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Orders of the Day — London Transport

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th February 1966.

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10.7 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the conditions on which persons other than the London Transport Board may operate public service vehicles in Greater London. I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss a subject which, after taxation, is of greater importance to the people of London than any other—their bus services. There is massive and complicated legislation referring to London passenger bus services, but I will confine my remarks to the responsibility of the London Transport Board as summed up in Section 142 of the 1960 Act, which states that it is the duty of the Board …to provide or secure the provision of an adequate and properly co-ordinated system of passenger transport… This duty is clear and the Board must itself provide or arrange for someone else to provide an adequate system.

What is so extraordinary is that no one other than the Board has any say at all as to what constitutes an adequate system. It is not the Metropolitan Transport Commissioner, it is not the Minister—for he cannot interfere with the day-today running of the Board—and it is not the local authority. The Metropolitan Commissioner, alone of all the transport commissioners in the country, has not the duty laid upon him to take into account the representations of local authorities which are made to him on the adequacy or inadequacy of the transport system of London.

It might be thought that the decision as to adequacy or not of the Board's services and the quality of service given is provided by the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, but this body is really no match for the Board. It has only a tiny voice with which to shout, no arms with which to fight and it only has feet to queue. I am not hostile towards the London Transport Board and this Bill is designed to help it to break out of the monopolistic prison in which it finds itself by using more frequently and enthusiastically the second weapon or means it was given by Parliament to secure the provision of an adequate service from resources other than its own.

Is an adequate service being provided at present? I will quote from the London Transport Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31st December, 1964, paragraph 36 of which states: In 1964 the traffic lost miles figure was the highest ever recorded, over 30 per cent. above that for 1963 and more than double the 1959 figure. The total lost mileage by Central buses in 1964 amounted to about 7 per cent. of the scheduled mileage; that is, 19 million lost miles. This is an indication of the extent to which the service actually provided for passengers on central buses fell short of the service that London Transport had set out to operate. It is against that background that I seek leave to introduce a Bill to make easier the use of licensed vehicles by private transport operators.

To bring this about, the main Clause in my new London Transport Bill would make it a statutory obligation on the London Transport Board to try to find a private operator to take over any service which it found that, for any reason, at any time, it had to abandon. Such services, being part of an agreed adequate service, could not be cut out as they may be now without first being offered to a private operator.

There is a difficulty here which I do not want to cover up, and in respect of which the good will of the Board is absolutely essential. This difficulty was attractively explained in an article in The Times of 1st February, from which I quote the following extract: Another snag for the independent bus company is that they must not pick up 'intermediate passengers'. Yesterday the queues, standing dripping in the rain surged hopefully on to the bus. 'Sorry dear', the conductor cried, 'I can't take you unless you're going the whole way; you'll have to wait for a London Transport bus'.London Transport do not want the bus company to steal their customers for a 62 bus, which covers part of the route. So the public can jolly well wait for a bus of the right colour. Without minimising the difficulty of London Transport in paying its way, I am certain that with good will and determination to serve the public a way out of the difficulty can be found.

It is particularly fortunate that at this moment, when I am seeking to introduce this Bill, a practical exercise in cooperation between London Transport and private operators is in action. The satis faction that this has given to bus travellers all over London, and particularly in my constituency, and the ease with which private buses have become integrated with the London Transport system makes the ideas behind my Bill—which, when I spoke of it before Christmas, people thought quite revolutionary—seem rather old hat now. Just as has happened in the present emergency, I should like to see a friendly liaison growing up between London Transport garages and local private operators so that whenever a particular service had to be cut out for any reason—staff shortage, a breakdown, or the like—the new duty I want to see imposed on London Transport to try to find a substitute bus could usually be met.

It is waiting for scheduled buses that do not arrive that angers the travelling public more than anything else at all. I have had discussions with private operators who say that they would like to cooperate with London Transport with a standby service, and that, except in their busiest months of June, July and August, they would probably be able to meet most demands at very short notice. Also, if the attitude of London Transport changed, the composition of private fleets of buses could be replanned to meet the possible requests of London Transport.

I have letters, and I quoted from them in a debate on 9th December, in which a standby service by a licensed operator was actually offered but was rejected—I think unreasonably and out of hand—by London Transport. The two main duties that I would put on the Board would be to find substitute operators and standby buses. Private operators should be encouraged by the transport commissioner and local authorities to operate in the London Transport area mainly off the routes but occasionally, with agreement, going over the routes.

I do not believe London Transport revenue would suffer. The opposite would happen because, as soon as people found that there was a good, reliable and regular system of public transport they would stop using their own cars and start using public transport for their journeys. In this way we would have more buses, fewer cars and more warm and satisfied travellers.

