HC Deb 27 April 1965 vol 711 cc363-72

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

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Charles Morris (Manchester, Openshaw)

The vision of a single public transport authority spanning south Lancashire from the Ribble to the Mersey, from Preston in the north to Manchester and Liverpool in the south-east and south-west, is one which has captured the imagination of many in municipal transport in the North-West since public passenger road transport systems first came into being as a consequence of the Tramways Act of 1870.

Increasingly, traffic and social conditions in contemporary Lancashire, particularly in the conurbations, are fast producing a situation in which the road passenger transport industry will be obliged to consider far-reaching measures of reorganisation. Amalgamations within, and thereby rationalisation of, that area of the industry coming under local authority control is now imperative.

The present position in the area to which I am referring is that approximately 24 separate local authorities maintain independent public transport undertakings. In addition, there are five private company operators. In the Greater Manchester area alone nine municipal transport authorities plus three private bus companies serve a population of just over 2 million, using 2,768 vehicles and running nearly 100 million miles a year.

This is the extent of the problem which has arisen from the understandable desire of local authorities to have a say in the control of local transport services. However, to my mind it is a heavy price to pay to travel under the banner of local autonomy.

Mr. Dennis Hobden (Brighton, Kemptown)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that if these were private companies with private money someone like Charles Clore or Cecil King would have come along and rationalised the lot?

Mr. Morris

That is a valid and fair point to make.

A number of questions are prompted in any consideration of the present public transport situation. The first which comes to mind is this: is municipal transport in south Lancashire organised as efficiently as it might be to meet the change in social conditions? Is it equipped to cater for the future needs of the communities which it serves? Are the travelling public—the commuters—getting value for money? Can the system be improved by amalgamation and reorganisation? The one dominant factor facing public passenger transport during the last 10 years has been the tremendous development of the motor vehicle for private use. At present, one in three families have their own car. In 10 years' time the figure will be one in two.

But, despite the attractions of the private motor car, there will continue to be a considerable demand, and indeed necessity, for public transport. Even within the family there will be diversity of travel and some members will need to use public transport. Also we should never lose sight of the need to provide transport for the old, the infirm and the young.

Apart from the popularity of the motor car and the fact that members of a family no longer of necessity have to live, work and be educated and enjoy their recreation in one and the same township, factories have ceased to be concentrated in squalid industrial areas, and living space, educational establishments and commercial activity have spread beyond the confines of local authority boundaries which are fast losing any practical significance and merely serve to restrict the operating area of the municipal operator, thus virtually excluding them from the more profitable area of public transport, the long distance service. It is a source of wonderment to many that a passenger cannot travel by municipal bus from Manchester to Liverpool without having constantly to change buses.

It is factors such as these which have contrived to create a situation in which a great number of municipal operators find themselves with increasing financial commitments because administrative and overhead costs are mounting while the number of passengers carried—and consequently revenue—is declining. If one needs confirmation of this fact, it is to be found in the Report of the British Transport Holding Company for 1963. Incidentally, this company has substantial holdings in private bus companies in the North-West.

In the paragraph headed "Outlook for Road Passenger Interests," it states: The volume of passenger travel by the basic stage-carriage bus will almost certainly undergo a slow decline … Services outside the heavily congested area will be more vulnerable than those within though the latter will have to cope with the problem of the 'peak' on an increasing scale. A number of municipalities have endeavoured to meet changing social conditions arid to improve their efficiency by entering into inter-operation agreements with contiguous municipal operators. For example, Salford, Ashton, Oldham, Rochdale, Bury, Stockport and the Stalybridge-Hyde-Mossley Joint Board now run their buses in and out of the City of Manchester. It is now possible for a passenger in Manchester to Board any of 57 services at stages within the City which are the subject of inter-operation. On one particular route, the intending passenger may board a bus of any one of four different operators.

This sounds quite an advance until one starts looking at the anomalies which inter-operation throws up. The fares collected on these services have to be arrived at on the basis of the distance travelled within each operator's area. The revenue collected by different authorities has to be apportioned to the inter-operators according to agreed results of revenue checks. The administrative procedures involved in the consequential mathematical computations are legion. In this regard, I am obliged to the distinguished Chief Accountant of the Manchester Corporation Transport Department, Mr. H. K. Greaves, for the very informed and lucid memorandum on this subject which he has made available to me.

It is my view that amalgamations of the kind which I should like to see come into being would obviate many of the problems which now exist and which make the municipal operator better fitted to meet the changed social conditions.

My association with municipal transport convinces me that it has a future, and not solely in the provision of buses. Monorail developments must be a consideration in the future development of major cities such as Liverpool and Man- chester. Underground tube systems making access to city centres for the out-of-town shopper and commuter are a field in which municipal transport can expand, but capital requirements will necessitate larger groupings of capital resources.

The existing multiplicity of municipal bus undertakings each separately administered and controlled, with fares structures, passenger regulations and operating standards completely independent of each other, has given rise to anomalies which in their effect on passengers travelling within adjacent municipal areas must leave the individual passenger incredulous and perplexed.

