HC Deb 04 March 1936 vol 309 cc1517-23

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Captain Austin, Hudson.]

10.39 p.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."

It is not my intention at this late hour to say all that I had intended to say of my reasons for opposing the Bill. The Amendment has been put on the Order Paper not because of the hostility of myself and my colleagues to the London Passenger Transport Board, but because this is the only way that we have at our disposal under present conditions of drawing the attention of the House to the discontentment that prevails not only in my constituency but in numerous other constituencies where transport is administered by the London Passenger Transport Board. The board is asking for greater powers, and the House ought to consider the manner in which the powers already possessed by the board are being used. Considerable discontent obtains over the way in which the board are curtailing the services. As one who from its inception has been favourable towards the establishment of such a board, I regret having to offer this opposition to the increased powers asked for in the Bill. Recently I have had occasion on behalf of my constituents to correspond with the public relations officer who, however, has little or no power when dealing with requests for improved services. There is no machinery in existence whereby a Member of this House can approach the London Passenger Transport Board. That was undoubtedly a defect which was overlooked when the Bill was passing through the House.

It is the intention of the board under the Bill to run trolley buses in certain parts of London. Trams are running at the present time, but the service is grossly inadequate. In the main Harrow Road which runs through Willesden it is not an uncommon thing, between the hours of 10 in the morning and four in the afternoon, to have to wait as long as 10 and 12 minutes for a tram. Prior to the board taking the service over you could get a tram in three or four minutes. But even worse still, between the hours of 5.30 and 7 o'clock in the evening, when factories and offices are closing down, trams from Edgware Road, from Hammersmith and from Acton come only as far as the junction, dump their passengers out there and return to Acton, Hammersmith and the Edgware Road. These passengers have to continue the remaining portion of their journey as best they can. It is true that another tram service, supplemented by an omnibus service, does continue towards the Willesden Green area, but so limited is the service that numbers of men prefer to walk rather than compete with women and girls to get on a tram or an omnibus.

I know that it is difficult to deal with traffic in the peak period, I know the difficulties which arise, but the transport workers have agreed to a split duty in order that the board may overcome the difficulties of the peak period. There is no reason why the services in these special areas should not be dealt with and supplemented during the peak period. It would appear that the board desire so to limit the number of trams and omnibuses available as to be assured that each tram and omnibus shall be reasonably full. That is not a reasonable proposition. Those who were running the omnibuses and trams prior to their being taken over by the board did not do so at a loss, but were able to obtain a reasonable return on the capital invested. Moreover, a journalist in the employ of a Willesden local newspaper went out one afternoon three weeks ago and used the omnibuses and trams in order to make evident how the services had been restricted. On a journey taking about hours, the time of waiting for omnibuses and trams amounted to no less than 40 minutes.

Before we give the board greater powers we are entitled to ask that it should guarantee to this House that it will use the powers it already possesses in a more reasonable manner with a view to meeting the convenience of the passengers who are compelled to use these services. There is much more that I might have said on this matter, but I will give way to other hon. Members who want to speak.

10.47 p.m.


I support the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) in opposing this Bill on behalf of nearly a quarter-of-a-million people who live in my constituency and who are so grossly ill-served by the London Passenger Transport Board. I wish to criticise the Bill on two grounds. In the first place, it is suggested on page 34, Work No. 23, that a new tube railway should be built, this being an extension of the Central London line as far as the borough of Ilford, which would terminate by a junction with the London and North Eastern Railway there. I wish to suggest that that particular work should be extended as far as Gallows Corner in the Romford constituency. There has been a great deal of agitation concerning services to the East of London. In a statement supporting this Bill, it is said that the Bill has been produced partly as a. result of a long-standing complaint of the inadequacy of the passenger transport in certain parts of the London Passenger Transport Board's area, particularly the east and north-cast suburban districts. I claim that this particular Bill does not satisfy the claims of people in those districts, especially the district of Romford.

In 1931, when the original Bill was passing through this House, the Ilford and District Rail-Users' Association was formed to agitate for an improvement of the services. The association suggested that there should be an electrification of the suburban line from Liverpool Street and an extension of the Central London line as far as Ilford, and then on to Romford. The first of those suggestions has been carried out in an earlier Bill. This particular Bill carries out only a part of the second suggestion, the extension being only to Ilford. Owing to the fact that the London Passenger Transport Board was not prepared to satisfy the representations made to it by the Romford Town Council on the subject, the Romford and District Rail-Users' Association was created to agitate that it should go further.

