§ 10.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Tom Fraser)
I beg to move,That the London Transport Board (Borrowing Powers) Order, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.The Transport Act, 1962, set a limit of £ 200 million to borrowing by the London Transport Board. This limit, incidentally, included the Board's commencing capital debt of £ 162 million. The Act provides that the limit can be raised by Order up to a maximum of £ 270 million. This Order increases the limit to £ 250 million. The Board's investment in 1963 and 1964 totalled £ 38 million. The figure this year is likely to be about £ 23 million. Of this total investment of £ 61 million, some £ 31 million was financed by loans from the Exchequer after taking into account financing from the Board's own resources. On the basis of the present programme, expenditures in 1966 and 1967 are expected to be about the same as for this year. The House will therefore recognise that by about the end of this year the Board will reach the limit of £ 200 million, and the addition of another £ 50 million which this Order seeks should take it on for about another three years at the current rate of capital investment.
I think that this is as far as we should go at the present time. Under the Act we would be permitted to go up to £ 270 million, but I think that it is desirable that the House should have an opportunity at least once in three years of considering the amount made available to the nationalised industries by their borrowing, and that is why I have set the limit in this Order at £ 250 million. The House will probably not wish me at this time of the evening to detail what the different expenditures are likely to be in the next three years, but if questions are asked about it I shall be very happy to reply.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)
I thank the Minister for his courtesy in making his second pronouncement to us. It was a quieter and con- 1072 siderably briefer announcement than the earlier one. It involves a considerable amount of money, and because of that I thank him for his courtesy in explaining it to the House. It is the duty of the House to scrutinise expenditure, particularly when there is a cutting back of a number of fields of public expenditure. The Minister made a number of Delphic utterances during the Erith and Crayford by-election, and when one sees this very considerable increase in borrowing powers one wonders whether there are not some questions of substance that should be asked as our duty to the public as a whole — the taxpayers, the people who have to provide the money.
I would first ask the Minister: does this mean that there is to be no increase in fares, or does it mean that there is to be a fares increase as well? Or what is the fares policy to be? I realise that this is a very difficult problem, and one that London Transport itself would wish to be cleared up as quickly as possible. Those of us who have had the benefit of reading the very fine Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, published three weeks ago, are aware that there are very considerable non-partisan problems involved here, and we should very much like an answer to those questions.
We have to face the fact that in this country there are people who, for genuine reasons, wish to subsidise public transport in order to relieve congestion. This is an honourable and respectable view— though not necessarily one that I share— but one wishes to know the Minister's and the Government's policy on this subject. We hope that he will give us the answers we seek, and that in this case we shall have a smack of firm government, and be able to note the Government's policy on this point.
Various explanations have been given in the Annual Report of the London Transport Board and various breakdowns have been made, but I should like to know how much is for capital expenditure and how much the Minister estimates is for revenue expenditure. I understand that there has been a complete review of the power supply for the Underground railway system, and that it is estimated that this amounts to £ 11½ million for Lots Road and other installations. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if that estimate 1073 still stands firm or if there is to be supplementary expenditure for this.
How much of the total is for new rolling stock? We have the benefit of the Central and Piccadilly lines, which have been considerably improved in the last few years, not only in the last 13 months but in the 13 years as well. I should like the Minister to tell us a little more as he so willingly offered more information. There are the new stations at Tower Hill and London Bridge. This is capital expenditure as well as the actual capital expenditure on repayment. I was about to say that the late lamented Minister of Technology has now disappeared into his computer. We have the estimate for the Victoria line, £ 2.5 million in 1963 and £8.5 million last year. Are there to be any delays in the near future over that, although I gather that most of the contracts have been signed?
As well as actual expenditure there are certain savings. London Transport must be given the credit for the fact that it has done a considerable amount in pioneering the automatic train and automatic ticket schemes. These are things which we welcome and if the Minister can give us estimates on these matters we shall be obliged because we are the nation's custodians and it is our duty to inquire into them.
§ Mr. Webster
I shall not make it short, although the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) seems to take the view that I should do so. He probably wants to go home to bed— perhaps not by public transport, although I do not know about that. It is our duty to inquire into these matters, and I hope that the hon. Member will contribute a little more concretely and substantially to these debates.
I should like to know if there have been transport savings in collaboration with the unions as a result of the Phelps Brown Committee. This was appreciated as a break-through in labour relations. We frequently hear that there is to be increased productivity in this matter through better relations with the trade unions. I believe that is the case. Although it may be early to say, I should 1074 be glad if the Minister can tell us how much saving there can be by this means.
I have mentioned the problem of fares which was gone into by the Select Committee and the London Transport Board. There is a great difficulty here. There is a quick procedure for raising fares and other procedures. It is necessary that we should have an assurance from the Minister that he will press on the Leader of the House that there should be a full debate on the Report by the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, which was so cheered by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell). That is a Report of great substance, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent), a former Chairman of that Committee, took a considerable part in the proceedings.
I hope that we can be informed about the findings of the Committee. I understand that it reported that London Transport had been falling down on two obligations. One was to provide an adequate service and the other was the financial obligation. It may be found that the financial obligation is too harsh at present with the ever-rising costs. Again I should be grateful for information if the Minister can give it to us.
We have the estimate from the London Transport Board that if there is no rise in fares and wage increases continue as estimated, there will be during the financial year a loss of £3.25 million, next year £6 million and then a loss of £8 million, and there will be a short-fall over the financial target which, we must remember, was freely agreed between the Board and the Minister, of £33½ million in the five years 1963–67. It would be a hard decision indeed if "Hop on a Bus" became a sixpenny bus ride. The estimate of the amount of custom that London Transport would lose if this should occur and if the two-mile run should become a ninepenny one is frightening. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure us that we can have a debate on this subject and go into it thoroughly.
I return to the subject of the Phelps Brown Committee and the break-through which has been made. This is very encouraging. I am sorry that the Minister of Technology is not here, because not only has he sold a computer to London 1075 Transport, but it is his union which has been involved in these negotiations. The negotiations have not been easy. They have been conducted with much more encouraging good sense on both sides in the last six months. We welcome this.
This week I have ridden on a No. 24 bus. This is a front-opening bus, which again will be labour-saving. One appreciates that there would be difficulties involved in going further than this and getting rid of the conductor altogether. Sir Donald Stokes's remarks to the Institute of Directors were probably a little too optimistic when he suggested that we could get rid of half the conductors in this country. This would be very difficult to do on the short-haul buses. What hopes has the Minister for this? What are the results of the experimental trips on the No. 24 route? Does he consider that there will be a considerable saving of labour costs in the short-term future?
I conclude on what I consider to be a slightly more controversial note. In the first year of this Government's term of office we have had in the public sector a very considerable increase in borrowing powers and public expenditure at the expense of the tax-payer. It is our duty to look into this closely. In the gas industry alone there has been an increase in borrowing powers from £650 million to £1,000 million, possibly to be increased to £1,200 million in five years' time with no recourse to Parliament. This is what worries me. Today we have a new Bill relating to the coal industry's borrowing powers. There is to be an increase in London Transport Board's borrowing powers. I should not be in the slightest degree surprised if there were an increase in the electricity industry's borrowing powers before long, if the recent power cuts are any indication. It therefore appears that in the public sector there is a considerable increase in expenditure and in borrowing powers.
