HC Deb 09 March 1966 vol 725 cc2179-209

6.57 p.m.

Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)

I now ask the House to leave the important subject of housing and turn its attention to what, I think, is an equally important topic, namely, the commuter problem, which, indeed, has some relevance also to the problem of housing.

You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that you gave evidence to the Select Committee on procedure about the importance to backbench Members of this day in the year and the occasions when it arises. I entirely share your view on that subject, Mr. Speaker, because it is—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may pray my aid on Parliamentary procedure, but not on what he is about to say about commuters.

Mr. Channon

Only on Parliamentary procedure, Sir. Perhaps on another occasion, privately, I may be able to tell you my views on the commuter problem.

I shall refer to the commuter problem from two points of view, first, in so far as it affects my own constituency of Southend, West, and, second, as a general and wider problem. I agree with some of the observations of the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) when, speaking in the earlier debate on housing, he made some pertinent points which are of relevance to the commuter areas.

The commuter problem has now become world-wide, but it is probably at its worst in London, although, of course, New York has great troubles, too. I have tried to discover the number of people who commute daily in and out of London. My figures may be a little out of date and, if they are, the Parliamentary Secretary will no doubt give me more up to date figures. As far as I am aware, the number of passengers entering Central London daily between the hours of 7 and 10 a.m. on a weekday morning reaches the staggering total of 1,238,000. Of those, 900,000 come in by rail and 338,000 by road.

I am most grateful to the Library for providing me with so much statistical information at very short notice. I am quoting from the London Traffic Survey of July 1964, published by the Greater London Council. The House will be aware of the very large numbers of people commuting into London, though I recognise that other great cities in the country have the same problem, but not to the same extent.

I should like to inquire how the Government view this enormous problem, which is tied up with the future of London, the future of the new towns and the future of new population centres. A large number of hon. Members are interested in the topic. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and many others have been deeply concerned with it. I think that at the beginning the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will agree that we must face the facts and that the journey to London has become intolerable for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. There is little doubt that unless drastic action is taken the problem will get worse and not better.

I turn for a few moments to the special problem of the Southend area. We have many thousands of people who commute to London by train. We have two particular complaints which I shall put to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. Some of these things he may feel are more the responsibility of British Railways, but some are directly his responsibility, and no doubt he will give consideration to them. He will know that as the law stands the Transport Tribunal has authority to deal with fares only in Inner London and has no power to control fares outside the London area. This raises particular problems for those who live in Southend and other places nearby.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) knows a great deal about this, too. In the past, Southend has frequently been treated as part of the London area, but at the end of 1964 and early in 1965, when it happened to suit British Railways—it was unable to get increases in fares in the London area because the Transport Tribunal turned down its application—Southend was treated as being outside the London area and its fares were increased.

The reason for this is partly historical. Although Southend has, technically, always been outside the London area for travel purposes, it has for many years, until recently, been treated as part of it, but since it was not actually part of it, it was possible for British Railways, when it suited it, to treat it as if it were outside it. This made my constituents feel very aggrieved since they were getting the worst of both worlds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East attempted to persuade the then Minister of Transport to exercise his power under Section 27 of the Transport Act, 1962, to give a direction of general character to British Railways not to make the increases. Unfortunately, the Minister of the day did not feel inclined to do so. He was, however, courteous enough to receive a deputation from hon. Members from Essex and Kent constituencies, and saw it on 12th April, 1965. I have here the Press notice issued after the meeting. The Minister pointed out that there could be no immediate change in the basis of fares policy, but he assured the deputation that the problem of London commuter travel, including the present definition of the London Passenger Transport Area, would be among those taken into account in assessing the results of the transport co-ordination study then under way. I do not think that the House would expect me to go into details about what has happened to that study, but perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will tell us, as it affects commuters and as it affected that deputation, exactly what the position is and what it is likely to be.

The real reason for the grievance of my constituents over many years in this matter is historical. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East has pointed out that British Railways for many years encouraged people to move out to Essex in general and Southend in particular. They were told that they would have cheaper fares if they did so. For a long time they did. But it is not surprising that many of those people who have lived in the area for a long period now feel themselves deluded by what has happened.

I turn from the fares problem, which is always the most important problem for the commuter to London, to another problem, which, I am glad to say, is no longer as serious as it was last year. This is a problem of which I have not been able to give the Joint Parliamentary Secretary notice, and so he may not be able to answer me tonight. If so, perhaps he will write to me later or in some other manner make the information public. I refer to the terrible spate of vandalism on the railways which occurred for a brief period—not all that brief, I am afraid—in late 1964 and early 1965. Hon. Members may remember having seen published in the Daily Mail on 9th April last a list of the incidents which had taken place on the Liverpool Street and Fenchurch Street line in March 1965.

The House may wonder why I have not raised the matter previously. It was my view, and I think it was the view of the Ministry of Transport and the Home Office, that the more publicity this terrible vandalism had at the time the more likely it was to encourage people to continue to commit such appalling acts, rather in the same way as I suspect at the moment the more publicity we give to the damaging of telephone kiosks the more likely is that damage to continue. For some extraordinary reason, waves of these events seem to occur in different spheres of activity from time to time.

Vandalism on the railways is no longer the problem it was, I trust, but perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can tell us what steps have been taken in the past year to improve safety on British Railways, the safety of the engine drivers and people who work on the trains and the people who travel on the trains. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also interest himself in the very important problem of compensation for those who have been injured and the widows of those who have lost their lives in the terrible accidents caused in this way. I am sure that British Railways would always wish to do this, but it is the Minister's duty to ensure that the nationalised industries behave with generosity and decency towards people concerned in such accidents.

