HC Deb 01 December 1986 vol 106 cc611-4
Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he next proposes to meet the chairman of London Regional Transport to discuss the performance of his industry.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Moore)

I meet the chairman of London Regional Transport at regular intervals to discuss various aspects of the performance of his industry. He is to be congratulated on cutting costs, reducing revenue support and attracting record numbers of passengers to use LRT services.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

The many improvements are attracting passengers, but is my right hon. Friend satisfied that everything is being done to reduce the consequent overcrowding? Will he have a word with the chairman about the modernisation of the Central line, and particularly the signals, especially as only this morning many of my constituents were appallingly delayed and suffered great inconvenience?

Mr. Moore

I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of the chairman, Keith Bright. My hon. Friend is right, in that as a result of LRT's success overcrowding means that the frequency of trains on four lines has had to be improved in 1986. I was pleased to be able to approve last month a major new investment programme, involving £45 million of investment in new trains for delivery in 1987–88.

Mr. Foot

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the shambles that his transport policy is causing on the No. 24 bus, which is supposed to bring me to the House of Commons from Hampstead? Is the principle that he applies that it does not matter what happens to the passengers as long as a few more people are thrown out of jobs?

Mr. Moore

The right hon. Gentleman has, of course, written to me on that subject. I do not accept his criticism, and should like to remind him of two facts. He keeps drawing my attention to the operation of buses by one person. That is a matter for LRT, but it should be remembered that staff on crewed buses are three times more likely to be assaulted than those on one-person buses. The right hon. Gentleman is a fair man, and he should remember that.

Mr. Adley

Are there not lessons to be drawn by both sides of the House following the success of LRT? The lesson for the Labour party is that politically motivated people who try to run transport services do not do a very good job. The lesson for us is that the nationalisation of London Transport, by this Government, did not necessarily have undesirable results.

Mr. Moore

The lesson to be drawn is that excellent management which has clear objectives and a clear set of disciplines can attract increased custom, and can lead to greater efficiency, a reduction in unit costs and an overall improvement for the passenger.

Mr. Cartwright

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of my constituents are once again complaining of being kept waiting for a long time at bus stops for buses that never come? On investigation, the reason is usually that LRT simply did not have a driver available to operate the service. When he next meets the chairman, will the Secretary of State point out to him that we all want a lean and hungry service, but not one that is so emaciated that it cannot deliver a service to the customers?

Mr. Moore

The hon. Gentleman has written to me, and we may later reach his question on the Order Paper concerning the quality of services. I shall talk to the chairman about the hon. Gentleman's point, but I am sure he will remember that many of the difficulties concern crewed buses rather than those manned by one operator. The problem of staff failing to arrive for those buses creates considerable difficulties and cancellations.

Mr. Waller

Is it not significant that all the Greater London council's forecasts at the time when my right hon. Friend's Department took over transport responsibilities have been proved to be completely untrue? Is it not the fact that by running the business on proper businesslike lines it has been possible to attract more passengers, to provide a much better service for them and to put more investment into London Regional Transport?

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is entirely right. There has been a major increase in patronage—by 4 per cent. in 1985–86 compared with 1984–85. He is right to remind the House of the scaremongering of the erstwhile GLC. That body said that 33 tube stations and branch lines would be closed, but none has.

Mr. Robert Hughes

There appears to be a great difference of opinion between the Secretary of State and those who use the service. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman should conduct a proper investigation into the matter. It he aware of the engineering dispute that is taking place within London Buses Ltd., which is having a greater impact each day on the travelling public? Is he taking active steps to try to get the dispute resolved?

Mr. Moore

I shall remind the hon. Gentleman of what the London Region Passengers Committee, the consumer watchdog, said. The following passage appeared in the 1985–86 annual report: The year…may go down in history as having seen the reversal of the long spiral of decline in London's public transport. Surely that is a clear sign.

I recognise that the level of service of London Buses Ltd. has been hit badly over the past week or so, but I understand that the craftsmen, the engineers, who have been working to rule have today returned to normal working. I hope that services will rapidly improve. On behalf of London Regional Transport, I apologise to passengers for the disruption that the work-to-rule action has caused.

2. Mr. Tony Banks

asked the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of London Regional Transport; and what subjects were discussed.

