§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Tom King)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.
I am today publishing a White Paper on Public Transport in London. Copies are available in the Vote Office. The White Paper sets out our proposals for fundamental changes in the way in which public transport in London is organised and financed. The present system has served the travelling public and the transport operators badly. Since 1970 costs in London Transport have risen way beyond inflation; public subsidy has risen thirteenfold, and fares have doubled in real terms. Last year the all-party Transport Select Committee unanimously recommended that the improvement of transport facilities in London should be regarded as a national priority and that responsibility for transport should be moved from the Greater London council.
The Government have accepted this need. As the first step we intend to reform the London Transport Executive into a new body on the pattern of a holding company with separate subsidiaries for bus and underground services. That new body— London Regional Transport— in addition to control of the subsidiaries, will have a wider responsibility for securing efficient public transport for London. It will be required to encourage other private or publicly-owned operators to provide services where they can be offered more efficiently and cheaply. I shall establish new liaison arrangements between British Rail and London Regional Transport to secure the maximum benefits from closer co-operation between them. Our proposals also include a reserve provision for London Regional Transport to take over responsibility for grant allocations to British Rail's London commuter services at a later stage, if experience shows the need for it.
I emphasise three points. While the Government's proposals for the abolition of the GLC would, in any case, have required new arrangements for transport, these proposals are right in transport terms. They will end the inefficient arrangements under which British Rail and London Transport served two different masters. The key elements in our proposals are to get the different public transport operators working together and to encourage the provision of new and competitive services.
London's ratepayers will be protected from seesawing rate demands for public transport. London Regional Transport will instead receive a grant direct from the Government, and a compensating adjustment will be made in the financial support arrangements for London.
Responsibility for granting concessionary fares will in future rest with the London boroughs. The Government will consult representatives of the boroughs to discuss how best to consider the operation of the scheme.
The new arrangements are designed to improve efficiency and to get a better deal for the London traveller. I am publishing this White Paper at the earliest opportunity in this new Session as a basis for consultation with interested parties on the details of our proposals. I shall take such views into account in preparing the legislation that I hope to bring before the House in the autumn.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I thank the Secretary of State for making that statement to the House today.
1054 The Select Committee on Transport report, published in July last year, has been overtaken by the Transport Act 1983, which received the Royal Assent only on 28 March this year, which laid out in great detail the relationship between the Secretary of State and the planning arrangements for London Transport. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that measure was driven or to the statute book by the use of a guillotine motion? Has not the Secretary of State, while praying in aid the reasoning of the Select Committee on Transport, completely rejected recommendation 21 about the composition of the metropolitan transport authority? The Committee recommended that it should be composed of members of the GLC, representatives of the London borough councils and of the shire county and district councils, in addition to the Secretary of State's nominees?
Will the Secretary of State tell us, because the White Paper is silent about this, how the holding company will be directed? Will it be directed by Department of Transport officials, by Ministers or by London Transport management, or will the Secretary of State simply nominate members to a board? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it removes all democratic local government choice from the running of London Transport?
The suggestion that the capital's transport system be taken away from the GLC and given to the London boroughs and that joint arrangements will be made later, will mean that pensioners' concessionary fares will be adversely affected. With the Minister's Tory friends in the London boroughs, the lowest common denominator will have its way, and there will be a reduction in concessionary fares. Is not the White Paper a prelude to the privatisation of any profitable parts that may be extracted from London Transport and an encouragement to local private operators to cream off profitable services? Has not the Secretary of State fallen into the same trap as did the Serpell committee, in that he is more concerned with finance than with transport policy, and that his objective consideration of such serious matters has been clouded by the Government's vindictiveness towards the Labour-controlled GLC?
§ Mr. King
I appreciate the difficulty of responding to a White Paper without enough time to study it. When the hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to study it he may welcome some of the proposals. It will provide an opportunity for better co-operation and collaboration between London Transport and British Rail's commuter services—;
§ Mr. King
We have not followed every detail of the Select Committee's recommendations. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Select Committee could not reach agreement on the membership. It proposed generally that it might include members of the GLC and representatives of the London boroughs, the shire counties, the shire district councils and the consumer committees. The more one lists the possible membership, the more one sees how far we have moved towards the 1055 alternative approach, which is the only one that can work, of an efficient management board that is capable of running an important transport undertaking. That is the approach that we have adopted. I shall not prejudge the concessionary fares issue, as the London boroughs will want to consider it, but, before the GLC operated the present scheme, the boroughs operated a standard scheme for concessionary fares across London.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
I welcome the publication of the White Paper. However, do not many of the serious problems of London Transport arise from the peak travelling hours? Will my right hon. Friend give further consideration to that aspect? Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people outside London believe that they are unfairly treated in the matter of concessionary fares because of the different age distribution in places such as Worthing compared with London? Therefore, will he consider the idea of a national standard?
