§ Order for Second Reading read.4.43 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)
I beg to move, That the Bill now be read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill is quite simply to improve London's transport. It marks the end of an unsuccessful 14-year experiment. In 1969 the Transport (London) Act passed control of London's public transport to the newly created Greater London council. With hindsight, we can clearly discern the conventional wisdom that made such a move seem a natural one. That was the heyday of the age of corporatism—the mixing up of the commercial and the political. It was the age of "big is beautiful", when everything had to be co-ordinated and integrated with almost everything else, so London Transport was thrown to the mercies of the GLC.
The GLC was given a duty under the 1969 Act topromote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services for Greater London.Some of us even then were suspicious. Our worst suspicions have been confirmed 14 years later. We now see transport services that are not integrated, not economic and most certainly not efficient. The fashion of the times to confuse the issue of social provision with that of efficiency was, in fact, fundamentally misconceived. There are still those who believe that London Transport should be subjected to what they call "political control", but I believe that it should be run as a business and that where social provision is justified it should be properly identified and paid for separately.
The GLC has also signally failed in its basic purpose of acting as a strategic transport authority. The Select Committee on Transport described London's roads as a "national scandal". In traffic management the GLC has caused widespread concern to industry and commerce through its proposals for a London-wide lorry ban —which, as the Select Committee said and as the Government have agreed, would damage the commercial and industrial life of the capital. At the same time the GLC has plunged London Transport into the chaos that we are now seeking to bring to an end.
Let us consider the record of the GLC's stewardship of London Transport from 1970 to the present day. Since 1970 London Transport costs have soared. Unit costs—that is, costs per vehicle mile—rose in real terms by two thirds for the buses and about half for the underground. The reason for this is that passenger demand has declined by about a quarter over the period, while capacity has remained broadly constant. Manpower, at least until 1981, remained level at about 60,000 staff. Since 1973, more than 30 per cent. of LT's staff have been engaged on engineering and maintenance work. The unit cost of bus engineering has more than doubled in real terms. Indeed, the need for much greater efficiency in this area was what led the Government to refer LT's bus maintenance operations to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission last March. As for the underground, however one does the comparison for efficiency, LT comes out near the bottom of the international league table.
856 The inevitable consequence has been a huge rise in the total subsidy bill to London Transport—from some £6.5 million in 1970 to a colossal £370 million in 1982. I know that all public transport operators have found this a difficult period, especially on account of the very rapid rise in real wages in the mid-1970s, but London Transport's record has been worse than most. For instance, the two thirds rise in LT's bus costs compares with only half in the case of other bus operation in this country. For the underground, the figure of more than 50 per cent. compares with British Rail's figure of around 10 per cent. If keeping a particular level of subsidy is seen as an end in itself, there will never be the right incentives to improve management efficiency. If at the same time the aim is to keep fares down and service levels constant, it is the taxpayer and ratepayer who suffer.
It was this blatant disregard for the providers of subsidy which finally caught out the GLC two years ago. In October 1981 London Transport fares were cut by one third. The GLC itself estimated that the extra cost in subsidy of this policy over four years would be £1.2 billion. Far from attempting to mitigate this enormous cost, the GLC has taken exactly the opposite line. This year LT presented the GLC with its new three-year plan. Among the many sensible features of the plan were proposals for slight reductions in bus mileage and a substantial cut in unit costs. The reaction of the GLC was to move quickly to fill five vacant places on the board with its own nominees, rejecting all the suggestions of the chairman of London Transport. It sought to defend this in a letter to The Guardian and promised that future appointments would be fully agreed by all concerned.
That undertaking was thrown to the winds only a couple of months later when, in the teeth of further objections from London Transport, two more appointments were made. One was the chairman of the London Labour party, whose membership of the Tribune group and support for the Soviet backed regime in Afghanistan "obviously" fitted him for the difficult job of running London Transport.
§ Mr. Ridley
The other was the organiser of Mr. Livingstone's unsuccessful attempt to capture the Labour party nomination for Brent, East. When the GLC discovered that this was contrary to the GLC—London Transport long-standing rules about making political appointments to London Transport, it promptly changed the rules by amending its standing orders. I expect the next vacancy will be filled by Arthur Scargill, because at least he has undoubted experience underground. It is totally wrong that the GLC should seek to turn London Transport into a political appendage of itself.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Is the Minister of the view that, if he does not have a policy, he should go for the man?
§ Mr. Ridley
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting support for putting active political figures on to a managerial board in contravention of the standing orders of that board? If so, I am ashamed that he should even dare to raise the question. It is also a disaster for the long-term interests of Londoners, who want a decent transport system at a decent price.
Finally, we heard Mr. Livingstone's reported reaction to the Bill. He castigated the Government's aim to run 857 London Transport "as a business". There could be no more revealing insight into the GLC's attitude to the use of public money—money, I might say, the bulk of which is levied by the GLC on London's businesses.
Even before the Bill was published, expensive posters went up all over London telling Londoners to "Kill the Bill" and suggesting that as a result of the Bill specific services would be cut and fares would rise. The GLC even had the temerity — even though London Transport protested—to include the London Transport symbol on the posters, thus implying that the LTE was party to the campaign, which it categorically stated it was not. The dishonest and reckless use to which the GLC has put £850,000 of ratepayers' money is nothing less than scandalous.
§ Mr. Ridley
It is lucky that London buses have always been painted red. Otherwise, no doubt the GLC would make the ratepayers fork out more money to do so.
I have one word of caution for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who will soon be speaking for the Opposition. He made a major blunder in going to County hall to queue for inclusion in the GLC press conference when the Bill was published. He was given leave to speak rather late in the pecking order. I hope that his speech will not be just reading out the GLC brief. I have a copy here and it is neither convincing nor accurate. We have all read it already; I shall be quoting from it freely during the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman would be wiser to follow his predecessors and dissociate himself from the discredited mob on the South bank. The Labour party must learn to develop policies of its own and not just join every passing pressure group.
No Government that had the interests of Londoners at heart could sit idly by despite these extraordinary events. It is time to bring to an end this 14-year old experiment with London's public transport, and quickly.
The Government have had the benefit of the advice of the Select Committee on Transport, which published its report on transport in London in July 1982. The report contained an impressive and thorough analysis of the defects of London's transport. We agreed with a great deal of this analysis. We agreed with the Committee that public transport had to be taken away from the GLC and that a major reallocation of responsibilities was needed.
Where we differed from the Select Committee was with its suggestion of a Metropolitan Transport Authority, responsible for London Transport and for roads and traffic management. It would have carved off a slice of territory from a number of home counties. Some of its members would have been nominated by me, others by the local authorities and others by users. The exact nature of such representatives was a real problem which the Committee clearly recognised, so much so that it was unable to reach a firm view on it. But there are other difficulties with this model. As a solution for London's transport problems as a whole, the MTA smacked too much of the corporatism which was, in our view, an important reason for the GLC's past failures. It would have been horribly similar to the GLC itself without being directly elected by the electors. It was envisaged that the MTA would sit between the Government, as the grant-giving body, and London Transport as the operator of the tube and buses.
The real need is for London Transport to be allowed freedom to manage its affairs with a minimum of political 858 interference and control, but within clearly stated financial and policy objectives. London Transport is important in a national context, a key point in the Select Committee report. Thus the strategic control, and some of the financial support, should come from central Government. The Bill adopts that objective as its starting point.
We want the new arrangements to be simple and workable without involving organisational upheaval.
§ Mr. David Howell (Guildford)
I agree totally with my right hon. Friend's views about the difficulties of a Metropolitan Transport Authority—I am sure he has that analysis and remedy right — but will he accept that British Rail's surface railways are a vital part of London's regional transport system and that an effective operation in the future will require close co-ordination with and, indeed, supervision by London Regional Transport of the British Rail commuter network? Will he give an assurance that the powers exist in the Bill and will be used to bring that about, even if he has not been able to arrange it so far?
§ Mr. Ridley
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because I agree with what he says. I shall deal with that point at some length later on.
We also want, for reasons which I have already made clear, a scheme that could be implemented very quickly. We want a scheme that will allow further changes in due time to meet the various objectives that we have in mind.
Rather than create a new body for the running of London's transport, with all the complications of the vesting of London Transport's assets which that would entail, we propose, so to speak, to keep London Transport as it is, but simply to transfer control of it from the GLC to the Government. This is achieved by the first clause of and the first schedule to the Bill. The GLC's powers in relation to London Transport are removed with the repeal of parts I and II of the 1969 Act. The schedule sets out the new constitution of the board. The change will occur on a day appointed by me, as soon as possible after the enactment of the Bill. At the same time the London Transport Executive will assume its new name, London Regional Transport, and its new identity while retaining, initially at least, its physical manifestation.
The GLC is seeking to argue that, with the repeal of part 1 of the 1969 Act, public transport in London will no longer be looked at in the wider context. That is patent nonsense. First, under the provisions of this Bill, LRT will be required to prepare plans and to consult widely on them. It will have to have regard to the objectives and principles I set for it. When the Government have decided on the better planning framework for London that will operate on the GLC's demise, public transport, along with highways, traffic management and all the rest, will certainly 'operate within that wider context. The provisions in the Bill will ensure that.
In our White Paper we said that LRT's bus and underground operations would be established as separate subsidiaries under LRT as a holding body. This is achieved under clause 4, which requires LRT to establish Companies Act companies for both purposes within a period that I shall specify. This is an important step and in order to develop the approach London Transport Executive has started to break down its monolithic structure. London Regional Transport will look across the field to see exactly what is needed by way of public transport. When it comes to delivering that cost 859 effectively, separate companies will be accountable for their own performance and they will each publish separate accounts and make their own demands for external finance. This further change will occur as soon as the subsidiaries are established with suitable objectives and the right capital structure.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Is not that last explanation the opposite of what the Minister said earlier about London Transport remaining, to use his words, much as it was before? Does he agree that the arrangement that he has just explained goes back to before 1912 in terms of the integration of buses and railways? If so, how can he claim that the nature of London Transport will remain what it is now, except that he will take it away from the GLC?
§ Mr. Ridley
I was referring earlier to the statutory position. Instead of re-forming a new London Transport, with all the new schedules and legal constitution that that would need, we are simply taking the existing London Transport and transferring it back to the Government. We are taking the opportunity at the same time to make them separate companies, but that does not change its legal entity.
The main financial provisions are in clauses 15 to 24. LRT will receive grants from the Government under clause 12 in support of its capital expenditure and operating deficits, and those of its subsidiaries. It will operate within a financial break-even duty under clause 15. I shall be able to set specific financial objectives for LRT, or any of its subsidiaries, under clause 16.
One of the most important long-term reasons for the provisions of the Bill is the need for closer co-operation, in the interests of the passenger, between London's bus and underground services on the one hand and British Rail's services in the London region on the other. Here I come to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell). The Bill will ensure that in future the two major operators in London will be subject to compatible policy and financial frameworks. It will bring the two systems better in tune with each other. It will tackle wasteful duplication between the two systems, seek to achieve the speeding up of improved ticketing systems, better facilities for interchange and better information designed to help the traveller move more easily between modes. I intend to set up a liaison committee consisting of the two bodies under my chairmanship to make sure that this work is carried out as quickly and effectively as possible.
These new liaison arrangements should secure the changes that we all want to see. If they do not, the Bill contains further important powers that can be activated at any time up to eight years from the enactment of the Bill. These are the provisions in clauses 35 to 38, under which LRT would assume the functions of subsidising authority to British Rail's services in the London region. LRT would then become, in effect, the sole authority responsible for the allocation of resources among all London's major public transport operators, and in particular for the level of service on British Rail's commuter services.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), I am concerned about the relationship between British Rail and 860 London Transport, and I agree that the closer their operations can be brought, the better. Is it possible to foresee a situation under the Bill in which, for example—as my right hon. Friend is considering separating the operations of buses and railways in London Transport—British Rail could take over the railway operations of London Regional Transport?
§ Mr. Ridley
It is possible to foresee that happening under the Bill — because we have powers in other clauses, to which I shall be referring, to allow other operators to run services for London Transport—but I do not think that that is the sort of solution to the problems that many people have in mind. It is much more a question of liaison and phasing the interchanges among bus, rail and tube terminals in such a way that passengers can move around easily. I should prefer to achieve our aims through the simpler, more informal arrangements of liaison and cooperation to which I have been referring. I assure the House that if more formal arrangements prove necessary we shall bring them in forthwith and we shall have the basic legislative provisions ready in place.
The 1983 LTE plans envisaged cost reductions of more than 9 per cent. over the next three years. It must be in the interests of everyone that these savings are achieved. Without them, the investment resources that are needed to secure a better, more easily used and more reliable system will be bled away. This will require strong management and firm financial disciplines. The Bill provides the opportunities. The securing of better value for money will be one of the first and most important tasks of the new chairman of LRT and his board. I shall look to the board to achieve this.
§ Mr. Prescott
What is the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the ratepayers' present contribution to the total public support received by London Transport?
§ Mr. Ridley
I am coming to that very point.
The Bill provides opportunities for more efficient and accountable management throughout the new organisation. The main bus company will be encouraged to form smaller subsidiaries to take further the decentralisation of its bus operations already started by LTE; and the ancillary services, such as engineering and maintenance, can, under clause 3(1) be established as subsidiary companies which will sell their services to the main operating subsidiaries in competition with other suppliers.
The third objective of the Bill is encouraging the involvement of the private sector. The Bill aims to achieve this in several ways. First, under clause 6, LRT will be under an obligation to involve independent suppliers in the provision of public transport and other services wherever this makes economic sense. Its duty is similar to that laid down under section 8 of the Transport Act 1983. Already, under that duty, LT has undertaken a major review of its bus engineering operations and facilities and has concluded that substantial economies can be achieved at its Aldenham and Chiswick bus works. It has secured the co-operation of the unions in examining the details of implementation. Needless to say that progress towards cost-cutting in this area, as in other areas, is being opposed by the GLC.
This duty can be taken together with clause 3(2), which enables LRT to enter into agreements with other public transport operators for the provision of services and, with clause 3(3), gives LRT the power to pay for such services 861 as appropriate. There are many possibilities in this area, for instance the use of low capacity vehicles in outlying areas or at times of the day—evenings and weekends—where there is a demand to be satisfied but it is not sufficient to justify the use of LRT's own buses.
Secondly, the new licensing arrangements contained in clauses 42 and 43 will enable, for the first time, independent bus services to be provided in London—exactly as in other parts of the country — through licences granted by the Metropolitan traffic commissioners. Operators will, if they wish, be able to seek to run services through a clause 3(2) agreement with LRT, but they will not be obliged to do that. In this way we shall be seeking, in the interests of healthy competition, to loosen the monopolistic position that London Transport has held since 1933.
Clause 13 provides that there should be a contribution from the ratepayer towards the cost of Government grants to LRT. The contribution will be in the form of a levy on the rating authorities in London. The Bill lays down that the maximum amount of this contribution is to be two thirds of grants paid to LRT under clause 12. The annual amount to be levied will be expressed as a rate poundage and will be set out in an annual order laid before Parliament and subject to the negative procedure.
It must be right for London's ratepayers to make a contribution to this body; there is no argument for treating London ratepayers in a more favourable way than ratepayers elsewhere. I suspect that I can rely on hon. Members with constituencies outside London to mount an adequate defence against arguments of this kind.
Nor do I accept the argument that such a levy is undemocratic. An elected body for the LRT board is simply not workable. A contribution from the ratepayers has, in fairness, to be secured. I will be accountable to hon. Members for the amount levied. We could have done this in a roundabout, complex way, through an abatement of Londoners' entitlement to block grant and transport supplementary grant. It seemed preferable that the amount of the levy and the basis on which it is calculated should be absolutely clear, and that ratepayers should have the means, through their Members of Parliament, to question both the basis of the levy and the amount of the expenditure for which the levy is being raised.
Under the present arrangements, the actual amount that they are currently providing to public transport has never been clear to London ratepayers. Indeed, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asked me what it was. We decided to express the contribution as a simple percentage of expenditure, rather than a formula derived from the highly complex and opaque workings of the rate support grant. There will be a separately indentifiable item on the ratepayer's rate bill. He can also see the amount of expenditure on LRT, so he can express, through his Member of Parliament, his views on the call that LRT makes on public funds. There is the accountability. It also helps to apply the proper financial pressures on LRT itself.
I now come to the question asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, about the actual proportion laid down in the Bill and what it was before. The GLC has claimed that two thirds—the figure in the Bill—is no improvement on what the ratepayers are contributing to their public transport now. However, the GLC cannot bear the thought that something is to be done by the Government for the benefit of ratepayers. Last autumn it was claiming in press advertisements, paid for by the 862 ratepayers, that only 3 per cent. of London Transport's total costs was provided by the taxpayer, which is equivalent to a ratepayer contribution of over 90 per cent. Now, a year later, in its recent publication, the GLC is suddenly saying, because it suits it, that the ratepayer is paying only 60 per cent. Such conjuring tricks will not fool Londoners.
On the evidence of the GLC's own expenditure plans, cutting the ratepayer's share to two thirds will give ratepayers a far better deal now and will save them from even worse prospects if London Transport were to remain under GLC control. That is the hon. Gentleman's answer—the ratepayer is paying more now than he will in the future.
§ Mr. Prescott
That is not the answer. It might do for Aims of Industry, for which the right hon. Gentleman has written many pamphlets, but it will not do for the House. I ask the Secretary of State specifically: what is the proportion of public cost paid by the ratepayer out of the budget for transport this year?
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman knows full well that to do that sum one has to go through the whole gamut of the system of local government finance and the fact that the GLC has driven itself into the penalty area of finance, and on any estimate the result is more than the figure in the Bill. There are a number of ways in which one can do the calculations, and any way one does them will show that the ratepayers are getting a better deal out of the Bill
§ Mr. Prescott
It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to criticise the GLC for having different percentages for the ratepayers' contribution. If he does not know himself, how can he make a judgment about the GLC?
§ Mr. Ridley
One can derive a whole range of figures, depending on which way one does the calculations, but I defy the hon. Gentleman to produce an answer that is lower than the answer in the Bill, because the Bill represents an improvement for London ratepayers.
I come now to the question of concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled, which is an important matter, especially for the 1 million—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, may not care about this, but some people do, especially the 1 million pensioners who benefit from the present concessionary fares scheme. Nevertheless, I regret the need to deal with the issue here and now, for the simple reason that it has little to do with the Bill to establish London Regional Transport.
