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Volume 82: debated on Monday 1 July 1985

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Dial-A-Ride (London)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will hold further discussions with London Regional Transport and the organisers of dial-a-ride in Greater London to ensure its continuance in operation if the Greater London council funding is terminated at the end of 1985–86.

My officials are discussing the future of the dial-a-ride system with officers of the London boroughs and London Regional Transport. I intend to find satisfactory arrangements for the continuation of the scheme.

I thank my hon. Friend for the assurances that she gave yet again in an important speech at the beginning of last week. Will she elaborate a little, as reassurance that this vital and developing service will continue is needed? Will she spell out, even if only in a preliminary way, how funding will continue after 1985–86?

I am willing to have discussions with my hon. Friend, but it would not be fair to the London Boroughs Association or to London Regional Transport to go into too much detail, as they have not come to any overall agreement. I have told them that the scheme is important and much valued, that I intend to ensure that it continues and that it is made as efficient as possible so that we get good occupancy and reduce the cost per trip. I cannot tell my hon. Friend more than that at the moment.

Will the hon. Lady take this opportunity to assure the House that users of dial-a-ride schemes throughout London will be able to continue to use those schemes and that there will be no cost to existing borough councils in London greater than those which they already pay towards dial-a-ride schemes? Will she ensure that the disabled of London are not forced to pay for her proposals for taking control of London Transport from the people of London?

This has nothing to do with the transfer of London Transport to London Regional Transport. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the costs of dial-a-ride schemes are borne wholly by ratepayers. I see no reason for that to change, but we have to find the best way in which to do it. I assure the disabled people who use dial-a-ride schemes that the reason for working so hard to find the best, most efficient and cost-effective scheme is that they should be able to go on using them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Greater London council's recent press release on the future of the dial-a-ride service has brought a great deal of unnecessary worry and distress to disabled and elderly people?

I regret to say that, once again, by spreading scare stories, the GLC has again worried many disabled people. [Interruption.] I am happy to say, however, that, despite the mutterings of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), the scheme will continue. We want to find the best and most cost-effective way in which to run it.

Is the Minister aware that, sure as we are that her intentions are good, we need more assurances than the suggestions that, somehow or other, the scheme will continue? Where is the money to come from? Is she aware that for this Government cost-effective is another way of saying fewer journeys, more people left in their own homes, and greater problems for the disabled?

For the umpteenth time, the hon. Lady has got it wrong. The Birmingham dial-a-ride schemes have come down to an average cost of £2 per trip, but certain London schemes vary between £10 and £16 per trip. It is surely my duty, if we are to extend such services to a greater range of disabled people, to reduce the costs.

M1 Motorway (Repairs)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the arrangements his Department has made for monitoring traffic on the M1 south of Bedfordshire from 2 to 16 July while extensive repairs are being done to the M1.

The arrangements for monitoring traffic include a considerably increased number of police patrols, video cameras positioned in the contraflow system and aerial surveillance during daylight hours. Everything practicable is being and will be done to keep traffic moving smoothly and safely.

As we do not want traffic in south Bedfordshire to come to a complete standstill between 2 and 16 July, will my hon. Friend assure me that there will be a sustained publicity campaign in the midlands, the north and Scotland, to try to persuade drivers to avoid that section of the M1 while repairs are done unless they have business in the south Bedfordshire area?

I assure my hon. Friend that every possible aspect of the national campaign has been and is being followed up. I have spent my time this morning in the M1 area, and the traffic was flowing freely. However, that will continue to happen only if those who normally use their cars on the M1 use the trains, as I have advised, during the repair period and the car parking that has been provided for them at Milton Keynes station, Birmingham international, Leagrave, Luton and St. Albans.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the good precautions that she has taken to avoid chaos on the M1? Never before have such tremendous efforts been made in advance, and those who use the M1, such as myself, are very grateful to her.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what she said. Provided that the advice that has been given out in the leaflet, through broadcasts, question sessions and so on is followed, I believe that we can keep the remaining traffic, which should be the heavy goods vehicles, on the M1. The other traffic can stay at home or use the railways or planes. The schemes that have been developed over many months are there to help the traveller while the essential work is done.