§ Mr. King
We have always felt that it was up to individual authorities to determine appropriate concessionary fares for their areas, particularly as they are aware of the transport provision in their areas and the desirability or benefit of such schemes. This matter will need careful discussion in the weeks and months ahead.
I hear what my right hon. Friend says about the problem of peak hour travel, and understand his interest in this matter. I hope that the discussions with British Rail in London and the south-east region and with London Transport will enable us to achieve some real progress in improving the arrangements for facilities for Londoners both at and outside peak hours.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
As the only London Member of the Select Committee that undertook the study, may I point out to the Secretary of State that we observed the necessity for state aid to the capital and massive capital expenditure, which cannot be undertaken by the GLC by raising rates and so on. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with that. However, does he recall that we emphasised the necessity for having on that body representatives of the public in the shape of members of shire county and district authorities and of the GLC? We deliberately left the size of the committee fluid so that possibly, under an enlightened Labour Government, it could include representatives of the trade union movement and so on. Will the Secretary of State undertake, in the coming discussion on the White Paper, to change his attitude, because it would be easy to have elected representatives of the people to serve on the authority that will emerge?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman will know that the London Transport Executive does not include elected representatives of the people. The duty of the GLC is to approve the plans and the expenditure but not to interfere in the day-to-day running of London Transport. As a member of the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman knows— I am grateful for his confirmation—; that the Committee proposed that responsibility for the executive should be removed from the GLC. One of the reasons for that was that the executive encompasses a much wider area than the GLC. The hon. Gentleman knows that although the Committee was not short of time, there would have 1056 been real difficulty in establishing an elected membership. London Transport, with an efficient management board, is the right way to proceed. As I hall have responsibility for appointing the members, I shall be answerable to the House for those appointments and for the conduct of the people whom I appoint.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Ravensbourne)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his proposals will be warmly welcomed in the London borough of Bromley and throughout the Greater London area, where ratepayers have had to pay dearly for the politically-motivated fare experiments carried out by London Transport under the control of the GLC? Is my right hon. Friend confident that the creation of this new London Regional Authority will signal the return of sanity and responsibility to the financing of transport in London?
§ Mr. King
I recognise that no one knows better than my hon. Friend about the problems and distress caused to many of his constituents and to his local authority and travellers in London by the GLC's behaviour. I hope that the new proposals will lead to a more stable relationship plus a real improvement in the cost-effectiveness of the services provided, which is of great concern to the people of London.
§ Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)
Does the Secretary of State accept that the travelling public want, not liaison between British Rail and London Transport, but the closest possible integration of services? Will the new arrangements be geared to achieving just that? Does the right hon. Gentleman also accept that if London is to have the modern public transport system that it needs and deserves, it will require a substantial capital investment programme? Will the new arrangements for London Regional Transport enable that capital to be made available?
§ Mr. King
The liaison arrangements are to achieve that better co-operation and integration of services to which the hon. Gentleman referred. For instance, the facilities for common ticketing, through ticketing or inter-change facilities are all part of the whole range of possibilities that are being developed, and on which more can be done. New developments in technology make it possible to achieve some exciting advances, which I hope to encourage.
As to the sums that will be available for investment, it is obvious that the more efficient the operation of the service, the greater will be the sums available. There has been inefficient working and unnecessary cost, and that has taken money away from necessary investment.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that after the raping of the ratepayers of Harrow by the GLC over the past few years, Harrow ratepayers will be delighted with these proposals? Will my right hon. Friend tell those of us who have not yet had the opportunity of seeing the White Paper whether he envisages the new regional authority taking responsibility for taxis and car hire firms throughout the London area?
§ Mr. Spearing
Is not the separation into separate subsidiaries of London Transport bus and underground 1057 services a retrograde step, putting the c lock back to before 1912 and taking apart the merger that a Conservative Government agreed to in 1932? Therefore, is it not the opposite of the integration that the right hon. Gentleman claimed that he was seeking?
Will the Secretary of State assure us that the proportion of public support— and public support is found in capital cities everywhere—;will not be reduced by the change of funding by his Department rather than by the GLC? If so, what is the case for any change?
