HC Deb 29 February 1956 vol 549 cc133-6W
106. Mr. Ernest Davies

asked the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation what action has been taken on the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into London Transport.

Mr. Watkinson

1. This valuable Report has been under careful consideration by both my predecessor and myself as well as by the British Transport Commission and the London Transport Executive.

2. The principal conclusion of the Committee was that the London Transport Executive is conducted efficiently and with due regard to economy, but that if certain steps are not taken to improve the conditions in which London Transport operates and if some internal reforms are not made, efficiency is likely to decline and costs to rise, with an inevitable reaction on fares. The Committee stresses two operating difficulties; first, the increasing tendency of the travelling public to concentrate its movement into two peak periods, and secondly increasing road congestion.

3. I am considering by what means "staggered" working hours can be further encouraged to spread the peak load. A special sub-committee of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for the London Area with the fullest support and assistance from the London Transport Executive, is at work on this problem and has made most valuable progress. It is not, I think, even yet generally realised that, if working hours were staggered by as little as fifteen minutes on each side of their present starting and finishing times, there would be an immediate and noticeable improvement in the convenience and comfort of travelling, especially in the evening.

4. My roads programme provides for many important improvements in London which will reduce congestion. Good progress is being made with the Cromwell Road extension and the Notting Hill Gate widening scheme will be formally authorised before the end of March. The programmes for 1956–57 and for each of the two following years will include, in addition to smaller schemes, further important improvements in Central London which were announced by my predecessor in his statement on 2nd February, 1955. I hope that these schemes, together with the various other steps (including the introduction of parking meters) which are constantly under consideration for the relief of traffic congestion, will improve conditions for all road users. Much, however, will depend on the ability of London Transport to attract, through the improved efficiency of their service, a substantial number of persons who at present use private cars for their daily journey to and from work.

5. In order to encourage motorists to leave their cars on the outskirts the London Transport Executive has in hand a programme of providing additional parking space at outlying Underground stations where suitable land is available. The initial programme provides for an increase from some 1,250 car spaces at present to 2,500. A further programme, bringing the total provision up to 4,200 car spaces, is under examination.

6. The Government have not overlooked the Committee's conclusion about the contribution which a new tube railway from Victoria to Walthamstow (the Victoria Line) might make to the relief of traffic congestion, but because of the very high cost of this scheme, it is not yet possible to say when it will be started.

7. The Committee's principal recommendation for the internal improvement of the London Transport Executive concerns the higher administration of the Executive. The House will already be aware that in October last my predecessor re-appointed the full-time members of the Executive for five years notwithstanding the Committee's views on the need to alter the present arrangement under which the members of the Executive, although owing their allegiance to the Commission, are appointed by the Minister. Before making these appointments my predecessor considered very carefully, in consultation with the Chairman of the Commission, the alternatives suggested by the Committee, but concluded that, although the present arrangement might be open to some objection in theory, it had worked well in practice and it would be unwise to disturb it. The Committee also recommended that there should be not fewer than two part-time members of the Executive with experience in fields other than transport. An additional part-time member with long experience of industrial relations and the organisation of workers joined the Board on 1st January last. I hope to announce the appointment of a third part-time member shortly.

8. The Committee considered that the costs to the Executive of maintaining their omnibuses were too high. Since the Committee reported, the Executive has come to an agreement with the trade unions providing for the introduction of a new incentive bonus scheme for maintenance work in garages and depots, and this scheme when fully effective will bring about economies in maintenance of the kind indicated by the Committee.

9. The Committee pointed out that there did not appear to be very close or continuous co-ordination of policy on the higher levels between the Commission and the Executive. I am satisfied that the chief officers of the two bodies do in fact keep in close personal touch and that there are regular meetings. The Commission have however now set up a small group under their Chairman, with special responsibility for the affairs of London Transport.

10. I am unable to accept the Chambers Committee's view that neither the British Transport Commission nor the London Transport Executive should be represented on the Transport Users' Consultative Committee for London. The whole question of the representation of the Commission on the Consultative Committees has arisen from time to time and has been carefully considered by my predecessors and by me. I think that we have all been of the opinion that the objections to this arrangement, which apply to all the Transport Users' Consultative Committees, are more apparent than real, and that the Committees gain rather than lose from having on them the Commission's representatives as members.