HC Deb 29 November 1968 vol 774 cc895-990

11.6 a.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I beg to move, That this House views with concern the delays, discomforts and general inadequacy of the transport systems used by commuters and the frustration and loss of efficiency which is caused thereby; expresses anxiety that the position will get worse in the future; notes the large capital investments in freight and inter-city travel made in recent years; considers that the time has come for a fresh appraisal to be made in order to relate capital resources available for transport to the demands of the present and new populations outside the great cities and London in particular; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give the matter immediate attention. We all agree that transport is the life blood of a modern industrial society, and this country will never be fully efficient until our transport system for goods and people matches our needs. Sometimes we blame our industrial difficulties by saying that, because we started the Industrial Revolution earlier than most, our task of re-equipment today is that much more difficult. I hope that we will not use that excuse about our transport system.

Over the decades, we have been negligent and dilatory in keeping abreast of the nation's transport needs. We have failed to recognise the importance of a modern transport system. We have procrastinated and tinkered. We have stretched and over-stretched the transport assets bequeathed to us. We have shirked the decisions until a late hour, and we have avoided the essential expenditure. As is always the case, when finally action has to be taken, the cost is far greater than if the decisions had been taken at the right time, and the difficulties of implementing the decisions are very much greater.

These strictures, which I have chosen with great care, are nowhere more relevant than to our commuter services. In 1949, a London Plan Working Party reported to the Minister of Transport on the best pattern for commuting. To cut a long story short, two facts emerged from it which are of great interest. First, every one of the major railway schemes now being planned and developed appeared in more or less the same form in the list of recommendations drawn up 19 years ago. Secondly, only one of the recommendations of large magnitude is now being proceeded with, and that is the Victoria Line. Even with this, there was a delay of 13 years. It is no wonder that the commuter services are in dire straits.

Now the decisions must be made and the money found. But it will be good business. If the effects on efficiency of the long hours which are spent daily by millions travelling to and from work could be measured, and if the effects of the delays, discomforts, irritations and frustrations could be assessed, the sum total of the loss to the nation would be seen to be immense.

The Motion covers commuting services all over the country besides London, but I confine my remarks to London and the areas surrounding the City. I do that first because I have a better knowledge of the area and, of course, the London commuting problem is by far the largest in the country. I do it, secondly, because, although the differences from other conurbations relating to a single point of time are great, the changes over time have followed a similar pattern to those of London. The underlying influences are the same. No doubt hon. Members from other parts of the country will give us the benefit of their experience.

I selected this subject for debate because of the many complaints that I have had about the services and as a result of my own observations as the Member for a constituency which has a large commuting population. It would be easy enough for me to fill my half hour by going through these complaints, but it would not be helpful. However, I should like to make four points from the complaints which I have received.

First, by far the largest number of complaints are constructive. They are made by people, long past the stage of carping criticism, who want a good service and are doing their best to make constructive suggestion to get it. Secondly, a theme which runs through all these letters that I get is the complaint about lack of information when a delayed, tired or freezing member of the public is standing on a platform with no train. In his view it adds insult to injury if he is not told what is happening, and one can understand that.

Thirdly, apart from the monetary upsurge when an increase in fares is proposed, I never seem to get any complaints about cost. My opinion—and it is only a matter of opinion—is that commuters are willing to pay for the service if they can get it. What they object to, and what we all object to in many spheres, is paying for something that we do not get. Fourthly, a theme that constantly emerges is the concern of the traveller for the employee working on the service. They realise that morale is suffering and they understand the troubles which affect it.

I here pay tribute to the work done at all levels by the men and women who run our transport services. What do they achieve? On an average working day about 7 million journeys to and from work in London are made, of which about 2½ million are made to and from the central area at two peak periods. The Southern Region, for example, carries more passengers daily than the railways of the United States and Canada put together. That is a colossal achievement. There is no other transportation task like it in the world. Yet things go wrong. Inevitably this affects the morale of the transport staff. They get the rough side of the traveller's tongue, their efficiency suffers, and matters get worse. Our commuter transport systems have not the tools to do the job, and the environment in which they operate makes some of the difficulties insurmountable.

Why do these things go wrong? First, the Southern Region Railway. In July, 1967, this region altered its timetable. The alterations had the effect of intensifying what was already a very intense service. It was a commendable attempt to help the commuter. The railways tried to overcome a shortage of physical capital by operating the system to maximum capacity, and even above. In my view, this maximum utilisation policy has failed. There has been a flood of complaints ever since it was initiated.

I do not want to decry what has gone right, but there is no doubt that very much has gone wrong. I do not believe that the railways should ever have been put into a position where they had to try such a policy. If one delay takes place the effect is felt right through the timetable. Disruption is out of all proportion to the failure. It is one thing to intensify the service, but where, to go with it, are all the new underpasses, overpasses, junction improvements, signalling improvements and the like? There are none. Would we have tried to improve the traffic flows on the road without these? Of course not. The fact is that the Southern Region Railway has been starved of capital and this must be rectified.

Most of the signalling, communications systems and rolling stock are 30 to 40 years old. Except for the recent electrification of the line from London to Bournemouth, there has been no major capital expenditure in the Southern Region for decades. At the same time inter-city lines and freight services have had enormous sums expended on them. For example, the figure that I have been given for the cost of the electrification of the London-Midland route is £160 million to £170 million. Liner trains and container services have already had over £30 million authorised. I have no doubt that this figure will go up.

Only yesterday there was this headline in The Times: £10 million boost for fast trains. But as one reads down, it says: The aim is to get the new train into intercity service by 1974 cutting the London-Newcastle run … by so much time.

I do not deny that that may be necessary, but surely it is now the turn of the commuter services. With the great increase in peak traffic over the years it seemed to me that nothing short of new tracks would suffice, but I am told that this is not so. If modern signalling equipment and rolling stock is provided the region can cope with peak commuter traffic both now and in future. Some track changes will be necessary, I assume, at junctions and bottlenecks, and the cost would be about £40 million. That is a lot of money perhaps, but I believe that it compares very favourably with the costs of inter-city modernisation, the costs of the motorway box for London or the construction costs of a motorway.

But besides modernisation, other aspects of railway operation must be considered. The longer the commuter haul the better for the railways. They have the speed to provide the long hauls. If the trains could have a virtually clear run to the main termini over, say, an 8 miles radius, many difficulties would be avoided, but this would need co-ordination with other services. There must be an adequate system to cover the area within about an 8 miles radius.

This brings me to roads, buses and private cars. The dominating fact over the last 10 years on London roads has been the increasing use of the private car. Between 1956 and 1966 the number of road vehicles entering the central area during the morning peak rose by nearly 16,000, but the number of passengers in those vehicles decreased by 58,000. The 26,500 additional cars carrying 35,000 extra people occupied more than five times the amount of road space made vacant by the 1,700 fewer buses. In 1966 buses represented less than a sixth of the total volume of traffic, but carried 60 per cent. of the passengers, while private cars, which represented nearly 80 per cent. of the traffic volume, carried only a third of the passengers. There is no doubt that at present the private car, far more than any other single factor, contributes to the state of near saturation on the roads in London at peak periods.

What has to be done? We could do nothing and let everything, after much trial and discomfort, find its own level. This I rule out. It would take too long, and we must act now. We can operate on the supply side by increasing capacity. We do this through traffic management and such improvements as at Hyde Park Corner and elsewhere. But I do not think that a major reconstruction of roads in Central London is feasible. We can operate to reduce demand. We do this by limiting office building and dispersing workers to other areas. But having done all this we are still faced by near-saturation at peak periods and a self-defeating contest between waning bus services and waxing private car users, during which contest the transport services become slower, fewer and more expensive for the majority of users.

We must turn our attention to the private car user. His first question is, "I pay a lot of money in tax to run my car. Why cannot I have the roads and parking places provided?" The answer is that short of a complete rebuilding of London any substantial increase in car commuters will be self-defeating. They will choke the roads. The private car user's second question is, "If I cannot use my car, what transport can I use?"

That is a good question. He may well be a car commuter because he cannot get another service, and it would be quite wrong to restrict the use of his car without providing an efficient alternative. But here is a vicious circle. The more car commuters there are because the bus or train services are bad, the worse the congestion, and then the worse the bus services, and so on. This circle must be broken by the extension of parking restrictions, including the provision of residents' bays.

I hope that no one will be frightened by this suggestion. There was an uproar when parking meters were first brought into central London but I do not believe that anyone would now say that we could do without them. They must be pushed out, as a start, at least to cover the inner suburbs. Already they are operating in central London and, together with traffic management, they have lessened the traffic problem there.

But one effect of this system is to create what is called the "glue-pot" in the inner suburbs. The commuters are now leaving their cars there, and it is there that we must get to work. But this pushing outwards of parking restrictions must not happen in isolation. We can expect bus services to improve but many commuters previously travelling by car will want to go by train, and the investment for the railways I spoke of earlier will help to answer the motorists' second question.

I want to refer briefly to tubes in the context of road congestion. These carry 34 per cent. of the passengers arriving in the central area of London between 7 and 10 a.m. I look to the future development of tubes as essential, not only for bringing people to work but to help in the task of keeping road congestion down within an 8-miles radius of Central London. The Victoria Line will help, and when it is completed the Fleet scheme and the Brixton extension will rise in priority. Those projects may need revising.

Apart from the major problems of road and rail there are many other problems of interchange to be considered. A commuter's journey does not necessarily end at one of the main termini. It often begins in public transport after the commuter parks his car—if he can do this. In all these matters there is sometimes a clash of interests between the authorities, and an arbitrator may be needed. The clash may occur over the provision of car parks, the access of buses to the main termini, or the covering of interchange points.

In this consideration of the great task that I have outlined for the improvement of commuter services there will have to be effective co-ordination. I am not satisfied that this exists at present. In May, 1966, the then Minister of Transport—now the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity—speaking on the Transport Finances Bill said: There will have to be, and there are now taking place, urgent reviews of ways by which public transport can be made to operate more smoothly in the London area. That is why I have set up the Transport Co-ordination Council for London, on which sits the chairman of London Transport, the chairman of British Railways, the chairman of the G.L.C.… and my good trade union friends Harry Nicholas and Sid Greene".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1966; Vol. 728, c. 1360.] I am not satisfied that at present good co-ordination exists and I ask the Minister what that Committee has done. I have examined it a little, but I have not had time to go into it in detail. I do not want therefore to criticise it, but the omens are not favourable. Since the right hon. Lady made that statement we have had a new Minister of Transport, a new Chairman of British Railways and a new Chairman of the G.L.C. I understand that Mr. Nicholas has taken over as Secretary to the Labour Party. I do not know whether that affects his position. In any case, I do not believe that a high-powered committee of that sort can continue with those sort of changes taking place. That Committee must be a dynamic one if the problems of commuters are to be solved.

I want to give one warning. In my opinion, co-ordination does not mean the elimination of all competition. I view with some concern the transference of all the London Transport assets to the Greater London Council, together with wide powers of road control. It may sound a nice, tidy arrangement but I hope that the Minister will not close his mind on this. An element of competition between bus, tube and private car will be a good thing.

I sum up the vision that I see for the future commuter—and I hope it will not be in the too-distant future. I see the Minister at the head of a dynamic co-ordinating committee, co-ordinating the transport services over a radius of between 60 and 80 miles round Central London. He will give the impetus, decide the priorities, and act as an arbiter between the different authorities. I see fast, punctual, comfortable, clean trains both for the long routes and the short suburban hauls but with a clear run to the main termini from a few miles out. These termini will be efficient and convenient interchanges to other transport. No longer, at Victoria and elsewhere, will people stand in the rain or freeze with cold. The area will be covered, as will all bus stops. Within a radius of some miles from the centre of London, buses and private cars will move easily and swiftly, even at peak hours. I see greatly increased Arrow services running from the periphery, where the trains begin their clear run to various destinations in central London, but normal bus services will continue.

At off-peak times, private cars will have good access to all parts of London. Parking-meters and off-street parking will provide for their needs. The journey into and out of central London will no longer be through the "gluepot". Commuters who previously used their cars at peak periods will be glad to use the efficient public services. It will save them money as well as time and fatigue, and the cars can stay at home to be used by their wives. Beneath the surface, the tubes, technically improved, certainly greatly extended, will play their part in the system, spurred on by competition. The morale of the tens of thousands of men and women in the transport services will be high. They will be proud of their job, and there will be no recruiting problem.

This will cost a reasonable amount of money, but certainly no more, and probably far less, than has been spent on other transport services. The return would be a vast increase in the efficiency and productivity of men and women using the services. Hilaire Belloc wrote: The general rule in history is that a city, having reached its highest point of wealth, becomes congested, refuses to accept its only remedy and passes on from congestion to decay. All parties would agree that we do not want that.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is obvious that a number of commuters wish to speak in this debate. I hope that they will share the time available by speaking reasonably briefly.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)

All of us here this morning will welcome this opportunity to discuss the problems of commuters. Since I have been a Member of Parliament, the largest file which I have collected relates to commuters, and rarely a week goes by without telephone calls or letters asking what I am going to do about some of the problems which my constituents face, particularly on the railways.

I do not underestimate the problem which faces the Minister in dealing not only with London's transport problems but with those which face him all over the country, nor do I underestimate the problems of Southern Region of British Rail, which has to get 300,000 people into and out of London every working day. That is no mean problem, and we should sometimes pay tribute to the way in which they deal with it, and not be too harsh on them.

We in this House, particularly those representing areas with a large commuter population, must make them aware occasionally, however, of the problems of our constituents. One of the problems with which my constituents most often come to me is timekeeping, the fact that trains are often delayed with no explanation, and the lack of information offered. In a newspaper this week, someone wrote from Battle that the regulars in his carriage held a sweepstake every day, each paying 1s. and drawing a slip bearing the various excuses which would be offered for delay at the end of the journey. This is amusing in some ways, but it also shows that people are becoming cynical about reasons for delays and suggests that there is an absolute pattern of delays which cannot, by any standards, be the same every day of the week.

My commuters, coming from Gravesend, spend about 20 full days a year travelling, since they travel two hours a day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. These continual delays are no joke, especially when people are not informed of the reasons. The Central Transport Consultative Committee pointed out in its annual report for 1967 that people were not being given information about delays and that they should be better informed.

The overcrowding in the trains on the Southern Region is another complaint, with people hunched together for two or three hours every morning and evening. The Minister should ask one thing of Southern Region—to eliminate completely first-class travel during peak hours, which would give more people the opportunity of a little more comfort to read their newspapers, instead of, as at present, allowing first-class passengers to read their Times in comfort while the second-class passengers can hardly open their Daily Mirrors.

There is also the problem of places like Meopham, a large village in my constituency, where my constituents cannot get a train to Victoria during the peak hours between 7.30 and 9 in the morning. The Meopham Parish Council is continually pressing for this.

What the Government should do first—this would bring back some of their popularity—is inject a massive amount of capital into transport in London. People are continually being told that this is in hand but cannot be done at present. My right hon. Friend should also consider urgent extension of the tube system to South-East London. Some of us who live in the South-East consider that those living north of the Thames have been well favoured by the Victoria line, because, in some cases, it duplicates existing transport arrangements.

Since the early 1930s, the boroughs of South-East London have urged for the constriction of a tube through their areas. The Camberwell Borough Council is one of them. That tube ought to be running not just to Camberwell but through to the Minister's area of Greenwich and to Eltham. Not only would it give more comfort to the people of Eltham and Greenwich, but it would ease the general burden on those who travel daily to places such as my own constituency of Gravesend and to the coast.

A great deal of money needs to be spent on the Borough Market bottleneck. It is a problem which has been argued about continuously. Something is to be done eventually, but it is not being done quickly enough. My constituents who navel in the "Sardine Specials" are captive consumers. They get fed up and they complain, but they cannot do anything about it other than by travelling by car and meeting similar problems on London's roads. More money should be spent to obviate the problems which they will face this coming winter. In the South-East, there are still 1,500 vital points which do not have point-heaters. Whenever we get a cold Sunday night, it results in chaos on Southern Region the following morning. We face the problem of fog. There was fog last night, coupled with a breakdown in the London area, and the evening papers, reported that many trains from London were cancelled.

We know that there are problems, and we know that Mr. Ibbotson, of Southern Region, is holding a conference of London Members of Parliament. I am sure that all hon. Members concerned will put their points to him. But we ask the Minister to adopt a fresh approach and spend more money so that people can face the prospect of working in London with a reasonable hope of travelling to and from work and being able to say, "We do not exactly enjoy the journey, but it is not as bad as it used to be."

11.43 a.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)

I join with the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) in congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) both on his good luck in securing top place in the Ballot and on his good sense in selecting as the subject for debate the problems of commuters.

The Motion refers to the delays and discomforts currently experienced and to a growing sense of grievance and frustration which so many commuters feel. A large part of that frustration is due to commuters feeling that they are voiceless and powerless in the face of the steadily deteriorating services. When they read about this debate, I hope that they will feel that they have a voice, and I hope an effective voice, in the House of Commons.

I am glad that both hon. Members who have spoken so far have referred to the imperative need for more capital investment in London's transport. One of the major reasons for the current difficulties on Southern Region, as the hon. Member for Gravesend said, arise from the Borough Market Junction bottleneck, and I reinforce his plea for a more generous attitude from the Government towards applications from Southern Region for track renewal and extension which perhaps have not always been pressed as hard as they might have been.

This debate is a timely one for me. For the past two and a half months, I have been engaged in a struggle with Southern Region on behalf of my constituents. The responses to the various representations which have been made illustrate the way in which Southern Region is prepared to dismiss and disregard acute travelling problems in a given area in what it imagines to be the wider interests of the region as a whole. They illustrate, too, the take it or leave it attitude with which top policy decisions are often implemented.

The massive revision of Southern Region timetables in July, 1967, was an almost total disaster. To its credit, ever since then the region has been seeking ways to improve punctuality. However, this summer it hit on an ingenious and original idea that the best way to assist the Bromley area was to cut services still further.

