§ Order for Second Reading read.12.33 pm
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will be aware that the Bill has already had one majority in the House. Like the Bill that the House was last discussing, this is a measure designed to help the consumer, in this instance the consumers of transport in London, of whom there are many millions. It is a simple Bill, designed to do two things: first, to clarify the law, which is now in confusion on this matter and, secondly, to prevent major damage being done to London Transport and London's economy by excessively high fares. It is a moderate Bill that treats the problem for what it is: a serious economic issue affecting about 10 million people in Greater London. It is not a subject for party political slogans.
The Bill does not enforce or recommend any particular transport policy or level of fares. It retains the principle to which the Law Lords paid so much attention, and that is that London Transport must balance current revenue and expenditure as far as is practicable. However, it makes clear beyond further legal doubt that for this purpose grants from the GLC may be counted as revenue by London Transport. There is nothing revolutionary about that. That is already done as an accounting practice, for instance by London Country, and Green Line, by many non-London Transport authorities and by London Transport until a few months ago.
The Bill assumes that some public grant will be made to London Transport by the Government, as is done already both for London Transport and many other public transport authorities. However, the Bill leaves the question of policy and the amount of the grant to be decided by the two elected public authorities concerned—the Government for their subsidy and, for the rates grant, the GLC, elected by the London electorate and London ratepayers. Surely that is a reasonable and democratic arrangement, which was approved by the House when the Bill that we are amending was passed in 1969. The limited powers in my Bill are naturally granted not just to the present GLC but to any GLC that London electors choose to put into office from time to time.
The then Minister of Transport, Mr. Richard Marsh—now Lord Marsh—in moving the Second Reading of the 1969 Bill in the House on 17 December 1968 said:The basic purpose of the Bill is to place the main responsibilities for transport in London where, in my view, they belong—with the people of London through their elected representatives on the Greater London Council."—[Official Report, 17 December 1968; Vol. 775, c. 1244.]Later, in Committee, he said:if a democratically elected local authority decides that it wishes to spend its rates in a particular way for the benefit of its electors it is a rather unconstitutional theory that Parliament should tell the authority that Parliament knows best."—[Official Report, Standing CommitteeA, 27 March 1969; c. 48.]It is fair that some subsidy should go to London Transport from Government funds both because many people, including tourists from abroad who are not London ratepayers travel on London Transport, and because the existence of London Transport services greatly assists the London car commuter by reducing congestion in the 557 streets. During the strike about two months ago I found that, owing to the congestion in the streets, the time taken to reach Westminster was double the normal time because London Transport services were not operating. That shows that the London car commuter, even though he does not use London Transport services, is greatly benefited by their existence.
Sir Peter Masefield, the chairman of London Transport, has suggested that, in line with most other great cities in the world, London Transport current costs should be covered as to about half by fare revenue and half by public subsidies. That is, I think, reasonable, but no precise amounts are laid down in the Bill.
The alternative to this legislation is a legal muddle on the one hand and damage to London's economic life on the other hand.
§ Mr. Jay
At present we have both. It is a muddle because even the legal advisers of the GLC and of London Transport take a different view of what the Lords' judgment means. One object of the Bill, therefore, is to restore respect for the law by giving it clarity and enabling it to be carried out.
Secondly, great damage is being done to London Transport. On the cautious interpretation of the Law Lords' judgment adopted by London Transport, that judgment now legally requires London Transport to do something that is commercially impossible—that is balance revenue and costs without counting grants from the rates as revenue. However, the effort to do what is impossible must inevitably mean, as it already means, worse services, prohibitive fares, less investment, lost employment, and a vicious circle of decline in London transport. Fares will not merely rise, as they rose by 100 per cent. in March of this year, but they will have to go on rising if this legal situation continues.
The cut in fares in October 1981 led to a rise in passenger journeys of about 11 per cent. on the buses and 7 per cent. on the underground—that was a rise in productivity and efficiency, which nowadays we are all being urged to promote. The increase in traffic, of course, means a rise in productivity, if the same number of drivers and conductors in the same hours carry more passengers. That is what productivity means.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
Surely productivity is a function of revenue earned as well, and to ignore that factor is grossly to over-simplify the argument.
§ Mr. Jay
Clearly the hon. Gentleman has much to learn. I remind him that I am presenting a noncontroversial Bill.
The doubling of fares on 21 March this year has already led to a loss of more than 15 per cent. in passenger traffic on London Transport. Indeed, London Transport informed me yesterday that, as a result, it has lost 1 million bus passengers every day. That is a fall in productivity, as I think all those who understand this subject will agree.
If, however, people cannot travel to work, general employment will be lost—not just employment on London Transport—and the whole of London's business life will suffer. The cost of travel to work is, of course, a part of the cost of production of all London business. The theatre 558 business is the latest to protest about the effects on that riot inconsiderable London business. Nowadays we sometimes forget that the original LCC tramways were started with low fares 70 or 80 years ago, precisely to help those on very low pay. What were called "workmen's fares", as most right hon. and hon. Members present will remember, continued until only a generation ago. We are in danger of forgetting that low-cost travel to work benefits the whole community and not just the travellers themselves.
§ Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)
The right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke about employment prospects. Does he agree that, had the original proposals been carried through, as we were promised, they would have had an even worse effect on employment prospects because of the impossible rating charge that many businesses in London would have faced?
§ Mr. Jay
That is precisely the point to which I was coming.
Against that, the cost to the average London domestic ratepayer of the reduced fares introduced last autumn was less per week than the cost of one gallon of petrol. That is the shattering burden about which we are arguing and which we are told would have such a dreadful effect on London.
We must remember that about two-thirds of the GIC and ILEA rate that would have been imposed by the supplementary rate of last winter was due to the Secretary of State for the Environment's cut in rate support grant. It had nothing to do with London Transport. That must be made clear.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that that happened because of gross overspending by the GLC and ILEA, which resulted in penalties.
§ Mr. Jay
I shall not give way.
The present situation also involves an unjustified discrimination against London. Thanks to a more recent judgment in Merseyside by another learned judge, the transport authority there is given powers which are denied London. In Greater Manchester, British Rail services raised only about 47 per cent. of total costs from fares revenue in 1980–81. That figure was provided by Ministers. The Tyne and Wear authority raised only 43 per cent. of total costs. After all, both British Rail and the National Bus Company receive substantial national subsidies.
As has been constantly pointed out in the House, in the great cities overseas only about 50 per cent. of costs are covered by fares revenue. Indeed, in New York, Paris and Brussels the figure is well under 50 per cent. Even under the low fares in London last winter, 54 per cent. of revenue would have been covered from fares, but after the rise of 31 March the figure will be between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent., which is greater than in any city here or overseas.
559 Unlike some Government Members who seem to suffer from political prejudice, Sir Peter Masefield, who knows far more about transport than I or they, has given his support to my Bill in a letter to me in which he says:Your proposals are certainly most helpful and I would like to think they may be accepted.The Bill has the support of the travelling public, from whom I have received thousands of signatures in petitions and hundreds of letters, the chairman of London Transport, the unions representing London Transport employees, the Town and Country Planning Association and the Greater London Council.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant (Harrow, Central)
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the description of the support that he has been given from Sir Peter Masefield, does he also agree with Sir Peter Masefield that control of London Transport should be taken right away from the GLC?