§ Mr. King
The opening comparison made by the hon. Gentleman is not particularly apt. The point of establishing separate subsidiaries is to draw attention to the fact that London Regional Transport will be responsbile not just for the management of those subsidiaries but for seeing how public transport services can best be provided within London. The envisaged structure would separate the new body from involvement in the operations. I do not think that the two parts, being adjacent subsidiaries within a holding company, mean the total collapse of communication suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
On investment, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright).
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
In view of my constituents' grievances over services and concessionary fares, will this White Paper—;which I welcome—;be followed by consultations not only with the London boroughs but with local authorities in Essex as well?
§ Mr. King
One of the points that I made to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) was that these proposals affect people who live in a much wider area than the GLC area. I am conscious that the White Paper involves not only 32 London boroughs, but 15 shire counties which are, in one sense or another, directly concerned about and involved in the efficiency of the London Transport system. The answer to my hon. Friend is yes.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Does the Secretary of State agree that the White Paper proposals amount to a further deterioration of local democracy in London, because a publicly accountable authority will be made into a quango to which I understand the Government are much opposed? Is he aware that some of the areas that will be brought into the new authority do not have the same concessionary fares for old age pensioners as those provided by the GLC? Will he give an assurance, first, that fares will not increase under this new quango, and, secondly, that the old age pensioners' free bus passes provided by the GLC will be safeguarded?
§ Mr. King
I have already made a clew statement about concessionary fares, and there will be consultations. The Select Committee, with all-party support, proposed to remove transport control from the GLC. The hon. Member for Ealing, Southall believes that transport should be removed from what he called the democratic control of the GLC, although other people might use a different form of words to describe the sort of control exercised by that body during the past couple of years.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents desire an adequate and efficient public transport service system for London with a fare cost that is met fairly by taxpayers, ratepayers and the users of that system? Provided those objections are met, my constituents do not care who runs the London Regional Transport. Is he aware that they do not expect any more or less accountability then they have with the British Rail suburban line that runs through the constituency? Is he further aware that they welcome the fact that there will be an integrated public transport system throughout the metropolis, which includes British Rail suburban lines?
§ Mr. King
London travellers should not be treated as a political football to gratify the aims and political ambitions of certain people in county hall. This is a serious industrial matter. A public transport undertaking of the size and complexity of the one in London deserves the best management that we can bring to it. It is my intention to provide that management. I believe that the public are anxious to see that achieved. There are 92 GLC councillors and 84 London Members of Parliament. I and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be answerable to the House for the appointments that we make to the LRT.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have a heavy day and another statement in front of us. I propose to call those hon. Members who have been standing, but I ask for much shorter supplementary questions.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, if these proposals are accepted, Greater London will be the only part of the country where democratically elected local government representatives will not play a direct part in the planning and subsidy arrangements for transport in their area? Will he confirm also that his proposition contains no benefit to London ratepayers because he intends to withdraw rate support grant equivalent to the amount that the ratepayers are presently contributing to London Transport?
§ Mr. King
The White Paper proposes that we should maintain the relative position of London ratepayers and those in other conurbations. That is a fair approach.
The Select Committee was unable to resolve the problem of how to achieve a comprehensive approach to public transport in London, given the area that the system must cover. The Select Committee made no proposals on how to build in some form of elected membership. It will be a duty of London Regional Transport, when preparing its plans, to consult the local authorities. I shall be answerable to the House and to London Members. In that way I hope to solve what I think the House will recognise is a difficult situation.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be welcomed not just by London ratepayers but by taxpayers in other parts of the country who indirectly subsidise the antics of the GLC? Will he confirm that the new body will be unable to waste public money on party political advertising in the press, as the GLC did so disgracefully last year?
§ Mr. King
I know how strong feelings are in many parts of London about the way in which the GLC has abused its powers in so many ways. I hope that we can ensure that, under the proposals in the White Paper and under the legislation that I shall bring forward, we can provide a rather more stable and promising future for London travellers with local transport being managed professionally.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that overwhelming numbers of Londoners will be opposed to these suggestions because he has thrown common sense out of the window and replaced it by sheer political ideology? How on earth can he talk about accountability if he proposes to set up a centralised holding company to which will be linked a labyrinth of public limited liability companies accountability for which will be confined to the board room?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman's opening remarks represent a serious attack on the all-party Select Committee's proposals. I sought to make that point clear in my statement. When the hon. Gentleman has a chance to read the White Paper, he will find that I have endorsed a number of the Select Committee's statements.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
As a former member of the GLC's Transport Committee—;
§ Mr. Leigh
—may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent statement? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if there is one thing worse than London Transport being run by the present regime at county hall, it is for it to be run by an undemocratic burgeoning bureaucracy like the Thames water authority, upon which I have also had the misfortune to serve?