At the same time as there is being an increase in the public sector, the private sector is being squeezed. At one minute the Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying that the squeeze must be increased, tightened and made more intense. The next minute he says to the Institute of Directors that we need more investment and that profits are a good thing. These are difficult to reconcile when bank over- 1076 drafts are being squeezed and when there is a penal rate of interest. There is, on the one side, the increase in borrowing powers in the public sector. At the same time there is the sharp squeeze in the private sector. It is for these reasons, and for other reasons more of an administrative nature, that I ask the House to consider this Order most seriously before, and if, it allows it to go through.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Popplewell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I should not have intervened in this debate but for an article which appeared in the Daily Mail on the 15th of this month. Let me say, echoing the speech made by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster), that it probably rests with the Opposition as to what type of debate takes place on a day devoted to the nationalised industries. If it were possible to debate the recent Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries dealing with London's transport, it would indeed perform a very useful service. I very much hope that this can be arranged.
The article, to which I take strong exception, refers to the cost of the Victoria line extension. A considerably misleading impression is given in it that the cost of constructing the line will go up by at least another £ 10 million. We all know that when the line was originally agreed upon the estimated cost was about £ 56 million. This was in 1962. There were delays, for which I am not prepared to apportion blame at this stage, and it is now estimated that the line will cost not about £ 65 million as the article states but £ 63. 1 million.
The extra £10 million referred to in the article is not due to an increase in construction costs, as far as can be ascertained at the moment, but because London Transport, very rightly, is making due provision for the inclusion of automatic train control. This is an important point which must be borne in mind. If this automatic control is put into operation it will be a tremendous asset. It shows forward thinking in planning modernisation, as does also the wish of London Transport to introduce automatic ticket collection when that system has been perfected. Such a system would represent a considerable saving and would be generally beneficial.
1077 I make this point purely and simply to correct the false impression that is likely to be given to the public as a result of the publication of that article, which also suggests that instead of being completed in 1969 it is expected that completion of the line will take at least a further two years. This is something quite new. It is not fair to public boards that misleading observation like this should appear in print We who are members of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries have a duty to try to correct this type of thing. Heaven knows, there are plenty of brickbats which can be justifiably thrown at various organisations but on this occasion it is necessary to get the record right.
The Minister has no alternative but to ask the House to approve the present Order, and I sincerely hope that the House will do so without difficulty.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Nugent (Guildford)
May I begin, slightly out of order, by congratulating the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) upon his successful chairmanship of the Committee to which he has referred, the Report of which has been of great help to us in considering this Order.
I look forward with interest to the Minister's answers to inquiries from hon. Members about the Victoria line. The extra £ 50 million which the Minister is asking the House to approve will be a large sum of money for the taxpayer to find. It is natural that we here should ask exactly what it is to be spent on and that people outside should want to be assured that they will have value for their money. The very large increases in taxation which the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends have put upon the country in the past twelve months make the taxpayer sensitive about the spending of his money. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the need to explain just how the money is to be spent and to convince not only the House of Commons but the country as a whole that it will be well spent and that people will get good value from it.
The great Victoria line project, which was started in the time of the Conservative Government, will bring great benefits to Londoners, and we all look forward to its completion. We are anxious to know how much of this money is to be 1078 spent on it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able also either to confirm or refute the rumours reported in the Press to which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West adverted. In particular, can he clear up the doubt about the finishing date?
Heaven knows, the commuters who have to make this daily trip, especially from Victoria Station to offices in the Mayfair area of London, most of them having to walk it, long to have this new underground line. A delay for two years, as is suggested, would be very hard upon them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has good news for us and can confirm the original date for completion, that is, early 1969, with the first part open at the end of 1968.
The Select Committee raised an important point with regard to the tunnelling teams for the Victoria line. How much of this money, if approved, will be used for further underground lines in London? We all realise how small is the prospect of greater travel on the surface now. However difficult the finance may be to find, it will be necessary to construct further underground lines in London. No one doubts that our underground system is the finest in the world, but we shall need more.
All our evidence and the evidence in the great cities of the world is that one secures the best value for money with tunnelling teams if there is a regular phased programme, with a certain amount being done every year. The bringing together and training of a team of a very costly business. Now that a highly expert tunnelling team has been assembled for the Victoria line, the House will want to hear from the Minister that he has planned and provided out of this money for that tunnelling team to go on, after the completion of the Victoria line, to other tunnelling projects on a phased system which will keep them going year after year on new underground schemes. What plans has the right hon. Gentleman in that respect, and do they include— I hope that they do—the proposed Fleet line which would be a tremendous help to London?
Does the Minister intend to spend part of this £50 million to cover the subsidy which he decided this summer to give to the London Transport Board when he directed the Board not to raise its fares, as it had planned to do in order to cover 1079 increased costs? That involves a sum of £ 3. 85 million and the House should be told whether the Minister intends to use some of the £50 million to pay for that subsidy.
The House will have observed that the Select Committee passed a Motion of censure on the right hon. Gentleman for prejudicing the making of its report, but I cannot pursue that now, unfortunately. Nevertheless, the effect of his intervention will cost the Board a sum of money in the coming year and the House should be told whether he intends to use some of the £50 million for the purpose and also what is to happen at the end of the year.
The Minister, when he stepped in to prevent the Board putting up fares, said he was carrying out a complete review of the affairs of London Transport and that a decision would be taken by the end of the year and put into action next year. We should be told what the result of the review is. What is he going to do next? Will the Board be allowed next year to put up fares to cover increased costs? If not, will he provide further subsidies? What is his policy in this connection?
This matter goes far beyond the affairs of London Transport because the money is found by the taxpayers generally. What do the taxpayers in Scotland think about this? How does the right hon. Gentleman explain to his constituents that he is using their money to help keep London fares down? This is a matter of principle.
The policy of the Government is to restrain the magnetism of London. They are restricting office buildings and are giving subsidies to development areas. But here is the right hon. Gentleman asking for money to make London more attractive. It is an odd contradiction. He must have a very special reason to explain to the House.
§ Sir R. Nugent
He shakes his head, but I hope he has a reason. He is asking us to agree to a very large sum of money, which is hard earned and hard given. He takes it in extra taxes and it is up to him to justify what he is to spend it on and why. I ask him for more detail about this money and how it is to be spent. He says 1080 that it will last another three years. What is the programme? Is a rolling programme going forward, particularly on the Underground? What are the plans for buses? He has an obligation to tell us a little more about how this money is to be spent and to give the assurances that it will be well spent.
I am an admirer and a regular user of London Transport and, despite all the criticisms, I regard it as still the finest city transport system in the world. But what is being done to meet its very difficult problems? The right hon. Gentleman must tell us a little more within the limited scope of the debate.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) is a member of the Select Committee on the Nationalised Industries, as I am. Is he arguing against the expansion of the London Transport system and the spending of money for that purpose? I gathered that, as a member of the Committee, he was in favour, as I was, of the efficient running of the system and of the spending of money for its proper expansion. Will he tell us where he stands?
