Orders of the Day — Transport (London Commuters)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th November 1976.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South 12:00 am, 12th November 1976

I think that all those who have heard the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) will congratulate him on being able to quadruple the length of his speech at relatively short notice. I shall comment on some of the things he mentioned, but my speech has the consequent disadvantage of having been prepared virtually within the ambit of the hon. Gentleman's remarks because, as hon. Members will have gathered, we have an unexpected opportunity to debate this important and timely topic because of the unexpected withdrawal by the Government of the previous business about Standing Orders.

The number of hon. Members in the Chamber is no reflection of the concern of London Members over this matter. They were assuming that it would be dealt with in two short speeches in half an hour from 4 o'clock. As that is not the case, although I do not know how long I shall be relative to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, we can all agree that we have an opportunity to do justice to this important debate.

I was surprised at some of the things said by the hon. Gentleman, because if some of his friends at County Hall had had their way some time ago—indeed, if his party had had its way; I do not want to be controversial, but it is only fair to mention it—and won the GLC election, we should at this moment be throwing up massive ringways around London to take still more people by motor car and absorbing still greater amounts of public expenditure on roadways, when clearly the situation since the oil crisis and in the environmental sense has changed. The hon. Gentleman ought to remember this when he and his hon. Friends complain about public transport.

Secondly, any further increases that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my friends at the GLC intend to divert by way of subsidy mean further public expenditures which the hon. Gentleman and his party vociferiously and continuously require to be reduced. I hope that from now on party controversy can largely be stilled, but it would have been wrong not to have made those specific comments before looking at the main problems.

I go along with the hon. Gentleman in some of the things he said about London Transport, although he skilfully paid tribute to all and sundry and then criticised them in particular. I am unhappy with London Transport, and it knows it. I was glad to introduce a Bill to enable it to manufacture and sell certain items of bus equipment in relation to bus suppliers, but the "No bus available "—the NBA—scandal has been going on for far too long. It started before the three-day working week. Therefore, that alibi of London Transport can be dispensed with.

One has to say things fairly firmly in this place for them to get out. One of the basic problems of the NBA scandal is to be found in the assumptions of the Government. I shall not go into this in detail, but the bus design subsidy that the Government decided to reduce had side effects that were unexpected and have been extremely bad, coupled with certain technical inefficiencies in the organisation of British Leyland.

I shall not go further into that, but it is right that somebody, somewhere—perhaps a Select Committee—should follow up what has been a most unhappy train of events. If this sort of thing goes wrong in one of the sectors of British technology which heretofore has been in the forefront—namely, vehicle design—it is an example to the whole country. I hope that a Select Committee will root out this problem, because it is an example of what is wrong with British industry and to some extent with relations between the Government and top management.

The London Transport organisation is in many ways admirable, but I find some of its local management decisions and lack of concern for the individual passenger intolerable. As a Member of Parliament for six years, I have consistently pointed out some of its administrative failings, with no response—or, at least, no response to my satisfaction. But that is a matter for the elected members of the GLC in detail and not for me, although I hope that the London Transport Passengers Committee of 26 Old Queen Street, SW1, will get some publicity out of the current controversy, because that is the consumer body for London, and if the hon. Member for Harrow, East would send some of the letters that he has received to that body they might get more attention than they will from my right hon. Friend, who has no direct responsibility for London Transport.

I turn now to the underlying theme of this debate, because the transport and commuter problem and its finances in London are a reflection of the public transport problems over the country as a whole.