Mr. Moore

I met the chairman of London Regional Transport last Tuesday at a meeting of the London passenger transport group, where a number of LRT and BR issues were discussed.

Mr. Banks

Did the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of London Regional Transport the crisis in LRT Builders? He will no doubt be aware that there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in personnel there through voluntary redundancies and a great increase in productivity, yet the organisation is still heading for a loss. The feeling of the work force is that it has been let down badly by management. For example, five contracts worth £2.7 million were won by LRT Builders in open competition, which the LRT board gave back. The staff would like the Government to call for an inquiry into the management of LRT Builders. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider taking that course?

Mr. Moore

That is not one of the subjects that was discussed. This is a matter for LRT management, but to put the matter into perspective I draw attention to the fact that this is a fringe business with a turnover of £15 million with losses that are running at between £5 million and £6 million. Following an internal audit, it was recognised that a number of recent tenders would have recovered only 60 per cent. of costs. As for the hon. Gentleman's specific request, I see little justification for diverting public subsidy from its proper purpose of supporting the transport operation to funding losses in fringe activities.

Mr. Higgins

Did my right hon. Friend discuss the appalling delays that are caused to buses by the completely unnecessary construction of barriers to traffic, of which the worst examples are to be found at Aldwych and at the south end of Westminster bridge? In addition, there is the proliferation of traffic lights, which seems to be taking place at a tremendous rate. Will my right hon. Friend discuss these matters and take corrective steps?

Mr. Moore

I shall, of course, because my right hon. Friend has in the past drawn my attention to the last product of the GLC.

Mr. Spearing

Irrespective of what the Secretary of State has just said, does he agree that the majority of passengers in London want crew-operated buses in central London? As for the engineering dispute, is it not a fact that management was trying to be too clever by half and was requiring conditions that would be prejudicial to the success of the bus service, and that the men on the job knew it?

Mr. Moore

In considering the operations of London Buses Ltd., we must take into account the advice that was given by those who seek to manage the bus services on our behalf. I shall not add to what I said earlier. A few engineers have been involved in a dispute in conflict with the settlement that was arrived at by the majority of LRT employees. The dispute has inconvenienced passengers, and I apologise for that on behalf of LRT.

Mr. Squire

I reassure my right hon. Friend. His earlier statements have already made it clear that the threats and fears expressed by Opposition Members have not been proved true in the performance of London Regional Transport. I ask my right hon. Friend when he meets the chairman of LRT, to bear in mind a matter which is causing concern—the recruitment of workers within LRT bus operations. A number of services seem to be suffering from a failure to run to timetables. This causes considerable aggravation and annoyance to my constituents.

Mr. Moore

I shall draw my hon. Friend's last point to the attention of London Regional Transport. I have to reiterate that, as my hon. Friend said, we are talking about a transport undertaking that has seen a significant growth in the number of passengers. It is a great success, despite the scaremongering from the erstwhile GLC.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Is the Secretary of State aware that there seems to be a gross shortage of staff on the London Underground? Announcements on the Northern line say, "Sorry, there are far fewer trains today due to shortage of staff." At a time of high unemployment, why is this so? Can the right hon. Gentleman also get the computer indicators to work properly, without management always apologising from central control at Euston?

Mr. Moore

I shall be delighted to make sure that those points are brought to the attention of London Regional Transport. It is interesting, in regard to some of the comments that we hear—I am sure the hon. Member, with his interest in transport will know this—that approximately 75 per cent. of total London Regional Transport costs are staff costs. They are a critical factor in the success of London Transport.

Mr. Robert Hughes

How can the Minister stand at the Dispatch Box and extol the virtues of London Regional Transport management and then, in his next answer, admit that it apparently won contracts on the open market, which, on checking, show that it recovered only 60 per cent. of its costs? How can the right hon. Gentleman say that that is good management? How can we possibly have confidence in the other figures?

Mr. Moore

I obviously did not make myself clear. The contracts in question, which LRT did not seek to secure, were those which followed an internal audit and showed that LRT was recovering only 60 per cent. of its costs. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked why it did not proceed with those contracts. I was stating the advice that I had been given by London Transport as to the way in which the contracts in question had not covered its costs. In so far as they had not, they were not pursued.