HC Deb 15 April 1975 vol 890 cc345-74

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

I am introducing the Bill on behalf of the promoters. In these somewhat tempestuous days one is prone to make a few predictions about politics in Britain, but I could have ventured upon a fairly safe forecast today. I could have predicted that my right hon. Friend's Budget would be listened to with rapt, if not wholly admiring, attention by a full House and that the introduction of Private Business at Seven o'clock would have a calming and somewhat denuding effect upon the Chamber. This effect is not entirely unwelcome to the promoters of the Bill. They, with me, would wish for a calm and unemotional atmosphere in which the Bill can be given fair and proper consideration.

The promoters are not averse to hiding their particular lights under a parliamentary bushel. We are all aware that good work can sometimes be done by stealth. The Bill represents a programme of good and essential works.

Each Session the London Transport Executive, which is responsible for the operation of the largest urban passenger transport undertaking in the world, pre- sents a Bill to authorise the construction of railway works and for other miscellaneous purposes. The Bill contains provisions to improve the operation of the two major components of the work of the London Transport Executive—first, a series of works related to the Underground railway system, and, secondly, the acquisition of lands to extend the capacities of certain London bus garages. The works require the authority of Parliament, because without it they would in law be nuisances, especially where some of the works involve interference with the use of the highways.

The Bill follows the usual practice of seeking the necessary statutory authority both for the required works and for powers to obtain the necessary land by compulsory purchase. The Bill is lengthy, but it does not contain involved principles.

I must at this stage refer to some of the major clauses of the Bill and their merits.

Part I contains the interpretation and incorporation of general Acts, while Part II authorises the construction of certain railway works in Greater London. Those works are detailed in Clause 5, which may be the subject of certain representations here. Details of the works were deposited with Parliament at the same time as the Bill. London Transport has inevitably been involved in extensive consultations with the many interests affected. The validity of the works requires limited discussion.

Work No. 1, at King's Cross, represents the addition of a significant facility to commuter transport. It provides for the construction of a new ticket hall at King's Cross Widened Lines station and an interchange with the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. The work is part of the programme which will provide a direct electric service by British Rail from Bedford to Moorgate.

Several other works which are detailed in Clause 5—those at Highbury and Islington, St. Paul's, Tooting Bec, Marylebone, and Warwick Avenue—involve improvements to the system of ventilation and draught relief. The ventilation problem in the operation of the Underground system is, I am sure, appreciated by hon. Members, but it may come as a surprise that draught relief is a great problem. Without sufficient alternative exits the amount of air pushed by trains passing through tunnels into certain stations is such that severe discomfort can be caused to passengers. London Transport's aim is to keep such air speeds in escalators down to between 10 and 15 miles per hour. If effective draught vents are not constructed at stations, passengers may be faced by a minor gale of more than 30 mph. I am not sure, in terms of meteorological forecasts, what that would represent—perhaps a Force 4 or 5 gale—but the discomfort can be imagined.

The work at St. Paul's station involves digging into the foundations of the most historic part of the capital. There is the possibility of medieval ruins being uncovered by the operation. London Transport is engaging in detailed discussions with the City of London to ensure adequate protection of any works of significant historic interest which may be revealed during excavation.

Work No. 5, at Baker Street station, and Work No. 6, at Bond Street station, are in response to the extra demand for facilities caused by increased passenger traffic from the completion of phase 1 of the Fleet Line.

Clauses 6 and 7 authorise temporary interference with certain main streets in connection with some of the works which I have already outlined.

Part III contains the compulsory acquisition by the Executive of land, subsoil, easements and rights for the purpose of the railway works and for improving certain bus stations which are identified later in the Bill.

The Bill does not deal in detail with compensation for land authorised to be acquired or injuriously affected, because the Land Compensation Acts of 1961 and 1973 apply automatically once Parliament authorises the acquisition of the land.

Clause 9 enables the Executive to acquire compulsorily such of the lands shown on the deposited plans as it may require for the purpose of the works. It is under this clause that all surface sites required for railway and other works are acquired. The clause is qualified by Clauses 10 and 11.

Clause 10 enables the Executive to acquire subsoil and rights beneath the properties set out in Schedule 1 of the Bill, and does not preclude the possible acquisition of surface properties under Clause 9. The function of the clause is to prevent the Executive from being compellable to acquire land from the depths of the earth up to the heavens. Therefore, it may acquire only an underground stratum of land.

Clause 11 specifically excludes the Executive from acquiring properties above the level of nine metres below the surface.

Without Clauses 10 and 11 London Transport would have to have property rights on surface properties wherever its underground rails ran. The mind boggles at the implications of that possibility. It may be of some small comfort to hon. Members to know that London Transport has no intention of being the only intermediary between the earth beneath and the heavens above.

Clause 12 concerns the acquisition of land and the power to carry out certain works on the land. The land involves four London Transport bus stations—Hammersmith, Norbiton, Norwood and Streatham. The provision of these new bus garages and depots is part of the Executive's continuing programme of bus garage modernisation. The garages require alterations for a number of reasons.

First, hon. Members will remember the debate before Easter, when we identified London Transport's requirements for the new type of buses. We discussed the whole question of the guarantee of spares and supplies. There was a limited range of options open to London Transport as to the kind of buses it could purchase. One of the distinctive features about the new range of buses is their size. This may have advantages in certain spheres of operation, but one difficulty is the capacity of garages to accommodate the larger buses, which demand 15 per cent. more space than the buses which they replace.

The larger garages will also provide improved working conditions for staff. In particular, in the modernisation of the garages it is the intention to reduce the number of maintenance crews forced to work in the open air in all weather conditions. There will also be improved car parking facilities at the larger garages.