In the GLC's reprehensible pamphlet "Kill the Bill", of which I have a copy here as a visual aid to help the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, and which is part of the £850,000 of ratepayers' money which the GLC is spending on a programme of propaganda, it states:If the Transport Bill becomes law your free pass is at risk.That is not true. The Bill simply re-enacts existing powers for LRT to deliver a concessionary fares scheme. Until the GLC is abolished, it is and will be responsible for providing money for the concessionary fares scheme. The Bill does not affect that at all.
§ Mr. Ridley
I am talking not about any Bill that may come in the future, but about this Bill, and so was the GLC. The GLC and the hon. Gentleman are suggesting that the Bill kills the concessionary fares scheme, but they know that that is not true.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
My right hon. Friend will know that the concessionary passes are extremely important to the 1 million pensioners who receive them, and succeeding Labour and Conservative administrations at County Hall have used them. Bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said recently in an important Adjournment debate on this matter—that there are two years left for the negotiation of these passes—and the essential need for these passes to continue, will my right hon. Friend say that he will, if necessary, seek power to ensure that they do continue should there be any doubt at the end of the negotiating period?
§ Mr. Ridley
I give my hon. Friend a complete assurance that I agree with him about the importance of these passes. However, I am not prepared to say that it would be right for the Government to propose legislation to take away what is properly a function of local government. Moreover, it would be wrong to do so in the Bill, because this is part of the social provision of local government.
It is proper for hon. Gentlemen to ask what is likely to replace the present GLC scheme after its demise, when the London boroughs, as everyone knows, will take over that responsibility. The London Boroughs Association has already agreed to work out the details of the scheme and to make proposals. Regrettably the London boroughs that are refusing to join these discussions are the same as those that are running a political campaign against the abolition of the GLC, paid for again with ratepayers' money. Those are the boroughs that give me problems.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Will the Secretary of State accept that the London Boroughs Association has no statutory powers to enforce or compel boroughs to join in the concessionary fares scheme? It can only advise the boroughs to do so, but under what seems to be the Government's likely proposal the decision will be discretionary on the boroughs. Some boroughs will have a scheme, and some will not, and that will result in a grave deterioration of the present all-London scheme.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman has a profound and impressive understanding of the constitution of the LBA, on which I congratulate him. Perhaps he will therefore address his entreaties to the London boroughs rather than to me. As he said so clearly, they are responsible.
My simple message to old-age pensioners is, "Do not be frightened by the GLC." Even the GLC admits in its booklet that the scheme will be replaced. Of course, it has an interest in not being abolished and will try every scare story to save its skin.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
Will my right hon. Friend accept, although one may not have pleasure in saying it, that he is risking skating lightly over this serious and solemn subject, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) implied? This concessionary system is vital to all pensioners in London. Therefore, can my right hon. Friend deal with this matter in all seriousness and show which outer London boroughs have 864 expressed serious reservations about his proposition that they should undertake these duties if the legislation comes into being?
§ Mr. Ridley
I do not for one moment think that I failed to give this matter the serious consideration that it deserves. That is not the point. A further principle is involved. This is properly a local government function and it is serious to suggest that one should remove such a social function from local government. The concessionary fares scheme is not part of local government's transport budget; it is part of the social budget. The scheme could not in any event be provided for by a Transport Bill. If it were thought necessary to remove the function, that would have profound implications for local authorities' powers. Those boroughs which have refused to discuss are the Labour-controlled boroughs which are members of the Association of London Authorities. There are some differences of opinion in some Conservative-controlled boroughs over the best method of providing concessionary fares, but not about whether they should be provided.
I rely upon my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who, I think, represents a constituency in one of the boroughs which has had doubts, to ensure that his pensioners are protected by his borough.
§ Mr. Ridley
No, I have no intention of removing control in these matters from the London boroughs, where it properly should lie. It is perfectly right for hon. Members to discuss with their boroughs the best way to fulfil the need, and the boroughs have two years within which they can come forward with a scheme.
I next come to the subject of LRT's general fares and charges. On 7 December I informed the GLC that its protected expenditure level for revenue support for 1984–85 will be £125 million, the same as for 1983–84. The amount does not make necessary any substantial increase in fares in 1984–85 provided that nothing is done to add further to costs or to block and squander the savings which the executive expects to achieve in 1983–84.
That is the position for 1984–85. We shall see how the GLC acts in the light of its statutory responsibility to take into account my guidance in approving a plan for LT and making its determination of the amount of revenue grants to be made by it to LT in 1984–85.
In the longer term the level of fares will reflect the degree of success LRT has in cutting costs and improving efficiency. I see no reason why fares and charges should continue to outstrip the increase in prices generally, given the scope that there is in LRT for substantial cost savings.
Finally, the new consumer arrangements for public transport in London are dealt with in clauses 39 and 40 and schedule 3. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will say more about these arrangements at the end of this debate if she has the good fortune to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
§ Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn Hatfield)
When my right hon. Friend talks about the London Transport consumer, will he bear in mind that many people who live outside the Greater London area will make considerable use of the facilities and ensure that they are always consulted about future services and fares?
§ Mr. Ridley
I am conscious of that point. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. We must ensure that such consultation takes place.
The proposals create one new consumer body to deal with all public transport provision in and around London, including BR's services in the London region — that might cover the services to which my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy) referred—in place of the two separate existing bodies. This proposal arose from fruitful discussions that we had with the existing consumer bodies during consultation on the White Paper. This is the one material aspect in which the content of the Bill differs from the proposals in the White Paper.
The purpose of the Bill is to enable us to provide the most convenient, attractive and efficient service possible for London's travelling public. The Select Committee said that London's public transport needed a face-lift. I agree. The Bill provides the way to achieve that face-lift for London's public transport for the first time since the great London Passenger Transport Act of 50 years ago. I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East)
The Secretary of State's speech completely ignored many facts about transport which he would know if he were prepared to study them. It reflected more the articles, propaganda and rhetoric associated with Aims for Industry. His speech became a little better when he presumably read from his brief.
The Opposition are against the Bill for many reasons that will no doubt be made clear during the debate. I want to address a considerable number of my remarks to the two major areas to which we are opposed. First, we believe that the Bill will eventually increase fares and reduce services. Indeed, the Bill is designed to do that. The Bill will reduce public financial resources essential for a modern, integrated transport service in the capital. It meets the Treasury's needs rather than those of Londoners. Secondly, the Bill constitutes a fundamental denial of Londoners' democratic rights and a major attack upon the British tradition of local government.
It is important to note from the beginning some of the reasons that the Government have given for this dictatorial action. The Secretary of State — London Transport's supremo, or, as has been suggested, commissar —proposes to give London Transport instructions similar to those of some alien, political philosophies that he does not endorse.—[Interruption.] I shall address myself to the arguments, which is more than the Secretary of State has done this evening. We have heard the same arguments advanced by the Secretary of State as those he gave in the White Paper and in press conferences. I am not too concerned about hierarchy or where I appear at a press conference. I like to address myself to the substance of the argument and to be judged on that.
I am not embarrassed by siding with the GLC in the argument about London Transport's future. I find myself in good company, because the latest poll shows that 90 per cent. of Londoners wish to retain GLC control of transport. The Secretary of State has not suggested anything different today. The Secretary of State rehearsed arguments about how costs have soared. that there has been intolerant, political interference, and that these huge public resources, as they are, can be used to better effect.
§ Mr. Prescott
The poll was produced yesterday and published in The Standard. It was interesting to read the editorial in The Standard about the Bill. It makes clear that a sample survey was conducted comparing the questions asked four months ago with yesterday. The poll asked whether people supported GLC control of the transport system as presently organised, and it showed that support for the GLC has increased.
The Government's solution to transport problems is to nationalise London Transport. The arguments advanced by the Secretary of State to justify the action are the same as those he used yesterday to justify the privatisation of British Airways. Nevertheless, he feels that by nationalising London Transport he will divorce it from the control of elected representatives and be able to ionstruct London Regional Transport management to have due regard only to London's transport needs, with the overriding change to achieve the Treasury's financial targets set by the Secretary of State. That came clearly from the Secretary of State's statement today and is consistent with what he has said in the past.
The Secretary of State has added to it, of course, the essential bit of ideological spice—privatisation of buses and now, presumably, rail services as well. In addition, there is the overriding saving of all changes — greater efficiency. I am not convinced by the argument. I am amazed by the Secretary of State, who built up a considerable reputation in the 1970s as someone who was against nationalisation because nationalised companies tend to be dominated by trade unions and interfered with by Whitehall.
My hon. Friends and I believe that fares will rise and that services will be cut. That belief comes not only from our judgment, but from well proven and observable principles of public transport economics in the evidence available within this country and outside the GLC—for example, in the passenger transport authorities.
Whether London Transport is run by central Government or the GLC, there will be a requirement to feed pubic resources into it. Indeed, the Minister has made it clear that it will be necessary to give more grants and resources to London Transport. So the argument whether it is run by the GLC or by Government makes no difference to whether it can be run profitably or break even. The argument is simply whether the resources can be managed more effectively, presumably affecting the amount of public resources to be put in.
Urban transport systems in any modern city, as can be seen not only in this country but abroad—and certainly in huge transport concentrations such as in London—cannot be run at a profit. 'Whatever the jargon about running the system in a businesslike way, that does not mean the profit and loss principles that people normally associate with the operation of business. Until 1970 the responsibility for most of our transport undertakings was to break even one year with another—the terminology that is in the Bill.
The break—even policy had at its heart the concept that cross-subsidisation took place — that the more 867 profitable services tended to pay for the less profitable. The Transport Act 1980 attacked the very principle of cross-subsidisation. That Act has had catastrophic effects, particularly in rural areas, on the provision of services by the National Bus Company. I do not want to enter into that argument, except to say that up to 1970 the break—even principle and cross-subsidisation were important in the financing of our transport system.
I recognise, as the Secretary of State recognised in his contribution, that since 1970 there has been a considerable decline in the use of nearly all transportation systems. Some of it is due to the increasing use of cars, some to the decline in population in many inner city areas and some to increasing costs where there has been an attempt to increase fares to meet the extra costs inclined by the massive explosion in oil and fuel prices. It is not simply an argument of efficiency, as suggested by the Secretary of State. There has been an explosion in transport costs since 1970. Wherever there has been an attempt to match it by increasing revenue from the fare box, it has led to people leaving public transport. That has happened in many parts of the United Kingdom and in public transport systems in America and Europe. I do not think that can be contested by any of us.
As more people have gone to other forms of transportation—in particular the car—so car usage in London has increased, leading to congestion, more problems on the roads and more accidents. That is shown by statistics from the Minister's Department.
I am not here to defend every operation of London Transport. I would be a fool to do that for any transport system. But the London transport system is different from systems in Yorkshire and other metropolitan areas where it has been possible to implement the one-person operation of buses much more effectively. The judgment in London is that conductor services mean that buses do not stay so long at bus stops and therefore cause less congestion. That is another social cost judgment made by the transport operators. Presumably it will be continued by the Secretary of State in his supremo role. I must point out that it means more costs, because labour is an ever-increasing cost in a transportation system. One has to balance the movement of traffic against fares and public subsidies in the maintenance of a modern, sophisticated transport system.
The quality of the service — a point to which the Select Committee and others addressed themselves—and the availability of transport can be as important as the level of fares, but that does not mean that the fare can be downgraded as an essential factor in the percentage of ridership that a transport system is likely to acquire. We have considerable evidence of that. The experiments in fares that have been imposed upon London in the last three years by court decisions, GLC decisions or the withdrawal of grants and the imposition of penalties by the Government have led to comparisons between different types of fare systems.
A low fare system with the same quality, the same buses and the same trains, even if they are painted red, led to more people travelling than when fares were high—for example, at the time when fares were doubled after the court decision. Nobody could doubt that there is an immediate correlation between the price a person pays to 868 travel and the number of people who use the transportation system. That is simple enough economics, but a point not to be ignored.
The Secretary of State talks about me relying on a London Transport brief, but I must say—
§ Mr. Prescott
All right, a GLC brief. I am glad the Secretary of State differentiates between officers and what he calls politicians in the GLC. There are officers in the GLC who prepare briefs, and their objectivity can be seen to be as good from the professional point of view as that of London Transport. The Secretary of State showed today that he was not looking at anybody's prepared brief when we asked him for essential information about ratepayers. He should look at the comparisons of metropolitan passenger transport authorities.
Similar transport bodies carrying out similar services are pursuing different fare policies. For example, one can travel six miles on the south Yorkshire transport system for 11p. In four other passenger transport executives, it will cost 55p to travel the same distance. If we compare similar transport systems operating in a similar way, we will see that those with lower fares have more people travelling on them.
The Secretary of State had little to say about how efficiency should be measured. Even the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's investigation into the West Midlands transport authority has found difficulty defining efficiency. In the PTEs, whether it is measured by total operating cost per vehicle mile, total vehicle miles per vehicle, stage passenger journeys per employee or however, lower fares do not mean lower efficiency. Indeed, those with lower fares are showing higher efficiency, largely due to a greater utilisation of assets.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
May I ask whether business success has followed from the low fare policy in Sheffield or whether businesses have chosen to go to other areas where the rates are not so staggeringly high because of such a policy?
§ Mr. Prescott
It may be a very important question, but if I give the kind of answers you give they will not be satisfactory.
§ Mr. Prescott
I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, particularly as you come from that area of Yorkshire and know the answers better than the Secretary of State.
Hard work has been done, and it is a matter of controversial judgment in the area about the effect on business. That is not unique to south Yorkshire. It is the argument of rates versus their effect on business operations. I am not convinced that it has the effect that Conservative Members claim. The hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) should go to south Yorkshire if he wishes to compare the different transport systems. I am sure that the south Yorkshire authority would be only too willing to invite him.
§ Mr. Bottomley
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) for engineering my intervention.
If, as the hon. Gentleman argues, there is an economic link between lower fares and more passengers, why will he not accept an economic link between higher rates and fewer jobs?
§ Mr. Prescott
Largely because the evidence on ridership is more specific and is statistically stated. I have yet to come across a business man who will state the effects of high rates on his operation. I have asked business men in the Hull area for that specific information, but it is not produced in the same form as evidence on ridership. I can make a more informed judgment about that than I can about the point raised by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Skinner
We hear about high rates in London forcing businesses to move. The same is true of Sheffield and elsewhere. Yet only an hour ago the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said that, notwithstanding high rates, low rates or any rates at all, regional policy had gone up in smoke. Unemployment is high throughout the country. Tory Members were on their feet calling for special consideration for their areas, which are supposed to be low rated.
§ Mr. Prescott
My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, which crossed my mind when I heard the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry deploy his arguments on incentives and disincentives.
Evidence suggests that low fares lead to greater use of the transport system. Indeed, the South Yorkshire PTE is the only one that has reversed the decline in public transportation, and that has much to do with the quality of its service and the fares imposed. It is clear that public support for systems such as that is greater and results in more use of the assets involved and higher efficiency.
The essential element of support—subsidy—is not in doubt. Despite the politically motivated action of the Bromley authority, the courts readily accepted that the break—even principle was not a possibility and that subsidy was a requirement for the public transport system. Even the Government accept that subsidy argument in their RSG and TSG statements.
The dispute is about the level of revenue support. That is at the heart of the matter. Put another way, we are talking about the percentage of costs to be raised in fares. It is true not only of Britain but of the continent that, in certain cases, such as south Yorkshire, the proportion of resources devoted to the maintenance of transport systems is greater than can be achieved by a high fare policy, although not proportionately greater because of the level of efficiency.
We know that the German cities give about 50 per cent. public support to their systems, as do the Americans, but other major European cities give about 60 per cent. support. That has been increasing. In London, during the operation of "Fares Fair", the amount of support was 50 per cent., but the doubling of fares took it nearer to 70 per cent. At his press conference, the Secretary of State said that he thought that the level was nearer 80 per cent. After his speech today, he is clearly not aware of the percentage of public support, particularly from the ratepayer.
§ Mr. Ridley
The hon. Gentleman is mixing two figures. The percentage of support from public funds of all kinds to London Transport is now about 38 per cent. That is a different figure from the percentage that comes from the ratepayer.
§ Mr. Prescott
I accept that, but I should like to know what the ratepayer contributes.
The Times on Monday reported that the man who runs the Paris Metro and transport system—often quoted in the House as a success—said that aspects of the Bill were "absurd" and added:lessons to be learnt from France were the full integration of public bus and Underground and private bus services and a high level of subsidy to passengers: two policies the Government wants to abandon.That is the view of an operator, not from this country, whose system is often referred to as a success in the House.
A greater level of public support in this country is seen as an ideological difference between both sides of the House. It is not viewed as such by monetarist Governments in America and Europe. Their belief is that more resources must be put into public transport as it relieves congestion, conserves energy, reduces accidents and leads to the maximum use of public assets in which investment has already been made. The experiments in London show that much of that is true.
After the doubling of fares in London, following the court decision, accidents increased by nearly 3,000 in the first four months following the abolition of "Fares Fair" and there were 120,000 more car journeys. However, while cheaper fares were in operation, ridership increased by between 10 and 15 per cent. Some of those figures, particularly the accident statistics, have been endorsed by the Secretary of State's Department. Therefore, a clear social objective is involved in any transport system.
I accept that under the various plans put forward on London Transport, the break — even principle would result in a 40 per cent. cut in services and fares. But it is equally clear that the system that the Secretary of State will influence by the amount of support that he gives—the permitted expenditure level of £125 million, which is about £90 million less than the support given at present—will lead to service cuts and fare increases.
London Transport has argued that that could possibly lead to the loss of 6,000 jobs, or redundancies, at a total cost to the Government of £30 million merely to fund those people on the dole. At the end of the day, someone always picks up the tab, be it London Transport in the form of wages or the Treasury in the form of unemployment benefit. It must be recognised that one of the consequences of the Government's policy will be another increase in unemployment in London, which is already more than 350,000.
Transport users will be the second casualty of the Government's policy. The great majority of those who use London Transport—our our largest transport system—are women. They use it on their way to work, to do their shopping and to visit nurseries or hospitals. That is particularly so of low income groups who have no access to cars. The Opposition will also be pressing for a dial-a-ride scheme for the disabled, most of whom are also women.
The Secretary of State avoided the argument about concessionary fares, even though the Tory Government gave the GLC powers to enforce a uniform concessionary scheme on all the boroughs. If the right hon. Gentleman 871 takes over those powers when the GLC has been abolished, he should grant concessionary fares, as many local authorities are not prepared to consider introducing such a scheme. The GLC was given power to enforce a common scheme. The Secretary of State cannot escape from his responsibilities. I shall give him the opportunity to reassure Londoners who depend on free passes that, whatever happens, they will still have concessionary travel passes. If that is said tonight, it will end at a stroke the uncertainty about concessionary and free passes being made available to pensioners and the disabled in London. Presumably, we shall hear little enough about that, but let us recognise that that responsibility lies clearly on the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Spearing
Does not the Secretary of State recognise that no Conservative-controlled GLC would ever concede a change in the scheme? It would not be able to stand it at election. The only way for the Secretary of State to break the pensioners' scheme would be to give the option to some of the boroughs, which might introduce it.