§ Mr. Jay
That does not arise under the Bill. I shall be glad to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman later and I am sure that I shall be able to convince him of my view.
In addition to the bodies that I have already mentioned, the Financial Times, not a Marxist organ, said in a leading article on 25 March:We welcome the short Bill introduced by Mr. Douglas Jay to amend the drafting of the 1969 Legislation … We hope … that there are enough Conservative MPs with open minds to give this Bill a chance of passage when it comes up for 2nd Reading next month.
The Sunday Times, another non-Marxist organ, said that the Government
by legislating clear transport subsidy powers for councils, could show that it genuinely respects the principle of democratic local government.
The Government would be saved much future trouble if they took over the Bill. I am sure that they could improve the drafting and I should be only too pleased if they would do so. When the majority of hon. Members, Sir Peter Masefield, the users and employees of London Transport, the Financial Times, The Sunday Timesand the GLC are all agreed, they surely cannot be wrong.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Reginald Eyre)
I awaited the speech of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) with great interest and listened to it with great attention. After all, here is a Bill which is a parliamentary curiosity—the only one in my experience in the House which has been marketed through advertisements in the press and in other ways as if it had the remarkable quality, hitherto unknown to the House, of producing enormous financial benefits without any financial cost.
The GLC has implied in its advertisements that the Bill will provide London overnight with a low fares system and more numerous services, no matter whether those services are needed, and that it will somehow do that without costing anything. At least, there is nothing on the coupons or advertisements about the price tag or who pays it.
The GLC advertising campaign was based on distortion, misrepresentation and suppression of the truth and was a scandalous misuse of public funds.
The Bill provides that London Transport can be givena reasonable level of … supportbut it does not say what that level of support should be or how it should be paid for.
560 If the object of the exercise is to avoid future confusion and uncertainty, we do not know how that will be achieved, because we must never forget that it was the unreasonableness of the GLC's actions which produced the present high-fares, high-rates position.
The Bill does not clarify the situation or tell us what is reasonable, and it does not tell us who will pay or how the cost will be met. The Bill, the advertisements and the coupons fail to spell out the plain facts. Therefore, I am obliged to fill in some of the gaps that result from the suppression of the facts about the costs involved.
The facts concerning the cost of cheap fares are that the maintenance of the GLC's low fares policy would have almost trebled the rates increase in the GLC's precept for next year compared with when the present council took over, and that that excessive rates burden would have continued to rise year by year. Next year, the transport element in the typical householder's rate bill would have risen tenfold. That would have cost ratepayers—including people in some of the outer boroughs who make relatively little use of London's transport services—an extra £250 million next year.
§ Mr. Jay
Will the Minister explain that those figures have validity only on the assumption of the present crazy arrangements introduced by the Secretary of State for the Environment? If the rate support grant arrangements were still what they were two years ago, those figures would be very much less.
§ Mr. Eyre
Let me now dispose of another misunderstanding and mistake relating to the block grant. It is argued that the burden on the ratepayers is not the result of the GLC's ill-conceived policies but is caused by the Government's grant system. The grant system is not an evil mechanism invented to chastise the GLC. It is a system agreed by the House to achieve fairness between rich and poor authorities across the country within the resources available.
The grant penalties operate evenhandedly upon the authorities which fail to reduce expenditure in line with the reductions being asked of local government as a whole. The GLC would have had nothing to fear from this if it had continued to give London Transport a reasonable—indeed, substantial—level of subsidy, as accepted by my right hon. Friend in allocating the TSG which it receives in cash. It was excessive expenditure in other directions that brought about the difficulties. London's ratepaying old-age pensioners would have had to pay for low-cost travel for all and sundry, without any benefit to themselves.
Returning to the cost of the policy, by 1984–85, the extra cost would have risen to over £400 million per annum. The total extra cost of the low fares over the next four years would have been about £1,200 million. Not only that, but two-thirds of London's rates are borne by industry and commerce, which have no votes in the local ballot box, yet whose continued prosperity is vital to all Londoners.
Each £5,000 on the commercial ratepayer's bill is equivalent to the pay of a full-time employee. The imposition planned by the GLC would have meant the loss of thousands of jobs in London, at a time when the GLC is proposing to spend many millions of pounds of ratepayers' money to create job opportunities.
I want now to give further facts about public support given to public transport. First, each year about £1,200 561 million is being provided in support of the bus and rail services. The Government have made it clear that they believe it is right and proper that subsidies should continue to be paid to provide essential public services and to keep them going.
Each year London Transport has received—and will receive in 1982—about £250 million in public money, of which about £100 million is provided by national taxpayers. On that basis, that will be a subsidy of £1,000 million over the current four years that the GLC hopes to have as its electoral term. These are enormous sums in terms of public expenditure. That means that London Transport has received over 50p in grant for every pound earned from the fare box. In addition, London's British Rail commuter services receive an annual subsidy of about £150 million.
A great deal of misunderstanding can arise with regard to international comparisons. International comparisons of the kind quoted, particularly in the pamphlet, are slick and misleading. They blur the real issues of how to provide London with the best and most efficient public transport system that we can afford.
A great deal of misinformation is being purveyed in the GLC's figures for the level of subsidy to London. The GLC's London Transport figure is plainly wrong. London Transport gets a subsidy equivalent to about 33 per cent. of its costs. In addition, it gets its capital entirely free and has no burden of interest charges. Therefore, I emphasise that there are many factors that we need to know about before international comparisons are misleadingly entered into.
Let me spell out the right way forward. Last month, following a meeting with the GLC, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the GLC requiring it, as a matter of urgency, to carry out its duty to develop policies to promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities in London, and to reflect that in the transport policies and programme document that must be submitted to him later this summer.
In his letter to the GLC, my right hon. Friend said:Such an approach is the essential basis for discharging your duty—that is the duty of the GLC—to Londoners and for striking a balance between all the interests concerned in allocating resources. I have made clear my view—and indeed as I have said the recent transport supplementary grant settlements have reflected this—that London needs substantial resources for public transport.That is agreed. My right hon. Friend continued:What I asked you to do was to examine carefully how Londoners can get better bus and tube services with the resources I have indicated as likely to be available. Hypothetical plans that have no money basis are worthless.My right hon. Friend went on to suggest that the GLC should prepare a plan, taking as a starting assumption the level of resources approved following the transport policies and programme last year, to spell out how Londoners could get better bus and tube services for this money, to consider who should benefit from the subsidy and to analyse just where the money is now being spent, who is benefiting from it and the areas where there is scope for change to target resources more effectively.
That is the task that faces the GLC this summer. As that letter that I have quoted makes crystal clear, my right hon. Friend has already given the GLC a firm practical basis from which to move forward. It must prepare proper plans for London Transport within the resources available. It has been given a clear benchmark of the resources against which to plan—the transport supplementary grant 562 settlement this year. That gave London 40 per cent. of all the money that he provided nationally through the TSG for local authority local transport.