London Transport crews starting work at unsocial hours in the morning and often finishing at unsocial hours at night require private transport. There is also the possibility of a limited amount of staff housing.

It must be welcomed that in the improvement of the garages part of the priority is identified as being an attempt to improve the facilities for London Transport staff. Many of us have been conscious that one of the major difficulties in London transport provision has been the inability to attract sufficient staff to operate all the facilities.

At Hammersmith a major enterprise is to be embarked upon, involving rebuilding the Riverside Garage, reconstruction of the Underground ticket hall, and provision of a road and rail interchange centre designed to integrate with the new road scheme to be constructed by the GLC. The Executive assures me that it has met the GLC to ensure that its work does not limit the GLC's capacity to introduce a road scheme which most effectively meets the needs of the area. I mention that in particular, because a local amenity society has been active in the area to safeguard the environment. I am sure that all hon. Members will welcome the fact that extensive consultations have gone on to ensure that the works do not jeopardise the best form of transport system for the area.

In the extension of the other garages, limited acquisitions of property are felt to be necessary. The number of private dwellings affected is extremely limited in each case. The Executive has been in prolonged consultation with those owning property rights to ensure that fair and agreed compensation is awarded.

I know that hon. Members are concerned that their constituents should have every assurance of fair compensation for the disturbance. London Transport also hopes that the net loss of housing resulting from the construction of the garages will be partially ameliorated by the provision of extra accommodation for staff on the sites of the garages.

Clause 13 is a straightforward clause laying down a time limit of three years for the exercise of powers for the compulsory purchase of lands and easements.

Clause 14 lays obligations on the Executive in respect of certain consecrated land. This is in connection with the work at the St. Paul's station. The purpose is to free the land from legal restrictions arising from the fact that it is consecrated. The work will be conditional upon the removal of human remains to other consecrated ground and arrangements whereby the interests of people who may have relatives interred in the graveyard can be protected.

Part IV introduces a range of protective provisions, Clause 17 in respect of the Metropolitan Police, public utility undertakers and the Crown, and Clause 18 particularly in relation to the works of the Thames Water Board The previous legislation on draining and waterworks is now out of date consequent upon the Water Act 1973.

Clause 19 safeguards the rights of the GLC, as in previous legislation of this kind.

Part V contains a range of miscellaneous provisions. Clause 21 is important, because it is a major provision to ensure that planning blight is as limited as possible in the development of the Executive's work. It limits the Executive to a certain period in which to acquire an interest in land or give up its power of compulsory acquisition.

Clause 22 is of some significance, because it involves a relationship between the London Transport Executive and the British Airports Authority. The point at issue is the fact that part of the concourse of the London Transport station at Heathrow is intended to be kept open at a time when the railway station is closed. The clause makes clear the responsibilities of the two authorities in respect of the central concourse area.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

As the hon. Gentleman is so extraordinarily well informed, can he give any indication when the work is expected to be completed, or perhaps when it is to be begun?

Mr. Davies

I cannot give a specific reply now. It is certainly four to five years away, but I shall try to obtain a more accurate answer before the end of the debate. Discussions are going on between the British Airports Authority and London Transport, and there is every hope that the arrangements will be satisfactorily concluded in the not-too-distant future for work to start as soon as possible.

Clause 23 is a major exclusion clause, making sure that nothing in the Bill exempts the London Transport Executive from the normal operation of planning legislation as it obtains now.

On the basis of those many and varied clauses, particularly the safeguards written into the Bill, I believe that the Bill is of considerable merit on a range of issues, and that it will be of great advantage to London Transport and the facilities it offers to constituents of hon. Members in the London area. Therefore, I commend it to the House.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

Any London Member of Parliament will very much welcome the overall objectives of the Bill, so ably expressed by the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies).

I wish to deal with a specific constituency matter and to explain why my name has been associated with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) in putting a block on the Bill over the past few months. I refer to Clause 12, dealing with the enlargement of the bus garage at Streatham, which will entail the destruction of about nine houses. I appreciate that not many houses in total will be affected by the Bill. Nevertheless, when a person's house is affected he or she possibly regards it as the end of the world. Instead of thinking how fortunate it is that only a few houses are affected, such a person thinks "How terrible it is that my house is affected!" In fairness, I should add that two of the nine houses are already the property of the London Transport Executive, so we are talking about seven.

As there is no normal compulsory purchase order procedure in private legislation such as this, and no public inquiry is taking place in Lambeth, when my constituents came to see me about the matter I felt that it was my duty as their Member of Parliament to look into the matter and to satisfy myself to the best of my ability that it was essential that the houses should be destroyed. It seemed to me that certain questions needed to be answered. I pay tribute to the London Transport Executive for the co-operation it has given me in answering them.

The first question was whether it was necessary to enlarge the depô t. I have been convinced that it is. It is not only a matter of the larger buses that need to be serviced there. As the hon. Gentleman said, the enlargement will result in better facilities for the staff. We have had big problems of violence on the buses in our area. We must do anything that can be done to make life easier for the staff who work so well in London Transport.

The next question I had to ask was whether the but depô t had to be on the proposed site. It is a big question, which silenced those to whom I put it. There is an ugly derelict site not far from the present bus depô t on which I have been trying, so far in vain, to have some improvement made. It seemed to me that it would be an excellent site for a beautiful, enlarged, modern bus depô t. However, I must accept that perhaps that was too ambitious. I was prepared to waive that. Nevertheless, this is still a query in my mind. The cost might be prohibitive but there is behind the Surrey Tavern, nor far away, an ideal site for a much better bus depô t which would release this other land for housing that is so desperately needed.