Does the Minister accept that the unprecedented closure of the M1 is due to the enormous increase in road freight over the past decade —[Interruption.] Whether or not that amuses the Secretary of State, it happens to be true, although he would not know, given his present job. In their policies, the Government appear to be determined to increase heavy road freight still further. Will the Minister give the House a guarantee that she will continue to resist Common Market pressure for 44-tonne lorries, before all our motorways have to be closed? Will the hon. Lady confirm that the only advice that she can offer regular travellers on the M1 is, as she said, to take the train or stay at home?

There is absolutely no question of 44-tonne lorries being acceptable in this country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help everybody else for once by getting it right in future. We are not closing the M1. The northbound traffic will go up the southbound carriageway, which has a narrow two-lane contraflow upon it. The M10 traffic will come on, go off round a roundabout and come straight back on after junction 8 where the 200-yard stretch is being renewed. The freight traffic on that stretch of the M1 is about a quarter of all traffic. The growth in the number of cars is even more than that of freight.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I have been a user of the M for more years than I care to remember? Would there not have been a reduction in the use of the motorway during August, when large numbers of the population are away on holiday? Has the right forthnight been selected for these difficult roadworks?

My hon. Friend is not quite right about the volume of traffic during the holiday season. It increases on that stretch of motorway, which is why we are seeking to do the work before the children's summer holidays start. We have chosen the best combination of long daylight hours, the drier weather, which we hope we shall see during the first fortnight of July, and the higher night ambient temperatures. It is not possible to have the best of each of those, but the best combination of all three makes it the right fortnight to get that essential work done.

Bridges And Tunnels (Tolls)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what information he has as to the total revenue raised by tolls on bridges and tunnels in each of the last five years; and if he will make a statement.

The gross figures for each year starting in 1979–80 were: £20·2 million, £22·3 million, £28·5 million, £34·9 million and £39·2 million, totalling £145·1 million.

The Government's policy remains that estuarial crossings should be paid for by the users through tolls rather than by taxpayers, except where there are counter-arguments on the grounds of traffic diversion or congestion. That is because of the exceptional savings in time and money which these expensive facilities make possible.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of financing toll bridges and tunnels places a considerable burden on local authorities, especially counties such as Essex and Kent, which must finance the Dartford tunnel? Does he agree that toll booths cause considerable delays at bridges and tunnels? Despite the revenue, does he agree that the country overall would be better off if toll charges were abolished?

Taking the last point first, it would make no difference to the country overall if tolls were abolished and the costs were put on to taxpayers rather than users. The costs still have to be paid, whoever pays for them. I do not think that any direct cost falls on Essex and Kent county councils, because they have a fund to administer the tunnel. In due course it is expected that that fund will be repaid, probably in the early 1990s, and the county councils will not be out of pocket as a result.

Regarding delays, when the toll plaza is complete and there are 12 toll booths in each direction, and when the road widening is completed up to the mouth of the tunnel, I do not think that there will be delays, except those caused by a lack of capacity in the tunnel. We have already announced that we are studying how best to provide extra capacity to obviate that shortage as soon as possible.

Is not this issue of toll charges on estuarial crossings becoming more farcical every day? The latest example on the Severn bridge is of thousands of pounds being extracted from disabled drivers because no one has told them that they may cross the bridge free of charge. Surely such a concession should be advertised nationally and in the local press by the Ministry of Transport.

I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman. Until 1979 he supported the Labour Government who firmly and strongly advocated the continuation of tolls on estuarial crossings. Why does he appear to change his mind now that there is a Conservative Government? The disabled have the concession to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I hope that he will do his best to ensure that there is a high take-up of it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Fife region is the only region in Britain that one pays both to get into and out of—on the Forth and Tay bridges? Does he not realise that the sooner we get rid of that nonsense the better?

If the hon. Gentleman feels like that my advice to him is to stay in Fife.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it costs £2 to cross the Humber bridge and return home again? Is there any other county in the United Kingdom where one must pay to go from one part of it to another? Does it not make a mockery of the creation of Humberside, which artificially joins north Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire, much to the chagrin of its inhabitants?

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel like sending a copy of that supplementary question to Mrs. Barbara Castle and, indeed, perhaps an invoice to match it.

If the engineering study announced last week by the Minister of State recommends in favour of an additional river crossing at Dartford, will that new tunnel be subject to the same toll arrangements as the existing Dartford tunnels?