It is disappointing that London, pre-empting such a high level of national resources, should have failed to achieve the levels of efficiency and productivity of the passenger transport executives in other major conurbations. Had London done so, savings of at least £80 million would have been available to lower fares.
Moreover, the GLC has been told that if, when its considered plan, based on the reasonable subsidy that I have described, is brought forward, we find that any real legal difficulties exist, we are prepared to consider whether amendment of the law is needed. My right hon. Friend has made that clear repeatedly. The position is secure. However, rushing into instant legislation to turn the clock back—the GLC's advertisements associated with the Bill make it crystal clear that that is the aim—is no solution.
Nor is the solution to bring forward a Bill of the kind before the House today, because it contains all the seeds of future contention and litigation. The right and practical way to proceed is to serve properly and responsibly the interests of passengers, ratepayers and those in the transport service industries.
§ Mr. Eyre
I am most anxious to continue.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Battersea, North that this is not the occasion to dwell at length on the future organisation of London's transport system. After the chaos and incompetence of the last 10 months, the time is clearly at hand for major change in the way that transport is organised in the capital. The Government will set out fully the ideas that are developing for a better organised system as well as taking a close interest in the proposals that the Select Committee on Transport will shortly put forward.
After the disasters, failures and illegality of the so-called experiments of recent months, the set-up cannot be left as it is. My right hon. Friend has made it clear to the GLC that he requires it to act with full responsibility. If the GLC will not put its house in order, the Government will have to impose their own solution.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I shall be brief, as many hon. Members wish to speak.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on his Bill. It has the full support of the Labour Party in the Commons and in the country. I congratulate him on his logical assessment, the way in which he has applied his mind to the problem and the clarity of his speech. I wish that I could say the same about the Under-Secretary of State. In the manner of his right hon. Friend, he has resorted to substituting abuse for logic and policy.
The GLC's policy of "Fares Fair" was fully canvassed before London's electorate. It was not illegal. The electorate was aware of what was involved and returned the Labour Party to the GLC to run the policy.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Interruptions only prolong the debate. If there are no interruptions, I can call more hon. Members.
§ Mr. Hughes
"Fares Fair" was always thought to be legal. A subsidy from the GLC to London Transport has been considered legal since 1969. Parliament's intentions were made clear at the time. The legality of the subsidy was not challenged even by GLC Tories when the matter was debated in the council chamber. No member of the Tory Party in London or in the Department of Transport can point to one instance of a Conservative in the House, in the GLC or at the GLC elections suggesting that the policy was illegal, although they argued about its wisdom and cost.
Some people got together on a Sunday and decided to challenge the policy, initially on a frivolous basis. The matter went before the courts, which agreed that it was legal. It was only finally that the Law Lords concluded that it was illegal, purely on economic definitions and on how the system should be run.
There has been argument about the decision. The Law Lords are saying that if the GLC and the London Transport Executive make a reasonable stab at a fares policy to maximise revenue but still believe that a deficit will occur, they can supply a subsidy. If they have their sums wrong and 12 months later they find that there is an even greater deficit, curiously, it appears to be legal to make up the further deficit at the end of the year. It is silly that the GLC cannot work out its level of services, the best fares for London's economic health and for social reasons and plan in advance for a deficit. That is illegal. It is nonsense to operate in that way.
Two things are wrong with the idea that a deficit cannot be planned. First, it does not allow the local authority to operate a policy taking account of social need. Secondly, it does not allow the GLC to plan transport taking into account population, getting the best use of the service and providing the widest possible service. It must take into account strict economics. Services must be cut and tube stations closed, buses can no longer be provided and the number of staff must be cut in a desperate effort to reach an economic balance.
§ Mr. Hughes
It is not dishonest. I always assumed that it was unparliamentary to use the word "dishonest" about another hon. Member and I insist that the hon. Gentleman withdraws his remark.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
I did not hear what the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) said, but if he said that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was dishonest it was unparliamentary.
§ Mr. Greenway
I used the word "dishonest", but I am certainly prepared to withdraw it if it was unparliamentary. I meant that the hon. Gentleman's remarks were totally misleading and may have come very near to being mendacious.
§ Mr. Hughes
One always knows when one has the Tories on the run on policy matters. They are reduced to abuse.
564 Everyone connected with transport—in his heart of hearts, the Under-Secretary of State knows this—understands that a good transport system is essential for our capital and for most capitals and large cities. Therefore, many major cities throughout the world have heavy public transport subsidies. I refer not to countries that are normally regarded as pillars of Socialism, but to countries such as America where Socialism is anathema and where subsidies to public and private industry are generally frowned upon. Yet the major cities in the United States of America get a high level of public support.
I must dispose of the idea that because tourists pay low fares, it somehow greatly damages London's economy and ratepayers. Conservative Members define London's ratepayers as the business ratepayers. They are not so concerned about the ordinary domestic ratepayers. However, if tourists spend less on public transport, they will have more money to spend in the shops and on goods provided by small traders, who are so dear to the hearts of Conservative Members. In that way, they provide for the ratepaying capacity of those very businesses.
The Government have refused to act. It is no use the Minister complaining about rushing into instant legislation. It is close to four months since the Law Lords' decision. There have been constant discussions between the GLC and the Department and between the Department and the Government's Law Officers. The Attorney-General took the unusual step of giving legal advice on how the GLC's transport budget stood up. That shows the law's great confusion.
When I listen to Conservative Members and to the Government, I wonder what happened to the words in their election manifesto for 1979. I thought that their great drive was to free local authorities from Whitehall control and that their argument was that the dead hand of Socialism and Whitehall under a Labour Government had stifled the initiative of local authorities. The first time that an elected local government in the capital shows some initiative, they stamp on it and refuse to help.
The Bill is both desirable and necessary and deserves full support. All those with an open mind who realise that the GLC set out to provide a proper transport policy in the interest of all Londoners and of all transport users will support the Bill. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was, surprisingly for him, long on assertion but short on logic. Another surprising feature of his delivery was that it was almost nice enough to have one believe that it came from an SDP spokesman. However, it has many nasty consequences, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State rightly pointed out.
§ Mr. Anthony Grant
While my hon. Friend is paying tribute to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)——
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Perhaps it is easier for a Scotsman to be generous in such matters when he is talking about London.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
I am surprised to find so much support for the Scottish National Party on the Conservative Benches. I should declare an interest in that I am a London ratepayer.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
That is lucky, because the interests of the ratepayers of South London were well upheld in another place. Bromley council was right to bring the case. However, the ratepayers of North London think quite differently about these matters.
The consequences to the ratepayers of London cannot be emphasised enough. The inequalities of the domestic rating system were well brought out by my hon. Friend the Minister, but because 62 per cent. of all rates are contributed by industrial and commercial enterprises there are grave consequences for jobs. The Conservative group on the GLC computed that about 33,000 jobs will be lost in London this year as a direct consequence of the 91 per cent. increase in the GLC rate burden.