The next question was whether it was essential to pull these houses down. Clearly if the bus depô t is enlarged on its present site, it is essential to provide access by pulling down the six houses in Natal Road. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to pull down the three houses in Ellora Road which run at right angles to Natal Road. I say this because the objective of pulling down these three houses is to provide access to a proposed underground car park for staff.

That car park will be built on the site of an existing car park which has excellent access from Streatham High Road. It is regularly used by those who wish to go to the cinema or the ice skating rink. When I pointed this out to the London Transport Executive it said, "Well, it is quite possible that this would provide access. Unfortunately, the Bill does not empower us to a right of way because that access is owned by Mecca".

The Executive has given me the assurance that it will use its best endeavours with Mecca to provide that access. My point is that if such provision had been made it would not have been necessary to include these three houses in Ellora Road. There is a considerable query in my mind about the drafting of the Bill with regard to the access to the car park and the necessity of pulling these three houses down.

The next question was whether my constituents were receiving fair compensation. I have been given in confidence the details of this compensation. I am no judge, but it seems that it is reasonably fair and it has been accepted more or less, with reluctance, by all but one of the households involved. Those who have not accepted simply do not, I understand, wish to move house—a motivation with which I sympathise deeply. The compensation being offered seems to be substantially better than the sums for which London Transport purchased the two houses it already owns. This gives some slight cause for disquiet about the price it paid for the other two houses. Presumably that is past and done with. It seems, on the issue of compensation, in line with the legislation which governs this, that my constituents, if they have to move, will at least be able to buy a comparable house.

In short, I have two queries left in my mind. One concerns the siting of the garage and the other relates to the question of the access to the underground car park and the three houses in Ellora Road. I very much hope that when this Bill goes into Committee, should the House give it a Second Reading, these aspects will be examined in detail. Given the overall improvement to London and London Transport which it brings, I would not wish to divide the House.

7.23 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Carmichael)

As is usual in debates of this kind, a Government speaker intervenes only briefly to give the House an indication of the Government's attitude to the Bill. I take much the same attitude as the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). We have no objections to the proposals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) has indicated the powers sought by London Transport Executive for the continuing efficiency of its operations. The Bill is aimed at an overall improvement of services and meeting the convenience of the travelling public. I therefore recommend that the Bill be given a Second Reading so that it may go to a Committee, where the experts who know the subject intimately can be cross-examined, before we take a final decision.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

We can be grateful for the interesting and elegant way in which the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) introduced this Bill, which seems to have many useful aspects. On a previous occasion I had to declare an interest, having very nearly been born on a No. 12 bus. I have a particular personal interest in paragraph 6 of the statement, because when I did arrive, more or less in the hall of my home, it was exactly above the underground railway. I feel that I have, again, a particular personal interest.

I am glad that the easements will not demand a greater encroachment upwards than nine metres above the subsoil. This is because the shaking of the house resulted in the better health of myself and my family since the nursery window fell wide open every time an underground train went by.

On a serious note, this is the first occasion since the Moorgate tragedy on which London Transport has been discussed I n the House. It is important to say, as a London Member, that London Transport has the finest safety record of any public service in the world. It is a fantastic record. I am happy to say that my constituents do not seem to have lost their confidence in the service provided since the Moorgate accident.

I am sure that London Transport will look into the results of the various inquiries going on into the Moorgate tragedy and particularly whether the existence of a blind tunnel could have had any bearing upon it. I noticed that the reorganisation of Moorgate is mentioned in one of these paragraphs. The greatest hazard to the Underground traveller is overcrowding on trains and platforms. Overcrowding on platforms I s nearly always due to the cancellation of consecutive trains on a certain route going to a particular destination. Hon. Members will know of the occasions on which two or possibly three consecutive trains have been cancelled. They will know of the ghastly and dangerous overcrowding on platforms, with acute physical discomfort and the possible danger, as a result of the overcrowded coaches, to those who are not extremely fit. I hope that London Transport will use the new facilities which may be provided under the Bill to see whether action can be taken to avoid this situation by some forward planning. This can be done both medium term and short term.

In the medium term it can be done by trying to reorganise operating staff. in the short term, when there is an emergency and someone does not turn up for work, people could be informed further down the line that the train will be late or has been cancelled. If this warning could be given five or six minutes ahead it would ease the overcrowding problem.

I also hope that experiments will be conducted into how improvements can be made in the way in which information is given to London Transport travellers. Cancellations are often notified on blackboards, even at larger stations such as Baker Street. When travelling from one station to another, one notices that the blackboards give contradictory information. I know that messages are telephoned through at the last minute and that the station staff have to alter the information on the blackboard, but perhaps greater use could be made of electronic devices, although they are expensive, and loud hailers.

Many London Transport passengers dread the moment when the train stops at the platform and the announcement is made "All change". An immense improvement in public relations could be achieved if the reason were given for the "All change" announcement. Perhaps there is a hold-up on the line ahead, or, as happened to me recently. perhaps something is wrong with the door-closing gear. Any helpful. friendly information that can be given by the station staff to explain the inconvencience that is caused to passengers would be much appreciated.

Paragraph 11 of the statement refers to the new Heathrow Airport station. That may be used by many travellers coming into London from the West. I read that a charge would be made for anyone entering the Heathrow area. It would seem reasonable that ordinary London Transport passengers who use the station should not have to pay the Heathrow Airport dues, and I assume that London Transport will wish as many non-airport passengers as possible to travel on the line. I suspect that those travellers will have to pay a gigantic charge to park their cars, but at least they should not also have to pay the Heathrow Airport dues.

