HC Deb 18 December 1981 vol 15 cc554-96

Question again proposed.

11.15 am
Mr. David Howell

I was speaking about the serious situation in which the GLC has placed itself, London Transport and others, and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was about to intervene.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The Secretary of State says that a period of calm is required, so will he withdraw the provocative and disgraceful statement that he made last night, that the GLC got itself into the mess and must get itself out? That is not in accord with the advice given this morning by the Solicitor-General, who told us to look at the judgement and said that it was being seriously considered by the Government.

Mr. Howell

The hon. Gentleman should reflect before he speaks. The GLC's actions were a breach of its duty to the ratepayers and wrong in law. It failed to hold a balance between transport users and ratepayers, and that fact is generally recognised. Decisions by its members have put the GLC in that position, which is damaging for it. It is for the GLC to face the issues that arise from the judgment.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

No. For the convenience of the House I am giving the Government's initial reaction to the complex judgment. I repeat that we should follow the advice of the Solicitor-General and that we and the GLC should carefully consider the implications of the judgment. I do not see how, even in his wildest moments, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North could disagree about the fact that the GLC has got itself into a pickle.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howell

No. I wish to give the Government's initial view. Many wild things have been said, and it is important carefully to examine the judgment.

The Government are not against a sensible degree of grant support. In the current year, under the transport supplementary grant, we have agreed that £80 million expenditure for revenue support should be acceptable. That alone is evidence that we have not been and are not against a sensible degree of grant and revenue support for transport undertakings.

The Solicitor-General said that the judgment confirmed that powers exist to give grants for revenue purposes. The judgment contains a number of commentaries from which that opinion is drawn. At page 10 Lord Wilberforce states: I am willing to accept that, subject to the Executive discharging the responsibilities cast upon it, it may make provision in its revenue account for grants in aid of revenue, actual or assumed. The practice and policy assumed over the years was that a sensible degree of grant support was practicable and reasonable, and that has been the arrangement adopted under successive Governments. Indeed, I believe that the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said as much. The Government are not disputing, and I do not think that anything that has emerged, at first view, from the judgment questions that grant support is and should be available for public transport authorities. What is opposed by the Government and what our policy opposes is the taking of revenue and grant support to ridiculous extremes—the taking of it to such extremes that it does appalling damage to industry and deliberately upsets the fair balance between the ratepayer and the fare payer.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

A sensible and common sense policy is not opposed to supporting a public transport authority by revenue grant, but it is opposed to the taking of that policy to ridiculous extremes. That is the view of the Government.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

There has been talk about the effects in terms of the additional increase in rates and the need for substantial extra grants to support low fares. I have to remind the House that the vast extra costs incurred by London Transport arise not only from lower fares. They arise also from deliberately increased costs. One hears about the problems for fare payers in London, but rather less about the problems for ratepayers who have been threatened with a substantial increase in rates.

The higher rates and the high expenditure relate not merely to lower fares. They relate to a substantial increase in costs in London Transport that have followed policy decisions by the GLC. These have led to operations by London Transport involving a very much larger need for grant than would otherwise be the case. That has to be made clear in discussing the balance between fare payers and ratepayers—[interruption.]

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

I hear the question, asked from a sedentary position, "Which policy decisions?" The GLC, for reasons which have not been explained and which are not clear to many people trying to understand its policy, has refused to allow London Transport to make up its deficit, has recruited excessive staff by clear instructions to raise manpower and plans to expand services beyond those that are needed. Although the Government do not oppose revenue support, the GLC move towards a low fare policy was excessive. It is also the Government's view that the increase in costs of operation and the reduction in efficiency are unfair additional imposts on ratepayers and additional and unnecessary public expenditure.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)


Mr. Howell

It is important that the judgment should be studied. What must be refuted are some of the grossly overstated consequences that have been claimed as a result of instant assessment—indeed, in some cases, it seems, no thorough assessment at all of the judgment. I have heard some wild claims made of the consequences.

Mr. Spearing

In the House?

Mr. Howell

I did not say that they had been made in the House, but I have heard some wild claims during the past 24 hours. It is worth making it clear that the fares increase necessary in London Transport to bring back fares in real terms to the 1980–81 level is about 60 per cent., provided, of course, that there is a serious attempt to cut costs and to match services to real needs rather than to run the operation in the way that seems to have been the GLC' s desire in recent months. That puts in perspective some of the absurd and ridiculous claims that have been made in the last 24 hours about the alleged consequences of the judgment.

I have seen a report that Mr. Livingstone will wish to see me to ask the Government to promote new legislation to allow the GLC to continue its policy. I shall certainly be prepared to see Mr. Livingstone to discuss the position with him, but I must make it clear that I have no intention of introducing legislation of a kind that would enable the GLC to promote inefficiency—[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."]—in the form of overmanning and unnecessary services under a policy that is manifestly unfair to ratepayers.

Mr. Dobson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was my understanding that hon. Members were benefiting from a statement by the Solicitor-General to indicate certain legal aspects. We are now hearing a statement by the Secretary of State for Transport and I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport will also seek to catch your eye. It seems to me that the House would be helped considerably if the Secretary of State made some worthwhile contribution rather than representing—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is another waste of time.

Mr. Howell

I am seeking to help the House by giving the Government's view. There have been a number of demands that views should be expressed. All hon. Members recognise that it is very early to draw detailed implications from the judgment. On the other hand, a number of wild statements have been made outside the House. It is right for the Government to state their policy. That is what I am doing.

The Government accept the need for a reasonable level of support for public transport. Some subsidy is needed to provide an acceptable level of service.

Mr. Spearing

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

That is recognised in public expenditure plans, as I have described. We are, however, opposed to indiscriminate subsidies. They are not only inequitable, but lead to inefficiency.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

It is clear from the debate that a number of misapprehensions and misinterpretations have already sprung up about the basic point, reaffirmed by the Government, that the judgment confirms that powers exist to give grants for revenue purposes. It is clear, looking back over recent years, that the principle of some degree of grant and revenue support for the transport services of the capital and, indeed, for public transport generally, is consistent with good management and maintaining a fair balance between ratepayers and farepayers. What is also clear—it was clear even before the judgment—is that the balance struck by the GLC is grossly unfair and has led to a chaotic situation. It has put the GLC in grave difficulties.

I shall be glad to see Mr. Livingstone to discuss the position with him. Many of the issues raised are matters to which the GLC must now apply its mind. This is a matter of extreme topical interest. It is right and proper that hon. Members should have the opportunity to debate it. Much the wisest course, following the debate, is that the judgment should be considered carefully in its detail and implications by the parties involved, which must, of course, include the GLC. The implications should be studied over Christmas. Following the Christmas break, it will be possible for some of these implications to become clear.

The GLC and indeed London Transport can then come to the Government—I have said that I am prepared to discuss these matters—with a clear view of how they propose to undo the damage and difficulty created by what I believe to have been an unnecessary and misguided departure from the practice and operation of the law as it stands, which has been followed over the years and allows sensible policies for transport operation in our major urban centres and a fair deal for the ratepayers.

That is the position and we should be wise to follow it. I hope that I have made the Government's initial view clear and reasserted our policy on these matters. The House would now be wise to consider the details of the judgment more carefully—

Mr. Spearing

Before the Secretary of State sits down—

Mr. Howell

—and to allow the GLC to examine the difficulties into which it has put itself and from which it must now extricate itself.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has not given way.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We understand the difficulty in which you found yourself yesterday in handling this particularly important matter. We also understand why you have called three Members from the Government side. I put it to you, however, that, in comparable circumstances, although we hope that they will not occur again, a proper distinction should be made between a statement and a contribution to a debate, when it is normal to give way, particularly to hon. Members who have already spoken.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I that whoever has the Floor has the right to decide whether to give way. As I have told the House, I shall now call two hon. Members from the Opposition Benches to maintain the balance of the debate.

11.32 am
Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

An excellent motion on the Order Paper allowed us to begin to discuss the subject of communications in London and wider issues. Regrettably, the debate has been turned into a party political battleground, and before we know where we are the real issues that we need to discuss are lost.

The word "communications" has a wide meaning. The biggest problem in London is communicating with people outside to explain our difficulties to them and to explain to the Government the importance of the problems that we face in London. It is upsetting to us that the whole transport system in London has been allowed to deteriorate over many years. These days, it often takes nearly an hour to travel 4½ miles in London to come to the Palace of Westminster.

The commuter rat run through Hackney is a frightening sight. Commuters come through nose to tail at speeds far in excess of the speed limit in what I regard as wholly residential areas, simply because they are permitted to find alternative means of getting into London quickly. They come in from Romford and other parts of Essex and create chaos in areas such as mine. When they arrive in the inner city they do not know what to do with their cars, so they park them in and around Hackney and every street is blocked. The situation is so absurd that it takes 20 minutes to go from one end of Hackney Road to the other, when it should take less than five.

Small streets are equally blocked. The post office in Hoxton Street, whose services are required by many elderly people, is almost unable to operate because the commuters park their cars outside in the small street, making it impossible for deliveries to take place.

If there is no room on the roads, people park their cars on the pavements. All over my constituency there are cars, lorries, juggernauts and trailers parked on the pavements—in Andrews Road and Hackney Road, to name but two examples—so that it is impossible to walk on the pavement. Time and again I have pressed the Minister on behalf of my constituents to take action to stop this behaviour.

The yellow lines on those roads prohibiting parking between 8.30 am and 6.30 pm are just a bad joke. Traffic wardens seem to operate only in the residential areas where they can harass local residents and not worry about clearing the other areas. I have asked many times how often the traffic wardens come down Hackney Road to clear it and ensure that all traffic has free access. Perhaps the Minister can tell me.

The picture has been one of growing chaos over the years. One's mind goes back to the period 1970 to 1974 when the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath), tried to come to the House from No. 10 Downing Street and could not get across the road. When he tried to telephone the then leader of the GLC, Sir Desmond Plummer, he found that he was in Tokyo. As he could not get out of Downing Street, the Prime Minister telephoned Tokyo personally and suggested that Sir Desmond should stay at home in London and clear the roads so that the Prime Minister could get out of No. 10 Downing Street and come across to the House.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)

In fact, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) did not ask to be put through to Sir Desmond Plummer in Tokyo. He asked his personal assistant to get hold of Sir Desmond, who happened to be in Tokyo at the time. I happen to know that because I was responsible for those matters in the GLC at the time and I received a telephone call from Tokyo asking me to deal with the problem from this end.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful for that information, but I think that my story sounded nicer and more to the point. However, both of us have been able to show that the transport system in London was then in a chaotic state, and it is even more so today.

A major objective of all GLC administrations is to improve the public transport service—the buses, the Underground and the railways. The major exercise has been to encourage commuters to leave their cars at home. Why do they not do that? I think that there are three main reasons.

First, the lack of investment in British Rail to improve stock, equipment and track has made the life of commuters coming from outer areas impossible. They have to travel into London in what are almost cattle trucks.

Secondly, there has been a lack of development of the Underground system. There is still no Underground service on the south-east of London. If one takes away the legend on the Underground map, there is nothing there and there is no intention of putting anything there. Therefore, a vast number of commuters from the south-east of London are denied the opportunity of quick, effective and efficient travel into London. There is no underground service to Hackney either, so my constituents do not have the advantage of being able to travel into London quickly and efficiently.

Thirdly, there has been an abysmal failure to design and develop the right types of bus for use in London. In my view, the old London Passenger Transport Board showed how that could be done. It produced the design for the ST, the STL, the RT and the RF, all of them buses designed for London use, made in London by London people with the problems of London in mind. They were able to use the service properly.

Has the service provided by London Transport improved since it began to buy, off the hook, buses that were designed for other areas and when used in London proved to be useless? The LTE has bought a pig in a poke. The buses may have been cheaper at the time, but m the end they have proved to be extremely expensive. What is more, they were foreign buses, which have added to the problem. The efficiency of the system has declined. Not surprisingly, there have been many breakdowns and the reliability has been hopeless. Buses are bunched together in my constituency. If one 277 bus appears, there is certain to be another on its tail and perhaps a third, followed by a wait of half an hour or more for the next one.

People are dissatisfied. They turn away from public transport because they are sick and tired of being late for work in the morning and late getting home at night. Not unreasonably, they use their cars, which results in the traffic problems in my constituency that I described. What is more, because they use their cars, there is falling traffic on London Transport, which leads to higher fares. That in turn leads to a further increase in road traffic. When there are more cars on the roads, there is more chaos, and when there is more chaos the buses are immediately affected. Once the bus service is affected, there is a further fall in passenger numbers. It is a self-consuming exercise.

