented by hundreds of thousands of people living around Heathrow in the eight or 10 parliamentary constituencies that already have to suffer, every day, 750 or 800 flights, which disturb people's peace and quiet in their gardens and homes?

Photo of Mr Michael Colvin Mr Michael Colvin , Romsey and Waterside

I accept my hon. Friend's strong feelings on this matter, but he must not be a Luddite about airport development. Other areas would be only too happy to see their local airports expand. Heathrow is uniquely placed to become an important European hub. Aircraft are getting bigger, which means fewer aircraft movements, and are getting quieter. The noise footprint made by aircraft is much less than it used to be. Furthermore, if my hon. Friend took the trouble to question everyone in his constituency, he would find that many are dependent upon the jobs and prosperity offered by Heathrow, and would be reluctant to see that airport reduced in size, rather than expanding as the rest of us would like.

These improvements at Heathrow would enable it to retain its status as a major international hub, bearing in mind that the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris is already bigger than Heathrow and Gatwick combined. It will soon have four runways and will be capable of handling 100 million passengers a year, and one will be able to travel straight from there to London in two and a half hours by the high-speed railway link, if we can agree on the route for that. Therefore, it will be a real competitor for transatlantic traffic. To beat the French, the Dutch at Schipol and the Germans at Frankfurt for this European hub business we need to be competitive.

That raises the question of the British Airports Authority. Sir Norman Payne, as chairman of the BAA, is a dynamic and effective leader, and he makes the best use of the structure of British Airports Authority plc that Parliament, in its wisdom, gave him. However, I question whether BAA has the right structure to enable true competition to take place. In the paper that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) and I wrote on the privatisation of British airports, we suggested three separate plcs for the three London airports. I still think that that would have been a better structure. However, we were assured in Committee that there would be no cross-subsidisation and that each airport would act independently and commercially. I wonder whether that is happening and whether there is not some cross-subsidisation. I know that, from a legal point of view, it is probably too late to "demerge" the BAA into its three separate component parts, but I wonder whether there is a case for referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to see what it has to say.

The BAA is not the only company that may be acting against the public interest. As we consider the liberalisation of air fares and routes in Europe in the run-up to 1992, we should perhaps give European politicians a few lessons on how to retire from owning and running airlines and how they might be made profitable if they were sold to their electors. It is good to know that Britain has been in the forefront of denationalisation, and the move to deregulate European civil aviation. In most European countries, one would have difficulty finding three airlines operating international scheduled services. In Britain, at the last count we had over 20, and that excludes those who are providing purely charter services. Britain can and should take the lead in the liberalised European aviation market, and by that I do not just mean the EC.

Our eventual goal should be an open skies policy where any European airline can fly any route it chooses within the boundaries of the continent of Europe. We want to see airlines free to set the fares that their customers are willing to pay, just like any other supplier, and not to have them regulated by Governments. We want to see an end to restrictions on how many EC airlines can fly a particular route, or how many flights or seats an airline may offer, and an end to the many exemptions that apply to the present EC airlines rules. We must get our European house in order pretty quickly and do it in a way that enables us to unite in negotiating future traffic rights with the United States, which is where the great competition will come from.

The United States has always dealt with Europe on a basis of divide and rule and, as a result, the internal domestic air routes of the United States, wherein over half the world's airlines fly, remains barred and shuttered to those very airlines with whom the United States seeks the right to compete in the skies of Europe. This must end, but I fear that unless the rights of United States airlines to operate within Europe are argued from a common standpoint, the United States may continue to operate a successful policy of divide and rule.

Civil aviation in Europe will grow as fast as the economies of those countries, but there is another factor. People need to travel further in business and they want to travel further on holiday than ever before. In the United States, only one person in 10 has a passport. When the American people suddenly realise that there are other places to see, or they have to travel on business—they will have to come to Europe as it expands following 1992—there will be a great explosion of air travel. I have spoken in an attempt to ensure that Britain is uniquely placed to capitalise upon that explosion, and that London's airports will provide the hub for Europe that we all want to see.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 4:57 pm, 15th May 1989

I shall not follow the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), who has skilfully made in this debate the speech that he would have made about the second motion on the Order Paper. I intend to concentrate on the points in the speech of the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and in the motion. I welcome the opportunity to debate transport matters, although I do not agree with much of what was said by the hon. Member for Gedling or with what is in the motion.

We need to do much more for the regional airports—I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling about that. If this nation is to make the fullest possible use of regional airports, we must do two things. First, we must solve the problems of those who live in the regions and who find it unacceptable to travel to London if they wish to fly to the continent, America or elsewhere and of those who have to come into the country via London. Secondly, we must alleviate the problem of the fifth terminal at Heathrow to which the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) referred in his intervention. The construction of that terminal could be delayed. The air traffic problem in the London area could be considerably alleviated if we were to use regional airports to their maximum potential. Surely there is great growth potential for regional airports.

The arguments that I am advancing apply to regional airports generally but I shall refer specifically to Manchester International airport, which is local-authority owned, controlled and developed. Massive investment is still taking place to ensure that the airport remains a major international gateway for the future. At the beginning of May the new terminal A was opened for domestic traffic. That is only part of the investment programme that is taking place to ensure that the airport continues to serve the needs of the region.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was a tragedy that when the new terminal at Manchester was opened on 1 May it was not ready for use as a result of an electricians' strike? The conditions for passengers going in and out of the airport were appalling. That is an example of what happens under local authority control.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

That is an outrageous statement. The important factor is that development is taking place and will continue to take place. The fact remains that Manchester International airport is a major and successful airport.

One of the problems that faces Manchester International airport is the internationally fixed agreements on which airlines can fly where. We want more liberalisation and an end to restrictions. If an airline believes that it can successfully fly in and out of Manchester International airport, or any other airport, it should be able to do so without becoming involved in all the red tape and the various agreements that now apply, which make negotiations so difficult. In Manchester there have been continuing discussions for the past couple of years that involve new companies that want to operate services in and out of the airport. They have been unable so far to make much progress. I hope that further progress will he made. Some new routes have been agreed within the past three years, but others, especially those involving flights to north America, are still blocked.

We have to go a long way yet before passengers are offered the services and fares to which they are entitled when travelling to other parts of Europe. Fare levels for European flights are exceptionally high in Europe generally when compared with fares for transatlantic flights. That is another area in which we want to see progress.

The hon. Member for Gedling referred to bus transport and claimed that local government has saved about £40 million in subsidies following the deregulation of bus services as a result of the Transport Act 1985. I do not dispute that figure but the way in which the saving has been achieved is unacceptable. Those employed in the industry have a worse package of pay and service conditions now than before privatisation and deregulation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense.] I hear what hon. Members are saying in interjections. They will have the opportunity of addressing the House if they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The majority of those working for what were municipal undertakings and parts of National Bus, including those who work in the great conurbations, have inferior conditions of service compared with those which they enjoyed as an overall package before deregulation. If that is what deregulation and privatisation mean, I do not want them. It is unacceptable that working people should be given a worse package of conditions in 1989. We should remember that deregulation has yet to be introduced in London.

Some of the consequences that we feared as a result of the implementation of the 1985 Act have yet to be experienced, but I have no doubt that there will be continuing reduction in service levels in many areas and that some of the things that we said would happen will happen. Undertakings are changing hands rapidly. For example, Ribble has been taken over by a Scottish undertaking. The Government said that they did not want massive undertakings and that National Bus had to be split up. Now smaller undertakings are being taken over by larger ones. In parts of south Wales, for example, only one company is operating a service. Caerphilly is a specific example. There is no longer an alternative service. That was not the intention of the 1985 Act. There have been many failures and I think that we shall see more problems rather than fewer as the years pass.

I accept that there has been a tremendous improvement in many respects in British Rail over recent years. The present management seems generally far more determined than its predecessors to maintain and improve the rail service. However, there are still many problems within British Rail. The greatest problem is that Government investment and subsidy has been cut in many directions. There must be more investment if the rail service is to meet the needs of the nation. From an energy and environment point of view, the railways offer a far better way of travelling long distances within this country than any other means of transportation. We should be encouraging them. We should also be encouraging more freight to be carried by rail.

The Channel tunnel offers British Rail the greatest opportunity that has come its way this century. It will never get such an opportunity again for many years. It must seize the chance to get freight back on to the railway system and to secure the investment programme that we want. That should be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I see no reason why goods going to the continent or coming from the continent should be taken by lorry to London or Folkestone and the Channel tunnel itself. We want railways services running direct to the continent from the major regions of the United Kingdom, whether the destination is Germany, Italy, France, or wherever. That must happen.