My constituency contains as high a proportion of City workers as any in the Greater London area. Indeed, I was one myself before being returned to this House four years ago. Southern Region has now meddled with the services to such an extent that there is not a single direct train between Bromley North and Cannon Street between two minutes past seven and four minutes past nine in the morning. Throughout the entire rush hour, none of my constituents can travel direct to Cannon Street. It would be of some help if one or two of the Charing Cross trains stopped at London Bridge. Instead, mainly because of the bottleneck at the Borough Market Junction, they go straight through to Waterloo, and the unfortunate City commuter is forced to change trains at Grove Park Station which was never designed for this kind of changeover and which is served by a single inadequate footbridge. This represents an intolerable inconvenience and discomfort, especially for the more elderly passengers, and it has transformed the daily trek to the City from a reasonably calm and relaxing journey to a morning nightmare of crush and scramble.

As a result of the cut in Cannon Street services, I had a very heavy postbag of protest and complaint. A local petition was organised and, within a few days, it attracted nearly a thousand signatures. As a direct consequence, I had two meetings with the Southern Region's divisional staff, accompanied on each occasion by representatives of the newly formed local commuters' committee. We were received courteously, and the operational difficulties of Southern Region were explained patiently to us. But the impression that we all gained at those meetings was that top-level decision had been taken and nothing could be done about it. At the last meeting, we put forward a final suggestion to the Region's representatives which is still being considered. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

That leads me to a further point which is of relevance to the debate. It is the function and effectiveness of the Transport Users' Consultative Committees. Early in September, I wrote to the Chairman of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for London asking for his Committee's support in the campaign that I was waging on behalf of Cannon Street commuters. He did not even have the courtesy to reply to me himself. Later, I received a letter dated 20th September from the Secretary, which blithely informed me that the Committee had not received any letters on this matter from the passengers concerned. As I had received at least a hundred letters on the subject in the preceding 10 days——

Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

I am interested in my hon. Friend's experience with the London Transport Users' Consultative Committee. If it gives him any good cheer, much the same thing happened to me 17 years ago.

Mr. Hunt

That gives added weight to my plea for something to be done urgently about the functions of these Committees. I explained at Question Time the other day that very few people know about this Committee, its chairmanship, membership and how these people are appointed.

As I was saying, the letter from the secretary said that no letters had been received, but as I had had at least 100 letters in the previous 10 days, I received that reply with incredulity. I then realised, of course, that no letters had been received by this T.U.C.C. because of the utter lack of contact and confidence between it and the commuters whose interests it is designed to serve.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Would not my hon. Friend agree that it is hardly surprising that the Committee receives few letters when it does not reply to those it receives?

Mr. Hunt

To be fair, my letter was replied to eventually, although not by the persons to whom I had written. Perhaps my hon. Friend has had other experiences in this matter, and will later relate them to the House. Most people in the Greater London area do not know of the existence of this Committee and those who do regard it as a subservient, white-washing body which is unrepresentative of local commuters.

When I raised this matter in the House at Question Time on 11th November the Parliamentary Secretary told me that information about the representatives of the Committee and where it could be found was easily available at any of the stations in the area. That is not so, certainly not in Bromley—that is, until a few days ago when, almost by magic overnight, a number of large posters appeared. One reason why commuters both in my constituency and throughout Greater London feel so fed up and frustrated is because they have nobody to turn to when they are subjected to inconvenience and delay.

I strongly urge the Minister to ensure that these consultative committees are made more dynamic and determined bodies. He should insist that their existence and activities are more widely publicised. I also plead with him to have a quiet word with Southern Region on the plight of Cannon Street commuters. They have shown remarkable restraint so far, but their patience is becoming rapidly exhausted. I appreciate that he cannot interfere with the day to day management of British Rail, but this is a case of such blatant discrimination against passengers on a particular line that it calls for a personal rocket to be issued by the Minister. I hope that as a result of this debate a number of such Ministerial missiles will be fired in the direction of the Southern Region Railways Board. If only one of them lands on target and achieves some result, this debate will not have been in vain.

11.53 a.m.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

I add my voice to those which have been raked today in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on being successful in the Ballot and on the felicity which he has shown in selecting this topic for debate at this time.

I do not intend to talk at length about the day to day difficulties of commuters, particularly since I was able to do that about 18 months ago when I discussed the topic which was raised by the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray), namely, increased invest- ment at Borough Market Junction, and the new timetable which had then been introduced by Southern Region and its effect on commuters. The utter chaos which disorganised Southern Region following the introduction of the new timetable in July, 1967 has subsided and, as a consequence, the sense of active outrage which my constituents then felt has given way to their normal emotions of quiet desperation or grim determination according to their temperaments.

I wish today to highlight one aspect of this matter. The only difference, from the point of view of my constituents, between pre-July 1967 and the timetable then operating and the situation now is that, broadly speaking, every station in my constituency has fewer trains going to London—to both Charing Cross and Cannon Street—during the rush hours and off-peak periods.

The dream of the hon. Member for Carshalton of trains going into London terminii from points eight to 10 miles out uninterrupted is sufficiently near realisation for my constituents to cause them considerable perturbation about the future. In North London we have two commuting services; the short-range tube service and the long-range over ground service. In South London we have only the Southern Region system. We have no system of short-range commuting equivalent to the tube system in North London.

Since the war there has been a great growth of county estates in Kent, Sussex and along the Channel coast. More and more people have moved into these estates and are commuting from them to work into central London. The result is that Southern Region is faced with running more and more trains to and from more places like Ramsgate, Margate, Brighton and even Southampton. None of us would begrudge the people who live in those areas the added facilities which they have. But Southern Region can afford to carry out this operation only by reducing the number of commuter trains serving the inner London suburbs to allow for these longer-range commuting services.

The net result of all this is that over a period the Southern Region services in inner London have been getting sparser. This situation must be remedied and if it cannot be remedied by increasing the number of Southern Region trains serving the inner London suburbs—it has been pointed out that the net effect of the reorganisation of the Southern Region timetable was to stretch the network almost to breaking point—then we must go for a short-range rail commuter system in South-East London. This must inevitably mean, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend pointed out, extending the tube line into South-East London.

I am particularly glad that London Transport intends to seek Parliamentary powers to extend the Fleet line south of the river. I hope that the Minister will let no obstacle stand in the way of granting it the necessary Parliamentary powers and that he will do his utmost in the Cabinet to ensure that funds for the capital investment necessary are provided so that this line goes ahead as a high priority for the solution of Southern Region's problems.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Am I not right in thinking that the Fleet line does not extend as far as the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the plans announced so far?

Mr. Moyle

That is true, but I hope that the line will be extended, in the ultimate as far as Hither Green. This would make a considerable contribution to the relief of South-Eastern London commuting. It would also make a considerable contribution to the solution of the problem which we all face.

There is another point I would like to make. There are many local authorities throughout South-East England in whose areas housing estates have been built in recent years. Those estates, with their accruing rateable revenue, have been built in those areas only because British Rail has electrified its lines right out to them, so speeding up commuting. I would like to see the Ministry's experts thinking up a scheme by which those local authorities could pay a levy towards the expenses of British Rail and towards the improvement of its commuter services generally, particularly of those in the inner London area because the counties are getting the benefits of the sacrifices which my constituents are at present making.

Finally, we have all from time to time very severely criticised British Rail's ser- vices in South-East England and South-East London, and this is having a very severe effect on the morale of the railway workers. I would therefore just say to those workers, through the medium of the House of Commons, that we all appreciate that they are working hard and doing their very best in difficult circumstances; and that when we take an hour or two from time to time to criticise railway management and policies they should not take it too much to heart, because we appreciate that they are doing their very best for us.

12 noon.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

I, too, congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on his success in the Ballot, and on his wise choice of subject, which has united hon. Members on both sides. As he will have gathered from the various speeches, he could not have chosen a better subject on which hon. Members would wish to speak. I congratulate him, too, on the tone of his own speech which, in spite of mild criticisms, was very understanding of the problems of the Southern Region; and particularly on what he had to say about the staff, who work under the greatest difficulties—a statement that has been echoed just now by the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). It should be underlined that nothing we now say of a critical nature is intended in any way to reflect on the hard work and endeavours of those who have the duty of getting some 300,000 passengers into London in the morning and home again in the evening.

In my constituency, as in Bromley, we have a very large percentage of families who go to work in London every day. As a result, I have a file which in size may well exceed that of the hon. Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt). It has accumulated over the years. Further, every time I get on the train to come to the House in the morning passengers buttonhole me to draw attention to their own complaints. So I not only have the experience of my postbag to go on but my personal contact with travellers who share the discomforts and suffering. Sometimes, when people say that hon. Members are out of touch, I reflect that they cannot be aware of how much day-to-day contact we have with our constituents during the course of doing our Parliamentary duties, as in coming to the House by train every morning.

Obviously, as the hon. and gallant Member said, the main subject on which we as London Members will want to focus attention is the deficiencies in the current timetable. Ever since the new timetable was introduced we have received successive assurances from the Southern Region that by minor adjustments it could be made to work, and that in the very near future it would be found to give satisfactory results.

Mr. Huskisson, who came to my constituency to address a meeting of railway commuters, was unwise enough to say that he was quite certain that within a year we would find everything running smoothly, but the year went by and his predictions were not borne out by practice.

I shall not quote a lot of examples of the complaints I receive, even now, but I will read just one passage from a letter addressed on 10th October by the Secretary of Orpington Rail Passengers Association to Mr. Huskisson. It very well expresses the feelings of my constituents on the question of the timetable. Mr. Jeffery wrote: We wish to record our utmost dissatisfaction with the overall situation but particularly at the up morning peak on the Charing Cross and Cannon Street lines. The general impression is that, even accounting for your 9th September alterations and making allowances for your flood troubles, the elbow room taken at London Bridge appears to have produced little benefit. For this reason we are taking you to task on your promise to have the time tables working properly at least twelve months from July 1967—our observations cover the period to August 1968 and this letter is written fresh from our September meeting held on the 27th—the months come and go and still we see only further troubles both immediate and future. This is the fear that has been expressed by the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his Motion, when he says that we cannot see any sign of an ending of our present complaints.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman that complaints about fares are very much connected with the standard of service provided. Reasonable people will be quite willing to pay a fair amount for their travel to and from work provided that they will be able to travel with some degree of comfort. In this connection, I want to quote a letter that I have received from a constituent, Mr. Brightwell. He writes: My monthly season ticket from Orpington to Holborn has recently been increased in cost from £6 11s. to £7 1s.; this represents an extra 7½ per cent. I had assumed that any such increase in cost should be balanced by an increase in efficiency or production—this is certainly the case when requests for wage increases are submitted to the Prices and Incomes Board. Mr. Brightwell is quite happy to accept the general proposition that fare increases should be allowable if they are tied with improvement in the standard of service: if one puts in a wage increase, the Prices and Incomes Board will ask what one is prepared to do to justify the increase. If that rule had been applied to British Rail, the recent fare increases would not have been approved.

I do not want to devote the whole of my speech to making complaints against British Rail—although I could show the Minister a huge pile of such complaints—but rather to make suggestions for improvements.

Lack of information is the most aggravating thing of all. One stands on a station platform in the morning awaiting a train. Then an announcement comes over the loudspeaker saying that such and such a train to Charing Cross will be ten minutes late. Later it is announced that the train has been cancelled, or that it will leave from another platform. My constituents ask why they never know until the very last moment what is to happen to a certain train or whether it will be replaced by another.

I am aware that the communications system of British Rail is very antiquated. This is an area in which capital expenditure would be supremely justified, because not a very large amount would be necessary to improve telephone communications between station and station in the region so that advance warning could be sent from, say, Sevenoaks to Orpington that a certain train has been delayed, and for how long.

My second suggestion follows on what the hon. Member for Bromley had to say about the Transport Consultative Committee, which I agree is an absolutely useless body. Its services are not known to the members of the travelling public, who are not able to use them for the submission of complaints. Why does not the Minister consider appointing to British Rail a director with specific responsibility for consumer matters? There is a good precedent for this in the appointment of such a director to British European Airways. If we knew that there was somebody on the Board who was concerned with our problems and to whom we could address complaints, and whom members of the public also knew was there to represent them, the appointment would be far more valuable than the secretive and useless Transport Users Consultative Committee.

Another suggestion concerns the maintenance of equipment on British Rail. I had a meeting on 14th March with Mr. McKenna. As hon. Members will know, many of the delays are caused by the failure of signalling equipment, rolling stock, or other apparatus which is used by British Rail. One knows, for example, that there are 49,000 movements of points each day, and it is inevitable that there will be some failures which will cause delays to the trains. But when I discussed the matter with Mr. McKenna, he told me that there were some difficulties of recruitment of staff. For instance, at that time, in the Chief Civil Engineers' Department there was an establishment of 899 men, but 62 vacancies. In the Chief Mechanical and Electrical Engineers' Department, the establishment was 505 and there were 40 vacancies. There was an establishment of 259 in the Chief Signal and Telecommunication Engineer's Department, and 32 vacancies. Therefore, it is not surprising that failures occur in equipment through inadequate maintenance. If it is impossible to recruit engineering workers necessary for these maintenance operations, British Rail should consider paying a premium. Other industries and Government Departments have to pay more to get workers in the London area. The Civil Service pays London weighting. If there are continuous shortages of staff in these vital areas of maintenance, the management of British Rail would do well to negotiate with the unions a premium for workers in the London area.

My next point about equipment concerns design. If Mr. McKenna, or now Mr. Huskisson, says that he has only X number of failures per thousand points operations, we have to remember that there are a vast number of operations in a working day. We should consider whether the design of this equipment is adequate to take the load placed upon it in a working day. British Rail has an efficient and competent research laboratory at Derby. I had an invitation to visit it and to look at the work done there. One would like to be assured that, apart from glamorous developments such as a gas turbine train, attention is being given to more mundane equipment.

My next point concerns the management of British Rail on which we had some correspondence with the Minister's predecessor. Orpington passengers and I suggested that there are serious defects which require investigation. Our suggestion was rejected by the Government and by British Rail, but I still believe that the employment of management consultants, who would go through the operations, would do nothing but good. If they reported that everything was satisfactory, we should at least know that an investigation had been carried out and attention had been given to the problem of management and the ascertainment of whether the structure is correct.

Whatever we do, I think that the timetables adopted two years ago cannot succeed in the nature of things. They have tried to cram too many trains into the morning and evening peak hours. This means that when the slightest thing goes wrong, trains cannot run to time. We should look again at the time-tables, preferably with the aid of computers. British Rail tell me that the structure of their operations in Southern Region is so complex that there is not available a computer with adequate capacity to deal with them. With the development of very large computers, such as the C.D.C.6600, which is many times more powerful than Atlas, I cannot see why this problem should not be considered. I ask that, when he replies to the debate, the Minister should say whether he can have discussion with British Rail to see if there can be an increase in capacity of computers to enable the problem to be considered again.

It is unfashionable to talk about changes in working hours, but the public relations officer of Southern Region told me that, when he took over his job, he was given £40,000 to spend on a campaign for this purpose. He wrote to the managing directors of every large office firm in London, and received only three replies saying that they were willing to discuss possible changes of hours. Unfortunately, the Government do not set a very good example, so it is not surprising that commercial enterprises do not consider this possibility. If in London a change of even only 15 minutes could be made, there would be a great effect on carrying capacity in the peak hours.

I have made a few suggestions, but there are many more which I could discuss with the Minister on a future occasion. If these suggestions could be considered, and if British Rail are more receptive to complaints which we submit on the behalf of constituents, this debate will have performed a very useful purpose.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. George H. Perry (Nottingham, South)

I also congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on his choice of subject, but I cannot be expected to follow the lines of the speeches which have been made so far. They have all been devoted to problems in and around the London area. I expected that one hon. Member would give vent to the notorious corruption of ale Lord's Prayer: Our Father, who art in Eltham, Harold be Thy name, Thy Kingston come … I understand from the Oxford dictionary, which I consulted this morning, that "commute" means: to change altogether, alter wholly, to exchange, interchange, to give in exchange for another, to give and take reciprocally". Not only in London but in other great cities and towns—my constituency is no exception—there is a tremendous problem. In Nottingham, we are affected to a great degree by the fact that houses arid factories were built mainly to the north of the Trent and people who live in the dormitory districts of Clifton and West Bridgford, to the south, suffer the difficulties of having to cross the two bridges over the Trent.

From 7.30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4.30 p.m. to 6 p.m., they find great difficulties. There are letters in the local Press every evening of the week from people who feel frustrated by having to arrive late at work. Although pressure has been brought to bear on successive Ministers of Transport, we are still waiting for the second half of the Clifton Bridge scheme, which could do a lot to help in this situation. We understand that work on it is to start in the autumn, but Nottingham people are becoming somewhat cynical about such promises because, over many years, they have found that—like tomorrow—autumn never comes.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think me facetious when I say that I am pleased to see that my efforts in urging the Minister to do something about this matter are being augmented by the shadow Minister of Transport, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). He made inroads into my constituency on Wednesday this week to see if he could lend a hand. A by-election is pending in Clifton Ward and this matter is one of the main planks of the platforms on each side of the political fence. They want to see if damage to the economy can be repaired by their suggestions. We are calling on the Minister to institute a concentrated study and a crash programme, not merely to build the second half of the bridge, but to introduce systems which will prevent impeding the traffic flow.

I remember reading in 1960 that it was estimated that congestion on the roads then cost £500 million a yew and that by 1970, despite any road programme in being at that time, the cost would have risen to £2,000 million. On these estimates, one can see that the cost this year must be in the region of £1,600 million. So it is ten times the annual deficit on the railways. Therefore, the suggestions that we should make greater use of railways and closed circuit systems to ease the traffic flow are justified.

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) spoke about staggering hours, which could provide the solution to the problem, but one has to get people to do it. They do not mind hours of work being staggered, so long as they are not affected. Five or six years ago I took part in discussions on staggered hours in my home town of Derby. I had three fingers in the pie on this matter, because I was a member of the Omnibus Committee. Secretary of the Trades Council and a member of the Works and Shops Committee of the Derby Locomotive Works, which employs 3,500 people. The main employers in Derby were, and still are, Rolls Royce, which employs 15,000–20,000 in Derby alone and the railway workshops, which employ about 7,500. We tried to get those two concerns to stagger their hours so that there would be a half-hour difference between the starting and finishing times of each.