Examining the 13 Acts of Parliament and regulations governing the operations of eight of the municipal undertakings in the south Lancashire area produces the following information. Children's fares, it would seem, vary according to the municipality controlling the buses. Generally speaking, children up to the age of 17 enjoy half fares, but this has not prevented some authorities from restricting the concession by imposing time limits on the period of validity. One local authority restricts the concession to travelling to and from school, whilst another designates the time of attendance at school as until 5.30 p.m. Monday to Friday whilst a third adds, somewhat ominously, attending school providing that children over 14 wear school uniform with badge". Dogs are the subject of a number of conflicting regulations. Generally speaking, corporations may charge any sum they wish not exceeding the fare payable by the passenger in charge of the dog. One municipal undertaking carries dogs free, adding in brackets "if not large", whilst another adds the proviso "Free (if of reasonable size)", and adds, "in charge of passengers". The mother with her pram finds that her decision to travel by bus is influenced by whether the vehicle provided by the local authority has sufficient luggage space to carry her pram. The recently-introduced travel concession to the elderly in application has caused a host of further anomalies. Whether the elderly gain the concession depends upon the financial position of the individual undertaking or local council.

The advantages likely to flow from bringing municipal transport authorities in South Lancashire under greater centralised control are, first, a common fares scale, in both fares and distances. Conditions of travel would be common on all vehicles and throughout the area. Closer co-ordination of local maintenance facilities would follow. There would be a more even mixing of the remunerative and less remunerative services in the area and uniformity in the conditions of service for staff. There would also be an appreciable saving in administrative costs. These are vital considerations which, I hope, will command the support of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary tonight.

Looking at the position of public transport in relation to Parliament, it is true to say that Salford Corporation——

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that Salford Corporation first posed this matter in Parliament in 1929, in a Private Bill seeking powers to create the South-East Lancashire Tramways and Omnibus Board?

Mr. Morris

I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), because I fully appreciate the interest which he has shown in public transport in that city over a long number of years.

The point made by my hon. Friend is quite correct. As he says, it was the Salford Corporation which first posed this issue to Parliament in 1929 in a Bill seeking powers to create the South-East Lancashire Tramways and Omnibus Board. At that time, however, notwithstanding the rejection of the Bill, it is reported that the Chairman of the House of Commons Committee which had considered the provisions of the Bill stated that the Committee favoured a larger comprehensive scheme.

Again, in 1947, the Transport Act of that year envisaged area passenger transport schemes, and in consequence a pilot scheme in the North-East was proposed. Unfortunately, that scheme never got off the ground, because the local authorities at that time were already in the process of losing control of a number of public utilities and a number of local authorities favoured municipal joint boards.

Regardless of the schemes or groupings which ultimately emerge, I ask my hon. Friend this evening to bring his influence and authority to bear to rationalise the organisation of municipal passenger public transport in the south Lancashire area. The impending publication of the survey of transport in the North-West may very well provide the basis on which reorganisation could get under way. Having said that, I thank him in anticipation of the consideration which he will give to this issue, and I would leave him with one thought: in this problem, urgency has never been more urgent.

10.31 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

This is a very important subject and I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles Morris) for having raised it. We in the House all know that he has substantial and valuable experience in the administration of transport, and he has put a very powerful case.

The provision of good public transport is, we recognise, a very important element in grappling with the problem of the future development of our urban areas, and I want to say right away that my right hon. Friend will be very glad at any time to consider any proposals for the improvement of urban public transport, and all the points which my hon. Friend has raised, and which have been interpolated by some of my other hon. Friends into his speech, will be studied very carefully in my Department.

We recognise that this is, of course, not just a local problem in south Lancashire. It is a problem which has national implications. The question whether there should be more amalgamations of municipal public transport is by no means confined to the Manchester and south Lancashire area. We find it in London and other areas—Yorkshire, the Midlands, and also in the North-East—but the area with which my hon. Friend is concerned, and part of which he represents, does demonstrate the issue very clearly.

As my hon. Friend has said, in the Manchester and south Lancashire area there is a multiplicity of local authority transport undertakings and there is also a network provided by other operators, partially publicly owned, partially privately owned—Ribble, Lancashire United Transport, and the North Western Road Car Company. There is a good deal of inter-working between the municipal undertakings, and between them and the company operators. As my hon. Friend has said, some routes are operated by as many as four undertakings. Indeed, within my hon. Friend's own constituency there is the Manchester-Glossop route in which the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne Corporations, the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Board and the North Western Road Car Company are all concerned.

Such inter-workings do, of course, involve some very complex arrangements between the undertakings in one another's territories and in the share out of the revenue received. The joint workings to which my hon. Friend draws attention have been devised to meet a particular situation where the boundaries of those operators overlap. These arrangements allow passengers to travel from one area to another without having to change vehicles at local authority boundaries. Generally speaking, the arrangements are practical, and my Department receives little complaint from the travelling public atom them. The traffic commissioners can ensure that fares on these joint services are co-ordinated, though, as my hon. Friend emphasised, there are bound to be anomalies between one undertaking and another.