When a question involves two "ifs" I am entitled to say that it is hypothetical. Indeed, that is my answer to the hon. Gentleman.

May I make a further helpful counter argument? Will the Secretary of State consider throwing a lifeline to the increasingly floundering Conservative candidate in the Brecon and Radnor by-election and, consistent with recent other gifts, end tolls on the Severn bridge?

No, Sir. It is not Government policy to seek to buy by-election results as Mrs. Castle did with the Humber bridge. Humberside was lumbered with an enormous debt as a result of that by-election promise. We have no intention of inflicting such a cruel burden on the inhabitants of Brecon and Radnor.

Is it expected that the toll revenue will pay off the cost of these bridges and tunnels? If so, will there be a time limit on the changing of tolls?

It depends on which crossing the right hon. Gentleman means. Some are within sight of redeeming their capital debt, but others are not.

Air Services


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how many international scheduled services currently operate out of regional airports; and how many operated in 1983.

There are about 925 individual international services per week from regional airports compared with about 690 two years ago, an increase of just over one third.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those impressive figures show the Government's commitment to regional airports? How many more routes have started from regional airports since 1983?

About 1,500 international routes are now available from regional airports, of which 100 are in use. This year alone, 14 started from Manchester and four from Birmingham.

Will the Minister undertake at least to investigate the possibility of providing full customs facilities at Inverness and Wick airports so that the potential for international flights between the highlands and Scandinavia and northern Europe can be more fully exploited?

We are always willing to investigate the possibility of additional customs facilities and I shall certainly look into the cases that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We must, however, be sure that there is a reasonable amount of traffic to justify the cost of providing those facilities.

Will my hon. Friend give some idea of the expected increase in international routes from regional airports? What are the prospects for Manchester airport in the light of the White Paper?

The prospects for Manchester airport are excellent in view of its track record in the immediate past. There has been an increase from 3·5 million passengers per annum in 1979 to 6 million this year. Bristol has shown a 25 per cent. increase in the same period and international traffic from regional airports generally has risen from 7·6 million to 12 million passengers per annum over the same period. On the basis of experience, therefore, the future holds excellent prospects for regional airports.

Will the Minister give an assurance that those excellent prospects also apply to Carlisle?

Carlisle has had its ups and downs, but it is a good airport. I think that we have now overcome the customs problems.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern in Norwich that cross-subsidy for Stansted may make fair competition difficult, if not impossible, for regional airports? Will he introduce further measures to encourage the development of regional airports and the reform of their financial structure?

Under the new Bill, which we shall introduce as soon as possible, the accounts of the various airports in the BAA system will be transparent. Any loans between airports will have to be at fully commercial rates. Norwich is an expanding airport with tremendous possibilities, especially through the inter-regional system into northern Europe. There are good prospects there, and many new routes have started up recently.

Is the Minister aware of the misleading practice by British Airways, which in its scheduled flights includes certain international flights from regional airports that go via London Heathrow? Will he confirm that the figures he has given relate to genuine international flights from regional airports exclusive of calls in London?

It is quite true that a number of passengers travel from regional airports through the London system, because the London system is the busiest international hub in the world. Our object is to build up other hubs, notably at Manchester, and we are being very successful in that policy.

Does the Minister accept that Birmingham's excellent regional airport owes a great deal of its success to the activities of the West Midlands county council in recent years? Does he also accept that many regional airport directors feel very strongly about the Government's practice of refusing permission for foreign airlines to fly direct to the regions unless that permission is linked to the withdrawal of slots by those airlines in and out of Heathrow? Will he ensure that that practice ceases?

Birmingham's recent record was not as bright as the records of many other regional airports. One of the reasons why its prospects are now extremely good is that central Government have given £20 million of taxpayers' money to develop Birmingham airport.

Motorway Construction


asked the Secretary of State for Transport how much has been spent on new motorway construction in each of the past three years at constant prices.

At constant 1982–83 prices, the amount spent on new motorway construction was £285 million in 1982–83; £289 million in 1983–84; and provisionally, £295 million in 1984–85. A further £725 million was spent on construction of other national roads in the same period.

I welcome the improvement that has been made, but does my right hon. Friend feel that the new motorway construction programme is adequate? Does he not think that we need a much better motorway network if we are to move goods and materials more quickly and improve our industrial efficiency?