§ Sir R. Nugent
I felt that I was limited to addressing my mind to this specific provision of additional capital for the Board and I did not develop at any length my general view on the Board, although I said at the end that I regard the Board as a highly efficient body and I wish it to have the capital which it requires. That, I think, is sufficient to answer the hon. Member. My criticism of the Minister was directed to his action during the summer in preventing the Board from raising fares, as it intended, and then committing the taxpayers' money by a subsidy of nearly £4 million, which everybody in the country has to pay, in order to keep fares down. We are entitled to ask what is the Minister's policy on this matter and how does he justify using taxpayers' money in this way. What will he do next? Will the Board be allowed to put up fares? I am all in favour of the Board, which I think does a very fine job. I want it to go ahead and to get modernised, but I want the Minister to justify what he is asking from the House.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Thompson (Croydon, South)
Unlike my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) 1081 I was not a member of the Select Committee. The Minister is asking for authority to raise by £ 50 million the borrowing powers of the London Transport Board, and I make it clear that I shall require a good deal more conviction than I have at the moment that it is wise and prudent for us to advance a sum of money for purposes not yet specified to an organisation which has been under complaint and daily criticism for many years for certain aspects of its services.
The Select Committee's Report on London Transport turned out to be one of the most critical documents we have seen for a long time, and that lends force to my argument that, as the Select Committee thought that there was so much which could be improved and so much which was going wrong with the affairs of London Transport, surely it is sensible for us to probe this a little more deeply before we blithely agree to the Board borrowing another £50 million to go on as it has gone on in the past.
The Economist, normally a fairly sober and responsible organ of opinion, referred to this report—which I have in my hand —in these terms:The tumbling ant heap that goes with the name of the Ministry of Transport and the Minister who sits atop it thoroughly deserve all the controlled abuse they got this week for their handling of the affairs of London Transport.This is the Board and there is the Minister who now come before us and pass round the hat, saying,"For my good purposes I require another £ 50 million". Maybe he does, but as a regular user of the services of the Board and a reader of the criticism which the Select Committee put forward, I want much more satisfactory assurances that the money will be properly and wisely spent.
What seems to have infuriated the Select Committee was this business of paying lip-service to London Transport's freedom to run its own business in a commercial way while at the same time arbitrarily overriding the management when it suits the Minister's book to do so. It is extremely difficult for a public corporation to try to do two things— to run its affairs on a commercial basis, as it is required, and, secondly, to be subject to the sudden directions of a Minister who decides for his own reasons, good, bad or indifferent, or just political, that certain things cannot be allowed to go on.
1082 Earlier this year, we had the Minister's intervention to prevent a rise in fares. This gives rise to the query whether some of the money proposed to be borrowed under these arrangements is to be used to subsidise that arrangement. There is no doubt that originally it was thought to be quite "inconceivable"—a word used by a witness giving evidence to the Select Committee—that the Ministerwould bring pressure to bear on a chairman to restrain him from increasing tariffs if those increases were commercially necessary".What was inconceivable at that time became fact very soon afterwards when, as we know, the Minister successfully pressed his advice on the chairman of the Board to do just that.
From all this it seems that the Select Committee was thoroughly dissatisfied with the way in which this show was being run, and that is why I shall require more solid assurances about how the money is to be spent before we vote it. In a final crack at the Minister—because that is what it amounts to and we have already heard how something very close to a motion of censure was passed by the Select Committee on the right hon. Gentleman—the Committee said in its conclusion in paragraph 76:Your Committee conclude that it would be in the best interests on the Board if the Ministry restrained their non-statutory concern in the affairs of the BoardThat is a pretty good slap in the face. I do not know whether the Minister deserves all the harsh things which his colleagues in the House were saying and writing about him, but I am certain that those of us who were not members of the Committee will want to know whether those comments were justified before we agree to lending all this additional money.
The Minister said quite fairly that we would not expect him to categorise every single thing on which the money was to be spent. Of course that is so, but there are one or two things in the general conclusions of the Committee which he should tell us about. For instance, in paragraph 583 it is said:In conjunction with British Railways, the Board have drawn up plans for three new underground railway lines. The Ministry have not yet thought it advisable for those plans to be published. But Your Committee think that they are now defined clearly enough to warrant their publication and so indicate to the travelling public the measures being proposed to meet its needs.What could be fairer than that?
1083 Many times in the House I have advocated an extension of the London Underground system, particularly the Victoria line. By some curious coincidence, my recommendations have invariably suggested that it should be extended into my constituency. It is an admirable suggestion, but the public ought to know where these three new underground lines are to run. It could make a tremendous difference to the daily battle of thousands of commuters if they felt that at the end of the road there was some hope of an additional tube service being provided for them.
In paragraph 584 the Select Committee says:The Board also have plans for automatic train operation and automated ticket control which promise significant economies. In both these fields London Transport have been pioneers.I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can tell us something about automatic train control. Perhaps that would include the driverless trains on which I understand experiments are taking place— so I was told in answer to Questions. Earlier today we had a debate about all the plans for the co-ordination of transport and all the rest of it and it was a great pity that we did not then hear from the Minister much more about how he proposes to apply these great new technological advances to his task. We heard so much in the debate about the sterile old business of branch lines and all that, the closure or non-closure of which will certainly not make transport fully viable. I hope that the Minister can tell us something about this automated train. Paragraph 586 makes the comment:One of these is the one-man operated ' standee bus, carrying 80 passengers at a flat rate fare over distances of up to four miles. There has been a six or seven year delay in introducing one-man buses in the centre of London and Your Committee consider it is regrettable that this useful relief of the rush hour has been held up for so long.So do I, and I think that it is about time that we heard where these plans have got to and when we must expect them to be carried out.
§ Mr. Palmer
Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the quotation he has read was a condemnation of his Minister 1084 of Transport, and not of my right hon. Friend?
§ Sir R. Thompson
No, Sir, I do not entirely accept that. What the paragraph says is that the Committee is blaming the London Transport Board and its management. I do not know whether it is right in that, but it is not blaming the Minister, it is blaming the operating concern which should have brought this in and which had the plans and did not execute them.
The whole of this Report is highly critical of London Transport. I do not know to what extent that criticism is justified, but there is a tremendous amount of it, and it is clearly the view of the Committee that a management shake-up is pretty desirable. If we are being asked to advance another £ 50 million I think that we should have satisfactory answers as to how it is proposed to reorganise the administration of this concern, and also the main heads of expenditure which the Minister hopes to finance by means of this additional money, which, if wisely chosen, will mean a better deal for London commuters in the future.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I fully agree with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson), particularly on the subject of the Underground. I hope the Minister will tell us a little more about what is going on so far as this is concerned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) said that we have the finest underground system in the world. In my view this is far too complacent. I believe that Paris has a better system than this country. If one looks at the map one will see that per square mile Paris has four more lines than London—
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Four times as many. I am obliged. In other words the underground system of Paris is four times as intense as that of London. When I was a member of the Western European Union I took advantage, on many occasions, of travelling by underground. There is a station nearly every quarter of a mile. There are lines running north and south and east and west, and it is far easier to get an underground train in Paris. I want the Minister to look at this matter.
