HC Deb 31 March 1971 vol 814 cc1481-3
15. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further requests he has now received from the Southern Region of British Rail for him to reconsider the withdrawal of grant-aid for commuter services.

Mr. Peyton

None, Sir.

Mr. Hunt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the very sharp fare increases which followed the withdrawal of these subsidies caused widespread shock in my constituency? Is he satisfied that Southern Region has fully explored alternative sources of revenue, such as the more effective use of its sites for hotels, office and housing development, before increasing fares to the commuter once again?

Mr. Peyton

I can only remind my hon. Friend that where costs go up, prices must follow. I appreciate the disturbance that this has caused to many people. As to the last part of my hon. Friend's question, this is a matter for the Railways Board, not for me.

Mr. Bradley

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many Conservative candidates in the last election, including those at Bexley and Mitcham, made it clear to commuters that the first result of their Government's railway policy would be a substantial increase in fares?

Mr. Peyton

I very much doubt whether any of my hon. Friends would have felt called on to do that since the previous Administration had already announced that they would achieve viability for the London commuter network by the end of 1972.

Mr. Ridsdale

Was not the withdrawal of grant aid a decision taken by the previous Government? Does the Minister realise that what so many people are anxious about is that this is the first burden that commuters will have to face and that the next will follow the wage increases? Will he make a statement as early as possible, since these wage increases are likely to lead to further increases in rail fares?

Mr. Peyton

Wage increases are a matter for the Railways Board and not for me. What my hon. Friend says is perfectly correct; if railway costs go up, so will the fares. The Governmen's policy is to ensure that the railways achieve viability in the London commuter network by 1973. The previous Administration had committed themselves in the 1968 White Paper to a date of 1972.

Mr. Atkinson

Is the Minister aware that the Railways Board is under the impression that it is being asked by the Government to make each separate service and route stand on its own feet and that the G.L.C. is now having some idea about a separate fares structure for each route or service in the underground system? Before this idea catches on with either the Railways Board or the G.L.C., will the Minister say that the Government would want to discourage any such idea creeping into a new fares structure for the underground and London commuters?

Mr. Peyton

Any idea that may be in the mind of the Greater London Council is not my responsibility. What I am concerned with is the amount of aid which the Government are called upon to give to a commercial operation. We have made it clear that we intend that the London commuter network should be viable by 1973.