HC Deb 14 July 1953 vol 517 cc2018-28

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Thompson.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield, East)

I find myself compelled once more to raise the question of the inadequate travel facilities to North London. I have pursued this matter since I was first elected in 1945, and the last time I raised it on the Adjournment was on 31st January, 1949. As then, I want in particular to deal with the facilities to Tottenham, Edmonton and on to Enfield.

Since I raised it in 1949, there has unfortunately been very little change. There has been some improvement in the road facilities, in as much as there is more rolling stock available and travel conditions have somewhat improved, although the congestion still persists, but on the railways it is unfortunately still a shocking story of false starts, frustrated hopes and breach of faith by successive Governments. The responsible transport authorities are the least to blame as they have been starved of capital investment by successive Governments. They have done their best with the antiquated equipment which is available to them.

Similarly, the local authorities have done everything in their power to urge upon the Government and the transport authorities the necessity for improved facilities to this part of North London and beyond. The public traveller to this congested but highly important industrial area is the helpless victim of Governmental inaction. His patience is incredible because he is jolted from Liverpool Street to Brimsdown, Ponders End and Enfield, or Liverpool Street to Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield Town, in old, drab, ill-lit and poorly-ventilated carriages which are little better than wooden boxes, drawn by hissing but halting old locomotive stock compared with which the "Puffing Billy" and the "Rocket" were modern engines.

These engines have to run in reverse in order to arrive and they take 34 minutes to cover the 10¾ miles from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town with 13 intermediate stops, at every one of which stations the trains come to a halt. It is a disgrace that in this age of jets and turbo-props my poor constituents should still be put through this torture twice daily. I have asked myself what they have done to deserve it.

This problem is an inheritance from the early days of private enterprise and the near bankrupt days of the privately-owned railways. It really is inexcusable it should persist so long. It is inexcusable because the solution is clear and the plans to solve the problem are there. The great deficiency is lack of modern railway services and through facilities to Central London. The one could be secured by electrification and the other by the construction of a new Tube.

The 1949 Report of the Working Party on the London Plan provides for both of these, and the Minister, who has been pressed time and again in this House, has not yet given us any clear indication of what are the priorities of this plan. Only a week ago I asked him if he had yet made up his mind, and he said he was still hoping to. Five times since October last year I have pressed him to give an indication of what are the priorities. I am still awaiting the answer.

The Transport Commission themselves in December, 1951, announced that as far as they were concerned Route C, which is the construction of the new Tube from North-East London to King's Cross, Euston and Victoria, had the first priority. It is not clear to what extent this new Tube, if and when constructed, would serve this area; it is not clear which part of this area would it be extended to northwards. The latest information is that the Tube would be diverted to Walthamstow, and it would thus not go north from Finsbury Park, to Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield would then not be served.

Sometimes I regret that this Tube has been put forward as the first priority, as it appears to be, because it is now being used as an excuse to hold up all development. On 6th July the Minister, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) said: This work cannot be undertaken until the new Tube to improve the distribution of traffic entering the Central London zone from Tottenham and Walthamstow has been carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 6th July, 1953; Vol. 517, c. 64.] Then again on 8th July the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to another Adjournment debate on a similar aspect of this problem, made the same excuse. He pointed out that, Improvement in the rail services entering Liverpool Street from the North and North-East would merely aggravate the position which the new Tube … is designed to alleviate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th July, 1953; Vol. 517, c. 1459.] It is really ridiculous to hold up the modernisation of these suburban lines until a new Tube is constructed. If the Minister were able to give us tonight an indication that the work is going to start on this new Tube, well and good, but I am perfectly certain he is not in a position to do so, and there is no likelihood that work will be started on the construction of that new Tube yet. It would cost, I imagine, £2½ million to build a mile of Tube, or something in that neighbourhood. In view of the financial position of the country and of the restrictions on capital investment, and particularly in view of the way in which the railways have been starved of capital investment, is it really likely that the Government would sanction the construction of a new Tube? I suggest that it is very unlikely for many years to come that this new Tube will be constructed.

Consequently, the only way to bring relief to the travelling public in North London, particularly the public travelling between Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham and London, the only way in which relief can be brought to that section of the suffering travelling public, is to go in for the medium term solution, that would be cheaper and much speedier to undertake, and that is to electrify the suburban services to Chingford and Enfield Town, including the Churchbury Loop from Edmonton that was closed down some time ago and ultimately the Liverpool Street—Cambridge line through Enfield Lock. This would at least provide speedier, more frequent, cleaner, and more comfortable travel. It would relieve the roads at the same time, and I suggest that is the only practical solution to this problem taking the medium term view.

There is more steel available now and, presumably, there is more finance available for capital investment. There is a labour force which is at present working with technical skill on the Manchester-Sheffield electrification and, when that is completed, I suggest that the man-power should be made available for undertaking the electrification of the North suburban lines which so urgently need attention.

The commission are willing so far as I am aware to proceed with modernisation. It has drawn attention to the needs of this area over a long period in its successive annual reports, and my only regret so far as they are concerned is that they have given priority to the Tilbury-Southend line which has less need for this modernisation so far as the numbers using it is concerned compared with the inadequate facilities available to North London. It is North London which should have been given priority over the Tilbury-Southend line so far as the electrification is concerned.