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)
Is not the replacement of democratic GLC control by that of the unelected Treasury a recipe for the end of cheap fares in London? Furthermore, does the Secretary of State recognise that his failure to give any assurances about pensioners' free bus and tube passes will lead to great anxiety among the many who live in Conservative-controlled Greater London boroughs where there will plainly be great reluctance to provide the subsidy necessary to maintain the present scheme?
§ Mr. King
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of the utter contradiction of his supplementary question. He accuses me of complete centralisation but asks me to remove from the boroughs the discretion to determine what is appropriate for their areas. I thought the hon. Gentleman believed in local authority freedom and discretion. I stand by the proposals in the White Paper.
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
Does my right hon. Friend envisage that London Regional Transport will have any powers over British Rail in respect of the London commuter train services, or will its role be solely one of co-ordination and integration?
§ Mr. King
The initial proposal is that I should chair a liaison committee with which British Rail and London Regional Transport will be involved. I shall be seeking at the earliest date to obtain the maximum possible benefits from co-operation and co-ordination, the ending of duplication and overlap, better interchange arrangements and the various facilities and improvements that so many people feel are possible.
As my hon. Friend will see, the legislation will contain a reserve power which might later give London Regional Transport grant-making powers to enable it to take over responsibility for the payment to British Rail of the public service obligation grant for commuter services.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Given the shortness of the White Paper, will the Secretary of State assure the House that he has not yet ruled out including in the draft Bill some democratic participation in the authority to be set up to control London Transport? Will he grasp the nettle of integrating British Rail far more effectively than the proposals in the White Paper suggest? Will he consider the fact that London has an unused transport artery—;the waterways—;which, as far as I can see, is not referred to in the White Paper?
§ Mr. King
That is correct. That aspect could be worth considering.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point about democratic participation, I am sure that he will accept that it is a difficult problem because we are talking about a fairly wide area.
People are now commuting into London from as far away as Bristol and Leicester, and they have a right for their views to be considered as well. The problem of building in democratic accountability over this range is substantial. I believe that in the so-called "golden" days, London Transport was run in the way that I am now proposing. Some people may question whether democratic accountability, as seen in the last couple of years, is really the way to run London Transport.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the most important part of the White Paper is paragraph 10, which shows that over the last 12 years unit costs have gone up in real terms while services have gone down? Increased prices as well as increased subsidies show that London Transport is not providing the service that is needed. When are the ratepayers and travellers in my constituency likely to see British Rail fares on a par with London underground fares and when are the ratepayers likely to get an advantage from the new proposals?
§ Mr. King
I would not like to give a specific date, but my aim is to see early progress. There is the will and a recognition that there is considerable scope for improvement. When we talk of greater efficiency and getting value for money, many people think that we are talking merely about saving money, but that can also mean improvements in the quality of service in certain areas—and in many parts of London that is long overdue.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that his action in arrogating to himself such wide-ranging and dictatorial powers and eliminating any form of democratic participation by ordinary Londoners will be deeply resented in the capital? He has given no guarantees on the level of fares or travel concessions for the retired. Will he now use plain language—;not weasel words—;and say that there will be no increases in the real level of fares and that existing travel concessions will continue right across the capital in future?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that those answers will depend or, the authority's performance and on the decisions of the boroughs. I have stated in the House that the power of decision should not be taken away from local authorities. They will have the right to determine what should happen about concessionary fares.
I do not agree ith the hon. Gentleman's other point. The evidence is not on his side, but I shall not continue endlessly to repeat the arguments that I have already made.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents tad their fares and rates doubled by the GLC last year and that the lower fares introduced recently have been much lower for inner Londoners, whereas outer Londoners have not enjoyed a commensurate reduction? Will he see that this unfairness is overcome in the new legislation?
As to concessionary fares, is my right hon. Friend aware that successive Conservative and Labour administrations at county hall have supported the present level of pensioners' passes? Will he use his influence to ensure that those passes are maintained at the present level, irrespective of what happens outside the Greater London area?