We recognise that the benefits of amalgamation lie in the operating sphere. Undertakings covering larger areas might well be able to provide more efficient and competent services, combined fleets, combined services, savings of maintenance and office staffs, less book-keeping, and so on.

We have inherited a situation, the anomalies of which are historical. Local authorities derive their powers from local Acts built up over the years from the days of the trams, and the company operators have also built up important stakes in these areas. They depend on certain more profitable routes to support services over wider areas of less profitable routes, and the licensing system operated by the traffic commissioners holds the balance between these different kinds of operators.

The traffic commissioners cannot actually impose any mergers of undertakings, and, therefore, it is quite right——

Mr. Charles Mapp (Oldham, East)

My hon. Friend referred to the need for wider operational areas. Would he direct his mind to the limitations of the 1930 Act? Various corporations can carry their workers, frequently at less than the normal cost, for five days a week, but, by a dogmatic Act of Parliament, they are precluded from carrying those same workers to Brighton or to Blackpool for a week end's enjoyment. Those limitations have been imposed on them by dogma. If they had freedom to carry their workers at the weekend, their vehicles would be in use for seven days a week, and their men would not suffer a loss in earnings. In addition, of course, their overheads would be reduced.

Mr. Swingler

My hon. Friend has made a powerful point. Unfortunately, I have not the time to go into great detail about it. I recognise that we have inherited a number of obsolescent provisions in this matter. The 1930 Act may be one of them, and we shall be going into that matter in more detail.

It is right that my hon. Friend should call on us to take a new look at the whole situation, because of the great number of anomalies, inefficiencies, obsolete doctrines, and so on, which have created difficulties. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that a new look was being taken over a wide field at conurbation transport, and in particular at transport in areas such as those to be found in many parts of Lancashire.

The proposal to amalgamate municipal bus services in an area like south Lancashire raises the whole wider question of the future of public transport, which requires very careful and thorough study. It is not only a matter of the municipal undertakings. It is a question of the future of the railways, and the future of other services provided in the more rural areas.

The Buchanan Report stresses the utter futility of trying to plan our cities on the basis of the private motor car, and the inevitable congestion which the extension of private motor car transport, with all the advantages that it offers to families, leads to in our cities. It is generally accepted that in urban areas the bus services, and in many places the suburban railways, as well as new forms of transport like the monorail, have a vital part to play in carrying peak hour commuter traffic, and in providing an essential public service in off peak hours.

It is also widely recognised that the future pattern of land use has a profound influence on transport requirements. This, of course, is a lesson which has been learned in London, where office building schemes have been allowed in the very centre of the city without due provision having been made for the transport requirements of the workers using those offices; and that is the reason why, under an intelligent Government, something is being done by way of a Bill already before the House.

It follows that we must plan the development of public transport as part of the general planning of our cities and the traffic arrangements in them, and that is why the Government attach such importance to the comprehensive land use-transport studies now being undertaken in most of the conurbations and in some of the free-standing towns.

One of these studies is already in hand in the area which covers my hon. Friend's constituency and I should like to take this opportunity to say something about the aims and methods of the south-east Lancashire and north-east Cheshire conurbation study and to indicate how the results will help Manchester and the other local authorities concerned to make better plans for a co-ordinated development both of roads and of public transport so as to fit in with their general plans for redevelopment.

This study is being undertaken by a firm of consulting engineers under the general control of a steering committee on which all the local authorities concerned, together with transport operators and Government Departments are represented. The study has set itself the most challenging objectives. First, the existing pattern of movement of passengers and goods, by rail as well as by road, by public as well as by private transport, will be surveyed in detail.

At the same time, detailed information will be collected on the distribution of land uses, population, employment, car ownership, and all the other factors which affect the demand for transport. The aim is to establish the precise relationships between these factors and the transport demands which they generate. The next step will be to use the basic transport relationships to project forward the pattern, in detail, of future demand, associated with the forecast changes in land use, population, car ownership, and so on.

The third stage will be to prepare alternative transportation plans covering road and public transport systems, in an endeavour to find a system which will ensure the best use, and the best balance, of public and private transport. Inevitably, this process will take some time to complete, and planning the study itself is an immensely complex task; indeed, I can tell the House that the consultants are still working on a detailed design study. After this study has been completed and approved by the steering committee, the whole project will probably take up to three years to complete. The survey in this area will give us essential information on which to base future transport planning in the Manchester and South Lancashire areas.

Until we have these results, we cannot forecast exactly what the best solution to the transport problems will be. It may well be that a quite new pattern of public transport, both by road and by rail, will be required throughout the conurbation. Certainly, I am convinced that radical changes will be required in the structure and the organisation of transport. However the system may work at present, the needs of the conurbations in the decades ahead will require the most comprehensive planning on the basis of scientific data.

We therefore hope that all the parties who are at present concerned in the provision of transport in these localities will not be afraid of new ideas, that they will accept the challenge of the need to plan the use of land and transport together on the most comprehensive basis, and that they will work with us with a real sense of urgency to achieve and implement the new schemes which—my hon. Friend is undoubtedly right—will be required for the future benefit of our people.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at a quarter to Eleven o'clock.