I voted against the Second Reading of the King's Cross Railways Bill, which was introduced on behalf of the British Rail last week, because there was a refusal to accept a direction that the freight needs and passenger requirements of the regions should be examined within the context of the Bill. I am far from convinced that the King's Cross proposals will meet the needs of the regions. That is regrettable. It seems that there will not be an acceptable solution. Because of the existing connections for Channel tunnel traffic that bypasses London it will take almost as long to reach the tunnel from Manchester, for example, as it will from France to the furthest parts of the EEC. That is not acceptable to the north-west. We in the north-west want our export potential to develop for our manufacturing interests.

There is massive investment in the east coast line. The west coast line was electrified some years ago and when compared with the east coast provision it is beginning to look distinctly jaded. It is a much slower line and improvements must be made to bring it up to standard. We need fast links bypassing London and terminating at the Channel tunnel and far better services to the north-west than we currently have, and more must be done to ensure that InterCity services connect with local services better than they do now.

I refer finally to roads. I am by no means opposed to roads investment and recognise that it must be undertaken. I would criticise the Government for not investing enough. Certain sections of our motorway network are still being developed as two-lane highways when three lanes are clearly needed. That is not necessarily a criticism of Ministers because they come and go, whereas civil servants remain in office for longer and they have failed on occasion to take a sufficiently long-term view of future requirements. A number of motorways already suffer from under-capacity. On Fridays traffic on the M1, for example, is almost stationary all the way from its southern end to at least the M6 junction. People who daily travel along the southern section into London find themselves in traffic that crawls all the way, which is totally unsatisfactory.

In Manchester, the M63 bridge over the canal at Barton has recently been widened, but it is almost at full capacity even though the whole scheme has not yet been completed—another short-term folly. The Government agreed to linking the M65 westwards with the M6 and M61, and now that that improvement is back in the programme we hope that it will be completed as soon as possible. I believe strongly that a second east-west crossing will ultimately be needed, with the M65 extending eastwards into Yorkshire, joining the M62.

We should not look to the privately funded sector for a road network. On the continent, there are toll motorways and autoroutes, and as someone who uses French autoroutes from time to time, I can tell the House that they are extremely expensive. The necessity to use toll booths itself causes massive hold-ups. French petrol is also dear, so the cost of motoring in France is extremely high. One could also argue that in Britain, road tax and VAT on cars and duty on petrol also mean that motorists here are heavily taxed and should not be asked to pay for travelling on a super-elite private road network.

The hon. Member for Gedling seemed to advocate that one solution would be the provision of some private roads within the network. I hope that neither the Minister nor the Government will adopt that line. In Britain, most towns are closer to each other than they are in many continental countries. In France, for example, all the autoroutes stop well short of Paris, Lyon and other such places. Were such a system to operate here, one would hardly get out of London before one was having to pay to use an autoroute to Coventry or Birmingham and then leaving it again. That is not a realistic option for Britain. The only people able to use autoroutes in this country would be those whose travel expenses are met for them, and the very wealthy. Nevertheless, the Government must improve the M1 and the rest of the motorway network. I agree with the hon. Member for Gedling that the time that elapses between agreeing and designing a motorway concept and the completion of its construction is far too long. Something must be done to speed up that process.

The debate has covered a wide range of subjects. I am glad of the opportunity to make points different from those of the hon. Member for Gedling, and I am pleased that he chose transport for the subject of his debate.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South 5:15 pm, 15th May 1989

We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) for allowing the House to debate the subject of transport, and I am particularly grateful to him for his complimentary remarks about me and about the small role that I played as a Back Bencher in the Transport Act 1985 as it passed through the House.

I was not the only Member who was hammered by local authorities opposed to that legislation. I was subjected to a barrage of abuse both locally in Nottingham and in the shire. That abuse was backed by the spending of massive sums of public money by the city and county councils on a campaign to oppose the proposed changes. It is beyond question, that whatever criticisms remain, the prophets of doom were certainly wrong in respect of the city of Nottingham. It would be foolish to suggest that deregulation proved equally beneficial and successful throughout the country. I am sure that that is not so, but the House will forgive me if my remarks are relatively parochial and deal with how deregulation worked in my area and with the transport problems and policies that flowed from it.

One major campaign four years ago suggested that the Government's proposals would be detrimental to the interests of pensioners' and senior citizens' concessionary fares—that they would be abolished or that it would no longer be possible to provide them. I shall be interested to hear from any right hon. or hon. Member who can tell the House of any area of the country where pensioners no longer enjoy the concessionary fare schemes that existed before deregulation. However, the threat was made by the Labour party in my county—where, to the best of my knowledge, the concessionary scheme is as good as ever it was. In many respects, it is even better. It is shameful when political debate sinks to the lowest levels, with the Opposition usually telling pensioners, "If the wicked Tories get their way, you will not get this or that." Their screams of outrage are invariably proved false two or three years later. They get away with it almost every time, which is a matter of great sadness to me.

Another issue that concerned hon. Members in all parts of the House was quality control of public service vehicles. Prior to deregulation, it was said that traffic commissioners would not have the teeth to impose desirable levels of quality control—or, if they did, that they would not have the will to do so. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but in Nottinghamshire the traffic commissioners are fulfilling the role that was set for them. Only recently, they ordered 35 public service vehicles used by one operator off the road because they failed to meet the desired standards. That operator was clearly incapable of bringing those vehicles up to standard, so in the public interest, rightly, they were taken off the road. Despite that major plank of Labour opposition, the traffic commissioners clearly have teeth and are prepared to use them.

Having made his little speech, the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) promptly disappeared. That is a pity, because he let the cat out of the bag by saying that Labour's fears had not materialised. How right he is. It is a shame that he is not here to tell us how many tens of thousands of pounds his local authority spent on telling us what a disaster deregulation would be. I hope that when he comes back, or when he reads Hansard tomorrow, he will have the courtesy to apologise to the House for that waste of public money.

Again, I can speak only for our municipal undertaking, but the running of the Nottingham company—and, I am sure, many others—is no longer bedevilled by the meddling of elected councillors who have other fish to fry. It is still owned 100 per cent. by the city council, but it is being run as a proper commercial undertaking with a sensible board. To our delight, the staff who have places on that board co-operate with the managers and directors to ensure that the undertaking is run properly. Now, believe it or not, Nottingham City Transport pays a dividend to the company's owners—the Nottingham ratepayers—instead of draining off hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to subsidise their work, money that could have been better spent on other services in our city.

Only about a fortnight ago, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, answering questions from me, expressed the hope that at some time in the future the staff of Nottingham City Transport—and, indeed, the staff of many municipal undertakings—would be given the chance of taking a real stake in the company by becoming shareholders. Since then I have talked to management and staff in Nottingham and encountered a genuine desire for such a course.

I intend to talk first to the minority Conservative group in Nottingham, who may be a bit more receptive to such an idea than the controlling majority party, but I hope that even the latter will realise in the end that that is the right way in which to run a major, multi-million pound undertaking which is providing an excellent public service. I fear that it will not be an easy task, as the deputy leader of Nottingham city council has already been reported in the local press as saying that he wants to return to the old arrangement whereby the transport undertaking was merely a committee of the city council, and councillors could engage in their customary meddling, as they did four years ago. To ensure that that councillor never has his way, Conservative members must guarantee that we win the next general election.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I hesitate to burst the bubble of euphoria on the Conservative Benches, especially two years before the election. May I ask the hon. Gentleman, however, why it is, if councillors who take an interest in their financial undertakings are meddling, that when Conservative Members take directorships in business they are keeping in touch with the public?

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman's question follows from my remarks, but I think that he would be the first to admit that, for a variety of reasons which we all accept, in the main the quality of our councillors is not what we would wish. In effect, they are doing an unpaid part-time job, and not everyone has the time or the energy to become involved in local affairs. Many elected councillors get asked to go on this or that committee, and some used, unfortunately, to end up on the transport committee with no knowledge whatever of public transport and, probably, even less interest. Then they used to meddle. It was a case of, "The people in my ward would like an extra bus. We are in control: let us have it", irrespective of the merits of the case. That is what I meant by meddling, as I think that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) knows very well.

The stake in the undertaking allowed to staff and management must be large enough to make worth while their individual and collective commitment to that undertaking. It must be large enough to deter any pirate or asset-stripping bidder who might wish to take control, and large enough for the shares to go to ratepayers as well as staff: it must exceed the magic 51 per cent. I am perfectly happy for the local authority to retain a large minority holding, though perhaps not as much as 49 per cent.—that might be a little dangerous—but perhaps 30 or 40 per cent. To free the company from the Treasury rules, however, the holding of the outside shareholders—staff, management, ratepayers or an even wider group—must be over 51 per cent.