1085 One essential link is that mentioned in the Select Committee's Report, from Waterloo to Aldwych. If one stands on Waterloo on a wet and windy morning, it is pathetic to see the crowd of thousands of commuters trying to cross from Waterloo to Aldwych and up to Hol-born. We need this underground link. The Select Committee said the Board claim the problem of this line is one of timing. I think that this is a pathetic excuse. The Committee says:there are practical reasons for doing it straight away, yet it may be better to leave it over until it is essential, perhaps in 15 or 20 years' time.It is absolutely essential to have this additional line now.
I should have thought that, in addition to the routes mentioned, it would be an advantage to have an underground running under the King's Road up from Chelsea up to Sloane Square, taking the weight of traffic off the No. 11 bus. A former chairman of London Transport told me, when the Victoria line was being discussed,"We should have to add one-eighth of a penny to the fares to pay for the line." I believe that the crowds of people waiting 15, 20 or 30 minutes for a bus in London would gladly pay one-eighth of a penny extra to get more of these lines than they have at the moment.
§ Mr. Popplewell
In fairness, in view of the statement he is making, the hon. Member ought to refer to paragraph 582 of the Report, from which he will learn that London Transport was pressing for the Victoria tube extension in 1955 and it was not until 1962 that it received authority to go ahead. It is not, therefore, accurate to criticise London Transport: the responsibility rested fairly and squarely on the Minister of Transport of the day, who was one of his right hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Of course, we are all aware that London Transport was pressing for the Victoria tube: so were many hon. Members. The difficulty at that time was raising the finance for it.
What I am saying is that it is a very backward-looking view of London Transport to say that the much needed extension from Waterloo to Aldwych will not be needed for 15 or 20 years. Then there is the delay of six or seven years 1086 in the introduction of "standee" buses. London Transport say that they are experimenting: but what are they waiting for? We know that these buses are wanted. They are essential in London. Double-decker buses make their own congestion: it takes 40 seconds or a minute to get on or off. I should like to see in London what they have all over the world—buses with two doors, one for the passengers to get on and one for them to get off, with the conductor standing by the exit door to collect the fares.
One of London Transport's troubles has been its labour relations. As the Select Committee says, quite rightly, the personnel department of London Transport could be greatly strengthened in order to improve this. Again, London Transport has been rightly criticised for not developing enough parking spaces for motor cars at outlying stations like Osterley and other stations in the West of London. Why does it have to be left to local councils like my own borough of Richmond to develop parking spaces? Why should not London Transport do it?
They talk about their automatic ticket machines, but one cannot get change for sixpence when one wants a 4d. ticket. People trying to get a ticket to Victoria from Westminster and other short distances have to go to the booking clerk if they have sixpence because they cannot get change from the machine. London Transport say that they are waiting for decimal coinage: they will have to wait until the heavens fall for that.
I believe my constituents are right, and, as a Londoner, I think I am right to say that we have had years of frustration and delay from London Transport. As Londoners, we ought to insist now that they go ahead with a big programme of underground transport to take the weight of traffic and congestion off the streets. I hope the Minister will tell us that he is in favour of that and that much of this £ 50 million will be devoted to that purpose.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
As a Member for a Scottish constituency who is not a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, I may be thought something of an intruder involving myself in this discussion. But I feel reassured by the comments of my 1087 right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent). It is precisely. for the reasons which he mentioned in his intervention that I felt that there was a case for putting some questions to the Minister on behalf of people who are not generally represented here in constituencies in Scotland.
Like my right hon. Friend, I feel very concerned about the way in which the Ministry appears to be approaching the financial responsibilities of the London Transport Board. We have already had several references to the Minister's decision to intervene to prevent a fares increase this summer and to guarantee the Board a £ 4 million subsidy.
I would like to think that we cannot assume, but I cannot help wondering whether we should not, that the additional borrowing powers which the Minister is requesting for the Board under the Order will go the same way. To my mind, it is not simply a parochial issue of objections from Scotland on the part of Scots being expected to pay through the Exchequer for services which they seldom, if ever, use.
§ Mr. Tom Fraser
Does the hon. Gentleman really think that the passengers of British Railways in north-east Scotland, particularly Banffshire, pay for the services that they get?
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
If the right hon. Gentleman would mind waiting until I come to my point, he will see that that is precisely the argument I am not making. If I can attract the right hon. Gentleman's attention for one moment, my precise point is that I am not concerned with the fact that because the Government step in to exonerate the London Transport Board from the normal considerations of good housekeeping, taxpayers in Scotland are required to pay for services that they seldom, if ever, use. My point is that these activities by the Government in subsidising the fares of the London Transport Board act in direct contradiction of all the policies of regional development and regional planning to which the Government have so frequently paid lip service.
Every time that the Government step in, as I suspect they are doing under the terms of the Order, to exonerate the 1088 inhabitants of the South-East or the Midlands from the consequences of overcrowding and over-employment and the drift to the South, from the economic consequences and the burden in costs on the whole infra-structure, including transport, they are in fact encouraging that drift to the south of the country which they spend a certain amount of their time saying that they are trying to reverse.
About the most significant and meaningful contribution to regional development made by the Government to date has been the £ 4 million subsidy to the London Transport Board, and, as far as most of us in Scotland are concerned, that is regional development in reverse.
It is sometimes argued that increasing the fares of the London Transport Board might be self-defeating because it would drive the passengers away. I would like to draw the Minister's attention to one paragraph in the Report of the Select Committee, because it seems to me to be highly significant. In paragraph 552, the Select Committee is referring to the evidence of the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, and the hon. Gentleman is quoted as accepting thatquite sizeable ' increases in fares were needed if the Board were even to approach their financial objective and this must be expected to cause ' quite startling reductions in the amount of traffic '.But "—and this is the comment of the Select Committee—London Transport were nowhere near the point at which the loss of traffic would entirely offset increased fares, nor had they ever indicated a point at which it would do so.This is the crux of the matter. There is no evidence that the Board has reached, or even approached, the point at which increases in fares would be self-defeating.
As I say, I suspect that this Order will give the Minister further grounds for future interventions. I suspect that his interventions so far have been designed with nothing more or less than a political objective in mind, and that is an objective of which, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I suggest that, as a Scotsman representing a Scots constituency, he should be ashamed.
I was a great admirer of the Minister's predecessor in the previous Administration, but I was quite pleased to see a Scotsman chosen for this job. I begin to 1089 think that it would be a very good thing if we had another Englishman taking the right hon. Gentleman's place.
§ 11.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
Some of my hon. Friends and I have for several years been urging that the London Transport management needs a shake-up. We believe that it is our job, particularly those of us from the London area, to make these cries on behalf of the commuting public because, by and large, the person travelling in the London area has a pretty raw deal. This is largely due to overcrowding, but we believe that unless we continue to keep up pressure on this point the Minister of Transport and all associated with the management of London Transport will not do their job properly. We believe that we have to fight the case of the commuter. Incidentally, we are appalled this evening not to see any member of the Liberal Party present; the Liberal Members always profess to be on the side of the commuter, but they are not taking part in this debate.
There may be a case for powers to borrow the extra £ 50 million, but I do not think we have so far had an adequate explanation and I hope that we shall hear more from the Minister on the subject. I think that if this Order goes through an extra gesture is needed from London Transport to show that it is trying to make itself more efficient and trying to be more profitable.