The case in favour of the extension is this. There is a large development going on at the present time in the whole of the northern area of Rumford. This is a considerable distance from the London and North Eastern Railway station. A railway running parallel with the present line to the North would serve and open up a large district. In this district about 1,000 houses a year are being built. Plans are already prepared for building another 4,000 houses, and 30,000 houses in all can be built here. Rumford in 1921 had a population of 19,000, in 1931 of 35,000, in 1936 of 62,000, and the population will be 70,000 at least this year. The whole of the area is developing very rapidly. If a new line were built it might be run at a loss for a short period but it would undoubtedly pay in the near future. The district would open up rapidly and the line would pay as a result. I do not see why the board should not do this in view of the fact that they have already built a line out to Cockfosters, then an entirely undeveloped area. Why not build a line in an area which is developing? It will be cheaper than waiting until after development.

In the second place, the other services in the district are not adequately looked after at the present time. There is an improvement taking place at Aldgate East to provide a better service on the District line. That particular line out to the East of London is grossly overcrowded, the trains are obsolete and the service altogether is inadequate. It is time that promises of improvement were carried out. People living in that part of London feel that the Board are giving undue preference to the West End and that the East End must be satisfied because it is thought that services to the West pay better than to the East. We feel that as this is a public service the Board should give a preference to areas according to the size of the population and that they should not be guided merely by the fact that they may get a larger remuneration in the West End. Also there has been a great deal of cutting down of services. A complete overhaul of all the bus services in the area is required, so that they will feed the railways, and enable people to get into the middle of the City. The board should be guided by the same principle ass the Post Office is guided by—that is, to provide service and not go out merely for profit. They should provide an adequate service to people in areas which do not pay, just as the Post Office does in the rural areas.

10.54 p.m.


I should like to thank the two hon. Members who have just spoken for making their speeches so brief in order if possible that we may get the Bill to-night. As the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant) said, the Minister has no powers in this matter. But if the Minister has not statutory powers he has powers of persuasion, and I can assure both hon. Members that the points which they have raised will go before the board. From what I know of the board I feel sure they will do their best to meet the complaints that have been made. The board was set up by general agreement of the House and was granted a monopoly by the House and therefore, the House has a certain responsibility. In a vast undertaking of this kind it is natural, that during the opening months of its existence there should be some hitches. It is for us to see that these hitches are as few as possible. There is no actual machinery whereby Members can approach the board but there is machinery whereby matters may be brought by the local authorities concerned before the London Traffic Advisory Committee and the Railway Rates Tribunal. I think that machinery ought to be used and is used.

As regards what was said by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) this Bill is going to help in dealing with the appalling traffic conditions in Romford. I think he and I are both like Oliver Twist in this matter. We are asking for more. I represent North Hackney which wanted a certain electrification scheme but could not secure it under the original Measure which was passed in June. A good deal however is being done under this Bill and I will see that the items of detail which have been mentioned are brought before the board. At this late hour I cannot say more except to point out that this is the second of two Bills to carry out an agreement which was scheduled under the London Passenger Traffic Finance Act of 1935. It will add to travelling facilities in London and will also involve a large amount of work. I am sorry that we have had so little time. for this Debate and perhaps after my statement however inadequate it may have been owing to the reason I have indicated, the hon. Member will withdraw his Amendment and allow the Bill to get a Second Reading.

10.58 p.m.


I do not wish to prevent the Bill going through. I would only say that we have here an opportunity of setting an example to our Scottish colleagues in regard to getting through business of this kind quickly. Inevitably when Private Bills, especially transport Bills, come before the House, Members desire to voice grievances arising in their own districts. I think that is unfortunate. I think it is a misuse of Parliament. Almost every grievance raised on these occasions is extraneous to the Bill under discussion and I suggest to the consideration of the Minister and particularly to the board that between now and the promotion of the next Bill they should see whether some simple machinery could not be devised whereby Members of Parliament representing divisions in the board's area should have an opportunity of coming more closely in touch with the representatives of the Board, to have questions of omnibus services and things of that kind settled without being threshed out on the Floor of the House. I hope the Minister will use such influence as he possesses with the board to see that some simple organisation is set up with that end in view.

Captain HUDSON

I certainly give an undertaking to see whether something of that kind cannot be done.


On that understanding, I shall be pleased to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed,

The Orders of the day were read, and postponed.