After many hours of meetings and discussions, Rolls Royce implemented a shorter working week, reducing it from 44 hours to 42, and the new hours were such that the existing stagger of about 11 minutes was narrowed to five. The result was that in five minutes about 30,000 people from two factories alone flooded on to two main roads, one of which is the A.6 trunk road, which is only 24 ft. wide in parts. The result of our attempts to stagger hours was that we reduced the stagger by virtue of concentrated effort.

At about that time the country was studying the Report of Professor Buchanan on easing the traffic problem in our main cities and towns. Reference was then made to Stockholm, which was said to be a decade in front of even Buchanan's thinking. I wonder what study has been made by the Ministry of Transport of the situation there. I was in Stockholm about four years ago for over a week and was able to study its transport system. It is based mainly on a closed network of tramways which convey people very quickly, without any obstruction, from point A to point B in both peak periods and slack periods. We have largely dispensed with tramway systems. Blackpool's is one of the few that is left, and the system is very efficient. Hon. Members may say that I am being reactionary, and that I am about to say that the horse will soon come into its own again. But I should like to know whether concentrated study has been made of Stockholm.

Most of our cities and towns have a vast river flowing through them. There is the Thames in London, the Clyde in Glasgow, the Trent in Nottingham and the Derwent in Derby, which, like the Trent at Nottingham, has only two bridges over it. Stockholm is built on a series of islands, and there is great public expenditure there on building bridges across the creeks and river, building flyovers and underpasses, and providing car parking spaces. I know that the Swedes were not involved in the last war or the one before that, and therefore have plenty of capital, but we could learn a lesson from what has been done in Stockholm in the past 10 years to improve the traffic flow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) and the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton referred to the question of information. There is a great lack of information when the changeover takes place from winter to summer schedules, and vice versa. I found this one Monday morning early in October, when I wanted to come to the House, and arrived at Derby station to find that winter schedules had been altered that morning without any information being given to the public. It is no good to a man who regularly catches the 7.30 or 8 a.m. train, to get to work at 8.30 or 9 a.m., to find that the train has either been put back 15 minutes or forward 15 minutes. He is late, and he has to explain to his foreman. It would do no harm for British Rail to insert advertisements in the local Press giving the timetable of the nearest station for that area, in a column about 10 inches by 5 inches, so that people could cut it out for future reference. They would then know that British Rail was still prepared to carry passengers to their destinations and return them in safety, or at any rate in comparative safety.

I read a facetious reference in the Evening Standard gossip column the other day about passengers arriving at one London station—I think that it was Waterloo—being informed that delay was due to a reduction in speed. That is very logical information.

But my main intention this morning is to appeal to my right hon. Friend to hurry on the system that is to be introduced to improve the flow of traffic in the Nottingham area by doing something about the Clifton and Trent bridges as soon as possible.

12.25 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry) will forgive me if I do not take up the details of the problem at Nottingham, but I look forward to hearing the results of the election he told us about.

I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on giving us the opportunity to discuss the problem of commuters. I assure him and other hon. Members who have spoken that we in North London also have our files of commuter problems.

It is obvious that we cannot have big new highways coming into the centre of London from North London, but I press on the Minister the essential need to speed up the work which is in hand on widening the North Circular Road. Much is being done, but there are so many bad areas, one of the worst of which is in Southgate. When a new highway of three lanes each way is provided the problem is that on either side of it the traffic gets piled up that much sooner at the narrow part.

I appreciate the great problem about where the D ring road should go, and that many authorities and other people must be consulted. But I understand that the line has been fixed for the part around the immediate north of London and that work will start in 1971. Traffic conditions would be greatly improved if it could be started sooner.

I should like to see more use made of the system of box junctions, though I know that many roads in the London area are not the Minister's direct responsibility. It may be said that in a way box junctions are a sign of weakness, because they mean that the traffic is not flowing properly, but we do not live in an ideal world, and I do not suppose that the traffic will ever flow as well as we should like. That particular junction system has been a great benefit to the flow of traffic.

We are well suited with underground stations in my area. We have four, of which I particularly want to mention Cockfosters, at the very end of the Piccadilly line. It is on the very border of Hertfordshire, the green belt, and could therefore be used by people living over a wide area, who could go by car to Cockfosters and take the underground into the centre of London. We should all like to see fewer cars going into the centre. That must he linked with the provision of car parking facilities at the station. The underground station has its own car park with 158 places. I had some correspondence with the former Minister of State earlier in the year, when he told me that an average of only 100 people a day parked their cars there. At present they park in all the roads nearby, because they can do so with impunity at no cost. This problem must apply to many areas. It is no good having parking restrictions unless there is a place where cars can park. It is necessary to decide which comes first. We had a rather ridiculous situation in another part of Southgate recently, when a multi-storey car park opened. There were no parking restrictions in the area, and we saw cars parking free in the road immediately outside the multi-storey car park. Obviously, that was not the object of the exercise. Restrictions were brought in, and now the thing is working much more satisfactorily.

I hope that the Minister will look seriously at the situation at all underground stations on the outskirts of London. If he is to induce people to come in by public transport, those who live further out and who like to travel part of the way by car must have somewhere to leave their cars.

I come now to a specific problem which has arisen only in the past few days. It is thoroughly topical and, although I believe it to be limited to my own constituency, I think it right to tell the House of it today. A short time ago, 300 or 400 of my constituents signed a petition asking British Rail to keep open a certain footpath. It is not a public right of way—it is the railways' private footpath—but for many years it has been used by commuters, almost all of whom are season ticket holders. British Rail has suddenly decided to close it. My particular objection in this case is to the way in which I have been treated. I have never had this sort of experience before, and I am glad to have this opportunity to tell the House of it.

I wrote to the Chairman of British Rail on 24th October asking him to look into the matter, and he replied on 28th October saying that he was passing the letter to Mr. Barry, the General Manager of the Eastern Region. He said: I have asked Mr. Barry to reply to you direct. I have heard nothing from Mr. Barry, but I heard rumours that the closure of the path was going ahead. On 20th November, therefore, I sent Mr. Barry a personal message asking him not to come to a decision without talking or communicating with me. I have still heard nothing, but on Monday of this week the footpath was closed.

That is a disgraceful way to treat a Member of Parliament, and I am extremely surprised. I have never had such an experience before.

To take up a point which several hon. Members have made, I consider that one of the best ways to make passengers happier—apart from actually making the trains run on time—would be to let them know what is happening. I was for two years on the Western Area Board of the old British Transport Commission. One point which we used to emphasise time and time again was that, if trains were running late, an explanation should be given to passengers, the guard should be sent up and down the train or an announcement should be made over loudspeakers at the stations. People are far happier if they know what is happening and why.

I should like to see more effort made, or even an apparent effort made, to save a minute or two at stops when trains are running late. In other words, if a train is scheduled for a three-minute halt at a station, the halt could be cut down to two minutes if it is running late. In this way, one can show the public that one is really trying to catch up.

Now, the buses. In North London recently, a new system of buses has been started, but it has not been well received by the commuter public. Many people find that they have to make short journeys and then change to other buses, which is not something they like, particularly on a wet night. There is considerable delay between buses, and there is enormous criticism of the new single-decker buses on the W4 route, the new route in my area. The general view is that they hold up traffic because people getting into them have to work the machine to put their sixpences in. When I first tried it myself, the machine did not work. Obviously, such failures hold traffic up even further.

Here is a passage from one letter which I have received: We wish to draw attention to the vast standing room allowed on these buses, and we point out that, after a day's work, being made to stand in a bus is treating the public like cattle. The letter comes from the Edmonton Trades Council, and the end of that sentence explains why these buses are know locally as cattle trucks. I am sorry to have to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan) that I understand that similar buses are to start in Reigate soon.

Other criticisms are expressed. Here is a passage from another letter in which a lady writes: Yesterday I waited 50 minutes in Palmer's Green for a bus to Enfield … I walked most of the way back, and it was half an hour before a bus passed me. A firm of solicitors writes: We write on the subject of our staff's inability to reach this office in time for work in the morning due solely to the irregular and impossible bus service at about 9 a.m. every morning …. The continuously erratic hours of their arrival greatly impedes our business of the day in a most frustrating way. I have given quotations from only three of the many letters which I have received from constituents, and I ask the Minister to look into these matters. I appreciate that there will be great changes in the structure and running of London Transport in the fairly near future, but we want something done now.

This has been a useful debate. I end my intervention by paying a tribute to all those who man the railway and bus systems and all forms of transport in London and outside. They have immense problems to solve, but I hope that this constructive debate will enable them to do their job even better.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)

At the risk of introducing a discordant note, I am obliged to express flat dissent from virtually everything which has been said by all hon. Members to whom I have listened. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on his success in the Ballot and, as others have said, on the tone in which he introduced the Motion, but I cannot congratulate him on his choice of subject because, as I guessed it would, this debate has turned into a long and continuous bleat against British Railways, a bleat which in my opinion is largely unjustified by the facts.

Perhaps I ought to declare some sort of interest in this matter. I am one of the small minority of Members who do not drive a car. I am a regular commuter by public transport, and I am, therefore, one of the people about whom everyone else has been talking. For years I have commuted by public transport, travelling daily from my home to London and back again, and my election to the House has made no difference in that practice, save on those occasions when the House sits late, after the last train has gone, and I have to rely on a comrade more prosperous than I to give me a lift home in his car.

I have listened with interest to the strictures passed on the services provided by British Railways. In my experience, those strictures are not justified. I listened with a good deal of astonishment to some hon. Members opposite as they advocated greater public expenditure on British Railways. Only yesterday, they attended the House and voted in large numbers against a proposal that public expenditure should be increased. It is all on record in HANSARD. Their names are recorded as voting yesterday against proposals to increase public expenditure, and, with respect, it ill becomes them now to argue the opposite in respect of British Railways.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that we have been calling upon British Railways and the Minister to adopt a different priority for investment by British Rail.

Mr. Macdonald

I take that point, and I shall come to it. My sense of priorities is very different from that of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends.

It is both easy and popular to leap on the hobby-horse of complaint and "belt away" at British Railways, but we ought to pay some regard—the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton was good enough to acknowledge this in an aside—to the colossal achievement, as he called it, which British Railways attain in providing their services, particularly in and around London. The London commuter services are an admirable achievement in conditions of considerable difficulty.

I listened with some interest also, though not with surprise, to comments made by hon. Members opposite from the Bromley and Orpington area. I am sorry to refer to them in their absence, but it is not my fault if they have left the Chamber when I have opportunity to comment on their observations. They referred to the enormous stack of correspondence which they receive on the subject of rail services. I represent a constituency adjoining theirs, but I do not receive an enormous stack of correspondence.

I think I know why. About a year ago, when the new timetables were introduced, I then received many complaining letters. I studied them attentively and concluded that, with two exceptions, the services provided on the new timetables were an improvement on the old ones. I therefore replied to that effect. I believe that time has proved that the new services are an improvement. I am glad to be able to report that one of the two exceptions has now been put right. If proper publicity is given to the services provided by British Railways, people are not encouraged to complain. However, it is easy for someone who leaps on to this popular hobby-horse to build up a stack of complaining letters.

The only criticism which the hon. Gentlemen made which had any justification was their complaint as to lack of information. I travel from London Bridge Station. Passengers on platforms 5 and 6 find it odd that they cannot in any circumstances discover what train is coming in on platform 4 and vice versa. Steps should be taken to secure that the public is given adequate information. Apart from this, I have no criticism to make and I am a regular user.

Mr. Onslow

What thought has the hon. Gentleman given to the possibility that, because of the slightly eccentric working hours which he and the rest of us have to follow, he is not necessarily a representative peak-hour commuter?

Mr. Macdonald

Before my election I was a representative peak-hour commuter. Even now I travel at peak hours from time to time, though I readily concede that I do not travel at peak hours every day.

Mr. Crouch

The hon. Gentleman must be leaving the House early.

Mr. Macdonald

I do not think so. Any hon. Member who leaves the House at 4.30, 5 or 5.30 on a Friday will be travelling at a peak hour.

I agree with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that there must be a sense of priorities, but I disagree with his choice of priorities. Hon. Members opposite have advocated increased public expenditure on the railways. Public expenditure on education, hospitals, the mentally disabled and pensions has a much higher priority than expenditure on transport. It is not that I am against expenditure on public transport, but in my view it should have posteriority and not priority.

The London transport service faces an insoluble dilemma. Since the war there has been a considerable increase in traffic at peak hours as London expands and more and more people travel into the centre. There is at the same time a reduction in the number travelling in off-peak hours as a greater number of people have their own private transport and therefore have less need to use the public services. It is thus inevitable that the whole exercise must be uneconomic.

The solution is not within the framework of London transport, nor within that of the transport system as a whole, but rather in the proposals for developing new towns and for encouraging people to move from the great mass of Greater London to areas where the transport problem will be less. I do not deny the existence of a problem, but I do not believe that it can be solved permanently or realistically within the transport framework. Additional public expenditure as advocated would be a misuse of public funds, in that the money could be better spent by solving the problem in a different way.

I want now to leap on to a hobby-horse of my own. There are proposals and counter proposals about the correct siting of the third London airport. This is a vexed and controversial topic. One of the sites suggested is upon Sheppey. If there is to be an increased number of passengers travelling to and from London' several airports, and if the new airport is to be at Sheppey, it has been calculated that in 10 or 15 years' time there may be an additional 30 million travellers imposed on the public transport system.

Whatever views we may hold of the correct methods of solving transport problems in London, and in South-East London in particular, it will be common ground that the addition of 30 million people on to already overcrowded services would be undesirable. Therefore, whatever solution is adopted, let it not be confused and let the problem not be aggravated by giving any credence to the suggestion that London's third airport should be sited at Sheppey.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is a lovely hobby-horse, but the hon. Member is going a little wide.

Mr. Macdonald

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I have almost concluded. I could say much more about Sheppey, but I was confining myself to the effect that siting the third London airport there would have upon London's transport system. I argue that the additional traffic generated would be deleterious in the highest possible degree.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman can argue about the effect of siting the airport anywhere on commuter problems, but he cannot debate the case for and against Sheppey in this debate.

Mr. Macdonald

In that case, Mr. Speaker, I express my gratitude to you for letting me get those few words out. I say no more.

12.48 p.m.

Mr. Ian Lloyd (Portsmouth, Langstone)

I am sure that there is a majority of Members who are perhaps ambivalent in their attitude towards the reputation they enjoy for their loquacity and who think that in general most of their constituents would be prepared to concede whatever they think of their own reputation on almost all subjects, except possibly this one.

If by some constitutional sleight of hand it had been possible for you today, Mr. Speaker, to lend the House of Commons to 630 commuters chosen at random from all the constituencies round this great City—and, indeed, round the other great cities—and if we could have had sitting on the Front Benches the management of British Railways and the leading members of the major trade unions, the result would have been a fascinating and uproarious debate. Any doubt which any Member might have had as to what the British public felt about the commuting situation would quickly have been set at rest.

The context of my remarks is this. I have had personal experience of three major commuting lines into London. I use the London-Portsmouth line continually. This is the one about which I want to talk most particularly. Having travelled very widely in North America, Japan and on the Continent of Europe, I cannot but make comparisons, not all of them by any manner of means unfavourable to British Railways, but many of them most unfavourable.

In the context of the London-Portsmouth line, I want to comment on the following factors. Added up, they amount to a situation in which the public sense that there is an air and attitude of complete indifference in British Railways. This feeling may be quite unfair, but had we had this town meeting here today this would have come out. Whatever the reality, there is this impression amongst the public that there is complete indifference to their fate.

The question of punctuality has been covered. I just give my impression that almost every train leaves on time but almost without exception—I speak particularly of the last two or three months of winter commuting—not one seems to arrive on time. Nothing is more of a charade than a timetable which bears no relationship to reality. If it is possible and desirable—I have pressed the Ministry of Transport about this on previous occasions—for major airlines and many other railways to publish regularly their arrival performance, why is British Railways exempted from that obligation? Would it not be salutary for the management and men of British Railways—there is room for pride in an improvement in performance—and good from the point of view of the public for the figures to be published at the end of every month in the stations in our major cities so that the performance may be seen?

If the performance were good, it could be seen to be good. If it were bad it would be known to be bad, and appropriate public pressure would be generated for the public to get what they deserved. If they did not get what they deserved and there was no excuse, such as disastrous floods, we should know the position. In normal circumstances, though, the knowledge is not available. I have been told that it is available to the Transport Users Consultative Councils but my opinion about those bodies is identical with that of the majority who have mentioned them.

My next point is service on board trains. To take an example, on the London-Portsmouth line there used to be excellent buffet cars, a service much appreciated and widely patronised. It gradually reduced until now it is offered on only two or three trains in each direction. I speak from memory, not from precise figures. On a number of the trains the buffet cars run locked and unattended. I have taken the matter up with the management of the Southern Region and suggested that if it cannot offer the service, it should enable someone else, a private contractor, to take over the empty coaches and provide catering facilities. It may be that no private contractor would be willing. If so, let us be told. But the exercise ought to be undertaken to see whether in London or Portsmouth there is a caterer who would be willing to supply the service.

I turn to the vexed and difficult question of cleanliness. All of us remember the remark which made the former Chairman of British Railways, Lord Beeching, almost famous overnight. He said that the British public were filthy. He seemed to imply that that was a defence of the undoubtedly great difficulties that there are in keeping trains clean. My reaction is that wherever there are large masses of people, British or others, one is bound to get large amounts of litter and dirt. It is a fact of life. I do not believe that this exonerates the management of British Railways or any other body from tackling the problem. But my impression is that on British Railways at the moment the problem is tackled neither seriously nor successfully. But it can be done, and it ought to be done. If the excuse offered by British Railways is inadequacy of staff, there is the possibility of employing external cleaning services such as those that clean major office buildings. We ought to be told whether this is practical or not. If it is not, the obligation returns fairly and squarely to British Railways.