To help make these aims become more quickly effective, the rule which demands that all private operators who wish to apply to work in the London transport area are compelled to apply first to London Transport for consent, should be cancelled. This is a disincentive to the private operator. Since there is a means of appeal to the transport commissioner in the event of consent being withheld, it does not seem to have much meaning.

The duty should be placed on the Metropolitan Transport Commission—this probably would be the most important means of changing the whole atmosphere of London bus operations—corresponding to that of every other transport commissioner in the country, to take note of the representations of the local authority about adequacy of transport services. The obvious candidate for this job is the Greater London Council, a body which is strong enough to stand up to the London Transport Board and a body already proved to be responsible enough to be the traffic authority in London, as it is at the moment in that capacity as a body with a great deal of liaising and arranging about turning and stopping points and so on with the Transport Board.

I should like to see the Metropolitan Transport Commissioner as the referee in the heavyweight contest between the Board and the G.L.C.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member has the right to make a short speech in support of the Bill he is asking leave to introduce. I hope that he will remember that it is a short speech.

Photo of Mr John Page Mr John Page , Harrow West

I had come to my peroration, Mr. Speaker.

All these proposals have been greatly strengthened by the experience of the last few weeks. In view of the threatened strike on the Underground, urgent action by the Minister along the lines suggested in the Bill which I seek leave to introduce would be most helpful. I believe that the suggestions are reasonable. I think that they are acceptable to London Transport and to private operators and from the letters I have received I am certain that they would be keenly welcomed by Londoners.

10.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

The reason why I oppose this Measure is that while we all understand and share the desire of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. John Page) for better transport services many of us believe that he is not looking in the right direction. What he is seeking is that private enterprise should play a larger part. What I am afraid of is that if his proposal were accepted we would get at best no change and at worst chaos in the centre and complete breakdown at the circumference.

It would be easy to give a dogmatic answer to this Motion and to say that the hon. Member's party and mine are agreed that public transport is the only kind of transport for London and the right way is to have a public monopoly if necessary supported by public finance. I believe that is the right answer, but I will put the view in a manner which perhaps the hon. Member may find more acceptable.

No one disputes that transport conditions in London, public and private, must be improved. So far there is common ground. The London Transport Board, however, has special statutory rights and obligations. I have been looking into these. The Board has had these rights since 1933. It must provide, as the hon. Member said, an adequate and properly co-ordinated system of passenger transport. A general responsibility is placed upon the Board. This means at all times and in all parts of the area. It must, therefore, be able to protect itself from operators who might be willing to take on profitable services, leaving the Board with the unprofitable problem routes.

The chaos of the late 1920s, which I am just old enough to remember, even if the hon. Gentleman is not, when dozens, even hundreds, of pirate operators fought each other for passengers on profitable services but neglected other areas completely must not be allowed to return.

The hon. Member's suggestion that the consent of the London Transport Board should not be required before applications from private operators are considered by the transport commissioner needs a little examination. I think the hon. Gentleman's proposal is that applications should be made only to the transport commissioner and that he should ask the Board for its views. This is not the right way to set about the problem. Improvements must be effected as part of a general plan and this sort of piecemeal tinkering would not answer the problem.

It is not sufficient merely to say that. I must give one or two examples to show why I think this is so. Another point the hon. Gentleman made, to paraphrase his argument, is that private bus services in the area should be encouraged by the commissioner to operate, not in competition with, but alongside, the Board in different areas. This amounts to a suggestion that private operators should be allowed in as long as they do not compete with the Board. I think that is a fair presentation of the hon. Gentleman's point.

There is no evidence that the Board will not allow such operators on routes which it does not itself wish to operate or for which it sees no need. The figures I have looked into show that the Board does precisely that already and there is no suggestion at all from the figures I have looked into—if I had the time I would quote them in detail—that the Board at the moment is restrictive or that there is a great rush of private operators wanting to get in. The average over the last 11 years is eight applications made every year, four of which have been accepted, four of which have been

turned down, and two of which are still operating.

The hon. Gentleman might say that in present circumstances there is a special emergency, but I have further figures to show that even in the present emergency the Board appears to be handling the situation reasonably and fairly.

Mr. Speaker, it is being hinted to me that I have no time to quote the other figures I have here. Perhaps I have said enough already to suggest to the House that the problem which the hon. Gentleman rightly seeks to solve is not in fact to be dealt with in the way he seeks. I therefore hope that in the short space of time for which I have spoken the hon. Member may perhaps have been persuaded that there is a sufficient reason to withdraw his proposal. If he does not agree with my suggestion, it will be my reluctant duty to ask the House to oppose it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's purpose. I think that he is going the wrong way about it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 58, Noes 157.