We in Harrow are proud to have almost within our borders the Northwick Park Hospital, which is probably the finest modern hospital in Britain, I f not in the world. It is pleasantly situated in open ground with views to playing fields on three sides. Because of that, it is a little distance from the main centres of population. My Harrow colleagues and I visited the former chairman of London Transport to ask whether something could be done to improve the entrance to the hospital area for buses. Four proposals have been made and on each occasion we have been met by firm opposition.

The main objection appears to be that the service, which would come from the station and other parts of Harrow into the hospital and round the grounds, is not of sufficient length to justify the minimum fare rate, and it would be against the regulations for such a service to be provided. That is hard on the people who would like to have a service and would be willing to pay for it. I would much rather pay the minimum fare than walk 250 yards in the rain, and I am sure that many of my constituents and many Harrow residents would prefer to do that. The hospital is willing to co-operate by providing bays to the buses entering and leaving. Such a service would be particularly useful for people who have to attend the out-patients' department and people who are accompanied by young children.

With those few remarks, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

7.35 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The whole House will wish to join the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) in his remarks about the safety record of London Transport. Our last debate on London Transport was on the day before the Moorgate disaster. In view of what has been said recently, there seems to be a prima facie case for considering the dates of inquiries. I was interested in the hon. Gentleman's detailed points, which reflected some degree of public dissatisfaction with the attitude sometimes shown by the management at 55 Broadway.

I commend to the hon. Gentleman, all hon. Members and the public, the London Transport Passengers Committee, which was set up under statute by the Greater London Council. The headquarters of that committee are at Guildhall, in Parliament Square. Any member of the committee would be glad to take up matters of the kind raised by the hon. Gentleman. The committee's statutory existence began without the teeth that some of us would like it to have, but its job is to look at these matters and to obtain London Transport's view on them.

In the last debate I had the privilege of introducing the London Transport (Additional Powers) Bill, which was concerned with the construction of buses and the sale of spare parts. The Bill received a Third Reading earlier today. That debate was marked by my laudatory comments on London Transport, but this evening I shall introduce a note of controversy. Before I came to the House, and since I have been here, I have had considerable concern, I hope constructive, with London Transport. I shall draw to the attention of the House one or two matters contained in the Bill which need to be watched.

First, there is the relationship between Parliament, the GLC and London transport. Until recently London Transport was responsible to the Minister and, through him, to the House. In the reorganisation of the late 1960s London Transport became the responsibility of the GLC. Parliament is being asked to give permission for the works mentioned in the Bill and I do not complain of that. It is clearly right that the Bill should come to the House because it concerns new works which are part of the railway structure and that is historically how such matters have been dealt with. I understand that the GLC is not entirely aware of some of the Bill's proposals. There is cause for doubt about expenditure.

One project alone—the extension to the Bond Street booking hall—will cost nearly £7 million. The Secretary of State for the Environment has authorised a grant under Section 56 of the Transport Act 1968 of 63 per cent. of the net capital cost. The House, by the Bill, is presumably authorising £3½ million for that work. I do not say that the Fleet Line was not necessary, but central London's underground traffic is declining. There is already a small booking hall at Bond Street, and to spend £3½ million on its enlargement, albeit for the Fleet Line, seems a lot of money.

I draw particular attention to the subway which is being built to connect the Piccadilly Line platforms at King's Cross tube station with the rather small and little-used platforms on what is known as the Widened Lines station. This is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), with whom I have discussed the matter. Those who follow railway matters in London will be mystified by the proposed connecting subway. As many people know, many of the trains going through the Widened Lines station will shortly be diverted to Moorgate. The need for this subway would appear to be reduced. Certainly there will be one or two trains a day in each direction direct from the London-Midland line to Moorgate over the existing route. It would appear to be a rather strange project, particularly as £5.1 million is involved. That is a lot of money on any basis.

The House should scrutinise requests for expenditure of that sort. I have made inquiries and it appears that London Transport believes—not without some reason—that although the number of trains using the King's Cross Widened Lines station will be reduced in the near future, it is likely that in the not too distant future more trains will use the station because of the projected extension of the London Midland electrification proposal from St. Pancras through the Snow Hill tunnel into Blackfriars and over the Southern Region lines. That is an admirable scheme.

I do not think that anyone who follows railway affairs in London would question the claim that it is a good scheme. The Barran Report, which has already been debated in the House by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and myself, puts forward that scheme as one of its "Cross-rail" options. Of course, the report is still in the discussion stage. The GLC has asked for comments and there is a lot of thinking and a lot of discussion to be done. I would support that as one of the Cross-rail options. A new tunnel of half a mile coupled with the Watford-Euston electrified line would offer a proper through-running system. That would be a good use of money, and it might not cost as much as £51 million.

Until the discussions have been concluded and some recommendation has been made it is strange, to say the least, that London Transport should put forward such a proposal. The sum involved does not appear in the Bill or the Financial Memorandum. I discovered the nature of the sum by perusing some documents in the Private Bill Office, and London Transport has kindly confirmed the sum involved. I draw this matter to the attention of the House, and to the GLC and the London public, because it is no secret that relationships between the GLC and London Transport are still in a formative stage. I am sure that they will continue to improve, but this is one example of where we may get ourselves into some slight statutory muddle, to say the least.

Another matter raised by the possible through line from the London Midland main line north of London into the Southern Region is the relationship between British Rail and London Transport. It has not been an easy matter. Any extension of tube lines, wherever it may be, provides a popular game for railway afficionados. Any change means a loss or gain of revenue by one or other of those organisations.

One of the matters with which the Barran Report did not deal adequately was how we should deal with such an extension. I would not blame London Transport or British Rail for being obstructive, although such an attitude has not been apparent. Of course, they have their own interests to defend. It is a matter for politicians either on this side of the river or on the other to see that difficulties do not arise. However, they have arisen ever since the days of Lord Ashfield and the originator of the Southern electrified system—the great Sir Herbert Walker. The difficulties continue and they are understandable because a clash of interests always takes place.

