HC Deb 28 April 1953 vol 514 cc1965-9

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


TO ask the Minister of Transport if he has considered the memoranda presented to him recently by certain hon. Members urging a full and impartial inquiry into London Transport; and what decision he has reached.


TO ask the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied that the present organisation of London Transport is adequate to deal with the increasing traffic in Greater London.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

The Government have had under consideration for some time the desirability of such an inquiry. We have naturally taken into consideration the memoranda to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Captain Ryder) refers and other representations by hon. Members. The Government have decided that an inquiry should be held into London Transport. A committee will be appointed for this purpose, and its terms of reference will be: To inquire into the conduct of the undertaking carried on by the London Transport Executive (excluding any questions relating to charges) with a view to ascertaining what practical measures can be taken by the British Transport Commission and the Executive in order to secure greater efficiency and economy, and to report. The membership of the Committee will be announced shortly.

Captain Ryder

Is the Minister aware that this decision will be widely welcomed by the travelling public generally? In thanking my right hon. Friend, may I ask him to press on with this with all speed?

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the Minister give an assurance that there will be ample representation of the trade unions on this Committee of inquiry and that matters relating to wages and working conditions will be excluded from it? Will he inform the House that the decision to hold this inquiry is no reflection on the manner in which the London Transport Executive conducts its business at present?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I could certainly give the assurance straight away that we are all indebted to the self-sacrifice and hard work of innumerable people over many years in the London transport world but in our view an authoritative, factual, review is highly desirable. I can also assure the hon. Member that there will be trade union representation. As to the matters other than charges over which the inquiry may range, that I think must be left to the chairman in the light of the terms of reference.

Mr. Partridge

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the statement which appeared in the Press on Friday last that a new and savage increase in fares is anticipated in September of this year? In these circumstances, will he make great haste with the appointment of the Committee so that they can get into action as soon as possible to stop this further blow below the belt to the citizens of London?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I must make it plain that there is already statutory machinery for the appeals on the question of charges. Indeed, an application of the Commission is now before the Transport Tribunal. So the matter is to that extent sub judice and I have naturally included in my answer the phrase, excluding any questions relating to charges. I must, however, point out that the inquiry is perfectly free to consider practical measures for improved economy in administration with their eventual bearing on the cost to the travelling public.

Mr. H. Morrison

Is the Minister aware that it is a fact that the agitation of his hon. Friends in this matter has been based upon certain increases in charges—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] That was the whole of their agitation, and that is why they wanted the inquiry—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. That being the case, why is the right hon. Gentleman excluding the question of fares and charges from the inquiry? In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies), he is also excluding wages and conditions of labour—[HON. MEMBERS: "He did not say that."] I thought they were excluded, but if they are not it is a very serious issue.

May I ask the Minister why he picked out the London Transport Executive? The late Government announced that they would institute from time to time investigations, including Members of Parliament, into the affairs of the various public corporations. If he wants to introduce an inquiry on B.B.C. lines to the British Transport Commission, why did he not do that? Why did he not institute that inquiry, if he wanted to, before he started on this destructive Transport Bill, which came to its scandalous and unconstitutional end last night?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I anticipated that the right hon. Member would ask that question. It is quite possible to separate the operation and working of the London Transport Executive. As he knows very well, it has an entity of its own. No inquiry was necessary to establish that a monopoly of rail and long distance road haulage in single hands was detrimental to the public interest.

Mr. Popplewell

Will the right hon. Gentleman say what type of committee of inquiry he will establish? Is it to be an independent committee, a Departmental committee? Will London Transport Executive have representatives on it? Particularly, will he give the full terms of reference and assure the House that this is not another underhand attack on a public board?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

It certainly is not very underhand as I am announcing it in advance of setting up the committee of inquiry. I think the hon. Member had better await the announcement about the composition of the committee, but I can tell him straight away that it will be a Departmental committee in the sense that it will report to a Departmental Minister.

Mr. G. Brown

I understood the Minister to say that the chairman will have discretion to decide whether the conditions of work and wages are within the competence of the inquiry. If that is so, can he say what will happen to the voluntary wage negotiating machinery already set up? Will the committee be entitled to recommend changes in that and, if so, how does the right hon. Gentleman expect the ordinary negotiating machinery to continue?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Apart from charges, which I have expressly announced, I thought that it was well to leave to the chairman the interpretation of the terms of reference. Obviously, agreement arrived at between the unions and the management cannot be varied by a report of this kind.

Mr. Beswick

Will the committee be competent to inquire into the financial arrangements between the London Executive and the Transport Commission, in particular into this rather vexed question as to whether there is more or less paid by the London Executive into the central overheads of the Transport Commission than is paid by the rest of the country?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

So far as the committee—which I can assure the House will be an efficient one—can do that without entrenching on the question of charges, I am sure that they would be free to do so.

Mr. Mellish

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a dangerous position will occur because if the committee decide that certain economies ought to be made to reduce the so-called charges of the London Transport Executive, that may well mean a lower standard of conditions for the people working on the job? What will be the outcome of that?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I think the hon. Gentleman had better wait and see what the committee recommend.