§ Mr. Prescott
My hon. Friend is right. According to reports that we have had, leaders of several local authorities have talked to the Secretary of State about their press statements on concessionary schemes. I do not know whether those reports are right, but they make it clear that local authorities do not foresee the introduction of the sort of free pass or concessionary schemes that pensioners currently enjoy under the GLC. The Minister could end that uncertainty by taking over the current transport responsibilities of local authorities and making it clear that free and concessionary passes will be made available for Londoners. Those concessions are paid for by a precept on the rates. Indeed, the Secretary of State has said that he will put a precept on the rates. He can end the uncertainty, but he does not seem prepared to do so.
The Secretary of State believes that he can reduce public expenditure, and hopes that fares will not increase, because of greater efficiency and privatisation. Some improvements have already been made, and no doubt services will become more efficient. We must see what happens. However, when he said that privatisation is the way forward because it will bring new services to commuters and other transport users in London, I was reminded of the Transport Act 1980, which privatised many of the national coach services.
The Government launched the British coach network, with coaches painted in the union jack colours. The then Secretary of State for Transport, now the Secretary of State for Social Services, waved off the first buses from Victoria coach terminal, and announced a new era in transportation.
That venture collapsed within 18 months, because the National Bus Company out-competed its services. That was not done without some cost. The Natonal Bus Company had to withdraw services from rural areas. There was greater competition on inter-city coach routes. Even British Rail's inter-city network suffered increased competition and was undermined. The community was far worse off after privatisation.
The way to manage a modern, integrated public transport system in London is to strike a balance between the social objectives, including the needs of Londoners, and the desire to achieve them at reasonable cost. The 872 social consequences of congestion, service cuts and road accidents, and the need to provide mobility for all at different times of the day, must be judged by the citizens of London, especially as they will be taxed for that privilege.
The decisions are essentially political. The regional service that is to be provided should be a function of local authorities, not the Government. The Secretary of State has an unbelievably touching faith in Whitehall when one appreciates that the Bill imposes a rate precept and makes Whitehall the master. The Bill sets the financial targets, determines the level of public support — hence the services provided—and gives the Secretary of State the power to direct, if he disagrees, and to privatise.
The London Regional Transport Board is to be appointed by the Secretary of State with a remit not to "consider" but to "take regard of the needs of London. The 1983 Act required the GLC to produce a three-year plan, saying that a massive amount of information should be made available by the GLC for the Secretary of State's Department. However, the Secretary of State does not impose the same requirement on London Regional Transport or Whitehall to produce a report to be discussed in public. The only obligation on Whitehall and LRT is to produce a report from time to time. That is not the same obligation as he imposed on the GLC through the 1983 Act. Having given the power to his Department, the Secretary of State does not want to give the information that apparently he required of London Transport when it ran the system.
The conversion of the Secretary of State to the nationalisation of Whitehall is amazing, particularly when one bears in mind some of his arguments in articles on nationalisation—that it was a bastion of union power on a feather bed provided by the Government. All those rhetorical flourishes came out in the right hon. Gentleman's articles. The conclusion of one of the articles that he wrote in 1977 was:What is needed is a new system altogether, a system fit for a more affluent society of more responsible people, and smacking less of 'the gentleman in Whitehall knows best.' We know now that he does not.There has been an amazing conversion of the Secretary of State. In the Bill he is doing precisely what he said was wrong in 1977. Apparently what he is doing now is relevant for Londoners. He should read some of his articles when he now talks about his faith in the efficiency of Whitehall. He talks as if Whitehall has no political influence, but coming from the Treasury, as the Secretary of State does, he knows all too well about its power and influence on local authorities and so on.
Why has the Secretary of State chosen that road? I think that it is primarily because he wants political control to set the standard and to determine the resources that he gets. He wants to acquire the political control that he so often condemned in the mid-1970s when he was out of power. The Secretary of State's justification for some of his actions, given in the White Paper and in statements today, is to quote the Select Committee on Transport. I believe that he read only the first page of that report, or completely misrepresented its case. It said that London Transport should be a national priority. That is why there was the suggestion of handing it over to the metropolitan authority. The Select Committee made it clear that we need a modern transport system and low fares. It also made it clear that 873 the system should not be handled by the Department of Transport. In its fifth report, in paragraph 6.10, the Committee stated:such a transfer of responsibility would be a major departure from the British tradition of local authority involvement in transport matters, and we do not believe that the transport problems of London are so acute as to justify depriving London's elected representatives, and London's electorate, of a major role in transport decision-making for their area.The Secretary of State might have read the first few lines of the Select Committee's report, but he read no further than that.
In another part of the report, the Committee set out the general objectives of London Transport. One was thatlocal government should retain a major role in transport planning and policy decisions".The Secretary of State should not use the Select Committee to try to make the Bill respectable. The Secretary of State for the Environment, presently thinking of streamlining the cities, also made it clear in 1979 that the GLC's transport and strategic functions should be kept as one, so there was a need to retain it. His mind has changed quickly in the past few years. Some of the reasons given for the Bill cannot be established. All the political parties in the GLC deplore the action that the Secretary of State for Transport is taking today in removing political control of London Transport. The poll to which I have referred shows that the electorate also thinks that.
It is far from clear how ratepayers will be affected. It is assumed that they will somehow enjoy a saving. The two documents, which I acquired on the day that the Bill was published, showed that the ceiling on the cost to the ratepayer would be raised from 50 per cent. to today's 66 per cent. That is no coincidence. It is clear that ratepayers might have to pay considerably more for the new transport system than was originally envisaged.
If the Minister has not calculated the size of ratepayers' contribution, I can enlighten him, as an official in the GLC—not a politician—has compiled a report which spells out all the detailed expenditure. I shall leave the Minister to examine that document so that he can learn exactly what ratepayers will be asked to pay. I do not have sufficient time to give all the figures now. We shall do that in Committee. It is clear, however, that the ratepayers' contribution is likely to increase as a result of the Minister's policies, especially if this means that the present penalties of £30 million are to continue under the LRT.
The transport system which the Secretary of State envisages will be supported to the tune of about £125 million. If public support is reduced by about £90 million, which is provided by the GLC there should be a reduction in the ratepayers' contribution. In reality, however, there will be no such reduction. Last year, the GLC achieved a surplus of £30 million because of greater efficiency, productivity and a larger return on the travel card. At the moment, that money goes back to the GLC and therefore to the ratepayer in the form of a lower precept. I am alarmed that the Ways and Means resolution provides that that money will go to the Treasury. I hope that hon. Members who represent London constituencies will bear in mind that that is what they will be invited to vote on later.
We shall oppose the Bill tooth and nail. We shall not waste time, but we intend to examine every one of its 61 clauses and seven schedules in detail. The Bill will have the effect of increasing fares and reducing services. It will 874 threaten old age concessionary passes and put greater burdens on women, the low paid and disabled who use our transport system. It will increase unemployment and lead to more deaths, accidents and congestion. It will remove London's democratic control of its transport system and increase the cost to ratepayers by introducing a transport tax. It will produce a Whitehall-directed quango which will be instructed to observe a Treasury financial requirement which meets the needs of the Treasury rather than those of London's transport.
§ 6.3 pm
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
should like to take up the final point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about democratic accountability. Between 1977 and 1981, I was a member of the GLC and a member of its London Transport committee which is the main board on London Transport responsible for all policy decisions. I was al the centre of the issue about accountability.
When I first joined that committee I was a firm believer in the GLC having control of London Transport. Within about three years it had become clear that, despite the successes of the then Conservative administration of the GLC in other respects, the leader of the GLC, Sir Horace Cutler, admitted that London Transport was the most intractable problem facing the council. With the possible exception of the administration of Sir Desmond Plummer, now Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone, which took over London Transport after Barbara Castle had wiped off its capital debts, every GLC administration, Labour and Conservative, has failed with London Transport. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who is still a member of the GLC, will agree with that.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. My intervention will give him an opportunity to examine his next point. I am sure that it will be just as interesting as his previous one. What is the unique peculiarity of London which makes its elected body, Tory or Labour, unable to run its transport system when similar ones are run by virtually every other large conurbation in Britain and by many other large conurbations throughout the world?
§ Mr. Leigh
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman as he has put his finger on the central issue. The GLC was put in an impossible position by Barbara Castle through the Transport (London) Act 1969. It was given the same powers as most Ministers are given in regard to the running of nationalised industries, but the GLC, as the quasi-Minister in control of London Transport, did not have the authority of Parliament.
I do not blame the GLC, but for the past 13 years it has been caught in impossible circumstances. The Government have had control of the purse strings through the transport supplementary grant, the GLC has supposedly had control of policy matters but the London Transport Executive has had operational control. That has resulted in confusion and underinvestment, especially in regard to capital spending. To that extent, much of the speech made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was irrelevant. Whatever view people hold about the need for injection of more capital into London Transport, the GLC, bearing in mind the limitations of its powers, has palpably failed to provide such capital.
875 The facts speak for themselves. Real unit costs have risen by 67.1 per cent. on the buses and by 47.8 per cent. on the underground since 1970. Fares rose by 85 per cent. in real terms between 1970 and 1982 and the subsidy increased threefold in real terms from £6.5 million in 1970 to £369.8 million in 1982. Under successive administrations, the GLC has simply failed. It now takes five and a half people to run one London Transport bus as compared with the three people who are required to run a National Bus Company bus and the one person who is required to run a private bus.
Whatever we believe about the need for more or less capital investment, there is no doubt that the GLC has failed—perhaps through no fault of its own—and that therefore London Transport must be taken out of its control if London is to have a satisfactory transport system.
Subsections (2) and (3) of clause 3 distinguish the Bill from the classic Morrisonian measure such as Herbert Morrison tried to introduce in 1933. As it is now drafted, the Bill puts insufficient urgency on the need for privatisation and competition. Subsections (2) and (3) of clause 3 give London Regional Transport the power to enter and carry out agreements. It does not enforce a duty on it to find ways in which that might be done. I hope that the Committee will consider that.
Until today a sign has appeared at the front of Herbert Morrison's building—County hall—showing the number of London's unemployed. The sign has not shown the number of people who have lost their jobs caused by the monopoly practices of the GLC in forcing out free enterprise from London. The spirit of free enterprise can and must be regenerated in London transport. In pursuit of that spirit, the new bus company must regard itself eventually as a more regulatory and not operational company, overseeing the creation of new routes.
We have heard about the disgraceful GLC advertising campaign, especially the advertisement "Come in No. 9". I have lived on the No. 9 route for 17 years. I shall not be disappointed when that route—which has not changed for 100 years—is finally reformed and moves with the times.
Considerable success has been experienced in America by private operators providing new bus routes for shoppers and commuters and luxury buses, which we failed to persuade London Transport to introduce between 1977 and 1981. London Transport refused to proceed with the suggested changes. It is wedded to the existing routes, many of which have been in operation for 100 years and which no longer meet the needs of Londoners.
For too long the GLC and London Transport have been discussing the formulation of plans whereas only the consumer knows what is required and not the planners at 55 Broadway or County hall. We cannot reproduce in one mind that which the market forces create and recreate a million times.
London Transport is too producer-oriented and not oriented towards the consumer and the free market. If clauses 3(2) and (3) of the Bill are developed, we will create, for the first time in 50 years, a London Regional Transport Bill of which London can be proud.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Gainsborough and 876 Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) as I, too, use the No. 9 bus. Perhaps it has not occurred to the hon. Gentleman that the reason why many London bus routes have remained the same in the central area is that the roads and the shops have remained the same. The No. 9 and No. 11 routes are prime examples. Those who do not understand that much of London's inner area transport is based upon a built-up area that existed prior to the motor car have misunderstood the issue.
I agree that it was not easy for the GLC to take over London Transport in 1969. In its earlier emanation as the London county council, the authority ran a magnificant and successful municipal transport service — probably the biggest tramway network in western Europe—under various administrations including the Conservatives who masqueraded by using the term "municipal reform", and who subsidised the tramways. In 1933 the London county council backed a Bill as a result of a deal between the powers in London, which gave municipal control to a public board, and the Croydon corporation and the West Ham corporation. The deal had great significance.
The Minister said that London Transport would continue, and when I challenged him he admitted that it would continue only in its legal sense. Paragraph 16 of Cmnd. 9004 entitled "Public Transport in London" states:The Government has decided that control of the London Transport Executive should be transferred as soon as possible from the GLC to the Secretary of State for Transport. It will then be reconstituted on the pattern of a small holding company, with its bus and Underground operations established as separate subsidiaries. The holding body, which will be re-named London Regional Transport (LRT), will be responsible for the strategic control of its operating subsidiaries and for securing the cost-effective provision of bus and Underground services from these and other operators.To do that will put the clock back to prior 1933. It will destroy the Act introduced by Herbert Morrison and passed by a Conservative Government and the arrangements between the municipal authorities, the trade unions and the shareholders who said "We have had enough of chaos in London. We will come together and create the London Passenger Transport Board." Should any Liberal hon. Members consider themselves left out, the Bill was finally piloted through the House by the right hon. P. J. Pybus, who was a Liberal member of the then national Government.
The Bill destroys an Act which had all-party support, which went through the hybrid procedure, and which created one of the best known public transport corporations in the world. I protest about what is happening because the people involved know little about public transport or the history of London transport.
The Bill purports to produce some form of integration. In 1912 the bus and underground services of the capital were integrated because the underground services could not sustain profitability as most of it was built on a promoter's trick. It was kept alive by the increasing bus services. Such was the position until the late 1960s. The bus services subsidised the underground. Since the underground has been carrying people to work and buses have faced competition from the car, the underground has supported the bus services. The Bill proposes to divide the two transport systems into two companies and to introduce private capital. I suggest that that is not integration but disintegration.
The Secretary of State said that the services of British Rail and London Transport will be co-ordinated. In so 877 doing, the Secretary of State will create another bureaucratic layer between the management of British Rail and the services for which it will be responsible into Victoria, Cannon Street, Waterloo, Charing Cross, Paddington and so on. The bureaucracy at 55 Broadway will be a new animal.
I wish to show how integration was effected before the war and could be effected again. It will not be effected by clauses 7 and 8, which refer to co-ordination. Coordination does not occur merely by the passing of an Act or by setting up a committee chaired by the Secretary of State for Transport. If the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends cannot do better than they did in dealing with concessionary fares for pensioners, I do not think that they will succeed in persuading the officials of British Rail and London Transport to work well together.
I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle that officials of London Transport and British Rail are not the easiest people with whom to deal. I have been criticising them for years. I understand, to some extent, some of the problems faced by Sir Horace Cutler and his successors in dealing with those at 55 Broadway. My admiration for Mr. Frank Pick, Lord Ashfield and Herbert Morrison exceeds my admiration for some of their successes.
Why will there be wholesale destruction of the 1933 machinery? There may well have been difficulties, but they were due not to the statutory provisions, but to difficulties of personality. It is the Bill's provisions that will cause the disintegration and problems. Let us consider some of the provisions. First, clause 6 puts an obligation on the new holding company to contract out as many services as it can. Secondly, there is an obligation to create subsidiary companies. Thirdly, there is a hint about the disposal of property. London Transport owns a lot of property, and I envisage many people licking their lips wondering how many houses can be built on spare land in the suburbs. Fourthly, there is a threat, which has hitherto not been mentioned, to the wages and conditions of those who are involved in public transport. They are not the best paid workers, and do not enjoy regular and easy hours. However, under London Transport they generally enjoy reasonable conditions of service, and a certain degree of co-ordinated recreational and health provision, which in its day was held up as a model. I do not see how those standards can be maintained when there is wholesale contracting out and a disintegration of the unitary services of London Transport.
Indeed, one of the reasons for contracting out is to reduce costs. However, all too often that is achieved by reducing the wages of those who do the work, and possibly reducing safety standards at the same time. There is an obligation on the Minister—I see her shaking her head—to tell us why that will not happen. Indeed, I hope that she will say today that it will not happen so that we can prevent the taking of steps in that direction.
Although the 1933 Act was not perfect, it was created by two men who should be mentioned on the day that their creation will be destroyed if the Bill is given its Second Reading. They both started right at the bottom. One was a grocer's boy in Lambeth, and the other was an odd job man and tram conductor in Detroit. They both became Members of Parliament, and members of the other place. They both served in Cabinets in two world wars. It was they who created London Transport. Of course, I refer 878 again to Herbert Morrison, later Lord Morrison of Lambeth, and to Albert Stanley, who became Lord Ashfield.
In the years up to 1933, those men managed to get together the diverse interests of the shareholders in the then so-called combine of the underground group, and the big municipal operators of the LCC, West Ham, Croydon and so on. Although they were aided by others, it was through their efforts and largely as a result of the personalities that London Transport, as we know it today, was created.
I understand that I can quote a speech from the other place, as it was not made in this Session. In his maiden and only speech in the other place on this issue, Lord Ashfield spoke about fares. There were fears that when the London Passenger Transport Board was created fares would be increased to meet the requirement to pay off the shareholders. Lord Ashfield said:the group of companies over which I preside has been based, firstly, upon what may be described as low fares—in any event, fares which have a direct relation to the economic position from time to time—and secondly, upon the provision of a service which attracts the maximum number of riders. It is a policy of low fares and (shall I say?) an efficient service which brings the largest measure of success.That is in tune with what the GLC's administration says today.
In his peroration, Lord Ashfield said:It is only by complete fusion of all the interests concerned in this area and by establishing a common management which will have a common policy, directed towards the proper and orderly development of this great system of transport, that it will be found possible to provide the facilities the public require." —[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 March 1933; Vol. 86, c. 1004–7.]Those two men were born in this country, although one of them emigrated to north America but later returned. They both ended up on different sides of the House. They put together some of the better aspirations of both parties to create a model organisation that may have seen better days than at present, but which at least formed the basis of a fused and integrated administration of public transport. That is now under threat.
The Bill has little to commend it to Londoners. It breaks up an organisation that was founded 50 years ago, and despite some recent criticisms it has been held up as a model worldwide. Despite the legal shell, London Transport as we know it today will be broken up into a pattern similar to that which existed prior to 1933, and even prior perhaps to 1912 when pirate buses were rampant. The pattern may be Victorian, but the finances will not be. Any short-term profits that are obtained by those who lend money to the new contracting companies or who become contractors to London Regional Transport will be made from passengers' fares or from the subsidies that are compulsorily provided out of the precept on the rates. Profits, in the Victorian sense, do not exist.