The purpose of section (1) of the Transport (London) Act 1969 was to promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services for Greater London". The Law Lords said much about the word "economic", but I consider that economic also means economic to the traveller, not only to the ratepayer, or the GLC or the LTE. Travellers want a good service at a reasonable price. We must achieve the objective of making them leave their cars at home, which will reduce chaos in the streets and help with the problems of running the bus services. The major impediment to a good bus service has been a choking of the roads by commuters' cars, and somehow these cars must be kept off bus routes.

There is no better way of keeping commuters' cars off the road than by providing an economic and efficient bus service to encourage them to use public transport. Let us not forget that if we had adequate law enforcement agencies in London much of the chaos could be held in check. Yet the Government have wilfully refused to fund enough policemen and traffic wardens to do the job. Whenever I complain to the police about the traffic problems in my constituency, I am told that I have a choice. Do I want the policemen to go crime-busting, or to spend their time looking at the problems of car parking? If I am referred to the traffic wardens, their controller explains to me that he can only do what he can with the small group of people that he has at his disposal. Therefore, when I ask how many times the wardens come to Hackney Road, I am told "Very seldom".

I am told that it is estimated that to provide the necessary staffing for the enforcement agencies in London—the police and the traffic wardens—would cost the ratepayers about £120 million a year. By denying the resources, the Government are deliberately creating the conditions that make it impossible to carry out the provisions of section (1) of the Transport (London) Act 1969.

The Social Democratic Party believes that the Government should be prepared to provide long-term subsidies for London Transport to help it to achieve the objective of an efficient arid economic service for the traveller. They should also be prepared to fund these improved enforcement agencies. Unless we have them, we shall never make possible the conditions for the public transport system to operate. We accept that local government can and should, where it is right, provide some short-term improvement by the use of subsidies. There is no argument about that and I think that it is an important element.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I, and many of my colleagues, have been waiting for some time to hear what the Social Democratic Party's views are on these matters. Do I take it that the hon. Gentleman has moved down to the Benches below the Gangway to denounce the 25p reduction? Listening to his points, I had the impression that they sounded remarkably similar to those put forward by the London Labour Party at the last GLC election.

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for a while, I shall come to the point that he might like to hear.

What cannot be questioned is the need for the GLC to act within the law. I was around at the time when the 1969 Act was devised. It began with Lord Marsh, and Mrs. Castle picked it up from him. By the time they came to negotiate with the GLC Sir Desmond Plummer was in office, and he did not want to take anything to do with London Transport into the GLC. Mrs. Castle had an enormous problem trying to persuade him to take on London Transport. In doing so, she gave a number of hostages to fortune.

I believe, and having seen the Law Lords' ruling I still believe that sections 5 and 7 were inserted into the 1969 Act in the way that they now appear because Sir Desmond never wanted to give a subsidy. Therefore, to get the 1969 Act through and accepted by the GLC, sections 5 and 7 were drafted in the way that we see them. Mrs. Castle also agreed to wipe off all the debts—enormous at that time—of the LTE. I argued at that time that nobody could expect London Transport to go ahead without amassing more debts which would have to be funded either by the GLC or by the Government of the day, or by both.

There is no doubt that the GLC did not wish to take over London Transport and made the takeover difficult. Sir Desmond wanted a relationship between the GLC and the LTE similar to that between the Government and the nationalised industries. The GLC would see a budget only once a year, and would approve the budget and the general theme and argument of the LTE.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

In giving the interesting background to the 1969 Act I think that the hon. Gentleman forgot the question that my hon. Friend asked him. Could he tell us what the Social Democratic Party's policy is in London? Is it in favour of the Ken Livingstone policies? The SDP councillors in London were elected as colleagues of Mr. Livingstone only a few months ago. What is their present position on the cheap fares policy?

Mr. Brown

We believe that there is the twin issue of the Government subsidy—which the Government will not face—and the provision of a reasonable subsidy from the ratepayer. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will wait for a moment, I shall come to his point.

What also needs to be questioned—[Interruption.] As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) interrupts me, I must say that it is a long time since we had a Scotsman sitting on the Front Bench intervening in a London debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] What needs to be questioned is the right of the GLC to use the ratepayers of Hackney as a battering ram in a Right-Left political dogfight. We have seen the Secretary of State entering into the argument. Indeed, two senior Ministers have made a statement today, and neither of them has helped the House at all. They have simply joined in a political fight between the Labour Party and Conservative Party, and the ratepayers of London have been forgetten. Each side uses euphemisms and polemics and shouts abuse. The view of my party is that that is what the people of London do not want. Whatever else they want, they are fed up with the continued battle between the two major parties.

There are retired couples in my constituency who are having to live in awful council flats in tower blocks. They are trying to get out of them but are unable to do so. They are already paying more in rates than is paid by a family of four out in Essex, in a semi-detatched bungalow with a garden in front and at the back. Why are my constituents, in this political dogfight, being asked to pay an extra £2 so that people from semi-detached bungalows in Essex can have their fares reduced by £1? That policy does not make sense to me and it ought to be explained. My elderly constituents object to the policy most strongly. For months they have been writing to me and to County Hall drawing attention to the fact that they are getting nothing for themselves out of the exercise and cannot see what help London is getting as a whole.

Mr. Wellbeloved

With regard to pensioners, does my hon. Friend agree that it would have been helpful if the Secretary of State had made it clear to the House that, in the event of concessionary fares for pensioners being in doubt as a result of the Law Lords ruling, the Government would introduce legislation retrospectively to cover the position?

Mr. Brown

I hope that we shall hear an answer to that important question from the Under-Secretary of State.

I recall that when we were trying to obtain free fares for pensioners in London the opposition to it came from the Conservative Benches. The Conservatives fought very hard against it. I was a member of the negotiating team which finally persuaded the LTE to grant concessionary fares. It cost £3 7s. 8d. per pensioner per year.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

There is no doubt about the validity of the concessionary fares policy. The GLC and London Transport have clear authority, under section 138 of the Transport Act 1968, to grant concessionary fares to pensioners. That is not affected in the slightest by yesterday's House of Lords judgment. As I am sure the hon. Member will realise, pensioners in London got nothing from Ken Livingstone, because they already had free fares. All they got from Ken Livingstone and the London Labour Party was higher rates.

Mr. Brown

When the Minister rose I was hoping that he would speak about the retired people living in council flats in my constituency.

We have suffered for far too long from the traffic chaos in London. It is time that a concerted effort was made to find a solution. Both Conservative and Labour administrations at County Hall have failed to tackle the problem successfully. Perhaps we should set up an urgent Buchanan-type inquiry into the traffic problems of London, with the Government taking a leading role and not holding back. The problem is that the Government of the day have never accepted that London is a special case. London will have to be dealt with as a separate issue and not as part of a general policy. A Buchanan-type inquiry would, I am sure, be helpful in finding a solution to the problem. It is ridiculous that in 1982 it takes nearly an hour to travel four miles in London. The journey could have been done more quickly by pony in 1882.

Given the political will, the problem can be solved, but it will undoubtedly require investment in new road programmes, new rolling stock and new equipment, and it will require dynamic management. Surely our capital city is worthy of that.

11.55 am
Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) will not expect me to follow him too far into Hackney. Many of the things that he said about Hackney are applicable to my constituency. By the end of my speech I think he will realise that, for the first time for many years, a gulf is developing between us in regard to political philosophy.

The House of Lords judgment yesterday has, inevitably, completely changed the course of today's debate. With traditional courtesy, I congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) on his good fortune in the ballot, but I do so with some jealousy, for after nearly 300 attempts both in Bills and motions, my name has not yet been drawn. I hope that before I have spent another 20 years here I shall be fortunate in that respect.

The statements this morning from senior Ministers were the two most dismal statements that I have ever heard in this Chamber. The Solicitor-General confirmed my belief that the only useful lawyer is a one-handed lawyer, because he continually told the House that on the one hand we could do this and on the other hand we could do that. He also patronised us as though we were a different class of animal and had no knowledge of the matters to which he was addressing himself. He left us with confusion worse confounded. That was the result of his intervention. He even referred to the judgment as having "decided, and it did not decide".

Yesterday Mr. Speaker recognised the difficulty of the House, in that a major matter of Government importance has intruded into Back-Bench Members' time. It is highly unsatisfactory to have half-baked statements from Ministers and a half-baked debate on an issue that affects 7.5 million Londoners.

On Monday about 70 London Members will be entitled to participate in the debate on the Adjournment for the Christmas Recess. Most of us feel that these issues should be discussed. The usual procedure is for the Consolidated Fund Bill debate to continue all night. If the London Members decided to deploy a legitimate tactic, the Adjournment debate could continue all night and the House would not have the opportunity to discuss the Consolidated Fund Bill. The Christmas Recess will extend until 18 January and it should surely be possible to find a complete day for a proper statement and debate so that the House might deal with the issues that are raised as a result of the Law Lords judgment.

Having read the 100 or so pages of the judgment, we are sure about what is illegal but we are not sure about what is legal. Similarly we are not sure about what is practicable. The Secretary of State made great play about ratepayers' needs. I asked the Brent borough treasurer to estimate the cost of unscrambling the rates supplement to Brent ratepayers. I am told that administrative costs alone will amount to £100,000, apart from any new employment that may be needed because of the pressure that will be placed on the borough to unscramble. High Court judgments are pending arising from the uncertainty caused by Lord Denning's judgment and further costs will ensue in these matters.

It seems the height of insensitivity that the Government cannot take action to resolve the difficulties and save ratepayers paying for the consequences of the Law Lords, judgment. What applies to the London borough of Brent applies to 31 other London boroughs.

It is relevant to consider the problems of the LTE and the GLC. For 50 years London buses were designed and manufactured at Park Royal, in my constituency. The management of British Leyland was unable to decide whether it wanted to make buses or minis and as a result 700 of my constituents were thrown out of work. A company that was making £3 million a year in exporting buses to Hong Kong and elsewhere was shut.

If I were to serve on the GLC, I should face the problem of having to fit in with the lawyers and the accountants. Practical men used to run our industries and factories. They came from the shop floor like Mr. Morris, who made the Bullnose. Unfortunately, the accountants have taken over. It seems that only profitability and balance sheet figures matter.

If the criterion is to produce an "accountant's" balance sheet, is the Jubilee line, which serves my constituency, to be closed? How many Nos. 52, 12 and 16 buses are to be taken out of service? How many drivers and conductors are to be given the sack? How many trains will be taken out of service when running repairs are necessary? What will happen at the Chiswick London Transport repair depot? Will the depot be closed because we are unable to afford engineers to maintain the buses and keep them on the roads?

The consequences of the "balance sheet" policy will be disastrous for my constituents and for other Londoners. The Government should take their finger out. We should not have to listen to political nonsense from the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman should understand the realities of managing a transport system in the greatest city in the world, and all that that implies.

For the past 16 years, I have been fighting to retain the Broad Street-Richmond line, which has been frequently under threat of closure. The line runs through my constituency. There have been reprieves from time to time. On the last occasion the Greater London Council was prepared to give a heavy subsidy, to be financed by London ratepayers, to keep the line extant. The Broad Street-Richmond line does not pay and it has not paid Therefore, the threat to close it is fairly constant, especially between the Camden Road and Gunnersbury stations. It has been suggested that the middle part of the line should be closed and that the ends should remain open. It is said that in that way the books could be balanced, but the disappearance of passenger trains on the central section would mean the end of the lines function as a cross-London service.

There are many proposed closures throughout the country, but the one to which I draw attention probably best illustrates the anti-social lunacy of judging public transport on a profit and loss basis. The line links a series of densely populated and traffic-strangled suburbs. It carries 18,000 passengers a day. The Underground, which could carry some of the displaced passengers if the line were closed, is already carrying passengers as if they were sardines packed in a tin during rush hours. The buses, which could take more passengers, are, because of the problems outlined by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, unable to increase their present quotas.

British Rail has decided to reorganise Liverpool Street station, to incorporate Broad Street station. That is a good move and, ultimately, the interlink between commuters coming into Liverpool Street rather than Broad Street w ill be a good thing. However, the immediate prospect is that for two years there will be a long distance to travel from Liverpool Street to a new centre at Worship Street. If, during that period, passenger returns fall off we could be told that, because it is no longer economically viable, the line must be closed. I hope that British Rail will give an assurance that if the passenger traffic falls off it will not be used as an excuse for economies of this kind.

We need capital expenditure, especially on inter-changes. The Broad Street to Richmond line needs to be linked effectively as part of the Underground network, particularly in two places where it would be economically possible to have an interchange—West End Lane with the two West Hampstead stations and at North Acton.

At the risk of wearying the House with my local problems, I should say that it would be possible to have interchanges at Highbury and Islington with the London Transport Northern and Victoria lines; at West End Lane with British Rail St. Pancras, the Bedford services and Marylebone; at Willesden junction with British Rail's Euston and Watford junction service and the Bakerloo line; at North Acton with the Central line and British Rail's Paddington to Slough service; at Gunnersbury with the District line; at Strand-on-the-Green with British Rail's Hounslow loop service; at Kew Gardens with the District line; and at Richmond with both the District line and the Southern region.