I was very interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster)— whom we are very pleased to see on the Front Bench— refer to the Phelps Brown Committee. For my sins, I gave evidence— as the only person who was not a technical witness— before that Committee on behalf of my constituents, and put forward ideas as to how London Transport could be improved. We had a very courteous reception and there were promises that there would be some interesting changes. So far, however, I cannot see any good points that have come from that Committee's Report —certainly none that have been initiated. We had a considerable fares increase not long after the Report was published. But I hope that some other things will shortly stem from the work of that Committee.
I agree that we must have an answer soon on whether or not we are to have 1090 a fares increase or an increase in subsidy for London Transport. There is a danger of an element of both creeping in unless we are very careful. I know that many London commuters are facing with apprehension any idea that there should be a further increase in tube or bus fares. That would be a very considerable inflationary element and knock the policy of the Economic Secretary, because it would immediately cause wage demands from the people in the London area.
The management of London Transport may be hamstrung by the brake which the Ministry of Transport has on it, but London Transport itself seems to be a rather complacent body. It always trots out the same stock answer when one writes on behalf of constituents. Nearly every time, the answer is: "We are very short of staff"— that is admitted— or "The roads are congested and we cannot keep our buses up to schedule." Services are frequently cancelled and great inconvenience is caused to many people who have to come to the centre of London or travel around in the suburbs. As a result, more and more become frustrated with London Transport and turn to cars for transport. That they find cheaper, particularly if they share with others. I have known of cases of young men and women who have travelled to work in London but, because they were consistently late for work, have had to leave their homes and find accommodation nearer to the centre. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I have had more letters on the subject of London Transport in the six years that I have been a Member of Parliament than I have had on any other subject. The time is rapidly coming when the management of London Transport must show more initiative in trying to justify the extra subsidies which we vote. London Transport says that one of the most effective answers would be to clear private cars from the main streets of London and to give the buses a free run. That probably would help London Transport, but there would be complete chaos unless London Transport were revitalised and there were more buses with better schedules and more people recruited to run them.
I do not believe that all the problem is due to traffic jams. There is a breakdown somewhere in management-worker 1091 relations. In my constituency the No. 71 bus route is probably the worst in the world. It is losing passengers every day because it does not run to schedule and various services are knocked out. Only a stone's throw from this Chamber buses run on the No. 11 route. It is called the "banana service" because buses so often run in bunches. This is a disgrace. I have counted no fewer than 12 buses on that route at the stop in Whitehall all at one time. No one can tell me that that is due entirely to traffic jams. More discipline is needed in the managerial staff and the unions concerned in operating the service.
We want to see a better attitude adopted by all concerned in London Transport. Large numbers in the service try within the bounds of the system to do a good job, but although they try extremely hard they are frustrated. The inspectors need greater power. Some of them are afraid to say much to the crews who nominally come under their jurisdiction. One inspector told me that the crews regard the inspectors as rather a joke. There is a fantastic state of affairs. We must have more efficient working. We must have single-decker buses, the" standee" buses. We have been waiting some years for them. We should also consider the possibility of cheaper off-peak fares for old-age pensioners. At the moment London Transport is losing a great deal of revenue because old people cannot afford the fares for short journeys in the suburbs in constituencies such as mine. If there were a reduced fare system, revenue could be obtained in the off-peak periods and a very humane and sensible social service would be provided. There is a good case for the new ticket system to come into operation on the tubes. There is far too much bilking on the tubes at present. I do not blame London Transport, but there is a big outlet of revenue as a result.
This short debate will have done some good if it has pinpointed the case for further reforms of London Transport and more action on its part to justify the sums of money we vote for the service.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) has inter- 1092 vened in this debate, quite naturally, from a constituency point of view and I hope that his speech will do him some good in his constituency. I am sure that was the intention of his speech.
I intervene for a very practical reason, that I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and I support everything that is in the Report. It is a valuable document and I hope the House and the Minister will take it very seriously indeed. Indeed, I hope that later on—and I am sure the right hon. Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) will agree—some time will be found in the House for a really extended debate on the Report, for this is very necessary.
I think that a reasonable conclusion that one can draw from the Report, to put it shortly, is that the London Passenger Transport Board is a fine organisation and it has a great tradition, but the Select Committee felt that with the passing of the years it had become unduly complacent. I think that is a perfectly fair summary of our Report, particularly in the matter of the neglect of further underground development, the failure to look realistically at new methods of bus transport and, in short, the inability to provide a proper or a full service and pay its way.
It seems to me that these are all legitimate criticisms, and anything which has been said on the other side of the House to this effect I, as a member of the Select Committee, endorse. But this is no reason for not giving the Board extra borrowing powers. The efficiency of the industry of our country to a great extent depends on the efficiency of our basic industries, and transport is obviously a basic industry. If we are to have efficiency in industry this means extensive capital development.
This seemed to be the weakness of the speech of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Webster). He seemed to be against the expansion of this nationalised transport service precisely because it is a nationalised service. This does not make any kind of logic or sense. His party was in power for a considerable time. They did not denationalise transport, and I do not blame them. It was an accomplished fact and in any case it was an excellent thing to have transport 1093 nationalised. In those circumstances, to say that because an industry is nationalised we must be extremely grudging about its capital development is not realistic. It is an impossible position—
§ Mr. Webster
I said that it was our duty as a House to scrutinise any additional expenditure. Then I pointed out that there was a considerable disparity between the new borrowing powers given to the gas industry, this industry and possibly another nationalised industry at the same time as there was a considerable restriction in the private sector, and this imbalance should be looked at with great attention.
§ Mr. Palmer
I take the point, but what the country needs is a general effective expansion of the whole of our industry, whether it is privately or publicly owned. It does not make any sense to pay this ridiculous game of saying that simply because this or that is a nationalised industry we must not expand it. We should consider the question of transport expansion on its merits and, whatever may be said about the Report of the Select Committee— and a great deal can be said about it— certainly the Select Committee came to one conclusion, namely, that we need to expand and improve the organisation of London Transport. This means more money and extra borrowing facilities, and it is for this reason that I suggest that the House should give the Minister and the London Passenger Transport Board the powers that are sought tonight without too much argument.
§ 11.25 p.m
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) is making very heavy weather of what seems to be a perfectly fair point from this side of the House. We are not disputing that London Transport needs expansion. I do not suppose that anybody would say that it does not need more money. We are simply asking that when the Board's borrowing powers are extended it is reasonable to ask what sort of policy it will pursue in the future. It is legitimate on that kind of occasion to explore the Minister's mind and I shall be surprised if the Minister, in replying to the debate, takes any exception to the kind of questions which we are putting. I think that he will agree that they are 1094 fair questions. We have the right to ask them, and whilst we cannot expect detailed replies we are entitled to have some idea of the lines along which his mind is moving.
The Select Committee's Report is, as everyone will agree, a valuable document, and not only the Report but the Minutes of Evidence. I read them with fascination. I was fascinated that members of the Committee had before them the moguls of London Transport and grilled them like so many kippers on top of an oven. I congratulate the hon. Members concerned— I am sure that they are far too modest to congratulate themselves in this debate—on the skill and persistence with which they questioned representatives of London Transport about the way in which it is run.
