HC Deb 28 February 1977 vol 927 cc107-51

Order for Second Reading read.

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

7.10 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

This Bill is sponsored by the London Transport Executive. It is a short Bill which clears up a few odds and ends about various works which the London Transport Executive wishes to carry out. We London Members have little opportunity of discussing the problems of London, and that of London Transport is one of the most severe problems that we face. The Bill seeks to some extent to ameliorate the problems of London Transport and of the travelling public. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

It is similar to previous Private Bills promoted by the executive and its predecessors in each Session since 1st January 1963 when the London Transport Board was set up. Between 1948 and 1962 legislation for London Transport purposes was promoted by the British Transport Commission. This Bill has been modelled on the earlier Acts. For the sake of convenience a number of standard clauses have been incorporated in Clauses 9 and 10 by reference to the appropriate sections of the London Transport Acts 1963 and 1969.

The undertaking operated by the Executive comprises mainly the London Underground railway system with its associated electrical generating stations and sub-stations, and the extensive system of bus services operating mainly within Greater London. One of the purposes of the Bill is to authorise the carrying out of railway works which require the authority of Parliament. The most obvious example of this is work involving interference with the highway. If that work were done without statutory authority, it would by definition be a public nuisance. Since statutory authority is required for works, it is necessary to obtain from Parliament power to take over land acquired compulsorily. This has always been the practice.

Perhaps I may now summarise the powers provided by the Bill. Part I con- tains the interpretation and the incorporation of general Acts. Part II deals with lands. It authorises compulsory acquisition by the Executive of certain lands and a right of way required for the purposes of the railway works mentioned in Clauses 5 and 7. Part III deals with the protective provisions, and Part IV with miscellaneous matters.

In Part II Clause 5 deals with the power to acquire land at Mile End. That is in the East End of London, and for all those hon. Members who do not reside in London I shall explain that it is one of the most heavily populated parts of the city. The land required for the purposes mentioned in Clauses 5 and 7 is shown on the plans which are required by Standing Orders to be deposited with Parliament at the time that the Bill is deposited. Of course, this has been done. The deposited plans show by parcel numbers, known as deposited plan numbers, the lands authorised to be acquired compulsorily.

There is a switch house in Mile End which is a major supply point in London Transport's 22,000-volt electrical distribution system, supplying a large section of the Underground railway on the north-east and east side of London, involving the Central and District lines. The present 22,000-volt switch gear was installed in 1941 and is now obsolete. Its replacement is part of a continuing programme for renewal of the electricity supply system equipment. To maintain a supply to the railway it is necessary to instal the new switch gear before undertaking a phased change-over of cables from the existing equipment. There is no available space in the existing building, so an extension measuring roughly 27 metres by 11 metres on the south side is proposed to house this new equipment. The remainder of the land sought to be acquired will be required as a working site to construct a new building.

Clause 6 is required in order to empower the Executive temporarily to dig up the pavement of Maplin Street which adjoins the land required for the Mile End works. The reason is that it is desired to build up to the boundary line between the street and the land which is to be acquired. That cannot be done without digging up the pavement. Clause 6(2) subjects the Executive to an obligation to restore the surface of the street to as good a condition as the Executive found it in, or as nearly as may be.

Clause 7 contains the power to acquire land at Cannon Street. Cannon Street is one of the largest stations serving the population in the South-East of London. The land to be acquired compulsorily is a small piece required in connection with the second stage of the Fleet line between Charing Cross and Fenchurch Street.

I need not stress the importance of the continuation of the Fleet line in order to promote the continued development of dockland. This is one of the most essential parts of the work, and any failure to encourage London Transport to proceed with this sort of work would be a severe commercial blow to the whole of dockland. The scheme has been authorised by the London Transport Act 1971 and the compulsory purchase powers were extended by the 1976 Act. This piece of land adjoins land authorised to be acquired by the 1971 Act upon which an office building known as Bush Lane House has almost been completed.

The land on which the original building stood was intended to be acquired under the 1971 Act as a working site from which to construct the station and the ancillary tunnels for Cannon Street Fleet line station. The Executive came to an arrangement with the owners of the building to enable it to be built without preventing Fleet line being constructed beneath it at some time in the future, and the small additional area of land now the subject of this Bill was to be transferred by the developers of Bush Lane House to the Executive as part of the future working site.

This shows the co-operation which exists in London between the Executive and the other commercial interests which, like the Executive, are concerned that the prosperity and the further development of this part of London should go ahead. It is to their credit that they have given permission to the Executive to do this. In addition, the superstructure of a draught relief shaft, part of the ancillary station works, may impinge on this land when local authority planning requirements are known.

Clause 7(2) is intended to give the power to acquire compulsorily the necessary additional land. Clause 7(3) authorises the Executive to acquire a right of way over a roadway called Scott's Yard which also adjoins Bush Lane House. That right is required for the construction of the Fleet line works and thereafter for the maintenance of the ventilation shaft.

Clause 8 deals with the period for compulsory purchase of land and right of way. It provides for the compulsory purchase powers sought by Clause 5 in respect of Mile End to cease on 31st December 1983, and for those sought by Clause 7 in respect of the Cannon Street land on 31st December 1982. The reason for this apparent inconsistency is that the latter is the date when the Executive's compulsory purchase powers for the second stage of the Fleet line will come to an end under the London Transport Act 1976. There would, of course, be no point in seeking a longer period for the small piece of land and right of way which are the subject matter of Clause 7, since, as already mentioned, they are required for that length of railway.

Clause 9 incorporates a number of common form ancillary powers relating to land taken from previous London Transport Acts.

Part III deals with protective provisions. Clause 10 incorporates provisions taken from previous London Transport Acts in favour of the public utility undertakers and the Metropolitan Police.

I come now to Part IV, which deals with miscellaneous provisions. Clause 11, regarding extensions of time, is made up of four subsections. Each of the first three extends the time for the exercise of the compulsory purchase powers of previous London Transport Acts, which time would otherwise expire at the end of 1977. Subsection (1) deals with a railway from Waterloo to Aldwych. Subsection (2) deals with the third stage of the Fleet line, between Fenchurch Street and New Cross. Subsection (3) deals with certain passenger subways at Holborn.

Clause 12 deals with powers to owners and lessees to give notice as to purchase of lands. It is most necessary to have this clause in order to have the proper provisions. The clause is the usual right given to owners and lessees of land in respect of which the compulsory purchase power is extended by Clause 11 to compel the London Transport Executive at any time after 31st December 1977 either to acquire their interest in the land or to give up its power. This is, of course, a provision intended to prevent land values from being blighted for an indefinite period of time by the threat of compulsory purchase. I am glad to see this provision in the Bill, because one of our problems in London is that when land that may be acquired becomes blighted, the owners cannot sell it, or they get a value that is much lower than its true value.

Clause 13 deals with the question of fines for certain offences concerning the LTE. I am quite sure that all hon. Members and most people in London are concerned about the flagrant non-payment of fares on London Transport. Anything that the House can do to stop this sort of crime—not paying one's way—must be encouraged by means of legislation.

Clause 13, read with Schedule 1, provides for increases in the fines payable for the offences described in the second column of the schedule. One reason for proposing these increases is the need to restore the deterrent effect of the old maximum fines, which has been reduced by inflation. The old maxima were in some cases last increased as far back as 1965. One realises the progress of inflation—if one can use that phrase—since 1965. Fines valid in 1965 should be quadrupled, at least, in order to have the same effect today.

The main reason for seeking to increase the fines to the extent that they are increased by the schedule is, however, to bring them into line with the Criminal Law Bill now before Parliament. The maximum fines now sought to be imposed have been scrutinised by the Home Office, which has told the LTE that it considers them appropriate.

The proviso to Clause 13(2) proposes an increase in the maximum term of imprisonment for breaches of Section 17 of the Railway Regulation Act 1842, which relates to misconduct by persons employed on the railways. The previous maximum was two months, which it is proposed to increase to three. As a deterrent, I hope that it will be successful. This again has been approved by the Home Office and reflects the Criminal Law Bill, three months being the lowest maximum term of imprisonment shown in Schedule 1.

Clause 14 deals with increases of fines for contravening byelaws. Subsection (1), read with Schedule 2, provides for the doubling of the maximum fines payable for breach of the LTE's railway byelaws. This, too, is based on the Criminal Law Bill and has been approved by the Home Office.

The opportunity is being taken by subsection (2) to get rid of the system whereby there is a tariff of maximum fines varying with the gravity of the offence. It is now thought better to have only a single fine and that the maximum one. That does not mean, of course, that the gravity of the offence is to be disregarded. It will be taken into account by the court when sentencing an offender in exercise of the usual judicial discretion.

