Orders of the Day — London Transport Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th June 1976.

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(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

11.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Wandsworth Battersea South

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Photo of Mr Oscar Murton Mr Oscar Murton , Poole

Mr. Speaker has not selected the Instruction in the name of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Wandsworth Battersea South

This is a private Bill promoted by the London Transport Executive. It is modelled on earlier Acts of the executive and its predecessors.

For the sake of convenience, a number of standard clauses have been incorporated by Clauses 7, 11 and 12 of the Bill, by reference to the appropriate sections of the London Transport Acts of 1963 to 1975.

The undertaking operated by the executive comprises mainly the London Underground system with its associated electrical generating stations and substations and the extensive system of bus services operating mainly within Greater London.

One of the purposes of the Bill is to authorise the carrying out of railway works which require the authority of Parliament, because without it they would or might be nuisances in law. The most obvious example is work involving interference with a highway. If done without statutory authority, it would of course be a public nuisance by definition. Since statutory authority is needed for works, it is also convenient to obtain from Parliament power to take the land required compulsorily. This has always been the practice.

Part 1 of the Bill deals with interpretation and incorporation of General Acts.

Part 2 deals with works and authorises the construction of the executive of certain railway works in Greater London. Only one new work is proposed by the Bill, a ticket hall and footbridge at Surrey Docks station. This is most important because it deals with dockland in London. Most Londoners are concerned about the delay in rebuilding the dockland in South-East London.

The purpose of the works is to improve Surrey Docks station in order to enable it to deal with increased traffic likely to stem from the trade mart for which Trammel Crow has been granted planning permission. Its project is part of a much larger commercial development and one we all desire in order to see greater employment, more work and more development in dockland. The Greater London Council has made the preliminary step by developing the dockland area. There are technical reasons why the above-station works cannot be carried out without statutory authority or under the authority of the London Transport (No. 2) Act 1971, passed by the previous Conservative Government. Under that Act the executive is empowered to construct an enlarged station at Surrey Docks for the purposes of the Fleet Line.

There has been great controversy in the House about the delay in the completion and the further extension of the Fleet Line. This is a most important line. The final decision about when it should be completed has not been taken, and it is of keen interest to people living in South-East London as far out as Bromley and Orpington.

The objection to the first of the alternatives is that an interference with the highway known as Lower Road is thought to be necessary. The difficulty about the second alternative is that the power given by the 1971 Act is for the purposes of the Fleet Line. It is conceivable that it may never be constructed, but the enlarged station may nevertheless be wanted in connection with the trade mart. It is, however, of course intended to carry out the work now proposed so that it will fit in with the Fleet Line. The whole of the project is therefore connected with the Fleet Line and with the development of better transport for the people throughout South-East London down to the outer people throughout South-East London down to the outer boroughs of Greater London.

The ancillary works powers are dealt with in Clause 6 of the Bill. They are normal for such provisions. Part III deals with lands powers of which the same can be said. The powers which have been in the possession of the London Transport Executive for many years are simply being continued. Clause 9 enables the executive to acquire easements or rights for the purpose of constructing, maintaining and using the various functions that it already has.

Clause 10 provides that the compulsory purchase powers in Clause 8 are to cease on 31st December 1979. This provision was promised a few years ago, and the executive is simply keeping that promise. Clause 11 includes a number of common form ancillary powers taken from previous London Transport Acts relating to land. These powers have all been provided before, but it is necessary to include them in the Bill to prevent their expiry.

Protective provisions are included in Clause 12. Clause 13 provides protection for the sewers which belong to the Thames Water Authority, and that is another normal procedure. Clause 14 is made up of four subsections each of which extends the time for compulsory purchase of land required for the carrying out of works authorised in previous legislation.

The Bill is needed to expedite the provision of the Fleet Line and the extension of the line from the Strand or Charing Cross station to Fenchurch Street, which is the key link with the whole of the development of the docks area. The second stage of the Fleet Line is a necessary prerequisite for constructing any further railway to South-East London beyond Fenchurch Street.

There has been some public discussion of whether priority should be given to the remainder of the Fleet Line for which statutory authority already exists—that is, the railway from Fenchurch Street to New Cross and Lewisham—or to the proposed railway to the dockland area in respect of which statutory authority would be required and has not yet been sought.

It is important that these powers should be granted so that the work can be carried out in dockland. I am aware of the concern of some Conservative Members who for a long time have been pressing for dockland to be redeveloped and for an adequate road or Underground system to be provided. The Bill will help to expedite the development of dockland.