Before I deal with the wider aspects, I would make one or two other brief points about Essex and Southend, and I hope that the Minister, if he cannot answer me tonight, will give consideration to them. We have always heard—it has always been the case—that British Railways loses a large amount of money each year on its commuting services. It is alleged to be about £20 million a year. I have the gravest doubt whether this is applicable to the Southend line. It has an extremely large off-peak service and a very large and growing freight service, and I very much doubt that the line loses money. I do not see why hon. Members cannot be told which lines are losing money, which lines are breaking even and which lines are making money. Then we should be able to judge the justice of the British Railways policy much better in that light.

My second point is that for some time there has been a shortage of rolling stock in the Eastern Region. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and I had the pleasure of joining with the Southend Railway Travellers Association—of which we are joint presidents—and its chairman and secretary in an extremely useful meeting with the chairman of the Eastern Region and its general manager a few months ago, when this was among the topics raised. This is an example of how these problems can be tackled usefully with benefit to all. If the shortage of rolling stock and the existing delays on the Southend line continue, I hope that the rolling stock problem will be urgently re-examined.

My final point in this connection is that I hope that the Minister will also consider what has been a problem for many years, and that is the lack of a railway station at Southend Airport. This is an important matter for the many thousands of people who use the airport. I appreciate that this might be bound up with the decision, which is soon to be made, about a third London airport. Perhaps that is why progress cannot be made at the moment. I hope, however, that this will also be considered.

I turn to the more general problem of the commuter, who, at the latest available figures, exists 1,238,000 strong all round London. What do the Government propose to do, both in the short term and in the long term? I am particularly glad that the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson) is present, because he will recall our discussions last year during the passage of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act. Although it is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport, I should like to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary when we are to have the annual report, which the President of the Board of Trade is by statute required to make, about the working of that Act. It is of extreme relevance to the commuter problem.

It will be readily appreciated that the problem of those who travel to Central London cannot be eased unless alternative employment can be provided nearer their homes. This point was made in the housing debate earlier this afternoon by the hon. Member for Putney.

What concerned hon. Members during the passage of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act was that at a certain stage of the proceedings the President of the Board of Trade said that in general he would consider all proposals from the Greater London area similarly on merit, whereas some of my hon. Friends and I contended that to stop the great flow of traffic into the centre of London it is essential that the outer areas, which are technically part of the London Region from the standpoint of the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act, must be able nevertheless to provide office accommodation and employment so that people will not have to come and work in London. I have no complaint in this regard concerning Southend, where excellent office accommodation is available, but it would be helpful to the House to know what has been the policy of the President of the Board of Trade in the outer Metropolitan region since the passing of the Act.

I should like to know how the Government view the future of the commuting problem. It seems to me to be obvious that if we cannot get decent public transport and tolerable conditions for people coming into London—I have no complaint to make about the standard of services of the Eastern Region, which in general provides an excellent and speedy service for people from my part of the world—we are bound to have a still further growth of cars coming into London. This is extremely unfortunate.

It is difficult to get an up-to-date figure of the number of vehicles in use on the roads. The latest figure which I can get shows that 13 million motor vehicles are in use, of which just under 9 million are cars. This compares with only 5 million cars as recently as 1959. Thus the number of cars coming on to the roads is enormous.

The number of people coming into London by road each weekday is put at 338,000, which is a very large number. The number of road vehicles entering the central area during the morning peak has risen during the last ten years by 29,100, or 44 per cent. It is, alas, true that the number of passengers in each vehicle has decreased by about 10 per cent. The volume of commuting by car and scooter has doubled over the last decade. We were told this by the South East Study.

The average annual rate of increase in the number of passengers carried into central London by. London Transport over the last five years has been 20,000. The corresponding figure for the railway services is 22,000. The South-East Study pointed out that by 1971 we must expect no less than 200,000 more commuters coming into London than we have today. That is an enormous problem in itself. What will happen to those 200,000 extra people who come into London by 1971? Do the Government accept this figure? If so, what extra facilities will the Government provide for them?

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will recall what the South-East Study said about this. It said that given certain factors, including the necessary capital investment, it would be possible very largely to increase the capacity. It would mean a considerable change in the pattern of services. If this were to be done, however, it might be possible for the transport services to accommodate perhaps even as many as 450,000 extra peak-hour commuters. That would need £100 million additional investment, £30 million of which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) will know, would be attributable to the Southern Region. The cost to London Transport would be even heavier.

The Victoria Line is an extremely costly project. Nevertheless, I must ask the House to consider whether it is not essential for the Government—a Conservative Government I hope, but whichever party is in power—seriously to consider the future of the Underground in Greater London. I suspect that it will be essential to increase the Underground system.

If the housing problem, the jobs problem and the problem of people travelling into London every day are to be solved, energetic action needs urgently to be taken on the railways and on the roads as well as with cars. I hope that tonight the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able not only to deal with some of the points which I have raised concerning my constituency, but will be able to tell us a little about the future and how the Government envisage that these enormous numbers of people are to be transported at reasonable cost, with safety and in reasonable comfort from their places of work to their homes.

This will be one of the great challenges that will confront whichever Government is in office during the last years of this decade. Already the situation is getting extremely serious. If an additional 200,000 people are to commute into London by 1971, I suggest that the time is ripe for really urgent action. Perhaps the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us about this tonight.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I see the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) attempting to catch my eye. Does he wish to take part in the general debate, or in the debate on the commuter services?

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I am hoping, Mr. Speaker, to take part in the debate on the commuter services.

Mr. Speaker

As I pointed out earlier, it would help the Chair if the Chair knew which hon. Members wished to take part in the respective debates which are taking place on the Consolidated Fund Bill, because the topics are listed in order and hon. Members who wish to take part in the general debate would come at the bottom of the queue.