In 1933, Lord Ashfield wanted fusion, but this Bill will bring only confusion, and it will not work.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has given us an absorbing discourse on the history of London Transport. Indeed, I could go back even further than he did. My constituency was built on a firm foundation of good public transport. In the latter part of the 1850s Beckenham was a hamlet of about 2,000 people. However, there was a 879 tenfold increase in the population in the 30 years that followed the arrival of the trains. Since then, my constituency's prosperity has been wholly dependent on good transport links to the centre of London.
In the past 20 years, under successive Governments and administrations at County hall, the quality of the service provided by public transport in my constituency has steadily deteriorated and become ever more costly. We have never had, and never will have, an underground railway system. Our commuter trains offer a constantly diminishing service, while the local bus service is a source of constant complaint.
I welcome the fact that when the new transport executive comes into being there will be greater coordination between British Rail and the managers of London's buses. That will help with one specific but important point. Over the years, we have had a steady cutback in late night and weekend rail services. When I first became the Member for Beckenham we had such good late night services that a large number of members of the NGA came to live in my constituency. Over the years those late night services have disappeared. There can be no doubt that if the managers of British rail were to have their way there would be still further cutbacks in all the services provided at the weekend and after the evening rush hour had come to an end. The managers make the valid point that when one is dealing with a small number of passengers using a specific service it is cheaper and more convenient to carry them by bus from station to station, using the road rather than rail.
If and when there are cutbacks in the remaining late night services to my constituency, I hope that there will be a proper co-ordination with those who manage London buses to ensure that there is a provision of a bus service or a minibus service. I do not believe that improved coordination between the bus managers and British Rail managers will provide us with as many dividends as some of my colleagues would like to think.
The problems facing the London and south-east commuter rail services are well summed up in chapter 7 of the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission presented to Parliament in October 1980. Paragraph 7.36 said that on average, by division, drivers spent 3–6 hours per eight hour shift or 45 per cent. of the time actually operating trains.
It said:Our analysis of work programmes for individual depots has shown that most crews allocated to suburban services are at or below this average.Improved co-ordination will not affect this, which is the central problem of productivity. I should be glad if the Minister who is to reply would tell us whether any further checks have been made since the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on productivity in the London and south-east commuter services was published and whether that productivity has improved.
The major benefit that will flow from the Bill for my constituents is the potential that will soon open up for partnership between public transport and private enterprise. The public bus service in my constituency is wholly inadequate, and in much of suburban London. Of course, it is a difficult problem. I am aware that the spread of use of the private car has done much to damage bus services in the suburban areas, but one third of my 880 constituents do not have cars. Part of this problem has been met by the proliferation of minicab companies, which are the unsung and largely unmeasured heroes of suburban travel. I believe that a middle way should be available to the suburban public — halfway between the few lumbering buses which run from one traffic jam to another and the flexible but expensive minicabs. This gap can best be filled by the widespread use of minibuses, which I have recently seen in operation in Hong Kong, where they carry about 10 per cent. of the passengers who use public transport.
Recently an application was made to London Transport to start a minibus service in London. This is neither the time nor the place to discuss the merits of that application, but London Transport's reaction was an automatic reflex action. It was opposed to the application and it was opposed to competition. I hope that the new London Transport Executive that will be formed after the Bill is enacted will encourage potential operators to develop workable schemes for the introduction of minibus services.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
My hon. Friend mentioned the Amos inquiry. In fairness to London Transport, it appointed an independent inspector to hear the Amos inquiry—a solicitor completely independent of London Transport—who found that the statistics and facts given to him at the hearing were little better than works of fiction.
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
I am not here to defend the Amos application. All I am suggesting is that minibuses can provide a valuable service in the suburban London area and that it would be helpful if London Tranport, instead of opposing applications because it does not like the Amos figures, were to encourage other people to enter the field. I hope that the new executive will look on the private operator as a partner and as a provider of scarce capital equipment rather than as a competitor who must be resisted and thwarted at every turn.
§ Mr. Prescott
Does the hon. Gentleman know of any other business, public or private, which would invite a competitor to join it knowing full well that that competitor wished only to be involved in the most lucrative parts of the business and would wish to keep the profits from those lucrative parts of the original business for himself rather than put them into the common pool and share them?
§ Sir Philip Goodhart
That is precisely the attitude that I hope the new executive will not take. One will see private enterprise operators not as competitors who are trying to scoop off the cream at the top of the bottle but as true partners who can bring new capital equipment to those parts of suburban London where there are no adequate services at present and where London Transport can hardly be called a competitor because the services do not exist.
Finally, I should like to deal with the issue of concessionary travel for pensioners. Like many of my colleagues, I have received scores of coupons about concessionary travel for London's pensioners. They were sent as part of an expensive scare campaign whipped up by the GLC. Politically I deplore the waste of money involved, but I am not frightened by the coupons. Indeed, to some extent, I welcome them because history shows that when scare campaigns are whipped up without foundation they tend to rebound upon those who start them. There is 881 no doubt that the scare campaign has worried many pensioners. I hope that we can quickly put their fears at rest.
The Minister of State made a speech on 28 November and my right hon. Friend used similar words this afternoon. The Minister of State said:The London Boroughs Association has agreed in principle to work out further details of the scheme for concessionary fares and to put forward proposals. This is not something which can be done quickly, but the London boroughs have two years in which to devise a workable scheme.I urge my hon. Friend the Minister of State and her colleagues to do everything possible to tell the London Boroughs Association that they do not have two years to bring forward a scheme and that the sooner they get on with it so that reassurances can be given to pensioners in our capital city, the better it will be. I believe that the Bill should not be an object of fear to the inhabitants of our capital city. It should give hope for better transport.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) whose constituency is associated with Bromley. I wonder what the reaction of Bromley will be to his views on concessionary fares. The Bromley council took the GLC to court over the "Fares Fair" scheme. I am not an apologist for Mr. Livingstone or the GLC, but that was one measure of which the GLC was proud. Even Sir Horace Cutler told me that he thought Bromley was wrong to take that line. More people returned to travelling on the buses. The number of passengers increased by between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. I am a regular user of buses in London, but I doubt whether the Secretary of State often boards a bus. I thought that a considerable improvement was made.
I seem to remember that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) was elected to the GLC on a ticket which promised a great improvement in London's transport but it became steadily worse. It is a pity that the "Fares Fair" scheme failed.
My colleagues and I believe that the Government should never have asked the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. The Bill is ill timed, wrongly conceived and a recipe for muddle, meanness and ministerial incompetence. I have no doubt that the patronage and privilege of the current Administration will flourish, but for those of us who still have faith in local democracy it is a sad day.
I accept the need for further reform in local government, but we should widen its role, not castrate it. Surely we should have learnt from experience that the first step is to reform local government's financial base. Shortly and simply, we should implement the recommendations in Layfield, the committee set up in 1975 to examine the question of financing local government. It produced a full and detailed report which made sensible recommendations for local income tax and rating based upon capital value. Let us implement those proposals and reduce local government's dependence on central funding to about 30 per cent.
By all means, let us consider the roles of the GLC and the metropolitan and shire counties. My shire county considered a transport privatisation application only the other day. We wanted to encourage the scheme and finance it, but the applicant did not have a hope of 882 successfully running a service in the evenings for the people in the rural parts of the island. He could not make any money out of it. Money would have been poured straight down the drain. Exactly the same will happen to private companies in other urban areas. There may be some future in financing certain railway lines — the Gatwick line is a possibility—but I was brought up in north London and I remember trams and Tally Ho corner in 1933. Great strides have been taken since then but the Bill would turn the clock back. Trials will collapse and Londoners will not thank us.
I think that we should reconstruct local government in favour of regional authorities to take in health and other services, including transport.
We should elect councillors by proportional representation and so lessen the risk of appalling swings such as that which will occur if the Labour party ever returns to office. A Labour Government would reverse the Bill's provisions. God help the country if that happens. It would be a disaster.
Let us lessen the risk of sudden policy changes—the true reason for the Bill. That was confirmed In the Secretary of State's speech today. With an elected regional structure with up to 200 unitary authorities we would achieve what should have been achieved in 1972. The Government seem to be hell bent on destroying all local initiative and all the expertise of local government officers which goes with that and has been built up over many years. We should not forget the excellence and knowledge of people who serve local government.
Personally I would go further. This is my personal belief, not Liberal party policy. I would introduce a directly elected mayoral system for London. We need strong people at the top. London and much of local government need a strong leader with power and influence at the helm to get things done; to sort out the traffic in the metropolis which is a disgrace. Some Metropolitan police reckon that within two years London's traffic will come to a full stop and be jammed. We want someone to speak for London, support commerce and industry and do a great deal more. The anachronism of the Lord Mayor in the city with no powers should go, as should the leader of a council in whose choice the general public has had little say. Mr. Livingstone was never elected as the leader of the GLC. He was appointed after he got in.
The need today is for powerful personalities with the direct backing of the electorate to stand up to the bloated Ministries, with the benefit of finance and public opinion to support them. It is a waste of time to take a delegation to the Department of Transport hoping for a concession. One is kept waiting knowing damn well that one will achieve nothing. If the person who goes to the Secretary of State has the backing of power and finance, the red carpet will be put down and the Secretary of State will be at the door to greet him. That must happen if we are to have meaningful local government. With such a structure London could look forward to the future with confidence
The Bill puts the clock back. No one likes it. That is to be expected of Labour-controlled councils, but surely the Secretary of State should listen to the London Chamber of Commerce, the London Transport Passengers' Committee or the Royal Town Planning Institute.
In the Department of Transport's press notice on the Bill the Secretary of State is quoted as saying:In recent years the level of political interference in London Transport has become intolerable.883 The Bill is designed solely to allow the Secretary of State, who is nothing if not political, to take control of London Transport out of the hands of an elected body so that he and an unelected group can interfere with it as much as they wish.
Under schedule 1, paragraph 4, the Secretary of State will appoint the chairman and other members of London Regional Transport—the body that will take over from the London Transport Executive. Clause 13 allows the Secretary of State to make a levy on the rating authorities to collect contributions towards the expenditure on LRT, the amount being subject only to the unacceptable negative procedure. We know how limited is our ability to change measures once they have been accepted by the House.
Clause 31 empowers the Secretary of State to give general directions to LRT on the exercise and performance of its functions. Clause 10 empowers the Secretary of State to direct LRT to form subsidiary companies with a view to disposing of them. In short, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to appoint the board of LRT, to tell it what to do, to make LRT sell parts of its operations and to decide the level of the rates raised to help pay for it. That amounts to wholesale political interference by the Secretary of State in the affairs of London and Londoners, and it must be condemned.
The Secretary of State made a controversial and unconvincing speech. Other Tories have a more realistic approach. For example, Mr. Alan Greengross, the leader of the Tories on the GLC, recently said:the Conservative Group believes that to run LT in isolation from local government would be a retrograde step. In the end, no city can or should operate a public transport system without a proper input of directly elected members to represent, as closely as possible, the interests of those we are serving.The Bill fails totally to do that. It breaks the link between local services, local taxation and local democracy. No longer, for example, can the tag, "no taxation without representation" be applied to London's ratepayers. Rather than abolish or reform the rating system, as the Conservatives have so often promised, the Bill will complicate it further, and take a substantial swathe of the rates out of the scope of direct local accountability.
The new LRT will be almost wholly unaccountable. Its finances will not be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It will be almost impossible to find out about LRT's operations via parliamentary questions. It is hard enough to find out about British Rail via the Table Office. Hon. Members must probably be satisfied with an annual one and a half hour debate on the level of rate precept, with a few minutes in the yearly London debate, and the LRT annual report. The total absence of local accountability and the tenuous level of national accountability are perhaps the overbearing objections to the Bill. However, they are only marginally more objectionable than some of its other features.
There is also the issue of concessionary fares for pensioners. The Bill will abolish the overall scheme which is at present administered by the GLC and replace it with a system of "borough option". At best, that is a recipe for chaos, and it is almost bound to lead to some pensioners having concessionary fares withdrawn merely because they happen to live in the wrong borough. I remind hon. Members who might not be members of local authorities that local authorities are having trouble in keeping within expenditure limits so that they do not incur penalties. 884 Local authorities, especially in rural areas, cannot provide concessionary fares because they do not have the necessary money.
The vast majority of local authorities, whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour controlled, try to follow Government guidelines. We know that there are exceptions. If local authorities follow the Government's guidelines, they probably cannot provide concessionary fares—no matter how much they may wish to do so—because of Government demands. Again, the GLC Tories have a clearer grasp of the issues than the Government. Greengross said:The GLC took over the scheme in 1973 specifically to ensure a London-wide approach. That is needed as much today as ever.The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asked about the disabled and the GLC-funded dial-a-ride service. People in my constituency have been trying to help the disabled, but that is very difficult. What is the definition of "disabled"? People in my county are trying to devise a scheme with British Rail and the Sealink boat service to ensure that concessions are given to the genuinely disabled. The dial-a-ride scheme has much going for it, and it would be a great pity if it were lost.
It is vital that we move towards a more integrated system of timetabling and organisation, with through tickets and so on. Only a start has been made in that direction. That is a typical example of a total mess-up. The Bill merely contains reserve powers in clause 45 to integrate LRT with British Rail, although the financial implications remain unclear. The Bill, therefore, misses a golden opportunity to deal firmly with this important issue. Add to that the proliferation of independent bus companies, which the Bill endorses, and a truly integrated system is further away than ever. We shall return to the pre-1933 conditions.
Another worrying aspect of the Bill is that it allows the Secretary of State to retain any surplus generated by LRT if it appears to him that the surpluses are not needed for its business. That conjures up two dangers — the Secretary of State failing to invest adequately in London's transport, and the Government forcing up fares as a form of hidden tax along the line of the recent gas and electricity prices.
The Transport (London) Act 1969, which established the current arrangement, requires the council and the executive to promote services which meet London's needs. That strong public service obligation is badly watered down in the Bill. Clause 2 specifies that LRT—which, by the direction of clause 31, must take the advice of the Secretary of State on matters of overall policy—need onlyhave due regard to—
- (a) the transport needs for the time being of Greater London; and
- (b) efficiency, economy and safety of operation."
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the way in which transport needs are met by appointees of the Secretary of State is similar to the way health needs are met in the Health Service where appointees of the Secretary of State for Social Services have a casting vote? They have just done that in north Southwark and Lewisham in deciding to cut services by 180 beds in Guy's hospital. The sole nominee on the health body took a decision in the "interests" of the service—that is the definition—when the democratically elected members of the authority to a person made a 885 contrary decision which might involve conflict with the Government. That is a recipe that has been a disaster in the Health Service, and it is now being propagated for transport in London as well.
§ Mr. Ross
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. It is not, I regret, likely that as part of their recipe the Government will at some time try to bring the health authorities under local government control. That is a bit of a forlorn hope at the moment, but I trust that it will come. It is certainly something that we want to see happen in a regional elected authority.
Although we welcome the integration of London Transport and the British Rail consumer affairs boards, the total lack of powers given to the resulting board is to be regretted. Its members will be appointed by the Secretary of State and so will not necessarily represent London. Judging by some of the appointments to the water authority, that is likely to be the case. The board's members will be unable to consider changes or the reduction or closure of services. The body will hardly have sufficient power or status to compensate for the lack of democracy in the rest of the Bill.
The Bill is motivated by a desire to abolish the GLC, not to improve London's transport provision. There can be no doubt about that, judging by the first part of the Secretary of State's speech. London Transport is not overfunded, as some would like to make out, and the figures make that clear. London Transport's subsidy is about 37 per cent.—the Secretary of State said about 38 per cent. The subsidy in New York is 72 per cent., in Milan 71 per cent., in Brussels 70 per cent., in Berlin 61 per cent. and in Paris 56 per cent. London desperately needs a decent transport system, subject to proper democratic control. The Bill will make it almost impossible to achieve that control, and the sooner it is despatched to the dustbin the better.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
Transport and traffic in general are probably the greatest problems that my constituents in Richmond and Barnes experience. There is no more sensitive issue than the hell that they have experienced from those twin miseries—living under the flight path of Heathrow, and living on the south circular road at the most inappropriate point. That road in no way serves the community or anyone as a ring road for London.
In our single lane, tree-lined avenues, juggernauts and double lorries thunder down causing pain and fear, and damage to the environment, and I must stray on to that point for a few moments. Lorries that thunder through my constituency coming from the Channel ports and going to the midlands or to the north have no business to be anywhere near that area. I am sure that when the M25 is completed it will make a difference to the level of lorry transport in my constituency. But we will need a proper London lorry management scheme to reduce the misery to a greater extent. It is not beyond the wit of man to introduce a lorry management scheme whereby those making journeys through London would be directed round London.
§ Mr. Hanley
I shall come to that. It may be thought that I am straying from the point, but I am not. There are two reasons why the roads of my constituency are so clogged—lorries and domestic cars. Often, there is a commercial necessity for the lorries to be there. That is why a sensible lorry management scheme must be devised with both industry and residents in mind. The nose-to-tail queues of private cars, however, do not need to be there. The average speed of cars travelling into and out of London is about 11 miles per hour, becoming slower as the day goes on as people less used to road travel take to the roads.
Why do people travel on the roads so much? Why is the traffic so solid? Why does it encourage people to leap into the side roads of my constituency to follow the antisocial, dangerous and immoral practice of driving rapidly down side roads to achieve a tiny time advantage? That practice is known as "rat running" and it could not be more appropriately described. So many people take to the roads because London Transport has let everyone down. How can we reduce the thousands of cars, many with just one person sitting in them, if there is no decent public transport system in London? The only way to rescue people from the misery of driving into London in the morning and crawling out in the evening is to get them back on to London Transport and British Rail. That is the real way to reduce traffic densities in the suburbs and in the centre.
Why do commuters not use public transport as they should? The reason is simple. They cannot rely on the transport provided. They cannot rely on the frequency of trains. There is no guarantee that buses will be at the stops on time or that they will not be full. People cannot even budget in the knowledge that fares will be consistent over the year. They do not know whether fares will go up or down. Strikes occur far too often with no warning whatever. We often hear on London Broadcasting Corporation that a tube train may be cancelled due to staff shortages in an area in which there is supposed to be unemployment. The commuter therefore opts out of the risks of public transport.