It is not widely appreciated that a major company such as Nottingham City Transport cannot carry out its forward investment planning on the basis of its own commercial criteria; the investment is part of the local authority's borrowing requirement. If the local authority seeks to spend all its allowed borrowing on housing, for instance, unless the bus undertaking can fund its capital investment entirely out of cash flow—which would be unusual in the case of any major business—it will be defeated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has already referred to road infrastructure. I often travel up and down the MI, as I am sure he does as well. It is often described as the longest parking lot in Europe. Clearly something must be done, and I hope that the major statement from the Secretary of State that was rumoured in the Sunday press to be expected this week will give the glad tidings that he is about to put extra lanes on to the M1. They cannot come too soon.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling pointed out, however, it is no good having the main arteries unless there is access to them for the major cities along the route. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport well knows, the city of Nottingham has been banging on the Department's door since 1971 asking for something to be done about the southern link between Nottingham and the M1—the A453.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House, especially those representing urban areas—although, on reflection, I agree that this may apply elsewhere as well—will know that whenever someone wants to build a new road some people are bound to be disadvantaged, and there are screams of objection all round. The A453 is no exception. I shall not go into the details, but almost any option that the Secretary of State finally announces as his preferred option will be objected to, which means that there will have to be a public inquiry. All I am asking is that the Minister should make up his mind now. If it means a public inquiry, let us have it and get it over with. I do not want the southern route into the city of Nottingham to be dug up while I am in the middle of the next general election campaign.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford 5:29 pm, 15th May 1989

May I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on being successful in the ballot and choosing such a relevant and important subject for debate.

I welcome the motion, not only because it deals with transport policy after 1992 but because it calls on the Government to continue their efforts to identify ways of mitigating and resolving the challenges to transport in the years leading up to 1992.

The year 1992 will be a vital one for transport policy in particular because I hope and expect that in the parliamentary Session 1991–92, when we are in our fourth term of office, there will be a Bill to privatise British Rail. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that nowhere in these islands will the joy of the liberalisation of the commuters from the tyranny of British Rail be more overwhelmingly welcomed than in my constituency of Chelmsford.

Chelmsford is one of the largest commuting stations in this country, with over 12,000 long-suffering commuters travelling to work in London and arriving at Liverpool street station every morning. Quite frankly, they are fed up to the back teeth with the disruption, the delays arid the poor service that Network SouthEast offers them. They are bored with sitting day after day in trains that have ground to a halt, usually outside Liverpool street station, and admiring the rather indifferent architecture of Bethnal Green railway station. My constituents are fed up with the cancellation of trains, with the running of trains behind time and with being herded like cattle into carriages where, all too often, there are not enough seats for them.

What is even more infuriating is that my constituents are having to pay through the nose for the privilege of this treatment. The record of Network SouthEast is altogether too depressing. Its punctuality target is 90 per cent. of trains to arrive within five minutes of their scheduled times. I would argue that that in itself is an extraordinarily lax target. Those figures seem, however, to be at odds with the experience of many of my constituents, even though they are, as I have said, a remarkably lax benchmark.

Overcrowding is a major problem. The targets for Network SouthEast are that, on average, load factors should not exceed 100 per cent. on slam door trains and 135 per cent. on sliding door trains. In both cases, passengers should not have to stand for more than a maximum of 20 minutes. However, the actuality is radically different from the targets. Average loading of trains in 1986 was 114 per cent. on slam door trains and 139 per cent. on sliding door trains. As a commuter before I was elected to this House, I know from bitter personal experience that many users of the Chelmsford to Liverpool street line have to stand for far in excess of the 20 minutes that is meant to be the maximum.

The national British Rail cleansing targets for carriages are a joke. My constituents constantly have to travel up and down the line on trains that clearly have not seen water or cleaning plants for far longer than a month. Carriages tend to be filthy. Only a small amount of inside cleaning is done to them. In the past, the excuse by Network SouthEast was the need to invest and to improve the antiquated rolling stock, points and signals along the line to Colchester. We have always been promised jam tomorrow, but tomorrow never seems to come for my constituents.

To be fair to Network SouthEast, I must admit that over the last year or two there have been some improvements; some new rolling stock has been bought. In the past, our part of Network SouthEast always used to get the rolling stock that had been used up on other parts of the network. It was then foisted on to this backwater of East Anglia—as though we would not notice that we were getting not second-hand rolling stock but third, fourth or fifth-hand rolling stock that was long past the age when it should have been put out to pasture.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard , South West Norfolk

Does my hon. Friend agree that, once that rolling stock has been abandoned as unsuitable for Chelmsford commuters, it is then put to use for commuters who travel to Downham Market and King's Lynn?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. I am sure that she is correct. I have a great deal of sympathy for her point. I know how dreadful the rolling stock is when it is fobbed off on to my hon. Friend's constituents, before going to the knacker's yard or whatever yard railway rolling stock finally goes to.

However, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel earlier this year. We were assured by Network SouthEast that work on the new points and the new signals that are needed on the line would begin over Easter. Liverpool street station was to be closed not for one but for four whole days so that the work could be done. However, I am sad to have to tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when Liverpool street station reopened after Easter Monday the disruption and the trouble on the line were worse than they had ever been.

British Rail had accepted that the work was to be done with equipment supplied by Westinghouse. What no one seems to have taken into account or to have looked into was whether the microprocessors on the trackside modules would be compatible with the overhead electrified lines. Needless to say, they were not. As soon as the line started up again, there were fuses and shorts left, right and centre, because the microprocessors were not fit for the job that they were meant to do.

The misery went on for a number of days before some bright person in British Rail found out that the equipment that British Rail was using at York—made by GEC, which is a major employer in my constituency—was compatible with the overhead lines. Therefore, they brought it down from York and put it into the Liverpool street trackside modules so that they could get the system to work. It is incredible that no one had considered at the tendering stage or at the testing stage whether the microprocessors would work. It is yet another example of Network SouthEast's short-sightedness, which once again did not help to raise the standard of service to my constituents.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Does the hon. Gentleman blame that chaos on the management, the staff, the public sector or the private sector, or even the Government?

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns , Chelmsford

I blame the disruption on whoever—I assume that it was Network SouthEast, or the British Railways Board—was responsible for placing the tender for equipment that clearly was not fit to serve the purpose for which it was put into the trackside modules.

My constituents found—to add insult to injury, yet again—it absolutely unbelievable when recently they read that, whereas they believed—and I support them in their belief—that when the disruption to the service had been caused not by vandalism or by inclement weather but by problems that can be laid at the door of British Rail, that British Rail refused steadfastly to give any refund to season ticket holders or purchasers of tickets. It is steadfast in its refusal to do so. As a sop to public relations, it says that if someone has lost some money, due to not being able to go, say, to the theatre because of disruption on the line caused in one way or another by British Rail, it will be prepared sympathetically to consider giving refunds. That is a great deal! Most of my constituents do not travel at 8 am to the theatre; they are travelling to work. When they return to Chelmsford in the evening, they are not usually going to the theatre, or anywhere else where they will have to pay out money. They are going home to enjoy the evening with their families. That does not have a price on it so that British Rail can then fulfil its promise sympathetically to consider making a refund.

I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take the board of British Rail to one side and ask it to think again. My constituents and those of other hon. Members should be given sympathetic consideration when asking for refunds when they cannot get to work or when the disruption in service does not involve a particular financial loss for them. They often have to wait 20 minutes or even one or two hours for a train that long since should have taken them on their journeys. My constituents were especially irritated recently when they heard that British Rail had paid a £17 taxi fare for one of its drivers who could not get home because of the work to rule by other drivers. My constituents think that that driver should have had to find his own way home, even by walking if necessary.

The privatisation of the rail network cannot come a day too soon. It will attract private companies that will have to pay attention to the wishes of their customers and provide a service that actually lives up to their claims. They will have to listen to their customers who want a decent journey to London and back again. That is not asking for a great deal because people pay a great deal of money to travel on the rail network. Year in and year out, fare increases are greater than the rate of inflation—with the hollow explanation that British Rail needs the extra money to reinvest to provide a better service. My constituents have not noticed a better service.

The time for Network SouthEast to pull up its socks has long since passed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport will explain to it the facts of commercial life. After 1992, we will not have to worry about pointing out the facts of commercial life to a state-owned enterprise because it will, I hope, be privatised. I shall be returned to the House with an increased majority because I, like many of my hon. Friends, have identified the correct action necessary to obtain a better service for my constituents.