Clause 15 is the usual right given to owners and lessees of land in respect of which the compulsory purchase power is extended by Clause 14 to compel the executive, at any time after 31st December 1976, either to acquire its interest in the land or to give up its power.

Clause 16 extends certain powers of the police which were originally conferred by Section 54 of the British Transport Commission Act 1949, which had been renewed for successive periods of five years until 1975, when they were renewed for two and a half years. Section 54(1) authorises any constable to stop, search and arrest any person in the employment of the British Transport Commission—now the executive and the other successor bodies to the commission—or employed upon railway or other premises used for the handling or storage of goods who is reasonably suspected of being in possession of anything stolen or unlawfully obtained. The need for Section 54(1) has not been seriously disputed, and the Home Office has informed the executive that it supports it.

Section 54(2) of the 1949 Act makes it a criminal offence for any person arrested under subsection (1) to fail to account for how he came by the goods to the satisfaction of the court.

A clause identical with Clause 16 included in the British Railways Bill has recently been the subject matter of a debate in the House. On Report, an amendment was made deleting Section 54(2) from the extension of time, so that it will cease to be law on 31st December 1976. The executive will be seeking the leave of the Committee to which its Bill will be referred to make the same amendment to it.

Clause 17 of the Bill seeks the repeal of Section 91 of the London Passenger Transport Act 1936. Clause 18 authorises the executive to make microfilms of documents and provides by subsection (3) that enlargements of microfilms of documents which have been destroyed are to be admissible in evidence for any purpose for which the original would have been admissible.

This is a short Bill which is of interest to the people of London, particularly the South-Eastern area, which is one of the worst hit in terms of transport. It is essential to give a Second Reading to a Bill which will not only improve the environment of south-east London but will help the services of that hard-pressed commuter area to give people an adequate chance of getting to and from work.

11.53 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ivor Stanbrook Mr Ivor Stanbrook , Bromley Orpington

I am grateful for the chance to discuss London Transport, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) for his lucid exposition. His interest in and concern for the travelling public of inner London is well known. I want to take this opportunity to put some points on behalf of the outer London commuters.

As the hon. Member said, the Bill is perhaps of most importance to South-East London, extending especially to the outer suburbs. As any London Transport map shows, this sector, to use a piece of current jargon, is the most deprived. We depend for public transport almost entirely on Southern Region suburban services. They are inadequate. After all, this is a length of main-line railway. But services are often unsatisfactory, and the result is that the commuter in South-East London gets a raw deal compared with people living and working in other parts of the Greater London area and further out along the main lines.

South-East London is neglected in its transport services, and the statutory provision laid upon the Greater London Council for ensuring the integration of transport within its area should be adhered to, bearing in mind especially the deprivation of South-East London in this respect.

There are a number of individual matters that I wish to raise, the first of which concerns the Underground. We do not often get an opportunity to raise matters of this kind, and I am grateful for this opportunity to do so. We know, for example, about the state of the District and Northern Lines. Their rolling stock is between 30 and 35 years old. It would be interesting to know what progress is being made in replacing it. From time to time official spokesmen have declared that it was to be replaced. It is still awaiting replacement. The Northern Line probably suffers most of all on the Underground system from inefficient, outdated and obsolescent stock.

I want to take up what the hon. Member for Battersea, South said about new lines. Can we get on more quickly with the extension of the Piccadilly Line to London Airport, for instance? It has been promised that it will be completed in mid-1977. I suppose that it is not possible to do it any earlier than that, considering the inhibitions on public expenditure and the sheer practical size of the problem. But it is tremendously urgent, as anyone who goes to London Airport by any means knows.

When I was last there on Saturday, the work being done in the airport seemed to be going on very slowly. Of course, a great deal of it is underground. At surface level, it is impossible to tell the extent to which progress is being made in laying the lines. Hatton Cross was opened in July 1975. I do not know whether that was on time. Can we expect definitely to see the Piccadilly Line extended right into London Airport for air travellers to take full advantage of it in mid-1977, as has been promised?

That brings me to the Fleet Line. A great many people in central London would like to know when we may expect to be clear of the works between Baker Street, Charing Cross and Strand stations. They have caused a great deal of difficulty to the travelling public. I should also like to know whether it will include travellator and other facilities for those arriving at Charing Cross main line station who wish to travel on by Underground and for those arriving at Charing Cross Underground station on the Embankment who at present have to trudge up Villiers Street and then climb the steps into the main line station. I hope that the existing works on the Fleet Line will provide for some sort of easier connection between the Embankment station and the main line station.