Clause 15 deals with fines under these byelaws in the same way as Clause 14 does with railway byelaws.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the point that he has made on Clause 14 about the fines? Is £50 now the maximum for any byelaw contravention and is that the same maximum to be used throughout? Am I right about that? I was listening to the hon. Gentleman, but I did not quite pick up his point.

Mr. Perry

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he looks at the schedules, he will see that the fines rise considerably. Some of them rise from £20 to £200, some from £25 to £200 and some from £25 to £50, and there are varying figures such as those. The amount of the fine for each offence is set out in detail on pages 10 and 11 of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that answer for the present.

Clause 17 extends a power originally conferred upon the British Transport Police by Section 54(1) of the British Transport Commission Act 1949. The subsection authorises any constable to stop, search and arrest any person in the employment of the British Transport Commission or employed upon railway or other premises used for the handling or storage of goods who is reasonably suspected of being in possession of anything stolen or unlawfully obtained.

Section 54(1) as originally enacted continued in force for five years unless otherwise determined by Parliament. It was extended for successive periods of five years until 1975, when it was extended for only two and a half years, because public legislation on the topic was thought to be impending. In the last Session of Parliament, the British Railways Board, the British Transport Docks Board and the LTE, all of which are served by the British Transport Police force, each sought a five-year extension.

I am sure that all hon. Members would like to give full support to the British Transport Police in the carrying out of their duties. They have a very onerous task. However, only the British Transport Docks Board was successful. British Railways and the LTE, whose Bills had passed through all stages in the House of Commons, were unable to overcome the objection of the Lord Chairman in the unopposed Committee in the House of Lords, and they had their extensions cut down to two and a half years.

What is now sought by Clause 17 is to make up the five-year period proposed last year. The LTE has been encouraged to include Clause 16 in the Bill by British Railways, which are doing the same, and by the fact that the Home Office last Session raised no objection to the full five-year period.

As I have said, this is a Bill of a moderate nature. It is merely trying to iron out a few items that the LTE thinks need altering. I do not think that any hon. Member will disagree with the view that fines should be increased. One realises from living in London not only the problems of London Transport but the problems of the London travelling public and those who are prepared to pay their fares in full when they travel. Anyone who attempts flagrantly to break the regulations and not to pay his fare or the full fare has an effect on those who pay the full fare.

For only that clause in which we are perhaps, affecting the criminal law concerning increases in fines the Bill deserves a Second Reading. The other items in the Bill are minor items, merely giving permission to extend a switch station and to enter upon land in order to continue the Fleet line. No hon. Member—at least, no London hon. Member—will object to the Bill. I have great pleasure in commending it to the House.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members when I say how grateful we feel to the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) for his detailed and helpful presentation of the Bill. He has taken us through the provisions almost line by line. We are grateful for that, and for the way in which he has expounded the case for the Bill.

The Bill's provisions are mainly noncontentious. None of us foresees any bitter opposition emerging to them. I therefore propose to look a little beyond the legal and technical details, to the operations of London Transport in the context of the Preamble to the Bill, which refers to the general duty on the London Transport Executive to perform its functions with due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation. No one would challenge the record of London Transport in safety. In that respect, it has been wholly commendable, but I fear that in efficiency and economy its record leaves much to be desired.

Since we are now little more than two months away from the GLC election I suppose that it might be appropriate for us to recall that in its last election manifesto four years ago the Labour Party on the GLC gave a pledge to start at once talks with all interested parties about the implementation of our policy of a low flat fare scheme, leading to a free transport system, which is our long-term aim. The clear implication of that passage was that, under Labour, fares not only would be kept low but would in time be eliminated altogether. It was, perhaps, one of the most cruelly irresponsible pledges ever given at an election. It was cynically designed to catch votes at a time when every responsible observer, in London and throughout the country, knew that that pledge could never be honoured. And so it has proved.

As every Londoner knows to his or her cost, fares, particularly in the last two years, have been rocketing, and by this summer will be no less than 146 per cent. up on the levels of 1975. So much for free transport. Indeed, to adapt a famous phrase, I think that one can say that never in the field of public transport has so much been paid by so many for such an erratic and unreliable service.

The whole financing of London Transport now seems to be lurching out of control. In 1973, the last year of Conservative control, subsidies to London Transport totaled £10 million. Today, they have reached the staggering figure of £144 million. An operational profit of £10 million in 1973 has been transformed into an operational loss of £93 million for 1975. That illustrates the extent of the financial chaos which has been created, and it means, in effect, that every Londoner is paying for this service three times over—first, through the rates; through taxes, and third, through the higher fares.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham South)

The hon. Gentleman talked about fares and reducing them. Would he not agree that, despite the figures which he has quoted, all old-age pensioners have free travel, and children under school age pay a maximum 5p fare on the buses? Therefore, would he not agree that some welcome progress has been made in the fares objectives which were spelled out?

Mr. Hunt

I would not quarrel greatly with that point, except to say that it is the sphere of the subsidy designed to help a specific category to which we in the Conservative Party have no objection. Our objection is to indiscriminate subsidy which goes to help all travellers alike, irrespective of need, and which in many cases helps those who are tourists from overseas and from other parts of the country, and who make no contribution in rates to the operations of London Transport. There is, therefore, a distinction between specific subsidy and indiscriminate subsidy of the kind which has been operated now by London Transport under the Labour Party.

As I say, this is a grotesque situation which understandably is leading to increasing anger and frustration among the commuting public and to the demoralizations of London Transport staff. The running of London Transport is a labour-intensive operation. Indeed, I think that the labour costs account for almost 80 per cent. of its total expenditure. That means that, at times of galloping inflation such as we have at the moment, the only way of containing these escalating costs is by staff economies or more mechanisation. I suggest that the London Transport Executive is falling down on both those counts.

Staff, far from being reduced, have increased from 54,897 in 1973 to over 60,000 today, in spite of a natural wastage of about 5,000 employees a year. If those posts had been left unfilled, that in itself would have produced a saving of about £25 million a year.

Only last Friday there was a letter in a London evening newspaper from a Mr. Derek Thornton of Ilford, saying: In more than 20 years of travelling, I have never before observed so many apparently idle and unnecessary station staff grouped about platforms or ticket points, usually chattering cheerfully among themselves. How can the LTE justify this wasteful misuse of labour in what are clearly non-jobs at a time of ever-increasing fares and ever-diminishing standards of service? As an expert in work studies. I estimate that the Underground stations could operate satisfactorily with about half their present labour force. That impression is certainly widely shared.

I have never been able to understand, for example, why it is that ticket barriers on the Underground have to be manned at both entrances and exists. I should have thought that a strict check at the exit point would have been quite sufficient and would result in substantial saving of labour costs.

As the hon. Member for Battersea, South rightly said, much more must be done to check evasion. I am sure that we all welcome the provisions in the Bill dealing with that specific point. It is estimated that fare dodgers are now costing London Transport at least £10 million a year, and I have seen some much higher estimates. There is no doubt that cheating on that scale is a major scandal and, as the hon. Gentleman said, is much resented by the majority of honest and law-abiding travellers.

If there is evasion on this scale, as I think there is, that certainly strengthens the hands of those who have been urging the introduction of on-the-spot fines for this offence. [Interruption.] I know that that proposal has had a somewhat chequered history and has not in the past met with universal approval in this House, but if the proposal were to come back in the light of these alarming evasion figures it might have a rather more friendly reception.

The schedules increase the fines for various offences. I am delighted to see that the penalty for failing to produce a ticket or to pay the fare is to go up substantially from £20 to £50 and that the penalty for some acts of vandalism, such as throwing stones at trains, is to be increased from £25 to £200. Those are much more appropriate fines in present conditions. One must express the hope that, on conviction, magistrates will make full use of these higher penalties. We therefore look to the magistrates to support the sentiments expressed in this House about fare evasion and vandalism.

Some time ago we all received copies of London Transport's somewhat hostile reaction to the Government's consultation paper on transport policy. Hon. Members will have seen that the London Transport Executive in particular rejected the implied criticism that indiscriminate subsidies of the kind enjoyed by London Transport lead to management inefficiency.

Having considered the matter, I have come down on the side of the consultation document, because I believe that in the absence of any real obligation to pay its way London Transport has, for example, been regrettably slow to appreciate and exploit the development potential of many of its sites, not only with regard to office development but also the provision of housing accommodation for its employees so that they can be on the spot for their jobs.