However, it would be wrong for me to conceal the fact that the latest increases in London Transport fares, which were introduced on 21 March, are almost intolerable, especially for those who must commute to work from the outlying parts of London to the City and the West End by underground. I shall give some examples of what is involved. A constituent who lives in Northwood Hill—[Interruption.] Hon. Members laugh, but if they had to commute to work, did not have travel warrants, earned very little and had to pay the increased fares, they would not laugh.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Last year my constituent's season ticket to Kings Cross cost £339. When he renews his ticket it will cost £832. There is only one British Rail station in Ruislip-Northwood—West Ruislip. It provides fairly infrequent services to Marylebone, which is not convenient for the City of London. A season ticket from West Ruislip to Marylebone costs £446, but if one commutes from Eastcote or Ruislip to the City by underground the season ticket costs £986. If one wishes to travel from those stations or from Northwood to the West End, the season ticket costs almost £800.
Those fares are savage and it is right that we should inquire why they have become necessary. If we do so, we may find some facts that are unpalatable to Labour Members but none the less true. The first is that the increases are largely due to the unhelpful attitude of the GLC. My hon. Friend was entirely right to remind the House that £250,000 of ratepayers' money has been spent on the unscrupulous campaign on this issue that has been waged politically by the GLC.
That money could have been used much more responsibly for providing incentives and bonuses to London Transport employees to think up new ideas to rationalise the services and to provide a more efficient service to the travelling public. That would have been responsible and right. Instead, the whole campaign has been directed to preserve the status quo and to maintain London Transport's bad old ways. It has been political Luddism of the first order.
Let us consider what those bad old ways are. Overmanning is certainly one example. Another which 566 readily springs to mind is that the Socialist GLC disbursed £50 per London Transport employee to offset the supplementary rate increase that they, with other Londoners, would have to pay. Yet when rebates were given following the Law Lords' judgment, the extra VA) was consolidated into their level of remuneration for this year. "Consolidated" is the right word, because it is a bit thick for others in London to have to tolerate that kind of thing.
Last year, London Transport employees received an 11 per cent. pay increase from the GLC in May when the bus drivers had already settled in April for 8 per cent. The GLC insisted that London Transport take on more staff than was strictly necessary and run more services than could be proved to be required.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
No, I shall not give way.
The Standard, in some excellent investigative journalism which has not been denied by London Transport, showed, for instance, that the underground train maintenance workshops at Acton were poorly managed, that so-called "idle time" on the part of employees had been allowed to continue and that other scandalous inefficiencies of that nature had not been put right.
The Bill in no way meets the current needs. It simply suggests that the GLC should provide more grants to London Transport. Like the chairman of London Transport and my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), I believe that London Transport's service is far too important to be left under the jurisdiction of the GLC. It should be made into an autonomous public corporation under the most capable management that can be found. The services should be automated and the overmanning that characterises it must be eradicated. I am sure that the entire ticketing and fares collection process could be automated, as it is in other major cities. Moreover, with today's technology, it is certainly possible to operate one-man underground trains.
Only when the most fundamental review of London Transport's operations has taken place and every step has been taken to rationalise its services should further subsidy be considered. I know that the Select Committee on Transport is looking into these matters and is empowered to call for persons and papers. More than enough persons have called to see me at my surgery and to lobby me in the House. As for papers, I have a mass of documentation from my constituents. I do not need any further evidence. My constituents know the burden of fares that they must bear.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
Only if no further savings from greater efficiency can be found should further subsidies be provided. Moreover, if subsidies are provided, they should come from the national Exchequer and not from the pockets of the hard-pressed ratepayers of London.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
In conclusion, it is well worth remembering how London Transport fares have escalated in the past eight years. If one takes an index of 100 in 567 1974, the RPI in 1979 was 204 and the London Transport index 296. In 1980, the figure for the RPI was 239 and for London Transport 445. How does it happen that London Transport is already showing its inefficiencies? In 1981, the figure for the RPI was 276 and for London Transport 515. In 1982, the figure for the RPI was 309 and for London Transport the index was 423 before 21 March and 846 after 21 March.
Those statistics are fairly conclusive in showing not only that inefficiency started long before the change of administration at County Hall but also that the consequences of what has since happened need to be urgently considered by the Government. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport has reinforced what was stated by Lord Bellwin in another place on 5 April, thatthe Government are not ruling out the possibility of the legislation"—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 1982; Vol. 429, c. 69.]It is essential to take away the GLC's jurisdiction over London Transport. London Transport is too important to be a party political football—[Interruption.] What the travelling public needs is efficient management and dedication to providing the best possible service.
One fundamental way in which the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, of all people, proved the defectiveness of his reasoning and of his logic was to say that by reducing fares London Transport had increased productivity. I believe productivity to be the ratio between revenue and labour costs. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that the staffing had remained the same. The remuneration most certainly has not increased, which means that the wage bill has stayed the same. But the income went down—[Interruption.]—because only 7 per cent.—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is a serious matter. It does not help if hon. Members shout across the Chamber their disagreement.
§ Mr. Wilkinson
—because only 7 per cent. more passengers were carried on the tube and only 11 per cent. more on the buses for a 25 per cent. decrease in fares.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
I intend to be brief in support of the Bill put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I congratulate him on seizing the initiative. I had hoped to hear from Government Members some criticism of the Bill. Instead, all that we have heard—I include the speech of the Minister who ought to know better—has been a blatant party political attack upon the leadership of the Greater London Council. The only exception that I could detect in the Minister's speech was his criticism of the word "reasonable" in the Bill—a word that, I may say, appears in the provisions of the Local Government Act 1972 relating to the surcharging of councillors. If the district auditor is able to make his decision on the basis of that which is reasonable, he will have precisely the same power when my right hon. Friend's Bill becomes law in relation to the word "reasonable".
I understand that my right hon. Friend seeks to achieve the very laudable and sensible objective of bringing the position in law with regard to London more in accord with 568 the position, as Mr. Justice Woolf held in a very clear judgment, in which the law stands in relation to Merseyside. When I think of the circumstances in which the London (Transport) Bill became law, including the quotations from Lord Marsh, which were read to the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North in his opening remarks, and when I think that the climate of opinion when that Bill was enacted was very much more in favour of the provision of subsidies than it was when earlier legislation affecting the rest of the country was passed—as Lord Diplock said in his judgment in the GLC case—it seems extraordinary that London should be under greater restrictions than the rest of the country.
Congestion in London is so much greater than elsewhere and, therefore, its needs are greater. That being so, it becomes even more extraordinary that the Government, in the person of the Under-Secretary of State, should seek to perpetuate the penal effect of legislation, as it has been interpreted, on London as distinct from the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Silkin
No. I want other hon. Members to have the opportunity to participate in the debate.
The limited purpose of the Bill is one that serves not only social objectives—this was a major factor in the speeches of the Law Lords—but a major economic objective that was totally ignored by the Under-Secretary of State. I thought that the hon. Gentleman's speech would contain some reference to the economic factors. Of course, he told us all about the economic factors on the ratepayers' side, which I accept, but there is an economic balance. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the economic consequences of congested roads—the need to create road widening schemes, the need to pull down serviceable buildings and the need to destroy industries and commerce and to relocate them. Those are the heavy economic costs of a public transport system that is not making adequate provision for the people of the metropolis. That is true. I have seen it throughout my political life in local government and in the House. It is more true in London, with all its traffic and congestion, than anywhere else in the country, yet London is treated worse than other areas. Apparently that is what the Government want to perpetuate.