There is also the interesting question of information about arrival times, departures and delays. Cannot British Railways learn something from the operations of airlines and airport authorities? I have in mind the use of efficient television screens to give such information and the use of rather more effective loudspeaker systems than seem to be employed at the major London termini. The capital expense would not necessarily be all that much but the improvement in the reputation of British Railways would be dramatic. These are relatively simple devices and should be looked at. Many of the other things that airlines do should be looked at by British Railways.

The question of first class has been mentioned in a somewhat disparaging sense. I return to it unrepentantly. It seems to me that British Railways needs the money, and so the idea of abolishing first class travel is impractical. If British Railways offers first class travel, it seems to me that it incurs an obligation to make certain that what it is offering, the certainty of a seat and a higher standard of comfort, is fulfilled. It is not altogether a question of indulging the rich. It is question of offering the elderly and infirm, those who travel occasionally and need the additional comfort, the opportunity to get additional comfort. On most lines today the so-called first class carriages are a shambles—dirty, poorly lit and often converted second class carriages. In many of them the standard of lighting has to be seen—or not be seen—to be believed. It seems to me almost perpetrating a confidence trick on the public to offer this sort of first class travel.

I should like to escape altogether from the rather unfortunate connotations of the term "class". Why should not British Railways call this "premium travel", which is what it is? It is offering a higher standard for those who are prepared and able to pay for it. The simple answer is that on many occasions people will make the choice and say "I will go once every two months in com- fort rather than once every month in discomfort." It is a choice that British Railways should continue to offer.

I turn to four short points: seating, ventilation, lighting and telephones. First, have the seats that British Railways offers ever properly been studied by designers familiar with the problems of ergonomics? If so, when the older carriages come in for their major refurbishing, could some sign be given that this work has been done and that British Railways understands the structure of the human frame? On many older carriages, particularly standard class carriages, the impression that one gets is that such thinking is absent.

I know of no train other than the newest in which it is possible to sit in the middle of the seat facing the engine with a window slightly or wholly open and not get a pain in the neck. Has the question of ventilation ever been scientifically studied by those who design trains? My impression in respect of the vast majority of the coaches is that there has been no scientific study. This should be looked at.

Lighting is notoriously poor on the majority of our trains. I understand that there is a programme for upgrading the lighting in the older rolling stock as it comes back. Could this be accelerated? At the moment the general impression that one gets in trying to read or do any work in a train is that it causes considerable eyestrain.

My last point—I have taken this up elsewhere at other times—is the lack of an essential facility, telephones, on the platforms of major railways stations—there are all too few telephones—either in London or in the country. It could be argued that the telephone is a luxury on station platforms, but the general performance of British Railways is such that the occasions on which many of us have to telephone and say "I am sorry. The train is late. You need not leave home for another 15 minutes", are becoming increasingly frequent.

But there is another, more serious, point. Isolated country railway stations very often have their staff facilities withdrawn at dusk. Trains continue to arrive well after dusk. It often happens that elderly people, particularly women, arrive at an isolated country station in winter only to find that something has gone wrong with their arrangements. If there is no telephone, they can make no contact with those whom they expected to meet them. If every station had at least one telephone on the platform, much of the difficulty would disappear.

The question of public redress has been touched upon, and I think that the general feeling of the House is that it is totally inadequate. Something better must be contrived than the present Transport Users' Consultative Committees. We need a more effective system for reporting complaints, and the action taken about them. Proper publicity needs to be given to development programmes so that the public is made aware of what is being done and can make its own assessment of progress, which sometimes is not up to expectations. I suggest that British Railways should experiment with the idea of having a fairly senior official on platforms or somewhere easily accessible in the major London termini in order to deal with complaints at the moment at which they occur, which is virtually when people get off trains. The majority of people seldom have the time or the inclination, on getting home hours later, to write letters setting out their complaints. If they could go to a senior and responsible official and report conditions which they have just experienced I believe that it would be an eye opener to British Railways.

There is a succinct way of putting this, and I say this with great respect to those who are doing what they consider to be a very good job. All this seems to indicate that there is a lack of management in British Railways. It may be defined as a lack of the will to manage. In some senses it is a lack of the right to manage, which is perhaps even more serious. There is a lack of the obligation to manage, because, if there is no direct means of communication for the public to express its broad feelings about the performance of the services and the feeling that the management must do something about it, the railways' sense of obligation diminishes. I would add the word "skills", because we are entilted to ask ourselves whether, in the light of what has been said this morning, the skills of British Railways are adequate to the tasks being presented to its management.

In a nationalised industry, there is something in addition which the House should recognise and which the country is beginning to feel exists. It is the compulsion to manage. There is no compulsion in British Railways to meet these conditions in present circumstances. Other than on occasions such as this, for which we are all indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton, there is no means of reaching into the problem. We defend the nationalised industries from detailed interference with day-to-day management, but in dealing with great nationalised areas where the public is intimately involved over a wider sector of our national life, the impotence of this House is a matter which hon. Members feel very strongly.

1.4 p.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

I want to add my thanks to the hon. Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) for giving us the opportunity to debate these matters. I congratulate him on the manner in which he made his remarks, which were reasonable and showed a sincere desire not to make party points but really to go into the problems.

I am also pleased to see the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) sitting on the Opposition Front Bench for what may be her first major debate on transport matters. Throughout our proceedings on the Transport Bill, I felt that not only did we know each other very well, but we knew the arguments and counter-arguments likely to be advanced from day to day. I hope that the hon. Lady will bring a new approach to transport matters—perhaps a woman's approach—which will help us all in considering the situation which we face.

In the course of the debate, there has been a tendency for hon. Members to make suggestions leading people to believe that the solution of our problems lies in spending more money on the provision of better facilities. I think that we would do the country and the public in general a great disservice if we did not also strike a note of warning. Putting it in a way which can he readily understood, if everyone in a great conurbation like London decided to go to the coast in private cars on a Sunday afternoon, all the money possible was available and it was feasible to cover the South of England with concrete in the form of roads, people could still not have that kind of freedom. It would result in freedom for no one.

Since the war, it has become the popular pastime to assail Ministers of Transport. Politicians are always adjured to speak up and say what they believe on any subject. There is a mood of ambivalence among the general public when they look at transport affairs, commuting problems and aspects of road safety, which should be dispelled. Frequently, hon. Members themselves are criticised for being ambivalent, especially by the Press. We are subjected to that sort of criticism for what is considered to be our ambivalence about transport matters. There are frequent Press campaigns, saying one day that the Minister is not doing enough about road safety and the next day that he should suggest higher speed limits.

In getting people in and out of large cities, speed is one of the main factors. A friend of mine who is a local councillor held a public meeting in Bristol where local residents complained about cars coming into the city using roads through residential areas and driving at excessive speeds. My friend had a very difficult meeting, and one persistent critic living in the area harried him throughout it, complaining that the local council was not doing enough, could not the 30 m.p.h. speed limit be enforced more rigorously, and could not this and that be done. A few days later, my friend was on the other side of Bristol and happened to see the same man driving his car. He decided to follow him. They went through Bristol and then through a number of hamlets at speeds between 40 and 55 m.p.h. all the way. Finally, my friend caught up and stopped him. He said, "You gave me a hell of a meeting the other day", and described what he had been doing for the last hour. The man was abashed and said "I was in a hurry."

Many of us who live in residential areas complain when we see people driving through them at excessive speeds, and we talk knowingly about road safety. Then, like Jekyll and Hyde, we get into our cars, proceed to break the speed limit and generally behave in an antisocial manner.

It has been a feature of transport since the war that every Minister has been lambasted for introducing parking meters, safety regulations and speed limits. Most of the criticism has been unfair, and the general public must make up its mind what it wants to happen.

Recently there has been a major dispute in Bristol about a roundabout situated on the Downs, a beautiful area which has been given to the city. We have a Downs Preservation Society. There is a proposal to build a larger roundabout. We have had the pros and cons about not touching a single piece of this land because it is precious. I accept that. Although the roundabout is outside my area, I say to my fellow citizens who approach me on this issue that if they want to travel into the centre of Bristol in their own cars we shall have to build more and bigger car parks, we shall have to put in the Downs roundabout and we shall have to drive more roads into the city centre. That is all well and good. But if we want to keep the city as it is then we do not want this larger roundabout, but we will have to improve public transport and have more and more restrictions about transport going into the cities.

It is time that someone stood up and said that the public must make up its mind. This is a difficult matter for both sides of the House. When the Opposition were in Government their Ministers of Transport suffered from the same criticisms. We all know that politicians should be in advance of public opinion to some degree, but there is a limit, and the sustained campaigns which various Ministers have had to face on these issues have been almost too much. Therefore, my right hon. Friend will need courage in this direction. The Press, too, should behave in a responsible fashion before embarking on campaigns for this and for that. The Press should be honest and say to the public not what they would like to hear but what is correct and proper and to face up to the realities. The Press expects others to be pioneers in this way and face unpopular decisions. Therefore, it, too, should be prepared to take up unpopular stands, because often the unpopular stands of yesterday become the popular stands of today.

In looking at the construction of roads or improvements of railways, I should like my right hon. Friend to consider innovations which could be made without a lot of public expenditure—for instance, simple right turns, crossing ways, and lightweight bridges to take a single stream of traffic over busy roads. Bristol has such a bridge which has done great service. When we make more improvements we shall move it to another location. It is a lightweight structure carrying a single stream of traffic over a busy intersection at the city centre and it is extremely useful.

There is a case for considering the construction of our major motorways linking cities to ascertain whether we are spending too much by having them built to too high a standard. I was in Italy recently studying this problem. I am no technical expert, but I made inquiries. The autostradas in Italy are not built to the same rigid specification of our motorways, but they get much more motorway. It is worth considering whether we could do something on those lines.

Another point, which may be of interest to London Members, is that last year there was one terrible day when no electric train moved for the major part of the day. There had been a snowfall, but nothing like the amount necessary to cause the amount of disruption that we had. I want to be a little technical. During the night the temperature usually drops. In this case there had been a very light fall of snow during the night. Snow usually falls at about freezing point. At or about freezing point, probably early in the morning, a single train had apparently come over the snow on the lines and had pushed it down. It is elementary physics that if you press snow down it melts. Therefore, this light layer of snow became moisture, and, being early morning so there was not a lot of traffic moving, it froze on to the rails. Consequently, trains coming along afterwards could not get through, because ice has an insulating effect. If there had been more snow, or if the temperature had been colder, it would have shoved it out of the way. I do not know whether it would have been possible on that day to have had a train with a device for blowing the snow off the rails to prevent this happening rather than hammering it in. It is a small point. However, because of what happened, millions of people in the London area could not get to work.

There is a need for innovation. We must look at our existing resources and the problems facing us. I believe that we could get great savings and improved communications by perhaps spending less money but achieving more for it.

I turn now to Bristol. We can get some transport off the roads by moving heavy goods by rail. It is surprising that the debate should have gone on so long without any mention of the Transport Act. The freightliner network forms a great part of our plans. I think that we ought to get on with a freightliner depot for the Bristol area. I feel that my right hon. Friend owes it to me for all the work that I did on the Transport Bill, if nothing else. Looking at a map showing the freightliner depots which are to get so much of our traffic off the roads, there is a huge gap in the South-West. Bristol is an important communications centre and I hope that my right hon. Friend will get in touch with British Railways to encourage them to come forward with proposals and will give them a speedy passage.

I hope that he will also have a study made into how different large towns and cities have met their problems concerning through traffic. Bristol suffers to a great extent from poor communications. It is a vicious circle. When bus services are delayed more people go by road, and so the congestion is heaping up. The bus services in Bristol suffer inordinately from delays. I should like my right hon. Friend to offer advice on bus free-lanes in our cities. I should like him to advise those cities which have achieved some success by virtue of the innovations that they have carried out to inform other local authorities so that they may know about them.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into parking policies pursued in our towns and large cities, because I believe that there are great differences. I believe that Bristol is backward in allowing parking on both sides of major bus routes. This causes intolerable congestion. Something should be done about it.

I have been reasonably brief. Little mention has been made of the Transport Bill, which has a vital role to play in this matter. Many of its provisions will have to be implemented by orders made by the Minister, and some of them will come before the House. There is a real plethora of these orders and my right hon. Friend will need courage to implement some of them, because they are controversial. I hope that he will have the courage to bring them in at an early date. I do not think that he was here to hear what I said about the way in which Ministers of Transport, right from the end of the war, have been attacked for what were subsequently proved to be correct decisions.

The position of Minister of Transport requires a great deal of courage, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will have that courage and will be supported in his decisions by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that hon. Members will not seek cheap party advantage at certain times. If we could always deal with the subject of transport as we have dealt with it today we should be able to make inroads into our problems. I hope that my right hon. Friend will pursue his policies with firmness and will point out to the House and the general public that there are contradictions about which they will have to make up their minds. In this way I hope that we shall be able to make real progress over the whole range of transport activities.

1.22 p.m.

Mr. Richard Hornby (Tonbridge)

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) claimed that he had been reasonably brief. I shall do my best to be even briefer. The debate has reached the stage when many of the main points have been made, but we should not apologise if we repeat some of them, if only to emphasise the importance that they deserve.

Almost everyone who has spoken feels a great deal of sympathy both with the travellers, who have to endure daily travelling in the rush hour and the railways, who have to tackle the problem with inadequate capital and also cope with difficult problems of skilled labour. No one should under-emphasise the strain which daily commuting in difficult travelling conditions adds up to. Employers in Central London are well aware of the weariness of some of their employees, especially the older ones, who have to do daily journeys backwards and forwards. At the other end, many wives have to suffer all the frustrations of not knowing at what time the breadwinner will come in the winter evenings. At both the employment end and the home end there is a picture of very hard work.

This is a very emotional subject, because of the wear and tear and strain upon the individual. That is why we all receive letters. That is what makes the matter important. The amount of commuting done and the problems that have to be faced by the commuters adds up to a total failure of modern planning for many years. In many respects it is a nonsense life because of the distances that have to be travelled. Many of my constituents live where they do only because they have been unable to find somewhere nearer their places of work. They have no preference for commuting. In some areas the procedures for issuing I.D.C.s require to be re-examined in order to see whether more work can be brought nearer to places where the workers live and more housing can be brought closer to the places where people work.

Many hon. Members could quote examples of employers who, at some moment, have taken the decision to move their offices or workplaces out of London and who have had many complaints from their staff in the first place but who, when the move has been made, have realised that they have made the right decision because their employees have quickly realised that they are having a better quality of life.

On the question of capital, the problem of the Southern Region of British Railways is not, in present circumstances, going to be solved at the average annual capital expenditure rate of only about £25 million. Its problems are bigger than that. They must be faced fairly and squarely, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will face them in that way. This is precisely a capital expenditure problem and its implications must be faced by all. I shall not reiterate examples that have been given in which capital expenditure is needed by agreement. Many problems have arisen because in respect of their charges the railways have been squeezed by politicians and others all along the line, thereby preventing the accumulation of resources.

I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) that skilled manpower will continue to he short in the London area unless an opportunity is afforded to offer premium rates of pay which will be sufficient to attract the right people. The railways, like other nationalised industries, suffer from an archaic salary structure stemming in many cases from an artificial and uncompetitive top limit. This becomes important when it affects those down the line in the managerial structure. To his credit, on such occasions the Minister has faced the issues in this field. Management of the railways will not be easy to get right until competitive salary structures right through the grades are offered.

I share the views expressed earlier about the inadequacy of transport users' consultative committees. One illustration of the importance of information and communications concerns the research which is now going on the future of London terminal stations and the question that has been raised whether the major services should be switched from City stations to the Victoria area.

On many occasions in the past the railways have been criticised for inadequate market research into the needs of their customers. I agree that some of the criticism is justified, but in market research what has been done has made some of that criticism out of date. The railways are examining travelling needs and patterns in the area, and that to that extent it is a mistake of some of the travellers' associations to criticise the railways and to say that something underhand is going on.

The railways, on the other hand, must realise that as soon as it becomes known that this sort of research is going on doubts and suspicions as to what might be the end of those researches are bound to arise.

Although the railways say that they ate looking for the economic way of bringing trains into the areas and serving their customers' needs, many people who travel by those trains are anxious lest the pattern of their travelling life is disturbed for the worst. It must be realised that buying a house and choosing a place to live is probably the biggest single financial decision taken by the vast majority of householders. It involves substantial money and added hours in the day if that pattern is changed for the worse.

Therefore, the railways have a major responsibility to take the public into their confidence as early as possible if proposing any changes, so that those changes may be debated and discussed by all affected and so that those considering buying houses in a particular area do not subsequently find, and all too soon, that it is the wrong place because the railways have taken a decision which they did not know about at the time.

Mr. Lubbock

This is a very important point. A few years ago, all the late night trains in my constituency were taken off, but hundreds of journalists had come to live in Orpington so that they could get home after the second editions "went to bed". As a result of that decision, many had to buy cars, and thus added to the congestion in central London.

Mr. Hornby

I thank the hon. Member for that illustration.

I asked the Minister and the railways to take into account the importance of this question. Those three questions—the capital, skilled manpower at managerial and other levels and the adequate collection and dissemination of information—have been made but they need emphasising and re-emphasising until we get the answers right.

1.32 p.m.

Mr. Tony Gardner (Rushcliffe)

I must apologise to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) for not being here at the beginning of the debate. He will appreciate that emergency constituency problems sometimes arise which involve long long-distance telephone conversations. We are grateful to him for introducing this subject and for the terms of the Motion, which enables us all to discuss commuter problems, whatever part of the country we represent. Although the debate has been mainly concerned with the problems of the London commuter, I should like to refer to that region in the triangle formed by the three big cities of Nottingham, Derby and Leicester, which I have been pursuing the Minister about for the last two years, since we have some very difficult transport problems.