There is a vast amount of information available in the Report. There is no need now for anyone to ask for a public inquiry. Here is the inquiry. In parentheses, I wish that the Minister would find some method of publishing this document for something less than the £ 2 2s. 6d. asked by the Stationery Office, which means that it is completely outside the range of most people who use London Transport. It should be possible for the Ministry to give Londoners the benefit of, if not a complete cheap edition, then at least an abbreviated one giving the main points of questions and the evidence given by key witnesses of London Transport. I assure the Minister that if he could produce it at a price which the ordinary Londoner could afford it would be read by large numbers. This volume contains, somewhere or other, every question that the user of London Transport usually asks— and usually asks his Member of Parliament.
I am not saying that London Transport is a morass of inefficiency and incompetence. Like every other London Member, I have spent a great deal of my time transmitting adjectives to London Transport on behalf of my constituents. They are always writing to me to complain about it, and I have the finest collection of adjectives ever compiled by a Member of Parliament about the buses that run through West Middlesex. I recognise that a case can be made against London Transport, but I am not concerned now with passing on adjectives to the Minister.
1095 I want to draw attention to the conclusions which can be fairly drawn from the Committee's Report and also the latest Annual Report of London Transport. When one examines what London Transport says about itself, in addition to what the Select Committee found out about it, one can see that it has reached a point of crisis, and I do not think that that word is being used rhetorically or in exaggeration. Ever since 1955 there has been, for 10 years, a continuance process of degeneration in London Transport. That process of degeneration is displayed no matter what yardstick one uses. Over those 10 years, the fares have gone up, to a total of £ 37½ million. They went up every year except this year.
§ Mr. Popplewell
Costs have gone up, too. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the evidence given to the Select Committee, he will find the facts regarding the rise in costs which compelled the increases in fares.
§ Mr. Curran
If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall come to that. I am taking these points seriatim. Fares have gone up. Costs have gone up. Wages have gone up. Everything has gone up, except the number of people using London Transport's services.
§ Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)
The number of cars has gone up. The reduced demand for public transport is a reflection of the greater number of private vehicles.
§ Mr. Curran
With all courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, I can only reply that twice two is four. I know that, and so does everyone else. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of people using London Transport. Over the decade, the Board has lost about one-third of its passengers, and the rate of loss last year— this is the Board's figure, and it is referred to in the Report of the Select Committee, I think— was considerably more acute than in the previous years since 1955. So there is an accelerating loss of passengers.
There is no mystery about it. We have had growing affluence in this country, as hon. Members opposite will enthusiastically agree, and the natural result is a shift from public to private transport. This is one of the facts of affluence wherever it takes place. As soon as the 1096 standard of living rises above a certain level, people want to contract out of public transport and switch to private transport. It has happened in London just as it has in all the other affluent countries of the world. But the process in the London area has been accelerated by the rising cost of using London Transport's services, by the growing discomfort of using them, and by the growing doubt about whether one can rely on the buses.
This aspect of the bus problem is a consequence of full employment and affluence. Just as affluence makes people move from public to private transport, it also makes it harder for London Transport to recruit and keep employees. Shift work and weekend work is unpopular. In a seller's market for labour, such as there is in London, people can pick and choose, and they will not choose, if they can help it, jobs which involve shift and weekend work. I do not think that any particular criticism can be levelled at London Transport for not being able to recruit enough people to run the buses. That fact is simply a reflection of the kind of society in which we live, and, on the whole, it seems to me to be a good society.
I do not expect the Minister to produce a magic cure for these ills out of a hat. London Transport's problems will not be solved easily. To some extent, they cannot be solved at all, and we shall have to learn to live with some of them. But will he address his mind to certain steps which, though they would not solve the problems, would help to mitigate their effect?
In its Annual Report, London Transport says that it finds it difficult to get enough bus drivers and conductors because of the difficulty of finding houses for them. It points out that there are considerable regional differences in the Greater London area in the availability of housing. For example, houses are easier to get in south and east London than in north and north-west. In the garages and depots of south and east London, the Report says, there is a shortfall of workers of about 5 per cent. whereas in north and north-west London the figure is about 15 per cent.
This concerns me, and I will not disguise the fact that I have a constituency interest. My constituency is in northwest London and is, therefore, in the 1097 region where the deficiency in the number of bus crews is about 15 per cent. compared with the 5 per cent. in south and east London. Is it practicable for the Minister to provide any sort of help in the provision of houses for bus workers in the areas where they are most in demand? Has he approached the G.L.C. or the borough councils about it? Those likely to join London Transport are more likely to go to places where there is more housing available. While providing houses in north and north-west London would not solve the problem, it would help mitigate it.
What is the Government's view of staggering of hours? Twice a day there is a tidal wave in and out of London, when the transport services are jammed to overflowing, but in between they are largely empty. It would make the running of the services much easier and much more comfortable if hours were staggered.
But to talk about staggering of hours is easy: to get it done is not. When one staggers hours one is compelling a lot of people to live in a world different from that of their neighbours. They have to go to work and return at different times; they are unable to watch the same television programmes as their friends.
§ Mr. Curran
Yes, just like us. People like to live more or less in the same time rhythm as their neighbours, and in a full employment society where people can pick and choose their jobs more easily they will not willingly accept staggering.
It is not sufficient for the Government to set up committees to see whether they can promote staggering. They must go further. The Government constitutes the biggest single employer in the country and while they are urging other employers to stagger hours they can do something themselves. Have the Government considered introducing staggered hours for Government workers in Greater London? How far have they gone and how far do they intend to go? The further they go the more likely they are to create a pattern which other employers will follow. I am not suggesting that this will solve the traffic problem, but it will mitigate it to a measurable degree.
1098 I hope the Minister agrees—certainly after listening to the debate if he did not know it before—that we who represent the constituents of Greater London also represent a large volume of grievances about the performance of London Transport. I ask him not merely to give me a sympathetic hearing, which I am sure he will do, but to tell me the suggestions which he can put before us for mitigating the conditions which create these grievances. It was because I wanted to put these suggestions before him and to see how his mind reacted to them that I intervened in the debate.
§ 11.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)
I hope that my hon. Friends who represent Greater London constituencies will forgive me if I do not follow them into the detailed examination of London Transport, although I could talk about the subject at great length.
I speak from the point of view of an ordinary Member of Parliament who is sent here to examine the expenditure of public money. In all the Orders which I have seen in all the years that I have been here, I have never seen one quite as extraordinary as this nor have I heard one put forward with quite such an irresponsible explanation. Not a single word of explanation has been given by the Minister of what the money is to be spent on, except that it is to be spent on the capital needs of London Transport.