7.19 p.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I am sure that the House will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) has done well to raise this subject tonight. Although we are glad to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary present, we need not apologise to him for taking up his time, whatever discomfort we cause ourselves tonight, because whatever time we lose will probably be less than most commuters suffer every day of their lives.

I was interested to hear what my hon. Friend said about services in the Eastern Region. During the course of my investigation into the problem of the commuter, I had reason to pay a visit to Liverpool Street a short time ago. I was rather impressed by the services which are provided for my hon. Friend's constituents and for others who travel in the east and north-east directions from London. I will not make invidious comparisons, but I could.

What we are really discussing tonight is not only the comfort of a very large number of people, but, I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, efficiency as well. The way we enable enormous numbers of people to move in and out of London daily with reasonable dispatch has an incalculable effect on business and industry and the way in which people go about their daily lives. Conditions are now bad, and on what my hon. Friend said, and on what we know of the facts, I cannot see how they can avoid becoming worse.

I think that my hon. Friend's figures are right, that 330,000 come in and go out of London, nearly always within 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening, and I think that he is right in saying that about 200,000 is the calculated increase, according to the South-East Study during the years 1961–81. Can the Parliamentary Secretary guide us here? Are we getting up-to-date information on this figure, which really is a very important figure, of the population trend, which may decrease or perhaps increase on this original estimate of 200,000?

Certainly, I judge that there is no lack of bodies available to investigate this sort of thing. I calculate that there are six in existence. I will not enumerate them all. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know them better than I do. Are these bodies setting about in the right way the problem of keeping up to date with the population trend as they will affect the number of commuters entering London?

From this present commuter situation two trends seem to be developing. The first is that more and more people come from farther and farther out. The second is that they are increasingly moving from the buses and the railways into their own private cars. Some recently published figures which, I think, are authentic establish this point very clearly. Last year—1965—the daily passenger traffic into central London was 4,900 buses and coaches, one-quarter less than a decade ago, and 68,000 private cars. These buses and coaches carry on average 191,000 passengers, a very small proportion of the total.

To put these figures another way, the peak morning traffic consisted as to 8 per cent. of buses carrying 66 per cent. of the road passengers and as to 68 per cent. private cars carrying 24 per cent. of the road passengers. Of course, we are approaching a ludicrous state of affairs when private cars account for four-fifths of the traffic while carrying one-third of the total number of passengers and when public transport does it the other way round.

This brings me to the point I want to make about communications, the desirability of achieving by every means a switch from private cars to public transport. I think that this will be agreed policy some time. We must reduce the number of private cars and increase public transport. Are we poised to do this? I will come back in a moment to the investment which may be involved, but immediately there are one or two intermediate problems I want to touch on.

First, the parking of cars at stations, or at the points at which the commuter, if he is a good citizen, will leave his car and proceed by public transport. The other day the Evening News conducted a considerable survey of the railway stations all the way round London and the capacity of their car parks, and the question not unfairly asked was: What inducement is the car commuter being offered to leave his vehicle behind and hop on a train instead? A very relevant question, and the conclusion reached, in what was clearly a very thoughtful study, a detailed survey stretching from the Home Counties to the suburbs, shows that railway land becoming available is considered by the regions as the only solution to any demand for increased car parking at stations and it goes on to say that some regions have no plans whatever for increasing their parking facilities. While London Transport are romping ahead the railway regions are doing very little if anything for the car commuter. This is crucial, because if we want people to leave their cars and proceed by public transport there must be places where they can park their cars.

It leads to another crucial question. What is the land problem? Can the railways acquire land and keep it for parking? How are they advised to use it? Is it done in conjunction with local authorities or by themselves? Have they power to get land? Have they power to invest in car parking? I will not go into the question of vertical parking, but, of course, travellers want to be able to park their cars quickly and to be able to get them out of the parks quickly. What is the background for the railways, because this is a major consideration in considering the figure of 200,000 prospective increase in population during the next 17 years.

Mr. Channon

Will my right hon. Friend permit me? I think that the figure is worse. It is by 1971, not 1981.

Mr. Deedes

By 1971. My hon. Friend is quite right. It is a figure of 200,000 which may be reached by then, but, of course, it may not be reached.

We know that the Minister of Housing and Local Government wants to decant something like 1 million people from London as soon as he possibly can. The South-East Study also indicates that there will be an increase in our population in this region of about 2.9 million. Consider that figure for a moment. How many of those people will be commuters? We have no idea. My impression is that they will be a considerably higher proportion than they are of the populations of the new towns already established, partly because rail communications are better, partly because there is an urge to go and live in the country, partly because there is an increase in offices as opposed to industry in London and offices attract a population more inclined to travel to and from work.

There seem to be two major alternatives. One is to steer the new population where transport facilities are best and to do that by planning decision. That is one possibility. The other is to give public transport—the railways, the Underground—a forecast, some idea, of where the population will be and to give them the right of investment in order that they may be prepared for the demand. One thing which is quite certain is that the new centres which have been designated by the Minister of Housing and Local Government within 70 to 80 miles of London—that is the commuter range today—will enormously increase the number of people who may wish to come in over the next 10 to 15 years.

What I am always troubled about is whether there is a sufficiently close relationship between the plans of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, those of the local authorities concerned, and the projects of British Railways and others who must handle the resulting demand. I really doubt whether by planning decisions it will be possible to steer the population where transport facilities are best—that is to say, to describe my hon. Friend's Eastern Region as the best of the regions, the region with most capacity, and, therefore, to say that more people should go to live on that part of the coast. I do not believe that it is "on" in its terms of planning decisions.

Therefore, the point is, what are we doing about the second of the alternatives? How far are we enabling the railways to anticipate the demand which will be made upon them? Because in so far as commuters suffer acute discomfort today in their journeys to and from London it is because—this is not a party point, and we on this side are as much to blame as anybody else—we have not anticipated the demand made on the communications which they have to use.