For far too long public transport has been a political battleground, the fares being used as weapons of war and the services as ammunition, the expendable front-line troops being the poor old commuters who increasingly believe in conscientious objection and desert the field of battle in their thousands. That is not cowardice. It is common sense.
§ Mr. Snape
If the hon. Gentleman can tell us of one rush hour train passing through his constituency without passengers standing in the aisles or of one bus that is empty in the rush hour, not only the House but London Transport will be delighted to hear about it. Commuters are not voting with their feet. Without greater investment in the passenger services there are simply not enough passenger-carrying vehicles to go round.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity later to explain why traffic in London is the worst that it has been at any time since the war.
The "Fares Fair" fiasco led to a massive increase in London rates. Thousands of pensioners with free bus passes found their rates bills increased by £60 or £70 to finance reductions that meant nothing to them. Meanwhile, people travelling into London from outside the GLC area found that their fares were slashed but that 887 their rates did not alter by a penny. Where is the fairness in that? Moreover, within a few weeks the fares were doubled again.
I believe, as I know all hon. Members believe, that reduced fares would bring more people back to London Transport, but the subsidy must be spread generally and not selectively among those who use London Transport, because it is a national asset. I welcome the scheme in the Bill, although I should prefer the Exchequer subsidy to be greater than the one third suggested, but I believe that the London ratepayer has paid enough. Rather than reductions or increases in fares, we need stable fares, and in this context I welcome the statement by London Transport yesterday about stability for the next three years.
Another abuse in the past few years has been the way in which the GLC has used London Transport as a job protection scheme. Single manning should have been introduced years ago on the Metropolitan and City line. Wage rises and staff increases have been in no way realistic compared with the services provided.
The worst abuse in the entire political argument has been the cynical and vicious way in which the Labour group on the GLC has used pensioners by scaring them about their free passes. I have received more than 400 coupons and letters about this, all from pensioners who believe that they are to have their free passes taken away and full fares slapped on them any minute now.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that all the accusations made by Conservative Members against the GLC and the Labour party about scaring pensioners could be instantly dismissed by a statement from the Government guaranteeing that the free pass scheme now operated by the GLC will continue in its existing form when the GLC is abolished?
§ Mr. Hanley
I shall make my own pleas about that in a moment.
Instead of trying to save the GLC, which, with such schemes, daily proves the necessity for its abolition, the Labour boroughs should get together with the other boroughs to work out a sensible scheme for concessionary fares in London as a whole. Real progress might then be made to help pensioners. In this context, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for her statement on 28 November, in Mortlake, which helped greatly in redressing the balance of truth for pensioners. I am also grateful to her for her efforts in London generally. We are lucky to have such a Minister.
I hope that extremely generous concessionary fares, with free travel for large parts of the day, will be granted by local authorities. I shall certainly press for that in my own borough, as it is one of the most important ways to keep elderly people active, alert and part of the community. I was grateful, too, for the comments of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) about how difficult it is for some councils to keep within the limits of the money that they have to raise and to spend. Members of his party never advanced that argument before they took control of my borough. They simply demanded free fares. I now demand free fares from them.
If the Government allow local authorities to operate generous concessionary fares schemes, this should not come out of grant-related expenditure such as social service funding for the elderly. If concessionary fares are 888 given with one hand but grabbed back with the other through the massive penalties that my borough would suffer, real misery will be caused to the entire population, including the elderly, of whom we have perhaps the highest proportion in London. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will make a statement about that, as it would help not only those in control of my borough council but people in general in the areas of greatest need.
Another area in which the GLC is to be abhorred for scaring the very people whom it claims to help concerns the posters to be seen all over London, "Come in No. 9, your time is up". When the Mortlake bus garage closed in the summer, I went with a delegation of bus workers to meet Dr. Quarmby at the London Transport Executive. I was greatly impressed by his professionalism, his business sense and his clear commitment to the community. He gave assurances about the continued existence of the No. 9 bus which, due to the closure of Mortlake garage, we believed might be in doubt. He asked us to monitor the change in services and, indeed, the data have been provided for him and, true to his word, he has reacted accordingly in trying to improve any deficiencies that we have spotted.
I must pay tribute here to many people in Mortlake, especially the Mortlake community association, for their tireless work in monitoring the bus system. I for one am prepared to trust Dr. Quarmby rather more than I am those who try to undermine the confidence of bus users. A poster such as that of the GLC can turn people off using public transport. It does not turn people on trying to save the GLC. It makes people frightened of considering using a bus. When this bus service exists and Dr. Quarmby says it will remain for the foreseeable future, we should trust him and the professionals. We should not trust the amateurs at the GLC.
While I welcome the great advice and interesting words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I disagree entirely with what he said about the No. 9 bus. If the No. 9 bus has been there for 100 years, maybe it is because it has been needed for 100 years. It is needed now, and I want it continued.
The Bill is clearly a great advantage to the taxpayer and ratepayer alike to remove the wasteful duplication between British Rail and London Transport and particularly to set up a framework to allow closer co-operation with British Rail's commuter services. I wish that the Bill had gone further in the direction of harmonising British Rail and London Transport. I welcome the clauses to encourage competition of privatisation where it pays to do so. That is not dogma; it is simple responsibility and common sense.
As to the business principles and profit and loss referred to by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who is no longer in the Chamber, business principles in an organisation such as LRT are not concerned with profit and loss only. They are concerned with acting within the financial disciplines of the real world. Business principles in the real world mean stewardship, looking after the assets and not wasting money. They mean being prudent and avoiding profligacy. That is good business sense.
On the question of consumer representation, I hope that the new London Regional Passengers' Committee will be 889 drawn from a sufficiently wide area of representation to allow for proper consultation with bodies such as local authorities and local transport user groups.
I happen to believe that the 84 London Members of Parliament will feel that, with the Secretary of State's direct involvement, this Chamber will be the proper forum for making our constituents' views felt. In answer to the poster across the river, and I hope that those concerned have planning permission from Red Ted, which says that 90 per cent. of the people in London want direct involvement in discussing their fares—incidentally, the poll result on the poster relates not to saving the GLC but to direct involvement by the public—I believe that 100 per cent. of my constituents have a direct involvement through me to question the Secretary of State if any part of the Bill falls flat. That is direct involvement, that is elected responsibility and that is what I hope London Opposition Members of Parliament will feel is their role. I hope that they will not pass this down to their hacks at the GLC. I apologise to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), the hon. hack from the GLC.
If, therefore, following the Bill there is greater confidence in the professionalism and reliability of London Regional Transport, if the fare structure is at a level that people can afford and would be attracted by and is not subject to the whims of political shenanigans—the rise and fall that we have seen over recent years — if waste and efficiency can be routed out by fully professional management at all levels and if London Regional Transport can be run as a service to consumers on good business principles and not as a sinecure for its staff, people will flock back to it, thus reducing pressure of traffic on the roads, improving our tempers and our blood pressures and making London a happier and saner place in which to work and live.
§ Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)
There is an old story told of the time of the introduction of one-man operated buses. One of the buses crashed and the police were called to the scene. The police interviewed the driver and asked him what happened. The driver said, "I'm sorry, I don't know, I was upstairs collecting fares at the time." The Secretary of State for Transport is doing that in the Bill. He is picking up the pennies while London Transport heads for a crash. It really is pennies, because as The Times on 3 December reported:Ministers indicated that their enthusiasm for ending municipal 'interference' in London Transport took precedence even over cutting public expenditure, an ambition the new system is unlikely to achieve for some time.The article goes on to quote the Secretary of State as acknowledging that there will be no massive savings as a result of the Bill. That article which was written before the Bill was published points to the problems of privatisation and the extra costs that will result. The article in The Times explains the reality of the situation. The undue haste with which the Government have brought the Bill in is for purely political reasons, to set in motion their programme to abolish the GLC. It has nothing to do with the travel needs of Londoners. It is dogma overriding transport consequences, financial common sense and even popular opinion.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
Does the lion. Gentleman accept that the spending by the GLC of £850 million of ratepayers' money, allegedly to defend London Transport, is also for overt political reasons?
§ Mr. Cohen
The GLC is pursuing its public duty in that respect, bearing in mind that the poll referred to showed that 90 per cent. of Londoners want the GLC to continue to have a say in London Transport and they do not want that democratic right taken away.
Government dogma in trying to abolish the GLC runs in the face of public opinion. Why else has the Secretary of State refused to publish the responses to his While Paper on the matter? The reason can only be because nearly all those responses were highly critical of the Government's plan.
There is no recognition in the Bill of the real problems of London Transport. London as a capital city has special needs. The twice-daily massive commuter rush hours affect London more than the provincial areas. Environmental factors must also be considered -inadequate roads, traffic congestion, and all the problems of travelling in central London.
There is no evidence that the present London Transport is not cost effective within its limited resources. London Transport's costs are obviously higher than those of provincial areas, for the reasons I have already stated. but that is no different from the situation in other capital cities. London does not get as much subsidy as other capital cities give to their transport systems. The real problem is a lack of investment in the transport system. That will be exacerbated by the Bill and the public spending cut proposed by the Government.
The Bill has been described as a mixture of nationalisation and privatisation. It is both at the same time. Unfortunately, it represents the worst aspects of both. On the nationalisation aspect, it represents the centralisation of power, with the Secretary of State not being properly answerable. The board of LRT will be an undemocratic and unaccountable quango.
The Tory-controlled Bromley council, which took action in the courts to stop cheap fares, when consulted about the White Paper, commented—It is essential to secure some democratic representation on the board of LRT if ratepayers are to be able to exert control over services for which they will be expected to pay.That was Bromley making a plea for democracy.
Hammersmith and Fulham councils—I am talking not only about Labour councils—in addition to making the same point about local residents not being able to excercise democratic control over decisions directly affecting them, pointed out:Key information, as regards local aspirations and detailed background knowledge, will not be available at a policy formulation stage.That is another factor in the democracy argument. The new board will be a quango under the control of the Secretary of State. Its members will be appointed by him. Although he has described the people he wants as being business managers, it smacks of the patronage that has resulted in other quangos being run by retired part-timers— old business men — on a huge salary at public expense.
The powers of the board will be under the direct control of the Secretary of State, who is even changing the law governing the operations of the transport system. Whereas at present there is an instruction to the GLC to meet the 891 needs of Londoners, the new board will have only to pay "due regard to" the needs of passengers. That represents a great watering down, because having "due regard" could be overridden by other factors, and those other factors will be at the whim of the Secretary of State.
Even the proposed consumer watchdog body will be a quango. The London Regional Passengers' Committee will be appointed by the Secretary of State, and on it will be no direct representatives of users, staff, taxpayers and ratepayers. Indeed, there will be no such representation on either of the boards involved.
The Bill extends to public transport the privatisation policies of the Government. It is proposed that there will be private buses on many routes, but that will happen only on the profitable routes. The competing services will curtail the revenue of the LRT, leaving less to finance uneconomic but socially necessary routes. The hiving off to private operators that will take place will make the duty on the LRT to break even further beyond reach. I do not believe that it can be achieved. The only way of trying to achieve it will be more cutbacks in services.
The Bill even makes provision for grants and loans to be given to private operators—direct handouts. On 3 December the Daily Telegraph referred to the possibility of the Government subsidy to the board being handed over directly to private operators.
One must not overlook the question of fare levels on private buses. The Bill refers to the LRT determining fare levels. Will the private operators be prepared to operate without having control of fare levels? Before long they will claim, "We run luxury buses. We have the best routes and therefore we are entitled to charge luxury fares." The wrangling will go on and higher fares will be the result. Services will decline as fares go up, and the number of staff employed by London Transport will be cut. The Government's cash limits on the LRT and the fragmentation of services that the Bill will produce will produce declining services.
There is a lack of an integrated public transport service, but, far from creating integration, the Bill will operate in the opposite direction. It will break up London Transport's business activities, with individual routes being privatised, the underground and buses coming under separate management and services, such as catering and cleaning, being hived off. That will not help integration. Nor are there any real proposals to integrate London Transport and British Rail. It will mean decline.
In addition, we have the divorce of public transport from other traffic and land use considerations. The strategic link with public transport will be lost. That was pointed out by the Tory-controlled Bromley council, which told the Minister:Londoners would benefit from a transport network which was considered and possibly managed in its totality, including Underground, bus, rail and taxi services, with the maintenance and improvement of the main roads. In this respect, the Government's proposals seem to be particularly lacking.The Royal Town Planning Institute added its voice by saying:It is the Institute's considered view that the quality of public transport in London will decline.The Bill will affect commuters and workers, who make up half of the 7 million passengers who travel every day on London Transport; it will affect women, who represent 892 two thirds of the bus passengers and who need buses for shopping and to take the kids to and from school; and, of course, it will affect the elderly.
The Secretary of State is proposing that ratepayers should foot two thirds of the bill for London Transport without having a say in the matter, and the right hon. Gentleman can easily alter the figure. Indeed, it went up from 50 per cent. to 66 per cent. between drafting and publication of the Bill. If the Secretary of State wants total control of London Transport, he should foot the total bill.
The Observer had an article on concessionary fares on 10 July—the weekend before the Government's White Paper on public transport in London was officially published. The first sentence of that article gave the game away. Presumably, the paper had had a briefing from either the Minister or the civil servants. The article said:Free travel for London pensioners could be scrapped when control of the city's public transport system is transferred from the GLC next year.My hon. Friends have asked a series of questions—I have asked three — requesting a guarantee that the pensioners' travel passes in London will be maintained, but none has been given. I wrote to the Prime Minister on 21 November—after a demonstration by 200 Leyton pensioners, which showed the strength of feeling on this matter—asking for a guarantee that during the lifetime of her Government London pensioners' free travel would be maintained. The Prime Minister replied:The London Boroughs Association have now considered this and have agreed that on the setting up of London Regional Transport the boroughs should assume responsibility for concessionary fares on the basis of the existing scheme.I was interested in that, because it looked as though we had our guarantee at last.
However, what is meant bythe basis of the existing scheme"?If the Bill is the answer to what that phrase means, it does not mean that all London pensioners will keep their passes. It becomes a discretionary matter for individual London boroughs. If they wish to keep the scheme, they will; if not, they will scrap it.
Most London boroughs have financial problems. They have cash limits, constraints and penalties imposed on their spending by the Government. The rateable resources of the City of London and Westminster were used in the GLC scheme. The effect of keeping discretionary fares in nearly all the other London boroughs will inevitably mean a rate increase. That is the pressure that the Government are putting on London boroughs.
If the Government want to be a transport authority for London, they must face their obligations. They should write free concessionary fares into the Bill and pay for them as the GLC does. If not, they will be opening the door to charges for the passes, nominal fares on the buses for pensioners, or the introduction of a means test. The leader of the Tory-controlled Sutton council, who said that he favoured this, talked about a 60 per cent. per annum charge for a pass for some old age pensioners on the basis of a means test. That, too, means a restriction on the issue of passes — for example, only to pensioners on supplementary benefit. It could mean not providing passes at all. All those options are worse than the present system. The Bill is a dog's dinner in this respect, and London pensioners will suffer. There should be a legal duty for the passes to be maintained.
For years, London Transport has faced a vicious circle — poorer services, higher fares, heavier traffic, less 893 safety, back to poorer services again. The cheap fares policy was an attempt to break out, but the Bill will exacerbate and intensify that vicious circle. Public choice in transport service is a political matter. The Minister claims that he is taking it out of the realm of politics, but setting up a non-elected quango cannot take transport out of politics. The demand for accountability and a better transport system will only be intensified when the quango fails.
The Bill means that Londoners will have to pay, but will not have a say in their transport system. It also means increased fares, service cuts and an end to free travel for pensioners in many London boroughs. Londoners must hold tight until we get rid of this Government and get a Government who will defend and improve public transport for Londoners.
§ Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)
When I was a small boy and harboured some theatrical dreams, I was advised and warned never to work with children or animals and especially never to follow a seal act. After listening to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) I suspect that I have done so. He performed particularly well — flapped his little flippers, jumped through the political hoops and even hopped in tune with the Left-wing tune played by the GLC in his praise of the GLC.
§ Mr. Hayes
It is clear where the Labour party stands today. It stands four square for the preservation of the GLC. The preservation of the GLC through the back door is what the debate is about this afternoon from the Labour party's point of view and well the hon. Gentleman knows it. The hon. Gentleman must face the political reality. He knows full well that in the not-too-distant future the House will abolish the GLC and then there will have to be another body to deal with and co-ordinate London Transport. What will the hon. Gentleman do then?
While on seal acts, I should mention the Liberal party. It is typical of the Disney world of Liberal politics that it should choose as its transport spokesman for London the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross). Where is he, and where is the rest of the Liberal party? Are they hiding in their bunkers? The hon. Member for Isle of Wight raised one or two matters that amazed and mystified my hon. Friends and me. He said that London needed a man with power, vigour and authority. We already have that—we have Ken Livingstone. The Liberal party and its proposals, such as they are, are out of touch with the reality of people and commuters in London, as is the Labour party.
It must be appreciated that this Bill will take politics out of the London Transport system once and for all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) might like to know that my constituency is Harlow.
§ Mr. Hayes
I do not have a card.
The Conservative party and its GLC members are not without blame, but the commuters are the people who have been suffering squalid and shabby conditions. I am a London commuter, and I know about this, as others do. Let us be fair about the "Fares Fair" policy. In theory, it 894 was a good policy. It benefited the commuter. It went wrong in taking money from the ratepayer. Many people suffered wrongly and unjustifiably as a result.
I shall deal quickly with concessionary fares. I agree with most of what the hon. Member for Leyton said. I want to repeat the words of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Transport when she spoke to the Richmond Conservatives. She said:The real issue is not whether there will be a concessionary fares scheme, but the type of concessionary fares scheme that the boroughs choose to operate in two years' time. The LBA has agreed in principle to work out further details of the scheme and to put forward proposals. This is not something which can be done quickly, but the London boroughs have two years in which to devise a workable scheme.I emphasis what my hon. Friend said next:Certain London boroughs have refused to discuss the issue. Brent, Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark have refused to discuss the creation of the scheme for concessionary fares"—I emphasise these words—because they are running a political campaign against the abolition of the GLC, paid for with ratepayers' money.
§ Mr. Hanley
There was a slight error in the press release. It was not a speech to the Richmond and Barnes Conservative association. My hon. Friend the Minister of State was addressing a public meeting. She does not need to speak merely to the party that she prefers. She dealt fully in public with concessionary fares.