I see from the Explanatory Note that the borrowing powers of London Transport were limited to £200 million in 1962, and yet the Minister tonight, only three years later, asks for these borrowing powers to be extended by £50 million— a 25 per cent. increase in three years. It has been said that we have the finest transport system in the world. That may well be so. I believe that it is. It has been produced out of the capital expenditure of £ 200 million. But in the next three years, we are told, without any word of explanation, capital expenditure on the system is to be increased by 25 per cent. or £50 million. It is a vast sum of money. If the people of Greater London, the people who will benefit, had to supply the money it would be £5 for each man, woman and child in Greater London. But it is the people not of Greater London but of the United Kingdom who have to find the money. 1099 and the Minister is asking for the expenditure of £1 for each man, woman and child in the United Kingdom, whether they will benefit from this expenditure or not. It is an extraordinary request, especially as we have not heard a word of explanation of what the money is to be spent on.
What advantage will accrue to the nation and to Greater London from this expenditure? We have been told that we shall get the Victoria line, but we knew about that three years ago when the limit was fixed at £ 200 million. How much of the extra £ 50 million will be spent on that? The only other suggestion concerned automatic train control. That may be very desirable, but will it be a case of technology for the sake of technology or will there be an actual saving, and if so, how much?
On what else will this £ 50 million be spent? My constituents and those of the Minister want to know what advantage they will get from this extraordinary expenditure and where this £ 50 million fits into the much vaunted National Plan? We had to pay £ 2 15s., I believe, for this extraordinary document, the National Plan, which shows how the national resources are to be spent. Where does this sum of £50 million fit into that Plan? If £ 50 million is to be spent in Greater London, what is to be spent in the rest of the country?
One of the Ministers from the Ministry of Agriculture is here. Can he explain how this £ 50 million is to be counterbalanced by expenditure on rural bus services, of vital importance in the part of the country which I represent? The Minister of Transport has given permission for the closing of a vital railway line in my constituency because, he says, it will lose money, although he cannot say how much. There is no question of £ 4 million or even £4 subsidy for that line. I hope that the Minister will tell me what is to be spent in my constituency and his to counterbalance this £ 50 million.
Apart from yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is not a Member of the Liberal Party present. I am surprised, because the Liberal Party swept the board in Scotland at the General Election. so it told us, on the issue of trans- 1100 port in the rural areas of Scotland. But not one Liberal hon. Member is sufficiently interested to be here to find out what is to be spent in Scotland on transport. What surprised me even more is that not one Scottish Minister is here. Where are the Scottish Ministers to explain to the House what is to be spent in Scotland to correspond with this £ 50 million which is to be spent in London, not in the course of many years, but in the next three years? My constituents are entitled to know.
§ Mr. Hendry
In addition to saying "Hear, hear," I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer my questions. After all, we have heard a great deal about regional development, but most of the regional development seems to be taking place in London. The Minister of Transport, who represents a Scottish constituency, must explain that and I hope that he will say what is to be spent on other parts of the country.
I could speak at great length in this debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite sitting below the Gangway may not have noticed that the Patronage Secretary stuck his nose into the Chamber a little while ago and I have the idea that if I were to carry on speaking at much greater length he would take a very poor view of it. Having put those questions specifically to the Minister, I shall sit down, asking him to answer them.
§ 11.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Fraser
When I came to the House today, I thought that we were to have a debate on transport between half-past three and ten o'clock. Hon. Members who tonight have discussed transport in London rather than the Borrowing Powers Order will not think it impertinent of me to observe that their presence was not conspicuous in the earlier debate when I made a speech on this subject.
I have been pressed by hon. Members opposite to justify these further borrowing powers which are to be given to London Transport Board on top of additional borrowing powers to be given to the Gas Board, the Electricity Board, the National Coal Board and other public enterprise undertakings which, it is said, are always 1101 getting more and more of the taxpayers' money for public investment. They had not really got this criticism out when they were demanding that there be further capital investment for exactly the same people.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Guildford (Sir R. Nugent) was terribly concerned about this vast sum of £ 50 million of additional borrowing, yet in the same breath he asked, "When are we going to get these additional lines, after the Victoria line, and how many are we going to get out of £50 million?" Hon. Members had better make up their minds. Do they think that London Transport should be developed, that additional lines should be built, that the buses should be replaced with new buses, that the rolling stock in the tubes should be replaced and improved, that the stations should be improved, that capital investment should be encouraged? The answer is yes; but should the Board be allowed to borrow the money from the only source open to them, namely the Government, the answer is no — it shculd do the job, but it should not get the money.
§ Sir R. Nugent
The right hon. Gentleman has been asking a great many questions of the Opposition. Could he now answer some of the questions that have been put to him?
§ Mr. Fraser
I was about to do that. The right hon. Gentleman himself asked me to answer a number of questions before I told him what the money was going to be spent on. The right hon. Gentleman asked that I should explain my having intervened some months ago to persuade the London Transport Board not to increase fares. He went on to say that this seemed to be quite the opposite to the regional policies which the Government were commonly believed to advocate. I thought, however, that in the statement I made to the House, and in Answers I have given in the House at Question Time, and in the speech I made earlier today, that I had made it abundantly clear that I did what I did some months ago because I believed, and the London Transport Board believed, that a further fares increase would have led to more people leaving public transport. As has been said in many speeches tonight, the passenger-carrying of London Transport has been going down and down 1102 and more and more people have been turning to personal transport. The streets have become more and more congested, the buses have taken longer and longer to reach their destinations and have become increasingly and progressively unreliable. The vicious circle goes on: as the buses become increasingly and progressively unreliable, then more people leave the buses to take to personal transport. I have explained that I did what I did because I believed that London was threatened by total strangulation.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne rose—
§ Mr. Fraser
I believed that it was necessary, and highly desirable, that I should invite the traffic authority for London, the Greater London Council, and the London Transport Board, to sit down together, and to do it quickly, to see whether they could find some traffic management remedies to apply in London, which would be likely to enable the London Transport Board to provide a better service for their customers. I asked the G.L.C. and the L.T.B. to let me have the Report by the middle of October. They were good enough to do that, so I have had the Report for nearly a month, and I have been considering it in consultation with other right hon. Friends of mine who are as deeply involved in this as I am. I think that all hon. Members will understand that.
So we have to make up our minds: we have to have a decision about the future and about whether there will be a further subsidy to London Transport to keep down the fares. It is now clear, and was clear to the Select Committee, that the Board can no longer maintain viability in its normal operations. Under the Act of 1962, they were expected to make a surplus of £ 4 million a year, and they made a surplus of £ 4 million for the first two years combined. They will make no surplus this year: instead, as has been recognised tonight, they will make a loss which will not be made good by the £ 3. 85 million subsidy which I promised them some time ago. Even after that has been paid there will still be a deficit this year.
There is no possibility of a fares increase being applied which would give the Board an income to meet its costs. This is the unhappy position of the Board 1103 at the moment. I do not feel that I am in any way to blame for this. I am not even sure that I would blame my predecessor or anybody else. I have found that the public passenger transport services in most of the big cities of the world are in exactly the same position. It is remarkable that London has been able to carry on for so long without running into these difficulties.
However, we must try to do our best to see that London is not a burden on taxpayers generally. In this connection, because of the chiding about taxpayers in other parts of the country having to subsidise the London commuter, I would point out that the British Railways Board carry commuters into most of this country's cities, including London. I believe that they just about break even with the commuter services in London, but they lose £ 20 million a year carrying commuters into other cities. They make a loss of £ 20 million each year in commuter-carrying, but here in London they just about break even, as does the London Transport Board with the Underground railways. The buses used to be the money makers, but the position is now changed and it is the buses which make the deficit.