The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) poured scorn on those from North London who have the benefit of the underground compared with those in South London who have not. I represent a constituency that does not have an underground station within it. However, of the enormous number of letters and petitions that I have received, both in support of the "Fares Fair" policy and of my right hon. Friend's Bill, and in opposition to it, 100 to one are in favour of the principle enshrined in the Bill, notwithstanding the fact that my constituents, who will be paying the rates—I accept that they have buses but the services are limited in many instances —cannot board an underground train without going outside my constituency. If anyone suggests that the 569 people of London who do not have the immediate benefit of the services that we want to make it easier to provide are not in favour of that provision, that is not my experience. I hope that the House will bear that in mind and strongly support the Bill.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
There is much that I wish to say, but I shall endeavour to keep my remarks brief, because many hon. Members wish to speak. Two hours is an inadequate period in which to debate this matter. I trust that as the management of this morning's business was in the hands of the Opposition, we shall not hear any gnashing of teeth at 2.30 when they complain that they have not managed to reach a conclusion, because it would be false of them to do so.
The behaviour of the GLC has been scandalous. I am ashamed that it has come to this pass. Having served for six years on that authority, I cannot imagine how it could have sunk to such a low level.
Last night, I went with a colleague to another hon. Member's flat. Having arrived there, we found that he had received election literature issued by the Labour Party. Enclosed within it was some literature from the GLC without an election imprint on the "Fares Fair" policy. I shall be interested to see what will happen later when we have further appeals to the House of Lords over election jiggery-pockery. There will be more cries from the Opposition about what is happening to their colleagues in local government because they have not been acting in accordance with election law. They always want things altered in a way to suit themselves. That is a deplorable state of affairs. Much of the money that is now being spent by the GLC is purely and simply for political purposes. I would not be surprised to find many of the workshops that have been set up to do things, such as printing, at the ratepayers' expense are also used to produce Labour Party literature.
§ Mr. Greenway
Is my hon. Friend saying that the literature to which he has referred, issued on a political basis by the GLC, is in addition to all the political literature issued by the GLC on its fares campaign at a cost to ratepayers of more than £250,000?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is tempted to go down that lane, I remind him that he should confine his remarks to the Bill.
§ Mr. Thorne
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought that was an important point, as this is in a local government election period.
Opposition Members are reluctant to accept that, in 1969, there was no intention to give a completely free hand to the GLC to give whatever subsidies it wished. The Government of the day were in the hands of the Labour Party and they were anxious to be rid of the London Transport problem. They wanted to pass it to the GLC, which was reluctant to take over without considerable guarantees.
I remember the negotiations and the number of times the GLC, of which I was a member, refused to accept the terms offered. We felt that London Transport should not be taken over unless there were strict safeguards for ratepayers. We did not want an albatross to be hung around the necks of Londoners. We made sure that the offer would 570 not be on that basis. We also ensured that the whole network—the stations, lines, plant and equipment—was all handed over free of cost to the GLC. That point is not taken into account in any calculation being made of the subsidy.
We could consider the costs involved in other cities, such as New York, and in many German cities. What about interest rates? No interest is payable on the cost of those items to London. It was a free gift, but interest rates have to be taken into account by all those cities in Germany, the United States and elsewhere in the world when they put in their capital equipment. I give way to the hon. Gentleman who made the accusation.
§ Mr. Race
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. Is he aware that the Greater London Council is not alone among public authorities in having interest-free loans? What about the nuclear power stations built by the CEGB? None of the interest payable on the construction of those nuclear power stations is chargeable to the CEGB. The situation is not unique. Why does the hon. Gentleman pretend that it is?
§ Mr. Thorne
I do not pretend that it is unique. I am saying that Labour Members are less than honest if they do no accept that the subsidies that we give to London Transport are subsidies for its day-to-day running. Hidden subsidies are included by way of the free plant and materials that were given in 1969. Such subsidies were not given to the networks in New York, Paris, Germany and elsewhere, where interest is still calculated and paid. If we took that into account, we should have a very different picture.
It is clear that we should expect to subsidise public transport, and I am entirely in favour of doing that, but the subsidies should be understood to be fair and equitable.
§ Mr. Chapman
My hon. Friend says that we are in favour of subsidising public transport, and he is absolutely right, but is he aware that in a public expenditure White Paper the Socialist Government explicitly and unequivoc-ally stated:the Government's policy is progressively to reduce the level of such subsidies … In allocating the subsidy between authorities … the Government have made a substantial shift away from holding down fares in the major conurbations … It intends to continue this shift of support in future years"?One of the architects of that White Paper was a London Labour Member of Parliament, the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore).
§ Mr. Thorne
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said. It was something that the Labour Party said in one of its saner moments, which it does not seem to have very often now.
Clearly subsidies should be given to help London Transport, but the subsidies should be kept in proper bounds. That was the whole aim of the 1969 Act. As far as I am aware, it was the aim of all administrations at County Hall from there until this year. The intention was to look after London Transport and to make sure that it had adequate resources for its day-to-day operation. It has to be borne in mind that 80 per cent. of its total costs are paid in wages. The GLC did not want an open-ended purse, because it knew what would happen if the trade unions got their sticky fingers into the public purse. The effect could be extremely damaging.
We were given an example of the subsidies that are given to the Paris transport system, but it completely 571 ignored the fact that there is no argument there about flexible rostering of seven or nine hours. There is flexible rostering in Paris. One day the railway worker expects to do two hours and the next day he is quite happy to do 10 hours. Here members of ASLEF are absolutely adamant that they are not prepared to budge fron an eight-hour day. That means, of course, that they often work less than five hours a day.
§ Mr. Les Huckfield (Nuneaton)
Will the hon. Gentleman also quote the differences in wages between the two types of engine driver?
§ Mr. Thorne
I should love to mention the differences in wages. Those who earn their wages by allowing flexible rostering deserve to be paid more than those who are not prepared to operate such a system. If I had my way, employees would receive no extra increase until they saw the way ahead into the twentieth century. We cannot continue to bury our heads in the 1919 period. We must move forward like everyone else.
§ Mr. Dobson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to refer to a matter which exclusively relates to British Rail and has no impact whatsoever on London Transport?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
This is a Second Reading debate. The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) was answering a question put to him by an Opposition Member. He is entitled to do that, but not at great length.
§ Mr. Thorne
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
One cannot compare the transport network in London with the transport networks in Germany, America and Paris because they operate in different circumstances. The workers there are more realistic in their approach. They understand that it is important to give a service to the people who use the undertakings if they are to continue in business and make it worth while for the rest of the community to subsidise them.
Giving a completely free hand to dip into the taxpayers' pocket at national or local level leads to gross inefficiency. That is what we must expect from an undertaking such as London Transport.
Let us examine the attitude of the Opposition to the method of subsidy. It is incredible that they should be so worried about protecting the interests of people who come from the stockbroker belt immediately outside the GLC area at the expense of Greater London ratepayers. I do not understand their logic. I do not understand why the Opposition are so keen to increase the value of property in central London by reducing the fares for travelling to and from such property.