There are two features of this area. First, we are very hospitable people. We even welcomed the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), although we did not appreciate his assistance in getting us a new bridge when he was photographed in the local Press side by side with the candidate in a municipal bye-election. We are not sure that this is the best way to solve transport problems. But we would welcome the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) heartily if she joined us in this battle.

The other thing about this area is that it is one of the fastest growing subregions in the country. The East Midlands Study estimated that the population of the Nottingham-Derby sub-region, which is rapidly becoming one solid connurbation, would rise by 355,000 by 1981 and that the number of motor cars registered in the area would double. This means, of course, that the chaos on the roads will certainly grow.

The third thing about this area is that its public transport is, unfortunately, declining. In my constituency, the Nottinghamshire County Council, trying to cope with the problem of the big movement out from the City of Nottingham has sensibly restricted development to a limited number of villages called nodal villages, which means that they will expand fairly rapidly over the next 10 or 20 years to cope with the new population growth which will arise to serve the industries of Nottingham, Derby and to some extent, Leicester.

But the effect of this sensible planning which is intended to avoid spoiling our countryside is of course to push traffic and traffic flow through very few central points. In one area we face the problem that all this traffic, whether public or private, must squeeze across two bridges over a very long stretch of the Trent. So there is a problem of improving the flow for commuters and of improving road services.

But we should deceive ourselves if we thought that this was the only problem. The other problem in this area, which is common to many sub-regions, is that bus services are in complete chaos. There are three large municipal bus undertakings, which are quite efficient and provide a very good service for the people in the areas. But this means that, in the past, there has never been a big enough population of profitability to attract the large bus undertakings, so all the areas in the country which are bringing the commuters into the big cities are served by a hotchpotch of small bus companies. When I first moved into the area, I thought it was like a coat of many colours to see the mass of vehicles of the many tiny private bus companies at any bus station.

So the services have been bad, because it is impossible for the small companies to provide anything like an adequate, peak-hour service. This is one problem and, of course, as a result of the growth of the motor car and the growing unprofitability of running omnibus services anyway, these services have been declining. This is happening side by side with fares increases, which means that there are more and more motor cars, therefore fewer and fewer people on the buses, therefore fewer and fewer buses, and the final outcome is no buses at all.

We were lucky with our rail services at first. Unlike most hon. Gentlemen, I make no complaint about the rail services. Our problem now, in the East Midlands, is that the railway services are rapidly disappearing. We were served by two very good trunk routes and, more important, two very good local commuter routes. Unfortunately, these services have been rapidly withdrawn.

We had a first-class service on the Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham line, a stopping service, which was very convenient because the railway stations were mostly not far from the centre of the villages. It was a fairly late railway development and the villages grew up around the stations. Unfortunately, these services have disappeared, and, apart from Loughborough, no station is now open between Attenborough in my constituency and Leicester. My right hon. Friend will remember the arguments which we had about the withdrawal of passenger services from Kegworth on this line, so this thrusts more and more people on to the road.

While on the subject of this line, I must say that some of the actions of British Rail seem incredible. My right hon. Friend has now announced the lines to which he will make grants under the Transport Act's provisions for socially necessary lines. One of those lines is that which serves Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham. Only a week or so before he made the announcement about increased assistance, the fares on this line were increased by 30 per cent. I have written to him on the subject asking whether there will be any reconsideration of those fares increases in the light of the grants which he is making to the railways for this line.

We also had another line, the Great Central service, which at one time was a first-class rail link between Sheffield, Nottingham and London. It has been progressively run down by British Railways over the years. Finally it was topped and tailed so that it became a small line starting at Arkwright Street, Nottingham and running to Rugby Central. It has been run down and, as a result, far fewer people have used the lire. Now we are faced with the threat of its final closure. I do not know why British Rail have taken this attitude over the years, but they have even refused adequately to advertise the service and it has been left to such people as the Great Central Railway Association to print railway timetables and to distribute them. The problem is getting worse. In my village, East Leake, it is expected that the population will increase from the present 4,000 or so to over 7,000 in the next 10 years. The only alternative to the bus service is this rail link provided by the old Great Central line. If that station is closed, I can foresee further chaos on the roads running through South Nottinghamshire and eventually to the City of Nottingham.

I suggest to my right hon. Friend, first, that he uses the powers which he already possesses. For some time I have been asking him to commission a special transport study of the problems of passenger transport in the areas, in particular, surrounding Derby and Nottingham. I believe that we shall see the continuation of the equation which I mentioned—the growth in the number of motor cars, a declining public service, therefore a further increase in the number of motor cars, therefore a further decline in the public sere ice, and ultimately the final demise of the public service. I ask my right hon. Friend to use as quickly as possible the powers which he has under the Transport Act, particularly in relation to subsidies for rural buses and particularly in linking cheap and quick road and rail commuter services. Time and again I have asked him to set up a passenger transport authority for this area, because I am convinced that in the long run that is the only answer.

But it may be that we must do some radical new thinking about transport problems, particularly in the areas surrounding big cities. The City of Leicester has been considering the situation, with the possibility of providing a central ring road beyond which, perhaps, in future traffic will not be able to penetrate into the city so that people will have to use public transport services. I remember some time ago reading a report—I am sorry that I cannot remember the name of the city—about a large city in Texas which commissioned a study of its future transport development. The town planners who were asked to undertake the study were told that what was needed was a traffic flow of about 25 m.p.h. through the city. They were asked to assume that the growth in motor car ownership would go on. In the end they reported to the city that there were only two answers to the problem. If they accepted that the commuter traffic would be carried in motor cars, then two-ninths of the total city area would have to be devoted to six-lane throughways and car parks. The city would thus lose two-ninths of its commercial and residential property. The alternative was that there would have to be completely free public transport and people would have to leave their motor cars outside the city.

I do not know whether we have yet reached that stage in Britain, but clearly we must think more radically about the problem. I believe that the day will come when we shall have very heavily subsidised, if not free public transport in the city regions. In the meantime, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to respond to the requests that many of us have made and to stop all further rail closures prior to setting up a full inquiry into the pattern of transport needs, particularly in areas surrounding the cities of Nottingham and Derby.

1.45 p.m.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

I am very glad once again to be shadowing the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport. It is not the first time that I have shadowed him, for, as he knows, I shadowed him at Fuel and Power. He then moved to the Ministry of Transport, and it was not long before I moved to the shadowing position there. I look forward to the time when he shadows me.

I join in the congratulations which have been expressed to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Capt. W. Elliot) on having raised this subject, which is a subject which we debate all too rarely in the House, and on the way in which he dealt with it in his opening speech. Inevitably, many of us in the London area and other congested areas have a large number of personal and constituency complaints on this issue, but I do not think it advisable to detail them today, nor would it necessarily get us very far if I did so. I think it better to try to draw certain principles and conclusions from these complaints and to see how best they can be dealt with to give a better system of public transport.

I agree with those hon. Members who have said that, no matter how much we spend on roads, we shall never relieve the congestion of private cars at peak hours. This means that much will depend on rail traffic to carry a large number of people from their homes in order to do their jobs. Inevitably, much of the debate has centred around the Southern Region services and London Transport services. In my time I have used most of them. For a long time I lived south of the river, and as I have a constituency north of the river, I have also frequently commuted from north London to Westminster. I admit that I do not travel at peak hours, an experience which I try to avoid.

The main influx of commuters into London is through these two railway routes, Southern Region and London Transport. It is not always blame which we have for these services. When they run well they are extremely good. They are quick. People appreciate their swiftness. The problem is that there are all too many occasions on which they run late—so many that it may severely affect people's future prospects in their jobs, and they may have to move their houses nearer to their jobs to be certain of getting to work on time.

Most of the complaints can be traced to two causes—lack of capital resources, and lack of management efficiency. May I deal with them in turn? It seems to me that at the moment the capital resources are inadequate for the calls made upon the services. The capital expenditure for the whole of British Railways in a year is £100 million, which is not very much, of which only £10 million is found from the National Loans Fund. A sum of £90 million comes from internal resources, which I appreciate increases the deficit. For British Railways as a whole, that is not a very large amount of capital expenditure, and the amount met from the National Loan Fund—is very small indeed.

The amount for Southern Region obviously is even less. I am told that it is only about £12 million to £15 million a year and that it has not been enough to maintain or replace old equipment properly. May I deal first with rolling stock and later with track? I am told that there are 800 pre-war carriages being used and that a scheme put up to replace 200 each year for four years was turned down by the Treasury. One would not have considered it a demanding scheme, particularly when it was designed to replace a great deal of very old stock, but, though modest, it was turned down.

Even more important is the question of track, because it is directly concerned with safety. It is only just over a year since the Hither Green disaster. The recommendation in paragraph 167 of the summary to the Report into that matter said: I recommend that in main lines and heavily trafficked commuter lines the premature replacement of jointed track by continuous welded rail should be speeded-up to the maximum practical extent. Nobody would skimp on expenditure if safety were involved. Far too many factors are at stake. I seek an assurance that any demands for capital allocation for track on safety grounds will continue to be met without question. This demand is not only for track but for the necessary skills to lay it, and this might, mean making arrangements for the necessary training facilities. In other words, we need an assurance that any demand for capital for this purpose will be met without question.

One hon. Member suggested that capital expenditure should not be sought in these matters. I suggest that it is not that capital or expenditure has been short in recent years—spending by the Government has been extremely high—but that, over the years, the Government have chosen to allocate capital to different causes. The Minister will be aware of the point I have in mind when I say that it seems mad that we should allocate a large amount of capital to, for example, rendering modern equipment in the gas industry prematurely obsolete when the Government are refusing to replace very old equipment on the railways, and particularly on Southern Region.

We are having to spend £400 million over a period of about 10 years converting gas cookers and equipment to take natural gas. This is being done when it is vital to bring up to date old equipment for essential services being operated by British Rail, and particularly by Southern Region. Capital expenditure on these various other items show that the capital is available, is being freely spent, even to render modern equipment obsolete. It would be better to spend the money on bringing up to date equipment which is very old.

One reason why the capital resources have not been allocated to this region or to British Rail generally is because, for some time, we have not had chairmen and general managers who have been vociferous enough in their demands. There must come a time when every general manager and chairman is entitled to ventilate his grievances if he finds that he is not getting the tools to do the job so that he does not take blame which should no be apportioned to him. Some of them might learn a lesson from Lord Robens who, if he had anything to complain about, would not be slow to do so, and it would not be in sotto voce tones.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

I suggest that both the hon. Lady and I should weigh our words carefully in this matter. There are limits as to how far we want to encourage nationalised industry chairmen to go. We do not want them to get over-excited about some of these maters.

Mrs. Thatcher

If the chairmen and general managers of the nationalised industries are not getting the requisite capital to do the job and provide the services which the public and the Government wish them to undertake, they should say so that we may know where to apportion the blame. It has always seemed to me that the person who hollers the loudest is likely to get the greatest capital allocation. Capital has been available and it has been spent. It has been a matter of choice by the Government, and they have not allocated sufficient for this purpose.

Matters concerning lack of efficiency are, perhaps, smaller, although complaints on this score are made daily. I refer to things like lack of booking office facilities at peak periods. One is bound to become exasperated arriving at a station to find only one man in the ticket office and an enormous queue. There are too few automatic ticket vending machines and some of those which exist are often out of action, particularly at peak times. It should not be beyond the wit of man to contrive a system to allow people to obtain their tickets automatically, and to ensure that the machines are working. Nothing is more irritating than to miss a train because the queue is too long and there are vending machines out of order.

On many occasions signs relating to the destination of trains are not put up. There are innumerable instances of silly little irritating defects causing frustration, particularly when everybody knows that they could easily be put right. Many of those who travel on commuter services are familiar with the problems of management efficiency and how to put things right. They would probably be reprimanded if they showed the sort of slackness which they sometimes meet on London Transport on their way to work. It seems nonsense that, after one makes a complaint one receives a nice letter of apology and explanation but little is done to remedy the position. Indeed, the number of complaints appears to go on rising.

An hon. Member will be aware, fares will rise again comparatively shortly in the London Transport region as part of the arrangement to make the undertaking viable before it is handed over to the G.L.C. When that happens, people will rightly demand a service which is efficient. They will not pay ever-increasing fares if adequate services are not provided. I urge the Minister to consult with those responsible in the nationalised boards to see that some of these management defects are swept away before any increase in fares takes place.

Although comparatively new to this subject, I understand that it is general practice for fares on the Southern Region to go up in step with rises in London Transport fares. This means that all commuters will probably be facing increased fares in the comparatively near future. It is vital, therefore, that the services provided are as efficient as possible—and certainly far more efficient than they are now.

A number of hon. Members have spoken of bus services. In some respects, this is an even more difficult problem than railway services, because it does not matter how much we spend on the roads, they will remain congested and the buses will continue to run comparatively slowly. If we built bigger and better roads, they would soon be saturated with more vehicles and we would be no nearer solving this problem. Nevertheless, it is still cheaper to travel by bus than by car in peak-hour traffic.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)


Mrs. Thatcher

I would have thought, particularly in view of the recent petrol increase, that it must be cheaper, particularly in peak-hour traffic.

Mr. Lubbock

It depends on how one costs it.

Mr. Atkinson

To travel by bus in London now costs about 6d. an hour—[HON. MEMBERS: "An hour?"] I should have said 6d. a mile. To travel by bus for an hour one must be a millionaire. It is marginally cheaper to travel by car, assuming that one has a car of reasonable size.

Mrs. Thatcher

That might be so if one's car is full of passengers, but many vehicles travelling through London, particularly at peak periods, contain only one passenger. The latest assessment contained in the P.E.P. pamphlet, "Journeys to Work", which was made before the last petrol increase, was that it is cheaper to travel by bus than to run a car in congested conditions carrying on average 1.5 passengers. It is, there- fore, cheaper for one person to travel by bus than by car. However, let us not get too bogged down in detail.

We want more people to travel by bus and fewer people to travel by car, and the only way is to make the bus service quicker. This is not easy, but some experiments are being made. In, I think, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, they are providing bus priority lanes on the roads and bus priority signalling. We should like to know how that is working. On those roads in London where it could be operated it would make for very much quicker services. For instance, coming down from North London through Baker Street, there are parking meters on one side; one would think that it would be possible to abolish these and to give a priority lane to buses. In theory, this seems to be one way of getting the buses to run more quickly, in which case a number of people would undoubtedly transfer to the bus.

A tremendous amount of traffic engineering was stated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marbles) when he was Minister of Transport, but it has not always been beneficial to bus travellers. For example, some of the one-way systems mean that a person may have to go a long distance out of her way in order to get a bus. If one has been shopping at Simpson's in Piccadilly and wants to go to High Street Kensington, one cannot get a bus going in the right direction without walking quite a long way. That is one of the inevitable consequences of traffic engineering, but it does not help the person who all the time has to travel by bus.

It is also inevitable that schemes for improving the speed of buses may result in increased congestion for the motorist, as would happen if we were to reserve part of the roadway at peak hours for the bus. We would have to accept that the benefits in getting more people to travel by bus would be so great that we would have to accept that particular consequence on the motorist.

The question to which none of us knows the answer is how many extra commuters we shall have to deal with on transport services in future years. A number of false assessments have been made. That is inevitable when making assessments of numbers of population and of population movements. The South-Eastern Plan thought that in the ten years to 1971 we would have to expect some 200,000 more commuters into Central London. Apparently, that has not come about, but we know that at the moment more and more people are moving further and further out of London, and are thereby having to travel further to their jobs.

This is a policy which, to some extent, has been encouraged by Governments. For example, the whole overspill policy is based on moving people out of the city centres. The whole overspill policy has a very considerable effect on the number of commuters travelling in, and unless the degree of service is put up and the capital made available this policy of itself will lead to a worse service for our commuters than they have at present.

What I should like to ask the Minister—and I am sure that he knows what I am about to ask—is whether the Southern Region was consulted over the decision to build Thamesmead for 50,000 people, which will probably add some 5,000 to the number of commuters coming in daily? My guess is, and I believe it to be a pretty well informed guess, that the region was not consulted. Unless the capital is to be allocated to the commuter services, it will be the duty of the Government to stop overspill, and tell people, "If you go further out of London, the services may not be available." Perhaps we may have the right hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Onslow

Have we not to recognise in this context that control of office and industrial development, by denying local communities the opportunity to provide employment locally in places in the Metropolitan and Home Counties area where population increase is going on, is forcing more commuters to go to work in London because they are not able to get work locally?

Mrs. Thatcher

My hon. Friend has a very valid point there, but I understand from The Times today that there may be a complete change in the policy for office development in London itself. My point is hat we do not at the moment have enough information to assess the effect on commuters, and it would appear that a number of contradictory policies are being followed by different Government Departments.

We know that London will continue to be a magnet for people, because of the salary differentials at all levels, both for the professional worker and for the artisan. Further, there are a number of skills which people can only use in London, where there is a fairly sophisticated production of goods. Therefore, even though the London population itself does not go up, there may well be an increasing number of people travelling into central London. One remedy often suggested, and mentioned today by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry) is that of staggered hours. Only a very limited amount can be done in this connection. It is no good getting to work and then discovering that another organisation which one wants to contact does not start until an hour later. That would be an absurd system to adopt.

Staggered hours would also have some very difficult effects on anyone with a family. A working wife would have to get her husband off to work, at one time, with children going to different schools at different revised times—and we are being asked by the present Minister of Education to look at the hours at which schools should start—and also get off to work herself. That would make it virtually impossible to run a household at all on any reasonable basis. The kind of staggering which may be done within the hours of 7 and 10 is already done by people themselves according to their individual needs to try to ease the problems of travelling as far as they can, and enable them to travel with greater comfort——

Mr. Lubbock

Does the hon. Lady realise that the "peak of the peak", to use the railway expression, is a very narrow time band? Would she further agree that if some people, like the typists in typing pools, who do not have to be tied to employers' hours, could be shifted from the peak, this would make a very real contribution to the problem of numbers?

