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 satisfied with the frequency and regularity of buses running in Central London and what improvement they may have in mind to meet the interests of passengers.]
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH AFFAIRS (LORD SHEPHERD)
My Lords, bus operations are a matter for the London Transport Board, not for Her Majesty's Government. The main concern of my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is to create conditions in which all public transport can contribute fully to meeting the needs of London. This she intends to achieve through a reorganisation of transport by which responsibility for London's buses and Underground railways, together with wider transport planning powers, will be transferred to the Greater London Council. The same authority will therefore be responsible for major elements of public transport, traffic and highways.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord: Why this change of policy?—because on previous occasions I have always been given details of the buses running in Central London, without any reference to day-to-day management. Can the noble Lord give me any figures to-day which compare with those he gave me three years ago? Further, can he give us any assurance about bus fares, which are high enough in London at the present time? Can he say whether there is any truth in the stories now going round that Londoners will be expected to pay more?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, first of all, I did not reply to the noble Lord three years ago. This is one of the crosses I did not have to bear three years ago. There has been no change of policy. The White Paper of 1966 drew particular attention to the need for integration between public transport, highways and traffic measures. As to the details of 445 particular bus routes, this is an operational matter and I have always understood—particularly from noble Lords opposite—that it was not felt right for the Government to interfere or to take an interest in the everyday management of the Board. Turning to the question of fares, I believe the noble Lord will be aware that the London Transport Board made an application for increased fares. This was approved by the Prices and Incomes Board. It has now been referred to the Transport Tribunal and I believe that there will be a public inquiry.
My Lords, will the noble Lord look again into this question? Even though it may not have been the noble Lord, one of his noble friends answered this question, and I should like to think that the noble Lord was able to do at least as well as any of his noble friends on that Bench, if not better. It is really a great help to many Londoners who use buses to know, broadly, how the buses in the centre of London are running during the busiest times of the day. There is a widespread feeling that, even allowing for the fact that the increase in general traffic makes bus operation difficult, the service in Central London gets worse and worse, and now the passenger has again to bear the extra cross of higher fares.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, I recognise that in certain parts of London and at certain times of the day conditions are more difficult than they were some years ago. On the other hand, because of certain measures taken by the London Transport Board there is an improvement. If my memory is correct, the noble Lord referred to the loss of services due to staff shortages and its effect upon the scheduled mileage. I think he asked this Question in 1965. I understand that the situation has improved and that today there is less than half the loss there was then because of staff shortages. Many operational steps have been taken by the Board, and I think there is an improvement in transport services, although some of us from our own experience may feel that there is still room for improvement.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
My Lords, in his original Answer my noble friend men- 446 tioned the reorganisation of London Transport, including Underground railways. Would my noble friend say whether our mutual friend the Minister is also going to consider the question of underground motorways, in order to take the long-distance through-traffic in London away from the surface streets, particularly in view of the great increase in motor traffic that will occur over the next two or three decades?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the arrangements that I mentioned in my Answer apply strictly to the buses and the Underground services now being provided. The Greater London Council are the traffic and highways authority for London, and it is for them to decide the manner in which the present traffic problems in London should be solved.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, with a view to improving the flow of surface public transport in London, can the noble Lord say to what extent consideration is being given by Her Majesty's Government to what is being done in Paris, where they have entirely reserved parts of streets for certain types of vehicles?
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, the Ministry of Transport are always looking to experiments that are being conducted in other cities. In the case of London, the responsibility has been placed directly on the Greater London Council, and, as the noble Lord will be aware, certain experiments are being undertaken in regard to having a route specially set aside for buses. This idea is in its early stages and it is too soon to know whether it has served its purpose.