The £5.1 million for a subway, even if it is necessary, between several lines at King's Cross raises all the matters which have not yet been resolved. I hope that the Barran Committee recommendation for a liaison committee on which the public interest can be represented will be able to consider such programmes.

I now turn to another financial aspect or implication of this matter, namely the question of who pays. We have seen that the Department of the Environment is providing a substantial amount of the money, but all those who use London Transport railways know that there has been a considerable increase in fares only very recently. The proportion of London Transport money which goes into the repayment of loans is creeping up again. That is the position after the previous Labour administration wiped the slate clean prior to 1970. We are now involved in greater loan sanctions for capital expenditure. It is capital expediture with which the Bill is concerned, some items of which are a little long term, if not entirely unnecessary.

Mr. John Page

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as I wish to introduce a party political note into what has been a non-party political debate. It would be fair to say that when the Conservative GLC was in power there was no deficit on the London Transport services. It is only since the new Labour-controlled GLC started to subsidise fares that the terrible financial troubles have become so overwhelming. That has happened in a matter of two or three years.

Mr. Spearing

I shall not take up the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because I had hoped that we would avoid the very obvious and well-known differences between us on this issue. I would have thought—whichever side of the political fence we stand on these matters—that only by examining the sort of points that I am trying to put forward are we likely to get London Transport to run a little better. One of the difficulties to avoid is that of arguing about matters that divert us from the immediate issues of the day. We must get down to some of the fundamentals. Therefore, I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman down the road that he has taken.

I was talking about fares. Anyone who has a family and who does not have a car, or who does not use one for certain journeys, will know that the present London Transport rail fares for family travel are not only regressive but highly expensive. They provide almost an experience in themselves. It is necessary to rake out a £1 note or more at the ticket office for a journey across London. Personally, I am sorry that we could not have had a better look at the way in which we pay for railway fares in London. It is a complex subject. Over a year ago I made certain inquiries of London Transport concerning the market for rail transport in London. I have not yet received full replies. I would have thought that London's transport organisation, with its considerable commercial and technical staff, would be able to give me some better replies than it has so far succeeded in offering.

I am not saying that we have not had discussions. I have had some friendly discussions with some friendly officials, but friendly discussions are not enough. I am sorry that, so far, the inquiries that I made over a year ago have not had the full replies which I expected. I am not saying that we could have avoided certain problems had I received those replies, but I am saying that I have a prima facie case for suggesting that London Transport is not as fully aware of the potential market for bulk travel in London as one might have expected. Indeed, the time that that body takes to reply to these inquiries proves that point.

On this occasion London Transport—or the GLC—has put up fares. I make no complaint about the increase, as such, but it has also cut some of the services compared with the situation several years ago. One would think that on the Piccadilly Line there would be trains every few minutes. However, on the time table between North Ealing and Rayners Lane, the intervals between trains are as great as 20 minutes in weekday off-peak periods. The intervals are of 10–20–10–20 minutes. It is hard luck for those who just miss the 20-minute connection. That is the timetable interval, which takes no account of cancellations or late running where delays are often experienced.

I do not know whether London Transport believes that it is good enough for tube trains to run at only 20-minute intervals. The same can be said of the District Line on a Saturday, on the Richmond branch. I have no constituency interest, but I have an interest in the reputation of London Transport. Somebody who has to wait on a cold, open station for up to 20 minutes will take the view, "Once bitten, twice shy". Surely in face of the increase in fares and the relatively small cost of an extra train or two on various lines, those intervals could be reduced. It confirms my feeling that London Transport is not sufficiently geared to meet the needs of passengers as passengers see those needs—which is a quite different matter from the situation thrown up by statistics.

The other point which I should like to emphasise in respect of the considerable capital expenditure outlined in the Bill relates to the fact that the number of Underground journeys in central London areas has declined. The total passenger mileage has been maintained, and is slightly up, as one might have expected with the opening of the Victoria Line, with more journeys being made by passengers. However, we read in the Barran Report that since 1967 in central London the actual passenger traffic has declined by 11 per cent. which is a considerable drop. I am not saying that peak hour traffic has declined by that amount, but that the overall decline has reached 11 per cent. in that area.

On the East London line the traffic has declined by 40 per cent. in five years—in other words, by nearly half. I suppose that by the end of next year it will have declined by 50 per cent. This is not surprising when we remember what has been happening in East London. On the Hammersmith and City Line there has been a drop of 40 per cent. in traffic over a period of 10 years. The report shows that since 1967 traffic at the Westminster Station, for example, has declined by between 25 and 50 per cent. Indeed. with few exceptions, traffic at all stations in the London area east of the Victoria Line has declined in the last few years. Yet in this Bill we are being asked to authorise considerable amounts of capital expenditure. I am not saying that we should not support such expenditure; indeed, I believe that we should fully support any extension of rail facilities in London, but I plead with hon. Members to make sure that we get good value for money. Even if the Underground gets a better ventilation system, and all the rest of it, we still want to see people travelling reasonably freely and at reasonable charges.

I close by emphasising the point that we are still not entirely sure about the total needs of London for rail transport as a whole. If we take a proper look at the situation, I believe that we shall come to the conclusion that in a system which embraces over 500 stations and whose services cover off-peak times and weekends, we must ensure that the system makes a larger contribution to the solution of movement problems in the London area than is the case at present. These continuous conveyor belts which have to exist for work purposes can be used in a way which will allow recreational journeys, optional journeys and journeys for old-age pensioners in ways which will provide better social forms of movement than the present system provides.

