HC Deb 15 April 1964 vol 693 cc421-4

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Minister of Transport, if he will make a statement about the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the pay and conditions of London bus crews.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Ernest Marples)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House I will now answer Question No. 48.

The Committee's interim Report was published on 16th December, 1963. In accordance with proposals in that Report, the London Transport Board immediately offered wage increases ranging from 8s. 6d. to 15s. a week to bus drivers and conductors with effect from 19thDecember, 1963. These were accepted by the Transport and General Workers' Union

The Committee's final Report is being published this afternoon. Copies have been placed in the Library and the Vote Office. The Government would like to express their thanks to Professor Phelps Brown and his colleagues.

The Report analyses in detail the problem and prospects of the London bus service and recommends that the Board and the union should negotiate a comprehensive agreement for a term of years providing for improvements in pay and conditions as well as measures for increasing the efficiency of the service.

The Report also makes a broad assessment of the cost of the improvements discussed by the Committee. It regards some rise in fares as the unavoidable price to be paid for an adequate service. But it stresses that it is the duty and interest of both the Board and the union to keep the rise in costs as low as possible, and also to increase receipts by making the service more attractive.

Considering the national interest, the Committee emphasises that its conclusions had sole regard to the special circumstances the employment of busmen in London and to the fact that an adequate public transport system in London is essential to meet the problem of increasing traffic congestion. It is for these reasons the Committee recommends what it describes as "a non-recurrent adjustment" of the position of bus crews in the London wage structure.

The Committee points out that the future of the London bus services now rests in the hands of the Board and the union. It stresses that both parties must be ready to examine and experiment with new methods and to adopt them. The Government strongly support this view. We accept that in London there is a special case for improving pay and conditions for busmen. But there is likewise a special need for improving service to the public. The public has a right to expect the two to go hand in hand. The Government therefore expect both parties in the negotiations to recognise this and to reach a settlement that will ensure the efficient and economical service which is essential in the public interest.

The Committee's Report has been sent to the Board and to the union.

Mr. Webster

Is my right hon.. Friend satisfied that this Report will produce a more efficient service for the public of London? In this respect, does he envisage that there is likely to be increased development of one-man buses and larger buses in that the 40-hour week, the three days' extra holiday and the extra pay for Sunday working must surely be taken into account? Would he say whether one of the major recommendations of the Report is the elimination of the fuel duty, which costs £4.7 million in London and £25 million for bus services outside London?

Mr. Marples

The question of fuel duty is one for my right hon.. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not for me.

As for the efficiency of London bus services, one thing is crystal clear: the Report lays it firmly as a duty on the Board and the union that they must get together and have detailed negotiations as to how they can make the service more efficient, more attractive and cheaper to the general public. I think that the whole House will be behind me when I say that I hope that the Board and the union will get together and hammer this problem out, and, at any rate, accept some innovations to make the service more attractive.

Mr. Strauss

We, too, welcome the Report. Does not the Minister agree that it is a vindication of the attitude long taken by the union and by others who have been concerned about the efficiency of the bus service in London?

Is the right hon.. Gentleman aware that we fully endorse the hope expressed in the Report, and mentioned by the Minister, that, as a result of the more favourable climate which may be brought about by the implementation of the ideas in the Report, we in London may get a more efficient bus service and that there will be better co-operation in the future between the Board and the union in experimentation with new methods and in all methods which may bring about a better service for the people of London?

Mr. Marples

The Report gives the men an extremely fair and reasonable deal, and it is up to them and the Board to produce something for the public of London. I sincerely echo the right hon.. Gentleman's hope that the Board and the union will do just that.

Mr. D. Smith

Is my right hon.. Friend aware that the members of the traveling public in London will welcome this statement, particularly in relation to the fact that a real effort will be made to match wage awards to a better service? London transport users have been crying out for this improved service for a long time. Will my right hon.. Friend make quite sure that there is, in fact, a genuine effort on both sides and not merely lip-service, as has been the case in the past?

Mr. Marples

I hope that that will be the case, and I can promise both the Board and the union that, through the London Traffic Management Unit, we shall do all in our power to help buses to achieve a higher average speed than has been the case for some time in the past. We have often made special provision for buses to go against a one-way street for example, to provide a better service. We are willing to extend such facilities if the Board and the union will get together.

Mr. Mellish

Is it not a fact that the Minister's personal responsibility cannot be ignored and that unless something is done about traffic inside London it is hopeless to have any genuine schedules for buses? Is it not against that background that he must accept some responsibility? Is he aware that at least some of us feel that the time has passed when the Government should accept some responsibility for finance here? We cannot run this public service on the basis of profit and loss, and until the Government are prepared to do something about this they will get into further trouble. Will he do something about it?

Mr. Marples

The Report makes no recommendation about a subsidy. If the hon.. Member reads the Report carefully he will see that in paragraphs 30 to 32 it points out that the average scheduled speeds of central buses on week-days have risen, due to schemes introduced by the present Government.