It is obvious that if fares for travelling to and from the centre are made extremely cheap, at the expense of businesses outside, the value of central London premises will increase because the people who occupy them will be able to afford to pay more in rent. I do not understand Labour Party logic in trying to increase the value of property in central London. It does not make sense.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Surely the hon. Gentleman recognises that the economic costs of central London congestion affect every Londoner.
§ Mr. Thorne
Indeed. The GLC has said that the "Fares Fair" policy was expected to reduce congestion by only 1 per cent. If such enormous expenditure reduced congestion by 50 per cent., or even 25 per cent., I might be prepared to go some way with that proposition, but to spend £400 million a year to reduce congestion by 1 per cent. is not in my view good value for money.
It is wrong to finance such an arrangement at the expense of people, such as pensioners, who will not benefit. It is immoral to make those who are fighting to make a business pay on the outskirts of London subsidise through their rates the costs of people travelling to the centre. It is logical that people who live in the centre of the city should expect to pay more for their accommodation. A business in the centre should expect to pay extra for that privilege and to pay their staff extra, too.
Firms either pay extra because their business is in the centre of town or, if they have branches all over the country, they must pay their staff who work in the centre of London an extra weighting allowance. Every civil servant and bank official who works in the centre of London expects extra pay to cover the cost of getting to work or the cost of living in the centre of the city. Any benefit acquired by a reduction in fares is only a short-term benefit to the employee as it filters through the system within a year.
§ Mr. Thorne
They are part of the cost, one way or the other. There is either an allowance paid to staff or an increased rent to the landlord of the business's property. There may be a short-term advantage for about a year, but there will be no long-term advantage. Anyone who thinks differently has not thought the matter through.
The Bill is providing a gift—at someone else's expense of course. All Socialist gifts are at someone else's expense. No thought has been given to the long-term cost.
I was in business in outer London. I paid my staff less than they would have got in central London because I expected to do less business in outer London. I would have been extremely resentful if at the same time I had been expected to pay higher rates to get other people's staff into the middle of London. The very idea is monstrous, but it is typical of those who try to engineer things as part of an overall plan, and it is also typical of what is going on in the GLC.
I am appalled by the GLC's behaviour. I earnestly request my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look carefully at what is happening in the GLC and, if he shares my view that the council is not conducting itself properly in the running of London Transport, to introduce legislation to take this duty away from it. If that is done, and bearing in mind that so much else has already been removed from its responsibilities, perhaps the Government will then consider whether or not we need the GLC at all.
§ Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), not just on introducing the Bill but on the way that he did so. His speech was non-controversial and he stuck to the point of trying to bring sanity into what is fast becoming a chaotic situation for London Transport.
573 I had hoped that my right hon. Friend's speech would set the tone for the debate and that we would have a constructive discussion about putting the position back to where we all, including Conservative Members, thought that it was before the Law Lords' ruling. Unfortunately, instead of that, we have been harangued by a series of party political broadcasts that have not recognised the problems facing London Transport and its users and have not suggested solutions. Even the Under-Secretary's proposed way forward is not a way out of the impasse.
We ought to accept the Bill and restore the position that obtained before the recent fares increase. We would then have time to discuss the long-term legislative steps that are necessary to tidy up transport matters not only in London, but throughout the country. To mix them up in one hotchpotch of party political broadcasts, with an eye on the local elections, is not the way to approach matters, and it was not the way in which my right hon. Friend, who introduced the debate, approached them.
The case for an adequate subsidised transport system is unanswerable. My right hon. Friend, in introducing the measure, showed how, for the time being, it could be done through the Bill. He quoted at length many other sources of expert opinion which now favours this kind of sensible approach to the problems of London Transport. That is why the Bill does not find favour on the Conservative Benches.
The arguments are well known, well rehearsed and well publicised, and have not been answered by any speaker in the debate. Hon. Members have spoken of the letters they have received. We did not hear whether they were for or against, but I suspect that most of them were in favour of the "Fares Fair" campaign. There may well be one or two against, but the support shown for the GLC's transport policy in correspondence has probably been heavier than on any other single issue for the past two or three years.
Most of us have received correspondence, and it is not only from people who support the Labour Party. I have received hundreds of letters from people who support the Government on every other issue except this one, and who are now asking me to impress on the Government the need for the Bill in order to get the position back to what it was before the Law Lords' ruling.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours
Is my hon. Friend aware that support for the Bill goes far and wide throughout the country? In Workington there is support for the Bill because it can have a direct impact on the jobs of 400 people in my constituency. We produce the Titan bus for London. The low fares policy pursued by the GLC policy under Ken Livingstone had the effect of increasing bus orders for Titan in Workington. All that has been prejudiced as a result of the Government's policy in failing to respond to the needs of public transport in London, and in wiping out 1 million passengers a day from the books of London Transport, thereby reducing the amount of money that it has available and the demand for the type of bus made in Workington. That is a dreadful betrayal of the Government's strategy as it affects our people. Throughout the country—and certainly in my constituency—there is firm support for this piece of legislation.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention because it underlines what we have been saying in London—that it is not solely a London problem, 574 and that there are areas up and down the country where the effect is quite dramatic. My hon. Friend has raised a very serious question, and those who are concerned about jobs will have listened carefully to what he said. We understand the roll-on effect of the reduction in the numbers of people using public transport, and the reduction in revenue which arises as a result. We know the great effect on employment in London, which is now spreading further afield. I hope that Conservative Members who weep crocodile tears about unemployment will have listened to the debate. Some may have been involved in other areas of the country where the effect may be similar. I am very grateful for the intervention.
§ Mr. Squire
Prior to the intervention of the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), I was trying to intervene on the specific point that he was making about the weight of correspondence that he has received, and which we have all received. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that so accurate were the GLC advertisements that a high percentage of my constituents—and I suspect those of most other hon. Members—were not aware that any subsidy at all was paid? If that is the case among thy constituents, I suspect that the misleading effect of those advertisements is London-wide and, indeed, nationwide.
§ Mr. Stallard
I do not want to judge the constituents of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire). My constituents are politically aware and alert. They do understand. If the people who voted for the hon. Gentleman are of such a low calibre, it is not for me—[Interruption.] He said it. People get the Member of Parliament they deserve. The correspondence that a have had is overwhelming in support of the campaign to keep fares at a reasonable level.
§ Mr. Graham
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) referred to correspondence from people who are clearly not of our political persuasion. Would he be interested in a letter that I received which says:I am a Tory by nature but, would like to think, unselfish in my hopes for London and its people. I have lived in a number of European cities with subsidised public transport and cannot praise enough the cleaner, less polluted, more used (consequently more efficient) amenities at the expense of a small rate supplement, which can be repaid with a little use of what will be a much improved system. Yours, Tory, house owner, car owner.
§ Mr. Stallard
I know that all of us could repeat that letter a thousandfold. I have had letters from people who do not even use public transport, who have never voted Labour—who cycle to work—but who would welcome the introduction of the Bill.