It is true that the railways still have spare capacity, but I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will treat that with great reserve. That spare capacity is something which is not to be relied on very heavily. Constantly it means extending platforms by inordinate lengths and it means putting in such a large number of trains that capacity becomes the enemy of punctuality. At the peak hours, it only requires one train to get out of line and everyone is late. Spare capacity is something to be treated with great reserve.

I come, then, to consider the kinds of developments that are going through the minds of those who have to think about the topic. Should it be overhead, surface or underground? Do we know the relative financial values of each of the three methods? In respect of all three, what resources have we? I have the impression, for example, that the building of the Victoria underground line is, to a degree, handicapped by the fact that we have not built undergrounds for a long time and we have not as much skilled tunnelling manpower as we require. I think that London Transport would confirm that. What are our resources for producing the new systems that there must be, and what can we offer?

I hope we shall not hear that staggering hours can make much of a contribution, because in my opinion that is a dead duck.

Thinking five years ahead, has any consideration been given to the best shapes and interior arrangements of rolling stock to offer the commuter? Most of our railway carriage design has not changed since 1840. I saw a new bus this morning advertising the presence of the right hon. Lady the Minister of Transport, and I wonder if that sort of approach is possible on the railways.

The subject of fares has been dealt with by my hon. Friend.

We are dealing with the biggest concentration of people anywhere in Europe. There is no greater concentration than that 50 miles round London. I calculate that 150 hon. Members are involved in the commuting problems of London, let alone other cities. It is convenient to blame the railways, and that is what the commuters always do, but it is not always the fault of the railways. Too often Ministries propose and the railways have to dispose, and it is time that we took our own duties a little more seriously. We should anticipate requirements more eagerly than we have done so far and give the railways a better chance of meeting them.

7.33 p.m.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), with whom I share a line. There have been occasions when I have accompanied him in the same carriage. I am sure he will agree with me that if one is further out of London one travels in comparative comfort. One has corridor trains and a far greater proportion of non-stop services than those of us who live much closer in.

There can hardly be an out-of-London centre where travel has to be endured in greater discomfort than from Orpington to Charing Cross, Cannon Street and, to a slightly lesser extent, Victoria. I am continually receiving letters from my constituents about it, as both the Minister and British Railways know. In spite of the fact that they are very helpful in trying to deal with queries, nothing seems to happen.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that what we need is a shift from private cars to public transport, but I cannot see that happening as long as public transport is so uncomfortable. There must be some incentive for people to use public transport rather than their private motor cars, otherwise the kind of growth that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) talked about in the use of private cars will continue.

Another factor of great importance which he might have mentioned is that the marginal cost of travel by a private motor car is less than the day return fare from any station that one likes to name. If I come here in my mini-van, the cost of the petrol and oil used is much less than the cost of a return journey by British Railways. I have not worked it out on the cost of a season ticket, but, with a small car, it would still be more economical by private car than by public transport.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Is the hon. Gentleman taking into account the actual value and depreciation of the car and not just the oil and petrol that he uses on the journey?

Mr. Lubbock

I am using the marginal cost of the journey, because I think, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, that most people reason that if they have a car anyway they might as well recover depreciation and insurance over the maximum number of miles, and, therefore, in doing the equation they do not include any cost for that whatever.

That is why we have to have a long and hard look at the fares policy, and that must be done not only by British Railways themselves but also by the Government. They must ask themselves if it is right to impose the duty on British Railways always to make a profit on whatever services they run, or might there be other social benefit reasons for subsidy of certain services. We have already had total social benefit studies in the case of the Victoria Line, and I thought that it had been established as a principle in the Ministry of Transport that, provided a profit could be shown on total social benefit subsidy analysis, it was worth while proceeding with investment, even though in this case the London Transport Board will incur a loss. But when it is suggested to British Railways that certain improvements should be made, they say that they have an obligation to pay their way on the capital invested by the State and that, as long as that duty is imposed upon them, they cannot be expected to make those improvements. But even within the existing fares structure there is a certain amount that could be done.

I quite agree with the hon. Member for Southend, West that we have never seen any separate figures for the suburban services, and I am not convinced that the enormous losses which British Railways say they make on suburban services are true. Why is it so difficult for them to produce figures showing separate accounting for the suburban services? Other nationalised industries manage to do it. B.O.A.C., for example, can tell separately how much profit or loss it makes on its eastern, western or southern routes, and it would not be a difficult accounting problem for British Railways to show separate accounts for the different parts of their services.

The right hon. Member for Ashford said one thing with which I disagree. He said that one could not expect much from the staggering of hours. British Railways are to blame in their fares policy to some extent, because there is virtually no encouragement for people to travel out of peak hours since they have altered their fares policy in that respect. Neither has there been much of a campaign by British Railways in recent years to persuade people to stagger hours. It might be time to return to that and see whether, by means of a selective publicity campaign, we could not take some pressure off the peak load.

The Government could show an example by staggering hours in some of their offices. I appreciate that it is a difficult problem and that there are certain people who have to be in Greater London during the peak working hours of those with whom they have to deal. But there must be an enormous number of typists and clerical workers who could travel at hours outside the two main peaks. If the right hon. Gentleman has talked to British Railways about it, he will appreciate that the main peaks are extremely narrow, and there would be some benefit to passengers during those periods even by a shift as small as half or three-quarters of an hour one way or the other.

Mr. Deedes

The hon. Gentleman knows a good deal about modern industry, but does he know of any modern, efficient firm which has succeeded in staggering hours to any degree?

Mr. Lubbock

I think that British Railways themselves are very disappointed with the success of their publicity campaigns on staggered hours in the past. As the right hon. Gentleman says, it is true that no big firm has actually moved the whole of its work force out of the peak hours in terms of arrival and departure times.

