Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:10 pm on 1st July 1983.

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Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson , Ruislip - Northwood 12:10 pm, 1st July 1983

This has been a memorable debate. Certainly the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will linger long in the memories of many of us. We had heard of him before he came here as it was he, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) reminds me, who abolished the champagne bar in the Royal Festival Hall. I hope that he will not follow that precedent if he ever joins the Refreshment Department or the Catering Sub-Committee of the Services Committee here.

The hon. Gentleman made a most interesting speech. He spoke authoritatively and from the heart and he made an impassioned defence of the local authority on which he sits. I am sure that the House was glad to hear him and it was right to listen attentively. I fear that his tone was somewhat embittered. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West also reminds me, Winston Churchill once described a maiden speech as not so much a maiden as a brazen hussy of a speech. The speech of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West did not go that far, but it was a somewhat embittered contribution — very different in tone from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley).

I have never gone so gladly to vote as I did on election day for my now hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. We have been friends for a long time. Indeed, I do not think that I went with such a glad heart even when my wife and I used to go to vote for me at 7 o'clock in the morning in Bradford. My hon. Friend combines many admirable qualities—good humour, diligence and bigheartedness. He is a big man in every sense of the term. Those of us who fought beside him in the two memorable elections in Lambeth learned something of his quality. It is typical of him that he has spoken so generously of his predecessor, Sir Anthony Royle, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Berry) reminded us, was one of the most effective Foreign Office Ministers ever known.

While we are naming names and mentioning people—not in the manner of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, which I thought inappropriate—I mention also with great pride my other fellow constituent, my hon. Friend the new Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) who, as the Minister said, achieved an outstanding result in winning that seat for the Conservative party. I am sure that he will make a forthright, well-informed and admirable contribution to the House. I should mention, too, the man whom he defeated—Neville Sandelson, a man of originality and charm, alongside whom I was always pleased to serve. I am even more delighted, however, that we now have a Conservative Member for that constituency.

I wish to speak briefly on a subject of great importance to my constituents—London Transport. It is appropriate that the debate takes place today on the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of London Transport by Herbert Morrison. The Government are introducing legislation to reform the organisation of public transport in London which, to be candid, was never entirely satisfactory even in the early days from 1933 onwards.

London Transport was created as a public corporation and remained such until the Transport Act 1947 brought it under the umbrella of the British Transport Commission. That experiment did not work well and in 1962 the commission was abolished. Between 1962 and 1969 we had what I regard as the most effective system for the direction of London Transport, when it came directly under the Ministry of Transport. I believe that that is the right way to deal with the matter.

Since 1969, London Transport has been under the political direction of the GLC. The conflict between the political directions given by the GLC and the commercial imperatives to which the London Transport board has sought to work has always been an inherent and serious difficulty—never more so than last year, which was an election year for the London boroughs, when the GLC brought in its Fares Fair policy.

The fares policy is now much better and a more appropriate balance has been struck. I welcome the 25 per cent. reduction from 22 May. Before then, my constituents had to pay almost £1,000 for annual season tickets to the City. Taken from after-tax income, that is an appalling burden. For this reason, it is essential that transport should be run commercially, effectively and well. To do so, as the Select Committee made clear, it is important that transport in the south-east should be considered in its totality.

I am somewhat sceptical about the idea of a metropolitan transport authority. I fear that it may be yet another quango. I am very much open to persuasion about it. I believe that it would be best to appoint a very tough and effective London Transport board under resolute leadership and with the maximum autonomy, probably including British Rail's commuter services. The Department of Transport would then set financial guidelines for the enlarged London Transport, as for any other nationalised industry. I would hope that the London Transport board would, by means not of profit sharing but of rewarding performance, ensure high standards of service, good commercial operation and cost-effective services, the benefits of which would be shared by the employees of London Transport as much as by the people of London and south-east England as a whole.

Substantial subsidy would, of course, be needed. In my judgment, however, as London Transport is such a national asset—there is no undertaking of comparable size and scope in even the biggest capital cities elsewhere —subsidy should be from the national Exchequer rather than from the overburdened ratepayers of the metropolis. I say so especially because three quarters of rate income comes from business, which is overtaxed and overburdened, and London has been losing jobs.

For these reasons, I advocate a very simple relationship between the Department of Transport and London Transport. I do not think that a metropolitan transport authority is necessarily the best idea. I am glad that the Government are instituting radical proposals, but I trust that they will also make sure that there is a proper consultative process, with a White Paper being published before we move to legislation. That will be the right way forward. In this way the opinions of Londoners and other interested bodies and parties up and down the country can be represented. I hope that this Session of Parliament will see dramatic progress towards improving transport in London in this half-centenary year of London Transport.