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey , Brecon and Radnor 5:42 pm, 15th May 1989

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) for not being present at the start of the debate. Towards the end of my 180-mile journey to the House today, I was delayed for an hour in west London because of traffic jams. That illustrates many of the major problems in the London area. We can quite quickly traverse large parts of the country, but when we reach the south-east corner it is difficult to make progress.

A mere three and a half years from now Britain will be transformed when it becomes part of the single European market. For the first time, it will be integrated into a true community with our continental partners, sharing with them both opportunities and challenges. Britain, like any member state, must prepare itself for changes in both business and the lives of its inhabitants. I regret that the Government's policies have done little to achieve that, especially in the transport sector. Placing advertisements such as "Europe Open for Business" alongside railway lines may raise public awareness of our role in Europe—and as such are to be welcomed—but they beg the question of what the Government have done. They have done virtually nothing about infrastructure investment, which is a serious matter for both businesses and people in Britain.

The south-east is suffering from severe congestion, which costs the country £15 billion a year. That is a great deal of money and it could be used in ways far better than on stationary vehicles needlessly using fuel. We can all imagine the environmental effects of that, and the cost to business of such delays is immense. Unless further investment is made in our motorway system, in another five years most motorways will have stationary vehicles along their entire length. The reason for that statement is clear. Twelve years ago there were 16 million cars on the roads; today there are 28 million, with 2 million vehicles being sold each year. With such a rate of mathematical progression, it is not hard to envisage traffic on most of our main arterial roads becoming stationary, especially on the motorway system. It is art immense challenge to any Government, whatever their colour.

Because of Britain's poor infrastructure, it will be largely cut off from the 280 million consumers on mainland Europe. We do not have an adequate transport system to cope with possible demand. The Government have not properly addressed the provision of an integrated transport system. They have neglected their responsibilities, especially in respect of funding. They are sitting back and watching the chaos develop around them. Thai is a destructive policy. They must surely realise that investment holds the golden key to our nation's economic future.

There are many anomalies, especially in the rail system. The Treasury requires British Rail to guarantee a 7 per cent. return on investment for each of its major projects. I understand that the figure is soon to rise to 9 per cent. Perhaps the Minister will either confirm or deny that when he replies to the debate. No other rail system in mainland Europe is required to produce such a high rate of return on a single investment. Indeed, SNCF of France takes into account the social benefits that might come from any investment. A 7 per cent.—or, even more horrific, the proposed 9 per cent.—return on investment in, for example, the electrification of lines simply does not add up when compared with the costs of motorway jams.

My party advocates investment in the future. We argue for a transport policy that cuts down wasted time and enables increased export earnings by using each means of transport to its best advantage. Where traffic is too scarce to justify railways or too heavy to accommodate passenger cars, the bus is the environmentally sound and cheap vehicle to operate. For the long-distance traveller, buses, local railways and passenger cars should feed into a network of electrified railways that offer the passenger a through service in a comfortable environment. Regional air services should complement such a system. If that were the case throughout the country, our motorways and city centres would not be clogged up with cars and heavy vehicles.

Britain has two busy airports—Heathrow and Gatwick—in the south-east, yet neither is linked to the other by rail connections. The airports are linked by rail to central London, but they are not linked to each other.

The integration of London area airports, the building of new ones and the integration of all existing airports into the national and European rail network is especially important. The French are investing in their rail structure to integrate Charles de Gaulle airport near Paris.

This must not be a matter for party politics. We need a high-speed through rail link that connects the regions with the Channel tunnel. That can be achieved only by building a rail bypass around London. Such a bypass would not be environmentally damaging as it could be linked to further investment in the M25 to widen it. The high speed rail link could be built by the side of the motorway at the same time. A rail link running in a semi-circle from south of Luton to the Maidstone area would join Heathrow and Gatwick airports and solve many of the problems associated with getting rail and road traffic from Scotland, the north, Wales and the west country to Europe.

London is already far too congested, and to bring more people and goods in from the Channel tunnel would make matters far worse. Such a course would present immense costs to industry and to people who want to get from the regions and countries of Britain to the continent. This is one of the greatest challenges before the Government.

My nation of Wales will not even have an electrified rail link from Cardiff to London, let alone a direct through service to the continent, by the time the Channel tunnel is completed and working. The west country will not get such a link either, and nor will the far west of the west midlands. This is a very serious matter for industry, tourism and passenger traffic in those areas. There has to be a revolution in thinking about public and private transport.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is considerable interest and pressure in the Republic of Ireland for upgrading the Crewe to Holyhead line so that more rail freight can be brought from the Channel tunnel to the Irish channel ports?

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey , Brecon and Radnor

I am aware of that because of the studies made in north Wales to get the north Wales line to Holyhead electrified so that the Irish can use what they call the land bridge to Europe. Unless the line is electrified, traffic from Ireland will be seriously disadvantaged. I should have thought that the European Community could help with improving such links.

When we compare investment in rail transport infrastructure in this country with that in France—they are starting to build a 114 km Paris bypass costing £1·7 billion—we can see how far behind we are getting. After the Channel tunnel is constructed, when we see the far better transport infrastructure on the continent, we will realise how seriously disadvantaged we are. The Government must rethink their strategy for connecting the regions and countries of Britain to mainland Europe.

On behalf of Wales, I plead for an assurance that the second Severn crossing will be completed by 1995, as the Secretary of State has promised. It is a vital link to the south-east of England and to the continent of Europe. Unless this investment takes place and a policy for an integrated transport system is pursued, Britain's future, in economic terms, the quality of life and the environment is dire indeed.

The Government must make it clear that money must never again come in the way of safety. We must regret that we have had a number of tragedies recently. The Government must realise that they have to sponsor investment in transport so that, by the end of the century, we have an industry which is safe, environmentally sound, efficient and which serves all parts of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre 5:55 pm, 15th May 1989

I am grateful to be called, and I should like to echo much of what has already been said about a decent economic transport policy that will encourage economic prosperity. It is important to have an internal and an external transport network.

I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said about Network SouthEast. I spent seven years commuting on Network SouthEast and I travelled more than 25,000 miles in the process. I assure the House that much needs to be done to improve it. I am convinced, as is my hon. Friend, that the way to improve it is to put it into the private sector. When in the public sector, British Airways suffered precisely the same problems that British Rail now suffers. Now that it is in the private sector, British Airways is second to none in the world.

We also need to improve our roads. One area where we can make an improvement now is the M40, part of which is yet to be built. One or two years ago, we talked of a 12-mile stretch of two-lane motorway. I understand that the specification has been increased to three lanes, but I submit that it might be an idea to think about four lanes now rather than to improve the M1 at some time in the future. In other words, it would be better to improve the M40 quickly to reflect the increasing rate of economic growth, because we can do something about it now as we already have planning permission for it.

Because of our geographical location, large seaports such as Liverpool were built up. It was a gateway to Europe and the rest of the world, especially the United States. The important point is the spin-off advantages of such development. Liverpool developed as a port, but many ancillary industries followed. That development had an effect on shipbuilding.

The same is true today of air transport. Once again, we are fortunate because of our geographical position. We are the gateway to Europe and a point of departure to the rest of the world. At Heathrow we have the most important hub in Europe. It is the result of our geographical position, but it is also the result of the deregulation of the past decade. It is the result of the privatisation of British Airways and the British Airports Authority and the fact that we have given aviation entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop air routes when the need arises.

That means that we are in a very good position to deal with a unitary market and the deregulation of air routes throughout Europe after 1992. But that position is now being challenged by airports on the Continent such as Frankfurt, Charles de Gaulle and particularly Schiphol, which already considers itself to be the third London airport. We cannot stand still, as we have to make certain that after 1992 the primary European hub of operations for air routes in and out of Europe remains in Britain and does not move across the Channel. The importance of that is clear. In the same way as we need to export products to survive, we should be able to export our air transport services. It is just as useful to sell an air ticket for an airline owned and operated in this country as it is to sell a motor car that is produced in this country.

How should we achieve that objective? First, we have to make certain that we have sufficient terminal capacity and ground facilities at our airports to cope with the increasing throughput of passengers. Secondly, we need to make certain that we have sufficient runway capacity at our airports. Thirdly, we need to tackle the problem of air traffic control delays.

The most immediate decision on terminals should already have been taken. There should be a fifth terminal at Heathrow. That must happen very quickly indeed. Heathrow has sufficient runway capacity, but it will not be able to deal with the extra number of passengers passing through the airport because of the larger aircraft that are increasingly being used by airlines.