Such interlinks make sense in order to relieve the tremendous rush hour pressure. There must be capital expenditure and vision—that the books will be balanced not for 1982, but for 1992 or the end of the century, because, if London Transport is to do its job, there must be a long-term plan and it must have the necessary finance.

Another anomaly occurs when my constituents board a London Transport train and travel to Wembley. As far as Stonebridge, all the London Transport facilities apply—for example, pensioners may use their special ticket—but the moment that they arrive at Stonebridge, although in the same train, they are subject to all the rules and regulations of British Rail. Many of my colleagues could instance similar cases. I am sure that the hon. Member for Romford knows that, every time he or his constituents get out at Stratford to go on to Gidea Park or Romford, they are in the same position. Therefore, I hope that there will be much more co-ordination.

Finally, I commend to the House—I wish that the Secretary of State had listened with more care—the submission of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). The homework and research that he put into the figures that he gave to the House are almost a textbook on the problem of the House of Lords judgment. I understand that the Secretary of State did not have time to concentrate because he was too busy trying to master his brief, but I urge him to read that speech in Hansard tomorrow and to reconsider some of the half-baked ideas that he has advanced.

12.9 pm

Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) on his success in the ballot and on his almost psychic selection of the subject for debate. I apologise to him and to the House for the fact that, owing to an important constituency engagement, I shall not be able to remain for the rest of the debate, although I have been present from the start.

First, I want to refer to the part of the speech of the hon. member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), in which he spoke of the changes at Liverpool Street station and the rail service there. I was asked by British Rail to sponsor the private Bill which it will promote in connection with that scheme. I am sure that British Rail will be anxious to respond to the hon. Gentleman's anxieties as far as it can, and I hope that it will give him the assurances that he wants. When the private Bill comes before the House, we shall discuss the matter further, and I hope that we shall meet the valid points that he put to the House today.

We listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). We are pleased that he has now found the haven of the halfway house. It was extraordinary to hear an hon. Member who only a few weeks ago was chairman of London's Labour Members castigating his old party on its record. He said that the two major parties had shown scant concern for the ratepayers of the country and of this city. It is the Conservative council of the London borough of Bromley which has shown real concern for London ratepayers in taking the action that it did in this case.

Inevitably our debate today will concentrate almost exclusively on the House of Lords decision in respect of the GLC fares policy, and I shall confine my remarks to that topic.

The hon. Member for Newham South (Mr. Spearing) speculated on what people who had listened to the media during the past 12 hours or so will now think. What has emerged from the Front Bench statements today is that many people in London will have been grossly misled by the broadcasts of the past few hours. We have heard distortions of the ruling that was given, as well as instances of the spreading of scare stories which are completely unjustified by the facts of the case. I shall single out one radio station which has been more guilty than most, and it is LBC, which I fear is rapidly becoming the Marxist mouthpiece for Greater London.

Mr. Spearing

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his reference to what I said. Does he agree that the speculation to which I referred related not to the reaction to the broadcasts but to the impression that people have gained that this supplementary rate went entirely, or mostly, to the "Fares Fair" policy? Does he accept my assertion that only one-third—or, at the very most, about half—of the supplementary rate is for those purposes? Does anything that I said in my speech come within his category of wild or inaccurate assertions?

Mr. Hunt

I should never accuse the hon. Gentleman of wildness or inaccuracy. Indeed, the figures that he gave were valid as far as they went. However, the fact that additional factors came into the calculation of the supplementary rate levy was the responsibility of the GLC itself, which defied the Government guidelines on spending.

We should underline the fact that the House of Lords judgment yesterday has not changed the law. It has merely defined it more clearly. It has not removed the grant-giving powers of the GLC. It merely said that this particular arrangement, in so far as it applies to ratepayers and travellers, is unreasonable and illegal.

Another factor which has crept into the debate is all the talk of mandates and manifestos, and my hon. Friend the Member for Romford dealt with it adequately. However, we must realise that this talk about mandates wears a bit thin when we appreciate that it was only after the GLC elections, in a pre-arranged coup carefully concealed from the electorate during the campaign, that Mr. Livingstone came to power.

Last May the people of London thought that they were voting for the meek and mild Mr. McIntosh. Had he come to power, even on the basis of that manifesto, he would have implemented the fares policy in a very much more restrained and responsible way than Mr. Livingstone has done. It is the precipitate nature of the decisions taken by Mr. Livingstone which is one of the principal complaints against him. Equally, if Mr. Livingstone had been the standard bearer from the start, the Labour Party would never have been elected, anyway.

Mr. Spearing

That is not true either.

Mr. Hunt

In case hon. Members missed it, I draw their attention to the fact that it was my London borough of Bromley, alone of the 32 London boroughs, which had the courage and initiative to challenge the GLC and to take on Mr. Livingstone. I add to the well deserved tributes which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford paid to both the former leader of the council, Mr. Simon Randall and the present leader, Mr. Dennis Barkway. They were the prime movers in the decision to take the GLC to court on behalf of their ratepayers, and their decision has been amply vindicated both by the ruling of the Court of Appeal and by the Law Lords yesterday.

It was a great victory for one borough against the might and the resources of the GLC. Had it not been for the wintry conditions, I am sure that last night there would have been dancing in the streets of Bromley, in which I might have joined gladly.

In taking this action, Bromley council reflected the sense of anger and resentment felt by ratepayers, not just in Bromley but throughout Greater London, when they were presented with this horrifying supplementary rate demand designed primarily, as we know, to pay for the cheap fares policy. The policy was particularly damaging to Bromley, because we have no underground railway.

Mr. Spearing

Bromley residents have buses.

Mr. Hunt

That being so, the policy brings only minimal benefit to Bromley residents.

I assure the House that feelings were running very high in my constituency as the additional rate demands dropped through letter boxes. A rates protest meeting in my constituency drew an attendance of more than 400 people, with many others being turned away. If Mr. Livingstone had dared shown his face, I fear that he might have been in need of some of the first-aid dressings that we discussed earlier this morning.

The meeting passed a resolution emphasising the damaging impact of the supplementary rate upon the private householder as well as upon the commercial ratepayer, and placed on record its strong view that this and further rate increases of this kind will cause bankruptcy, unemployment and hardship on a massive and unacceptable scale. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford touched on the cruel impact of the supplementary rate on elderly citizens who hold free bus passes but whose income is just above the level to qualify them for a rate rebate. They have felt the full impact of the rates. My postbag bears testimony to the distress and difficulty that they face as a result of the supplementary rate.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, in the light of yesterday's judgment, some lawyers have preliminarily advised the GLC that free bus travel for old-age pensioners may well be illegal? How will the hon. Gentleman's old-age pensioners feel when, as a result of the judgment, they lose that concession?

Mr. Hunt

The hon. Gentleman has attended the debate only intermittently. If he had been in the Chamber earlier, he would have heard the Minister deal with that point and give a firm assurance to pensioners in Bromley and elsewhere. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman reads tomorrow's Hansard, he will be able to satisfy himself.

After the protest meeting about rates in my constituency, I wrote to Mr. Livingstone advising him of the terms of the resolution and urging him and his colleagues at County Hall to take urgent and immediate heed of the anger and resentment expressed. Two months later, I am still awaiting even an acknowledgement of that letter. That demonstrates the importance that Mr. Livingstone attaches to Parliament and to those of us who attend the Chamber as parliamentary representatives of our constituents.

Therefore, we had to look to their Lordships—not to Mr. Livingstone—for redress. As has been said, ratepayers in my borough and elsewhere resent most the fact that their supplementary rates were being used to subsidise the millions of tourists who come to London every year, not just from other parts of the United Kingdom but from overseas. Thanks to Mr. Livingstone, in the past few weeks, wealthy tourists from the United States of America and the Middle East have been laughing all the way to the bus stop. I fear that my constituents were less amused to find themselves subsidising such people and to find their rates being used to prop up the wholly unrealistic rate structure of London Transport.

One has to think only of the present price of fuel and of labour costs to realise the expensive folly of slashing fares as the GLC has done. We must ask ourselves whether we can defend a 10p minimum fare that is half the price of a pint of milk and much less than the cost of a daily newspaper. That observation helps to put the issue in perspective and to demonstrate the extravagant way in which the GLC has embarked on its policy. The lack of reasonable balance between the interests of travellers and of ratepayers lies at the heart of the judgment in the other place. It is highly significant that the Court of Appeal on 10 November and the Law Lords yesterday were unanimous and that not a single dissenting voice was raised against the verdict. That adds up to a formidable judgment that cannot easily be challenged or gainsaid.

The question now is: where do we go from here? The leading article in The Standard yesterday evening described the House of Lords decision as: An indictment of the GLC leadership alone … for acting rashly and unconstitutionally without stopping to think of the consequences. Now, thanks to the action of the Bromley councillors, the GLC has been given time for further reflection. I hope and believe that it will take full advantage of that time in the interests of ratepayers in Bromley and in Greater London.

However, I fear that the respite for ratepayers will be short lived. It seems more than likely that Mr. Livingstone will now try to vent his spleen upon those who have had the audacity not merely to challenge his policies but to win in the courts. Already we have had horrific projections of fare and rate increases next year. That is part of the sour grapes reaction that we are getting from Mr. Livingstone. Therefore, we must now look to the Conservative members of the GLC and also perhaps some moderate members on the Labour benches to restrain Mr. Livingstone from further forays in that direction.

Whatever happens from now on, a blow has been struck for restraint and responsibility in local government. It has been an historic ratepayers' revolt and a great victory. I am proud and happy that it was brought about largely by the borough of Bromley, in my constituency.

12.26 pm
Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

The hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) has urged us to consider the facts, but he did not do so himself. His picture of the Arab sheikhs hopping on a No. 11 bus is most unconvincing.

Mr. John Hunt

I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman travels on a bus, but most London buses today have a fair proportion of Arab travellers on them.

Mr. Jay

I shall not carry that argument any further.

The Secretary of State's speech was unsatisfactory, frivolous and, in some respects, deplorable. We were advised, with rather more wisdom, by the Solicitor-General to examine and meditate upon the subject before coming to snap judgments. Then the Secretary of State rose and made a series of off-the-cuff pronouncements, mainly of a party political nature, which were deplorable in the circumstances.

Secretary of State then, rashly, apparently committed the Government not to introduce any amending legislation on the matter. If that is what he said, he will regret it. He also said—this is factually correct—that the House of Lords judgment did not say that any subsidy for London Transport was illegal. He said that the law now means that some subsidy is legal, but that the subsidy as paid by the GLC is not legal. If that is the position, the GLC will wish to know how it determines what subsidy is legal in the eyes of the law. I cannot give legal advice to the GLC, but I do not see how it can determine that except by going through the courts again right up to the House of Lords at a cost of £100,000 to the ratepayer. If the Minister leaves the matter there, he is being unfair to ratepayers, travellers, the GLC and everyone else.

I have much less quarrel with the House of Lords judgment than with the Secretary of State's speech. Their Lordships have said that it is legal, up to some unspecified point, to pay a subsidy to London Transport. Lord Wilberforce, who carefully refrained from taking his stand on the word "economic" in the 1969 Act, said that he would take it broadly to mean the sensible and reasonable use of resources. If he had chosen to take his stand on the Oxford English dictionary, he might have given a much tougher judgment. In that dictionary the word "economic" is defined as maintaining for profit, on a business footing; paying … the expenses, … high enough to compensate builder, owner, etc.; If the House of Lords had adopted that definition, it would have given an even less helpful judgment.

I do not believe, however, that when the House of Commons approved the 1969 Act it meant the word "economic" to have that limited meaning. It is interesting to note that the word "economical" is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "saving, thrifty, avoiding waste". If that is the correct definition, we were wrong to use the word "economic" as opposed to "economical" in the Act. Most people understand "economic" and "efficient" in legislation to mean avoiding waste and making the best use of resources. Therefore, it is the law, not the GLC, that has been proved wrong. The Secretary of State cannot therefore brush aside the request for amending legislation.

The Law Lords, rightly, did not consider the economics of the position. They were not asked to do so. They were asked to answer a legal question, which they did. They ignored the economics of transport in a modern city and as a result the GLC is now legally compelled to do something that is economically impossible. When I studied moral philosophy I was always taught that nobody could be under a moral obligation to do something that was, in practice, impossible. That is indisputable. However, we have now fallen in the case of London Transport into a similar but legal dilemma.

Why does the dilemma exist? The House must consider that fundamental question. The trouble is that, owing to the development of the motor car, with all its consequences, every great city in the world has found it impossible to support a public transport system wholly out of the revenue obtained from fares. The development of the motor car has two simultaneous effects. First, it draws away an ever-increasing number of passengers from public tranport; and, secondly, by congesting the roads, it makes public transport less efficient and attractive, and that drives more people to purchase cars. It is only since 1950, the year is which petrol was derationed, that London Transport has been unable to pay its way.