Mrs. Thatcher

I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at this from the point of view of the family. The typist in the typing pool may well be a working mother who has had to see her husband off to the City and take children to two or three different schools. The problem is increased for her by staggered hours because she may have to go to work before her family have gone. We have to remember that a large number of married women go out to work as teachers, nurses, and so on. Indeed, the economy could not go on without them. The increase in staggered hours would increase their problems in very many ways, because they could not choose the time which suited them. In any case, only a limited amount of staggering could be done.

I know about the peak within the peak, but the peak lasts for such a long time. As a result, people are doing their own staggered hours to suit their own personal circumstances as far as they can. For instance, if I am down in the country in Kent, I now travel far earlier to work than I otherwise would because I know that the earlier trains are less crowded. A number of other people are doing the same thing.

Committees are often set up to coordinate transport or to look into the problems of how best to get commuters into London. I understand that there was one such committee or unofficial group under the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle under Lyme (Mr. Swingler) when he was in the right hon. Gentleman's Department, whose terms of reference related to the best way to transport people to Central London. I am not sure whether that body is still in existence, but could we know what recommendations it made—and will it ever report?

There is a danger in starting off with grandiose new schemes. What happens is that all the minor improvements which could be made are often forced to wait upon the new scheme which is supposed to come. The new scheme never arrives, and this often prevents a goodly number of minor works being carried through, and prevents sufficient improvement in the services. The services, we are concerned to improve are those which we have now. We cannot wait for the very long-term solutions. We must start with the problem as it is and to do our best to get the best possible service for our commuters.

My hon. and gallant Friend asks in this Motion that the right hon. Gentleman will. … relate capital resources available for transport to the demands of the present and new populations … and make a new appraisal of the problem so that we may know how far we have to make capital available to provide the services required.

2.10 p.m.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. Richard Marsh)

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) has been congratulated by everyone who has spoken in this debate, both on his choice of subject and the way he dealt with it. I have a feeling that he probably started by seeing this subject in rather different terms and became as fascinated by it as I have become in my period of office at the Ministry. The House is grateful to him for giving us the opportunity of discussing one of the most important topics of our time.

Every Minister, when he goes to a new Department, has a Press conference the following day and is asked by the Press what policy decisions he has decided on in the 12 hours since he took office. Then there is a period of six months when one becomes interested in various facets of the Ministry. This problem of urban congestion is the most significant facing my Ministry at present, and I shall speak about it in some detail.

I have also a rather pleasant duty. This is my first opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to a transport debate. I shall not embarrass her by telling her that when we first started to argue the world was young and policemen looked older in those days. Neither of us has converted the other, but I welcome the fact that I have my shadow back and I look forward to many arguments in future—and to judge by the sort of speech she made today it will be an interesting exercise.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions and I shall try to deal with them in the order in which she put them. I cannot quite track down the point she made about replacement of 800 carriages being turned down by the Treasury. This is not so. In November, 1967, 200 electric multiple units were asked for at a cost of £4.6 million, and approval was given within a month. The previous application was in 1966 for £3 million. Another large batch is under consideration by the Department. This last batch was applied for only within the last two weeks and they will be dealt with very expeditiously. This is En example of the large sums of money we are talking about.

The hon. Lady asked whether Southern Region was consulted over the problem of Thamesmead. That question would be rather better directed to her right hon. Friend who introduced the Thamesmead scheme. If I remember rightly, it was the right hon. Gentleman who is the Board of Trade shadow. There are very real problems about Thamesmead and we have to look carefully at them. On the evidence we have at the moment it appears that, with pretty heavy adjustments, Southern Region will be able to cope with this problem, which is much more fundamental than some hon. Members have suggested. The difficulties go back many years to their origin.

The hon. Lady and other hon. Members have spoken about lack of investment in commuter services as distinct from general services. Of course one can always spend more money provided one convinces one's colleagues that the case of a particular Ministry is much better than anyone else's; but in 1969 commuter areas will receive about 18 per cent. of total British Rail investment in return for a contribution on receipts of about 12 per cent. I make no particular point of this because commuter services are almost impossible to run on a break-even basis, but investment in commuter services is very high. There is another question to which I should like to give an absolute answer. I assure the hon. Member that there is absolutely no question of investment necessary for safety being withheld. I give that undertaking.

This Motion is about commuters, but it is a mistake to turn it into a debate on the Southern Region, as a few hon. Members have attempted, although I understand the problems of that area. I have been a South-East London commuter ever since I left school. I am on record as saying some years ago that conditions, particularly for passengers on the North Kent line, were appalling. The only thing which has changed since I made that statement is that I am now supposed to find the answer, which is something of an embarrassment. For that reason I certainly would not challenge this Motion.

I think it a perfectly fair Motion. It would be absurd to pretend that conditions existing in commuter areas, particularly in London, are anywhere near ideal, or even acceptable in a modern society. It is a very wide problem indeed and no one form of transport—rail, bus or private car—can be seen in isolation from the whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) made the point that we should look at the hardware and the software available to our urban problem as a whole and see how we can use it.

There is a wide range of hardware available to us at present—computerised traffic schemes, dial-a-bus, pedestrian aids, self-drive taxis, bus lanes and so on. A whole new field of traffic engineering is open to us. I give the House the assurance that this will receive my attention. As Minister, I shall see how best we can begin to introduce some of the new facilities which are available to us, even if we do so in some of our towns only on an experimental basis from which we can learn. The value of the West London traffic experiment was not so much in the contribution it made in the West London area but in the extent to which it showed local authorities throughout the country what real benefits could be achieved from this rather exotic piece of equipment.

The whole question of these different parts of transport is part of the whole problem of urban and suburban congestion. It is not a problem of convenience for commuters; it is becoming a problem of the way of life of all people in our heavily urbanised society. It is becoming something which will determine what sort of life we are to live in a few years time. Therefore, I make clear that I do not see the Ministry of Transport as a Ministry of roads, a Ministry of road safety, or a Ministry of railways. It is a Ministry of urban environment in many ways affecting the whole of our way of life.

Mr. Onslow

I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Would he also agree that the problem we are considering is essentially one of communications — of communications both of people who do not move from place to place and those who do—and that the question we have to ask is whether it is actually necessary for people to commute at all?

Mr. Marsh

That is a much wider issue, but the population pattern of our country at present, particularly in London and the South of England, would be very difficult to change. One may argue about it but it is difficult to change it. There are many things which one can do, but it is important to establish how we got into the present situation which both sides of the House have accepted under all sorts of Governments over a long period of time. We have now reached a stage in which no one can defend the present situation. I do not intend to attempt to do so. If one looks at how this has arisen it becomes very clear that there is no quick and easy solution to the problem. We mislead ourselves if we think there is something which some Minister or other can do which will change the situation overnight, or even very quickly.

I think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman said only one thing with which I found myself in strong disagreement, and that was that we should be careful not to exclude the competitive element in transport. Many of our problems arise directly from the competitive element in transport in bygone years. The London commuter railways were built by a number of competitive private companies, and were not planned as a coherent system with the present weight of traffic in mind. I do not suppose that it could have been foreseen. The commuter railway lines have been improved and rationalised. The North Kent line is a classic example. Improvements have been made, but more needs to be done to break the bottlenecks at the inner end and make it fit to be a main artery.

There is also the confusion of unrelated terminals handed on by the old competing companies, which do not make a sensible pattern for a single integrated network, and which it will take years and a great deal of money to sort out. The problem we face is largely the product of that competition in the past. I am not making a political point, but that is one of the difficulties. Examples are the eastern side of Victoria, Holborn Viaduct and Blackfriars, all built by one company, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, without any regard to the rest of Victoria Station which was built by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway; Cannon Street, built by South-Eastern Railways; or Waterloo, built by South Western Railways.

In addition, London has a peculiar problem in that unlike other conurbations its developments have been almost entirely radial, with a heavy concentration of jobs in the centre and few other centres in the conurbation to draw in large numbers of employees.

We face a very difficult problem. It is easy to make criticisms of British Rail or London Transport. Most hon. Members were very fair in their criticisms, and recognise that the railways face an almost intractable problem. But what is the problem, in terms of sheer numbers? My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry) made an analogy with Stockholm. But there is not another city in the world which shares London's problem. If London Transport had the job of taking over Stockholm's public transport system, it would find life much easier than it does at present. The passengers entering Central London between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., the vast majority of them coming within a period of two hours——

Mr. George H. Perry

I was not comparing Stockholm with London but with other great cities which have rivers running through them, like Nottingham.

Mr. Marsh

I accept that. The point I want to make is that the London problem is unique in the world. One hundred and eleven thousand people move into the centre of London by private transport each morning. By public transport, 1,032,000 people are shifted into this small area of the country. Nearly 1 million of them come in by bus and rail. The vast majority of these numbers come in two hours. In the evening the exercise is repeated all over again, though the position is slightly different. A comparison with other cities in the British Isles gives the following figures: Glasgow, by private transport, 21,000; by public transport, 103,000. Manchester, by private transport, nearly 37,000; by public transport, nearly 100,000. Therefore, anybody who thinks that there is a simple or quick solution to the problem underestimates its sheer scale and the historical background.

We shall not solve the problem by simply spending a great deal of money on capital investment. We shall not solve it by some sort of science fiction revolution which will enable us to transport millions of people, or by a radical, bureacratic clearance of the roads, or even by reshuffling working hours. Bits of all these things will be of assistance to us; none of them alone will solve the problem. We must do many of them.

The fist thing we must do is to realise that the answer to the problem lies in a whole range of different modes, a whole range of different techniques. This was brought out in the debate, because some hon. Members talked about car parks, some talked about railways, and some about bus lanes, and others about traffic management schemes.

We must have, first, an administrative framework which enables us to make use of all those different methods which contribute towards a solution. The Transport Act, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West referred, goes some way in that direction. The London Transport Bill, which will be before the House in the not-too-distant future, is designed similarly to give us a single authority which can take account of parking regulations and the management of the tubes and buses, and plan them together so that one can determine the facilities one wants for the private motorist and compare them with the facilities one is prepared to make for the public sector. The Passenger Transport Authorities, although they are not in London, have the same approach, that of trying to put local people in charge of all the passenger transport in their area. That is the first crucial thing we must do. We must have one body to manage the whole question. There is no sense in trying to continue as if railways and tubes had nothing to do with car parks and traffic management or roads. They are all part of the same exercise. One can only find the answer with the institutional framework to which I have referred.

The Government have already started along that line with the London Transport Bill, which I hope will not be a violently contentious issue between the parties. At least we are moving towards that sort of approach to the transport problem and the commuter problem.

We have a particular problem with British Rail lines and their relation to the London commuter service.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

The Minister has referred to the London Transport Bill. Can he say whether his Department is investigating the problem on the scale, for example, that the California Urban Transportation Study has involved?

Mr. Marsh

A number of studies have been carried out in this country. The Americans have certainly done a great deal in this field. It is an interesting and essential field, and I hope that we shall be doing more in it in the future. We need to look at cities and see how far we can get a co-ordinated approach, in terms of both the administration and the hardware.

I was coming to the point of the particular problem of the relationship of British Rail to the London commuter. Here we have a problem of railway lines which start 60 or 70 miles away from London and are part commuter and part normal lines. We obviously cannot give the G.L.C. operational control over British Rail lines, but we can and will make statutory provision so that, in effect transport planning by the G.L.C. will cover the commuter services of the whole region. We shall also give the G.L.C. powers to pay grants if it wants better services or if it wants fares kept down.

We must get the right relationship of roads and public transport, and we are doing this. In the Bill there will be new road powers for the G.L.C., extending its highway responsibilities by more than 300 miles, so that it covers all of London's principal roads, more than half as much again as at the present time. The G.L.C. traffic and parking powers will be strengthened, so that the power to relate volumes of road traffic to road space and alternative modes of transport will reside in a single strategic authority.

I say again that one cannot look at these matters separately. The new Red Arrow buses are beginning to show what even a humble bus can do if it is used properly in modern conditions. I agree with what the hon. Lady said on this aspect of the matter. A study of bus lanes and optimum bus sizes may well, in the short run, yield more return than some of the suggested solutions from the more exotic reals of science fiction.

The Greater London Council may well wish to go in much more extensively for reserved lanes for buses. It will now have power to do so. Presumably, the electors will apply pressure in directions of that kind, and the result could be of great value to commuters. For instance, there are many journeys in South London for which a bus getting through faster and regularly could relieve the trains. But, as several hon. Members have said, the problem has been that people transfer to private transport in many cases because the public transport system is not what they want or as good as they want it to be, and the more they transfer to private transport the more difficult it becomes to run the public transport system. If there is a central strategic authority, there is no reason why one should not take these various factors into account. Any commuter knows that it helps a great deal if he can be sure of a quick bus journey at the London end even if the train journey has been pretty rough.

The Greater London Council will have powers to subsidise services if it wishes. One may well decide that a subsidised public transport system can yield high returns in both economic and social terms and is a purpose on which it is worth spending some public money.

The subject which has taken up a good deal of the debate, even though, in my view, it is not the main problem here, is the travelling conditions for commuters. I have tried to show how the problem has been created and how many points we have to work on all at the same time in order to make any impact. A great deal is being done on the railways, and on Southern Region in particular, to improve travelling conditions. Railway investment for commuter services takes a greater proportion of total investment than the proportion of revenue received from those services. Here are some of the projects currently in hand. The resignalling of the North Kent line, £2.8 million. The hon. Member for Orpington referred specifically to the problem of signalling, and I agree with him. That project was given the go-ahead in July this year. Now, rolling stock: 200 rolling stock units for

Southern Region, £4.6 million, the go-ahead given in November, 1967. We are now studying, as I said, a similar but much bigger proposal through the British Railways Board. Next, there is the re-signalling of the Surbiton-Woking area, £1.1 million.

It is worth mentioning that, under the Transport Act, London's commuters will be sizeable beneficiaries through Section 39 grants to socially essential but unremunerative railway services. This, again, is a sector in which, as a Government, we are trying to get the administrative structure right and, in the context of another Measure, power is given to subsidise unremunerative commuter services. Londoners, as I say, will be beneficiaries there.

However, investment is not enough. Money alone cannot solve the railway commuter's problems. The whole community pattern is changing, and it is creating new strains. Long-distance commuting is becoming much more popular. On the Southern Region, over 40 per cent. of commuters now come in from the outer suburbs or further out, compared with 33 per cent. in 1951.

I know that commuters have complained about the recent changes in Southern Region timetables, not only because nothing ran on time for months but because they felt that the new pattern of services gave them a relatively raw deal. But Southern Region was quite right to recast the services to suit the changing demand. Although the management of the railways is not a matter for me, I shall pass on the point which the hon. Member for Orpington made about how far one can use computers now to manage this difficult and complex exercise.

A word now about punctuality. I suspected that this question would probably crop up.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

Is there any attention given to what I would call balanced development at railway stations? The station in my constituency has been doubled in length, and the result has been that longer trains have become available. That is satisfactory, but, unfortunately, the small room which was adequate for the smaller trains has not been improved and, in other words—

Mr. Speaker

Order We cannot have a speech disguised as an intervention from an hon. Member who has not been here through the whole debate.

Sir E. Errington

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I did not know how I was offending against a rule of order.

Mr. Speaker

Interventions must be brief.

Sir E. Errington

I am trying to be brief, Sir. Does anyone consider the amenities as well as the practicalities of development?

Mr. Marsh

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Board gives a great deal of consideration to those factors. If the hon. Gentleman has complaints on that score, perhaps he will raise them with the Board. I think that one of the problems we have in the House is that we all have, in a sense, a schizophrenic approach to the nationalised industries, suggesting, on the one hand, that Ministers should not interfere too much in the management of nationalised industries while, on the other hand, trying to do junior managerial jobs for the railways. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman has a specific point to raise, the Board would be happy to take it up.

I was about to discuss the problem of lateness. Again, there is no point in telling commuters that their trains are not very often late, because they are well aware that they are. But, for the record, since I was asked if there were any figures showing the proportion of correct arrival times, more than 85 per cent. of Scuthern Region trains arrive on time or less than five minutes late. The trouble is that the late arrivals are heavily concentrated in the commuter period. However, one should recognise that as a pretty impressive performance overall, given the highly complex nature of the operation which Southern Region has to carry out, and it is a performance which the Region is improving as time goes on.

Not only do we need new railway planning; we want planning for the South-East as a whole. This is not really the topic of today's debate, but perhaps I may mention how, in planning new ring and orbital roads for outer metropolitan areas, we are seeking to make lateral movement to work across the radii easier. One of the other problems peculiar to London is that, if one wants to go four miles across the radii outside London, the quickest way is often to come 16 miles up to London Bridge Station and then go out again. We have road building programmes which will take care of some of that problem.

Mr. Lubbock

The right hon. Gentleman gave us the proportion of the correct arrival times. What would he think an employer would say to an employee who was regularly late if that employee were to say, "I am on time or only five minutes late 85 per cent. of the time"?

Mr. Marsh

I accept that, but I think that it is really a debating point. None of us denies that the problem facing Southern Region is pretty well insoluble in the very short run. We all know what the problem is. It is one of sheer volume of traffic pouring in at a limited number of points and coming along a limited track, a track which is inadequate for its purpose because it was built in different circumstances. I imagine that Southern Region would probably have a rather better answer for the hon. Gentleman, saying, in effect, "You tell us how we can make the remaining 15 per cent. of our trains run to time".

There have been references to the control of office development in the congested centre, and there was some difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on this aspect of the matter. In my view, we are getting assistance in this way. We are pushing out alternative travel points in the area and, although people are tending to move out, the movement of office development outwards is producing a change in the flow of travel. In November, 1964, before control, there was 14.1 million square feet gross of office space under construction in Greater London. By March of this year that figure had fallen to only 5.4 million.

I have spoken for rather longer than I intended to at the beginning of this debate. I again express my appreciation to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton for raising this subject. I have sought to convince the House that the Government accept that this is a serious problem which goes far wider than purely inconvenience to the travelling public. It is a problem which will grow and which will affect the type of city in which we shall live in a few years' time and our whole pattern of life. It is a very difficult problem to solve. We have taken the first step to produce methods by which the right decisions can be taken and studies can be made. We have begun to move towards decisions in terms of finance in some of these fields.