Division No. 22.]AYES[10.25 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)Grant, AnthonyOsborn, John (Hallam)
Batsford, BrianGriffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Berry, Hn. AnthonyHarvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Peel, John
Bessell, PeterHay, JohnPowell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Blaker, PeterHendry, ForbesPrior, J. M. L.
Box, DonaldHill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Sinclair, Sir George
Bryan, PaulHooson, H. E.Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Buck, AntonyHornby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame P.Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Buxton, RonaldHunt, John (Bromley)Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Cary, Sir RobertJenkin, Patrick (Woodford)Testing, Sir William
Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)Johnson Smith, G. (East Grinstead)Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)Johnston, Russell (Inverness)Thorpe, Jeremy
Cooke, RobertKilfedder, James A.Walder, David (High Peak)
Corfield, F. V.King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.)Wall, Patrick
Currie, G. B. H.Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)Weatherill, Bernard
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Mawby, RayWebster, David
Eyre, ReginaldMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Whitelaw, William
Fisher, NigelMeyer, Sir AnthonyWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Giles, Rear-Admiral MorganOrr-Ewing, Sir IanTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Sir E. Bullus and Mr. Onslow.
NOES
Albu, AustenBennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)Buchan, Norman (Renfrewshire, W.)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Binns, JohnBuchanan, Richard
Alldritt, WalterBishop, E. S.Carmichael, Neil
Armstrong, ErnestBlackburn, F.Carter-Jones, Lewis
Atkinson, NormanBlenkinsop, ArthurCastle, Rt. Hn. Barbara
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Boardman, H.Coleman, Donald
Baxter, WilliamBraddock, Mrs. E. M.Conlan, Bernard
Beaney, AlanBroughton, Dr. A. D. D.Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)
Bence, CyrilBrown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan)Cullen, Mrs. Alice
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Jeger, George (Goole)Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Davies, Harold (Leek)Jeger, Mrs. Lena(H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.)Palmer, Arthur
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)Popplewell, Ernest
de Freitas, Sir GeoffreyJones, Dan (Burnley)Rees, Merlyn
Dempsey, JamesJones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)Reynolds, G. W.
Donnelly, DesmondJones, T. W. (Merioneth)Richard, Ivor
Driberg, TomLawson, GeorgeRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Duffy, Dr. A. E. P.Leadbitter, TedRodgers, William (Stockton)
Dunn, James A.Ledger, RonRose, Paul B.
Dunnett, JackLever, L. M. (Ardwick)Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Edelman, MauriceLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Shore, Peter (Stepney)
Edwards, Rt. Hn. Ness (Caerphilly)Lomas, KennethShort, Rt. Hn. E. (N'c'tle-on-Tym, C.)
Evans, Ioan (Birmingham, Yardley)Loughlin, CharlesSilkin, John (Deptford)
Fernyhough, E.McBride, NeilSilverman, Julius (Aston)
Finch, Harold (Bedwellty)McCann, J.Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)MacColl, JamesSlater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McGuire, MichaelSmall, William
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)Mclnnes, JamesSpriggs, Leslie
Ford, BenMackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen)Swain, Thomas
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Tom (Hamilton)McNamara, J. K.Swingler, Stephen
Freeson, ReginaldMahon, Peter (Preston, S.)Symonds, J. B.
Garrett, W. E.Mahon, Simon (Bootle)Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Garrow, AlexMallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Thomas Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Gourlay, HarryManuel, ArchieThornton, Ernest
Gregory, ArnoldMapp, CharlesTuck, Raphael
Grey, CharlesMason, RoyUrwin, T. W.
Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Maxwell, RobertVarley, Eric G.
Hamling, William (Woolwich, W.)Mellish, RobertWalden, Brian (All Saints)
Hannan, WilliamMendelson, J. J.Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Harper, JosephMiller, Dr. M. S.Wallace, George
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)Milne, Edward (Blyth)Warbey, William
Hart, Mrs. JudithMolloy, WilliamWatkins, Tudor
Hazell, BertMorris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Wilkins, W. A.
Heffer, Eric S.Morris, John (Aberavon)Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Herbison, Rt. Hn. MargaretMulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick(SheffieldPk)Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMurray, AlbertWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Howarth, Robert L. (Bolton, E.)Neal, HaroldWillis, George (Edinburgh, E.)
Howell, Denis (Small Heath)Newens, StanWilson, William, (Coventry, S.)
Howie, W.Norwood, ChristopherWoodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Hoy, JamesOakes, Gordon
Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)Ogden, EricTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hunter, Adam (Dunfermline)Orbach, MauriceMr. R. W. Brown and Mr. Ennals.
Irving, Sydney (Dartford)Orme, Stanley
Janner, Sir BarnettOswald, Thomas

Photo of Mr Thomas Swain Mr Thomas Swain , North East Derbyshire

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member opposite, from his seat, is shouting very audibly the word, "Cheating". Is "cheating" a Parliamen- tary word which is allowed to be used in this Chamber?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

When the Chair hears something which is out of order, it will take note of it.