HL Deb 03 November 1966 vol 277 cc687-90

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the high fares charged to passengers travelling by bus in inner London compared with the bus fares in some provincial towns; and whether they will say how far these marked differences are due to local subsidy and how far to greater efficiency outside London.]


My Lords, the conditions in which bus undertakings operate vary widely, and so do their fares. It is therefore not possible to draw general conclusions of the kind the noble Lord suggests. The London Transport Board are unique in the scale and diversity of their bus and Underground services and in their statutory obligations. Their fares are controlled by the Transport Tribunal.


My Lords, arising out of that very evasive reply of the noble Lord, is he aware that, while I accept that the London Passenger Transport Board have special obligations, the conditions and circumstances in some of the larger provincial towns are so different from those in London that if he had carried out a few of the most elementary inquiries he would have seen the strength of my Question? Have his advisers drawn to his notice the circumstances in Leeds?—because he will find there that the ordinary stage costs 2d. and the next stage costs 3d., in comparison with London where the passenger has to pay 4d. or 8d., which makes a very great difference, at a time when almost everything is going up. Will the noble Lord look into this matter again?


My Lords, I will look into anything that the noble Lord asked me to look into, but I must say that I resent his tone. The commencement of his supplementary question seemed to me to be quite uncalled for. I have taken most careful steps to find out what is the position in towns other than London, and the answer I gave was not intended to be evasive. It was brief and to the point, and I have looked into the matter. I have looked into the difference in wages applicable to the various towns. I have looked into the cases where there happen to be rate subsidies. I have also to some extent looked into the traffic conditions operating in London. So I do not think his initial charge sticks.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I had no wish to lay any charge against him personally? If he reads his original reply again he will see that it contains few details to show that he had made any attempt to obtain comparisons. Will he take it from me that I withdraw anything that I said which he thought in any way uncomplimentary? But may I ask him please to look into this question again, because whereas it may not make much difference to many people in this House it makes a great deal of difference to millions of Londoners who have to travel on buses every day?


My Lords, of course I accept completely what the noble Lord said. We are old friends, but occassionally we clash. Certainly I will look into this again; but of course we are bound to recognise that the Transport Tribunal has powers in London to ensure that the user of London Transport is not overcharged having regard to all the circumstances.


My Lords, is it not a fact that the higher fares in London are caused by the fact that passengers are sitting in buses that are standing still or going so slowly and what they are paying for is to sit in the bus rather than to travel? Therefore, could Her Majesty's Government state what steps are being taken to try to ensure, in one way or another, that buses are able to travel faster, by some special facilities for buses, or whatever way may enable passengers travelling in public service vehicles to get along the roads much faster than at present?


My Lords, I hope that when they are just sitting they get a reasonably comfortable seat. The answer to this—and I am not making a Governmental pronouncement—must inevitably be to ensure that the roads of London are not cluttered up by cars with only one person sitting in them and which occupy just about the same space as a bus.


My Lords, will the noble Lord see whether he can do something about diversifying the No. 11 buses which continue to run in convoys of three, four, even five at a time?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the minimum bus fare is now 4d., whereas it used to be about half that price?


Yes, my Lords, I am aware of that fact. I told the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that I have looked into these facts and figures. It is part of the general trend which we are trying to combat at present—namely continuing inflation.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Committee on Nationalised Industries in the other place last year conducted a full-scale inquiry into London Transport, particularly in relation to bus fares and congestion? If noble Lords read their Report they will see that the various problems have been pinpointed. Is it not correct that the Greater London Council and all other transport authorities in London are considering ways and means of trying to get over these great difficulties and the inconvenience which people suffer?


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for calling the attention of the House to that valuable report.