The problems that we face come from many directions—administration, division of responsibilities, investment, improved railway operation, and the location of homes and of work, Utopia will not be found in a very short space of time.

The conditions under which many people travel are still very bad. It is the penalty of a past failure to plan and ruthless competition. What we are now seeking to do, as called for in the Motion, is to put forward a basis upon which we can plan our commuter services and our urban environment and then proceed to put into operation that which so unfortunately started, as with so many other things, far too late to avoid some of the consequences which now arise.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that at the beginning of the debate I appealed for reasonably brief speeches. We have had them. I should like to be able to call all hon. Members who have sat right through the debate. That will be possible only if every hon. Member, including those who have joined the debate during the course of it, make reasonably brief speeches.

2.42 p.m.

Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

Mr. Speaker, I asure you that I shall be very brief. I have sat through virtually the whole of this debate. It was high time that the voice of the commuter was heard in the House, and the complaining commuter at that; because the complaining commuter can only write letters. Words in the House are somehow a better salve for his troubles and wounds than mere letters from a Member of Parliament or from the Railways Board.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) for raising this matter. I doubt if I shall live long enough to see his rather William Morris-like vision of the commuter's paradise of the future. I think my hon. and gallant Friend would wish me to say how much we appreciate the fact that the Minister in person has been here throughout the debate. This is an excellent example of how essential it is to have a commuting Member as Minister of Transport and a shadow Minister who is also a commuting Member. Although I shall not be here when the shadow becomes the substance, I hope that during the short span that remains to the right hon. Gentleman his deeds will match his brave words of today.

The Minister gave a very sympathetic reply to the complaints uttered by my hon. and gallant Friend and by others of my hon. Friends. We are grateful for that. This has been essentially a London debate, with a rather strange excursion towards Nottingham, mostly related to a forthcoming ward by-election. It has also been primarily a Southern Region debate. The obvious moral can be drawn from that.

Oddly enough, the only dissident speech about the Southern Region came from the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald), who was here until recently. I had hoped that he would have been here for my speech. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's speech was startlingly complacent. If, as he says, he receives no complaints about the railway service in his constituency, I can only say that I am not surprised: I felt that his speech bore the hallmark of the swan song of somebody who felt that very soon he would not be receiving any complaints, anyway.

I speak with some experience, because of all the hon. Members who have spoken so far I think that I have been the longest in the House, and for 18 years my file dealing with the Southern Region has been probably the largest of them all. Rather than give the impression that I am only complaining, I acknowledge that over those years, despite everything, there has been a very steady improvement in services.

When I first entered the House in 1950 I used to receive letters weekly and almost daily. The answer was always given, particularly as to the Brighton line, which affects the largest part of my constituents, "We cannot possibly increase the number of trains that pass through Clapham Junction". Then came the miracle. Gatwick was enlarged and turned into a great international airport. Suddenly overnight it became possible to double, or whatever the fraction was, the number of trains passing through Clapham Junction. As a result the services on that line substantially improved.

The only difficulty is that in my area the population has increased by nearly 30 per cent. Therefore, the facilities have not quite been able to keep pace with the improvement in population. It will be manifest that I am trying to be fair to British Railways and to the Southern Region in particular.

The remaining complaints are directed not so much to the quantity of the service as to its quality—the bad rolling stock, which is now gradually being removed, and overcrowding. The almost persistent, recurrent theme is that of bad timekeeping. This occurs regularly at intervals. It is coupled with the inadequate information given to the public as to reasons.

There are other strange incidents. There is a lateral line in my constituency feeding the junction at Redhill. There is a peculiar problem there. A village has grown up more or less in recent years round the railway station. The problem is that some mornings, particularly in the winter, trains do not arrive. I hope that this will be remedied as staffing improves.

The criticisms that are made are very hard on station staffs. It is obvious that the frustrated commuter will vent his wrath on the nearest person in uniform. The next thing to do, if he fails and does not get satisfaction there, is to write to his Member of Parliament.

The point I wish to stress most is the medium of complaints. We must deal with these, and that is right. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt) raised the question of the transport users consultative committees. It is not unfair to say that my hon. Friend described them as useless. I think he is right. This is something which the Minister should consider. I understand that under the new London Transport Bill the Committee for London transport will be appointed by the G.L.C. I hope that this means that the G.L.C. will appoint to that Committee either its own members or people from amongst the ranks of those who use these services. I should like the Minister to follow this parallel and allow local authorities on the main lines to appoint representatives to the committees affecting their areas. in that way, these committees could be made far more representative of users of the lines.

Over the years I have found a considerable improvement generally in the public relations on Southern Region as a whole. I am not talking about the information it gives to passengers. My letters are answered rather more quickly than they were many years ago. I think there is a wish to placate or appease public opinion which did not exist before. The meetings now held at certain intervals with Members of Parliament are often a great help to all of us who previously found it difficult to get at the man who was responsible. This could be improved and developed, and then perhaps gradually the correspondence load that some of us have might be reduced.

I should like to say how sympathetic I found the approach of the Minister and my hon. Friend. I feel that the commuters, who constitute the largest part of my constituency, at last have some very real friends on both sides of the House.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. Michael Barnes (Brentford and Chiswick)

I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) upon raising this subject. My only regret is that I was unable to be present to hear his speech.

My constituency, Brentford and Chiswick, is probably nearer to the centre of London than the constituencies of many who have spoken, and this means that the problems that commuters encounter there are rather different. The greatest worry of my constituents in the present situation is whether the priorities between different forms of transport are right. In particular, they are worried about the huge sums that are proposed to be spent on urban motorways, particularly the £1,000 million, as it may be, that will have to be spent on the London primary road network. That project involves building motorways that will destroy the character of many localities. Chiswick, which is already at the junction of the M4, the A4 and the North Circular Road, is threatened with becoming a junction also for the M3 and the C Ring of the new network, which will have to pass through it. One wonders whether enough attention is being paid to the threats to the very existence, in some cases, of localities which these roads involve.

It is worrying that all this seems to be planned before a serious attempt has been made to do something about the greatest absurdity of our present commuting pattern, the vast number of cars driven into London with only one occupant. I do not know why so many people do this. Perhaps it is a sort of status symbol, it being felt that those who drive to work lonely in their own car have a certain status. What it must do to people's nerves I do not know. One sees them jostling for position as they go out of London along the M4 in the evening. They must get home in a foul temper and give their families a hard time.

What will the Government do about it? There are signs that part of their policy is to price people out of central London by increasing the cost of parking. To try to price out the "one man, one car" commuter would be grossly unfair to people who are not well off. It is no good appealing to these people either. On the wireless this morning I heard that the police in one area had appealed to the "one man, one car" commuters there not to do this. But I am sure that appeals will not be enough.

The Government must tackle this problem, perhaps by a system of permits. Some people ought to have priority to travel in their own car through the nature of their work, but surely we could have a system whereby many other people could travel to work in their car only if they took another person with them. Perhaps they could have a permit to do this, just as residents in some areas have a permit for parking stuck on their windscreen.

Motor cars, of course, must be given priority, but it should be a reasonable degree of priority. I agree with what the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said about the grandiose motorway schemes that exist. Perhaps in the case of London this is just the right point in time when these plans should be reconsidered. There seems to be some evidence that the forecasts on which some of them have been based are not materialising. I believe that since the London traffic survey, the volume of goods traffic on roads in London actually declined between 1962 and 1966. The total traffic, including private motor cars, has increased at only half the rate that was expected. Therefore, this is surely a very good point in time to reconsider these very big plans. If such a reassessment were made, more money would be available for public transport, and this is certainly needed.

It is often the small things which irritate people and make things difficult for commuters. For instance, a year or so ago Gunnersbury Station was modernised, and there is now a beautiful office building on top of it. It makes it look like a wonderful station. But until recently, at any rate, on the platform there was a prefabricated hut, a large area of the platform had no shelter, the drainage was bad so that when it rained the water flowed down the platform, and an icy wind cut through the place. It had all the signs of having been a rather shoddy job. British Railways agreed to improve it, and it looked as if it would do so this time last year. People hoped that the work would be completed before the winter, but it was not done throughout the whole of last winter, and people had to put up with those conditions. These may be small things, as I say, but early in the morning, particularly with the extra hour of darkness now, or at the end of a tiring day, this sort of thing makes life very difficult for commuters.

Another example is the bus changes that are now taking place. In my constituency the old 55 bus is being replaced by one of the new coin-in-the-slot buses. But this new bus will not stop south of Grove Park Station in Chiswick, as the former did. It will stop north of it only. Presumably this is done for economy reasons, but it involves people in an extra walk of several hundred yards over a very steep hump-backed bridge, and this makes it difficult for old people in bad weather. Very small economies of that kind, probably made with the best of intentions, cause much more hardship than the people who plan them ever realise. This has upset so many people that a petition has been organised, and I have been invited to my constituency tonight to receive it.

The Government have done a tremendous amount to improve our transort system. The problems of commuters are, of course, difficult because there are so many different interests that have to be reconciled. However, I urge the Minister to keep the needs of the motor car properly in perspective. It seems that too high a priority has been given to the motor car in many of the grandiose motorway schemes that are planned, like the London primary road network. I hope that the institutional framework which the Minister is trying to create in legislation like the London Transport Bill will enable a better balance to be struck in future between the different types of transport than we have seen in the past.

2.59 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I think that we have about heard it all, and much of what I had noted as wanting to say has been covered adequately by other Lion. Members. I will not refer to my large file of letters from constituents complaining about the lack of service and the failure of trains on Southern Region to arrive on time.

We are grateful to the Minister for being present for almost the whole debate listening to our speeches. London's commuters, whether they travel by train, bus or car, will be grateful for his presence and his statement. I think, too, that they will want to read the report of this debate. It might have been thought that the Minister was just using words, but his words have opened the door to an opportunity for improvement.

I want to make only a very few points. I will not go over the frustrations, complaints and discomforts which have been brought to my attention. I would remind the Minister that the inadequacy of Southern Region's rail services into London is not only causing frustration but the acceptance of a fait accompli which must be countered, especially in view of the country's unhealthy economic climate. The frustration is turning into accept- ance of bad timekeeping by trains which is translated into bad timekeeping in offices, and that, unfortunately, is accepted by employers with a shrug of the shoulders. As a result, we are losing valuable working time, productivity and effort.

In "A Strategy for the South-East", published in August, 1967, paragraph 126 refers to the railways and says: The importance of the railways in the movement of large numbers of passengers or bulk freight is still insufficiently recognised. Towards the end of paragraph 132, it says: … but we attach importance to the plans for extensions and improvements being prepared by London Transport and British Railways, particularly in the South Eastern Division of the Southern Region. The Minister has shown that he accepts the problem and the size of it. I hope that he will remember what that Report said some 16 months ago.

Sometimes, we in this House get extremely irritated by the volume of papers, resolutions, documents and books that we file away in cupboards and cabinets having seen little action result from them. I hope that the Minister will remember that we shall be watching him and following up his words, making sure that this debate is not filed and forgotten. Commuters have been waiting for the debate, not only to see what would be said but to see what would result from it. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is a young and energetic Minister. He is faced with an enormous task, but he has the responsibility to tackle it, and we shall watch him with respect. We shall not hesitate to criticise him if he does not pursue the task energetically. He must not adopt the attitude that it is a big and impossible task.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Macdonald) said that, in view of the country's economic condition, this was not the time to embark on greater and larger investment by British Railways. I agree that we must watch carefully every item of Government expenditure and support for expenditure by the nationalised industries. Notwithstanding that, I hope that the Minister will give careful attention to the priority that British Railways give to their various expansion and modernisation programmes, especially in Southern Region, and for hover ships and hover ports, the Channel Tunnel, and the existing problem of bringing into London the million-odd people who have to travel to and from the City daily. We hope that he will give some direction to the Southern Region and to the British Railways Board about the proper priorities to satisfy these frustrations we are talking about today to show some earnest of intent and real action.

I have here a reply from Mr. Ibbotson to a letter that I wrote to him complaining, as we have been complaining today, about Southern Region services. He says: You are fully aware no doubt that the principal need at the moment is to obtain approval for capital investment … Here is a general manager who, I am told, is a man of great energy and success in the Southern Region, and who now needs support from the Government on the right priority to enable him to carry out the task of overcoming what the Minister has said to be so difficult.

I am a sometime commuter. I live most of the time in London as my constituency is too far away and there is no late train service to get me home. But only this week a porter at my station in Canterbury said to me, "We feel so embarrassed, Sir, at the service we are giving that I am telling people to write not only to Mr. Ibbotson, but to send a copy of the letter to you as well. We are doing our best."

Going home from the House recently on a Friday afternoon to keep a constituency engagement, my train was stopped and broken at Ashford because there was, admittedly, a technical problem to do with the recent flooding. We waited on the platform half an hour for another train to come in. Another train came in which would have taken us to the Thanet Coast and would have put me down at Canterbury, but the porter, or it may have been the foreman, said, "The crew of the train get off here. They cannot take you on." I said to the guard, "Is it true that you break your journey here?" He replied, "Yes, it is." I said, "What about these passengers? We have to get to our destinations." He said, "Yes, we will do the journey. We cannot leave you stuck like this." This is the spirit and the co-operation that we like and admire and see not just occasionally, but frequently. I should like to pay very warm and generous regard to them in my observations.

Management has been criticised. I hope that what I say will be heard not only in the House, but outside. In my recent letter to the general manager of Southern Region I said that there was, in my opinion, a management problem. I asked: Can you tell me why the absence of a signalman through sickness should be allowed to delay your trains? This was the excuse made on the loudspeakers at Victoria Station recently. I cannot ever recollect hearing of such an excuse before the war, although I know it is often the case these days that the absence of train crews or other staff is sometimes used as an apology. Passengers have paid for a service and they are entitled to expect it. Manning problems are not their concern. In my opinion, your excuse is not valid in an organisation providing a vital service. It is a management problem. In the theatre there is a motto, 'The show must go on' and they use understudies. I understand that this is something that British Railways cannot use. But the airline corporations maintain a service. The crews do not fail to turn up through sickness, because our airline corporations have reserve crews. It may be extravagant to ask that British Railways should provide reserve crews. But all people have jobs to do, and the trains have a job to do in getting them to their destinations to do those jobs.

I promised to be brief. I have been in a business nearly as big as British Railways. In fact, one of my former bosses was Lord Beeching. Incidentally, I see in The Times this morning that Lord Beeching is offering his services for a certain type of job. He says that he wishes to find a job reviving a large-scale organisation out of step with modern times. I wish that he would find that British Rail would suit him again, because he has the energy and imagination which could get us out of the enormous problems which British Rail now faces.

In private industry initiative and energy exists as a result of competition. It has to produce goods and services on time. If it does not it loses business, and the executive and the manager come under serious question as to whether they should continue in their jobs. It is asking too much that British Rail should ever be in a position to have to face such competition. I do not see how it could happen. But I ask that the management of British Rail, as well as the public, should read all the points which have been expressed this afternoon from both Front and back benches.

3.11 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

I was not privileged to hear the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Capt. W. Elliot) who initiated the debate, but I have heard most of the speeches, because I have a considerable interest in the problem from the point of view of my background both as a railway worker for 20 years and as a Member of Parliament who, like most hon. Members, receives a lot of correspondence expressing considerable disquiet about the lot of the commuter, with regard to train services and bus services, and also the lack of proper integration and connection between the two services.

In a debate of this kind there is never a shortage of experts, because expertise is based upon experience and there is no shortage of experience among hon. Members as commuters by bus or rail, or as hard-pressed motorists. Since I have not been a railway worker for about 14 years I find it easier, as a regular motorist, to be more objective on the whole problem of transport than was possible before.

A feature of the railway industry is that it is a rather separate kind of industry in terms of experience. When workers have gone on to the railway straight from leaving school, and have no other industry, they tend—I say this hoping that I shall not be thought to let them down—not to have much knowledge of outside industry.

We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton, as the hard-pressed travelling public should be when news of this debate gets into the newspapers. I want to refer not so much to the deficiencies of the existing services as to the elements of efficiency that exist.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton paid diligent attention to the debates on the Transport Bill, and took part in them. He has always been zealous in respect of commuter problems, and I was not surprised when, having the luck of the draw, he chose this subject. I came here specially today to take part in the debate because of my general interest in the problem. My experience is a little different from his. My brother is a supervisor at Paddington Station and I know that the problem is not bogged down in the Southern Region. In fact, the history of the Southern Region's services to commuters puts it in the forefront, since it was the first system to have any widespread electrification and its density of service was greater than in other regions. The same applies, to some extent, to the history of the Great Western Railway Company, and we still associate its achievements with the names which the regions bore in the old days.

I was interested in the first speech as shadow Minister of Transport of the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Although she was not as pugnacious as her predecessor, the darts which she launched were no less penetrating. We shall listen to her with great interest in future on transport.

If the central purpose of the new transport measures is to have more public and less private transport—as tends to be the case, despite the political arguments across the Chamber—there must be an efficient and dedicated work force. Efficiency will not come without this dedication. In the old days, there was a considerable spirit of dedication among the railway workers, since it was very much a father-and-son affair. For example, my father put his four sons on the railways for regularity of employment, having himself had the bitter experience of unemployment as a carpenter. He decided that that was not for his sons. This was when far more people were unemployed.

After a few years, one began to feel that the job was too damned regular. Clocking on at 2 o'clock in the morning and working on Saturdays and Sundays is no joke. If we are to have more efficient transport and more emphasis on public rather than private transport, we shall not get the right people, dedicated to road or rail transport, unless we recognise that, because of anti-social hours and so on, they should have a greater reward than, perhaps, factory workers. We have had experience of having to recruit coloured workers, as London Transport does, to keep the buses and tubes running. That has been accepted generally by the unions, and those workers get the same conditions of service and are entitled to equal rights. But these people often move from transport because of the irksomeness of the job to better working conditions.

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that this has to be spelled out, but may I say, completely without offence, that the hon. Gentleman has now been standing at the platform for 10 minutes and a number of other trains are waiting to pull in?