§ Mr. King
On concessionary fares I clearly stated:The Government will be consulting representatives of the boroughs to discuss how best to continue the operation of the scheme.I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that that is the right way to proceed. It is wrong to read anything sinister into this, as Labour Members seem to do. That seems to be the proper way to proceed, and I hope that all hon. Members will endorse it. I hope that these proposals will genuinely be a more sensible way to proceed on the major problems and important issues connected with London's public transport. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome.
§ Mr. Chris Smith: (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Will the Secretary of State admit, as he failed to do in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), that under the provisions of paragraph 19 of the White Paper, the rate contribution from Londoners, including those from Harrow and Bromley, will be the same as at present? Will he also admit that the only difference will be that those London ratepayers will not have the power to elect the people who make the decisions on services, fares and rate contributions?
§ Mr. King
If the hon. Gentleman reads paragraph 19 carefully, he will see that it will depend on what is thought to be the appropriate level of contribution. I undertake that it will not swing around as violently as it has in recent years, to the great damage of ratepayers in London. The 1062 hon. Gentleman will understand that it will be grossly unfair to ratepayers in other conurbations if London ratepayers did not have to contribute in that specific way.
§ Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing the White Paper. May we have some assurance that, for the benefit of the travelling public and the management of London Transport, this change will happen as quickly as is practicably possible?
§ Mr. King
I am anxious to avoid any unnecessary uncertainty for this important and major undertaking. I apologise if the White Paper has come forward in perhaps a shorter time than one might have wished for consultation, but it is important to carry the legislation through the House, with proper discussion, at as early a date as we can. I hope that vesting can go ahead at the earliest possible date thereafter.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)
If private operators are to be allowed to take their profits from the profitable services, will not the ratepayer be left with an even greater burden in respect of the unprofitable services?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman will have studied the proposals on the licensing of alternative services. I hope that he will recognise that there are areas in which new services or competition can make a major contribution to improving services for the public. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bring his alert mind to bear on this issue and not be as negative as some of his hon. Friends who refuse even to entertain any suggestion that private enterprise can occasionally do things better, to the advantage of all concerned.
§ Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington)
As tricky issues such as efficiency, public accountability and social obligations are involved, would it not be prudent for the Government to hasten slowly on this matter, contrary to what my right hon. Friend said, and to have a sensible, full debate on the White Paper before proceeding to legislation?
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend will have heard my views on that earlier. We shall have a full debate and full parliamentary procedure on the legislation as it comes forward. I shall be more than willing to discuss these matters with my hon. Friend and any other hon. Members in advance of the legislation.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)
At least twice this afternoon the Secretary of State has sought to justify the taking away of democratic control over transport from the people of London. He has done so by talking about London Members of Parliament having a direct line to him. How will that work? Is he saying that he is prepared to be answerable in greater detail than Ministers normally are to hon. Members on the day-to-day operation of the new transport authority?
§ Mr. King
It recognised that it would need a far wider representation than the GLC. The Committee proposed that people should be brought in from a much greater area. 1063 Therefore, it implicitly recognised that London Transport should be taken away from the so-called democratic control of the GLC. That is the issue that we must face if we wish to achieve a comprehensive approach to London's public transport issues, which affect an area that goes well beyond the GLC.
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I, too, welcome the White Paper. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind what happened 15 years ago, when the then Labour Secretary of State for Transport had to go on bended knee to the Conservative-controlled GLC to beg it to take on London Transport, because she was incapable of dealing with it herself? Will he please ensure that the very best people—;
§ Mr. Thorne
—are employed at the top of this organisation? Moreover, in the interests of my constituents, will he also ensure that the maximum use is made of private enterprise, particularly in peak transport periods?
§ Mr. King
I had better not get involved in the incapacity or otherwise of the then right hon. Lady to cope with those problems. However, these are difficult issues, to which the Select Committee said there was no easy answer.
I omitted to answer the question about accountability. The normal procedure regarding ministerial accountability will apply where ministerial appointments are made.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Will the Secretary of State admit that he has gone much too far in praying in aid the Select Committee? The Select Committee made 37 recommendations, the majority of which he rejected. Will he guarantee that, after the consultations have taken place, there will be a debate in the House so that Parliament may be consulted before the Bill is published and the legislative process begins?
§ Mr. King
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who will no doubt have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I think that there will be ample time for parliamentary debate on these issues. I fancy that we shall spend many hours on them. I believe that that is the right way to proceed.