Overall spending on national roads has increased by 30 per cent. in real terms since we inherited the work from the Labour Government. That is a large and major contribution to improving the roads system. Within that total it is likely that more priority will have to be given to non-motorway roads, bypasses and smaller schemes as the motorway construction programme begins to draw towards its close.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that those figures contain a considerable amount for the preparation of the Denton to Portwood motorway in my constituency? Will he now announce the date for starting work on that motorway? Will he also listen with considerable sympathy to the case presented by Tameside council for the completion of the outer ring road around Manchester, which will have a considerable impact on the area's industrial development? In particular, will he press the Minister of State to be sympathetic to the case that will be presented to her when she meets a deputation from Tameside later today?

The costs of those schemes are in the "National Roads England 1985" programme, which my hon. Friend the Minister of State announced a couple of weeks ago. I think the hon. Gentleman supports their going through the public inquiry procedure before they can commence. He will also know as well as I do that my hon. Friend is always helpful and sympathetic, as I am sure she will be when the hon. Gentleman meets her this afternoon.

I should like to give my hon. Friend an accurate figure. Off the cuff figures may not be quite accurate, particularly as my hon. Friend did not specify whether he was referring to urban, semi-urban or rural motorways. I shall give him a full answer.

Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act 1984


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction) Act 1984 will be implemented.

Most of the provisions of the Act were introduced on 20 May 1985. Section 1 has yet to be implemented. We expect to bring this remaining provision, which relates to the identification of driving instructors, into operation later this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. What benefits have flowed from the Act so far? What will be her reaction to the Driving Instructors Association's seven-point plan for road safety, which will not only save lives but an estimated £2,000 million?

Those elements of the Act already in operation are that all new trainees should be partly qualified before they are allowed to give any tuition—which will be under a minimum of one fifth, 20 per cent., supervision—that they must complete their qualifications within six months and that they will not be allowed to extend their trainee licence for a further six months. They will have to take up special training, and there will be tighter direct personal supervision of the trainees, which is very important. The identification cards are to follow. As regards the representations made by the Driving Instructors Association, my officials have recently met the association for detailed discussion, and I am giving detailed consideration to its proposals.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is concern on the Conservative Benches that, as a result of implementation, there may be even more generous donations to the Liberal party by the British School of Motoring? Taking this into consideration—

May I then ask my hon. Friend to urge on those driving schools that contribute to political parties that they should show that on the windscreens of their cars?

That must be a matter for the individual driving school. Our concern is better driving and fewer accidents. I hope that everybody's concern in driving instruction will be first and foremost to give the best possible tuition to learner drivers. If that means fewer resources for their political protegees, we might have better drivers.

When the Minister meets the Driving Instructors Association this afternoon, will she give sympathetic consideration to extending the regulations even further so that the proposal put forward by my colleague in the other place, supported by the Government's spokesman for transport there and members of the Labour party, that instructors should be trained to teach, will soon be part of the regulations, in addition to what the hon. Lady has provided for so far?

Our training is training to teach, and certain comments recorded in Hansard in the other place are not quite correct. I am concerned to see that we get the best possible standard of tuition, because with that, and with better enforcement of the law through the penalty points system, we shall have better driving and fewer accidents on our roads. That is what we want to achieve. Any suggestions will always be looked at carefully in that light.

M3 Motorway (Extension)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has for a north-eastern extension of the M3 motorway.

Will my hon. Friend accept the appreciation of my constituents and all users of the M3 motorway, including myself, for the recent completion of the southern extension ahead of time? Will she also accept that the same motorists will be disappointed with her reply, because they feel that any time saved by that extension will be lost as a result of the congestion at the other end, most notably on the A4? Does my hon. Friend have any plans to speed up traffic between the Chiswick flyover and Parliament square?

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier comment about the completion of the southern extension of the M3, which was urgently needed. We are purposely looking at the needs and concerns within inner London not only of road users but of those who live in the area. Until the independent assessment studies have been completed, whether it be for that or any other area, I shall not be thinking of any changes to the present network.

When does the Minister expect the road assessment studies to be completed and published?

The work being done by the consultants is going along well on the whole. They need to collect a certain amount of information which they are not being permitted to collect. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an answer to his question. He had better ask his friends in the GLC.