We recently read of a multi-million-pound office development on a London Transport site in Hammersmith which, when completed, will be the largest complex of its kind in the country. It is estimated that the rental income from this will pay for the much-needed improvements to the public transport services within Hammersmith. Personally, I warmly applaud this kind of scheme. It is long overdue. If it can now be done in Hammersmith, one is bound to ask why similar plans have not emerged for the scores of other London Transport sites which must be ripe for similar development and which have been left undeveloped and unexploited for a prolonged period.

I welcome the reported intention of the Conservative Party on the GLC to undertake a fundamental review of the present bus routes, a great many of which have remained unchanged since the days of the horse-drawn vehicle.

Mr. Spearing

Like the roads.

Mr. Hunt

The suggestion for the introduction of shorter routes—a series of feeder routes leading to interchange centres—makes a great deal of sense and would meet the situation which exists in a great many of our constituencies where council estates and other housing developments have often been built away from the main bus routes and where the residents, particularly the elderly and infirm, feel stranded and isolated. My own constituency of Ravensbourne, together with others in the South-East of London, is particularly dependent on the buses in the absence of any Underground services.

We have recently been very concerned about the number of breakdowns within the London Transport bus fleet. At one time, I believe, no less than 900 London Transport buses were off the road because of mechanical failures of one kind or another. Although that number has subsequently been reduced, there is no doubt that breakdowns on this scale lead to a great deal of cancellation and delay for the travelling public.

The background to this whole problem has been explained to me by the Chairman of London Transport, Mr. Kenneth Robinson. I share his hope that further improvements will now take place, following the increased output of overhauled engines and gearboxes. I should like to pay particular tribute to the chairman of London Transport for the personal and courteous attention that he always gives to hon. Members who approach him. It is most helpful to us to have the kind of detailed replies which he sends. I should like him to know that it is much appreciated.

The problems of London Transport are immense, and no one underestimates the scale of the task which at present confronts Mr. Robinson and his Executive. In so far as this modest Bill makes some marginal contribution to the running of this great undertaking, I personally wish it a fair wind, and certainly have no desire to obstruct its passage through the House.

7.44 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

I join with the hon. Gentleman in his congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) on the accomplished way in which he presented the Bill. If it does have a fair wind, it will be due partly to the way in which my hon. Friend presented the Bill to us.

I also join in the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to the Chairman of London Transport. We have found him extremely approachable, easy to talk with and most willing not only to investigate what we raised with him but also to talk to us about it. Indeed, the dialogue and rapport which now exists between the London Transport Executive and this House is very much due to his endeavours to make sure that London Transport understands what is happening. I would also congratulate all those who work in the enterprise, because they have a dickens of a job. The harrassment that the staff go through, wherever they are in the enterprise, must make it a soul-destroying job for them. I suppose that one of the most annoying things must be that the chap who does the maximum of complaining is usually the chap who only uses London Transport once in a lifetime when his car is being repaired and who expects a bus to be immediately available.

I have been offered figures about improvements which have been made by London Transport over this last year. They show that it is now covering 5 million more bus miles a year about 3.4 million Underground miles a year than in 1974. The bus lane programme has produced about 200 bus lanes. I am not particularly impressed with it. I have yet to be persuaded that it tends to stop bunching and gives buses an advantage over other road users. Nevertheless, it is an attempt to try to bring reliability to the buses and one should give it some time yet before making a final judgment.

London Transport's decision to introduce bus radio control systems is an initiative that is well worth supporting. I can never understand why buses always seem to be joined together one to another. I make allowances by saying to myself that the London bridges are responsible. One of the strangulation points is the bridges. Buses coming from south to north seem to get fouled up on either side of the bridge. Yet I come out at 6.30 a.m., when there cannot possibly be any bridge hold-ups, and buses are still travelling together.

Like so many other hon. Members, I find it hard to understand why there is this bunching at all hours. It does not matter when one travels, One tends to see two, three or more buses one behind the other. Part of the answer could be that they are scheduled in that way, or they are late running, or that staff have not turned up for the job, or that it is caused by other road users. Yet one can find times of the day when that cannot possibly be the answer because there is nothing else on the road.

I hope that with this radio-controlled system it will be possible to produce a more even running of the buses and avoid the bunching that is not only annoying to the passengers themselves but making it an awful job for other road users to overtake two or three buses in line in the narrow streets of London. Cars follow the buses in these circumstances, and, as a result, we have one long bus queue.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

My hon. Friend should use the buses more.

Mr. Brown

Like so many others, I find that it is easy to talk about it without actually doing it. I agree with my hon. Friend that if I were able to use the buses, as he suggests, I should be only coo anxious to do so. Since my hon. Friend has intervened, perhaps I may point out to him that I represent an area of London which is always a problem. The buses are always crowded. It is very difficult to get on one. There is no Underground in the area. We are a transport-deprived area, a housing-deprived area, an industry-deprived area and a hospital-deprived area. In fact, I am describing a very good inner London area. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to give him that bit of education about some parts of London.

I move now to the fares situation, to which the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) referred. I was one of the aspirants who thought it possible, in order to improve public transport in London, to move towards a free fare system. When one works out the cost of taking the money, of adding it all up, of all the back-up in terms of machinery having to be repaired, of staff having to check the money, and all the concomitant problems, clearly it would be an advantage if we could devise such a scheme. I was one of those who argued that, if my party took control at County Hall, it would look at it.

I believe that we have done a great deal. We can claim that about 50 per cent. of Londoners travelling get free fares, and children travel at a flat rate of 5p. But before we quote statistics of that kind the House should be reminded of the difficulty in obtaining even that.

I was on the London Boroughs Association in 1968 which fought very hard to obtain a system of free fares for old-age pensioners in London. It is worth recalling the fight that we had then. It is true that my colleagues and I were in a minority because the Conservatives controlled both County Hall and the LBA. So we were fighting a rearguard action. But we fought manfully to provide free fares to old-age pensioners.

In the end, that was not acceptable. What the Conservatives asked for and were prepared to consider was some sort of system, if we had to have anything, which meant that old-age pensioners had concessionary fares of some type. But even having grudgingly come to that stage after many months of argument they illustrated one of the schemes which was proposed to be run by Camden in 1969. The basic element in that was that a person had to be over 85 years of age and infirm before he could travel only between the hours of 9 in the morning and 5 in the evening. That was thought to be a good scheme. Not many people took it up, of course. Nevertheless, it was a very good scheme, they thought.

Finally, by 1970 the Conservatives decided that perhaps there was something in this idea, after all. I was on the negotiating team with London Transport and, finally, we got an agreement whereby the boroughs paid the money on a voucher system in order to permit old-age pensioners to travel. The figure was then £3 7s. 6d., which was to be paid for each person who took up the vouchers. All the Labour boroughs were prepared to pay it, but we had some trouble with Conservative boroughs which did not want to act as agents in this way , and I think that the boroughs of Harrow and Bexley still refuse to participate in the scheme for free travel.

But that was agreed generally. Then we gave a commitment that, if the Labour Party took control of the GLC in 1974, it would issue free fares to old-age pensioners. We honoured that commitment in full. In 1974 that is what the Labour-controlled Greater London Council did, not that we had any help from the Conservatives. The Conservatives have done nothing during all that time but kept arguing, sniping, claiming that it was misused, and so on. I do not think that they have ever understood what it means to old age pensioners to be ante to get out and about in the mainstream of life again and to be able to do things without feeling that they are a burden.

This opportunity of having free fares gives old-age pensioners the chance to travel an enormous way and to see people —never mind only their relatives, but actually to see life. It is a great opportunity, too, for us to see that there is more to life than just providing old people's clubs. If old people travel as much as they can, it is a great help to the National Health Service, too, because it keeps them healthy, gives them an interest and saves them from becoming senile.

We tried to get this across to the Conservatives in those days, and they did not understand it. In the coming months we shall see a confrontation between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. The Conservatives will try to destroy the free fare system. They want to go back to what it was when we were arguing about it in 1968. There is all sorts of huffing and puffing among Conservatives at County Hall who claim that they do not mean this or that. But they were always against free fares, and they are still against them.

It is no good people threatening to put writs on me for saying that. I was negotiating with the Conservatives in those days. That was their view then, and I am satisfied that Horace Cutler means what he says when he says that the Conservatives will not continue the free fare system.

Mr. John Hunt

The hon. Gentleman must not spread this story. He will have seen in the Evening Standard one day last week an advertisement paid for by Mr. Horace Cutler specifically denying the rumour which the hon. Gentleman is now spreading. There is no truth in it. There is no change of policy on concessionary fares for the elderly and for school children in Greater London. This is an election red herring that the hon. Gentleman should not draw.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne is speaking only on behalf of Horace Cutler. I say to him that Horace Cutler will not have free fares for old people. He says "concessionary fares", and that is what he means. He is going back to the period between 1968 and 1970. He does not mean free fares.