We also need to examine those airports that remain the responsibility of local authorities. The best example of an airport that is not being run as well as it should is Manchester. I know that I struck a chord or drew blood from one or two Opposition Members when I mentioned terminal A at Manchester airport. It is most unfortunate that that terminal was opened on 1 May. I do not know whether the significance of that date had anything to do with who runs Manchester council, but the opening of that terminal was a disgrace and compared most unfavourably with the experience of the first day of the north terminal at Gatwick airport. The electrics did not work, the doors did not work and the catering facilities did not work. I was at the opening of the north terminal at Gatwick and the first day of operation of the new terminal at Manchester. The comparison between the terminal at Gatwick, opened by the British Airports Authority, and the new terminal at Manchester, for which Manchester council was responsible, is a good example of the difference between the private sector and the public sector.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

The hon. Gentleman drew blood, at least metaphorically, when he was stupid enough to suggest in an intervention that strikes only occur in the public sector. It would be equally stupid for me to say that because the privatised BAA plc is anxious to screw its retailers into the ground at Gatwick and Heathrow and those retailers are protesting to hon. Members on both sides of the House, the private sector deliberately exploits its customers who are also its victims. That is as stupid as the hon. Gentleman's earlier remark that strikes happen only in the public sector at Manchester airport.

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

The hon. Gentleman should look more closely at what I said. I said that Manchester airport is run by a Labour-controlled local authority that tried to open the new terminal without the correct preparations for that opening. That was at least partly the result of an electricians' strike, but there were other causes. I do not think that that has anything to do with what he said about retailers at Gatwick.

I should like briefly to mention runways and air traffic control movements. If we get the terminals right and increase the throughoutput of passengers in the south-east, we shall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said, he able to wait until the turn of the century before we need another runway in the south-east. But by the year 2000 we shall certainly need another runway at Stansted, Gatwick or Heathrow.

We can ensure that we have adequate runway capacity for the increased traffic after 1992. The hub and spoke argument about air traffic control movements is that if we provide the necessary feeder services in and out of the main hubs, we are liable to attract more traffic. One of the problems is that our three London airports contain a great deal of charter traffic which tends to clog up the works at certain hours of the day. We have to distinguish between scheduled operations, charter traffic, which is, for all intents and purposes, almost scheduled operations, and the package holiday market, which in many cases can be moved to other airports. As my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said, some of that traffic could be moved to other airports and possibly to RAF airports such as Manston, Greenham common and Brize Norton. We should also consider business aviation. We have to make certain that we do not throw out business aircraft from the major airports until we have somewhere to put them. If we did that, we would make Heathrow and Gatwick less attractive to business men.

We can increase our airport capacity through regional airport development. I agree with the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) about the importance of improving services out of Manchester. However, the hold-ups involved in transatlantic routes are on the other side of the Atlantic with the Federal Aviation Authority which cannot decide what it wants from the reciprocal arrangements that we have with the United States. I have no doubt that we can develop further regional airports. We can develop Manchester as a hub for operations in northern Europe so that people who want to go to north Germany and Scandinavia would fly into Manchester first and then fly on to various destinations. By doing that, and by following my other suggestions, we shall be able to meet the demands of increased air traffic in the next 10 or 20 years.

We must examine air traffic control which is the key to the whole issue. We can have as many runways and terminals as we like, but unless we sort out our antiquated air traffic control system it will be wasted money. The introduction of universal flow control last year did nothing to increase the number of air movements; it did the precise opposite. It is high time that the national air traffic control centre was hived off from the Civil Aviation Authority. We also need to look beyond 1995 and the introduction of the central control function to the production and building of the new air traffic control facility which will replace the one at West Drayton. The sooner we do that the better. We cannot afford once again to fall behind in terms of the air traffic control facilities that our airlines need if we are to maintain our position as the primary hub in Europe.

Photo of Anthony Steen Anthony Steen , South Hams

Why did my hon. Friend say that he would welcome the idea of privatising the air traffic control operation? Does he believe that there is spare capacity or that it is an inefficiently run organisation?

Photo of Mr Keith Mans Mr Keith Mans , Wyre

The term I used was "hived off". I was suggesting that the regulatory function of the CAA should not be mixed up with the operations of the air traffic control network. They are separate functions and they should be run separately. I should like to see the national air traffic control system in private hands, possibly as a result of an employees' buy-out, but other hon. Members may have other thoughts. It is most important that the two should be separate.

Further development of air transport provides huge opportunities for wealth generation, job expansion and export earnings. We have to plan for the next 20 years, not the next five or 10, in order to get the right answers. We have already made certain that the United Kingdom's major airports provide a gateway to Europe and a departure point from it. We need to ensure that our airports' capacity and air traffic control network provide the support for our highly efficient airline operators to take on the rest of the world.

Photo of Mrs Gillian Shephard Mrs Gillian Shephard , South West Norfolk 6:11 pm, 15th May 1989

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on his choice of subject for debate and on the skill with which he introduced it. I must commend him for drawing the attention of the House to the importance of transport, if on this day of all days we need it drawn to our attention, and for putting the importance of transport and communications in the context of our needs in 1992 and beyond.

I represent an East Anglian constituency, and East Anglia is particularly well placed with regard to the European Economic Community. It is so well placed that on a foggy day fortunate viewers in north Norfolk may find themselves viewing Dutch television without adjusting their set. Although that is a telecommunications point, it illustrates that East Anglia faces continental Europe.

Several flourishing ports, including the exceptionally successful Felixstowe, mean that exports can leave easily and cheaply for continental Europe—a point increasingly appreciated by trade and industry not just in East Anglia. I do not imply that development and optimism are limited to Felixstowe. The ports of King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth have ambitious expansion plans for 1992 and beyond.

If East Anglia is to flourish as the obvious gateway to Europe, continuing investment and improvement in both road and rail networks is essential. There have been considerable improvements in both the A11 and A47, which are two of the region's most important roads and certainly those most vital to Norfolk over the past years. Yet Norfolk has only 20 miles of dual carriageway out of a total of 5,000 miles. That means that of Norfolk's total road network 99·8 per cent. is not dual. I wonder whether that is a record. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister can tell me. Moreover, although the position in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire is slightly better, the overall percentage of dualled roads in the three counties is still only 2 per cent.

Those figures would be curious anyway and they are certainly unacceptable to people in East Anglia who see with envy the large sums of cash expended elsewhere. I must emphasise that this Government have invested an enormous amount of public money in an excellent infrastructure of good road networks. East Anglians are also aware that undualled roads and those which switch from dual to single carriageway systems cause twice as many accidents as those which are fully dualled. Therefore, they feel themselves under-privileged compared with other areas and with regard to accident rates.

The figures are curious because, although East Anglia has the smallest population of all the English regions, it has the fastest population growth, as my hon. Friend the Minister will know. It also has twice the national average traffic growth. That is again highly significant. The three East Anglian counties have a much higher car ownership than elsewhere. It is 10 per cent. higher in Cambridgeshire, 12 per cent. higher in Norfolk and 10 per cent. higher in Suffolk. Therefore, our roads are needed and are used.

A particularly interesting contrast can be drawn with Scotland, which shows what we in East Anglia believe are defective ways of making judgments on where expenditure and investment should be made on roads. Scotland has a population of 5 million, whereas East Anglia's population is 2 million. In 1986–87, East Anglia had 19 per cent. of the expenditure spent on Scottish roads. If the figure had been calculated on comparative geographical size or population size, East Anglia would have had 25 per cent. of what was spent on Scotland, or 40 per cent. of the total. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can say how these sums are calculated.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) said, this weekend there have been rumours of a possible White Paper which would include future investment schemes. The A11 and A47 are included in those rumours and I hope that they will prove to be true. I commend the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling about the role that the private sector may take in the investment, given the enthusiasm of industry and commerce in East Anglia for good access to the ports which I described at the beginning of my speech. In particular, planning gain may be interesting to those industries and firms which want a good speedy communication network to the East Anglian coast.

I am sure that the hearts of all hon. Members present, with the exception of one or two, bled for the plight of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and his constituents. In East Anglia we should all be delighted with the investment in the electrification of the Liverpool street—Norwich line, on which Chelmsford lies, and the promise of electrification between London and King's Lynn. A good dose of consumerism, possibly injected by private sector interests into the management of British Rail, could only be in the interests of its users. I am thinking particularly of cleanliness. Unfortunate commuters between Liverpool street and King's Lynn never see the view. Not only is the rolling stock excessively old, but it is consistently coated with a think layer of grime. It is their impression that they are travelling at night. Moreover, although breakdowns are frequent, and have been frequent while engineering works have been taking place between Liverpool street and Norwich, there is seldom a word of explanation or an apology to the commuters who, by their payments, are making the whole operation possible.

