HC Deb 21 February 1968 vol 759 cc409-12
8. Mr. Hunt

asked the Minister of Transport when she expects to receive recommendations from the Transport Users' Consultative Committee following its consideration of complaints from Southern Region commuters on the continuing delays and disorganisation within the Region.

39. Mr. Fisher

asked the Minister of Transport what recommendations have been made to her by the London Area Committee as a result of the complaints they have received from passengers on the Southern Region of British Railways about the unpunctuality of trains since July, 1967.

56. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Minister of Transport whether she will refer to the appropriate transport users committee the failure of the Southern Region of British Railways to provide a punctual, regular and reliable service to the public.

The Minister of Transport (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

I understand that the London Area Transport Users' Consultative Committee has put recommendations to the Central Transport Consultative Committee, which will consider them early next month. It will be for the Central Committee to decide whether to make recommendations to me.

Mr. Hunt

In the meantime, is the right hon. Lady aware that, in spite of some marginal improvement, punctual trains on the Southern Region are still the exception rather than the rule? Does she agree with the Central Consultative Committee that the only long-term solution of this problem is to increase track capacity, and, if so, will she undertake now to give favourable consideration to the estimates for this work which will be submitted to her later this year?

Mrs. Castle

I am aware that the Central Committee, having looked at the position, has said that the Southern Region was right to reorganise the timetables, and improvements have taken place, of which I gave particulars in a recent Press statement. Southern Region is continuing to make what adjustments it can to increase punctuality. With regard to the wider issue, this is, I understand, one of the points which is being considered by the London Area Transport Users' Committee, and I am awaiting the Central Committee's recommendations.

Mr. Fisher

Can the right hon. Lady comment on the point made in the Central Committee's annual report that there really is very little margin and that the unpunctuality, and the inconvenience to our constituents, are likely to continue unless and until the Government approve a fairly major engineering and expansion programme on the Southern Region?

Mrs. Castle

Of course, I shall be glad to study with care any suggestions for improvements and expansion of capacity, but, as the hon. Gentleman has referred to the Central Committee's report, I should remind him that it said that, generally speaking, the Committee felt that the management of Southern Region had been right in dealing with the problem as they had, even recognising the points which the hon. Gentleman has made. The Committee also paid tribute to the great care Southern Region has taken to listen to complaints and to meet hon. Members, and I think we should pay tribute to Mr. McKenna for that.

Mr. Murray

Would my right hon. Friend not agree, in view of the fact that the Transport Users' Consultative Committee has recognised that, that it is right that every effort should be made to encourage Southern Region to improve services rather than condemn the reorganisation?

Mrs. Castle

Yes, I do, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this matter, because the Central Committee did say that the handling of the complaints and the difficulties which were encountered following the changes has been commendable. I think we should recognise that a rather bold innovation was made here. It has had teething troubles. I hope we are getting through them. But Southern Region was right to take the initiative.

40. Mr. Fisher

asked the Minister of Transport whether she will make a study of the increased extent to which private road transport is being used by commuters as a result of the train service provided by the Southern Region of British Railways since July, 1967.

60. Mr. Moyle

asked the Minister of Transport what was the percentage by which the number of persons commuting by car into central London increased in the six months following the introduction of the new Southern Region timetable in July, 1967.

Mrs. Castle

No special study would be justified. Figures are not yet available of changes in car commuting since July, but rail commuting to Southern Region terminals in central London rose slightly between November, 1966, and November, 1967.

Mr. Fisher

While I acknowledge that the terrible unpunctuality of Southern Region trains has improved a little lately, would the right hon. Lady acknowledge that my constituents have had much to complain about in the last six months and that the service is still irregular and trains frightfully overcrowded, with the result that some people I know are travelling by road?

Mrs. Castle

Not only would I ackknowledge what the hon. Gentleman's constituents have been through, but I think that the Southern Region of British Rail would be the first to acknowledge it frankly. That is why they are making desperate efforts to improve the services. It is, of course, a matter for them, for management. The purpose of the new timetables was to give the hon. Gentle- man's commuter constituents more space and that we shall still try to do.

Mr. Moyle

While we are all pleased with the improvement in punctuality on Southern Region, would my right hon. Friend realise that car commuting into central London will still grow if the region's policy of withdrawing train services from the inner London suburbs to make room for longer-range commuter traffic continues? Would she look sympathetically at any proposal for increasing the fundamental strength of the system?

Mrs. Castle

I have said earlier that such proposals may be coming to me and I will certainly consider them sympathetically within the limits of the total investment available.