Mr. John Hunt

indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne can shake his head as much as he likes. If Horace Cutler is putting the hon. Gentleman up to say that, he is misleading him. Horace Cutler is not telling the truth. He genuinely means to scrap the free fare system for old people in London.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

Is it not a possibility that the fares may be free but that old-age pensioners will be charged for the passes?

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend is quite right. The Conservatives are up to all the tricks and dodges to get round this difficulty. But I had the advantage of negotiating with them in those days on the London Boroughs Association, and I experienced all these arguments then.

Therefore I come back to the fundamental issue. There can be no argument at all that Horace Cutler intends to change from the present free fare system to some other form which will involve a payment for passes—

Mr. John Hunt

indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne does not agree, apparently. If he is right, I ask what all the row is about. Why does Mr. Cutler keep talking about withdrawing the subsidies and referring to concessionary fares? After all, it was he who began to argue in County Hall and who, when he was taken up on it, suddenly realised that he had let the cat out of the bag and tried to keep the favour of those who claimed that transport fares should be raised. Therefore, again I say that I am satisfied that the Conservatives are committed to getting rid of free fares. What ever else they do, I know that they will try to do that.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne spoke as though he was in favour of free fares generally and he thought that it was awful that the Labour Party had misled people at the last GLC election. I take it, therefore, that he is in favour of free fares. However, his hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has made it clear that he is all for withdrawing subsidies entirely. That is the first thing that he will do if he is ever given the chance. Horace Cutler has made it clear that he will axe all subsidies and transport grants. He has made it clear that there will be no Exchequer grant and no rate fund contribution. What will happen to the fares? Undoubtedly they will shoot up immediately.

I do not understand why the tears should be rolling from the eyes of some Conservative Members because the Labour Party gave free travel to only old-age pensioners and some other categories in London. The fact is that the Conservatives will put up the fares for everyone. That message should go out from this House tonight.

What is the policy of the Conservative Party in London? It will take away the Exchequer subsidy if it has the opportunity to do so. It will take away any subsidy from the rates. I believe that the battle lines are clearly drawn. The Labour Party is prepared to try every means in its power to produce a public service worth having in London. It is attempting to do it with fares that people can afford to pay. It is compassionate to the needs of the old people and the children in London.

I believe that when the people come to vote in May they will find it much better to vote Labour and ensure that they have a council that really cares for the people of London, a council that will provide for them a transport service worth having.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), has let himself go tonight. He always starts the record in a quiet tempo, and we are led to think what a splendid, modest, moderate, middle-of-the-road speaker we have on a sensible, non-contentious subject. But sooner or later the old soapbox comes out and back we go to Shoreditch High Street and the usual smear, sneer and scare campaign.

I think that the hon. Gentleman has displayed the nervousness of the London Labour Party by the excesses of his argument. His speech was so different from that of the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), although the hon. Member for Battersea, South presented his case in a trenchant and powerful manner. The hon. Member for Battersea, South was extremely helpful to the House and especially to some of those who make illiterate interruptions. I believe that there was only one such intervention in his speech, which he dealt with courteously.

Perhaps I should not go down this road as it is scarcely within order on the basis of the preamble. In fact, I did not intend to mention the matter until hearing the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. The fact is that there will be a budgeted loss figure of £97 million next year whereas when the Labour Party took control of the GLC, London Transport had a profit of £10 million. That was in 1973. By 1975, with its miraculous anti-Midas touch, the Labour Party had turned a £10 million profit into a £93 million loss.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch asks how the Conservatives will avoid increasing the fares. I think that he is implicitly admitting that the Conservatives will come romping home after the GLC elections. How will they manage not to increase the fares greatly? When the Conservatives were last in office they improved the services and kept the rates down. During their period in office they turned London Transport's finances from a loss to a profit. That was immediately turned into a loss again—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is about to stray from order.

Mr. Page

I was tempted, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is always my desire, especially when you are in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to avoid doing so. As I am leading a Council of Europe delegation to Glasgow in only two months' time, it is your favours I seek.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that he will get a very warm welcome.

Mr. Page

I hope that that is meant in the kindest possible way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not as sometimes my speeches are received in the House.

Rather uniquely, I shall turn to the Bill for a moment. I refer to the schedule dealing with fines. My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt), in an interesting speech, spoke about the possibility of on-the-spot fines. At that stage the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) muttered something about liberty. Does he demand the liberty of the individual to cheat his fellow passengers or to cheat London Transport? I have a distinct feeling that on-the-spot fining would be the simplest way in which to deter those who try to defraud the railways.

On-the-spot fining is unusual in this country but I think that we have gone rather a long way towards the concept with parking meter fixed-sum penalties. If on-the-spot lines were introduced, someone who did not wish to pay the fine could have his case considered, first, for example, by the transport local manager or the station manager. Ultimately he could go to the courts if he wished to go that far. My constituents, whose fares from Harrow to London have increased by nearly 150 per cent. over the past three years, demand that those who do not pay fares should be deterred from continuing to take that course.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman has referred to my interjection about liberty. Does he agree that if it is right, as we assume he is suggesting, to have on-the spot fines for London Transport—presumably he includes the Underground system—it would also be a libertarian move to have on-the-spot fines in supermarkets, for example?

Mr. Page

I should like to enter into this debate. I have not given any consideration to supermarkets. That is a matter that might be welcomed by the public. I had not given thought to that point.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman is a lawyer.

Mr. Page

No, I am not a lawyer. In some ways I only wish I were, as it would make it easier to comprehend the Bills with which we have to deal in Committee.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.

Mr. Page

Either a blessing in disguise or a necessary inconvenience. There are occasions when I feel that we have too many lawyers in the House.

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman just sounds like one.

Mr. Page

These are unexpected compliments from the hon. Member for Bolsover.

Mr. Skinner

It was not meant as a compliment.

Mr. Page

I wish to mention one other point—

Mr. Ronald Brown

Before we leave the subject of on-the-spot fines, does not the hon. Gentleman feel that there is a danger in introducing such a concept before we are ready to do so? With the system of automatic barriers, anybody found on a platform has either lost his ticket or has not paid. However, on some stations there are a hundred ways in which a person can get into the system without paying and without in any way wishing to cheat the system. In those circumstances on-the-spot fines seem ridiculous.

Mr. Page

I am pleased to see that the hon. Gentleman is giving this subject thoughtful consideration. I accept that there are difficulties. Obviously it would be unwise for such a scheme to be introduced before proper preparations had been made. We should examine the matter extremely carefully.

With the system of differential fares on London Transport, clearly a person can buy a 5p ticket and use it for a 50p ride. I am not suggesting that the system should be brought in overnight, but I feel that we should carefully examine the proposal because it could reduce the number of staff needed for supervision.

I wish to deal with the subject of vandalism and stone throwing on the railways. I believe that a fine of £200 is a low maximum fine in view of the major tragedies that can occur. However, in serious cases I imagine that the law can still institute periods of imprisonment.

I read of one sad case recently involving a young lady who was being molested on the Underground system, but other passengers in her compartment did nothing to go to her rescue. That appears to me to be a disgraceful state of affairs. People do not go to the rescue of London Transport servants who at night carry out a dangerous and thankless task on buses and in Underground stations. It is up to the public as a whole to stand up and try to help those who are trying to do a job for the nation.

I turn to another matter that is relevant to the preamble of the Bill. In the old days London Transport designed all their own buses, but when the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) became Minister of Transport she offered London Transport a subsidy if they bought off-the-shelf buses. This has been a disaster for London, because of the number of buses that are now off the road undergoing maintenance. Furthermore, there has been a tragic under use of capital expenditure.

There is another important consideration in that the off-the-peg buses operate a different kind of braking system. On the 183 and 209 bus routes, which involve one-man operated vehicles, the screaming of brakes makes life extremely uncomfortable for those who live on those routes. Certainly those who live near bus stops or traffic lights in residential areas have to suffer the screaming of brakes every 10 or 20 minutes, and this has become a very great nuisance.

The Chairman of London Transport, Mr. Robinson, has taken the greatest trouble in going into this matter. The Science Research Council has now been asked to undertake a fundamental research project into brake noise. I was given this information in a letter from London Transport dated 22nd February. Whatever may be the advantages of mass production of buses to suit London, Glasgow or other cities, surely London—which has some of the longest traffic routes of all the cities in the United Kingdom—should be able to design its own buses since this would have many advantages.