"Cycles On Trains"


asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he has any plans to meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss the results of the research paper entitled "Cycles on Trains", commissioned by British Rail; and if he will make a statement.

This is a matter for British Rail. My hon. Friend may wish to take it up with the chairman direct.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the two most favoured recommendations in the report by the Harris people are that charges for bicycles on British Rail should stop and that the ban on the inter-city rail network should cease? Is he aware that £7 million of additional income is being lost by the unhelpful attitude of British Rail? Will my hon. Friend say something about that, to ensure that British Rail gets more money from bicycle users?

I am aware of my hon. Friend's longstanding interest in this matter as chairman of the all-party Friends of Cycling group. I assure him that I know of no plans by British Rail to extend its restrictions. There are restrictions on HSTs because there is not enough space to take large quantities of luggage and other paraphernalia. I shall report my hon. Friend's comments to the chairman of British Rail.

Midland Main Line (Electrification)


asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last discussed with the chairman of British Rail plans for electrification of the Midland main line north of Bedford.

The British Railways Board is responsible for planning its own investment. If the chairman wishes to raise this project at one of our regular meetings, I shall be glad to discuss it.

When my hon. Friend next sees the chairman of British Rail, will he convey to him two simple points on behalf of my constituents in Kettering? First, they want to see the Midland main line electrified from St. Pancras through Kettering to Yorkshire—the whole line. Secondly, they want to see Kettering retain its status as an inter-city interchange station. That is important for my constituents.

I shall keep my hon. Friend's points in mind. British Rail has not submitted to Ministers a proposal to electrify to Kettering, and I understand that it has not come to any decision to do so. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is only three years since British Rail demonstrated its commitment to the Midland main line by introducing HSTs on the route. That has meant a 20-minute saving on the run to Sheffield and has resulted in a substantial increase in customers.

As for electrification generally, I assure my hon. Friend that British Rail is not held back on its requests. Today, I have given British Rail consent to reopen and electrify the Snow Hill tunnel in London.

Does the Minister accept that all those who live in communities served by the midland line support the call for electrification and hope that the Government will encourage British Rail to make such a proposal? Does he also accept that many of us would like to see British-built stock running on the line? Will he consider lifting the ban on BREL's ability to compete in tendering for locomotives so that orders do not end up being placed abroad?

It is not for Ministers to twist the arm of British Rail about the priority that it should give to individual investment projects. It is for management to put forward what it believes to be best to achieve the purposes and objectives that it has been set.

Given the history of investment in the Bedford-St. Pancras line, does my hon. Friend agree that future investment must depend on reasonable productivity being obtained? If so, to what extent have the promises of improved productivity in earlier negotiations, which were the subject of much industrial dispute, been delivered by the unions concerned?

My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the importance of productivity, especially when it is part of the appraisal on which the decision to carry out the investment is based.

My right hon. Friend referred to a specific matter concerning productivity. This is a sensitive topic on which there are continuing negotiations, and I should not like to make them more difficult.

Is not the Minister dodging the basic question when he says that it is not his concern if British Rail does not go to British Rail Engineering Ltd. for its locomotives? Has he not worked out that it is a lot cheaper and more efficient to keep the BREL workshops fully occupied than to insist on open tenders from at least five foreign competitors?

I understand that British Rail Engineering Ltd. is involved as a sub-contractor in more than one of the potential bids for the contract about which the hon. Lady is concerned.

International Maritime Fraud


asked the Secretary of State for Transport what steps have been taken in support of resolution TD/B/C.4/AC.4/L.Z approved by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development at Geneva on 6 to 17 February 1984 on combating international maritime fraud.

The Government were disappointed to see that the resolution to which my hon. Friend refers contained no practical proposals for combating maritime fraud. We hope that UNCTAD will produce more constructive ideas at its second meeting, and we shall be working hard to this end.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the growing concern about the level of maritime fraud, which is currently estimated by the International Maritime Bureau as running at $10 billion a year and which puts it on a par with the drugs trade? Will my hon. Friend assure the House that a high-powered delegation will be sent to the conference in Zurich in October?

I assure my hon. Friend that Britain will be properly represented by a high-powered delegation. We recognise the importance of the matter. I cannot put a precise figure on the cost of maritime fraud, but, in addition to the actual cost of losses, there is substantial damage to confidence within the trading communities concerned.