I conclude by mentioning a problem on the railway line between Thetford and Norwich. Recently, the number of trains stopping on that line has been cut from 14 to five. The number of trains travelling along the line has not been cut; what has been cut is the number of opportunities for passengers to get on them. It is extraordinary that a service which is supposed to exist in the interests of the people who use it could provide any rationale for running trains through stations while the interested parties stand on the platform unable to mount the train. I am sure that there will be an explanation and, I hope, a complete reversal of that policy. I am following up the matter with British Rail in conjunction with all the enraged commuters who used to travel on the line between Norwich and Thetford and are now unable to do so. They are reduced to waving to the train as it passes briskly by.

The private sector, in helping our communication network both on road and rail, can do two things. It can provide a useful injection of cash but, almost more importantly, it can introduce a positive attitude towards its consumers and customers which, all too sadly, British Rail anyway seems to lack.

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea 6:20 pm, 15th May 1989

The timing of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) is impeccable. Not only is there a rising interest in transport, but today, as the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) said, the old saying about it being better to travel than to arrive has never been truer. Some hon. Members have said that the Opposition Benches are a little empty, but I know where Opposition Members are. They are in my constituency trying to find their way through to the centre of London, and there are no Opposition Whips present because they are all on Lavender hill and the south circular searching for Labour Members who are desperately trying to get through to the House.

It can never be gainsaid that I represent not so much a constituency as a traffic jam. When my constituents get up in the morning—this has been especially true today—they get their cars out, they drive a few yards and then they sit in a traffic jam. So they go back home and decide to catch a train. They wait at the platform, but the trains do not come. If they do arrive, they are not so much things that people get into as things that people burst out of when the doors open. Then my constituents must wait for the next one or the one after that.

My constituents then go down the road and try to get on a bus. The bus stop is probably about half a mile away, and then the bus probably stops at one of the bridges in my constituency because a barge has run into it and the bridge is closed. So they go down the road still further and decide to get on the Underground, but they suddenly realise that we have none. Mine is the bit of London that the planners forgot when it came to transport. It has no Underground stations.

It is not surprising that, as they sit in their gardens, having given up the idea of travelling anywhere, listening to the buzz of traffic and smelling the fumes from the stalled cars, my constituents think that it would be a good idea to have some integrated planning for transport. I agree with the many hon. Members who have referred to the need for integrated planning for London, instead of doing a bit here and a bit there. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take the message on board. It is not within his gift to appoint a Minister for London transport, but I ask him to make the suggestion to people who may have that gift. It would be a blessing for mankind if we had someone to co-ordinate all aspects of transport within the M25 area.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many Opposition Members have always wanted a strategic planning authority for London and were disappointed when the GLC was abolished and was not replaced by a strategic planning authority? Does he agree that there is an overwhelming case for an integrated planning authority that deals with transport and planning for London? If not, the chaos that we have seen today will be as nothing compared with what will happen in the future.

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

We certainly do not want the GLC back, because it did not invest in transport in London. But I agree about integrated planning in London, and that is why I am asking for a Minister or someone else to take charge of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling will forgive me if my remarks are somewhat London-based, but I come from my constituents with a shopping list. The first item on the list relates to heliports. My constituency has the only heliport in London, which seems a little de trop. Sometimes we are pleased to provide this service for mankind as people bustle down our roads to reach Battersea heliport. But the heliport has become rather full, and people are trying to increase the number of flights by 50 per cent. When my hon. Friend the Minister talks to the people who make the decisions, he should say, "If you want to have flights into London, they must go up and down the river and must not cut corners and cross over houses; nor must they go during the night". It may be a good idea to have radar screens so that we can tell where the flights are going. The Minister should also talk to the planners of the City airport and suggest that it is about time that heliports were built in other parts of London to share the load. Many of the people who use Battersea heliport come from the City airport, and the last thing that they need or want is to come all the way down to south-west London.

My shopping list also includes roads. Ministers should listen when there is agreement across the Chamber. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) mentioned opposition to roads. There is similar opposition from all parties in all the boroughs in my area to the proposals put forward to the Department of Transport by the consultants. That is not the proper solution. It would simply bring more traffic into our area. If the road exists, it will attract more traffic. Nor do we want WEIR—the western environmental improvement route—unless we can find an expensive way of diverting it underground and bringing it out on the A3 beyond the Robin Hood roundabout. If that could be done, I might begin to consider it, but to take traffic down from Shepherds Bush to the river, where it would have nowhere to go but on to my already overcrowded roads, would be nonsense.

Several minor things could be done to improve the roads of London, including odd bits of straightening and widening and better co-ordination of traffic lights. My hon. Friend should consider carefully a scheme that some of us have been promoting called red routing, which would stop parking on through routes. There should be no parking, waiting or delivery between 7 am and 7 pm on through routes into London. It is unnecessary, and every time that one thoughtless person parks or double parks, 10 people are delayed and may suffer the coronaries to which other hon. Members have referred. People should park on side roads, and deliveries should be made outside rush hours. I beg my hon. Friend the Minister to introduce heavy penalties on people who offend in that way.

Many hon. Members have mentioned rail, which would provide some solutions to the transport problems of Greater London. But we should examine the unused and underused lines of London. We should examine existing lines to see whether we can make trains and platforms longer to improve comfort, reliability, speed and safety. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the west London line and to the possibility of reopening a station in Battersea. Battersea High street station was closed during the war and was never reopened. That station could be linked with Chelsea harbour, where I believe a station is proposed. When it is electrified, it could provide a new through route into Clapham junction and thence to Victoria.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

I am trying to fit in a number of points before ceding to the chuffers from the Front Benches who will produce some light at the end of the tunnel.

Many of my constituents, and people throughout the south-east, come into Waterloo station and then go down what is called "the drain"—the Waterloo and City line. The Waterloo and City line has trains, if one can call them that. They may be the third-hand and fourth-hand trains going back 50 years to which my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) referred. It is high time that that rolling stock was replaced. I know that schemes are shortly to be introduced to do that and I hope that the Minister will give them a swift go-ahead.

The other main request on railways is that the Underground should be brought to Clapham junction. If we do that, we shall have the option of taking further south the Hackney to Chelsea line proposed in the central London rail study, which would relieve the southern end of the Northern line.

There has been talk of British Rail having requested a Bill for only one item in the central London rail study—the east-west line. I am told that that has been requested for November. I hope that that does not mean that the other options will be ruled out. It is important that the Hackney to Chelsea line should be kept to the fore as a real option.

There are many other options that we could discuss in this splendid debate—not least the use of the river by river buses and river taxis. Other hon. Members have referred to bus deregulation and Hoppas. I shall not, as the one thing that I ask of transport is that it should be punctual and I am told that the Front Bench spokesmen are waiting to speak at this very moment. As I pull into my station, I invite them to take off.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East 6:31 pm, 15th May 1989

I do not think that I have been referred to as a chuffer before.

Photo of Mr John Bowis Mr John Bowis , Battersea

What about a puffer?

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

Or even a puffer; certainly not. Even so, I am prepared to forgive the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) because his speech was excellent. I hope that I shall not prejudice his prospects if I say that the Department of Transport needs men like him. The sooner that common sense the like of which we have just heard emanates from the Government Front Bench, the better.

The hon. Gentleman ought to take the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who initiated the debate, on one side. I had some misgivings when I saw today's Order Paper. It was full of statistics, one or two of which were misleading, and of sentiments which, when they were not cloying, were completely wrong. I am afraid that my forebodings were soon to pitch up against the rock of reality when the hon. Member for Gedling started his speech by praising the Secretary of State for Transport. I shall not attack the Secretary of State in his absence—he has had enough of that from other quarters—but I must say that I should not have considered the present incumbent of the post to be the most successful that we have had over the years.

The right hon. Gentleman is certainly not the worst; that accolade belongs to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has long been remembered as the worst Secretary of State for Transport the country has had. He is rapidly on his way to proving to be the worst Secretary of State for the Environment that the country has ever had. It is a pretty unenviable double. It is not accurate to describe the term of office of the present Secretary of State for Transport as especially successful, or to say that he has enhanced his prospects.