What I am suggesting is something rather more modest than that, that we should see whether certain clerical workers, copy typists and so on, whose hours of work do not necessarily have to correspond with those of everybody else in the building, can arrive half an hour after the rest of their colleagues. Even with a modest shift of this kind we could relieve pressure at the peak times.

I mentioned that British Railways found it difficult to justify investment because of their present assessment of suburban services making a loss. The one important factor which the Government should have in mind here is that if we do not develop our suburban railway services, the alternative is an infinitely more costly policy of large urban motorways, and in the United States, where this policy has been followed, they are in many cases going back to the idea of using more public transport, and not so much the motor car for getting into the centres of cities. I earnestly request the Government to consider the policy of how one costs suburban travel, and whether it might be justifiable, on a totally social benefit basis, to subsidise fares to some extent.

The right hon. Member for Ashford also mentioned suburban car-parking. This, too, is an important problem. There seems to be a great lack of co-ordination between British Railways, the Greater London Council, and the London boroughs, and perhaps further out one sees the same sort of thing. The right hon. Member may find that in Ashford there is not proper co-ordination between the Ashford Council, Kent County Council, and the Southern Region of British Railways. We find this lack of co-ordination in Greater London. I once tried to bring the Orpington Urban District, British Railways and the London County Council together at a conference which we held on this question of suburban parking, but British Railways refused to attend.

We had the idea that we could develop a type of multi-storey car park which would be suitable for a large number of stations around the periphery of Greater London, a kind of industrialised building unit construction which could be erected quite simply outside the railways operating hours, and which according to the calculations of the Cement and Concrete Association, which was responsible for the design, could have been put up for as little as £350 per car parking space. But I am sorry to say that we could not get British Railways to show any interest in it. They would not come to our meeting, and they would not discuss the general principle of the idea with the local authority. I think that one of the most important tasks for the Minister in this respect is to try to get some sort of co-ordination and co-operation between these various authorities.

Probably the same sort of situation exists in Southend as in my constituency, where, as one comes out of the station, there is a small British Railways car park. On the opposite side of the street there is a garage with a number of car parking spaces. Further down the street one sees lots of cars parked by the side of the road, and further down still, at the bottom of the road, there is a car park by the war memorial where lots of commuters park their cars, even though this area was intended by the local authority to be used by shoppers. There is an obvious need for co-ordination between the providers of these various car parking facilities.

The hon. Member for Southend, West mentioned the extension of underground services, and I agree with him. I do not think that we have gone far enough here. There is an urgent need for Government plans to be made for an underground extending south of the river, not as far as my constituency, but in that general direction, because, if we did this, it would enable British Railways to run more non-stop services between Outer London and the main termini in the centre of the City, while people who came from nearer, from places like Hither Green, would be able to use the new underground line.

One other possible form of transport which we ought seriously to consider in the next year or two is the use of hovercraft on the Thames. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Southend, West has studied this, but I should have thought that a large S.R.N. type of Hovercraft coming upriver from his constituency might be a convenient means of transport for commuters who want to come into the City or to Westminster. I have travelled in smaller Hovercraft on the Thames. They can travel at about 50 miles an hour, which would exceed the speed of any road transport from the hon. Gentleman's constituency into the centre of London.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that they make a hideous noise? We had a demonstration before the hon. Member came to the House. They would cause grave disturbances to people along the banks of the river.

Mr. Lubbock

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman noticed that last summer a Hovercraft carrying tourists made regular trips up and down the Thames. During the last few months I have travelled in a Westland Hovercraft on a demonstration trip down the Thames. I do not think that the noise which these craft emit is worse than that to which one is accustomed in the centre of London from the traffic which runs much closer to one's place of work.

One other thing which I should like to mention in mitigating the commuter problem is the dispersal of offices. I know that we have the Location of Offices Bureau, and I think that it is doing a valuable job, but I wonder whether some more urgent consideration should be given by the Government to moving some of their offices out of London. I appreciate what has been done already, but the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Public Building and Works gave some figures yesterday of the number of square feet occupied by Government offices in the centre of London, and they took my breath away. According to the Location of Offices Bureau, it is possible for a commercial firm to save £375 for every employee who is moved out of Greater London and well beyond. There seems to be scope here not only for relieving the commuter problem which we are discussing, but for effecting considerable savings in Government expenditure.

To take one example at random, is there any point in the Plant and Seeds Varieties Office being in the centre of London? I think that with a fine tooth-comb the Government should go through all these millions of square feet which they occupy in the centre of London to see to what extent the work carried out there can be dispersed, not just to one of the expanded towns within reach of Greater London, but far beyond that.

Finally, I should like to mention what seems to me to be a grave defect in Government planning over the last few years. I am not making a political point against one party or the other. The right hon. Member for Ashford hinted at this. It seems that the development plans in the South-East Region generally have outpaced the growth of transport services, and there is no co-ordination to speak of between the two. In my constituency houses are being put up in large numbers at Crofton Heath, Biggin Hill, and St. Mary Cray. We are delighted that this is so. We have not nearly solved our housing problem, and this is very necessary.

Last summer British Railways carried out a survey by distributing forms to everyone who came into Greater London from suburban stations. All that British Railways were interested in was how many people were travelling at what time at that moment in time. They told me that they were not interested in the planning permissions which had been awarded. It seems to me that in drawing up plans for the development of commuter services, British Railways should be thinking not about the existing traffic, but about these many thousands—I think that the right hon. Gentleman said 20,000 per year—who are going to be added to the tide of commuters sweeping into London.

British Railways should have comprehensive information from the planning authorities about where these people will live, and they should be able to calculate how many of them will be working in Greater London so that they can evolve a long-term plan which will put the commuter services right. I should like to hear something from the hon. Member about whether the new committee which has been set up by the Minister will have this matter at the centre of its thoughts.