§ Mr. Hayes
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that advice. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East spoke with crocodile tears pouring down his cheeks. He said that people would become unemployed as a result of the Bill. How on earth can the Labour party honestly say that the Bill will cause unemployment? The boroughs that I mentioned a few moments ago that are raising rates through the roof will cause unemployment in London. One can go to Lambeth and Islington——
§ Mr. Hayes
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman if he undertakes to give me the dustbin for which I have been waiting for the past three months. I am one of his constituents. The Labour-controlled GLC, with its "Fares Fair" policy which in theory is good but in reality has been a disaster, has been raising rates.
§ Mr. Chris Smith
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the provision to him, as one of my constituents, of a dustbin will cost the local authority money? In spending money, it will incur the penalties introduced by the Secretary of State which will cost the borough and the ratepayers additional money. Does he accept that precisely the same will apply to any borough, such as the one that I represent, which attempts to introduce its own concessionary fares scheme? Will he address himself to the point made by the hon. Member for Richmond arid Barnes (Mr. Hanley) about penalties which will be imposed on local authorities which introduce such schemes?
§ Mr. Hayes
I concede that what the hon. Gentleman said carries some weight. There will be a debate in the House in the near future on rate capping and targets. I make no bones about saying that the Government will have to review some of their ideas about targets and penalties. I agree also with hon. Members on both sides who have said that the Government should make it clear, despite the 895 extract from the speech by my hon. Friend the Minister of State that I read, that if in two years' time, for whatever reason, agreement is not reached in certain boroughs there must be some back-up legislation.
I want to deal with a matter raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) who spoke so well about Herbert Morrison. Herbert Morrison would be turning in his grave if he saw how his transport undertaking had been massacred in the way it has been operated by the GLC. There has been waste and inefficiency. Even the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East must accept—I am sure that he will intervene if he does not—that there have been many problems and a great deal of inefficiency at the works in Acton. I am sure that all the readers of The Standard will agree with that.
§ Mr. Prescott
I should like to correct a point made by the hon. Gentleman. If he were to study the reports of transport debates back to 1970, when I became a Member of the House, he would see that what I said then about the principles of transport was the same as I am saying now. That was before the GLC came into force. He says that he has read The Standard. Perhaps he did not read it the other night when Mr. Bright, the London Transport chairman, said that 6,000 people will become unemployed as a result of these proposals. The hon. Gentleman should get his facts right. I hope that he deals with his briefs as a barrister better than he has dealt with the arguments tonight.
§ Mr. Hayes
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on at last successfully looking me up in Dod and seeing that I am a barrister. I do not necessarily agree with everything else he has said, but that is another matter.
Let me return to Herbert Morrison and some of the points that the hon. Member for Newham, South mentioned about wages and conditions. He said that the Labour-controlled Greater London council raised London Transport wages in 1981 above the original proposal of 8 to 11 per cent. when the bus drivers had already accepted 8 per cent. If that is the sort of administration and efficiency that the Opposition want, it will be a sad day for public transport.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
What was the rate of inflation during the period to which the hon. Gentleman was referring?
§ Mr. Hayes
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman the precise rate of inflation at that time. I was comparing the various awards. I was making the point that one set of London Transport workers had agreed to a lower figure while the GLC suggested a larger figure. That cannot be right or be in the interests of London Transport.
The Bill's provisions which concern me most are those which affect the commuters in my constituency who live outside the London area. They use the Central line, and there is terrible discrimination against the people who use the Central line beyond Woodford. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, when setting up the new body, to take into account the fact that those people are paying way above the odds. Unless the Government give a commitment to help those people, the Bill will not be in the interests of the commuter or of a co-ordinated transport policy.
§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
This is undoubtedly one of the many debates that we shall have in the coming months on issues that affect London—transport, education and the future of the Greater London council. We know from experience and from what we have heard this evening from the Secretary of State that the Government do not have much interest in the issues that worry London. Their great delight is to use every opportunity when London is discussed to attack the GLC. We must return to the real issues of the needs and services of London and its people.
The hallmark of the Bill, which is utterly deplorable, is that elected representatives will no longer have the right to take decisions and then answer to the electorate on how those decisions have been taken. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who have come from a background of local government. The Bill is eroding the understanding of local government held by hon. Members of all parties—Labour, Conservative and Liberal.
The Secretary of State, or his hon. Friend, should tell us what the position of Members of Parliament will be in regard to putting down questions or seeking debates on London Transport should the Bill become law. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) raised the question of concessionary fares in an Adjournment debate recently. Will we still have that right or will we be told, as many of us are repeatedly, when we seek to find out from the Secretary of State for Social Services what is to happen to hospital services or local social services within the areas that we represent to take it up with the regional or local health authority? This happens to hon. Members, irrespective of the party to which they belong. Our questions are never answered and we are never in a position to challenge decisions. If the Secretary of State does not wish to answer that question, I hope he will ask his hon. Friend to answer it when she replies.
There have been many comments this evening about subsidies which are paid in various countries. I do not intend to repeat them. Hon. Members know what they are. Some time ago, when we were discussing the introduction of the GLC's "Fares Fair" policy, there were references time and again to subsidies paid elsewhere. Some hon. Members have studied in great detail the transport services not only in this country but in many parts of the world. They will know that if we are to have an efficient public transport service, not just in London but throughout the United Kingdom, it will come about only when meaningful subsidies are paid by the Government for the development of those services.
All we have to do is to consider the system in France — not only the Paris Metro, but the general railway system. It is prospering, and more and more people are using the services. We know of the efficiency of trains on the French railway network. French people will tell you that it is possible only because of the subsidy from the national Government, coupled with the general efficiency of those working on the railways.
§ Mr. Cox
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, there are many other hon. Members who wish to speak.
We heard the pathetic attempt of the Secretary of State to waffle his way through when asked specific questions about concessionary fares. It was interesting to note that 897 two of his hon. Friends clearly made it known to him that they did not accept what he was saying. Many hon. Members have said that it is all right, because boroughs will have two years to come up with an acceptable system. It should be remembered that there are 32 London boroughs with different attitudes.
I came into the House in 1970. One of the first things that I became involved in, along with other London Members, by questions and early-day motions, was to try to get the introduction of a concessionary fares scheme for Greater London. We had problems because of the attitude of some boroughs which did not want any part in such a scheme, but gradually we made progress. Problems arose about the times and the days of the week when people could use their passes. The GLC said that it could not tolerate such a system and that there had to be a system which was usable by all the people of London, whether they lived at one end of London or the other.
The Secretary of State would not tackle any of the points made about a meaningful concessionary fares scheme such as we now have in London. Some authorities say that they will introduce concessionary fare passes that will cost about £60 per year. There are very few people in my constituency who could afford £60 per year. Other authorities have said that they would introduce a means test. We know what problems that could cause. I understand that the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea has indicated that it will introduce a scheme, but only for people who live within the borough. What utter confusion that would cause.
I am a member, as are many hon. Members, of the all-party pensioners group. At meeting after meeting representatives from all parts of the country who come to talk to us about general issues of concern always ask when they are going to get in their respective areas a concessionary fares scheme such as exists in London. The Bill threatens the destruction of that scheme. The Minister knows what will happen if the introduction of a scheme is left to individual authorities.
I have seen figures. For example, the London borough of Harrow has suggested that it would cost more than a 5p rate to introduce a similar scheme. We know what the attitude of the London borough of Bromley would be. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say that boroughs have two years to reach agreement on a scheme. We know what the record of the authorities has been. Their attitude has not changed.
There are London Members in the Chamber. Over the next two or three weeks, they, like me, will go to many functions where elderly people will be in attendance. I challenge Conservative Members to tell those people, "Do not believe the scare stories that the Labour party has been telling on this issue." No one will believe them, especially after the shoddy performance we have had from the Secretary of State.
Another matter which has not been given sufficient consideration is the dial-a-ride scheme. Some hon. Members may not be aware of what the scheme does. The scheme is funded, to its credit, by the GLC and it runs in many parts of the Greater London area. It provides transport for disabled people, who in many cases would not be able to leave their homes because they cannot use public transport. Buses have been adapted to take disabled people to any part of London to which they wish to go. In the borough of Wandsworth, where there is only one such vehicle, in the month of October it made 280 separate 898 trips. That shows how important this scheme is to disabled people. I cannot be the only hon. Member who is now receiving many letters from disabled people who are concerned about what will happen' to the scheme.
I cite an example to emphasise its importance. In the London borough of Wandsworth, 50 per cent. of all those who have used the scheme since its introduction are confined to wheelchairs. I need not say anything more. We all know how important and valuable such a service is to the disabled.
I understand that the scheme is to be funded only until March 1985. What will happen then? It is no good the Secretary of State saying, "Don't worry, something will be worked out." This scheme, like the concessionary fares scheme, was the result of much thinking and planning. Much opposition had to be overcome. Unless the Minister gives the kind of lead that we expect, both schemes will be destroyed and the people of London who need such services will suffer.
Conservative Members talk about privatisation, but the Opposition know what that means. It will be the same as selling council houses—the good houses will be sold off, and the poorer estates will be further run down and neglected. If London's transport services are privatised, the profitable services will be taken over and the others will be left to fall into decline.
Last Friday The Times contained an article on Norfolk. I accept that that is some distance away from London, but the principle is the same. That article stated that villages throughout Norfolk are becoming desolate and deserted because no bus service is available, and that has occurred because the local authority will not grant the kind of subsidy needed to ensure continuity of those services. Unless there is Government action, the same will happen to parts of London. London is an enormous area. If the good parts are privatised, the others, which many Conservative Members represent, will quickly have no bus services at all.
This is a crucial issue for London. This is only one of the many debates that we shall have in the coming months. Let us hope that Ministers with responsibility for other London issues will show more understanding than the Secretary of State, whose speech was a disgrace.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being called to speak on behalf of the ratepayers of Surbiton and the royal borough of Kingston. We heard much about London Transport in major speeches by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) from the Labour Benches and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) from the Liberal Bench, even though the Isle of Wight is some way from the metropolis.
The ratepayers of Surbiton are concerned about the present management of London Transport. Real unit costs have risen by 67.1 per cent. on the buses and 47.8 per cent. on the underground since 1970. Between 1970 and 1982 fares went sky high—up by 85 per cent. in real terms. The subsidy is up thirteenfold in real terms, from £6.5 million in 1970 to £369.8 million in 1982.
My constituents are interested in an efficient transport service, run on business lines, and they will welcome the Bill.
§ Mr. Tracey
The trouble is that the present GLC has turned London Transport into a political football. Following the affairs of London Transport has been like riding the former big dipper in Battersea park. Fares have gone up sky high, gone down and gone up again. We are now approaching the water splash, with scare stories from Opposition Members and people across the river about the threat to concessionary fares for old-age pensioners.
The GLC is simply concerned with scoring political points, hence the expenditure of £850 million of ratepayers' money——
§ Mr. Tracey
I apologise. The GLC has spent £850,000 of ratepayers' money on pure propaganda. It can be seen on street hoardings and comes through our letter boxes. Time after time there is propaganda and scare talk from the GLC about London Transport.
The latest piece of propaganda is that the GLC has changed the hoardings on top of County hall. For many months it gave the number of unemployed in London. Now — perhaps because it believes that it can score many political points—the GLC tells us that 90 per cent. of Londoners want a direct say in the affairs of London's transport.
I have investigated the slightly mysterious poll that emerged yesterday. I gather that 562 people were questioned. That information comes from the GLC's public relations officer. I prefer to take note of the views of my constituents and others in London as expressed during the general election, when the Conservative party made it clear that it would take steps to sort out the problems of the GLC and overspending on London Transport, but we are now suddenly told that we must take notice of 90 per cent. of 562 people.
We must now deal with the mismanagement of London Transport by politicians across the river, and that is what the Bill seeks to do. In 1981, a wage offer of 8 per cent. was accepted by London Transport drivers, but lo and behold the Labour GLC increased it. We are also told that the number of London Transport staff was increased by 500 when there was apparently no need for that to be done. The worst example of interference has been in recent times when purely political appointments have been made to the board. The chairman of the London Labour party was put on the board, although so far as I know he has no expertise in the management of transport, and a 25-year-old councillor from Brent was also put on the board, apparently against the will of the chairman.
I questioned the Secretary of State about that matter in the House. As I understand it, the chairman of the London Transport board should have been consulted, and his advice noted, before the appointment by the GLC. Of course, the GLC would not take any notice of the professionals, any more than it has taken notice of advice, or considered the true position, in relation to the appointment of the chairman of the London Transport Passengers' Committee. That is an interesting body, of which I was once a member.
This morning I received a note signed by the chairman, Mr. Nick Lester, saying that the committee opposed the provisions of the London Regional Transport Bill and setting out the ways in which it was opposed to it. However, the chairman did not mention that he is now on the staff of the GLC.
§ Dr. Marek
Opposition Members do not need any lessons about who is appointed to quangos and nominated bodies—Conservative members have packed quangos in the past four years with members of the Conservative party. Further, if the hon. Gentleman is worried about London Transport, the clear and simple solution is to wait until the next GLC elections, when the electorate of London will decide who is right or wrong.
§ Mr. Tracey
The crux of the matter is not whether the chairman of the London Transport Passengers' Committee is a member of the Labour or the Conservative party. The committee is supposed to be impartial and able to criticise the GLC and London Transport. I was making the point that the chairman of that committee is a staff member of the GLC. That is not right by anybody's standards. He did not declare his interest in the note that was sent to hon. Members. It is impossible for him to hold impartial views about the Bill or any actions of the GLC, which is his employer.
The GLC has also interfered in the affairs of the London Transport board. The board produced a three-year plan for the period beginning 1984–85. It contained proposals for sensible cost savings. Fares were to be kept constant in real terms, bus mileage would be reduced slightly and tailored to demand, and underground mileage would remain constant. Costs would be reduced by more than 9 per cent. in the period covered by the plan by means of a 2 per cent. reduction in unit costs and a reduction in bus mileage. It also referred to increased marketing and promotion of London Transport's services, and reduced levels of revenue support.
The GLC has yet again got its fingers into the affairs of the professionals on the board. It proposes to modify the plan in several ways. It wishes to increase bus and underground mileage beyond that necessary to meet demand. It is deferring extension of one-man operated bus services until what it calls a searching, independent appraisal of their advantages and disadvantages has been carried out. It is increasing the level of revenue support.
I do not need to give more examples of such interference except to say that, yet again, the GLC wants to interfere with hon. Members' opinions of the Bill. I have a bundle of papers that were sent by the director-general of the GLC, putting in summary form the opinions of various local authorities, the London chamber of commerce, and other bodies, on the Bill. The director-general refers us only to pages two and three of the bundle. One should not bother to read the other 100 pages. On pages two and three one finds the most slanted summary of local authorities' views. Those authorities gave considerable thought to their reaction to the Bill, yet their opinions are often summed up in a single sentence. The views chosen are those which appear most to lean towards those of the highly politicised GLC.
Together with my ratepayers in Surbiton and Kingston, I welcome the Bill, which gives a real opportunity for true liaison and co-operation with British Rail. In my constituency on the edge of Greater London, more services are provided by British Rail than by London Transport. It is important that the British Railways Board and London Regional Transport look to one head—the Secretary of State. That might allow us to look forward, as the London chamber of commerce wishes, to more co-ordinated ticket services for commuters and travellers in London, which 901 would benefit not only the ratepayers and travellers from near London, but the millions of people who come from further afield in the home counties, and even beyond.
Like many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I welcome the scope for the privatisation of services, which would allow steps to be taken within the next few years so that the transport services of London could progress into the 21st century. There is no doubt that in many parts of London the present conventional form of transport is not entirely appropriate. Giving London Regional Transport the power and scope to privatise services would give many entrepreneurs a chance to come up with original ideas. That might allow us to make good progress into the 21st century.
The Bill finally brings us out of the localised political world of the people over the river at the GLC. We shall think national. London Transport will become part of the co-ordinated transport network that is so important to the home counties and London. Many Opposition Members have referred to France and other European countries and told us how the transport services are slick and efficient, but I remind them that in France the transport services are closely linked to the national Government. It is not the mayor of Paris, but the Government who run the much-praised Paris services. We are moving London Transport into the same sphere. The Bill takes us forward, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
The Bill represents a further stage in the Government's amazing fixation with the affairs of the Labour Greater London council. It is yet further evidence of their obsessive determination to eliminate that authority, whatever the cost in terms of local democracy, taxpayers' cash, good sense or administrative efficiency.
It cannot be a great secret that if County hall were controlled by almost anyone other than Mr. Livingstone the question of the abolition of the GLC would never have arisen, nor would we be discussing this Bill. For the Prime Minister and her blue-rinsed hordes in the home counties, Ken Livingstone and his colleagues appear to represent the end of civilisation as they know it. It is clear that all that is nasty, mean-minded and authoritarian in the Prime Minister—there is lots of it—comes to the surface at the very mention of the GLC.
§ Mr. Banks
No. There was a time, not so very long ago, when wiser counsels from Conservative Members would have prevailed. Gradually, such sensible and independent-minded people have been weeded out in favour of the Central Office clones and the chinless wonders who now give the Prime Minister the type of advice that she wants to hear.
§ Mr. Banks
I shall not give way to that chinless wonder just yet.
The House is being told that the people of London are to be deprived of any say in the running of our transport system. We are to have yet another unelected, unaccountable quango, which no doubt will be stuffed full of loyal Tory business men who are on the lookout for the odd political honour. The proposal comes from a party 902 which, not so long ago, was talking loudly about giving people more choice at local level. It said that it opposed the idea of setting up quangos. The Government are now taking away local choice and setting up many quangos to replace the GLC. It is not the GLC's services that are being abolished. They will be taken up by quangos. It is merely the elections for the GLC that are being abolished.
It is not surprising that Conservative members at County hall are so violently opposed to the proposals that are being advanced by their colleagues here. There is no rational or economic basis for taking away control of London Transport from a democratically elected CLC. Conservative Members might not like the views and opinions of that democratically elected council, but they should leave it to Londoners to decide what they want at the ballot box in 1985. That is surely where the decision should come from.
§ Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)
The hon. Gentleman has talked of democracy. Who pays the bills that the GLC imposes? How much say do industrialists and the commercial sector have? Are they not entitled to a say in who represents them and who imposes the bills on them?
§ Mr. Banks
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his late intervention. I wish that he had been here to hear some of the earlier speeches.
The ballot box must be the place where ratepayers and taxpayers make a judgment. Londoners should be left to decide whether the GLC is so appalling. If they want to kick out Ken Livingstone and put in Tories under Alan Greengross, let them do so. I would much rather County hall were controlled by the Conservatives than have the elections for that important level of local government taken away from Londoners.
