HC Deb 27 October 1982 vol 29 cc1023-4
1. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his response to the Transport Committee's report on transportation in London.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. David Howell)

The Government will be indicating before long their views on this major and far-reaching report. Meanwhile, I particularly welcome the Committee's endorsement of the need for a balanced and stable transport policy and the direction of available resources into improvements in the quality and efficiency of London's transport system rather than ill-directed and wasteful fares subsidies.

Mr. Chapman

In the light of the Transport Committee's report, does my right hon. Friend agree that a priority of London Transport should be more investment to create a better infrastructure? Secondly, what proportion of total transport subsidy goes to the London area?

Mr. Howell

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is much better, as the Select Committee reports, that resources should go to investment rather than be squandered in excessive fares subsidies. That is why the Government are backing the light railway for London Docklands and the terminal 4 extension. Of the entire transport supplementary grant for the nation, 40 per cent. goes into London.

Mr. Bagier

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Select Committee's report was directed to transport in London? Will he take this opportunity to deny any rumours among other transport authorities that the report could be used to apply similar conditions to them? Will he confirm also that the report is for London only?

Mr. Howell

Indeed, the report was directed to transport in London. It was an analysis by the Select Committee of the great difficulties under which London Transport has had to operate, the excessive political interference and the need, so the Select Committee proposed, for a separate authority for London. That is what it was about.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents who work in London, many of whom are on low incomes, have to pay almost £1,000 out of their after-tax income for their annual season tickets? Does he realise that that is a crippling burden on their family budgets? If the Greater London Council is unable to achieve economies and efficiencies for London Transport, will he ensure that, if further subsidy is required, it comes out of the national Exchequer, not by means of enabling legislation that will put a further burden on London ratepayers?

Mr. Howell

I agree with my hon. Friend that fares have risen far too sharply. I agree also with his concern about renewing the assault on London ratepayers as the answer to the problem. The way to keep fares down is to increase efficiency, to use sensibly the considerable subsidy that is available and to avoid unnecessary political mucking about with London Transport, so that it can get on and do a good job in an atmosphere of stability. That is the best service that London Transport can give its passengers.

Mr. Booth

Does the Secretary of State agree that the experience of practically every capital city which is comparable with London is that a considerable amount of national Exchequer subsidy for fares is necessary so that there can be acceptable levels of ridership, without which no amount of investment in the system will be worth while?

Mr. Howell

The right hon. Gentleman is not quite right. The huge Tokyo system is comparable with that of London and it runs on a much lower level of subsidy. However, I recognise that there is a need for a substantial subsidy. I recognise also that it is essential that it should be administered in a stable context. The yo-yo experience that London Transport has had this year does no good for the capital, no good for the passengers and no good for the transport system.