I wish to mention the design and effectiveness of the new turnstile barriers. At Pinner and other stations in my constituency it appears that there are almost as many officials of London Transport working on the platforms as there are passengers, but the queues at barriers seem to be longer than they used to be. There is also the danger that some of these older-fashioned stations are positioning their automatic barriers very near to the edge of platforms—in some cases as near as five feet away. In rush hours that could constitute a danger.

That is all I wish to say on this Bill, which was so gracefully introduced by the hon. Member for Battersea, South. I welcome this opportunity to discuss the affairs of London Transport which for my constituents, and many others, is probably the most important administrative matter in their lives, after the subject of taxation.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) on his skilful introduction of the Bill. He appears to have done the job so well that most hon. Members have not thought it necessary to say anything about the Bill's contents. I thought at one moment that the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) was about to deal with the Bill when he mentioned on-the-spot fines, but I notice that such fines, whatever their merits or demerits, are not mentioned in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt)—relying, as I do, on the passage in the preamble—dealt with the efficiency and economy of London Transport. I shall seek to keep as much in order as he did in addressing myself to certain subjects. I had the impression from the hon. Gentleman that if the Conservative Party were to take over London Transport, there would be much less subsidy and lower fares. The arithmetic of the matter is a little difficult. It could only be worked out if it could be shown that there were ways in which the Conservatives could obtain better value for money and run the system more efficiently. However, there was a gap in the argument. In pursuit of greater efficiency the hon. Gentleman appeared to suggest that the remedy was to sack half the staff of London Transport. If the Conservatives propose to do that, I hope that they will make it crystal clear before the election.

Mr. John Hunt

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not spreading another scare story from the Labour Benches. I referred in my speech to the natural wastage of 5,000 men a year, and suggested that if those men were not replaced, that would mean a substantial saving. There would be no need to sack the existing men working on London Transport. A comment of the kind made by the right hon. Gentleman is not worthy of him.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman quoted with approval, a letter from an evening newspaper. The letter took the view that London Transport could manage with half its present staff. If the hon. Gentleman did not agree, he should have made that clear at the time. I shall do him the credit of accepting that when he read the letter to the House he must have known that it was nonsense.

So we cannot use that means of economising. If we are to economise by any means of substantial reduction in the staff, can we do so and also run improved regular services? I do not believe it. The other method that has been suggested for making services more efficient is shorter bus routes. But there are great doubts about it. Those who have advocated that method have never been able to make the case for it. It would mean greater inconvenience for passengers, more frequent changes and it would almost certainly involve more staff. There is a massive gap in the argument there. I am afraid that there would be cuts in the subsidy that would have to be met by harsher treatment of passengers.

We cannot leave alone this question of the treatment of elderly passengers. Even the hon. Member for Ravensbourne in the middle of his indignant denial was careful to stick to the phrase "concessionary fares". We know what that means. It means that elderly people have to pay something.

What we should like and what we have not got is an explicit statement by those who lead the Conservatives in London that they do not propose to alter the present arrangement whereby at certain times of day elderly people can travel free. There are ways of wriggling round that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) pointed out, such as saying that elderly people will not have to pay fares but will have to pay for the passes that enable them not to pay fares.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had time to read the Government expenditure plans, Volume 2, referring to reducing the subsidy on buses, the Underground and ferries by £2.8 million during the next two or three years. Perhaps he could bring that into his argument on subsidies.

Mr. Stewart

No capital city in the world can run a transport system without subsidy. How can it be possible to reduce both fares and subsidy and to improve the quality of services? That is what the hon. Member for Ravensbourne suggested we should do. I am afraid that elderly passengers will suffer if the Conservatives attempt to make his rather shaky arithmetic add up.

We have not had an explicit denial from the Conservatives. They always use a saving clause. When we set that against the fact that the Conservatives opposed the project when it was first advanced—and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) pointed out that some Tory-controlled boroughs still obstruct the working of the free pass scheme—we are obliged to look upon what they say with the greatest caution. I hope that Londoners will notice this.

Mile End is mentioned in the Bill. Mile End is renowned in English history as the place where King Richard II, then a boy of 9, made the leaders of the peasants' revolt a promise to remedy all their grievances and gave them free pardons—all of which promises were systematically broken thereafter. The moral of that tale for Londoners is "Never trust a Conservative".

8.25 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

Labour Members have greatly departed from the rather pleasant explanation of the Bill given to us by the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry). They seem to be fighting the GLC elections coming up in May under the guise of discussing the preamble to the Bill.

I am glad that the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart) clearly accepts that the Labour-controlled GLC is responsible for the management of London Transport. I hope that my constituents at least will realise that, because they are getting fed up with London Transport. Using the preamble to the Bill as an umbrella, I should like to say why that is.

I have had only a minor exchange with the Chairman of London Transport—regarding the siting of a bus stop—on which matter I have had courteous treatment but no result. Fares have gone up, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) said, by 146 per cent. in the past two and a half years. At the same time, as far as I can see, subsidies have been going up. They cost £115 million in 1976–77 and £100 million in 1975–76. The last Labour GLC election manifesto promised a move towards free fares. Even though a great many old-age pensioners, I am glad to say, get free fares at certain times of the day, they are not free. They are being paid for in higher rates and taxes and—by those who pay for their fares—in vastly higher increased fares. That is not a satisfactory situation and it is not an enviable one.

There are good reasons why this has been happening. As the miles travelled by London Transport have decreased over the last few years, the numbers of staff have increased, so inevitably costs have increased. If one compares 1973 with 1975, there has been a drop in the passenger miles travelled of just over 3 per cent. In the same period the number of staff has increased by nearly 10 per cent. If that is not Parkinson's law in operation, I do not know what is. As a result, staff have cost more.

I draw to hon. Members' attention a little fact sheet headed "London Transport Statistics". It covers the year 1975. Comparing 1975 with 1974 is interesting. I draw attention to the fact that in 1974 London Transport had just over 56,000 staff at a cost of £157 million. In the following year 56,000 turned into just over 60,000—an increase of 4,000—at a cost of £243 million. That means that in 1974 each member of the staff cost approximately £2,809 but a year later the cost was £4,000 a year each. I understand that last year the cost of each member of the staff went up to £5,000. This must happen if one travels fewer miles and has more staff. It is an inevitable reaction. It is far beyond what can be accounted for by inflation, and it is worrying.

Under the Transport Act, the House has ultimate authority over London Transport and therefore if anyone asks why certain hon. Members signed themselves as opposing the Bill, it was so that we could all have an opportunity of saying some of the things on which we feel so strongly about London Transport. I said that it was not inevitable that this should be the case. Without straying too far from the Bill, I want to tell the House briefly about what happens in Munich. All forms of transport in the city and its environs are co-ordinated—buses, trains, trams and the Underground. I understand that in Munich one is supplied with a ticket that will serve on any form of transport within the whole area. The various types of transport are co-ordinated so that the buses arrive at the station in order that passengers may catch a train that is about to leave. The forms of transport complement and do not duplicate each other.

The Munich authorities have exercised extreme skill in reducing staff. All their buses are operated by one man and tickets can be obtained in advance at various places, including newsagents and tobacconists. They have no inspection on entry or inside the buses and trains. Passengers are on their honour to buy tickets and inspectors make random checks and charge an excess fare to anyone who has no ticket. The result is the same as a fine, but there is a psychological difference because it is felt that it is proper for an executive of the Munich Underground to charge an excess fare to someone who has not bought a ticket, but that it would not be right for him to be able to impose fines on the spot.

I do not believe that the people of Munich are more honest than the people of London and I can see no reason why such a scheme is not introduced in London. In Munich expenditure on staff is 55 per cent. of revenue. In London it is 75 per cent.

The Paris Underground and bus system is perhaps most similar to that in London. In Paris about 14,000 employees deal with 3.4 million passengers a day on the Underground. In London we have 16,800 employees for 1.6 million passengers a day—2,000 more employees for half as many passengers.

The right hon. Member for Fulham was asking how economies could be made. Perhaps it could be done by studying what is happening in other great cities. In Paris there are 104 bus conductors. In London we have nearly 8,000. The reason, of course, is that Parisians have one-man buses and we do not.

We have a duty to look at what is happening in London Transport. It is becoming increasingly oppressive for many constituents in the Greater London area, and there are many things that can be done to improve the situation, quite apart from the manning levels that I have already mentioned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne said that many bus routes were too long. I am told that there are 40 routes along Oxford Street every day. The route system was designed, heaven knows how many years ago, to claw its way from one end of London to another. Inevitably, buses are channelled along some of London's main arteries, including Park Lane and Oxford Street. It is a nonsense to have 40 routes along one street.