That truth is overwhelmingly proved by the economics of transport authorities in other great cities of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) gave some figures, which I shall repeat because they are crucial. Until now about 70 per cent. or 75 per cent. of the total cost of London Transport has been paid through fares, and only 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. through subsidy. In Berlin, only 39 per cent. is paid through fares; in Paris 44 per cent.; in New York 55 per cent.; and in Brussels only 30 per cent.

That is confirmed by other figures in The. Times, today, which looks at the equation the other way round and gives the percentage of total costs covered by subsidy. In Brussels, 70 per cent. is covered by subsidy; in Barcelona, 60 per cent.; In Paris, 56 per cent.; in Helsinki, 51 per cent.; and in Philadelphia, 46 per cent. The percentage for London, before the subsidy was increased by the GLC, was 25 per cent. That corresponds with the 75 per cent. that is paid through fares. Even after the supposedly extravagant and revolutionary policies of Mr. Livingstone, the percentage rose to only 46 per cent., which is the average of all the great cities listed in The Times today.

That is the economic problem that we face if we are to enable ratepayers both to pay reasonable rates and to travel on London Transport. We should also remember what the economists would call the external diseconomies. If London Transport fares are to be raised to unreasonable levels, a still higher proportion of the population will be forced to travel by car, which will increase the congestion and all the troubles about which the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) spoke. This will also add further costs to the rest of the community.

The position cannot be left as it is. There will have to be some subsidy from the central taxpayer as well as from the ratepayer. People from Essex, Kent and other places outside London use public transport in London when they are here. It is reasonable that they should make some contribution through general taxation, as the tourist contributes through VAT plus tobacco and alcohol taxes. I hope that the Secretary of State will not continue with the hasty and sketchy attitude that he took earlier today, but will recognise that there is a real economic problem, and that it is the duty of the Government to come to a conclusion and to amend the law in such a way that everyone concerned will know how London Transport can be run economically.

12.38 pm
Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), not only on his good fortune but on his excellent speech. I apologise to him and to the Front Bench for not being able to stay until the end of the debate, owing to a constituency engagement for which I am almost already late, so I shall be mercifully brief.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) that this debate is an unsatisfactory mixture between hon. Members wishing to make points from the Back Benches on behalf of their constituents, and Ministers making statements, trying to tackle this important and fundamental issue that has been raised by the judgment in the House of Lords yesterday.

The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) did his best to gloss over the illegal and unconstitutional antics of Mr. Livingstone by raising a far wider and deeper question about whether elected Governments should subsidise transport systems. He skated over the fact that it must be wrong for such decisions to be taken by a local authority with no statutory authority from Parliament to do so. Parliament and Parliament alone can make such fundamental decisions, and it was wrong for Mr. Livingstone and his colleagues to do so.

The House of Lords judgment highlights an even wider political issue, which has been raised in the past. Do we need a GLC? Its powers have been dramatically reduced in the past 10 years. More and more power has been handed over to the London boroughs. The Solicitor-General was right to remind us that in yesterday's case one democratically elected local authority was challenging the right of another.

For example, the GLC has lost control even over its housing stock. The one area in which it has been left with real power is in its control over public transport. Now that it has tried and failed to abuse the last remaining power by imposing an arbitrary political experiment on public transport at the expense of the ratepayer, there is a strong case for saying that the responsibility for public transport should be removed by Parliament from the GLC and given to a statutory body that can take its decisions on economic and not on political, let alone Marxist, grounds.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

As a London Member, let me suggest that if we do away with the GLC we merely give another task to the Department of the Environment. We should then fail to have a strategic authority in London, which would make it different from any other major city in this country and in the Western world, and the burden on London Members would be intolerable.

Mr. Aitken

It is arguable whether having another tower to the Department of the Environment is a worse evil than having an unnecessary level of government between the London boroughs and Parliament.

Mr. Jay

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that a few weeks ago the Secretary of State for the Environment was also found to have broken the law?

Mr. Aitken

I shall not follow the right hon. Gentleman down that path.

As the motion recognises in its reference to road, sea and rail transport, there is more to London and the South-East than Mr. Livingstone, and I wish to deal with the wider problems. I represent a constituency that has an airport and a cross-Channel hoverport and ferryport. Those facilities mean that my constituency—and particularly the town of Ramsgate—contains Britain's second biggest Channel port, second only to Dover, with a total throughput of 1.5 million passengers and more than 250,000 cars and lorries a year. The Channel ports are very much affected by the issues raised by the motion.

In the interests of brevity, I pick out two special problems to which I hope that the Minister will turn his mind, even if he cannot cover them when he winds up. First, I revert to the issue of heavy lorries. After considerable hesitation, I refrained from supporting the Opposition motion condemning the Government's proposals to increase heavy lorry weights from 32.5 tonnes to 40 tonnes. Needless to say, my restraint was partly due to the charms of the Chief Whip and the Secretary of State but, above all, to the fact that the Government saved their bacon by saying that they were willing to have second thoughts in a period of further consultation. Now that the period is upon us, I welcome the opportunity to tell the Government that they must turn their second thoughts into a changed approach. If they do not, I, for one, cannot support them in the Lobby a second time.

The effect of heavy lorries on East Kent is extraordinarily severe. That area in which the Channel ports are located is a road transport plughole, down which swirls a concentration of heavy lorries from all parts of Britain, going to and from the Continent. In East Kent we feel that we are in the front line of the battle against heavy lorries and remain singularly unimpressed by many arguments in the White Paper, particularly the argument that suggests that heavier lorries will mean fewer lorries. The best answer is the famous comment of the Duke of Wellington, in a different context: Sir, if you believe that you will believe anything One of the fallacies of such a prediction is that it takes no account of the number of foreign heavy lorries. This is a growing problem even at present weights. I give one statistic to the Secretary of State as an illustration. The number of lorry movements over the last 10 years through just the port of Dover increased twenty-threefold between 1969 and 1979—from 20,000 a year to 500,000 a year. It is no use saying that bypasses will help the Channel port towns. Regency buildings in the heart of my constituency, in the town of Ramsgate, are already seriously affected by noise, vibration and other environmental ills when lorries thunder through on their way to the harbour.

The matter cannot be overlooked by arguing that bypasses and other safeguards will help these areas. They will not. The voice of hon. Members like that of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who has spoken out so vociferously, are echoed by other hon. Members representing the area. I hope that the Secretary of State will pay due regard to these views.

I wish to refer briefly to the categorisation of roads as trunk roads in East Kent. I wish to mention particularly the Thanet Way, the name given to the two roads—the A299 and the A253—that lead from the end of the A2 and the M2 for the last 20 miles down to Ramsgate. The first 12 miles out of London towards the Channel ports takes one along the A2, through the highly congested areas of the Old Kent Road, Lewisham, New Cross, Eltham and Blackheath. This section of road is a Dante's Inferno of a traffic gluepot. It is one of the worst arterial roads in Britain.

It is a disgrace that this stretch of road, the gateway to the whole of Kent, to Dover, Folkestone and the Channel ports, and to Europe should be allowed to remain a miserable black spot. I hope that the Secretary of State will take heed of these words. I know that resources are short, but the sooner that the planners and road builders are put to work on this stretch of road the better.

I wish also to refer to roads at the other end of the A2 and M2 that cause serious concern to my constituents. The 20-odd miles of road leading from the end of the M2 at Brenley Corner to Ramsgate is known as the Thanet Way, about which I have been engaged in detailed correspondence with my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State, primarily on the issue of road safety. Information published in local newspapers claims that no fewer than two fatal accidents a month and one non-fatal accident a day are occurring on the Thanet Way. An editorial in a local newspaper that I have sent to my hon. and learned Friend had the heading "A killer is in our midst, but no one is listening". The correspondence in which I have been engaged with my hon. and learned Friend at the Department of Transport and also with the Kent county council shows that both authorities are behaving like a couple of Pontius Pilates, washing their hands of all responsibility for the real concern felt by the population of the area.

The accident rate is thought to be due to the new configurations on the road which has recently changed from a three-lane highway to a two-lane highway. Although the Kent county council says that the accident rate is no worse than the rate on similar stretches of dual carriageway, it has revealed, under my questioning, that the figures refer to a period of three years ago. The council is now monitoring with greater concern the present level of accident rate.

The real problem is that these roads are not categorised as trunk roads. It is therefore possible for the Minister to wash his hands of the problem. It is also possible for the Kent county council to say that it has not the resources available to tackle the situation. It is surely an absurdity in today's Britain that the road leading to Britain's second biggest Channel port, which handles over 1.5 million passengers a year and which is one of our big centres of population, where over 150,000 people live, should not be categorised as a trunk road.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister once again to consider classifying the Thanet Way as a trunk road. He will by now have received a written submission from Kent county council pointing out the illogicality of his present position. It makes the point that the relatively lightly used A259 along the South Coast is a trunk road. It is absurdly inconsistent that the far more important road linking the M2 with the Channel ports is not a trunk road.

I hope that at a time when we are all looking for ways to tackle unemployment more thought will be given to investing resources in improving communications. The unemployment rate in East Kent and Ramsgate is extremely high. If some resources could be allocated to such a project there it would be one of the best ways of reducing unemployment, improving road safety and, above all, improving communications from London to Britain's second largest Channel port. I am grateful for the opportunity to make those points to the Minister today.

12.51 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) on his good fortune in the ballot for private Members' motions and, indeed, on his excellent motion. He also deserves some commiseration. His motion refers to facilities for travel, whether by road, rail, sea, air, river or canal, in the capital city of London and the surrounding area of which it forms the focus". It seems to me that when the hon. Gentleman drafted the motion he had in mind that the debate would be a gentle stroll around the philosophical concepts of an integrated transport policy. Instead, it has been dominated by the Law Lords decision yesterday in the case of Bromley v. GLC, about which I shall have something to say later.

First, I take up an issue that was raised in an intervention by the Under-Secretary of State. He said that old-age pensioners in London had received nothing from Ken Livingstone. I understand that, long before the "Fares Fair" policy came into being, old-age pensioners received free off-peak travel on the Underground, so they already received some benefits from the GLC.

Naturally, there has been considerable discussion today of commuter services into London. As hon. Members know only too well, in October last year the Monopolies and Mergers Commission published a report, running to more than 300 pages, on the London and South-East commuter services. Paragraph 13.6 of its conclusions reads: We conclude this report with three observations. The first concerns the commuter's aspiration. Stated in the- simplest terms, this is for an adequate service and a punctual train providing a seat in a reasonably clean coach. This is modest enough; but to satisfy it on a railway system as complex and as highly utilised as that in London and its surroundings is not a simple matter. There are direct connections between the level of service which can be provided and the price which is paid for it, and between the frequency of the service and its reliability. The Board's relations with the public would be better, we believe, if these connections were better understood. There is a further connection to be made, that between the capacity of British Rail to provide decent commuter services and the amount of money available to it for investment in those services. British Rail itself recognises that a huge amount of investment is needed. Its statement of policy and potential for the 1980s, which deals with all aspects of the investment programme, makes specific mention of the 1981–85 corporate plan and the amount of money that needs to be put into London and South-East services. The figure that I am about to give is net of any duplication under other headings. It is suggested in the document that British Rail would require £92 million to put into commuter services. That is a large sum of money, and not one that is immediately available to British Rail.

I do not want to rehearse all the arguments that we have had on the Transport (Finance) Bill, either on the Floor of the House or in Committee, except to say that there is no doubt that British Rail needs more investment and that if it is to satisfy its responsibilities to the public—the commuting public and the long-distance traveller—it must have access to money as quickly as possible and as free of constraint as possible.

Several hon. Members have referred to the difficulties that arise for the travelling public where there are competing services between British Rail and the GLC. The hon. Member for Romford said that one can transfer on the same station from one service to another. That inherent contradiction in the fares policy was well recognised by the GLC. That is why it sought to make available to British Rail about £50 million to enable British Rail to reduce its fares.

The difficulty is that British Rail operates under very tight financial constraints, and the guiding factor in British Rail's policy is its external financing limit, which we all commonly call EFL. If the British Railways Board had been allowed to accept the £50 million, it would have meant that £50 million less would be available for British Rail to invest. Any additional money that British Rail gets from any outside source eats into its total budget. Et does not make sense to run a transport policy under which people are able and willing to provide money to subsidise fares or to have a reduced fare level, and then to find that that by itself takes away British Rail's investment.