Besides the inevitable dash of sycophancy that one has come to expect from the younger Conservative Members, I was struck by the fact that the remarks of the hon. Member for Gedling contradicted those of his hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Gedling talked about British Rail making substantial progress, whereas his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) was livid—I think that that is a fair description—about the lack of progress that has been made in one part of British Rail, Network SouthEast. A contradiction runs through all our debates about British Rail. On the one hand, BR is making very good progress in meeting financial targets, while, on the other, we have the decline in services that makes the hon. Member for Chelmsford gnash his teeth. That is because financial targets and quality of service do not go together very well. The fact that British Rail meets its financial targets in obedience to the Treasury, or to the Department of Transport, which is subordinate to the Treasury, inevitably gives rise to the fall in standards that has made the hon. Member for Chelmsford, among others, wax so indignant.

The hon. Member for Gedling also made the plea that is habitual from hon. Members in his part of the world for the electrification of the midland main line. I do not wish to patronise the hon. Gentleman, but I must point out to him that if the midland main line electrification scheme does not meet the criteria laid down by the Government, the line will not be electrified. It is as simple as that. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that those financial criteria are wrong, he should say so.

I hope that the Minister will confirm or deny the point put to him by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey). I hope that he will confirm that the investment criteria that have ruled out the electrification of the midland main line—for at least the next seven to 10 years, I would estimate—will not be worsened by the increase from 7 per cent. to 9 per cent.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell , Gedling

I hope that the hon. Gentleman noted that my comments did not run counter to British Rail's investment criteria. I sought to make it clear that, as there is a long-term case for electrification, we must be told about it locally so that those who make investment decisions about investing in Nottinghamshire are aware that British Rail intends to ensure that the midland line remains at the forefront of railway technology.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

I was not for one moment suggesting what the hon. Gentleman has just implied. I have to tell him, as gently as possible, that he falls into the same trap as some of his hon. Friends. They are all in favour of capitalism, red in tooth and claw, except when it applies in their constituencies or to a railway line in which they have an interest. The fact that the midland main line will not meet the Government's criteria in the short term means that it will not be electrified in the short term. If the hon. Member for Gedling wishes that to change, he should get on to the Government to change it.

Photo of Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo Mr Martin Brandon-Bravo , Nottingham South

I do not dissent from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) about the desirability of electrification, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is dangerous to talk about the electrification as the be-all and end-all of good, clean, fast rail travel? Provided that the trains are properly timetabled and kept clean, there can be no more comfortable service than the 125 service.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

The problem about that is that once the high-speed rail link is built and the Channel tunnel is opened, the high-speed trains will run no further than St. Pancras—or whatever the new King's Cross interchange is to be called. Electrification is essential, both for freight and for passenger traffic, if the east midlands is to realise the potential that will be created by the Channel tunnel and the high-speed link. I think that that is the reason behind the view of the hon. Member for Gedling that electrification is desirable.

Photo of Mr Richard Livsey Mr Richard Livsey , Brecon and Radnor

The same criteria applied to the south Wales line, which will not meet British Rail's investment criteria. If cost benefit analysis was applied in that case, the railway line would be electrified very much sooner.

Photo of Mr Peter Snape Mr Peter Snape , West Bromwich East

No doubt everyone will rush in with pleas from various parts of the country and the Minister, who never likes to say no to anybody—at least not from the Dispatch Box—will have the unenviable task of turning people down. Before that happens, there is a case for re-examining the work of the Leitch committee, which recommended in 1977 that there should be a fairer way of considering proposals for railway electrification, and railway projects in general, in relation to the road network. It suggested that the criteria should be examined to ensure that the same criteria are applied to both modes of transport. Those recommendations have never been properly implemented. If we are to solve the vexed question of which main lines should be electrified, perhaps the Leitch report should be dug out of the vaults and studied by the Minister and others.

The debate has ranged far and wide. As my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) remarked, the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) made a comprehensive speech about air travel—the speech that he would have made on his motion had this debate not looked like occupying all the available time. He will forgive me if I cannot say much about his speech because of the lack of time. I think that the House will be united in joining the hon. Gentleman in pleading with the Government to be a little more sympathetic to the aims and objectives of regional airports. Air traffic control procedures and the modernisation of the necessary equipment may well form the subject of a debate in the future. If our aviation industry and our airports are to meet the challenges of the 1990s, and if a greater degree of liberalisation is achieved regarding air fares, it is vital that air traffic control is improved.

The hon. Member for Gedling, among others, praised the impact of deregulation on our bus services. I always believe that hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members, can afford to be sanguine about the impact of deregulation on the bus network. Politicians are not normally found thronging the bus stops in the rain. Those who praise deregulation because of its impact on the bus services in the rural areas have obviously not talked to many of their rural constituents, nor have they waited for too long for those rural buses—their numbers have been sadly decimated since deregulation. The report that I drew to the attention of the hon. Member for Gedling pointed out the reduction in bus-passenger mileage since deregulation. I recognise that there have been some valuable spin-offs from the legislation, but we must remember that bus managers displayed a conservatism with a small "c"—probably with a large "C" too—in previous years that led them to pooh-pooh the idea of minibuses, particularly on some of the busier routes.

During my short and particularly undistinguished term of office on what was then known as the south-east Lancashire and north-east Cheshire passenger transport authority—fortunately defunct, if only to get rid of that particular mouthful—any suggestion from councillors, those much maligned creatures so disliked by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South, that minibuses should be operated in the south Manchester suburbs was greeted with scorn by the so-called professionals in the industry. They assured us that minibuses were generally unreliable and would be unable to cope with the battering that they would receive in everyday service. They were wrong then and, since deregulation, they have been proved wrong again. Perhaps we should acknowledge that since deregulation more minibuses have been introduced in some parts of the country, which have benefited the passengers.

Roads have not been mentioned that much, although I heard one Conservative Member advocate the addition of yet another lane to the M1. My hon. Friends the Members for Burnley and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) were right to say, "So far, so good, but what happens to the extra cars and lorries generated by the extra lane when they reach the end of the motorway?" Certainly in recent years the collective realisation has been that urban motorways are not the answer to our transport problems.

May I tentatively suggest to the Minister that one way in which to ease the congestion on our motorways would be a campaign, undertaken by the Department, to persuade a substantial number of British motorists that the left-hand lane on our motorways is not there purely for decorative purposes. The number of motorists who persist in hogging the centre lane of the M1 and our other motorways is legion. Rather than an extra lane being added to the M1, a somewhat cheaper solution would be to persuade motorists that the left lane is there not simply for milk floats or farm tractors but for all road users. After all, we drive on the left, at least until 1992—and who knows what might happen after that.

I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling for this opportunity to debate public transport. However, listening to the hon. Gentleman and most of his hon. Friends, with the honourable exception of the hon. Member for Battersea, one would never have thought that we were debating public transport at a time when there is very little of it in London. I am not, however, suggesting that that is the fault of the hon. Member for Gedling.

The "Business Focus" section of The Sunday Times yesterday was full of the City's plans for British Rail. The headline ran: City wants a ticket to ride. A number of graphs illustrated what the Conservative party would consider were the eminently praiseworthy achievements of British Rail. They showed that the labour force had gone down, productivity had gone up, costs had gone down and passenger income had risen. Two graphs were missing, however: one to show quality of service standards, which have taken a swift nose dive—the hon. Member for Battersea suggested that—and one to show the wages of the employees within the railway industry compared with those employed in other industries.

I do not want my concluding remarks to be too partisan as I always like to maintain all-party amity as far as possible. If the Government do not tackle the problem of customer and staff satisfaction, the problems faced by London today will be repeated in the rest of the country in the months to come. I get no personal pleasure from saying that, but unless those problems are dealt with, privatisation in the short term will be immaterial.

I hope that we will have the opportunity to debate these matters again in more detail, particularly aviation, which represents an important sector of our transport network. No one has mentioned shipping, which is another important aspect of our transport policy. In recent years the British merchant fleet has declined dramatically, and some of that decline is due to Budget changes, many inadvertent, which have militated against the British merchant fleet. I know that the Minister will not make a speech about shipping today, but it is a vital part of Britain's transport system and we should debate it.

I am aware of the time and I know that I must conclude. I am running according to Network SouthEast times, so I shall be a couple of minutes late. Nevertheless, this debate has been about important matters and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling for giving us the opportunity to debate them.

Photo of Mr Michael Portillo Mr Michael Portillo , Enfield, Southgate 6:47 pm, 15th May 1989

I begin where the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) ended, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on the quality of his speech. He is particularly well informed and I think that may be for good family reasons. During his speech he was heckled by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East and that is the traditional tribute paid to a good speech.