We must move to short-haul routes. I understand that about 70 per cent. of all journeys are under one mile. We need shorter routes with feeder buses running into them and we should also move towards the system of allowing taxis to take more than one passenger stopping along a certain route. That system operates in many great cities and throughout South America where the public transport system has more to be perturbed about than has London Transport.

We should also have a system of through ticketing which allows people to buy tickets that are valid for bus and Underground. Why should passengers have to queue in Underground stations to buy tickets? There is no reason why they should not buy tickets with their morning newspapers or at their tobacconists. At Oxford Circus Underground station I saw about 18 employees involved in counting, checking, selling, clipping or regulating tickets. In Munich the authorities have one such employee.

London Transport needs a jolly good overhaul. The move by London Transport to limit parking and the movement of cars in central London, which is causing such distress, is the typical reaction of a semi-State monopoly trying to restrict what remaining private competition there is. I should rather see it put its own house in order.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich, East)

The tone of much of the debate was set by the hon. Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt) who, with his usual delicate touch, reminded us that the GLC elections are coming up in a couple of months. I shall base most of my comments on the preamble to the Bill which says that London Transport has a duty to provide: such public passenger transport services as best meet the needs for the time being of Greater London". I was sorry that under that general heading the hon. Member for Ravens-bourne and others have seen fit to attack the efficiency of London Transport. In many ways, it is an easy target. We all have experience of constituents with individual horror stories of the buses that did not turn up and of the long waits on cold winter nights for the buses that never came. Every constituent remembers the one night that the bus did not turn up and conveniently forgets the other nights when it turned up on time.

Hon. Members who have raised these individual problems with Kenneth Robinson have always been advised of the three major problems facing London Transport in recent years—staff, vehicle availability and maintenance, and congestion. Fortunately, there is a happier story to tell now than there was a couple of years ago. Staff shortages are less serious, although London Transport is still 13.5 per cent. short of its driver and conductor requirements. The reason it cannot fill these vacancies is a prob- lem over availability of funds. When hon. Members opposite call for still greater cuts in public expenditure, they might reflect that the result of such cuts could well be less frequent and less reliable bus services.

Then there is the question of vehicle availability. The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) reminded us of the problem of London Transport being required some years ago to buy buses off the peg. There was the situation towards the end of 1975 when more than 900 buses out of 6,500 were not available for service because of unreliability. But London Transport, by using its own standards of technical improvement, by enabling alteration of gearboxes, for example, to be considerably extended, by increasing the output of engines and parts in its own works, and by putting some other work out to sub-contractors, has brought about considerable improvement. The number of buses out of service for mechanical reasons is now fewer than 300 and is decreasing. We should put that fact on record and pay our tribute to the tremendous improvement that has been achieved in the past couple of years.

Traffic congestion remains a problem. London Transport is constantly drawing public attention to the need for traffic management measures so that its buses can get through without delays. We should welcome the action by the Greater London Council, particularly in the provision of bus lanes, of which 139 are in operation, covering 27 miles.

We hear sweeping generalisations about the inefficiency of London Transport, but it is worth recalling that last year 86 per cent. of scheduled bus mileage in the area was provided by London Transport, and that 40 per cent. of its mileage was conducted on a one-man operation basis. Again, that is a considerable improvement.

In terms of general performance, London Transport in 1976 operated with its buses 5 million more miles a year than in 1974, while the Underground system operated 3.4 million more miles a year in 1976 compared with 1974. The bus-lane programme has produced proposals for 200 more bus lanes, which compares favourably with the 18 operated under the Tory-controlled GLC. The buses are, as a result, more reliable, and the extra fare income is estimated to be £1¼ million a year.

All this goes some way to dispelling the impression given by hon. Members opposite that London Transport is a wildly inefficient and overmanned organisation. But when we talk of the requirements of London Transport in meeting passenger needs, it is clear to most of us on this side of the House that that involves an element of public subsidy, and a substantial element.

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Cartwright

Did I head a cry of "Rubbish"?

Mr. Peter Bottomley

How big would the subsidy be in view of the Government's public expenditure plans?

Mr. Cartwright

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would mutter more clearly so that the rest of us could understand what he was saying. There have been clearly-enunciated attacks by the Opposition on the policy of public subsidy. Indeed, some hon. Members have referred to indiscriminate subsidisation. It is worth recalling that five times as many Londoners use public transport for essential journeys as use private cars. Between 7 o'clock and 10 o'clock in the morning, 900,000 people come into central London by rail, bus and Underground as against 160,000 by private car.

It is also very evident, from our postwar experience, that fare increases on London Transport simply mean more and more passenger loss. The overall loss as a result of the 1976 increases, for example, has been put at 5 per cent.—5.8 per cent. on the buses and 2.7 per cent. on the Underground. The effects of the 1977 fare increases are already estimated to be a further passenger loss of 3–8 per cent. overall—4.6 per cent. on the buses and 2 per cent. on the Underground. This shows that further cuts in subsidies will mean more fare increases, and that will mean in turn simply a further loss in the number of passengers and a worsening of the situation of London Transport.

There have been some suggestions by hon. Members opposite that those of us who draw attention to the problems of the implications of cuts in subsidy are waging some sort of smear campaign. I refute that suggestion. Comments by leading members of the Conservative Party seem to indicate the way in which their minds are turning on this subject. For example, in Commercial Motor of 1st October 1976, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) was reported as saying trenchant things about subsidies at the Commercial Motor fleet management conference. He was quoted, under the heading "Tories hit out on transport", as saying: The starting point should be that transport should be paid for by the user. He went on to qualify that statement to some extent because, it seems, he was not calling for the immediate elimination of subsidies. He added that the public should know what they were subsidising and what it was costing. That does not seem to square with the statement: the starting point should be that transport should be paid for by the user.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Cold-field)

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman has read anything of that speech, he will agree that the subsidies that I was seeking to suggest should be eliminated—which is his own Government's policy—were subsidies on freight transport—namely, to the National Freight Corporation and British Rail freight. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees with that, he disagrees with his own Under-Secretary of State.

Mr. Cartwright

I am grateful to the hon. Member, but that does not get in the way of the basic statement that the starting point should be that transport should be paid for by the user. That was a clear statement of philosophy, and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield cannot gloss over it my saying that he was referring to individual items of transport.

The same type of comment has been made by leading members of the GLC. On 2nd November 1976, Mr. Richard Brew, the Tory transport spokesman said that the GLC subsidy to London Transport was taxpayers' and ratepayers' money "directly down the drain". That does not represent burning support for subsidies.

Another GLC spokesman, Mr. Brook-Partridge, in an article in the Romford Recorder, Brentwood Review pledged that a future Tory-run GLC would attempt to ease the burden of public transport on ratepayers and taxpayers.

Mr. Shelton

Do I understand the hon. Member correctly? Is he in favour of subsidies? Would he not rather have an efficient service that did not require subsidies?

Mr. Cartwright

Most hon. Members on this side at least believe that it is impossible to run a public transport service in a city such as London without subsidies if the alternative to subsidies is ever-increasing fares which result in ever-decreasing numbers of travellers on public transport. That is a policy of disaster. If the alternative to that policy is a subsidy, then I believe in subsidies.

Mr. Norman Fowler

The hon. Member has destroyed his own case because what we have under his Government and under various Labour councils is vastly increased fares and vastly increased subsidies. If he is to quote out of context the statements of various Tory spokesmen, will he say whether he disagrees or agrees with the Government's policy to reduce the subsidy element in public transport?

Mr. Cartwright

The Government have not sufficiently understood the problems of London Transport and that is reflected in the funds that they allocate. That is my personal view and that of some of my hon. Friends. We shall go on arguing with our colleagues on the Front Bench about that.

It is not out of place to draw attention to what Conservative members of the GLC have said about what has been done. They say that it is not good enough and that they would go further and cut out much of the subsidy.

There is considerable suspicion, as some of my hon. Friends have indicated, about the future policy of the Conservative Party in London on free fares for the elderly. Mr. Richard Brew, the Conservative transport spokesman—no doubt out of context—is reported in the Evening Standard as saying that the Conservative Opposition would like slightly to alter the system of pensioners' passes". What is a "slight alteration"? Is it possible that pensioners may be asked to pay for their passes? They may still be able to travel free but have to pay for the passes to have the privilege of free travel.

It is not a quotation out of context if I underline the fact that two London boroughs have refused to operate the distribution of free passes. They are Bexley and Harrow. Surprise, surprise, both are Conservative-controlled boroughs. Four other boroughs have indicated that they might drop out of the scheme. Surprise, surprise! Those are Conservative controlled—Barnet, Redbridge, Kensington and Chelsea and Croydon. Does that not seem to indicate some lack of enthusiasm on the Tory Benches for this policy?