I have been asked many times whether the £ 3. 85 million subsidy which I promised is included in this £ 50 million additional borrowing. The answer is no. The former figure is a subsidy: it is money which the Government said they would give to the Board to compensate them for the loss of revenue they suffered from our refusal to allow them to raise fares. But the £ 50 million is money which is to be borrowed and it has nothing to do with the decision which I took earlier in the year. If I had let the fares go up earlier in the year, I should have had to come to the House to ask for exactly the same sum of money.
If, by some mischance, the electors had, in October last year, returned the party opposite to Government once again, some other hon. Member as Minister of Transport from the Tory benches would have been asking for this Order. Despite what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, West (Mr. Hendry), I gave some explanation, and I showed that the Act of 1962 provided for £ 200 million. £ 162 million of that was the commencing 1104 debt that the Board took over, and in the intervening period it has virtually eaten up the rest of the £200 million. I have said that the borrowings that it will require in the next three years will be about £ 50 million, and that is why I am asking for £50 million now.
The largest item in the Board's programme is the Victoria Line, as has been well recognised. As the House knows, construction began in 1962, and there has been some speculation tonight as to when the line will be opened. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Popplewell) quoted a Press report to which he took exception, and I have great sympathy with him in the views which he expressed about it. The Board expects the northern section to be opened towards the end of 1968, and the whole line in the course of 1969. That is the timetable which the London Transport Board tell me that it expects to be able to keep. The total construction cost will be nearly £ 60 million, including the cost of reconstruction for interchange stations.
The line will relieve congestion very considerably, and it is the fact, as some hon. Members have recognised tonight, that an opportunity is being taken to incorporate a number of fine new techniques in the Victoria Line, among them being automatic train operation and automatic ticket collection.
One hon. Member mentioned automatic train operation and asked about the driver of the train. It is the same thing, really. One has an automatic train which does not need a driver, and one has automatic ticket issue and collection. It means that there is going to be no need for a person to issue or collect tickets and no need for a person to drive a train on the line when it is open, though no doubt there will be some staff about. It is a great credit to the London Transport Board that it has been able to carry automation to that length at the present time.
I have seen a little, but only a little, of automatic ticket collection and automatic train operation, and it is quite an exciting thing. As the Report of the Select Committee says, the Board is really a pioneer in the field. It is in the forefront.
It is also the fact that we will require to take decisions quite soon on possible 1105 Tube developments to follow the Victoria line. There is the Victoria line extension to Brixton. There is the Aldwych branch extension to Waterloo, which one hon. Member said might wait 15 to 20 years for a decision. But I expect to have to take a decision on it at a not very distant date, I can assure the hon. Gentleman. He will realise what I mean when I say that, although I am very confident about the tenure of office of my party, I do not expect to be Minister of Transport in 15 or 20 years' time.
Then there is the Fleet line. The total cost of these lines is estimated to be about £ 100 million, including the rolling stock. Hon. Members will appreciate that one does not get many lines at that price out of a total of £ 50 million which I am asking for tonight, most of which in any case will go on the Victoria line which is under construction now.
Another item of capital investment for which money is required in the period ahead of us is for power generation and distribution. As the House knows, the London Transport Board generates most of the power that is used in the Underground system at its generating stations at Greenwich and Lots Road. The Greenwich station was re-equipped in the 1950's, and a modernisation programme started at Lots Road in 1962 will be completed by about 1970, at a cost of about £ 10½ million, a good bit of which falls within the period during which the £ 50 million will be available. About £ 800,000 must also be spent on a link with the national grid at Greenwich and Lots Road Power Stations to meet circumstances in the event of a power cut. Rehabilitation of the Board's power distribution system was started some ten years ago, and will be completed by about 1970 at a total cost of over £ 14 million.
In 1964, the Board completed a five-year programme at a total cost of about £ 30 million for the introduction of some 1,700 cars of new unpainted light alloy stock on the Metropolitan, Central and Piccadilly Lines. That stock has enabled higher-capacity and more reliable services to be operated at lower costs. The Board's bus replacement programme for the four years 1963– 67 involves the investment of nearly £ 9 million. About 1,300 new buses with more seating capacity will replace some of the older vehicles.
1106 This year the Board is carrying out experiments with' new types of buses suitable for big surges of rush-hour passengers; for example, the standee bus, designed to carry 75 passengers— 25 seated and 50 standing. Hon. Members have said that they have waited for six or seven years to get the introduction of this bus. A year ago we had the Labour Government, and now we have the standee buses for which they have waited for six or seven years.
Work on automatic fares collection has been pushed forward, and it costs money. The use of an electronic control system with increased efficiency and economy of fare collection on the Underground costs money. Experiments on the entrance and exit barriers able to detect, read and record information from passengers' tickets costs money. Promising progress is being made with this work, and I should have thought that it would be the wish of the House that money should be available to enable the work to proceed. The savings the Board expect to make are, first, about 1,100 ticket collectors— which is not unimportant in an area of great labour shortage. Another enormously important saving will be that fraud will be virtually eliminated. The Board is also considering automatic fare collection for use on the buses.
I am not sure that I should take up more time of the House to explain in even greater detail the purpose for which this money is needed. The House will appreciate that I have given sufficient information now, in addition to that which I gave in moving approval of the Order, to show that the Board is alive to its responsibilities. It wants to push ahead, and expand the service which it knows is needed if London is to have an adequate public transport service. The Greater London Council recognises that it has an important part to play in making it possible for the L.T.B. to provide this service.
I, for my part, am quite sure now that it will be necessary either for the Greater London Council to get even greater powers than it has at present to restrain personal and private transport in the near future, or for the Minister of Transport to be so armed with new powers. I have not any doubt at all that in the very near future it will be necessary for new measures to be introduced in London to 1107 restrain personal transport; measures that have not been tried in any other part of the world. In this as in other spheres I believe that London will take the lead, but we will be introducing these measures the better to enable the London Transport Board, with the borrowing powers that I am sure the House will now make available to it, to provide a service worthy of one of the greatest cities in the world.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Will the Minister indicate when he is likely to make announcements on whether or not there is to be a further element of subsidy for London Transport or if he is to make a fares increase?
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Member knows perfectly well that there must be some intimation of any fares increase by London Transport Board. The Board is obliged to give, I believe, four weeks notice of any fares increase. I said that I was considering with my right hon. Friends the review which was produced by the G.L.C. and the L.T.B., made available to us a month ago. We have to consider this review and the situation which has been put to us. If it is necessary to come forward with proposals for further subsidy, we shall bring them forward. If we have to have a further subsidy, I think it almost certain that we would need legislation. There would be need to consult the House of Commons. In the first place it would be for the Board to decide whether with the new review and the traffic measures taken it should ask for a fares increase. If it does that it is obliged to give, I think, four weeks notice of the increase. I shall make a statement as soon as I can of the result of the Government's study of the review made by the G.L.C.
I have no doubt at all that further measures to restrain personal transport in London will be necessary.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the London Transport Board (Borrowing Powers) Order, 1965, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th October, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.