The GLC's transport policy, which has come in for some criticism from Conservative Members, has been splendid. I am biased in that respect, as I still serve as a member of the GLC. Nevertheless, I remind the House that the Labour party won an election in 1981 and one of the central themes of our manifesto was the "Fares Fair" policy.
§ Mr. Hanley
Would the hon. Gentleman accept a poll on this subject of the Members of Parliament who represent the Greater London area?
§ Mr. Banks
I do not believe in selective and elitist forms of opinion makers. What is wrong with waiting until 1985 and letting the 7 million Londoners who are eligible to vote go to the ballot box and decide? I can only assume that Conservative Members are frightened that the Labour party will win the GLC election in 1985.
The "Fares Fair" policy was a significant part of Labour's manifesto in 1981. Conservative Members have conceded that the policy was popular. It worked. The GLC made a 32 per cent. reduction in fares. It was a great success for Londoners. Within a short time, travel on public transport increased by 10 per cent., and 6 per cent. fewer people commuted to central London by car. The social and economic effects of that policy were enormous. For example, there was less traffic congestion. I do not know whether Conservative Members are capable of remembering that far back, but there was much less traffic on the roads. Because of that, there was much less pollution and journeys in London were faster. That was 903 good for business, as people were able to get back and forth to their places of work more quickly. Perhaps most important of all was the fact that there were fewer accidents on London's roads.
All of that progress was put aside when Bromley went to the courts to challenge the GLC's policy. Much has been made of Bromley's argument which ran, "We do not have much in the way of London Transport out here and we do not like paying an undue share of the cost through our rates." Bromley council and Bromley's residents seemed to forget that the rest of us as taxpayers must pay an awful lot of tax to maintain the British Rail commuter system which serves Bromley and the rest of the south-east of London extremely well. We have not run to the Chancellor of the Exchequer complaining about that, insisting that we have our money back because we are subsidising ratepayers in Bromley who are using the British Rail service.
The Law Lords eventually stepped in with what can only be described as crude interference by politically motivated people to set aside an election manifesto pledge that had been fulfilled. Unfortunately, the Law Lords' decision created a great deal of confusion. The GLC was forced to double fares and in the 12 months which followed the decision there was roughly a 12 per cent. increase in car commuting. Moreover, 6,000 additional people were injured in accidents on the roads. That is not GLC propaganda, but the findings of an independent survey carried out by University college, which also estimated that the increase in the accident rate cost us all rather more that £20 million.
We are now reaching the point where local government is so strapped around with legal restrictions that every committee paper that appears in County hall and in many borough councils is carried by about three lawyers, all of whom seem to have a different opinion as to the legality of the proposal. The Government have done a great deal for the legal profession. In view of the number of Conservative Members who are members of the legal profession, I should have thought that they would be grateful to the GLC for that extra work.
After taking legal advice, the GLC was able to reduce fares by about 25 per cent. in May of this year and there has again been an increase in passenger use of London Transport. The signs are encouraging. For example, take-up of travel cards is excellent—it is far better than London Transport or the GLC anticipated. It hardly takes a genius to work out that cheaper fares will mean more passengers. More passengers travelling on public transport means fewer people travelling by private transport. That has a spin-off in terms of social and economic benefits for us all.
If we are to have a better transport system, more subsidies are needed. My hon. Friends and I believe that the money will be well spent. Several hon. Members have said that London Transport receives a proportionately lower level of subsidy than transport systems in most other European cities. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred to Paris, as did several other hon. Members, as having one of the finest transport systems in Europe.
The system was largely brought about under the direction of Giscard D'Estaing, not a person noted for being a revolutionary Socialist. The French recognized 904 that an enormously powerful economic and social case could be made out for a heavily subsidised transport system which would deal primarily with capital and not just revenue. It provided the essential capital investment for an effective public transport system. The French understood the good social and economic benefits which emanate from a heavily subsidised transport system, as would anyone with an understanding of economics other than those aquired in a Grantham greengrocer's shop.
The enormous popularity of the GLC's transport policies in 1981 set the alarm bells ringing in Downing street. We heard talk in Government circles about the GLC using London Transport as a political football, an allegation made by Conservative Members more than once in this debate. The intention to remove London Transport from the control of the GLC is to make the case for abolishing the GLC more persuasive. If services are continually taken away from a local authority, the day will come when one can ask, "What is the point of keeping the local authority, as it has nothing to do?". The reason it has nothing to do is that its services have been removed. When the Tories realised how popular were the GLC's transport policies, it was important to do something about them. The result was the intervention of the Law Lords and the plan to take London Transport away from the GLC.
I do not understand why Conservative Members should get worked up about local politicians discussing and getting involved in politics. The attitude appears to be, "It is all right for us to take political decisions and discuss political matters, but no one else is allowed to do so. If local government becomes involved in politics—tut, tut, what a terrible day for all." I consider the hypocrisy and double standards of Conservative Members to be appalling.
The Secretary of State referred to the GLC's political interference in the running of London Transport. At the same time, he is proposing to take draconian measures against London Transport, the result being that we will be unable to discuss what is happening either in County hall, in London or in the House.
The fight involving the "Fares Fair" policy was not sought by the GLC, nor was the confusion which followed, which involved the dismantling of the policy which was said to have been caused by or was the responsibility of the GLC.
When references were being made to the GLC interfering in London Transport, accusations were also made about the over-generous subsidies to London Transport from the rates. We know that London Transport receives a proportionately lower level of subsidy than transport in most other European cities. The present London Transport revenue subsidy given by the Labour-controlled GLC is not inordinately out of line with that given by the previous Administration. In 1980—the last year of Tory control — the total revenue subsidy to London Transport was £117 million, and the sum this year is £175 million. The GLC is not profligate with its subsidy to London Transport. It recognises that massive social costs must be considered when drawing up a balance sheet for an urban transport system.
If the Bill is enacted, there is little doubt that the level of subsidy to London Transport will be reduced further, services will be cut, fares will increase sharply and neither Londoners nor Parliament will have any say whatever in the matter.
905 I wish to deal with two specific points in the Bill which are of great concern to Opposition Members and Londoners generally. The first is about the future provision of pensioners' travel passes in London. Ministers continually accuse the GLC of trying to frighten pensioners, but they have had opportunity after opportunity to relieve the fears of pensioners and to state that travel passes will not be endangered because the Government will do something about them. The Government have had ample opportunity to give such an assurance but have ducked the issue every time. Instead, Ministers have caused more confusion about what will happen to these passes should the GLC be abolished.
The Bill provides a wonderful vehicle for the Government to say categorically what is to be the future of pensioners' passes. Clause 48 refers to concessions for travel which can be made by one or more than one borough. The Bill refers to concessions, but does not specify old-age pensioner travel passes. Even after the Bill was published Ministers appeared to be quite unclear about the Bill's proposal. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), the Minister said that the London Boroughs Association had agreed thatconcessionary fare arrangements…should become their responsibility."—[Official Report, 5 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 38.]The Secretary of State, in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), said:I understand that the London Boroughs Association, at its meeting last Wednesday, announced that it would assume responsibility for the existing GLC scheme for concessionary fares.However, on the same day the Minister of State read into the Official Report a letter from the LBA which stated that the LBAconsiders on the setting-up of LRT the boroughs should assume responsibility for concessionary fares on the basis of the existing scheme."—[Official Report, 24 October 1983; Vol. 47, c. 1–7.]So, on the morning of 24 October, the Secretary of State said that the LBA would take over the scheme and in the afternoon the Minister of State quoted from a letter saying that the boroughs would assume responsibility for the scheme. Will the London Boroughs Association take responsibility for the scheme, or will it be the responsibility of the London borough councils? I remind Conservative Members that the London Boroughs Association does not have any statutory power to enforce a scheme. It can devise, agree or discuss the ideal scheme with the boroughs, but it cannot force such a scheme on the boroughs.
To judge from the Minister of State's remarks in the Adjournment debate on 25 November it appeared that the boroughs would be given such responsibility, but by 5 December the Minister appeared to have changed her mind. Ministers should not continually accuse the Opposition and the GLC of creating fear when the fear emanates from the Government.
As we are in the time of good will and Christmas is nearly upon us, I wish to assist the Minister by making several suggestions and asking for answers to specific questions. First, do the Government propose that the LBA should be responsible for pensioners' passes covering all 32 London boroughs, or will the responsibility be left to the boroughs? Secondly, do the Government intend to make the scheme compulsory? Thirdly, if the scheme is to be discretionary, what protection will pensioners have 906 against the possibility of boroughs individually opting out or introducing charges, or damaging the present scheme in any way whatever?
It is no good saying that the boroughs have two years in which to come up with a scheme. We already have a scheme that is operating efficiently, fairly and effectively. Everyone is happy with the old-age pensioners' travel scheme in London, so why interfere with it? The Government should just give pensioners and Opposition Members the assurance that the whole of that scheme will be maintained if the GLC is abolished. Although we have not reached the point at which the GLC has been abolished, the Bill provides Ministers with the opportunity to include such a provision.
We have heard about several Tory boroughs that have taken decisions, or are considering proposals to modify the pensioners' travel pass scheme if the boroughs are given responsibility. It is for the Government to make the position clear. If they do not do so, speculation and worry will continue. The Committee stage will provide the Government with an opportunity to make the position crystal clear once and for all.
I am also concerned by the total absence in the Bill of any reference to the provision of transport for people with disabilities. Hon. Members should note that I refer not only to the disabled, but to those with disabilities, such as the elderly and the frail who cannot stand in bus queues for a long time, or who cannot get out. Such people need to be collected. The right to public transport for such people is gradually being recognised, yet the Bill is silent on that. Again, the GLC has made tremendous advances in that sphere, and will be spending about £1.25 million in the current year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting mentioned the special dial-a-ride schemes. He could have gone on to say that these schemes now operate in 12 London boroughs and involve more than 6,000 users. Another form of assistance to those with disabilities is being organised by the GLC through a special black taxi pilot scheme. It allows those with disabilities to journey in a black cab for 50p per trip. I understand that it is the intention next year to extend the black cab scheme throughout London at a cost of £1.5 million.
Finally, there is the GLC's special adaptation programme for buses and trains to accommodate those with disabilities, and particularly those in wheelchairs. Thus, progress is being made in providing public transport for the disabled. Such functions are clearly London-wide responsibilities. They cannot be left to the boroughs. In Committee the Minister should ensure that the provision for such schemes to continue is written into the Bill.
The two examples that I have given, of the old-age pensioners' travel pass and the schemes for those with disabilities, describe the policies of the GLC to look after the elderly, the frail and the disadvantaged. It shows the great advantage of having an elected accountable regional authority for London Transport. Only a large regional authority can carry out such desirable social functions. The Bill is the result of the sheer political spite that has been directed at the Labour-controlled GLC. It makes no economic, social or transport sense. It represents one further attack on local democratic choice in the Prime Minister's squalid little continuing personal war against the GLC.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
As a country cousin, I was slightly apprehensive about speaking in a debate on London Transport. However, I do so for two reasons. First, as the White Paper "Public Transport in London" recognises, London's transport is vital to the nation as a whole. Secondly, I seem to have spent most of this year, when I have not been fighting a general election, involved in one way or another in various public inquiries about transport in London and applications to the traffic commissioners under the Transport (London) Act 1969.
I suspect that I am going to say a few things now that will almost certainly guarantee that I shall not be asked to serve on the Committee and never again be invited to have lunch at the Institute of Economic Affairs. I am concerned about the attitude of some of my hon. Friends towards privatisation and competition. The difficulty about privatisation and competition is that at first sight schemes always seem to be good news. The idea of having lots of minibuses running round the suburbs at cut rates would seem to mean good value for money. However, it is only when one gets down to the nitty-gritty and examines the scheme that one realises that there are two sorts of buses: those that run at a profit and those that run at a loss.
The buses that run at a loss in London do not necessarily do so because they are inefficient. One of London Transport's structural difficulties is that almost half of the 7 million journeys made every day in London are made to and from work. Therefore, during the course of the day there is an enormous double peak. The No. 9 bus seems to be the most popular bus, and, as it also passes the place at which I camp out when in London, at Olympia, I shall use it as an example. The No. 9 bus can leave Mortlake with a 100 per cent. load and be full on its journey into London during the rush hour. However, its return journey is quite different. Reports about the efficiency of transport in London rarely take account of such factors as dead running time. A 100 per cent. load may go into London, but the load returning to Richmond or Mortlake may be only 20 per cent., thus making the average far less than 100 per cent.
There is nothing that any road transport operator can do about dead running time. A service that enables people to travel from the inner suburbs of London to the centre will inevitably involve getting the buses back again, so there is bound to be dead running time. Therefore, the only bus services that people will want to take over and that will be attractive under clause 43 will be those that make a profit.
Having sat through day after day of inquiries, I am now intimate, I think, with every bus route in London. I have a little list of those routes that make a profit. Therefore, I declare an interest in advance. "Baldry Buses" may well be making an application to the traffic commissioners once the Bill is enacted. Several bus routes in London make a profit. For example, the Al runs to Heathrow airport and always makes a profit, because there is little dead running time. There are always people who want to go to Heathrow airport and there are always those who want to return. Thus, such buses make a profit, and those bus routes are very attractive.
However, there is a host of other buses on routes that will inevitably make losses, no matter how efficiently they are run, because there is no way that the cost can be covered. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will say that, under the Bill, applications will have to be made to 908 the traffic commissioners, which will bring those involved under the same provisions as are in the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. That Act says that the traffic commissioners must grant a licence unless they are satisfied that to do so would be against the interests of the public. That is a laudable sentiment.
However, I should like to draw the attention of the House to how that operated in one of the public inquiries that I was involved in. Most of the cases were brought under the Transport (London) Act, and as appeals have gone to the Secretary of State they are still sub judice. However, one appeal went to the traffic commissioners.
The traffic commissioners gave a ruling last Friday. No appeal has yet been lodged, so I think that I am at liberty to draw the attention of the House to the way in which the traffic commissioners interpreted the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 with regard to an application to run minibuses from anywhere in London to Gatwick and Luton airports. The traffic commissioners came to the following conclusion:In view of the lack of detail in these open-ended, applications any measured assessment of implications for operators of other services is virtually impossible to achieve…. The Commissioners cannot say whether on balance they are satisfied or not satisfied that a grant of the licences would be against the interests of the public".None the less, having said that, they then went on to grant a licence for a limited period of two years, having accepted that, even on the most modest of assessments, it would mean a loss to other operators of about £127,000 a year.
If we allow anyone in London who has a bright idea to run private bus services, we will inevitably ensure that they will go for the profitable routes which, in turn, will ensure that the losses on the loss-making routes are even greater. I must tell my hon. Friends that that is the conclusion to which I have inevitably been driven, having spent a large part of this year studying the problems of transport in London.
We seem to have been round this hoop before, not only in 1933, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, but earlier—in 1924. In preparation for the debate I read the Second Reading debate on the London Traffic Bill of 1924. It is sad that the Labour party has still not got a statue of Herbert Morrison sitting on its Benches, because at least he had the national interest at heart—[Interruption.] I shall be voting for the Bill.
Having heard the speeches of Labour Members, I am convinced that the GLC is not fit and proper to have control of London Transport. I sometimes think that London Transport should have control of London Transport, but that is a different matter.
§ Mr. Baldry
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I doubt very much whether his views will have much influence on me, and I know full well, from previous speeches of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, that she will remove any doubts I might have about the Bill.
We have been down this route before. In 1924, the House was arguing the need not for disintegrated services but for integrated services. That was agreed on both sides of the House. The Conservative Front Bench spokesman at the time said:The heart of the Bill"——909 the London Traffic Bill——the key to the Bill…is a power to regulate the number of omnibuses, having regard to the congestion existing in a road…It is, I think, a wise thing to have the power to stop that competition when it is not doing any good to the public."—[Official Report, 28 March 1924; Vol. 171, c. 1709–10]What we must consider in transport in London is that words such as "privatisation" and "competition" are jolly good slogans, but they must be applied to the totality of what one is trying to achieve by ensuring the best public transport throughout the whole of the London area. If clause 43 of the Bill goes through unamended, there is a danger that it will simply open up a whole series of rag-bag applications to run a variety of private buses throughout the metropolis.
Lest it be thought that I am arguing a particular vested interest from a brief, I should like to make it clear that I was not briefed either by London Transport or by anyone directly affected by the Bill. I was briefed by the hackney carriage trade, which is the paragon of private enterprise, never receiving 1p of public subsidy. In every Second Reading debate of every Bill on traffic in London, whether it be the London Traffic Bill of 1924 or the London Passenger Transport Bill 1933, a number of hon. Members have asked why the Bill does not include provision for helping the hackney carriage trade in the metropolis.
It is one of the anomalies of transport in London that 17,000 licensed black cab drivers are doing sterling work within the metropolis but have no relationship with the Department of Transport. They come under the Home Office under various Acts of Parliament, which go back to the middle of the last century when hackney carriage drivers could be sentenced to hard labour if they abused their fares. The drivers, as a trade, are concerned that they have no relationship with the Department of Transport at a time when many bus operators and others are coming along wanting to take over bus routes and to institute new schemes. The cab drivers do not have the ability to come forward with schemes which they think might help transport in London, because they are limited by various Acts of Parliament passed in the middle of the last century.
I say to my hon. Friends that the Bill is worth supporting, but they should not be surprised if, under the banners of privatisation and competition, in the next couple of years a large number of people apply to the traffic commissioners for licences to run private bus services throughout London. Those applications may well have as much content in them as the original application that was heard by the independent inspector on the Amos inquiry—a solicitor from the west country, who had no vested interest one way or the other—who described the details put before him as little better than works of fiction. I believe that the people and transport in London deserve better than works of fiction. If we are to have competition and privatisation, we must ensure that any scheme which is introduced really is in the public interest. The evidence so far of the adjudications that the traffic commissioners have made under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, in so far as they have applied to schemes in London, do not give me much confidence that that is how the law will be applied.
§ Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Logically the speech by the hon. Member for Banbury 910 (Mr. Baldry) should have led him to the conclusion that he should vote against the Bill. Unfortunately, he did not come to that conclusion.
The Bill is politically motivated. It is ill considered, rushed and fundamentally flawed. I shall briefly explain why. Lack of time prevents me from making all the points that I should like to make.
For example, the Bill removes any direct say about transport for Londoners except through this House. We know how indirect that say is. The Bill removes any direct say in the level of fares, service and operating schedules of London Regional Transport, as London Transport will become. The Bill adds to the unelected, unaccountable bodies which already impose taxation on Londoners, such as the Thames water authority and the Metropolitan police. The Bill grants enormous and worrying powers to the Secretary of State. For example, clauses 10, 31 and 45 dramatically increase the Secretary of State's powers, without reference to Parliament, to make directions on the disposal of assets, powers and functions of the London Regional Transport Corporation and British Rail without their concurrence.