I could quote Sir Malby Crofton, the Tory Leader of Kensington and Chelsea and a candidate for the GLC. He was quoted in The Sunday Times on 6th February as saying that pensioners' passes are unnecessary costs and the whole thing is getting full of fiddles. The article went on to say that Some of his colleagues feel that the passes should be issued more selectively. If English means anything, that indicates that there is to be some kind of attack on pensioners' free fares if the Tories win the GLC elections.

I give fair and full notice that we on these Benches will go on raising and pressing for answers to these delicate or indelicate questions because, before Londoners vote in the GLC elections, they are entitled to know what the Conservative Party has in mind regarding free fares for the elderly.

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

I should like to join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) on the excellent way in which he introduced the Bill. It is clear that the major part of the Bill is non-controversial. The only difference seems to be on what arguments one can put forward regarding the words in the preamble about efficiency, economy and safety of operation. Some hon. Members have strayed into the GLC elections. I should like to follow the line taken by the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stewart). I remind the House that when those elected to the GLC come up for re-election, it will be the 600th anniversary of the year when Wat Tyler led his band of villains along the A2 up Rochester Way. He was delayed for a couple of days, no doubt by a traffic jam, at the Well Hall roundabout on the Rochester in my constituency. He then went on to Smithfield. The next day he lost his head because those who were in control of London—I think it was the Mayor of Walworth—decided to do away with him.

The problem of London Transport is great and growing. I remind my hon. colleague for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright)—may I put in a plea here to have my constituency renamed Eltham because I sometimes have my constituency confused with his in the Press and, when appropriate, I should prefer the credit rather than him—of The Government's Expenditure Plans, Volume II, issued this month. It spells out convincingly that the Government are gerrymandering the transport subsidies especially to help the Labour Party in the GLC elections.

I note that the Under-Secretary is smiling. I hope that he will intervene to confirm that rather more enthusiastically than he seems to do by nodding and turning away in embarrassment at the moment.

The Government's estimated expenditure on subsidies for bus, Underground and ferry services was £165 million in this financial year. In four years, we are told, the provision will fall to £60 million—the £60 million provided for in Command Paper No. 6393. However, we suddenly discovered that the Government are to provide an increase of £47 million this year. It is spelt out here in black and white that they have done so. It would be wrong to think that that spreads all the way across the country and that this £47 million would not have much to do with the increase in subsidy to London Transport. Does the Minister want me to give way?

The Under-Secretary, of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)


Mr. Bottomley

We see from Table 2.6 that the subsidy has risen since 1973–74, which I understand was the last year that the Conservative-controlled GLC was responsible for London Transport. The total subsidy for bus, Underground and ferry services in England and Wales was £25 million and it increased last year by £164 million. One can assume that the great bulk of this is the subsidy forced on London Transport by the Labour-controlled GLC. This subsidy will be eliminated at the rate of £25 million a year, starting after the elections about which the right hon. Member for Fulham and my colleague the hon. Member for Woolwich, East are so rightly concerned.

It is quite clear that it is one of the most blatant pieces of political financial wizardry which has yet hit this country. It is not the greatest, because the greatest was the promise—surprise, surprise—given in 1973 by the London Labour Party spelt out not quite so precisely in the manifesto to have fares held steady and then to eliminate them. The expert manifesto drafters, especially those in the Manifesto Group, put in words to the effect that they would have consultations to achieve these things, rather than to give a direct commitment to such things as the Dock Work Regulation Bill and one or two other issues. Surprise, surprise, the subsidy went up enormously. Fares have gone up by 150 per cent. and the regularity of the buses has not improved.

Obviously there are difficulties in running a large public transport undertaking in a capital city. I can only suggest that these difficulties have been made far worse by the blatant political interference from the Labour-controlled GLC during the last four years, and also by the way the Government are encouraging the GLC to let the subsidy continue at a high level this year when they know perfectly well—I see the Minister acknowledging this—that it will he reduced drastically in 1977–78 and 1978–79.

It is quite clear that they knew they would lose the election. They want the Labour Party to go out with an increase in fares of only 150 per cent., with the subsidy paid for, in the main, by London ratepayers and taxpayers, including the old ladies and gentlemen who are entitled to the free pass but have to pay taxes on small retirement pensions and vastly increased rates on their homes.

The trend line of the number of passenger-miles covered by London Transport over the last five or 10 years is fairly steady, showing a decline in the number of passengers using London Transport. Perhaps one cause is that car ownership has increased among families in London. We would expect this. The trend line deviated with the introduction of massive subsidies following Labour gaining control of the GLC. The trend line is now going hack to where it was before the subsidies were introduced.

Most people who are fairly skilled in statistics or mathematical economics would say that the figures demonstrated clearly that the London Transport subsidies are worth about £1 for every extra journey above the trend line during the hump years. Obviously if we increase the subsidy drastically, in the first year or two there is an effect but it dies away. I should be happy to give way to any hon. Member who could show that there was not an extra cost of £1 for every additional journey bought by the massive subsidy given to London Transport.

I should like to switch for a moment to the problems that face residents of London living in areas which are not served by the Underground. Here I should like to pay a tribute to London Transport for the effective way in which they seem to be dealing with the problems of violence and theft on the southern part of the Northern Line. We know of the handbag snatchings and muggings on some of the Northern Line stations south of the Thames. The situation may be the same in other parts of London, but I talk only about an area which I know. The measures London Transport is taking are effective and it deserves the congratulations of all those who live in London for what it has done.

Most of the schedules to the Bill refer to regulations concerning the railways, but we should extend a word of sympathy to the staff of London Transport, especially to those on the buses and on the Underground who have had to face intimidation and violence by members of the travelling public. When criticising London Transport, and especially Labour politicians at County Hall, we should not give the impression that we are necessarily criticising the staff of London Transport. They do a difficult job, and they do it well.

I should like to return to the question of the difficulties of people who cannot avail themselves of good public transport facilities. In my constituency, near Falconwood station, there is an area in which there is an old people's home. Many of the old people with free bus passes, who may wish to go to the town hall or to some entertainment after the pass time limit when they have to pay their fare, may have to wait over an hour for a bus. This is inexcusable.

We cannot expect London Transport to provide double-decker buses to go to every outlying residential area in London, but we can expect greater flexibility and perhaps an easing of the London Transport monopoly, and if London Transport cannot provide services they can perhaps be provided economically by private operators. I should like London Transport to be broken up to a certain extent so that the staff in the garages may fill the gaps, because I am sure that they have the greatest expertise and would be able to provide an economic and efficient service for areas which the London Transport Executive cannot cover.

Hon. Members opposite have shown what a sorry record their fellow politicians at County Hall have had in control of London Transport for the past four years. None of their interventions in this debate has justified what has happened. One can simply take a measure of comfort from the fact that they have learned their lesson and will not repeat their electoral bribes for the coming election, although I am sorry that the Government are perpetuating the massive subsidy for this year to try to give their side an advantage.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

It is with some temerity that I, a mere West Midlands Member, intervene in this debate. I shall make a short intervention. I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) on the quite exceptional way in which he introduced the Bill. Also, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) on his speech.

It would be wrong to go into too great detail into the GLC election campaign, but, as we have pointed out, in 1973 the Labour Party made pledges about fares which it could not keep and, worst of all, it raised hopes which could not be fulfilled. That is our case against what its members have said. They were elected on a false prospectus and they will be judged on it. Between 1975 and June 1977, fares on the Underground will have increased by 146 per cent. In the same period, bus fares will have increased by 123 per cent.

Mr. Horace Cutler, who is a doughty fighter in London, needs no defending by me, but the position about free fares is absolutely clear. Mr. Cutler has made it plain time and again that the present free fare arrangements will continue; there is no question of change. Therefore, I hope that the scare stories will end. I say to Labour Members who have tried to raise such fears that the late Nye Bevan said that one does not have to look into the crystal ball when one can read the book. The book for London shows that the Labour Party made pledges which it could not hope to maintain or put into action.

I recognise the constructive manner in which the hon. Member for Battersea, South made his speech. I wish to deal with one important point that he made, with which I have great sympathy, on the question of the penalties proposed in the Bill. Today's debate takes place against the background of the amount of ticket fraud on London Transport. This is not a problem that can simply be swept under the carpet. The fare-dodgers are now costing London Transport millions of pounds. This is a major problem and must be tackled.