In conclusion, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will undertake to request his right hon. Friend to consult with the British Transport Commission and seriously to look into this possibility of electrification of the North suburban lines to Chingford and Enfield in particular and if he will abandon this foolish idea of holding up any further modernisation of these lines until the new Tube, Route C, has been constructed. We cannot wait until that time. To make this excuse is like saying that we will not have any bread and margarine today because there is no jam available tomorrow. That is really a ridiculous and illogical argument to pursue.

I therefore suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary and to his right hon. Friend that it is time to look at this problem again and to take it seriously. I hope that when the Parliamentary Secretary comes to reply he will not make one of his facetious speeches because I can assure him that my constituents quite rightly take this matter very seriously.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Graeme Finlay (Epping)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) was not present to hear the debate in the early hours of the morning of last week, when I raised precisely the same subject. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary then had to face a complete absence of hon. Members opposite. It would have saved a certain amount of Parliamentary time and repetition of the answers now to be given by the Parliamentary Secretary if the hon. Gentleman had been present on that occasion, when he would have heard the hon. and learned Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson) draw attention to the indecent conditions that obtained on the Central Line and on the services which have to serve the whole of the Eastern outer region of London. He was, however, not present, so he did not hear that. If he had been he would have heard me talk about the Chingford line which has been raised tonight. I do not want to labour this matter again.

I am certain that the Parliamentary Secretary is very much impressed with the difficulties which confront passenger users, and I think that he told us about his experiences in his youth when he used the Tube—it was then a 2d. ride, I believe—from Liverpool Street as a matter of pleasure. That is not a thing which he would attempt to do today. Everyone is persuaded of that, but it is much easier to state a problem than to solve it.

It is abundantly clear that after two world wars we have to face a great deal of leeway. I should like tonight to be as realistic as I can about this because I have already pressed the Parliamentary Secretary about the implementation of Schemes C and D, so I will not do that again. I am glad that he is giving priority when this can be done to Scheme C, that is to say, the line from Enfield, Tottenham and Edmonton to Victoria.

In the meantime, I should like to be practical about this and ask my hon. Friend if there is anything he can do about coaches on the Central Line. These are composed, as to about half, of seven coaches. I think he has succeeded in adding an extra coach to the others. If he can somehow contrive to add an extra coach to those trains to enable an extra complement of passengers to be carried in each case he will be going some way under the present conditions of stringency to relieve the unquestionably great discomfort suffered at peak hours by passengers. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say something on these lines when he makes his reply.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I was surprised the hon. Member should choose this occasion of an Adjournment debate to make a violent political attack on myself and other hon. Members on this side of the House. How we were expected to know that an Adjournment debate at 2 a.m. concerning Central London Line congestion was going to deal with serious problems affecting our constituencies, I do not know. I think the Parliamentary Secretary was behaving in a manner which was facetious and discourteous in the remarks which he made on that occasion.

If hon. Members opposite had given any indication that they wished to raise this subject, which is not a political matter but is one of great interest to our constituents, we should have been present to take part in the debate. My hon. Friend and myself were already balloting for this particular Adjournment on a matter with which my hon. Friend has been concerned since 1945 and which was the subject of one of the main pledges which I gave to my constituents when I was elected in 1948.

In January, 1949, when my hon. Friend last raised this matter on the Adjournment, it was, unfortunately, my lack of knowledge of the customs of this House which was the reason why I was not present, because the House rose at eight o'clock and I expected to come here at 10 for the Adjournment debate. Everybody else from North London spoke on that occasion and reports of the debate appeared on the front pages of the newspapers. The Parliamentary Secretary may have no sympathy with me over this, but at the subsequent General Election, it was the one serious matter on which I was cross-questioned. The fact which I wish to make the Parliamentary Under-Secretary understand is how very seriously this matter is considered in my constituency and the surrounding constituencies.

I entirely support my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) on the question of the electrification of the lines from Liverpool Street and the Churchbury Loop. We all know that the deep tube part of Route C is the real answer. As Lord Latham said in an interview in the "Evening Standard" of 20th December, 1951, when asked what would be the greatest single step in ending rush hour queues, he replied "More Tube railways." When asked which was most needed he replied: The one called Route C—the Tottenham area to Victoria. There has been a doubt raised by a statement by the London Transport Executive that the route might, instead of going north through Edmonton, be deflected from South Tottenham and go across the Lee Valley to Walthamstow. There is considerable anxiety in my constituency and, I believe, in Enfield about this. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us something about it.

The views which we are putting forward are not the personal views of my hon. Friend and myself. They are the very aggrieved views of the Joint Conference of Representatives of North London Local Authorities, which has been in existence for a number of years, which met my predecessor and dealt with the Minister in the previous Government, and which continues to make representations to us from time to time. They have put forward a suggested modification of the Working Party recommendations, as the Parliamentary Secretary knows. They suggest, in order of priority, the electrification of the Churchbury Loop from Cheshunt to Edmonton; secondly, the electrification of the suburban railway services from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town and Chingford; and, finally, a new Tube from Edmonton-Tottenham to Victoria.