7.50 p.m.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

I apologise to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) for not following his argument. We are all extremely indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), for the constructive way in which the problems of London commuters have been ventilated. I make no apology for narrowing the scope of my remarks to a commuter problem in my constituency, since at least a third of my constituents are regular commuters to London.

Recently, the Southern Region of British Railways has applied to the Minister of Transport for permission to close the Hurst Green-Crowborough line, which involves closing at least three stations in my constituency—Edenbridge, Cowden and Hever. Edenbridge is particularly used by commuters to London. It is interesting to note that none of these closures was foreshadowed in the Beeching Report. Now, for reasons which I do not yet know, the Southern Region has applied for permission to close the whole of this line.

Since I heard the news I have, naturally, been in touch with Mr. McKenna, the General Manager of the Southern Region, and asked him for a reasoned case why he thought it necessary to close this line and these stations, in view of the considerable amount of perturbation and consternation in my constituency. He was most courteous, polite and helpful, but he could not supply me with any information because he had already submitted a case to the Ministry and felt that it would be unconstitutional for him to give me any information. He went on to say that it would be quite in order for the Ministry to supply the information if it so desired.

The matters in respect of which I was asking for information, and on which I am still seeking information, are three in number. First, what is the economic argument for the closure of this line? What is the Southern Region losing? There is a suspicion among my constituents that for the last year or two this line has been deliberately run down by British Railways. I will not say whether that is right or wrong, but that is the feeling that exists. Great delays have occurred, day after day, in the service provided by this line. There have been many reroutings, and also certain stoppages. These have increased the time taken for certain parts of the journey by 40 minutes. Nevertheless, hundreds of people still use this line every day, and it is, therefore, only reasonable for my constituents to know what the economic arguments are.

Secondly, what alternatives does the Minister propose should be used by my constituents if the line is closed? Are they to be told to use their cars as far as Oxted, which already has overfull car parks, and has standing room only on its own commuter trains? Is she expecting my constituents to use their own cars? In many instances public transport, in the form of buses, is not available. If my constituents use their own cars this will merely add to the congestion on the road and the problem of parking in London.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)

I want to be as helpful as possible in replying. The hon. Member has said that he raised some of these questions with British Railways and was advised to seek information from the Ministry. Has he sought that information from the Ministry before tonight, or is he raising it now for the first time? I want to be as helpful as possible, not having had any notice of these matters.

Sir J. Rodgers

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I raised this matter with the former Minister direct and had a letter from him. It is as a result of that letter that I am making my protest now, on a point of principle. There is nothing personal in it.

The third question which disturbs me and my constituents is whether other factors, beyond the mere economics of railway operation, have been taken into account. I refer especially to the development of places like Edenbridge, which already has an L.C.C. overspill estate and plans shortly to extend it. Furthermore, there is an application for a private estate of about 3,000 houses before the Kent County Council, and plans for a rural district council housing estate at Edenbridge. All these developments will add to the demand for travel on the line which is now to be closed down. I am a little worried to know whether, at the right time, sufficient account of the proposed development of these areas is taken before British Railways apply and the Ministry grants permission for them to go ahead to a point where a public inquiry is necessary.

I cannot get any of the answers I require from British Railways, and it appears that the Minister of Transport thinks that the time is not ripe for me to have this information from the Ministry, because she wants to consider it herself before my constituents and their Member of Parliament have access to the information which is laid before her. Why is this information denied to me now? I can see no reason why it should not be readily available, and why the case deployed by British Railways should not be made available to my constituents' Member of Parliament, so that he can formulate a case against it when, there is a public hearing.

7.57 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)

I want, first, to thank the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) for his usual courtesy in telling me at some length about most of the matters he wished to raise tonight. In a very wide-ranging debate of this kind it is not possible, with the best will in the world, to anticipate all the matters that will be raised, and if I do not reply in detail to some of them I am sure that hon. Members will understand. I will endeavour to write to hon. Members about them in due course.

I cannot reply to all the questions raised by the hon. Member for Seven-oaks (Sir J. Rodgers), because I was not aware that he was going to raise them tonight. Had he given me notice I would have been able to answer. However, I shall deal with the general observation that he made because it concerns an important point. My Minister regards it as important to take into account proposed developments in areas affected by proposed rail closures. She now has the assistance of the planning councils set up for the whole country—only recently for this part of the world. The question raised by the hon. Member is one which these councils are specifically asked whenever there is an application by British Railways to close a line. Councils are asked what are the planning implications in respect of the development of the affected region, so that the Minister can have the best advice.

The hon. Member asked why, at this stage, he is denied some of the information which he seeks. I cannot give reasons for the specific matters about which he wished to obtain information, but he is aware of the procedure that is followed in these matters. British Railways present their case, which goes first to the Minister for consent. The Minister has then to decide whether the proposal is in any event unacceptable or whether it should go forward for consideration. This is published and the case then goes before the T.U.C.C, which examines the whole issue of hardship and makes its report to the Minister.

I explained earlier that, in addition, the planning council's advice is now also sought. After all these matters, and on the basis of this information, the Minister has eventually to reach her conclusion in the light of her statutory duty under the 1962 Act. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is faulting the Minister. I am not aware that there is any change in procedure over this information between the present Minister and the last on this very narrow aspect—

Sir J. Rodgers

I was not trying to fault the Minister. I was merely trying to improve the present procedures. I agree that there has been no change in those procedures since the change of Government. I was trying to ensure that information is available to Members of Parliament as speedily as possible in order that it might be discussed with the right background between them and their constituents.

Mr. Morris

I take the hon. Member's point. We are looking closely and anxiously at the existing procedures and we should be grateful for any suggestions of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks, with his experience in Government.