Estimates of the losses vary considerably. London Transport's own estimate is that it is losing £6 million a year through ticket fraud on the Underground alone and a further £2 million on the buses. Therefore, on its own estimates London Transport's loss is running at about £8 million a year, and some people believe that it is very much higher.

Taking London Transport's own estimate, we see that the loss of £6 million on the Underground is 5 per cent. of its revenue of £125 million. If this were a private business, this would be the difference between profit and loss, but London Transport is not a private business. It is clear that in public transport terms it means that the vast majority of honest passengers have to pay for the evasion of the minority. That does not seem to be a position that we should condone or accept for one moment.

Let us be clear about the kind of offences with which we are dealing. Even now, despite what was said by the hon. Member for Battersea, South, there seems to be a curious public tolerance of the fare dodger in this country. When I went to see London Transport in connection with the Bill I asked what were the most common offences of evasion with which it dealt, and it gave five examples.

The first is the case of a passenger who buys two season tickets for short journeys at each end of his daily journey and thus evades the fare in the middle. London Transport gave an example of a husband and wife who each had a season ticket between Bank and Chancery Lane and another between Gants Hill and Wanstead, so they were able to travel free between Wanstead and Bank. They had been doing this not for months but for some years until they were detected.

The second example is a passenger buying a minimum fare ticket and making a declaration of an excess fare of the minimum amount at the other end, therefore once again evading the cost in the middle. The third example is the use of a season ticket by members of the same family.

The fourth example is the purchase of tickets for short journeys by a number of people, one of whom passes out at the other end, buys the appropriate number of minimum fare tickets and returns, thus enabling the others to get out at a succeeding station to which those tickets are valid. One example concerned a group of men who travelled between Rayners Lane and St. Pauls. After detection it was discovered that they had clubbed together so that one of them could buy a season ticket between Rayners Lane and St. Pauls. All of them got out at Chancery Lane, where he would go through the ticket barrier exhibiting his valid ticket and would buy from the machine tickets between Chancery Lane and St. Pauls, which he would distribute to his companions who would get out at St. Pauls. For their return journey they had bought tickets from Rayners Lane to South Harrow. The case was detected by a station foreman at Chancery Lane. London Transport states that it is generally suspected that a large number of people are practising this type of conduct and have not yet been detected.

The fifth and final example is the plain forgery of expiry dates on tickets. Again, according to London Transport this is a very common occurrence and consists of the alteration of the date or month of the season tickets in such a way that it cannot be readily detected by a ticket collector in a crowd. A common example would be the alteration of the "R" in "MAR" for March to a "Y" making it "MAY".

The reason I give these examples is to show that we are not dealing with passengers who have made a mistake, but with those who have set out deliberately to defraud London Transport. That is why I think it quite right for Horace Cutler to have taken such a firm stand upon this question.

The question then arises how we are to deal with the problem. The Bill introduces new penalties. By any standards a £200 fine for travelling with intent to avoid payment of a fare is a heavy penalty, but we should not deceive ourselves that penalties alone will stop the evasion. The whole history of crime in this country shows that the penalty is only part of the deterrent. The other part is detection. Heavy penalties without the deterrent of detection will be ineffective.

Let us therefore look at the question of protection in relation to the penalties here proposed. The difficulties for London Transport staff in checking the tickets of passengers is illustrated by the position at Oxford Circus. In the peak hour 20,000 people are using the station. London Transport says that this means that the available staff is checking 70 or 80 tickets a minute, which is far too many for any kind of accurate check to be possible.

The obvious alternative to this is the installation of automatic fare-collecting equipment. Equipment of that kind combats fraud and it saves staff when the cost of staff is over two-thirds of London Transport's total cost. That is obviously an important factor. There is no doubt that such equipment can work success- fully. It works on the Paris Metro and in the United States, notably on the Bay Area Rapid Transport System in San Francisco, which I visited last summer.

The equipment there is so sophisticated that if one buys a $5 ticket and then makes a 50 cent journey the equipment at the destination will check the ticket and give it a credit of $4.50. Not surprisingly, this has deterred the San Francisco fare dodgers in a very big way.

We should pay tribute to the fact that London Transport is developing a new system here. That system need not be as sophisticated as the example I have quoted, but the equipment that it has in mind will do a great deal to deter evasion.

It is also desirable to go over to a system where the passenger cannot enter the Underground without having a ticket. As has already been pointed out in our debate that is crucial. This again is entirely feasible. Even when ticket offices are closed it is possible to have "authority to travel" tickets for the minimum price, and such machines are being experimented with in London Underground stations.

If we went over to that system it would be possible to consider not on-the-spot fines—I do not think that is the right phrase because it implies money passing and that would be wrong—but a system of fixed penalty notices for those travelling without tickets. That is a much better suggestion and it is by now the traditional way of doing things in this country, given always that the defendant has the right to a trial in court.

I sum up the basic comments in my brief intervention. First, fare evasion is not a crime that we should simply ignore but a crime that loses London Transport at least £8 million a year and puts an extra burden on all other passengers. That message should go forth. I entirely support what has been said on that subject. We should make a much more determined effort than we have in the past to combat this form of crime.

Secondly, the new penalties in the Bill, big, sweeping and wide as they are, will not be enough by themselves. The real key is detection. The biggest deterrent would be clearly to demonstrate the likelihood that evasion will be detected.

I suggest, therefore, that what is needed now is an all-out war against the fare dodgers in London, not only for the good of London Transport but for the good of the vast majority of the travelling public. This is a contribution that can be made to the finances of London Transport.

We should remember that in 1973 95 per cent. of revenue came from the business income of London Transport. Last year the figure was down to 69 per cent. There is a long way to go to get London Transport back on to an even financial keel, but better measures against evasion would, in my view—and I entirely support what Horace Cutler has said about this—make a very substantial contribution to making the position right.

9.16 p.m.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to reply to the debate.

I join with practically everyone who has spoken in the debate in the remarks about the way in which this subject has been handled tonight. With so few opportunities for London Members, on either side of the House, to discuss London, and with a GLC election two months hence, we were bound to have party interests being discussed at the same time as the merits of the Bill. However, despite the chit-chat between hon. Members on the question of the GLC election, the debate and the Bill have served a very useful purpose.

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) and I became Members of this House at the same time. On questions about London he has always been most open, and he has been prepared to listen and to try to analyse the problems of London, be they concerning transport, housing or anything else. I thank him for his intervention this evening. He has contributed something useful to the debate.

The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) has apologised to me for having to leave early to attend a meeting in his constituency. He raised the question of violence, and mentioned stone throwing. I saw a newspaper article on Sunday concerning that subject. I am a Chelsea Football Club supporter, and I read that the coach taking the Chelsea team home from Bolton at about 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock on Saturday evening had a steel bolt, 8 inches long, thrown through one of its windows.

That is the sort of vandalism and violence that we are experiencing on public transport. That is the sort of thing that we must stop. People caught doing such things should be fined or should have some sort of deterrent punishment imposed on them so that they do not repeat such acts. I agree with everything that has been said on that subject by almost every hon. Member.

The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) went in great detail into the question of staff, costs and everything else, and the increases in those spheres, concerning London Transport. I am sure that he will remember, as I do, that in 1973 the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), because of the state of London Transport and the complaints at the time, telephoned Sir Desmond Plummer in Tokyo and asked him to return to London straight away and put London Transport to rights. Sir Desmond came back. Of course, increased pay led to increases in staff. Unfortunately, we cannot now see the benefits of the action then taken, because there is still the difficulty of obtaining staff for London Transport. To some extent that is caused by the violence and vandalism that occurs on its services. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the staff of London Transport, as have all hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) can always be expected on these occasions to speak for those who serve Londoners I appreciate his point about the distances that some old people have to go for a bus. I am sure that London Transport will consider that.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) is not a London Member, but his trenchant remarks about fines deserve great attention. His only fault was to explain so clearly how people can defraud London Transport. His speech deserves to be read by everyone in London, but I hope that few crooks will read it.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that those who go in for these dodges know them already without any help from me.

Mr. Perry

I would concede that.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned many different systems of fare paying. I understand that New York has a standard fare of 50 cents for any distance. I do not suggest that that system is better than ours, but we need to examine standardisation of fares and the employment of fewer staff and more machines.

I agree with the tributes paid to bus and Underground staff. Especially at night, theirs is not an easy job. Even at Westminster, where there are women ticket collectors, I have seen men offer 10p when they have obviously come a greater distance or rush off after having given up a ticket for too short a distance. In one case, I saw an attempt to intimidate one of the women collectors.

The House must tell these members of the staff that we support them and that if we can improve their lot by stopping fraud we shall do so. I appreciate the services that London Transport gives to the fare-paying public. I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

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