There can be no doubt that, when speaking of an integrated transport policy, road policy is extremely important. Many people have looked at the London traffic problem in all its aspects. In many respects the problem seems to be insoluble. I do not want to get involved in the argument, which has not been so far mentioned today, about the various proposals for the Archway. Whenever I look at a local newspaper in London, there is a mention of some new proposal for the Archway, and some new objections. I use the Archway simply as an illustration to show that it is far from easy to produce a transport system for a city as large and as complex as London.

The Standing Conference on London and South-East Planning has been looking very seriously at the needs of the routes out of London. In a document published in September 1980 it went in some detail into the different policies that should be pursued. It is suggested that if there is to be a real expansion in the road programme the roads should perhaps in some cases be built to lower standards than would otherwise be demanded. That is an extraordinary proposition. Nevertheless one can see that a case can be argued for quantity rather than quality, if it is thought that the two things do not contradict one another.

It is thought that the amount of money required for further schemes—apart from those in the current road programme—is £2,420 million in Greater London. In the counties, an additional £1,785 million would be required. That is altogether an investment of well over £4 billion on roads.

The most chilling part of the report is the final sentence, which reads: In London, however, the figures make it clear that, unless special measures are decided upon and special finance is made available, the pace of improvements, despite the lower standards on which the estimated costs are based, could not approach the need. Such a prospect would further exacerbate London's disadvantages in the availability of high capacity routes relative to the surrounding parts of the region and so add to its problems in seeking to reinvigorate its economic base. It is time that the Government decided exactly what their policy will be.

The reinvigoration of an economic base for London fits in well with the issue that has arisen over the GLC's fares policy in Greater London. The purpose of an integrated transport policy is to save energy, to enable traffic to move more rapidly, to ensure that travellers reach their destinations on time and to improve punctuality. All those factors are helpful to a region's economic system. There is no doubt that a fares policy has an important part to play.

It is clear that London Transport's fare-box ratio of financing its system is the highest of any European transport system. The Philadelphia system has already been mentioned. In 1979 London had a fare-box ratio of 75 per cent., while Rotterdam had the lowest with 2.8 per cent. Anyone who thinks that the GLC has a way-out concept of subsidising a capital city's transport system is not aware of the facts.

This morning the Solicitor-General advised the House on the House of Lords judgment. He said that his purpose was to clear the air. I regret to tell him—I do so gently in his absence—that he left the House more confused than it was before he intervened. He could not answer one specific question. I asked him whether pensioners' free travel would be disbarred under the judgment and whether the free travel of the police would be disbarred. He said, in effect, "Do not ask me questions like that. It is extremely difficult." However, half an hour or one hour later the Under-Secretary of State said in an intervention that the free fares system for pensioners was not in doubt.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State is more competent than the Solicitor-General.

Mr. Hughes

It is not for me to cause dissent on the Government Benches at this juncture.

The Secretary of State intervened during the debate. He used phrases such as "ridiculous extremes", and "policies that were grossly and manifestly unfair". It must be placed on the record firmly that none of those words appear in the judgments. Those words reflect the right hon. Gentleman's prejudiced opinion. Lord Diplock said: It cannot be too emphatically stated that your Lordships in this appeal are not concerned with the wisdom or, indeed, the fairness of the GLC's decision to reduce by 25 per cent. the fares charged in Greater London by the London Transport Executive which made it necessary to introduce the supplementary precept, or the greater part of it. All that your Lordsips are concerned with is the legality of the decision: was it within the limited powers that Parliament has conferred by statute on the GLC? The Secretary of State is wrong to draw the conclusions that he expressed and quite wrong to attack the GLC.

I should never presume to challenge or debate the legal intricacies of the judgment, especially as the individual judgments jump from section to section—for example, from section 3 to sections 1, 7 and 12 and back again. However, it is clear from the judgments that the London Transport Act 1969 does not explicitly prevent a subsidy policy. In 1973 a Labour administration under Sir Reg Goodwin subsidised fares and there was no legal challenge on that occasion. The issue of illegality is extremely important, as is the GLC's intent in trying to assess how the Law Lords might have approached the matter in a different way.

Some hon. Members have suggested that the GLC rashly embarked on a policy and the implication was that it knew that that was illegal, but never during the canvass of Labour policy on transport, or at any stage of its implementation, was it challenged on legality. Probably no other policy in modern times has received such a public airing. Once the policy decision was taken by the London Labour Party, acres of print were devoted to it and all sorts of argument and debate took place. However, there was never any suggestion that the policy was illegal

The preparation of the policy took time when the Labour administration took control of the GLC and it is worth recalling that there was never any hint from the administration's officers or legal advisers that the policy might be illegal. It is also worth adding that daring the fierce debate that occurred within the GLC, when the resolution was put through to approve the "Fares Fair", policy, no Tory councillor, from Sir Horace Cutler down, suggested that the policy was illegal. I accept that the policy's wisdom was challenged and its cost fiercely questioned, but I repeat and emphasise that its legality was never questioned.

There is no doubt that the issue of legality arose only when the precept was challenged by the London borough of Bromley. One almost wonders whether, if the GLC had managed to find the money without going for an additional precept, it would have been challenged at all. That brings me to the point of the House of Lords' decision. It is clear that a rate fund subsidy or contribution to the revenue account is not illegal. What is challenged is the manifesto under which the GLC was elected. That has been set aside and said to have no meaning or value. What should be the position of the law in such circumstances? How should the Law Lords interpret the law when there is a clear manifesto commitment in a local government election?

We must be clear that the Lords decision is an interpretation of the law. The law is not explicit and, therefore, is being interpreted. The manifesto commitment was not hidden in the small print—the sort of thing one might miss in insurance policies—and it was not smuggled into County Hall and suddenly unleashed on an unsuspecting or ignorant public. It was a clear policy commitment and accepted by all to be a continuation of the previous policy.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Will the hon. Member tell us whether the declared and carefully thought out policy of the London Labour Party manifesto made it clear what the cost would be to the ratepayers of implementing the provisions, and whether he feels that those who voted in May were prepared for the enormous supplementary rates introduced within a few months of the Labour administration taking office?

Mr. Hughes

I am certain that people knew that there would be a cost; that was said. Therefore, the Under-Secretary cannot hide behind that. No attempt was made during the GLC elections to hide the fact that there would have to be a rates increase to cover the cost.

Mr. Spearing

Does my hon. Friend agree that when the manifesto was drawn up the cost was assessed, at the sum that I gave, as a relatively low increase to the rates? However, that could not take account of the balance left by Sir Horace Cutler, which needed to be made up, and of course nobody could envisage that the Secretary of State for the Environment would introduce a clawback provision. Therefore, the total sum is vastly in excess of what was calculated. The GLC Labour administration correctly claims, however, that its costing of the fares policy is the same today.

Mr. Hughes

I accept my hon. Friend's intervention, which reminds me that the Secretary of State for the Environment could not have thought that the GLC policy was illegal or he would not have attempted the clawback, because he would have been acting ultra vires by seeking to impose a fine on illegal action. It is clear that he accepted that the position was legal, because he allowed the matter to run on and simply chose to act by reducing the money that he made available to the GLC.

It is most unsatisfactory that a local authority can pursue a policy over a decade, put forward its policy openly, and then have it negated by the law. The Law Lords' judgment hinges on two issues. The first is the use of the word "economic". They chose to interpret the word, not in its normal business sense of making a profit, but broadly on the basis of breaking even. The second is whether a local authority is empowered to do anything unless it is explicitly stated in law that it is empowered so to do.

There are occasions when a local authority may not act outside its statutory responsibility. For example, if a local authority decided to start an airline, that would be outside its purview. In my view, the law is often interpreted far too narrowly when it comes to a general duty in connection with housing, transport, or any other policy. Where the law is silent, the balance of judgment should be towards the authority believing that it is doing the right thing.

The Law Lords' judgment also hinged to some extent on what Parliament meant in section 3 of the Act. It is often difficult to find out what Parliament means. I refer briefly to two passages in Hansard of 17 December 1968, during the Second Reading of the Transport (London) Bill. Mr. Richard Marsh, now Lord Marsh, who was Minister of Transport at the time, said: For the services of the new Executive—underground and bus services—the Council has all along asked for full control over fares. The Government accept that this is right. One could not impose upon a body the obligations of running an organisation of this size and refuse it control of its revenue raising. It is consistent with what is proposed for bus services in PTA areas, where fares will no longer be subject to the Traffic Commissioners but will be determined by the overall authority, the PTA. It is interesting that there is a suggestion that PTAs are not covered by the Lords judgment because the rules that govern their business are different from those that cover the GLC. However, Mr. Marsh suggested there that the purpose of the Bill was to put the GLC and London Transport on the same basis as PTA areas.

Later, Mr. Marsh said: The cost of urban transport should normally be met locally, whether through fares paid by the users, or otherwise."—[Official Report, 17 December 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1248–50.] The words "or otherwise" can only mean that additional money has to be found in some way from another source, and in my opinion that means revenue grants, on which there now appears to be no argument.

What I have said puts the matter in perspective. I believe that the Law Lords should give preference to custom and practice. They do so in many other areas of the law. They take into account custom and practice when they come to judgments, so I cannot understand why they have not done so in this case. I have always been led to believe that the law was a bulwark against the arbitrary power of the State, and I have always believed in the independence of the courts. However, frankly, judgments like this bring the law into disrepute and lessen respect for the law.

At present, no one knows what the guidelines are and which of them are acceptable. Does it mean that if the GLC decided to have a 20 per cent. reduction in fares instead of a 25 per cent. reduction it would succeed? If that policy were chosen, would we have to go through the whole business of a challenge on a precept, back through all the courts and back to the Lords again, before we knew where we were? That is a ridiculous way for local government to be expected to behave. In my view there is a clear duty upon the Government to rectify the position and to restore the law to what everyone thought it was. There are many precedents, so there is nothing to stop the Government from acting.

Transport in London requires to be integrated. It should be for the benefit of Londoners. Its fares structure needs to be changed to allow London to regenerate its industrial capacity. The ball is in the Government's court. I am satisfied that the GLC acted honourably, that it thought it acted within the law and that it intended to act within the law. For the benefit of London and to ensure that it regenerates its economy, the Government must put matters right.

1.15 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I assure the House that this will be the last intervention from the Treasury Bench in the debate and that it is not my intention or that of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) to attempt to terminate the debate. I am merely reverting to the usual Friday practice of intervening part way through a debate to cover, I hope, some of the wider issues which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) intended to be discussed when he tabled his highly commendable motion.

Mr. Dobson

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

No. There are other hon. Members who wish to speak. I may give way to the hon. Gentleman when I come to the more serious issues. It has been the practice throughout the debate, after a couple of sentences from the Dispatch Box, for an hon. Member to try to intervene. My speeches are often protracted. They will tend to become even more protracted if I resume my seat with too much frequency.

I must touch on what has been said about the judgment, but I shall make my observations as brief as possible and then deal with the wider issues.

I want first to answer the criticisms levelled at my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It could be said that some of their comments should have been blindingly obvious and were somewhat platitudinous, but they had to be said because of some comments in the last night's newspapers and because of comments made by a number of hon. Members in the debate who do not seem yet to have grasped and digested some of the obvious points lying behind the judgment.

A number of people outside the House and even some hon. Members need to be advised that the wisest first course with a complex piece of litigation of this kind is to read the judgment and take time to digest it, and not to make sudden comments based on what may turn out to be a total misunderstanding of what the judgment implies.

Most hon. Members in the debate, including the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, appeared today to begin to get hold of the point that the Law Lords did not say that subsidy for transport in London was illegal. It is not illegal. It never has been illegal. The policies which have been pursued by Conservative and Labour administrations in London and by Conservative and Labour Governments of allowing a reasonable level of subsidy to be given to London Transport could and should be pursued.

I have scotched one fear already, that the judgment affects concessionary fares to pensioners. They are not affected by yesterday's judgment because concessionary fares are covered by different legislation.

One or two other fears will melt away once people give themselves time not only to read the judgment but to digest it and, if necessary, to take advice upon it. Just now, for example, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North implied still, in his understanding of the judgment, that a great deal turned on the word "economy". I refer him to the judgment of Lord Diplock, who pointed out that the London Transport Executive was required to have due regard to the efficiency, economy and safety of operation, and went on to say that, although it had been argued that the word "economy" involved a duty to break even or even to make a profit, he expressly rejected that opinion. His Lordship gave clear guidance on what the word meant, and he went on: in particular … it does not mean that the London Transport Executive must do its best to cover the expenses of its operations by the fares which it charges its passengers. If today's debate has clarified any matters, it now appears to be accepted on all sides that no one is talking about the end of subsidy. Once people have had time to consider what the judgment means, some of the fears which have been expressed will be seen to be a little fanciful.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I thank the Minister for having the courtesy to give way—unlike others. Would the hon. and learned Gentleman refer to an important matter that his colleagues have refused to raise? I commend to him what the then Secretary of State for Social Services said on 11 March 1980, speaking about the National Health Service (Invalid Direction) Bill. He said that the Bill is retrospective because it seeks to protect all those involved in actions which they and I thought were valid and which now turn out to be invalid. I did what I thought was lawful. Now that the High Court has ruled otherwise I have accepted its ruling and seek only to ensure that those who have unwittingly acted unlawfully should not be penalised."—[Official Report, 11 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 1160.] Does not the Minister agree that it is of immense importance that, whatever one's view on the judgment, the GLC's members believed that they were acting lawfully? Should not they be given similar protection to that accorded to the Secretary of State for Social Services and others as quickly as possible?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport did give way and ceased to do so only when he was repeatedly interrupted. I shall follow the same practice.