Before the Minister has come to final decisions on many applications by British Rail, I have seen many hon. Members from both sides of the House. If the hon. Member wishes to see the Minister or me, I am sure that that can be arranged. We are anxious that, whenever there is an application, the whole community should know as much as possible in order that the decision is agreed by all to be the right one—

Mr. Deedes

Is the planning department to which the Parliamentary Secretary refers able, where a new centre of population may be developed after it has been decided to close a line, to say that, in the light of the new circumstances, that line should remain open, or must the question go to an inquiry?

Mr. Morris

Under the 1962 Act, the Minister's function is ended once a decision has been reached that the line should be closed. When the Minister comes to her decision, it becomes a matter entirely for British Rail—that is spelt out clearly under the 1962 Act.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) spoke about the need for co-ordination and co-operation. I sympathise very much with his points and those of the right hon. Member for Ashford and the hon. Member for Sevenoaks on the difficulties of people travelling from the South-East from Kent to London. I do so myself, every day, from Chislehurst. Fortunately, I do not travel every day at the peak hours, but I am certainly on the train at one part of the day: I have travelled on it with the hon. Member for Orpington. The journey, for a large number of people—far too many—coming into London, has become worse and worse as the years have gone by. The right hon. Member for Ashford spoke about the need to switch from private cars to public transport. We could have had a most interesting debate on this subject alone, with many observations. Perhaps that would be a valuable exercise eventually.

I will deal tonight only with the very narrow aspect of co-ordination. We all accept the need for the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. This has frequently not been the case in the past. We have made special arrangements to bring together the public transport boards and all the Government Departments with an interest in planning and transport in the South-East. This has been done in the context of the regional planning machinery for the South-East. The South-East Regional Planning Board, which is the officials' counterpart of the Regional Planning Council, has set up a planning and transport sub-committee. This is chaired by the Ministry of Transport and representatives of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Board of Trade, British Rail, London Transport, and other people sit on the body.

This is an important step forward, which will make co-ordinated planning possible. Last week, the Minister set up the new Transport Co-ordinating Council for London. The hon. Member for Orpington raised this matter and spoke of the need for energetic and urgent action. This Council is designed to bring together the main bodies with responsibilities for transport in the London area—the Ministry, the Greater London Council, the London boroughs, London Transport, British Rail and the trade unions. In order to cover the needs of the remainder of the South-East of London, the Chairman of the South-East Regional Economic Planning Council is also a member.

This Council has set up five working groups to deal with specific problems, many of which have been raised tonight. Some of these are, obviously, of great interest to commuters. The first group is called the Public Transport Operations and Traffic Management Co-ordination Group. I apologise for the length of the title. Among other things, this group will consider such matters as co-ordination arrangements betwen British Rail and London Transport services and the effect of traffic management schemes on bus services.

The second group which has been set up is the Public Transport Investment Group. Hon. Members raised the issue of underground lines and general investment, and these will be the responsibility of this body, which will also look at the question of the electrification of existing railway services.

Another group is the Interchanges Group, which will consider problems of interchange between different forms of transport—for example, bus and rail, car and rail. It will cover the problem of building bigger car parks at stations where commuters leave the railways. These are the steps which have been taken on co-ordination.

I am sure that both sides of the House would agree that there is an enormous need to have this kind of machinery, to ensure that a proper examination of all these aspects takes place speedily so that some of the great problems of commuters entering London from around the city are alleviated.

The hon. Member for Southend, West made some very pertinent observations about the short-term future. It is all very well to plan for the long term, but people want to know what will happen in the short term. They travel up and down, day in and day out and they want to know what will happen. Hon. Members may know that, as recently as January, Southern Region of British Rail announced plans for substantially increasing the peak hour capacity of its services. I am advised that these plans can be put into operation quickly and will cost nearly half a million pounds.

The aim will be to relieve the congested South-East Division lines from Kent, East Sussex and the South London suburbs. The Region is to spend the money on improving tracks and signalling equipment so that it can introduce a completely new timetable which will enable it, in the South-East Division alone, to provide an extra 15 to 18 suburban trains and eight long distance trains into and out of London during the peak hour, evening and morning, with a total of 2,000 extra seats in each rush hour.

On the Central Division, it will provide a net increase in the peak hour of five trains into and out of London Bridge and Victoria for the services to the South Coast, Sussex and Surrey, providing about 3,000 extra seats. In the South-Western Division, services to the south-west suburbs. Surrey and Hampshire will be increased by nine extra trains at peak hours into and out of Waterloo, providing about 5,000 extra seats. These extra trains are in addition to those provided for Hampshire commuters under the £15 million Bournemouth electrification scheme, which is now well under way and is due for completion by the middle of 1967. At the same time, relatively minor works are going on all the time to make improvements. I give the example of changes at Tower Hill station on the District Line, designed to get more trains through the City section of the line during the peak hours. That is an indication of what can be done in the short term. These improvements are in the pipeline, and when they materialise they will be valuable.

Mr. Robert Cooke

Before the hon. Member leaves the short term, may I ask him whether he is aware that there are 10,700 more non-industrial civil servants than there were on 1st October, 1964, and that many of these are clogging up the commuter lines? Will he bear that in mind?

Mr. Morris

I will certainly bear that in mind. I will add the useful piece of information that the statistics division of my right hon. Friend's Ministry is moving out to Hemel Hempstead.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

That goes for the Board of Trade, too.

Mr. Morris

I understand that the Board of Trade is also making its contribution. The difficulty is that when office staff are moved physically out of London, frequently someone else fills the gap. That is a very great problem.