I hope that the Minister of State will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the provisions in clause 28. Why has the Secretary of State for the Environment refused permission under the partnership scheme for the funding by the GLC and the borough of Islington of the bus route through my constituency which was much valued by my constituents until it was closed a year or so ago? My constituents have expressed great anxiety about the reinstatement of that service. The borough and the GLC are willing to contribute under the partnership scheme. The Secretary of State has refused to allow that, but clause 28 appears to provide for such an arrangement.
I shall concentrate on three main issues. The Bill represents a lost opportunity for the proper integration of transport services in London and beyond. We would all support a Bill which brought about integration between transport services within London and outside; that brought about a proper integration of rail, bus and tube services and taxis and hire cars. The Bill offers only the possibility of integration in the future. It does not offer that integration now because it has been rushed. If the Government had taken time to consider proper integration, they might have been able to propose a better co-ordinated transport systern for the capital and its surrounding area. The Bill does precisely the opposite to providing integration by encouraging and, in some cases, forcing London Regional Transport to privatise bits and pieces of its operation.
The Bill does not only lose an opportunity but it rules out the possibility of integrating the planning of transport and its infrastructure in London. That is important because it must be sensible for the body that plans road networks and other infrastructure around the capital — which should continue to be the GLC—to have a direct impact and say on the provision of services.
My third point is so crucial that I make no apology for mentioning it again in the debate. I refer to the provision of free travel for pensioners. It is an important issue for pensioners. Time and again the Government and Conservative Members have missed the opportunity that we have afforded them to set at rest the mind of every pensioner in London. The reason why they failed to do that is revealed in an article in the Sutton and Cheam Advertiser 911 of 24 November. Sutton council is a member of the London Boroughs Association. Dr. Trafford, the leader of the council, is reported as saying:There could even arise the absurd situation…whereby they could be 'fined' by the Government for spending on travel passes the £900,000 that the Government insisted they spend.Dr. Trafford went on:If the Government did not make adequate funds available then the passes would have to be means tested when the GLC was abolished".That was not the GLC or me speaking, but the leader of Sutton council.
The crucial point is the provision of adequate finance. Will the Minister of State guarantee that when local authorities are encouraged by the Government, the LBA or any other source to bring in concessionary fares—or, even better, free fares—the amount spent on the scheme will be exempt from block grant penalty? Will extra finance be made available through rate support grant? Will the needs indices be adjusted according to the number of elderly people in the area so that the schemes can be implemented? If that guarantee is not given, any sympathy shown by Tory Members for pensioners' travel in London would not be worth the paper on which it was written.
The Bill will impose suffering on all Londoners, including my constituents, and I cannot accept it. It is badly conceived and even more badly executed.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
The groundwork for the Bill was laid earlier this year in the Government's White Paper "Public Transport in London", Cmnd. 9004. It was asserted on page 6 in paragraph 18 that one of the tasks of the London Regional Transport will beto reduce costs and the call on the taxpayers' money".The White Paper contained no detailed examination of how subsidies were used, nor did it make any attempt to assess the implications of how a reduction in subsidy might conflict with other objectives, especially another initial task of LRT which, according to the White Paper, isto improve bus and Underground services for London".The Bill is part of a cost-cutting exercise devised without any serious consideration of the realities of public transport finance.
It is expensive to run public transport in London, but that does not necessarily mean—although we would not realise this from some of the Conservative speeches—that London Transport is inherently inefficient or that the ratepayer in London gets poor value for money. In fact, to run public transport in any large city imposes a cost on the locals. No public transport system in the industrialised world can provide an efficient service and yet be economically viable without financial support. In any country and under any administration, subsidies are regarded as essential.
Far from being generously subsidised, public transport in Britain, especially in London, receives much less capital and revenue support than in most comparable countries. The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who serves as a parliamentary private secretary to the Minister, chuckles at that. If she had been present for most of the debate——
§ Mr. Snape
I apologise. In that case, she will have heard some of her hon. Friends making similar comments. All the studies have shown that, while British Rail receives only 29 per cent. of its total costs from the Government, the average Government contribution in no fewer than 10 other railway systems that were recently examined—I know that the Secretary of State is not good at reading such documents, still less at comprehending them—received on average 47 per cent. in subsidy.
The Department's Transport and Road Research Laboratory 1980 report on the subsidisation of urban public transport in 15 Western countries found that the subsidy in Britain was only 30 per cent. of operating costs, compared with an average for Western cities of 50 per cent. The Select Committee on Transport, in its recent report on transport in London, drew attention to the fact that in 1981 London Transport received 32 per cent. of its operating costs in subsidy, whereas the subsidy for the Paris underground was 54 per cent., and for the Brussels and Milan systems 76 per cent. Of the nine European cities mentioned in the report whose transport systems were funded on a basis comparable with ours, only one — Munich—approached the low level of subsidy received by London Transport, and even then its subsidy was significantly higher at 40 per cent.
All those investigations show that the consequence of low subsidies in Britain has been a vicious circle of higher fares and service cuts, resulting in declining patronage, leading in turn to still higher costs, thus setting off the chain of fare increases once more. That is the road on which we shall embark yet again if the Bill becomes law.
The Government's aims are patently contradictory. They cannot have both an improvement in services and a reduction in subsidies. It will certainly take more than a speech from the Secretary of State today to convince us otherwise. If the Government really wish to improve services, greater capital and revenue support is essential.
The Paris underground has been much mentioned today. When Conservatives talk about publicly owned industry they always talk about productivity—by which they mean redundancies. It is true that the Paris metro has 40 per cent. fewer employees than London Transport and carries 200 million more passengers per year, but those facts do not embarrass us. The reduction in the number of employees was the result of a decade of high investment in the system. The Conservatives, however, want it both ways. They talk about inefficiencies and the desirability of redundancies in London Transport, but they withhold the very capital investment that would make more economical operation possible. They have taken a truly Jekyll and Hyde attitude to this debate.
I had intended to congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) on an eminently sensible speech, but having led up to the obvious conclusion that the Bill was nonsense he then behaved like other Conservative Members who can only be described as chocolate soldiers. Having marched to the top of the hill with fixed bayonet, he threw down his rifle at the first whiff of grapeshot in the shape of the first angry glance from the Government Whip and announced that, despite the views that he so expertly expressed, he intended to vote for legislation which would cause even greater problems and take us even further down the dark road that he described.
On the whole question of public transport subsidies there has been — I hesitate to use the term but I can 913 think of no more suitable phrase—something of a cover-up at the Department since the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) took over as Secretary of State. A magazine which does not normally favour higher subsidies for public transport, and which does not normally express much opinion on these matters —Motor Transport—published an article on 13 August this year under the heading:Department of Transport Backs Higher Subsidies".The content of the article may seem somewhat odd, but it was certainly interesting. It said:Subsidies for public transport in major urban areas give good value for money and should even be increased, according to Department of Transport research. Details of this potentially embarassing result"—they were not wrong there—were given to the annual planning and transport research computation conference at Brighton last week. The Department of Transport is currently trying to reduce public transport subsidies and is building a new computer model to divide the subsidy money between London and the other metropolitan counties.No wonder my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) could not get a reply to his question. He asked the Secretary of State about the amount of the subsidy in London. Either the computer has not yet arrived, or the right hon. Gentleman cannot change the plug, because he failed abjectly to give a straight reply to that question.
However, I must not keep regressing, if that is the right word, to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because the article from which I quote is much too interesting. It went on to say:The model has also produced results on the value of transport subsidies. It shows that subsidies in south Yorkshire, already the highest in Britain, are worth increasing and suggests cutting fares by up to 25 per cent. in Greater Manchester and west Yorkshire.It added:The results support the fares cut in London Transport introduced by the Greater London Council earlier this year, but suggest a 28 per cent. rather than the 25 per cent. cut implemented".The report concluded:But the Department of Transport is not going to use its computer model to increase public transport subsidies.There is a waste of public expenditure for a start! The computer is probably the biggest one that we have at present and it will probably be changed for an Atari which will come up with something different.
The article said that it was just going to compare the value of subsidy in different counties. In other words, it seems to the Opposition, after looking at the article and listening to the speech by the right hon. Gentleman, that in this matter, as in many others dealing with the public sector, the one thing the Government cannot stand is too many hard facts. The Government are not very good when faced with the truth. They simply ignored the results of that exercise because the results did not conform to the well-known and long-held prejudices of the Secretary of State. If the Government want stability in public transport, which is what they repeatedly claim, they should let their policies be guided by examination, by analysis and by reason and not by the right hon. Gentleman's prejudices, no matter how long-standing those prejudices happen to be.
During the debate we have heard the typical war cry from the intellectutally bankrupt Conservative Benches that the problems of London Transport are all due to the inefficiency of those who work in the industry. I must 914 confess, as somebody who used to get up fairly early in the morning to help operate a railway system, that I am not too tolerant when I listen to fairly well-heeled and well-cosseted Conservative Members talking about productivity. The House will have a chance to see how much Conservative Members believe in productivity on Friday afternoon when we tackle another restrictive practice in a profession to which many Conservative Members happen to belong. But I must not digress. Let us deal with this myth of inefficiency in the public transport industries of the country in general and London Transport in particular.
The most familiar complaint in the debate and elsewhere lies in the allegedly slow process in the introduction of one-man, or perhaps I should say in these enlightened days one-person, operation of buses and underground trains—OPO if I may use the shortened phrase without causing any offence. The fact of the matter is that over half of London's bus services—53 per cent. to be precise — are now one person operated, and virtually all suburban services throughout Greater London are so operated.
Where crew operation of buses continues to exist, it is on services in inner and central London areas. The reason for two-person operation in inner and central London is simple. It has nothing to do with trade union opposition to change. It has everything to do with the need to encourage traffic flow, as we have heard from Conservative Members on numerous occasions in the debate, in the circumstances of chronic congestion found particularly in the central London area.
Chronic congestion in London appears to be the least of the Secretary of State's worries. Not once as he ploughed tardily through his brief earlier in the day did he mention the question of chronic congestion. I do not know whether Conservative Members have enough wit or imagination to consider the problems that one-person operated buses would cause in the central London area. The Select Committee on Transport quoted in its report "Transport in London" the fact that on a weekday evening at peak time about 25,000 passengers were picked up by buses in Oxford street alone.
I presume that the Secretary of State knows what a bus looks like. Can he imagine 25,000 people trying to board buses in Oxford street and the congestion that would be caused if they were one-person operated buses? I wish that he and his colleagues had reflected for a moment—before they peddled their ignorance about inefficiency in London Transport—on exactly what the switch to one-person operation would mean on public transport in the centre of London.
The reasoning on this issue was accepted by the Select Committee on Transport, an all-party body. It is a pity that some of the Conservative Members who signed that committee's report are not present today to give us the benefit of their enlightened views on London Transport. All the members of that Committee accepted the situation as I have outlined it, and the report, which was unanimous, said:It is not our impression that union intransigence is a major factor in persuading London Transport to continue to run the majority of their central area buses with two-man crews.I regret that the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who made a somewhat confused speech and immediately left the Chamber, is not here, because we could have pointed that out to him.
915 It is possible to argue, in view of the recent progress with fares simplification, that it may be possible to achieve a further limited movement towards more one-person operation on London's buses. It goes without saying that the conversion of more buses to one-person operation and the building of more buses is an expensive business. The existing crew operated buses cannot be converted for one-person only operation, and the currrent price, for example, of a Metrobus—manufactured, incidentally, not far from my constituency — is over £80,000. That is a lot of capital investment if we are to go in for a wholesale changeover in operation from the present system. It is that very investment that the Secretary of State, by the Bill, is seeking to deny to London Transport. He cannot have it both ways.
The Select Committee made precisely that observation in connection with the system of two-person operation on London's underground trains, when it said:This situation"—that is, two-man operation—is bound to continue so long as rolling stock is designed for this method of operation, and improvements in this direction"—towards one-person operation—are critically dependent on capital investment funds.Again an obvious truth, but one which appears to have escaped the notice of Conservative Members.
§ Mr. Baldry
As a chocolate soldier, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to say where the Bill prohibits the board of LRT from raising capital to buy new buses or whatever it wishes to do?
§ Mr. Snape
The hon. Gentleman is not just a chocolate soldier. Only the original Milky Bar kid could have asked a question like that. The Bill specifically restricts the amount of money available for London Transport. It cannot operate the system on the amount of money that it gets now. I am sorry to be laborious over this—dealing with Conservative Members is like knocking a nail in a mattress — but if that amount of money is restricted further there will be even less available for capital investment by LRT, or whatever fancy name the Secretary of State cares to give it and whatever colour he wants to paint the buses, deep Tory blue or chocolate coloured.
§ Mr. Snape
One does not need a statutory prohibition to strangle somebody. One merely cuts off the supply, which in this case is money. I should have thought that this was obvious to every hon. Member, and particularly Tory Members, but obviously I made a mistake and overestimated their intelligence.
The essential consideration on public transport is safety, for passengers and staff alike. For London Transport, safety and the change in working practices depend on the installation of such things as automatic train stops, because in the event of difficulties it is plainly necessary for the train to stop automatically. Again, that comes out of capital investment, and if that is denied the improvements will not take place and the inherently inefficient—in the eyes of Tory Members—system will continue.
When investment for innovation has been forthcoming on the Continent and in this country, for example on the Tyne and Wear metro, one-person operation of the system 916 has been possible. It has not been possible in London because the investment has not been forthcoming, and there will be no investment if the Bill goes through. It has been only the willingness of the Labour GLC to invest in underground modernisation that has permitted consideration of the implementation of one-person operation on many rail lines.
It is against the background of the £50 million investment programme to install radio telecommunication between underground drivers and control centres that the National Union of Railwaymen is now on the point of reaching an agreement with London Transport on the implementation of one-person operation on the Metropolitan and City line, the line specifically referred to by the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes. There is every reason to believe that this agreement will be signed in the next few days, and again it depends both on investment and co-operation between management and unions, which is taking place.
That is just one aspect of the considerable co-operation on efficiency and savings measures that has occurred between unions and management in London's underground and bus services in the past few years. The management has fully acknowledged that the unions have contributed well over half of the looked-for savings on such things as a reduction in the working week. It has acknowledged that the unions have contributed by way of agreements on manning both buses and trains. If Conservative Members wish to have a serious debate on these matters, they should take the trouble to learn about the subject properly.
§ Mr. Snape
The Secretary of State did the House a grave disservice by the casual and laconic way that he went through what was, to start with, an extremely bad brief. The right hon. Gentleman is certainly a broad brush man, and is good at it—we have seen some of his exhibits in the Upper Committee Corridor. His broad brush is better when it is used on oils and canvas or even on watercolours than when it is used on the sort of approach that he adopted this afternoon.
When they talked about the ratepayers' contribution, we heard a great deal from some Conservative Members about the poor oppressed ratepayers of London. It seemed to me that the more they talked about the oppressed ratepayers the less they had read the Bill. If the Bill does anything, it guarantees that the contribution that the ratepayers make to their transport system will increase, despite the fact that the efficiency and frequency of that service are likely to deteriorate fairly quickly.
Another question that the Secretary of State could not answer was how much expenditure he desired on London Transport, and the best example of what this might be lies in the protected expenditure limit announced for the GLC last Wednesday. In this, the Secretary of State recommends a level of subsidy on London Transport revenue account for 1984–85 of £125 million. I do not know whether he is aware of that, but it is another figure 917 that he could not give this afternoon, although it is in a press release from his Department, which he was kind enough to lend me, dated 7 December.
§ Mr. Snape
The right hon. Gentleman keeps digging pits and jumping into them. That figure, issued in the press release, is £70 million less than London Transport requires to operate at current fares and service levels, and £90 million less than would be required if the GLC's proposals for greater integration with British Rail and enhanced bus services were to be implemented. Hon. Gentlemen have demanded greater integration with British Rail, but integration costs money and it is not available under the Bill's provisions. Even if capital were available overnight, the cost of redundancies, investment in new rolling stock and the difficulty of disposing of large assets such as bus garages would make it impossible to bridge the £70 million gap in the myth perpetrated by the Secretary of State and the reality of running London Transport.
The Opposition all know, and Conservative Members if they would he honest enough to admit it know, that there will be a massive increase in London bus and underground fares as a result of the Bill. If the Minister of State can find an alternative to that increase and match the figures that I have given, I hope that she will do so when she replies. Figures were sadly lacking from the Secretary of State's speech. Millions of London ratepayers would like to see a hefty cut in their rate burden. I live in London for most of the year and I should like to see a hefty cut in my rates—but at what cost? Would the average Londoner wish to see his bus and tube service decimated to receive a rate reduction? The Bill will not give him a reduction in his rates.
§ Mr. Snape
The right hon. Gentleman says that it is boring. He should have listened to himself this afternoon. It may be boring, but my speech does not come from a departmental brief given to me by a bunch of civil servants. It comes from my heart. If the right hon. Gentleman does not believe that, he should not be doing his job.
We all know that there are two main reasons why the right hon. Gentleman is Secretary of State for Transport. First, he is one of the few remaining Conservative Members—I am not talking about the Members elected in June whose enthusiasm for Government policies is understandable and will die fairly quickly—one of the older intake, who entered the House in 1959, who believes that this monetarist madness works. It is not because of any interest he has expressed for transport matters during his parliamentary career. He gave the impression that his transport knowledge was confined to plugging in the odd Hornby 00 in his younger days. Secondly, the Department of Transport has for too long been seen as just another step along the road to greater political fame and fortune.
The right hon. Gentleman is the third Secretary of State for Transport that we have had in a year. The Opposition will agree when I say that on today's performance he is undoubtely the worst, and thinking of some of his predecessors that is saying something.
We believe that public transport in London and elsewhere is too important to be left to the right hon. Gentleman's cynicism. The Opposition will not filibuster 918 in Committee. We shall study the Bill clause by clause and hope that the right hon. Gentleman will explain the odd clause here and there before he takes off for more important meetings. On today's performance, we doubt whether he will be able to give any explanations. We urge him to pack the Committee, if necessary, not with hon. Members who have spoken today, because willing and enthusiastic though they were, their desire to be loyal overcame any great interest in London's ratepayers. The Secretary of State is in for a long and hard battle in Committee. We reiterate a long-held belief in democracy at any level. As was said earlier, we would rather see London Transport under a Tory-controlled GLC than left to the tender and inadequate mercies of the Secretary of State.