I am afraid that before the publication of the Barran Report, which is not as comprehensive as it might have been, these matters had not been examined. I hope that as a result of some of the things which have been canvassed in this debate these questions will be followed up. However. I believe that the tone and content of the Bill do not point in the right direction since it appears that we are being asked to authorise large sums for vague purposes.

7.56 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate following the remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who was my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Acton. His interest in London Transport matters is well remembered in the constituency. It is a matter of personal regret to me that in four years there he did not solve all the problems involving London Transport which affect my constituents.

I did not agree with everything the hon. Gentleman said, and I should like to pick up one or two of his arguments. He claimed credit for action taken by a previous Labour Government in wiping the slate clean in respect of London Transport's capital debt. That is true, but that was not the Government's original intention. That action was taken only after vigorous protest by Sir Desmond Plummer, as the then leader of the Greater London Council. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), as the Minister of Transport of the day, eventually agreed to write off the debt.

The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) introduced the Bill with his customary clarity and good humour. I know that he will not take it amiss if I, as one of his football colleagues, make some criticisms of the Bill and, by implication, of London Transport, whose affairs are usually shielded from the gaze of this House by County Hall.

In Clause 5 London Transport seeks powers to enlarge the ticket halls at Baker Street and Bond Street stations and to build a new ticket hall at King's Cross. The cost of these schemes appears to be about £13 million.

I have a minor criticism of the proposals for Bond Street, the expenditure on which is to be £6,980,000. Londoners might have hoped that for such a colossal sum a public convenience would have been included in the specifications at this significant and busy interchange—but no. Nor can London Transport defend this omission by saying that alternative facilities exist nearby, for they do not. The latest report of the London Transport Pasengers' Committee criticises this shortcoming. It is regrettable that a possible clash of opinion between London Transport and the borough council as to who should pay for this facility should have resulted in Londoners and visitors being deprived of their public convenience. However, that is but a passing criticism, if that is the right expression in this context.

Under Clause 5, I wish to deal with some broader issues raised by the expenditure of £13 million on ticket halls. At the time of the last GLC election, many Londoners were led to believe that a Labour-controlled council would introduce a fares-free transport policy. Many of us suspected that this was just election propaganda, to be abandoned as soon as convenient. We may, I hope, assume that even the GLC would not spend £13 million on new and bigger ticket halls if it were about to abolish tickets. But the proposed expansion of these halls raises the question of the progress that London

Transport is making towards automatic fare collection. This is relevant to this clause because the system London Transport wishes to introduce needs structural alterations to the ticket halls, and the proposals before us reflect the needs of this new system.

Perhaps I can begin by giving some background information. Automatic fare collection was first introduced on a large scale on London Transport at Victoria Line stations, when the new line was opened in 1968. Although London Transport had the benefit of about 100 years of selling and collecting tickets, the system which it devised for the Victoria Line in the light of this experience proved a failure, and was quietly dropped after only three years.

I quote from a paper prepared by the GLC officers of the GLC Transport Committee headed "TP 77". It reads: An internal London Transport review of the Victoria Line system (inwards and outwards automatic gates with parallel manned barriers) established that there was scope for a more cost effective approach. Those of us who can interpret the language of GLC officers will realise that the last sentence is a polite way of saying that significant sums of money have most regrettably been wasted.

The Victoria Line system was abandoned because there was no possibility of reducing staff or fraud, since manned barriers were needed in addition to the automatic ones for those passengers with tickets issued by British Rail. Instead, a new system of automatic fare collection was devised.

Londoners are obliged to London Transport for adding a new dimension to the meaning of the word "automatic". The new automatic system will require an additional 350 staff to operate it, over and above the staff needed to operate the current non-automatic system. Far from cutting down staff costs, the new automatic system will add over £1 million per annum to London Transport's wage costs.

Those proposals must bring tears of frustration to the eyes of every Londoner and will probably provoke several pungent articles from Bernard Levin. Having abandoned one system because there was no possibility of saving staff. London Transport chose instead a system which increased staff. We might have hoped that the custodians of the ratepayers at County Hall would spot that something was going wrong. However, that aspect warrants one short sentence in the GLC agenda for 23rd July 1974. It reads: With the current severe staff shortages we are concerned that it has not been possible to achieve some savings on staff. It is fantastic that London Transport will spend £8 million on automatic ticket-issuing equipment and automatic barrier-control equipment. In spite of that it will have to recruit an additional 350 ladies with dyed blonde hair, headscarves and cigarettes to monitor the automatic fare collection system.

The justification for this new system, which is based on automatic entry gates, is the elimination or reduction of fraud. However, the GLC said that there was very limited direct evidence as to the effectiveness of system C in increasing revenue.

Clause 5 of the Bill conceals a sorry story. A new and expensive system was installed on the Victoria Line. That was abandoned, for reasons which should have been apparent from the word "go". The automatic exit gates at the Victoria Line stations and elsewhere are redundant. The reading and encoding equipment is a write-off.

A new system is to be introduced, with the same major disadvantages as the old one. In the long run yet another system may have to be introduced when London Transport and British Rail eventually agree on a fully automatic and integrated ticketing and revenue-control system for the whole London commuter system. In spite of this manifest incompetence and extravagance there has been scarcely a murmur of protest.

Mr. John Page

If it were not for the involvement of British Rail tickets, would the service work? If not, should we think of some other way of dealing with this problem?

Sir G. Young

The complications are not solely those posed by British Rail tickets. There are also problems associated with season tickets issued by London Transport, and other tickets of short duration or on special offer. The problem is more complicated.