However, to put the record straight, I had one letter from a constituent of mine—a mutilated version of the coupon. It came from a Conservative Member of Parliament who lives in my constituency. I:How. MEMBERS: "Name him."] His name is Mr. C. P. Y. Murphy. Conservative Members do not even know him. I did not either, but I looked him up in The Times Guide to the House of Commons. He must be one of the few, even of his party, in my area, who are not in favour of the Bill. As I have said, I have had overwhelming correspondence from people of that ilk who support the Bill.
As well as receiving correspondence we have attended numerous meetings all over London and beyond. We have met people of all political persuasions and of none. The overwhelming feeling is that the Law Lords' judgment was 575 wrong, and even if it had to be, the argument following the Law Lords' judgment was that the Government should intervene and return to the previous situation, instead of jumping on some kind of cheap political bandwagon, to make capital out of it, to carry on a vendetta against the present GLC leadership and to ignore the wishes of people and commuters who use London Transport.
Local meetings have only stressed what has been said in local correspondence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North mentioned the Town and Country Planning Association. He could have mentioned the London Transport Passengers Committee, the London Amenity and Transport Association, the Camden community health council and all sorts of other organisations. He could have mentioned the pensioners' organisations, which were concerned at the beginning. In spite of the fact that the Secretary of State had said that he would not interfere and bring in legislation before Christmas, the weight of representations from the pensioners' organisations soon changed his mind on that. He brought in legislation just after Christmas. He had an eye to the number of protests from that quarter. It was possible for him to change his mind then because of the weight of public opinion.
§ Mr. Graham
Several people who are in a special category have not yet been mentioned. However, I am sure many hon. Members have received letters similar to the one that I received from a constituent. He wrote:You will know that the cost of fares has been dramatically increased. This is having very adverse effects on disabled people attending rehabilitation centres in the community.That is an important point.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I mentioned that community health councils in my area were concerned. They are worried about the problems that will arise when people have to visit hospitals, because of the added costs and burdens. There has been a big increase in fares. Perhaps Conservative Members should take that into account. The Minister claims that people did not understand the policy and that it was pushed by the GLC leadership. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, that policy was the focal point of the GLC election campaign. The policy was argued about in the media and at numerous public meetings. The question of its illegality was never raised. However, people at those meetings understood what such a policy would mean for rate increases. The need to increase rates was spelt out as well as the need for a supplementary rate increase. Therefore, it is wrong to say that people did not understand the policy. It is right to say that no one challenged its legality, but it is also right to say that everyone knew that there would be a supplementary rate increase.
§ Mr. Shersby
Am I not right in thinking that the Labour Party member who was elected to the GLC in that campaign has since joined the SDP? She stood for reelection and was re-elected as an SDP member and is certainly not in favour of the policies enunciated a few months earlier.
§ Mr. Stallard
I allowed the hon. Gentleman to get in and to have a swipe at the Labour Party, but he should remember that that same Labour Party member has not 576 opposed the transport policy that she fervently supported during the election campaign and has not gone back on the commitment to the transport policy. The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Conservative Members do not check their facts. When they are involved in a dirt campaign they do not check anything. However, that Labour Party member has not withdrawn from the commitment to "Fares Fair" and to London Transport's policy. Like me, she would change some aspects of it, but she is still committed to a subsidised transport system.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) will invite the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) to withdraw the aspersions that he has cast on that lady's character by attributing views to her that she does not hold.
§ Mr. Stallard
It is not in my court to defend the lady. She may have other friends—if they turn up—to do that for her.
§ Mr. Shersby
I should like to make it clear that I am not casting any aspersions on the GLC member for that constituency. I simply made the point that the Labour candidate resigned and was re-elected.
§ Mr. Stallard
We all understood the hon. Gentlemans's inference—that she left the Labour Party because of the transport policy. That is not true.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I gather that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) is not giving way.
§ Mr. Stallard
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.: am in a bit of trouble, because I have given way several times.
§ Mr. Stallard
I may give way later, but I cannot deal with two interventions at the same time. I hope that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) will think about what he said about the GLC member who left the Labour Party and that he will recognise that he was miles away from the truth and did not understand the position at all.
§ Mr. Brown
I accept the view of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) about the aspersions that were cast on the lady, but the hon. Gentleman also cast an aspersion on us by saying that none of her friends had turned up to defend her. My hon. Friends and I have been here since 9.30 this morning, so his remark was a little unworthy
§ Mr. Stallard
If I failed to notice the hon. Member and his hon. Friends, I am sorry.
The fact that the matter was thrashed out clearly and publicly during the campaign was sufficient justification for those of us who supported it to maintain our support after the election. If those Conservative Members who constantly talk about their support for democratic principles and elections were sincere, they would have introduced legislation to support the wishes of the 577 democratically elected GLC. The flaw in their approach to the matter is that they did not do so. When this Bill was introduced, following the Law Lords' judgment, we were lambasted by a party political set-up.
The immediate result of the Law Lords' decision was to confuse the position even more. A matter that needed much more in-depth discussion became even more confused after the judgment. We have already heard from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), who spoke with great knowledge about these matters. We know that the Divisional Court upheld the decision, so we cannot say that those judges were out of touch or did not understand the position.
The case then went to the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. But even then there were differences of opinion among the judges. After the Law Lords' judgment there were differences of opinion among the barristers and solicitors representing the GLC. We understand that the legal profession has become rich on the basis of those confusions, but it did not help the position to see that everyone was confused, including those who had made the judgments. We went from bad to worse.
If Conservative Members are concerned about London Transport and about clearing the slate so that we can discuss all the outstanding issues, they should support the Bill, return the fares system and the running of London Transport to a fair basis and then discuss any legislation to be introduced by the Government on the wider aspects of transport in London and our other great cities. If they had approached the matter in that way, we could probably have joined them. But their narrow approach in attacking the GLC will do nothing to help the position. I hope that they still have time to change their minds.
§ Mr. Neville Sandelson (Hayes and Harlington)
Does the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) agree that the Government should concede, in the present chaos, an inquiry into the financial structure of transport in our capital city, so that we can work out rationally a proper structure of subsidy or whatever is required for the future?
§ Mr. Stallard
If the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) checks the Select Committee proceedings, he will find that some of his points have already been dealt with.
Further confusion was raised in my mind when I began to think about the Secretary of State imposing clawback fines because of something that he said was illegal. One cannot impose a fine on an illegal activity without condemning the illegality. There is further confusion. The Secretary of State for the Environment was not acting legally when he imposed the fines and charges following what he and his right hon. Friends considered was an illegal action. I am not a lawyer but I believe that is a good argument, and perhaps we should pursue it further.
I fear that the Government were angry about the success of the policy. Londoners and others much further away supported the approach to inner city transport. There were arguments about detail and other criticisms, but there was overwhelming support for the policy. Its effects have been criticised, but it had been operating for only a few weeks. It would have been sensible to give it six or 12 months. The Government were determined that it would go no further. They had seen that it was a success and that it had the overwhelming support of London. That is the root of their objection.