Then, what about stage two between Charing Cross and Fenchurch Street? Is that getting Government financial support? What can be done about plans for its development, we do not know. Yet it is in that direction, perhaps, that development is most important of all, especially when we consider the prospect of the River Line, which is a quite exciting prospect That will open up a vast new area of urban habitation in London which will be comparatively new and which, because we are planning it now, enables us to avoid all the snarl-ups and bottlenecks in traffic and other arrangements which make life so difficult for the inhabitants of other parts of London.

Here we are with a new redevelopment area in dockland and the possibility of a line running through Fenchurch Street to dockland, which is quite exciting. It is important that we get our priorities right. Surely communications of this sort, Underground lines that will take us through that area and help its people as it is built up and developed are necessary where it is all too easy for the people to feel deprived of the social and urban amenities of the remainder of London. We should get this right. An Underground line and a proper system of communication are the first things we should ensure in any work in that part of the world.

There are other matters I should like to raise—for example, the provision of station car parks on the various lines to the outer London suburbs. They are an extremely useful contribution, in which the Greater London Transport Executive is giving a great service to the traveling public by encouraging many motorists not to go further into London than their own local station or a station half-way along the route. People get into certain habits about these things and need to be encouraged.

It follows that charges at station car parks must be sufficiently attractive for motorists to be prepared to leave their cars and travel to London by Underground. In this connection, I understand that the experimental free parking which was allowed at Eastcote, Ruislip, and Ickenham has been abandoned. That is a great shame, because it means that the scheme was not supported by sufficient numbers of motorists and the charges must go up or that it was supported to such an extent that the council feels that it is able to charge. That is perhaps a good thing, but one would like to know whether the policy has succeeded.

There is a great problem of hooliganism at some Underground stations. Prevention is better than cure, and the police are already over-extended and overworked in various duties apart from having to keep on the watch for vandalism at certain stations.

I understand that there has been an installation of closed-circuit television at certain stations. I have not seen any results of this yet, and I do not know whether it is possible to monitor progress in these matters, but there are some stations, which I shall not name, where the problem is difficult and there have been arrangements for closed-circuit television surveillance. One would like to know what effect this has had and whether hooliganism has been or can be cured by this project.

The other matter I wish to raise concerns the proposed new one-man operated television-assisted trains on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines. They have been promised for some time. I should like to know when they will come into operation and which other lines are being proposed for one-man service. One wonders about this. Should we continue, even on a one-man basis, with manual operation of the Underground system? Should we not be considering a wholly automatic system? We have introduced it on the Victoria Line and I believe that it is a great success. Therefore, it seems a rather retrograde step to be considering development on the basis of one-man-operated trains. Cannot we convert them all ultimately and prepare now for automatic operation?

When I was last in the United States, I was privileged to be shown over the Bay Area rapid transit system around San Francisco. Members of the Minister's Department will have been there, and I hope that he will pay San Francisco a visit. It is a very nice city and well worth visiting. It has much to show us in connection with the problem of transit of commuters. The system there is fully automatic, comparatively cheap and very efficient, apart from the odd breakdown, when everything is chaos. It was designed for the future and conditions very similar to ours. The benefits of full automation are great. I hope that it will be possible for London Transport to think on those lines when dealing with Underground development.

I turn to the question of the buses. I understand that last year about 15 per cent. of all scheduled mileage was lost—because of staff shortages or traffic congestion? Who knows? It has not been easy to understand. I gather that the overall staff shortage has been about 10 per cent. to 11 per cent., although it is as much as 20 per cent. in some areas. It is a wonder that the whole system of bus transport keeps going in London, considering the staff difficulties which have to be contended with.

But that is not the only problem. We are short of serviceable buses. I have had many complaints in my constituency about buses being late or simply not arriving. People sometimes wait for as long as an hour in the rain for a bus which eventually turns out to have been cancelled further along the route or never to have been put on. There is no early warning system for bus cancellations. In a constituency such as mine in South-East London, this is very damaging to the social life of a community which depends to a great extent on public transport of this kind. There is no Underground there, only some buses, and they are very much relied on.

I must pay tribute to the Chairman of the London Transport Executive, Mr. Kenneth Robinson, and his predecessor. They have both been immensely helpful and courteous over any query or complaint I have referred to them. I have no criticism to make of the immense help one receives from the executive when one approaches it with practical problems. Because of the shortage of good, serviceable, roadworthy buses, however, services are often stymied in particular areas.

How are we getting on with replacements, spare parts and repairs to buses? The problem of staff comes in here again. I understand that a large proportion of buses load up but cannot be put on the road for want of a spare part or repair.

How is the delivery of new vehicles progressing? We see in the glossy literature wonderful examples of the new types of bus to be put on the roads in London. It would be marvellous if we could have them. It would be even more marvellous if the existing bus service could be made to work more efficiently, preferably to a greater percentage capacity.