Turning to the long-term future for commuters, British Railways and London Transport have produced for the Ministry railway plans for London which recommend tube extensions from Victoria to Brixton, new tube lines—the Fleet line, from Baker Street to New Cross—and improvements on British Rail such as, for example, electrification of the Lea Valley line. Plans such as those for new investment will be considered by the new transport co-ordinating council for London in the light of the London Transportation Study, which aims to draw up a scientifically-based transportation plan for London. That is a fair indication of both the short term and the long term and the machinery which has been suggested to ensure that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing.

I was asked about the Location of Offices Bureau. That is the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, but I am told that in the year 1964–65, 96 firms moved after consulting the Bureau, and that involved almost 6,000 jobs.

Mr. Channon

As he has the advantage of the presence of the Minister of State for the Board of Trade, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he can tell us when we shall get the annual report under the Act dealing with the control of offices? If not, could he inquire of his hon. Friend?

Mr. Morris

That is not one of the matters of which I have notice from the hon. Member. I will make inquiries of my hon. Friend at a more suitable moment and will write to the hon. Member.

I was also asked about car parks. This matter will come under the interchanges group of the co-ordinating council, who will be responsible for advising about it.

I turn to the question of fares. The hon. Member for Southend, West has played an important part in the past in this matter. With some of his hon. Friends, he went to see the predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. The hon. Member said that his constituents are suffering from the anomaly that rail fares within London are controlled by the Transport Tribunal but that rail fares outside London do not come under this control.

I can see the basis of his complaint, but, as he knows, it is a direct result of the 1962 Act. Before his party introduced the 1962 Act, this anomaly did not exist because there was a nation-wide control. May I refer him to the speech of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) during the Second Reading debate on 20th November, 1961, when his right hon. Friend said: I turn now to commercial freedom. All fares and charges, except for passenger fares in London, will be removed from the control of the Transport Tribunal. Railways, like most industrial enterprises, will now, in the main, be free to shape their own commercial and price policy. They will also be freed from a number of statutory restrictions and obligations, which oblige them to provide certain facilities and services regardless of whether they pay."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1961; Vol. 649, c. 936.] The present situation stems entirely from the 1962 Act. During the course of the afternoon I turned up the pages of the Report of the Committee stage of that Bill, wondering whether any hon. Member—I exonerate the hon. Member for Southend, West who was not on that Committee—had raised that point in order to protect his constituents.

Mr. Channon

The hon. Member must appreciate the point which I made earlier about the anomalous position of Southend which, although not in the London area, was treated for all purposes as if it were, and this, to my mind wrongly, made some difference under the Transport Act, 1962.

Mr. Morris

The hon. Member realises the financial obligations which were placed by the same Act on British Railways. British Railways found themselves not curtailed in any way; they had this complete freedom—praised by the right hon. Member for Wallasey—to do what they wished, and his constituents suffered as a direct result.

The hon. Member and others met the previous Minister, who told them that there could be no immediate change in the basis of railway fares policy, although later, in reply to a Parliamentary Ques- tion, he said that the present definition of the London Passenger Transport Area would be among the matters considered when the results of the current transport co-ordination studies are assessed. This is important, because the boundaries of the present London Passenger Transport Area date back to 1932 or 1933. As people have moved their places of residence and today are often travelling longer distances, it may well be, as the previous Minister indicated, that there is a case for examination—without making any promise—of what should or should not be the boundary of that area. We are pledged, as the hon. Member knows, to annul the evil effects of the 1962 Act. Without making any promise whatever, I will say that the boundaries of the London Passenger Transport Area will certainly be a matter which will come up for consideration.

8.18 p.m.

Sir Martin Redmayne (Rushcliffe)

I do not want to take much of the time of the House, but I should like to revert to the question of parking at suburban stations, because I am not very satisfied that the Minister should rest his case on the fact that it has been referred to the interchange group of the co-ordinating council. This seems to be George Orwell at his best. I hope that it will produce some results in due course.

But my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) asked how space was to be provided on a sufficient scale for suburban car parks. It is no longer a matter of converting a disused coalyard or station yard. This problem must be tackled on a big scale. I wonder whether this interchange group of the co-ordinating council has been instructed that it is so to tackle it. For example, there is no question but that we ought to think on the lines of multi-storey car parks for this purpose.

I remind the Minister and my right hon. Friend of the great virtues for this purpose of mechancial, automatic parks on the lines of one in Old Burlington Street. I will not mention the name of the commercial firm. Even where we have land of great value in suburban areas, we can get on to a ground space of 150 ft. by 50 ft.—the actual stack of the park—as much parking as would be provided by two miles of road. We must be ambitious about this.

The advantage of speaking on behalf of the Liberal Party is, I suppose, that one can make statements for which one need not be held responsible. I say that without malice to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who spoke largely about the assessment of social cost. I regard that assessment as a dangerous tendency, because in the hands of dishonest politicians—of whom there is none in this House—it could be an excuse for very sloppy administration. It is only too easy to say that we must tackle these matters on the basis of social cost and all will be well, but however one faces the questions of car parks, commuter travel, the provision of tubes or whatever it might be, we must, in making an honest attempt to assess the social cost, keep in the background of that assessment the question of the commercial viability of what we are doing.

If social cost is to come into the argument, under the proper control of whichever party has the matter in hand, it would be well worth while to consider whether the element of social cost—which could be argued in support of the provision of car parking on a generous scale at suburban stations—would not show a great saving over some of the extravagant, inflated expenditures which are necessary to solve the traffic problems in inner London, which are of themselves much more expensive to solve.

Mr. Lubbock

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that if we are thinking in terms of social cost we should remember that car parks are provided by many local authorities in outer London completely free.

Sir M. Redmayne

That is a good point, but it rather argues against the point which the hon. Gentleman made previously. I hope that when the interchange group considers these matters it will not be backward in its thoughts and that it may, in the end, save a great deal of expenditure nearer the centre of London.

Back to