578 I leave the matter there, as others wish to speak. Conservative Members who represent London seats should reread their correspondence, discuss the matter further with their constituents, trade unionists and others employed by London Transport and support the Bill before the day of reckoning comes.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), but his Bill is unacceptable to many of my constituents. It would inevitably mean a return to the swingeing increases in GLC rates that we saw earlier last year. I do not believe that there is any point in substituting the chaos of London Transport fares for the chaotic rate situation that resulted from the supplementary rate which was subsequently declared illegal. No hon. Member could be in favour of that.
I am in favour of cheap fares. I make that clear to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the right hon. Gentleman, who would not be in favour of cheap fares. I fully and strongly support the substantial subsidies that the Government make available to London Transport. There has been widespread misunderstanding about the fact of subsidies throughout Greater London. Many people believe that there are no subsidies. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made it clear to the House beyond any shadow of doubt that enormous subsidies are already being paid, as did the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Chapman
To put the record straight, will my hon. Friend confirm that not only has the rate subsidy to London Transport increased under the Government but that, as a proportion of the total national transport supplementary grant, it is greater than was ever paid out by the Labour Government?
§ Mr. Shersby
That is a valuable point.
As I was saying, it is wrong to finance a cheap fares policy, as the GLC tried to do, out of the rates. That policy cannot possibly commend itself to the many thouands of my constituents and other London constituents who are retired, living on fixed incomes or living just above the supplementary rebate level. The supplementary rate with which they were faced to finance London Transport was completely unacceptable and bore harshly on them.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
In my constituency I have not relied on letters but have done a survey of views. Of those who intended to vote Labour, 35 per cent. believed that extra money required by London Transport should come from users, 30 per cent. were unsure and 17 per cent. each believed that the extra money should come from ratepayers or from taxpayers. In other words, the largest group believed that it should come from users and many were still unsure of the way forward.
§ Mr. Shersby
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point which will no doubt be noted by those who read the Official Reportof the debate.
I have received strong representations from retired constituents urging me vigorously to oppose any return to the financing of cheap fares at the expense of ratepayers, many of whom simply cannot afford to pay any more. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North pointed out that the supplementary rate was no more than the price of a gallon of petrol per week, but many of my constituents 579 cannot afford a further £1.80 per week. They do not have motor cars and they certainly cannot contemplate paying for the cheap fares scheme through their rates.
§ Mr. Shersby
No, I shall not give way.
I am strongly in favour of cheap fares, as we all are, and I am strongly in favour of subsidies. The point at issue is the method. The great division in today's debate is between those who believe that the cheap fares scheme should be subsidised through the rates and those who believe that it should be subsidised out of central taxation. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip—Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson), in a powerful and important speech, made clear the misery suffered by his constituents and he is in a far better position to do so than the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who stood as a candidate in that constituency several times and was resoundingly rejected.
§ Mr. Greenway
Another aspect of the suffering caused by the swingeing supplementary rate relates to disabled people. The disabled, like the old, are obliged by law to pay their rates. Pensioners have passes and are thus not involved in fare paying, and the disabled in the very nature of things are not involved either. Yet they have suffered heavily through the rates. If there is to be a subsidy, it must surely be national.
§ Mr. Shersby
My hon. Friend illustrates the problem of using the rate fund to deal with any kind of cheap fares policy that a large local authority may wish to introduce. My hon. Friend makes an important point. The disabled are severely affected by policies of this kind.
Like all London Members, I have received a large number of coupons as a result of the GLC advertising campaign. I deplore utterly the expenditure of £250,000 of ratepayers' money on that shameful campaign. I have replied to all constituents who wrote to me. I have pointed out the large subsidies available and my dismay at the way in which the matter is being treated for party political purposes.
The return fare from Uxbridge to Moorgate by London Transport is now £6. The fare by British Rail from West Drayton, at the southern end of my constituency, is £4.20or £3.30 after 9.30 in the morning. It is chaotic to have such an enormous difference in the return fare to London from two stations about two and a half miles apart.
We all know that the cheap fares scheme was ill-conceived, crazily financed and found to be technically illegal. I believe that to go back to such a policy would be wrong because of the massive rate increases that it would bring.
Yesterday, I introduced a Bill into the House, a copy of which every hon. Member received today. I do not intend to debate the Bill now, but I should like to make a passing reference to the fact that I have offered the House an alternative to the Bill that the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) has presented. I call for an inquiry into the whole future of London Transport, its financing and the level of public support that should be provided for the travelling public of London. That is the right way forward. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport—I am glad to see him 580 sitting on the Front Bench—to take account of the strong feelings expressed by London Members and also to take account of the clear division that exists between those hon. Members who believe that the cheap fares policy should be subsidised out of rates and those who believe that continuing subsidies should be met out of central taxation.
I urge my right hon. Friend to come before the House, in the next few days if possible, to make clear the Government's intentions. We cannot, I believe, continue with a situation which, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, results in all kinds of chaos and difficulty for our constituents throughout Greater London. We want to make sure that never again are the fares charged for travelling in the metropolis decided by a group of party politicians in County Hall whose only interest is to make life as difficult as possible for the Government. If anyone doubts that this is the case, they have only to read the remarks made by Mr. Ken Livingstone on 28 May. I do not need to spell them out. Every hon. Member is familiar with them. It has to be remembered that Mr. Livingstone was not elected by the people of London to impose this policy.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
Will such an inquiry include a specific reference to the extent to which people who live outside Greater London and come into Greater London from Brighton, Birmingham, Woking or anywhere else—many of them are relatively well off—derive benefit from cheap transport provided by Greater London ratepayers? Many of those ratepayers are far worse off than those who receive the benefit. That was an utterly monstrous injustice. It gives the lie totally to any suggestion that the GLC scheme was fair.
§ Mr. Shersby
There is no doubt that my hon. Friends feel that the scheme was unfair.
I thank the right hon. Member for Battersea, North for the opportunity to debate these matters. My only regret is that we do not have the time to discuss calmly the relative merits of providing a cheap fares scheme through the rate fund as opposed to central taxation. That is what the argument is about. It is up to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to bring forward proposals so that the GLC is obliged to respond to his initiative within a short time. If the GLC does not do so, I believe that London Transport should be separated and set up as an entirely independent body.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am sorry to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I cannot accept the motion. Fourteen other hon. Members have already indicated their wish to speak in the debate, which has been in progress for rather less than two hours.
§ Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With respect, I have not heard the argument in the past that the closure cannot be accepted because other hon. Members wish to speak. In fact, one of the reasons for moving the closure is to shut people up. The first argument is therefore not valid.
Secondly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you said that the debate had been in progress for an insufficient length of time. I rely on memory, but I believe that it has always been the 581 considered opinion of the Chair that a closure could be moved and would be accepted after two hours debate. In this instance, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I say this before you receive advice from the Clerk—I think that about one minute is involved. I put it to you, Sir, that this is a fundamental matter on which the House wants the opportunity to vote.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has great experience. Indeed, it is even greater than mine. However, he will know that on a Friday afternoon it is rare for a closure to be moved after less than three hours debate. Certainly it is unusual for a closure motion to be accepted after less than three hours of debate. An important debate is taking place and it has continued for about two hours. A great many hon. Members wish to take part in it.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday 7 May.