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said that it would be a very unwise lawyer who leaped into an instant opinion on every hypothetical case that people believed might flow from the judgment. In the hospital case there was the possibility that individuals might face claims for compensation for unlawful acts. As far as I am aware that question has not yet arisen in this case. If such a situation arose, it would no doubt be considered with care by the Law Officers. No one is claiming that anyone in the GLC personally deliberately broke the law.

If the London Labour Party included in its manifesto a policy which was unlawful, and it is suggested that the Government should change the law to allow the local authority to carry out its policies regardless, the situation appears to bear no relationship to the hospital case. Local authorities should confine their election promises to those which they can lawfully deliver. The research groups on which the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and others worked should have addressed themselves to that subject. If they did, it is plain, in the light of yesterday's judgment, that they came to the wrong conclusions in deciding that the London Labour Party could legally offer what it was offering to London's electors.

All these matters should be considered, together with the extent of the changes and problems that are likely to arise in London as a result of the judgment.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) wanted to know how many stations and depots would close and how many men would lose their jobs. Yesterday Ken Livingstone, the leader of the Labour group, made sweeping statements about the consequences. I urge the House to take time in considering this and to allow the reality to be discovered. It was suggested that we should have an emergency debate next week. I am not satisfied that the short-term problems will be any clearer next Monday than they are now. It seems to me that what Ken Livingstone was first saying, in his usual way—with instant comments, straight from the top of his head—

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a moment, but first let me substantiate what I have said.

In Lord Wilberforce's judgment, there is a passage which deals with the budget that the new Labour group inherited from Sir Horace Cutler's GLC last year. It was based on an £80 million subsidy from the GLC of which the Conservative Government accepted £73 million for the purpose of giving transport supplementary grant. It is clear from Lord Wilberforce's judgment that that budget was regarded as lawful and within the Act. Nobody suggested that Underground stations would close, that thousands of people would lose their jobs or that the bus services could not be run. I shall not leap to instant conclusions, but it is not immediately obvious to me that suddenly it is not possible to keep the stations open, the buses running or to employ the staff by reverting to a lawful budget.

The first thing to do is to work out what lawful budget London Transport wishes to revert to and to examine any problems that arise. I am told that allegations have been made that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State rashly ruled out legislation. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) made that point. As usual with Mr. Livingstone, we only know from the newspapers that he intends to come and see us and what he will say. However, if his reaction to the crisis is to ask my right hon. Friend to legislate so that, regardless of previous legal constraints, he can continue to implement the London Labour Party's policy, irrespective of the cost to ratepayers, my right hon. Friend will not encourage such an invitation.

Mr. Jay

The Minister spoke of a £70 million subsidy being perfectly legal. I agree that we do not wish to make instant judgments, but we must be clear about how we wish to examine the issue. How is the GLC to discover the legal level of subsidy?

Mr. Clarke

The GLC can discover that by studying the judgment, taking advice on its implications and by discussing the situation with the London Transport Executive, which is no doubt considering the budget revisions that it must make.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and I do not wish to prolong his speech unnecessarily. However, he should know that the figures given by Ken Livingstone yesterday were provided by the London Transport Executive and represented a preliminary assessment of the effects of the judgment. The judgment seems to say that if London Transport makes a mistake in its figures—I put it as neutrally as that—and there is a deficit at the end of the year, it can be made up. However, it seems that it cannot budget in advance for a deficit and for a revenue contribution.

Mr. Clarke

I do not wish to wade into the judgment, but I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct when he places that interpretation on the judgment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State quoted a passage that seemed to make it clear that the London Transport Executive can, when assessing the budget, take into account likely fares revenue and the likely grant that it will receive from the GLC. When the transport supplementary grant settlement is made each year, it knows how much the Government will accept in terms of revenue support for the purposes of grant. Central Government make not a legal judgment but an assessment of London Transport's needs in accordance with prudent policies that fall within the limits that taxpayers and ratepayers can afford. We should prefer London Transport and the GLC to revert to that policy.

We have always been critical of the GLC's policy and have always said that it is much too expensive for the London ratepayer and that it is wrong. London Transport's finances were transformed within a very short time. The Labour Party in the GLC has been in office for only seven months, but the finances have changed from being reasonably under control under the previous administration to being hopelessly out of control. [HON. MEMBERS: "No".] The policy decisions taken by Livingstone and the London Labour Party have already increased the cost to London ratepayers by over £200 million. That is in the first part of the Labour Party's first year in office. Heaven knows what four years will cost.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Clarke

Everybody knew about the clawback in May, when the manifesto was drawn up. It is not a new invention. Labour Members can hardly take exception to the statement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made yesterday, pointing out that it is for the GLC to consider how to get itself out of the mess into which it has plainly got itself. That may not be welcome news to Labour Members, but it is a plain statement of fact. The GLC is responsible for London Transport, and we look forward to its proposals.

Today we are commenting on the state not only of London Transport but of the London Labour Party. In May, in accordance with the swings and roundabouts of political fortune, many Londoners voted in the traditional way for Labour as a reaction to whatever they felt had caused their discontent. They returned to power not the type of politicians who followed subsidy policies in the past—which varied in degree, but not completely in kind from those of Conservative administrations—but politicians who took sensible and lawful policies to ridiculous extremes. They demonstrated not only Left-wing policies but sheer incompetence and financial mismanagement. I am talking not about the law but about policy.

I am entitled to make political judgments, as are the ratepayers of London. There was an astonishing absence of reference in the speeches of Opposition Members to the position of the London ratepayers. Bromley council reacted because it was trying to defend the interests of its enraged residents, who faced large rate demands. Quite apart from the legalities, we hope that the politics of the matter will bring a return to common sense so that we can again have transport policies that reflect a fair balance between the requirements of the transport user and the ratepayer.

That applies also to the other metropolitan counties. The judgment does not affect their legal position, but it would be prudent of them to take legal advice on the legislation that affects them to ensure that, whatever they do, they are acting within the law.

What has happened about political judgments and policies in London is happening to a marked extent in the West Midlands, Merseyside and South Yorkshire. The same problems arise of a likely increase in rate bills that will put an enormous burden upon local ratepayers and local industry. In London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield people wish to have jobs above all else. Local authorities which pursue policies that drive up the rates to the detriment of industry and job creation are acting irresponsibly.

I turn now to the equally important matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and others that are outside the judgment.

Mr. Dobson

The Minister's speech is the third from the Government Front Bench today. Even if the Minister cannot give us an answer today, perhaps he will ask his colleagues to check the matter so that I can inform my constituents about whether the House of Lords judgment invalidates only that part of the supplementary rate that relates to the costs of London Transport or whether it also invalidates that part of the supplementary precept that relates to expenditure by the Inner London Education Authority. The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords have said nothing about that expenditure. It leaves many of my constituents in a quandary.

Mr. Clarke

I shall ensure that a written answer is supplied, probably by one of the Law Officers, to the hon. Gentleman. That should clarify matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North raised the important question of the policy on the British Rail commuter services, which are equally important to Londoners and, in many parts of outer London, more important than the services provided by London Transport. In Essex, Kent and to the south of London the policies pursued by British Rail towards the commuter network are especially important.

The Government have recently set out their policy on the objectives that should govern the operation of the London commuter rail services and have laid down guidelines for British Rail. Those objectives were stated in order to stimulate wider discussion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has invited comments on the guidelines to try to 'obtain a better judgment of the preferences of London commuters in determining the future of those services.

It is true that my right hon. Friend has set out policies that do not altogether match the expectations and hopes of British Rail in the commuter charter and rail policy document that it has put forward. British Rail is once again undertaking a campaign of political advertising to get across its point in response to my right hon. Friend's statement of policy objectives. Many London commuters are not satisfied that spending their money on whole-page advertisements is the wisest use of resources.

British Rail's expectation, as spelt out in its commuter document, was that its passengers would want to pay higher rail fares. It appears to be planning on the basis that fares for commuter services should continue to rise faster than the level of inflation. It also wanted investment in the commuter services, over and above the investment taking place, to the tune of an additional £1 billion. It also expected that, once the fares had risen and it had received the additional investment, it would still want a higher subsidy from the taxpayers to run the service.

My right hon. Friend's contribution amounted to a questioning of some of the choices and a request that the public should consider whether they wanted to pay more taxes and fares for a better railway. Substantial investment is already going into the commuter network, which is steadily being modernised. New rolling stock is operating on the lines into Romford. About 23 per cent. of all British Rail's investment is devoted to commuter services. Major resignalling, which improves the efficiency of the service, is taking place at London Bridge and Victoria and on the London to Brighton line. Electrification of the Bedford to St. Pancras service is currently under way, and new electric rolling stock is operating on different parts of the system.

The trouble with large blocks of investment is that they tend to go to one line at a time. Therefore, we can see improvements taking place at Romford, or about to take place at Bedford, but at the same time see nothing happening on the Dartford line. There is a pace at which one proceeds with investment and, in present circumstances, the suggestion that we should invest another £1 billion over and above the current investment in the network is not justified.

It is not true that most commuters want to pay ever higher fares in return for an ever better railway. Most commuters find that their fares are already a considerable burden on their budgets. They would prefer replacement and renewal of the existing service, together with more efficiency, reliability and cleanliness and fares held roughly to the current level, to ever higher fares aiming at a spectacularly better railway.

A great deal can be achieved within the realistic resources that will probably be available to any Government in the foreseeable future, and with fares held to roughly their present levels. When we talk about the bad conditions on the commuter service, we must remember that many lines are steadily improving, with better reliability and punctuality. The position is still not as satisfactory as it should be, but it is improving. British Rail is making great achievements, and modernisation is taking place line by line.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romford mentioned the Dartford tunnel and expressed the understandable resentment of his constituents about paying tolls. It has been the policy of successive Governments that, where there are expensive crossings of estuaries, those who gain the most benefit from them should make a contribution towards the cost. The Dartford tunnel was built by local authorities, using private legislation in the House, on the basis that they would eventually repay the capital and interest charges. We see no case for transferring that obligation to the general taxpayer.

The East London river crossing will complicate matters, and we have not decided whether that crossing, when it eventually materialises, will be toll free. There may come a time when the present policies for Blackwall, Dartford and the new East London bridge will need to be considered together—but, for the time being, the present policy must continue.

My hon. Friend referred to water transport. I do not have a great deal of time to discuss that subject, but I know that he and many others are anxious to ensure that better use should be made of the Thames. There is certainly scope for better use of water transport throughout the country. The Department of Transport has already extended the range of section 8 grants to waterway users so that where traffic is currently going by road but people can prove that they will transfer it to the waterway if assistance is provided with investment in facilities they will be eligible for a section 8 grant of up to 50 per cent. of the cost. We hope to have the first sound applications soon, and I hope that in due course the grants will begin to be payable.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) dealt particularly with the problems of traffic in London and the efficiency and effectiveness of the Underground and bus services in London as they affect his constituents. He knows that management of the traffic in London and many of the major road schemes in London are the responsibility of the Greater London Council. We give substantial grant to the GLC in order to enable it to advance its road improvement schemes. We hope that, now that the wilder policies of the Greater London Council have been limited by the recent judgment, it will concentrate on what should be its prime responsibility—ensuring the efficiency of its road network and developing it efficiently within the resources that are available. The hon. Gentleman said that there should be more transport police. Last year we increased the transport supplementary grant to London by £1 million, expressly to provide better police cover and facilities on London Transport. There has been investment in new radio equipment, and so on, as a result.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch was a little disappointing when he came to SDP policy on these and other matters in London. It is all very well saying that Londoners do not want a party political battle about their transport, but the party political battle, whatever else it does, reflects choices and preferences. One gets a feeling from Conservative and Labour Members about the respective importance that they attach to the level of fares and rates. I have a suspicion that the SDP is in favour of cheap fares but against high rates, but beyond that, its policy does not amount to very much. The SDP GLC councillors were elected alongside Mr. Ken Livingstone, on the same platform, in May last year and I have yet to discover what the SDP's policy is for the GLC in the light of current events and future developments.