As regards tickets, although the GLC gave its approval to the latest round of fare increases on 21st November 1974, which came into effect four months later, on 23rd March 1975, there are now not enough new tickets. Travellers must buy tickets at the old rate and pay the difference at their destination. The reason is that the GLC took so long to increase the fares that the people who supply London Transport with the plates used to print the tickets in ticket offices went out of business in the meantime. When London Transport wanted to replate, to cope with the new fares, there was nobody to supply the plates.

Under Clause 12 power is sought to provide road transport garages and depots at Hammersmith, Norbiton, Norwood and Streatham. The clause refers to the associated facilities to be provided on those locations. I hope that provision will be made for the substantial recruitment of women bus drivers and Underground drivers.

Introducing this clause, the hon. Member for Enfield, North spoke of the need to accommodate larger buses. I hope that there is also the recognition of the need to accommodate smaller drivers.

In the recent debate on the Second Reading of the Sex Discrimination Bill, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) said: I then heard from a London bus conductress who had been refused training as a bus inspector because she had never been a bus driver, and indeed could not be a bus driver because her male colleagues opposed it"—[Official Report,] 26th March 1975; Vol. 889, c. 583.] There is no law against women driving Underground trains or acting as guards. However, none of them do so. Although the unions preach equality for women in all jobs, there is a big gap between what they preach and what they practise. If women are allowed to drive buses, why on earth cannot they drive trains or act as guards? The level of physical exertion is infinitely less. I can think of no justifiable reason for excluding them from that type of work.

It is a matter of regret that after the battle to get women accepted as bus drivers was fought and won there are now only six of them. This is disappointing, since my latest figures show that London Transport is 15 per cent. short of drivers.

I fear that there is considerable hostility to the employment of women as London Transport bus drivers. In view of the staff shortages, I do not think that London Transport can afford that. Therefore, I hope that the associated facilities referred to in Clause 12 envisage a large recruitment of women.

In view of the uncharitable comments sometimes made about lady drivers, I was interested to read the following passage in the edition of London Transport News, dated 4th April. It reads: Kingston Garage snooker teams have had a season of near misses. I turn finally to Clause 21, which relates to land acquired by London Transport. Mention was made of the blight associated with land owned by London Transport. I should like to raise a constituency problem relating to such land owned by London Transport at Deena Close, which is near North Ealing station. That land is used as allotments. It fulfils a useful purpose, in view of the shortage of allotment land there. During the past few years London Transport has put forward proposals which have caused great local anxiety. The site in question is locked in. Access can be achieved only by going through a quiet residential cul-de-sac or by constructing a road which would emerge at a blind spot in a fairly busy road to the north of the site. There seems to be a lack of understanding and liaison between London Transport and the local residents. Some confusion has been caused by the frequency with which London Transport has changed its plans. I wonder whether, in instances where London Transport does not need land for pressing operational purposes and is not using it for its own staff housing, there is a case for transferring the ownership of the land either to the local council or to local residents' associations, to resolve any conflict.

I hope that the Minister who replies will deal with the point concerning automatic fare collection, since the large sum of £11 million is involved. In the light of what the Chancellor told us earlier, it is clear that we do not have a lot of money to throw around. A scheme which has benefits which can only be described as somewhat doubtful should, perhaps, be examined slightly more closely than appears to have been the case to date.

8.9 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

Both my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) and the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to the terrible tragedy which took place only a few hours after our last debate on London Transport. I was one of a number of hon. Members some of whose constituents were injured or killed in that disaster. Such a disaster affects us all. The tragedy was almost made worse by the fact that it disturbed what until then had been London Transport's remarkable safety record. We all hope and believe that that safety record will be regained. The fact that people are again using the Underground in the same way confirms their confidence in the system.

We are grateful, once again, to the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) for introducing the Bill, especially as I am sure that, as I did—since we represent the same London borough—he went through it line by line and failed to find any mention of Enfield.

I do not intend to prolong this discussion. A number of my hon. Friends have made important constituency points which should be looked at in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) made some important points. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West once again, in his usual jovial way, described to us his early life—and no debate about London Transport would be complete without that. Each time my hon. Friend alters it slightly, but it is always enjoyable to listen to him.

The hon. Member for Newham, South takes a great interest in transport debates affecting London, and we listened to him with interest. However, I do not share his enthusiasm for the fact that the Third Reading of the other Bill took place earlier in the day. He will understand why. However, he made some pertinent points and, on today of all days, he was right to draw attention to these costs involved at Bond Street, and so on.

I was also interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about the decline in traffic. But other changes are occurring. The hon. Member referred to the Piccadilly Line, which runs to my constituency. Even if the overall figures are falling, we find that at the end of the line, in the Cockfosters and Oakwood areas, more and more commuters are leaving their cars in residential streets around the stations. There is no proper parking accommodation for cars, and the result is that it is causing an ever-increasing nuisance to local residents. I saw some figures only this morning which show that in the past two years the number had increased by about 65 per cent. Something must be done about it. It may be that in some future Bill we shall be asked to authorise the payment of money for additional car parks. If we are, it will be in a good cause.

Mention was made of Heathrow. It may be that the hon. Member for Enfield, North was asked more than he could answer about the timing of the Heathrow link. However, we shall have opportunities to question the Minister about that on another occasion. We hear that the link may be delayed, and there is the other rumour about the possibility of a toll for cars going to Heathrow. We can go into that at another time, too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) gave us a delightful account of his earlier experiences and made some interesting comments on the problems of the Underground. I was reminded of an official visit, two years ago, to Hungary, which I made with my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). We were taken on Budapest's Underground, which is a very fine system. It was a Saturday afternoon. We were taken along the line for three or four stations, travelling in the front coach, which had been reserved for us. We got off at one station and were shown the workings of it. Then we went back to the platform. When the next train came in. again the front coach was empty, and we got in. I thought to myself that that was a piece of extremely good timing. Then I realised that every train that afternoon had its front coach kept empty for us. In London, in the middle of the football season on a Saturday afternoon, that would not be very popular, but things are different there.