While on the subject of buses, I should like to refer to the 36-ft. Red Arrow service. The whole fleet of single-deckers purchased in the late 1960s is being withdrawn because it has been discovered that they are too long for the roads on which they are expected to travel. Who made that error? The roads in London have not changed much, and one would think that those responsible would have calculated that a 36-ft. bus would be difficult to drive out of Great Peter Street into Victoria Street and other similar junctions. Has whoever was responsible for that error learned from the mistake, and will it be avoided in the future?

There are constant reports of industrial disputes, but I suspect that this is not as bad a problem as it used to be. I would like, however, to know by how many buses we are short. In August 1975, the last annual report said that there were about 900 too few for operating a full service. What percentage is that of the total? It must be a large percentage because the total is about 5,000 What progress is being made towards increasing the total number of serviceable buses and reducing the number not available for use?

Hooliganism and vandalism is the big problem at nights on certain routes. All too often one sees paint sprayed on the bus shelters that are kindly provided by London Transport, on timetables and on the upper decks of buses. We hear of attacks and assaults on passengers and staff and of insults to the staff by young hooligans. The effect of the breakdown of law and order in society tends to show its ugly head first on the late night bus where the driver is isolated from passengers and the conducter has to deal with riff-raff and hooligans, who are often affected by drink, refusing to pay their fares. What progress is being made on that situation?

I am sure that there must be good police liaison, but how effective can it be? It is nice to think that the police can be called by alarm systems which, I understand, are fitted to 80 per cent. of buses in affected areas. Some of them have radios, but difficult situations arise suddenly and last for only a couple of seconds. A hooligan can run off before anyone can come to the assistance of the luckless conductor. Has the existing provision against hooliganism had any effect? Are further powers needed on top of those which the House helped to provide in the Public Service Vehicles (Arrest of Offenders) Act 1975?

One-man buses number 2,000 out of a total of 5,000. Are they all that useful? One sometimes gets the impression that the time wasted in giving change for fares almost equals any saving made by reducing manpower.

Perhaps the biggest problem is traffic congestion in the London area. The speed bus is apparently very popular with London Transport, but it is not so popular with motorists, the travelling public and taxi drivers who share the same routes. How effective are those buses? Is it right to say that they have not yet been brought fully into operation so that we have not seen the full benefit? They run over the most congested roads—Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street and Regent Street. What progress is being made with these services, and can we expect an extension of the system throughout the area?

Traffic congestion is perhaps as much a matter for the Greater London Council as it is for London Transport Executive. For many years London Transport has been working on the art of predicting where major traffic jams will occur. The police, with the monitoring of closed circuit television, can assist in this, but to what extent there is co-operation I do not know. In this technological age, with the assistance of monitors and closed circuit television, it should be possible to do a bit of fine tuning of the London bus system to take account of temporary traffic congestion and keep traffic moving.

What experiments are proposed to limit the number of private cars in central London? That is a big question. Unreasonable restrictions will be greatly resented.

All in all, we can look at the whole picture, especially at the number of passengers carried, with some satisfaction. According to last year's annual report, published this year, every morning 343,000 passengers travel into London by Underground, 402,000 by British Rail suburban services and 148,000 on central buses, making a total of 894,000 commuters who travel into and out of London every day. That is 83 per cent. of the total number of travellers into London. There are 161,000 passengers who come in by private car and 18,000 who come in by motor cycle or pedal cycle—17 per cent. of the total number. Over a million people travel into and out of London every day. We can be proud of that. There is a lot to be proud of in the London Transport system and the people who work it. They deserve our support in tackling the bigger and bigger problems that face them with the smaller and smaller resources they look like getting.

12.18 a.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Marks Mr Kenneth Marks , Manchester, Gorton

It might assist the House if I intervene at this stage to state the Government's attitude to the proposals contained in the Bill. Our view is that we have no objection to the proposals and we recognise that the provisions would contribute to a general improvement in and the effective running of the undertaking.

I hope, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry) will not read too much into the financial provisions for the docklands.

The Government's position was stated in the White Paper "Redevelopment of the London Docklands", Cmnd. 6193, as follows: Developments in Docklands will be eligible for the normal forms of Government financial support to transport, housing and other purposes. The Government has no plans for special forms of support over and beyond these. We are having discussions with London Transport and the Greater London Council on the future of the docklands and will examine carefully all the proposals that are made.

The Government receive many demands for financial assistance from all over the country, not only from London. As the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said, it is important that we should get our priorities right. He raised several matters which are of concern to London Transport and the Greater London Council, and I have no doubt that those organisations will be communicating with him on the points he raised.