Mr. Bidwell

I promised to be brief, but I wanted to emphasise the point that, if we are to have extra public transport, we must think in terms of a better deal for the workers. It has been pointed out——

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

Would not the hon. Member's remarks on better conditions be more usefully addressed to the previous Minister of Transport, the present Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity?

Mr. Bidwell

I do not think so. The conditions have something to do with past experience and past policies under past Governments, who have cut up the railways without having any appreciation of their social worth—a policy which is, very sensibly, now tending to be rectified.

Other hon. Members wish to speak, and I will conclude by emphasising that we shall not get the efficiency we require until we realise that the present supervisors, men in their fifties, are sick to death of a situation in which they have a shifting work force all the time in the transport industry, with a considerable turn round of labour and a flotsam and jetsam situation, while they remain glued to their jobs, partly for super annuation reasons. We must assist the transport industry to get out of this difficulty.

Reference has been made to management efficiency, but management cannot manage efficiently unless it has the cooperation all the time of the right kind of work force. A considerable section of it remains, but it needs to be much improved. We shall not solve the problems while we regard transport workers as the Cinderellas of industry. They must be assisted to a proper standard of liv- ing, bearing in mind their right to work a 40-hour week and, if they have to work irksome hours and on Saturdays and Sundays, their right to proper compensatory leisure.

3.22 p.m.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

We are all commuters now, and this has been a particularly topical and useful debate, not least because whenever autumn comes, the average commuter regards it as the "season of mists" and railway frightfulness.

The topicality of the debate was stressed to me in my postbag this morning. I have not time to quote the letter at length, but I should like to mention it and to sound perhaps a slightly discordant note by using it to illustrate the fact that there are faults in the chain of command of British Railways management which cannot be entirely glossed over. The letter states that on a train on a certain branch line from my constituency, one carriage is normally locked, but the staff are supposed to unlock it when the other carriages are full. For reasons which are obscure, time and again the staff fail to unlock this carriage, and passengers are forced to herd into the other coaches. They get bad tempered. When they talk to the staff the latter can offer no better answer than, "You should travel on a different train." But the truly satirical point in the letter is that the train which the staff suggest should be used is one of those which, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir J. Vaughan-Morgan) said, seldom materialises.

In our praise of the vast majority of railwaymen, we cannot ignore the fact that there is some room for improvement in the chain of command on the railways. There is also plenty of room for improvement in the public relations side of British Railways. We have heard some comments on the uselessness of the T.U.C.C. and some hon. Members commended the proposed annual meeting between Mr. Ibbotson and Members of Parliament representing commuter constituencies. I have found it much more useful to build up a working, day-to-day contact and to take deputations from local authorities in the constituency to see the management concerned. One of my local authorities, Woking U.D.C., has nominated one of its councillors to act as a permanent link with Southern Region headquarters at Waterloo Station. This is surely much more effective and more time-saving than going through the T.U.C.C. machine or going to Charing Cross hotel once a year to meet the top management.

There is also a degree of inflexibility on the railway management side. I am the first to admit that part of my constituency has probably the best commuter service in the Home Counties. The Woking service, as far as the timetable goes, can hardly be improved. The other part of the constituency, scarcely smaller in total population, has the worst commuter service in the Home Counties. Camberley is extremely badly served by rail. I am told that it takes as long to get to Waterloo from Camberley as it used to lake in the 1890s, and in those days the train was steam-drawn and one had to change at Ascot, too. The railway station at Camberley has been described to me as one of the most shameful in Europe. There is genuine doubt in that part of my constituency whether British Rail wants to do anything to serve the commuter or to improve the standards on offer. With the surrounding villages in nearby counties, this is the fastest growing area of South-East England. British Rail's management has so far been unable to tell me of a town of this size and this distance from London that is so badly served.

On the main line the timetable is fine, but there are drawbacks. Basingstoke may now have a 45-minute commuter service to Waterloo, but there are other lines on which the old stock is still rattling along. Trains sometimes expire before reaching their destination, carriages do not turn up in adequate numbers to make up a full-length train and commuters' tempers are getting correspondingly short.

Their tempers get even shorter when they read in their newspapers, while their train is waiting to be allocated a platform at which to arrive at Waterloo, about the wasteful and entirely pointless damage which is caused to football excursion trains. This damage must place an enormous load on British Rail's repair shops. We should not tolerate damage of this sort. I am tempted to suggest that the same carriages should be used throughout the season for football excursions. This would mean that if a club's supporters damaged one, they would have to travel in it for the rest of the reason. If this is impossible, why cannot the organisers of these excursions be required to put up a bond to cover the possibility of damage, particularly where there has been trouble in the past? The ordinary travelling public are getting extremely angry about this.

In an intervention I asked the Minister earlier if we ought to accept the idea of an indefinite increase in commuting. If we recognise that this is basically a communications problem, the real question is whether so many people need commute at all. In this connection, improved telex and telephone systems are important. Earlier this afternoon, for instance, I had to make two telephone calls to my constituency. I had to dial one number twice and the other three times before getting through.

Are we satisfied with the effects of the I.D.C. procedure, or the Control of Office and Industrial Development Act, 1965? These controls, in an area like mine where housing is going up fast and the population is increasing, have the effect of denying the people living there the opportunity of getting jobs close at hand. They are being forced to commute.

Mr. Marsh

I appreciate the difficulty of getting accurate figures, but the last survey of the G.L.C. showed that, overall, the number of commuters was falling slightly rather than increasing.

Mr. Onslow

I can only speak on the basis of the figures I have. The population of my constituency is likely to increase by as much as 30,000 in the next 10 years. I am very doubtful whether local jobs will be available for most of these people. We have been grossly restricted in the amount of office space we want in Woking and this is having the further effect of undermining plans for the redevelopment of the town centre. Meanwhile, because the train services to London are so good, the centre of Woking is becoming one vast car park. This is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs which is also occurring elsewhere. I know, for instance, that my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) has experienced the same kind of thing, and that he too has been trying to persuade the Minister of the damaging consequences that flow from the present stupid policy.

While I accept that the commuter problem is a very difficult one, and that it will take a long time to solve, we really must concentrate on solving it and forget about some of the other fancy ideas that seem to be current, like high speed trains, which will only divert capital expenditure. We should agree not to spend any money on the Channel Tunnel. Let us cut out that sort of diversion because it will only sidetrack us away from the enormous problems at hand. As long as the present situation persists we shall continue to have tired and angry people arriving late for work and getting home late at night. The Minister must take these considerations into account when calculating the return he gets from commuter services. The consequences in lost efficiency and in the drag on the economy of having people at work who are unable to get there on time, or to devote their full energies to their jobs when they do get there are enormous and need to be recognised with far more urgency than has been shown this afternoon.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

When I heard the Minister speak this afternoon about urban congestion I was almost convinced that the Ministry of Transport and other Government offices had moved out of London. I had the impression that because of the urgent need to disperse office accommodation from the centre of London, the Ministries had given a lead to the remainder of London and had moved out. This is not so. Despite their heroic efforts to move some of their accommodation to other parts of the country, the amount of Ministry space and desks is being built up in London, and there is no sign of a lead coming from the Minister, or the Ministry, in pursuing the policy that he now advocates for the rest of London——

Mr. Marsh

If I may intervene just to inject one bit of fact into what my hon. Friend has so far said, only last week we were dealing with the computer that is being built which will transfer about 5,000 people out of London into Wales.

Mr. Atkinson

And very welcome, too, but none the less a mere midget compared with the giant problems that exist in London. If we are to impress people, there is need for very great efforts to be made by the Ministries themselves. We should be seeking to convince Mr. Arnold Weinstock that there is no longer a need for him to have an office in Park Lane. Why is it necessary for G.E.C. to be there? It does not manufacture generating equipment there, it has no foundry workers there——

Mr. Marsh

I apologise for interupting my hon. Friend yet again, but I recollect that when A.E.I. announced that it would move from Woolwich and transfer its workers to The Hartlepools, he opposed it.

Mr. Atkinson

I was opposing the movement of workpeople because bad reasons were given. I suggest that because of the absence of foundry workers in Park Lane there is a need for Mr. Weinstock to join his foundry workers elsewhere. There is no need for him to be there. When he took over A.E.I., his firm closed the office opposite Buckingham Palace in order to move nearer to Downing Street. It therefore moved to Park Lane. We all know that there is a great deal of prestige at Downing Street—we spend thousands of £s every few years in trying to change the tenant—but the argument of prestige should not apply to all offices in the centre of London. The work is delivered there by the Post Office and it is taken away by the Post Office. There is no need for mobility of labour in offices here, and we should take that attitude into account.

We know that next year fares, and particularly bus fares, will go up by at least l½d. to 2d. The G.L.C., which is likely to inherit the whole of the London Transport system as a result of the new Bill, is extremely anxious not to inherit the debt of the existing structure. We can understand that. The country has a Labour Government, but we have a Tory government in London. What that government do not want to face in taking over London Transport is a charge that the Tories were responsible for increasing fares. The G.L.C., therefore, is insisting that before any change takes place a Labour Government shall increase the fares, not the Tory G.L.C. That is the only reason for the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Mr. Webster

As the hon. Member knows, London Transport did not run at a loss until 1965. It was always profitable until that time. The present Minister, or his predecessor, deferred permission to raise fares and increasingly the Prices and Incomes Board held them back.

Mr. Atkinson

The hon. Member has the effect of sticking knitting needles into me because he is getting on to subjects which I could talk about for a long time. I do not accept the premise on which he bases his case. We must be realists and recognise that there will be an increase in bus fares next year. I hope that I shall be leading those I represent in opposing that increase and also in talking about it in places where we try to negotiate wages. I hope that we shall have the support of the Minister in opposing the increase so that we do not have the same situation in London Transport as applies to the gas and electricity industries, which are forced to raise some of their capital from revenue.

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South)

What does the hon. Member mean by revenue? Does he include or exclude depreciation on account in the undertaking?

Mr. Atkinson

Commuters in London should not be compelled to provide immediate capital needed through an increase in fares.

Sir G. Nabarro

Surely the hon. Member recognises that the purpose of a depreciation fund is to enable the renewal of plant, in this case of vehicles as a whole. That element is a constituent part of the cost and would therefore reflect itself in fares. It would be preposterous to exclude it entirely.

Mr. Atkinson

Not at all.

Sir G. Nabarro

The hon. Member cannot get away with that.

Mr. Atkinson

I hope we shall get away with it, and I hope that the Minister is sympathetically listening to the argument. We are not concerned about the running costs but with extending the system in London. I see no reason why London workers should be called on again to subsidise capital investment which is necessary. They are already called upon to spend on average 18s. more a week than other workers in the country. This is totally wrong. We should not call on them for further sacrifices.

There has been argument about how we should solve the problem of buses and cars in London. The only reason why it is more expensive to use a car in London nowadays is the cost of parking. To travel by bus in London at 6d. a mile is much dearer than for the average working-class bloke using a second-hand car of reasonable horsepower travelling the same distance. We have reached an unbelievable state of affairs in which it costs more for 90 people to herd together in one vehicle and pay more per mile than one man travelling on his own in a motor car. Obviously there is an attraction to travel singly in a motor car in this way despite all the tension and irritation in trying to do so along with thousands of others.

The Ministry has looked at various methods to correct the situation. Now they are considering two things, not only to have bus lanes but also bus streets. I hope the Ministry will continue that kind of thinking and think about a motor car-free London, in other words a centre of London with buses only, which is the logic of the argument. To have bus lanes and bus streets only is illogical because it would penalise people who can less afford to overcome the difficulties imposed upon them by that method.

If we closed whole areas to all other vehicles than buses we would promote difficulties unnecessarily. There is no need to detail some of the problems which are involved, but it is possible to extend a car journey three times to give a bus advantage over the same journey. It is sheer idiocy in urban planning to start thinking like that.

The same applies to the question of parking. I am concerned about ordinary working men and women in London who must suffer from this kind of policy, particularly those who work in the inner circle. With increased costs there is no doubt that before long, if parking meters are to continue their present job of persuading people not to use cars, the price of parking must steadily increase. Therefore, these are contradictory policies which should not be pursued by my right hon. Friend.

I appeal to him to consider the whole process of trying to price motorists out of London. They should be excluded on the basis of need, and not price. We should have a registration method, if necessary, for the use of the centre of London, but should not do it on price. Instead of making it easy for firms that spend £3,000 a year to provide cars for their executives, and instead of allowing people for whom expense is of no consequence to use the streets of London freely, we should exclude people on the basis of need or lack of it. That is how we must look at the whole problem of London traffic. In saying that there is a whole area where it is no longer necessary to use cars to provide an efficient transport service. we must do so on the basis of priority, not of how much people can afford to pay, which is the policy now being pursued.

3.42 p.m.

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I want to be particularly brief, and so I hope that the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) will forgive me if I do not take up the points he has made.

I thank the Minister for being so courteous as to stay throughout a Friday to hear the debate and take part in it. That is an excellent example, which I hope that he will continue to follow, and which I hope other Ministers will also follow.

I also compliment my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) on being so far-sighted as to select for debate the problems of commuters.

Nearly every speech today has concentrated on London and the problem of London commuters, and the Minister referred almost exclusively to the problem of London and commuters in the South-East, and to the South-East Plan. That is excusable because those were the matters put to him time and again in the debate.

I want to speak about commuters in the East Midlands, because the Motion clearly states that it is the problems of commuters we are considering, and not just London commuters. I do not think that the position in Leicestershire and the East Midlands is properly appreciated. In the past eight or nine years, the rail transportation of passengers in the East Midlands, particularly in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, has been completely transformed, so much so that whereas eight or nine years ago we had a pattern of passenger rail networks across Leicestershire nearly all of them have now been closed.

One could understand British Rail closing one or two of the more obviously unremunerative lines. But of five cross-constituency networks in Southern Leicestershire which I was fortunate enough to possess in 1959, not a single one is left today, except for the Great Central line, which is now almost under the Sword of Damocles. The Railways Board scrapped the East-West Peterborough-Rugby line in 1966, and the Leicester-Rugby midland passenger line in 1961. It has just closed nearly all the intermediate passenger stations between Leicester and Birmingham. In 1967 it closed all the intermediate passenger stations between Market Harborough and Leicester. All that is left out of the fabric of passenger services which existed a few years ago is the Great Central line running north and south between Rugby. Leicester and Nottingham.

That line was the subject of a Transport Users' Consultative Committee inquiry in 1963, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) decided that the line should stay, that the service which it gave to commuters travelling to and from Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham each day to work was too valuable to forfeit. However, only a year or so ago, the Railways Board made a fresh application to close the service.

Our situation will be ridiculous. I am not here speaking of North Wales or some of the fringe parts of the British Isles. This is the heart of industrial England, and these three major cities of Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham will have not a single direct rail Link between them if the line is closed. A commuter wishing to go from Rugby to Leicester will have to go via somewhere like Nuneaton, taking all hour and a half for a 20-mile journey and changing at least once.

If the situation were not so tragic, it would be ludicrous. The policy of British Rail is incomprehensible. What makes my constituents and constituents of other hon. Members in the East Midlands so bitter is that, at each of the six T.U.C.C. inquiries held in my constituency over the past seven years, the Railways Board has advanced as its prime reason for closing down a service the need for economy and the failure of receipts to justify its continued running. But my constituents come to me year after year and say, "We have had these arguments time and again, yet, year after year, the total deficit of British Railways creeps up, till it is now £150 million per annum". They cannot understand such a policy, and neither can I.

The Beeching Report foreshadowed certain closures in the East Midlands, but it did not foreshadow that all the short and semi-short passenger commuter services in Leicestershire would be completely dismantled within 10 years of its publication. This is not a seaside area; it is, as I say, in the heart of the Midlands. Yet when the present pattern of closures is complete, as it is scheduled to be with the closure of the Great Central line, out of the 21 passenger stations which we had in my constituency in 1959 we shall be left with just one.

It appears from these statistics that the Railways Board is not interested in the problems of commuters in the East Midlands. It shovels them under the carpet, putting them out of the way, and it is not particularly bothered.

I shall end by putting what, I hope, the Minister will regard as a constructive suggestion. The opinion of rail commuters in the great industrial cities of the East Midlands is that the Railways Board has washed its hands of them completely. I urge the Minister to prove those commuters wrong by instituting on the old Great Central line—a wonderful straight line with no level crossings, a single-track line which can be managed with one train and no signals—a pay-train service similar to the successful service now running between Nottingham and Grantham. Give us that in the East Midlands and Leicestershire, and the commuters will not let the Railways Board down.

3.50 p.m.

Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)

I wish to revert to the matter which I raised earlier when the Minister was speaking. I pay tribute to the way in which queries about individual stations are dealt with by the Manager of Southern Region. There has been a great improvement in services. Indeed, the service is sometimes almost too good for the lines that exist.

Many stations on lines passing through my constituency were built in conditions which prevailed at the turn of the century. It is necessary to improve the facilities. It is alleged that this cannot be done: there is not sufficient money to spend on improvements which are ancillary to stations. One station has been lengthened and the signalling devices improved, but it has not been realised that the tunnels by which people cross the lines are antique. Bridges which many people must use to reach the trains, waiting room facilities, and lavatory facilities, naturally take a second place to the proper running of the trains.

The Minister seemed to convey that all I had to do was to write to the manager. That is not so. It is essential that it be known that the Minister will look with favour on the provision of increased amenities. People who are subjected to the pushing and rushing which accompany modern travel, especially if they are older people, want some of the advantages which I believe can be provided. These facilities should go with the general improvement of the rolling stock and of timekeeping.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House views with concern the delays, discomforts and general inadequacy of the transport systems used by commuters and the frustration and loss of efficiency which is caused thereby; expresses anxiety that the position will get worse in the future; notes the large capital investments in freight and inter-city travel made in recent years; considers that the time has come for a fresh appraisal to be made in order to relate capital resources available for transport to the demands of the present and new populations outside the great cities and London is particular; and urges Her Majesty's Government to give the matter immediate attention.