This has been a short but useful debate. The Bill will improve conditions for both those who work for London Transport and those who use it. For those very good reasons, I am happy to welcome the Bill.

Mr. Bryan Davies

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may make a few comments in reply to what has been a most informed and interesting debate. We may not have aroused the passions in which we shall indulge over the coming days in the Budget debate, but we have had an opportunity to engage in an informed discussion about certain aspects of this Bill and to comment more widely on the services offered by London Transport.

Incidentally, I assure hon. Members that any points which I fail to deal with will be carefully scrutinised by the promoters of the Bill and replies will be sent to hon. Members on the detailed matters that they have raised. Some of them are possibly matters better dealt with in Committee than by a reply to this Second Reading debate.

I want first to congratulate the zealous defence of the interests of his constituents presented by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). I am not sure that he should be encouraged to oppose Bills of this nature, but on this occasion he presented in an extremely able manner the issues raised by the construction of the extension to the garage in his constituency. London Transport has been in correspondence with him about these matters, and it has engaged in extensive negotiations with the individuals concerned.

As for the three houses in Ellora Road, to which the hon. Gentleman made specific reference, it is hoped that access to the garage will be possible with the demolition of only one house. At present, two of these three occupants have accepted the terms offered by London Transport, and negotiations are continuing with the remaining owner-occupier.

I have heard previously some mention of the Surrey Tavern site. London Transport has looked closely at this suggestion. The problem seems to revolve around the availability of road access to the site. It is in a very busy area. What is more, I think that it must be recognised that the proposition in the Bill to extend the existing garage is made on the basis of an informed judgment that the Surrey Tavern site is not entirely suitable in the way that the hon. Member for Streatham suggested.

The hon. Member for Harrow. West (Mr. Page) expressed a number of sentiments which we all applaud. He spoke first about the safety record of London Transport. In some respects, the Moor-gate disaster engendered a great sense of shock because Londoners take London Transport so much for granted in terms of its safety record. especially the Tube.

I sympathise with the point made by the hon. Gentleman about the overcrowding danger. We have seen from time to time the necessity for measures to be taken to safeguard people against this difficulty.

I also support the hon. Gentleman's representations about the need to communicate as much information as possible to passengers. We recognise that the problems of cancellations on the London Transport system are not so significant as those on British Rail in terms of inconvenience to passengers. Nevertheless, communications are enormously important in ensuring good relations with the travelling public.

As for the airport link, the completion date for the construction of this concourse, reflected in Clause 22, is mid-1977. I am unable at this stage to answer the question about the possibility of an airport fee. London Transport will, I am sure, write to the hon. Gentleman and assure him about it.

As always, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) made an extremely informed and precise contribution to the debate. I recognise the importance of what he said about the scrutiny of costs. However, he will recognise as regards Bond Street station that here we have the refurbishing of a very old station. What is more, it has the misfortune to be located in one of the most expensive parts of London. Inevitably a substantial part of the cost involved relates to the value of the property on the site.

My hon. Friend also referred to the general strategy. I have no wish to engage in debate on the strategy of London Transport and its rail system in general. I could not hope to vie with my hon. Friend in terms of his expertise in these matters. My comments about the rail system were concerned with grubbing away under the ground, whereas I suspect that my hon. Friend was more concerned with rails which pierce the clear air of London on the suburban rail services.

My hon. Friend contested the need for a subway to the Widened Lines station at King's Cross. This is a reflection of anticipated passenger demand. The facility will provide for direct commuter traffic by surface rail from the Bedford area on the suburban line direct to Moorgate. It cannot be contended that this may be an over-provision of facilities in terms of the demands of passengers.

The hon. Member for Ealing, Acton raised a number of extremely important points. I am not sure that all of them are raised by the Bill. However, the question of automatic ticket collection needs an airing in this House and greater consideration should be given to it by the authorities involved. It is right that the hon. Member should have raised this very significant point.

I wish to be associated with the hon. Member's remarks about the necessity for ensuring that the promotion prospects for women employees of London Transport are equal to those of men. I am sure that some of the discrimination which he contends existed in the past—which is an extremely valid point—is unlikely to be sustainable within the framework of parliamentary legislation introduced recently. London Transport is not the only employer in the country which will have to look rather carefully at past practices to ensure that remedies are provided on the basis of this new legislation.

I did not have the opportunity in a previous debate to congratulate the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) on speaking from the Opposition Front Bench. I take that opportunity now. The problem of car parking facilities in outer London is extremely important. It is possible that that point balances the worries expressed by my hon. Friend that the cost of London Transport stations must not be excessive. The extension of car parking facilities at stations in outer London would possibly occasion much greater expense. Nevertheless the point is well taken that ordinary householders should not be put to the enormous inconvenience of having cars parked outside their houses all day.

This Bill is unlikely to throw our constituents into transports of delight. It provides some real and necessary facilities for London Transport to extend its capacity for running an adequate transport system for the capital. All hon. Members who have spoken, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Minister, represent London constituencies. We judge the Bill by the services it will make it possible to render to our constituents.

Inevitably, however, London Transport provides an enormously significant service to the many home and overseas visitors to the capital. Overseas visitors will form an impression of the capital which will be based partially on the ease with which they can travel around the various points of interest. In that context it is very important that we provide a transport system which is as efficient as possible, within cost limits, in the capital.

I thank the House for its indulgence and for giving me the opportunity to address it for the second time in this debate. All the points, which have been raised with precision, can be considered adequately in Committee. On that basis I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

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