I hope that the House will decide to give the Bill a Second Reading and send it to Committee, where its provisions can be examined with the benefit of expert evidence.

12.20 a.m.

Photo of Hon. Anthony Berry Hon. Anthony Berry , Southgate

I am glad to follow the Minister. His remarks contrasted greatly with the silence of Ministers last night when we debated another London Bill for three hours. There was complete silence from the Government Front Bench on that occasion, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was not to blame, and I am grateful for his intervention.

For the second night running, we are debating an extremely important Bill after midnight. The Bill last night was of such importance that the debate lasted the full three hours. The Government should in future think seriously before putting on two Bills of such importance late at night. I am sure that many other hon. Members would like to have taken part in the debate, but understandably, after last night they are elsewhere.

I would not like my criticisms of the Government in that respect to reflect on the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Perry), who explained the provisions of the Bill with his usual charm. We are most grateful to him. The House will also be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) for drawing our attention to the problems of London Transport.

The Bill is mainly concerned with South-East London. As a North London Member. I make no complaints about that because the problems of dockland are familiar to all of us who represent London. It is right that the emphasis in the Bill should be on South London. However, that does not mean that we do not have problems in other parts of London as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington mentioned Heathrow and the connecting link to the airport. My information is that we have slipped rather far behind in respect of the final link to Heathrow. With the abandonment of Maplin, however, the importance of a connection with Heathrow is now even greater than it was before. It is vital that this link with Heathrow should be completed at the earliest possible opportunity.

One thing which has not been mentioned in the debate is the question of bus lanes. I welcome bus lanes in principle but I have considerable reservations about some of them. I have an innate hatred of the one in Piccadilly because I think it is wrong for buses to go against the flow of traffic. The fact that they have to keep their headlights on all day is an indication of the problem.

I am also concerned about the bus lane now being constructed in Buckingham Palace Road. I am concerned because, having often travelled along that road when leaving the House, I feel that to have traffic from the railway station, the bus station and the air terminal in such a short space will lead to considerable difficulties, particularly during the next two or three months when the tourist season and holiday periods are at their height.

I hope that the Minister will be able to let us have more information about the installations of radios in buses. We have discussed this in previous debates and I would like to have the latest information about it. I believe that it would be an effective way of dealing with the hooliganism which has been referred to in the debate.

I would also support what has been said in respect of car parks at Underground stations. The present GLC policy of persuading commuters to leave their cars on the outskirts of London is being effective, and rightly so. However, one of the problems is that Underground station car parks are not large enough and more and more people are leaving their cars in residential streets around the stations and causing great hardship and inconvenience to the people who live in the areas. If we are to succeed in persuading people to leave their cars outside London, there must be somewhere for them to leave them so that they do not inconvenience the people who live nearby.

Linked with the question of bus congestion and traffic congestion generally is the fact that it is vital that we complete as soon as possible the M25 around outer London. This will divert a lot of traffic from central London and enable buses and other traffic to travel much more freely.

I use the word "vital" deliberately, because even in these days of reduction of Government expenditure, which we all support, I was glad to see that the Minister for Transport, in opening the motorway two or three weeks ago, referred to the M25 as being vital. I support him in that, and I hope he will do everything possible to speed up the building of the road. It will affect my constituents and the constituents of many other hon. Members very beneficially.

Finally, I pay tribute to the previous Chairman of London Transport and to Mr. Kenneth Robinson. We are fortunate that as an ex-colleague he understands parliamentary problems and difficulties. He has been helpful in all the matters which have been raised.

In this short debate we have had the chance to air some of the grievances and problems which we have as London Members, and I am sure that the Minister, like his predecessors, will take them seriously.

12.27 a.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Perry Mr Ernest Perry , Wandsworth Battersea South

With the permission of the House, I should like to say that I am sure the points raised by the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) will be answered by the offices of the LTE, I hope very soon.

I agree with what has been said about the problems of hooliganism in London, particularly at some of our Underground stations. The remarks that the hon. Member for Orpington made, in his usual manner of concern for his constituents, can be applied to most of the London boroughs, inner and outer, We all face these problems. Buses have been laid up, there has been a lack of spare parts and buses have remained in garages, not being used. From the information I have received, however, I am glad to note that the situation is improving. I hope that it will improve in places such as Orpington which suffer to some extent from not having an Underground service and having to rely only on British Rail and a bus service.

I thank hon. Members for their cooperation this evening. Perhaps we can learn to extend it to other spheres in the House within a relatively short time.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committted.