The debate was also an opportunity for my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) to discuss bus deregulation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the role that he played during the passage of the Bill, which became the Transport Act 1985. My hon. Friend was as perceptive in those matters as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). Not many hon. Members are prophets proved right in their own time and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has been. I have no current powers to oblige the privatisation of bus companies and to bring about employee ownership. However, it is certainly not something that I would rule out for the future and I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in that matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling comprehensively dealt with roads. He is aware of the enormous increase in road usage that we have experienced. From 1982 to 1987 the number of cars grew by 16 per cent. and the number of goods vehicles by 11 per cent. Although the Government's investment record has been impressive—an increase in capital investment in trunk roads of about 60 per cent. since 1979, and 880 miles of new and improved motorway and other trunk roads completed—we recognise that congestion is a serious and expensive problem for British motorists and British business. We are in no doubt about that. Reducing congestion has always been one element of our road policy and, given the recent increases in congestion, we have recently undertaken a thorough review of the trunk road programme. We have concentrated particularly on schemes that will reduce congestion on the roads between cities and that can be completed quickly. We shall announce the result of that review shortly. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) will not, therefore, have to wait long to see what is proposed in the White Paper and whether it helps her constituency.

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) that one of the most important steps is to make better use of existing infrastructure. I am grateful to him and several of my other hon. Friends for their interesting proposal to have a red route scheme through London to speed traffic on its way.

My hon. Friends the Members for Gedling and for Nottingham, South were worried about the A453. We are considering making improvements to that road, which links the M1 to Nottingham, and I have noted their views carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling was also concerned about the Gedling bypass. He is aware that the scheme is the responsibility of Nottinghamshire county council as the highway authority. We encourage counties to improve their local road networks through transport supplementary grant, for which the Gedling bypass is a suitable candidate. Therefore, it is for the county to give it a higher priority so that it can be considered by the Government.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling and other hon. Members who urged us to get on with private finance that I am determined to increase the private sector's role in the provision of road infrastructure. The private sector has much to offer in terms of innovation, enterprise and management efficiency, and can make a real contribution to the provision of roads in this country. I am convinced that privately financed roads will soon begin to complement our public sector road network.

Such a policy has already started with developers being able to invest in improved access to their developments by contributing to local trunk road schemes. Since 1986, 50 agreements have been concluded, and 50 more are at an advanced stage of preparation. We want to go further. We are encouraged by the example of the Dartford-Thurrock bridge, which is being built in the private sector. We are encouraged to think that the second Severn bridge may be suitable for private sector development.

There could be much more. There are many ideas in the private sector about how private finance could be applied. My colleagues and I have held valuable discussions with the private sector and some firms have already come forward with interesting ideas. We have tried to answer their questions about the way in which we shall proceed. Only a few days ago, we were able to remove one obstacle, which many believed stood in the way of private finance, by announcing the retirement of the Ryrie rules. That means that there will not be a scheme-by-scheme reduction in the public road programme in respect of privately financed projects. That is a useful step forward which means that we are progressively cutting away the obstacles that stand in the way of, or have been perceived to stand in the way of, the private sector.

Some issues still need to be clarified, and the consultative document that we shall shortly publish will, I hope, help to do that. It will cover subjects such as shadow tolls, which the Government regard as a financial device, which is no more than disguised borrowing, and is unacceptable. It will also cover the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, such as exclusive rights to ideas for road schemes—what he called intellectual property.

Roads are unlike other commodities. Anyone can suggest a route, which may have been worked out in great detail or may be merely a line drawn on a map, but they cannot have exclusive rights to it. Where the Government support a scheme—for example, through hybrid legislation or procedures that require compulsory purchase—we must ensure that we can justify our choice of project by having a proper competition. Competition is an essential feature of a true market, and a factor which the Government have taken great steps to introduce into many areas. It brings with it higher quality and efficiency.

The key issue that we want to address in the Green Paper is the suitability of existing procedures to authorise privately financed roads. We are clear that our current procedures are unsuited to privately financed roads, whether financed by development gain or tolling. We are considering how they can be improved. All highways legislation is designed for conventional, untolled roads that are financed by the public sector. Tolling has to be authorised by statute on a case-by-case basis. Shortly, we intend to bring forward proposals for better procedures.

In a Betjemanesque attack on the horrors of Bethnal Green, which he believes should share the same fate as Slough, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) raised the subject of the difficulties of travelling on railways. He said that he was fed up with being told that we would receive jam tomorrow. However, I have some large lumps of "jam tomorrow" for him. In real terms, investment last year was the greatest since 1966. This year, investment is planned to be 25 per cent. higher again, the largest in real terms since 1962. Therefore, it is the largest in the history of the British Railways Board, and yet more is planned for the early 1990s. The pace of approvals of investment is also increasing. Since January, I have approved investment in a total of 423 new passenger coaches to add to the 2,372 that have been approved since 1983. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea referred to 50-year-old trains, giving a new meaning to the phrase, "The Age of the Train". He can be assured that the Government will look carefully and sympathetically at any investment case that is brought forward by British Rail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling takes a realistic attitude to the possible electrification of the midland main line. During the 1990s, British Rail will begin to assess the results of the east coast main line electrification, and consider whether there should be further major route electrification. Those results should be available for analysis before the rolling stock on the midland main line comes to the end of its useful life and decisions will have to be taken on major replacement. That will provide the ideal opportunity for British Rail to examine whether electrification would offer the best option for the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) raised many interesting questions about aviation, and in doing so he was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans). I fully agree with the main thrust of the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside that we must open up the market to provide better services at lower fares.

When he talked about airport policy, my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside drew attention to the document CAP 548. He will understand that, as that is a consultation document issued by the Civil Aviation Authority to help it to fulfil its commission from the Secretary of State to provide advice to him on United Kingdom airport capacity and traffic distribution, it would be wrong for me to become involved in arguments that might pre-empt the decisions that must be taken. However, I understand the urgency and importance of the questions that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre raised about air traffic control. He will know of the important practical measures that have already been taken. Indeed, he referred to a number of them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside referred to the major development for the early 1990s—the phased introduction of the central control function at the London air traffic control centre, which will be completed by 1995. That new traffic management system will provide adequate capacity to handle Stansted at full, single runway capacity of 40 movements per hour, Luton at 16 movements per hour, and Heathrow and Gatwick at their runway capacities. Further system enhancements will also be introduced at the London ATC centre, the Manchester sub-centre and the Scottish and oceanic control centres.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside was worried about why such matters needed to take so long. He knows that they are complex systems and the senior management of the CAA has called in consultants for the specific purpose of conducting an independent review of the central control function. The consultants advised that the time scale was aggressive, but realistic. That was an independent point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre suggested that the national air traffic services should be hived off from the CAA. That suggestion was put forward by the Select Committee and, along with all its other suggestions, we shall consider it.

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) was concerned about the development of Manchester airport, which I well understand. He will be aware of the need to make fair agreements between different countries and of the tremendous advances that Manchester airport has made, with the £300 million of capital investment that has been made in local authority airports since the Government came to office. We are keen to allow additional opportunities for new United States airlines to operate into Manchester, but it is important to secure balancing opportunities for United Kingdom airlines into the United States.

The debate has offered us a good opportunity to discuss transport policy. The motion that we have been discussing was superbly drafted, and it calls attention to a decade of achievement in transport by the Government. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling not only for that but for the opportunity he has given the House—especially to my hon. Friends—to offer a series of interesting ideas on transport topics.

The future will require a continuation of Government investment in road, rail and air traffic control, and our economic success makes that possible. But our future will also require further liberalisation and privatisation, and I am grateful to all my hon. Friends for the vigorous support that they have given those policies today.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House congratulates the Government on the increase in spending on roads by 57 per cent. in real terms since 1979 and on rail by over 75 per cent. over the last five years; notes the substantial and continuing pressure by the public for further measures to be taken up to and after 1992 to relieve road congestion; further notes that additional significant increases in public spending of 25 per cent. on roads and nearly 50 per cent. on rail are planned up to 1992; applauds the encouragement being given to the private sector to develop a role in our roads programme; believes that the privatization of British Rail would improve the service for the customer in the years beyond 1992; notes the improvement in the quality and quantity of bus services following de-regulation, and the privatisation of the National Bus Company; believes that there is a need to take further in the years up to 1992 and beyond the steps already taken by the Secretary of State for Transport in liberalising air fares and routes in the interests of the travelling public; congratulates the Secretary of State for Transport on the steps he personally has taken to promote public discussion of radical as well as conventional solutions to these problems; and urges the Government to continue its efforts to identify ways of mitigating and resolving these challenges in the years up to 1992 and beyond, the cost of which can now be supported because of the success of this Government's economic policies.