The hon. Member for Brent, South dealt with that and other matters and spoke particularly about the future of the Broad Street to Richmond line. The matters about which he spoke should be brought to the attention of British Rail. I am not aware of any pending application to close that line. He said that he and his constituents had resisted proposals to close the line in the past. I am glad that he welcomed the proposals for the redevelopment of Liverpool Street, although, again, that is a matter for British Rail, not the Government. There could be advantage, both financial and in operating terms, to be gained from some of the exciting arrangements that British Rail is proposing for Liverpool Street in the near future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken), after talking about the Channel ports, raised the question of heavy lorries in London and the South-East. I shall not debate that at length again today, except to remind my hon. Friend of the case that we made and to ask him to reconsider it. The Government's aim in putting forward those proposals and regulations for consultation was to get on our roads fewer, quieter and safer heavy lorries than we have at present.

My hon. Friend was particularly dismissive of the argument that if we had heavier lorries there would be fewer of them. Although that argument is debatable, it should not be so readily dismissed. Transport does not create its own demand, certainly for freight traffic. There is a set level of freight that has to be moved at any given time at any given level of economic activity. If more of that freight can be put on to one vehicle, fewer vehicles are likely to be needed to move it. The case is that at any given level of economic activity there will be fewer lorries than there would otherwise be. I ask my hon. Friend to reconsider that.

My hon. Friend then spoke about trunk road arrangements in Kent and the division between trunk and local roads. My hon. Friend has corresponded with me about Thanet Way, and I appreciate his concern about the road improvements. However, it is a local authority road and entirely the responsibility of Kent county council. It is for the authority to put it in its road programme and give it the priority that it believes the road has in Kent.

It is not a question of the Government washing their hands of Thanet Way or any other local authority road, but there is a division of responsibility between trunk and local authority roads. We should not split hairs about what should be a trunk road or a local authority road. I am always prepared to listen to representations that the boundary could be changed, but merely changing the road from a local authority road to a trunk road does not necessarily mean that there will be room within the trunk road programme in the near future to get ahead with the building that my hon. Friend wants. It may be possible to get on quicker with the Thanet Way if it is given a higher priority in Kent county council's programme than if it had to take its chance with the other national schemes that are crowded into the Government's trunk road programme.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North talked of the need for roads in London and asked what could be done. The Government are carrying out a substantial amount of investment on the road network in and around London for the benefit of London. The M25 has the highest priority in our road programme. Two-thirds of it is now open or under construction. In effect, it is a giant bypass for many people and particularly for the outer boroughs of London and will divert many heavy lorries out of London.

The Hackney-M11 link is an important connecting road. It does not give a great deal of relief in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch, but if we can get the lorries out of Leytonstone High Street it will improve matters there and elsewhere. The North Circular is being improved in many places, including the South Woodford-to-Barking relief road—which affects the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who I see in his place. Together with the new East London bridge, that means that we are again providing a good road to take the heavier traffic out of suburban streets and round to the South and to the roads to the Channel ports.

Big improvements are taking place on the A13 to Tilbury, east of London. The A40 is being improved so that eventually we shall have a purpose-built dual carriageway with split level junctions for the traffic coming from Birmingham down the M40 all the way to Baker Street. The new Sidcup bypass will improve conditions on the A20 out to the Channel ports.

Those are the major schemes, but there is a great deal of trunk road activity in London which will take some of the inevitable lorry traffic, which London needs if it is to retain industrial activity, away from people's homes, out of the side roads and onto roads which can disperse it more quickly. The GLC has a roads programme and we give it transport supplementary grant to support its capital investment.

That takes me back to the dilemma which has dominated the debate. One risk that the GLC has run is that, if it insists on spending vast sums to subsidise fares, thereby disbursing it in current expenditure for the benefit of that section of London's population who happen to use the buses and Underground, it will reduce its ability to invest in essential capital projects such as the Rochester Way or the Hayes bypass, which many people in London want the GLC to get on with. In dealing with transport it is important to get the balances between capital and current spending and the transport user and the taxpayer and ratepayer right.

Mr. Spearing

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

Now that the legalities have been clarified, everyone can consult the judgment and take their time to make sure that they know what is and what is not lawful. The Government would like authorities to take the opportunity to re-examine their policies and Labour-controlled authorities—for example, in London, Birmingham, Liverpool and Sheffield—to return to using a little common sense and get their subsidies back to a sensible level and not just sting the ratepayer over and above his ability to pay.

1.48 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

I have listened to three Ministers today, but not one of them has clarified the matter for local authorities. At least two said that no one should draw quick conclusions from the judgment, but they went on to do just that.

The Secretary of State said that in no circumstances will there be legislation to sort out the mess in which local authorities find themselves. He should have taken his own advice not to draw quick conclusions. When the judgment has been considered in detail, he may find that there is a need to legislate.

I am concerned about the dilemma in which local authorities, particularly the GLC, find themselves. It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say that the Government are in favour of a sensible degree of Government support for public transport in London. The right hon. Gentleman added that he was against ridiculous extremes and indiscriminate subsidies. Those words were used in a subjective manner. Local authorities, particularly the GLC, have to convert those words and the judgment into hard figures. They need to know whether it is acceptable to reduce the fare cut from 25 per cent. to 20 per cent., 10 per cent., or any other level. They face great difficulty in having to make quantitive judgements on the meaning of the House of Lords decision. I fear that they will get no help from what has been stated by the Government today.

I suspect the Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers have rushed to welcome the House of Lords decision because they see it more as a means of clobbering local authorities than adding to the sensible nature of local authority decisions. One has also to consider the fact that £400 million has been lost to the GLC, the ILEA and the London boroughs through Government action. We need a greater sense of responsibility than that shown by the Government to the problems facing local authorities. It is surely the job of hon. Members to make things clear for them. The local authorities are in the process of setting their budgets for the coming year. All that we are doing at this end is to cause confusion.

I agree with the Solicitor-General that the Law Lords decided on the narrow issue of fares in the case between the London borough of Bromley and the GLC and that the decision should be interpreted only in that manner. However, there is clear encouragement in the House of Lords decision to people and bodies in different parts of the country to ask the courts to pronounce on what their local authorities are doing. I am not a lawyer, but I think that there is a duty on hon. Members and particularly the Government, to prevent what may become endless litigation throughout the country. There are many imponderables as a result of the House of Lords decision. It will not take long for many people, who are opposed to what their local authorities are doing, to decide to go to law.

The Government are wrong to say that they will not legislate. If previous decisions by the House are not clear and will result in an enormous financial burden through people going to the courts, there is a duty on the House to make matters clear quickly. I am not saying that this should be done before Christmas. I understand the Government's difficulties and their wish to examine the decision in more detail. That applies to all hon. Members. However, an early commitment by the Government to come to the House in the new year to try to make things clear would be helpful to hon. Members and, above all, to local authorities.

Good public transport is the lifeblood of a city. The GLC was elected on a policy of reducing fares. That was the most clear-cut issue in the GLC elections. There cannot be many electors in London who were unaware of that policy commitment. It is therefore surprising that so many Conservative Members should complain when a local authority has sought speedily to carry out the promises on which it was elected. Those hon. Members may be concerned that the public will come to accept that elected representatives live by the promises on which they were elected. It may have uncomfortable implications for the Government. I hope that the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), when he has had time to reflect on the judgment that he so welcomed, will realise that different attitudes ought to prevail and that quick shooting from the hip is not the most sensible way of helping local government.

I wish to summarise briefly what I understand are the main public transport consequences of the judgment for the GLC unless the Government intervene. Fares will have to be increased by about 200 per cent. There will be a 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. cut in London Transport services. About 20 Underground stations will have to be closed, and 10 per cent. of bus routes cut out altogether. As many as 15,000 staff—equivalent to 25 per cent. of total London Transport staff—may be made redundant. Those figures are, of course, based on certain assumptions about the fall-off resulting from the increases in fares which will be necessary to put the books into balance.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Only seven months ago, Sir Horace Cutler was able to run a full service without any of those consequences and on a much reduced level of subsidy. Why cannot the GLC return to that policy?

Mr. Dubs

There is uncertainty whether the policies followed by the Conservative administration at County Hall would have been subject to the strictures of the House of Lords.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

indicated dissent.

Mr. Dubs

The Under-Secretary shakes his head, but it is by no means clear. Moreover, according to the House of Lords judgment, I understand that the GLC must now set out to balance its books. If it does not, that may be a different matter, but it has to set out to come close to doing so. In any event, those figures represent the GLC's view of the likely consequences of the judgment, and they spell disaster for public transport in London.

Moreover, if there is litigation in other parts of the country, other passenger transport authorities will be similarly affected because they, too, have reasonable levels of public subsidy for their services. That is why the significance of the judgment extends far beyond the GLC.

There is a further difficulty. For reasons which everyone understands, the GLC cannot increase fares until about the third week in March, because it will take that long to reorganise the ticketing system, and so on. There is therefore the problem of the interim period between the date of the judgment and that time, which is also presumably subject to the House of Lords decision.

That is why we need amending legislation, and quickly. There are a number of precedents for getting legislation through the House quickly, not the least of which is the example already cited concerning the Secretary of State for Social Services and his problems with the Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark area health authorities.

I shall describe briefly what I think should be the way ahead for public transport in London. In London, as in all major cities, we need adequate public financial support for the transport system. In my view, it would be better if that cost were borne by taxation than by the rating system, because taxation is a fairer way of raising money. I regret that the Government have sought to reduce taxation revenue for local government in London rather than the reverse.

If there is not a reasonable transport system in London, there will be an additional heavy burden on the whole of London in the cost of congestion, the cost to employers of workers being unable to get to work on time, and all the other problems of a jammed-up city. We need an integrated public transport system. London Transport and British Rail commuter services should be brought together under one organisation so that transport in London can be planned as a whole, as is being done in Paris. We could then have an integrated ticketing and fares system, proper interchanges between British Rail and London Transport stations and, above all, proper planning of the transport system in London, which at present we do not have.

I hope that the Government will take note of what has been said in the debate and will seek to provide speedy legislation to sort out the enormous difficulties facing local authorities in London. I hope, too, that the Government will look to the planning of an improved public transport system in the London area.

1.59 pm
Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)

My congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) are no less sincere than those of other hon. Members, although they are just a little qualified by the knowledge that, as a result of the interest shown in this debate, an equally important motion in my name is unlikely to be reached.

Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity provided by this debate to draw attention to issues other than the London Transport question, which, perhaps understandably, has dominated the debate. I shall be referring to London Transport a little later, but the main focus of my remarks will be on the British Rail commuter services on which my constituents rely. I want to show the Minister the concern that is felt by some of my commuter constituents when they consider the future of those services and the likely shape of capital investment.

I concede that there are limited resources for capital investment. British Rail has certainly talked of a grandiose investment programme for those commuter services—a programme that is unlikely to be realised in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in the letter of the Secretary of State for Transport to the chairman of British Rail, Sir Peter Parker, dated 10 November, one or two thoughts are worthy of comment.

The Secretary of State expressed concern that the lifetime of the existing rolling stock should not fall appreciably below 40 years, after British Rail had expressed preference that the stock should not have to last for anything like as long as that. I accept that the rolling stock is capable of lasting for 40 years, but anyone who has ridden from Brentwood or Shenfield to Liverpool Street in the rush hour knows that the 40-year-old stock is not as reliable or comfortable, or as bright and appealing as it might be. That must be taken into account when considering capital investment.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went on to say the refurbished trains could be as bright and cheerful and could keep to the same timings as new rolling stock. That is correct, but it has to be said that rolling stock that is approaching the end of its active life can sometimes be less reliable. That can throw out the timing of just one train, with all the follow-on effects on the rush-hour trains. By all means let us recognise that capital investment in the commuter services around London cannot be open-ended in present or foreseeable circumstances. However, the assumption that there will be no effect on commuter services if we continue to run the trains for 40 years is not something on which most of my commuter constituents would be prepared to testify.

There are one or two other aspects of the capital investment programme to which I wish to turn the Minister's attention. If we make no investment in new rolling stock—and at the moment I understand that no new trains in the Liverpool Street division can be expected until the year 2000—we shall be overlooking an opportunity of obtaining the increased productivity for which the Government are calling. New rolling stock can be designed for one-man operation, which can bring significant returns in productivity. In all these circumstances, although I understand the limitation on capital investment, the Secretary of State should not close his mind to the benefits in productivity that some capital investment can bring about.

For example, one often hears complaints about the seeming surfeit of ticket collecting personnel. That can be corrected only when some investment is made in alternative means of revenue control. These are small areas of capital investment but they are important. We have to recognise the limitation on capital investment in the commuter services, but I hope that that is not another way of saying that there is no opportunity for capital investment in them.

I have two suggestions to put to British Rail. First, it should negotiate yet again to see whether it is possible to achieve what I would call split shifts between the morning and the evening, thereby increasing productivity within the work force. I recognise the difficulty that the unions have raised, but there is no doubt that if split shifts could be achieved productivity would be increased immeasurably.