There is no doubt that in the last few years, probably owing to the very considerable pressure which some of us have been putting on successive Ministers, there has been an improvement in the trolley bus services in addition to the minor improvements which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. These do not deal with the major problem of the great congestion on Tube railways and the appalling conditions of the old steam railway out of Liverpool Street.

I have always considered that there would be a considerable easing of the Tube railway congestion and the trolley bus services if the suburban lines from Liverpool Street were electrified and modernised. I believe this would afford considerable relief to the ordinary passenger transport service. It would amount to a comparatively small cost and is well worth serious attention. I think we should obtain some indication of the order of priority and make a start on this very serious problem.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

Representing a North London constituency, I strongly support all that my hon. Friends have said. This is a crying scandal and I hope that steps will be taken to alleviate the position.

10.22 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

This Adjournment debate is a sequel or epilogue to that initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Finlay) in the small hours of Thursday last which the hon. Member for Enfield, East (Mr. Ernest Davies) and his hon. Friends did not think worth while to attend, although the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu) has just addressed his remarks to the congestion on the Central London Line which is largely created by the transport situation in North-East London——

Mr. Ernest Davies

The Parliamentary Secretary is really being grossly discourteous.

Mr. Braithwaite

I am not being discourteous, I am being factual. I saw that on the benches opposite not a single Socialist Member was present——

Mr. Davies

I think it only fair to myself and to my hon. Friends to point out that it appeared in the list of Adjournments as congestion on the Central London Line. How were we to know that the question of Enfield, Edmonton, Tottenham and the Northern Line would be referred to?

Mr. Braithwaite

If the hon. Member is unaware that the congestion on the Central London Line is largely caused by the situation in the area he represents, I admire his innocence but not his acumen——

Mr. Davies

Why not get on with it?

Mr. Braithwaite

The hon. Member was a junior Minister in the Socialist Government and able to exercise pressure in this matter, but for reasons I will elaborate he was unable to obtain results.

As the hon. Member was not present last week I will repeat what I then said, that this area received the lion's share of the electrification programme between the years 1935 and 1940 when the Central London Tube was extended through the Leyton and Leytonstone area and the loop line was built to Hainault. When the London Plan was published local authorities of the Northern London area, namely Edmonton, Hornsey, Southgate, Tottenham, Wood Green, Stoke Newington, Barnet, Cheshunt and Enfield, set up a joint conference to study the report.

In July, 1950, a deputation from the joint conference accompanied by my right hon. Friend the present Minister of Health and the hon. Member for Edmonton, presented to the then Minister of Transport a memorandum which urged that, to provide the maximum relief to meet the most urgent problem of traffic facilities in the Northern London area, immediate preference should be given to the following items in the plan: first, electrification, with consequential works, of the Churchbury Loop from Cheshunt to Edmonton; secondly, electrification of the Eastern Region suburban services between Liverpool Street, Enfield town and Chingford; thirdly, that part of the proposed new Tube called Route C from South Tottenham to Victoria. These proposals were examined by the British Transport Commission with great care. They reported that the electrification of the Enfield and Chingford lines could only be contemplated as an accompaniment to Route C.

I am sorry to find the hon. Member for Enfield, East in disagreement with a body for whom I have found him to have a great admiration amounting almost to idolatory. It was their view that there would be additional pressure at Liverpool Street which would cause serious difficulties, especially on the Central Line, as I told the House a week ago. Their view also was that the electrification of the Churchbury Loop could only accompany the electrification of the main line to Cambridge. The Commission did not consider that to reopen it with steam trains prior to the electrification of the main line would provide any real easing of the problem, since only three additional trains during each of the peak travel periods could be run.

The British Transport Commission have told us that they have under constant review the plans for the development of transport in North London, and I do not think I can do more than assure the people of North London that their travelling needs are fully understood. One ought to add that the delay in these matters—and I think it is delay for which all Governments must take their share of blame; I do not think it is blame really—is the new factors which arise, and these will be fully borne in mind in connection with the existing plans. We entirely appreciate the present difficulties.

Last week my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Sir G. Hutchinson), who is here with us tonight, pointed out with considerable force that the planners had not moved on parallel lines with the development in North London, but rather on diverse lines, and had entirely failed to take into consideration the transport position when this part of North London was being developed.

Mr. Albu

Before the war.

Mr. Braithwaite

Before and since the war. I do not think there is any party point at all, but it may be that there are new factors which might arise. I am authorised to say on behalf of the Transport Commission that they will be fully borne in mind in connection with the existing plans. London Transport have many problems at the present time; hon. Members opposite are as conscious of them as we are. We have set up these bodies, and I think it is only fair to say that these difficulties would have confronted the old underground system with equal force if we were back in the days of London Passenger Transport Board.

As I said last week, it is impossible to fight two major world wars within a period of 25 years, followed by an intense rearmament programme, and at the same time to be able to construct transport facilities which, we have been reminded tonight, would cost about £2½ million per mile to construct, and I am afraid that is all the comfort that I can give to the hon. Gentleman tonight.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Half-past Ten o'clock.