Secondly, how much would it cost British Rail to improve considerably its information communication system at suburban stations? The system is now fairly good at the main termini but British Rail is appalling at telling commuters why there is a delay and how much delay there is likely to be. It is no comfort to arrive at a main line terminal and hear the apology repeated time and again, when a brief announcement at the suburban station could have done a great deal more to cool the temper of the constituent.

With regard to London Transport, I do not need to remind the Minister that I have in my constituency the Epping-Ongar branch of the Central line. I am concerned lest the position created by the Law Lords' judgment and the polarising of political opinion in regard to subsidising fares means that London Transport, urged on by the GLC, could take the view that the keeping open of that section of the line has now a still lower priority. That would be unfortunate, because, as a result of the considerable understanding on the part of London Transport and the contribution by the Epping Forest district council, we have been able to keep open this essential line for commuters who live in my constituency at Ongar. I hope that we can continue to keep that branch line open.

I hope that the opening up of the question of the role of subsidies, as against the imposition on the ratepayer, will lead us to consider whether the present method of subsidising those commuters who travel by British Rail should be the responsibility of the Department of Transport whereas the responsibility for subsidising those who travel by bus or Underground to their place of work in London should fall upon the county councils. There is something of a non sequitur in the division along those lines, and I hope that an opportunity will be taken to assess whether the way we do things at the moment is correct.

One has to concede that every major capital city appears to subsidise its public transport to a greater extent than London has subsidised its public transport until recently. Dare one hope that the atmosphere created as a result of the Law Lords' judgment will give us the opportunity, once the immediate political reactions have been overcome, to consider seriously whether every other city in the world is correct or whether London is correct? If we are to use adequately the period immediately following the Law Lords' judgment, we must look much more seriously at this age-old problem than we have done in the recent past.

There are many young people in my constituency who have the ability to obtain employment in the City of London or the West End but who are deterred from doing so by the fact that an annual season ticket from Brentwood to central London costs about £700. I wonder whether, within the ambit of the youth opportunities programme, it would be possible, by tax relief or in some other way, for the Government to encourage young people to take up those employment opportunities. The alternative is for them to go on the dole or into a youth opportunites programme, which would probably cost the taxpayer rather more than it would to provide some sort of tax relief on an annual season ticket.

I have visited many cities in the world which have special commuter car lanes. One is not allowed to travel in a car during the rush hour unless one has a minimum of three people on board. The advantage to the commuter is that it speeds his journey considerably. We have bus lanes in London, albeit very few, and not continuous. If we allow motor cars carrying a minimum of three people into the bus lanes during rush hours, there may be a speeding of the traffic flow sufficient to constitute a worthwhile experiment.

This has been an interesting and useful debate, and I hope that the issues that I have raised will be taken on board by my hon. and learned Friend.

2.10 pm
Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

Having listened to the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), I was left wondering what would be the reaction of city planners and transport planners in other countries if they, too, were listening to the debate. Many speakers have ignored the fact that in large cities—for example, New York, Paris and Hamburg—the anxieties that we are expressing have long since been overcome and that those cities have long accepted that it is necessary to have a proper transport system.

Lord Denning's judgment and their Lordships' confirmation yesterday have caused consternation and dismay among my constituents and among the general travelling public not only in London but in other areas. As other hon. Members have said, yesterday's judgment could have far-reaching implications. The Minister referred to Merseyside, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire. I recall that he advised those authorities to examine their financing systems to ascertain whether the judgment would have implications for them.

I represent a nearby constituency and yesterday I had to travel to it on two occasions, in the afternoon and again in the evening. A number of my constituents were mystified as well as alarmed by the judgment. They had accepted and voted for the action that the GLC took. They were not taken in by anything. They understood what the Labour Party manifesto meant and in most instances they accepted that there had to be a rates increase.

Mr. Soley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she gives us a chance to say something that many outside the House are saying. There is great respect for Ken Livingstone and David Wetzel, the two councillors who introduced the policy on behalf of the London Labour party. The attitude of the electorate towards them is not that which has been presented in the press, which has mounted a campaign of vilification.

Miss Richardson

I was about to use almost the same words. Two of those to whom I spoke yesterday had stopped me in the street. They are among not the poorest but the better off. Both of them waved at me what they call their Wetzel passes. These passes have become known to many as the passes that belong to Dave Wetzel, who happens to be the chairman of the GLC's transport committee. One of the two constituents, who happens to be a broker, said "I am not in the worst off end of the income bracket but I value my pass and I want to know the extra amount that I will have to pay when my pass runs out on 1 January. I resent very much what has happened."

The debate should be no substitute for a proper, major debate on the jugment and its implications. I know that we are at the end of the Session before Christmas, but I hope that the Government will provide an opportunity—if not before Christmas immediately after it—for a full-scale debate so that the whole issue may be untangled.

I hope that the Government will not maintain their intransigent attitude of declining to legislate again to put the whole matter in order. The public, the GLC, the House and the Government probably never dreamt in their wildest dreams, when the GLC carried out the policy, that this would be the result. The well-intentioned believed that it would be carried out.

Others have said that the judgment could cost—we are all guessing up to a point—15,000 jobs in transport. It could certainly mean a cut in services, closure of stations and up to a 200 per cent. increase in fares. Not much has been said about the loss of educational facilities that the Law Lords judgment could entail. Will the ban on extra rates for the fare element extend to the portion for the ILEA? The judgment will also mean further job losses in the private sector because firms will face increased costs.

London and the South-East's economic and social well-being depends, to a large extent, on the quality of its communications network, particularly the public transport system. Although there are many car users, the overwhelming majority of the public rely on public transport—there is no alternative in London. Many people must be moved in and out of London at the beginning and end of every day of the year. We ought to look at the problem on that global basis. We have a limited road network in London and cars will edge out other forms of transport unless we are careful.

There is great support for a good public transport system which not only has cheap fares, although that is an obvious central point, but is clean, comfortable, and punctual and involves the travelling public in little hassle. For example, during the recent snow storm some people got out of carriages, at great danger to themselves and everybody else, and walked along the line. That was understandable in a way, although I thought it foolhardy, because people waiting in trains have no information and in desperation, and feeling very cold, they may get out and take such action. If we had a proper and decent transport system, such problems would be obviated.

We must bear in mind that the problems are not simply a matter of fares, but a lack of investment over several years, which has led to a deteriorating service not only in London but throughout every capital city. Since June 1978 in London, Southern region alone has suffered cutbacks representing reductions of 8.2 per cent, on loaded trains from Monday to Friday, 21.9 per cent. on Saturdays and 21 per cent. on Sundays—an average of 11.1 per cent. Those in the regions have to put up with deteriorating services as well as increased fares.

British Rail is budgeting for a 2 to 2½ per cent. increase in real fares over the years until 1985. We must remember that the Government blocked the GLC's attempt to reach an agreement with British Rail on a cheap fares policy—let alone a policy for London Transport. The Government bears a considerable responsibility for that.

The lack of investment has postponed several essential renewal programmes. In London and the South-East sector alone, there was a shortfall of about 9 per cent. in the financing required in 1980. It has meant that public transport has been less pleasant and less reliable than it should be. A survey of stations in the Eastern region—my constituency is on the east side of London—shows that out of 141 stations only 37 were assessed as being in good physical condition. No doubt the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar will confirm that from his constituency experience. Of those 37, only 22 have public address systems by which to inform passengers of delays or changes.

The GLC has acted with imagination and courage, and that has been recognised by the general travelling public in London. They have come to regard its leader and the chairman of the transport committee as friends, rather than foes. At last, someone is on their side. They have begun to believe that the GLC will put forward an excellent programme in other directions, though for the moment they have been beaten by the Lords judgment.

I hope that the matter will be untangled as swiftly as possible for the sake of future policies which may be affected by subsidies—the judgment affects subsidies in general—and so that we can get back to the business of running a proper transport system. That is what the people want. I hope that the Government will give way and have a full-scale debate on the subject in the near future.

2.21 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

I agree with what the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) said about the lack of investment in public transport in Greater London over the years. That is the major problem.

I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), a former mayor of Bromley, on having the luck to win the ballot and to tee off from the club house first after this historic judgment. This morning we have all been faced with a rich and rare scene. A delayed action mine had been inserted, no doubt inadvertently by Mrs. Barbara Castle, who stood well to the Left of the Labour Party in her day, in the 1969 Act, and it has gone off and obliterated the present London Labour Party's plans for Greater London. That is what has happened.

What is left? We are left with a few Socialist slogans and the views of the leader of the GLC on homosexual reform, the IRA, and other oddities. He has lost his mandate and his credibility. The London Labour Party said that this reduced fares policy was at the very centre of all its policies for Greater London. In my view, resignation would be the correct, proper and honourable course. A new round of GLC elections is required so that new political programmes can be produced and put to the electorate, taking into account this historic decision by the Law Lords and present-day realities. However, we all know that that will not happen. Mr. Livingstone will limp on, and no doubt the occasional Conservative councillor in the borough elections next year will be saved partly by this Bennite bogeyman.

We also have the unusual sight of the Labour majority in County Hall appealing to the likes of me and other Tory Back Benchers to come out of the outer suburbs and rescue them by pressing the Government to pass instant legislation and open the Treasury coffers. They would have a better chance if they had not kicked my constituents in the teeth during the past seven months, and if they had not used County Hall as an artillery park from which to bombard the Palace of Westminster and Whitehall in general. They would have had a better chance if they had acted in a reasonable and fair-handed way and taken into account the well-publicised block grant penalties which have cost London £50 million.

I admit that I have mixed feelings on the ruling. A great hurrah comes from my constituency of Bexleyheath. The reduced fares scheme is highly unpopular. We have no Underground—only a weak, weary and hopelessly inadequate bus service. I do not for a moment believe the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) when he says that, by and large, the same people who use London Transport pay the rates. That is untrue. The majority of rates are paid by the business community, and in London a very large number of visitors travel on the London transport system, especially those from abroad.

The supplementary rate posed a real headache for a large number of constituents. They had no money on the mantelpiece waiting for such a bill to come through their doors. But I regard the GLC as a strategic authority and as such, it must have powers to make wide-ranging decisions about the transport in Greater London.

As Lord Denning pointed out, so much seemed to depend on this inside-outside word "economic". My view and that of my party is that we need to invest in London Transport and not to destroy the incentive to efficient operation by indiscriminate revenue subsidies. They do nothing to increase the reliability of the service. They do everything to add to the ratepayers' burden.

That being said, surely, in theory, and having seen the practices in operation in other Western cities, the level of public funding and the manner of funding should be matters within the control of the GLC, as they are in Paris, Bonn and New York. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary will make it clear in due course that London is not now in a less favourable position than the other great cities in our land and in the Western world.

Mr. Spearing

But it is.

Mr. Townsend

I read with some astonishment the comments of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), claiming that this judgment was parliamentarily an extra-political instrument. Nothing could be further from the truth. His statement is part of the Labour Party's growing campaign against the judiciary, in which the Leader of the Opposition has played an ignoble part. The Law Lords did nothing but interpret the law as they found it.

What is the way forward for transport policy in Greater London and the South-East? Obviously we want a comprehensive and balanced approach, with not only more efficient and reliable public transport but better roads and more effective traffic constraints.

I deal briefly with roads. I hope that we shall learn the cost of one year's delay in building the M25. I have been told that it might be about £100 million. The north-west sector of that road is in an appalling state. I am not convinced that all is being done to avoid unnecessary administrative delay. I welcome my hon. and learned Friend's comments on the East London river crossing. It will help my constituents, and it is essential for dockland.

It would be foolish for authorities, especially local authorities, not to take more positive measures to deal with the basic problem of the ever-increasing demand for the available road space. The situation in central London is chaotic. A number of people park their cars illegally and never pay a penalty. There is a great shortage of traffic wardens. More money should be set aside for recruiting and paying them. They have a public job to perform. If a law is needed, we should have it. If we have it, it should be enforced. The law is being brought into disrepute if it is not enforced properly.

I say a brief word about violence on public transport, but I shall not repeat some of my comments advanced in an Adjournment debate on the subject. I congratulate the Government on increasing the number of transport police and on allowing the special patrol groups to be used in the Underground system, but the number of assaults remains very high, and hon. Members must unite to rid our public transport subways and systems of these vandals and vicious, violent criminals.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, recognising the crucial importance of good communications to business and social life, urges Her Majesty's Government to give high priority to the co-ordinated development and improvement of facilities for travel, whether by road, rail, sea, air, river or canal, in the capital city of London and the surrounding area of which it forms the focus, together with a matching modem telecommunications and postal network, so as to create conditions conducive to resumed economic growth and a rising standard of living