I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House has already had an opportunity to debate the purpose of the Bill, on 7 February, when I moved the Ways and Means resolution under which it was introduced. At that time I gave a full explanation of why the measure was needed and of the justification for it. Inevitably we shall be going over much of the same ground in this debate and, no doubt, in future debates on the same subject. No doubt there will be the usual crop of adjectives from the official Opposition which we heard in the Ways and Means debate.
I must return to the substance of the matter because that is what the House should consider. As the House knows, a court judgment went against us, as a result of which £50 million is in dispute. If we did not bring this Bill forward now and if the money remained with the Greater London council, the money would have to be found either from London Regional Transport's passengers or from the ratepayers in future years. I wonder whether that is really what the Opposition want.
No one in the Ways and Means debate felt sufficiently confident to claim that the GLC would use that £50 million to reduce the rates. It would probably go to Capital, TRAFIC, the public transport campaign unit or another of those propaganda fronts that the GLC sets up and funds. Is that what the Opposition want—that the ratepayers should pay twice to fund the GLC's policies? Whatever may be the answer of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), the central point is that where that £50 million goes must be a policy decision for the House.
It is not for the courts to determine how much grant should be paid by the GLC, nor have the courts presumed to do so. That is a matter of policy and it is right that the Government, with the approval of Parliament, should determine it. It would not have helped LRT or the GLC if we had gone through the process of appeal, only to end up without the correct amount having to be paid and facing further legal disputes and uncertainty. After studying the High Court's interpretation of the existing statutory provision in section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984, I concluded that the risks of that happening were too great. I have brought this measure before the House so that the House itself may decide.
I want to stress the need to end the uncertainty which the GLC and, incidentally, LRT face as a result of the High Court decision on 11 January, which put into limbo the amount of grants which the GLC should pay to LRT for 1984–85. Unless this matter is resolved quickly and beyond doubt, the GLC's annual budgeting and rate precepting processes will have to proceed without the GLC knowing for certain what the payments to LRT for this financial year will be. LRT also needs a firm basis on which to plan ahead for 1985–86 and beyond.
The GLC now has a firm basis on which to plan for its 1986–85 budget and rate precepting. It knows the details of my right hon. Friend's rate-capping order; and it knows the amount specified in this Bill, which, subject to the agreement of Parliament, it will have to pay over to LRT. It can now make its rate.
On the issue of certainty, can the Secretary of State tell us whether he accepts that the courts are traditionally acknowledged as making certain decisions, but, more important, whether he has any information that the Court of Appeal or, if necessary, the House of Lords could have decided this matter more quickly than Parliament by passing new legislation? Surely that would have been a much more certain and normal way to proceed.
As a result of the High Court judgment there is no direction in place; there is no order of any sort. Nor did the court seek to say what the sum of money paid should be, nor substitute its own direction for one that it quashed. Whether we rely on the High Court or go to appeal or even to the very top, it does not mean that a direction will be made. What it means is that any direction that may be made may or may not be challenged or may or may not be upheld, so there is no certainty at the end of the entire legal process that there would be a direction in place that would be valid.
If the Secretary of State was prepared to abide by the undertaking that he gave in Committee when we were discussing section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984, he could make a revised direction to the GLC which would be legally binding upon the GLC. The only thing which he could not do and which he is seeking to do in this Bill is to create an operating surplus for London Regional Transport. That is something that he said specifically he would not do. If he gave up the surplus that is unnecessary for LRT's revenue and operating needs, he could make another direction which would be legally binding. Why does he not do that?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He did not hear either speech that I made on the Ways and Means resolution. He appeared, made a speech and left without listening to the other side of the argument. If he wishes to enlighten himself, I suggest that he reads the argument in Hansard.
Whatever the court may decide, or on appeal the Appeal Court may decide, it does not alter the fact that the House has a right and a duty to make sure that its intentions to take from the GLC the correct amount are implemented. If section 49 is defective—and I accept that it is—I have to give the House an alternative way of proceeding which is the only way open to the Government if they are to effect their policy to implement what I told the Committee on the London Regional Transport Act.
When the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) interrupted me, I was talking about the uncertainty. I emphasise the phrase I used—subject to the agreement of Parliament—because the GLC cannot be certain that Parliament will approve the Bill in the form that I have presented it. In order to give the earliest possible element of certainty to the GLC and to LRT, the Government propose that the progress of the Bill be expedited. The House will have seen the motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the House proposing that the remaining stages be taken on Thursday. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that, whatever they may think about the contents of the Bill, it is right to decide the issue as quickly as possible.
May I say in passing that the GLC rate will not include any element of funding for the GLC for next year and that it is misleading for the GLC to suggest that ratepayers will be paying twice for public transport. In December 1983 the GLC transferred £300 million of housing debt to London Transport solely in order for the GLC to claim that Londoners would have to pay £69 million in interest on this debt, on behalf of LRT, through its GLC rate in future. London Transport capital has previously always been provided by means of grant on a pay-as-you-go basis, so this is a doubly mischievous and deceptive device.
The cost to London's ratepayers of supporting LRT is indeed down next year by some £50 million. London ratepayers will, with this Bill, be paying less for LRT than last year. However, the GLC's rate-cap is at about the same level as its precept for this year because it chose to spend £200 million of reserves last year, enabling it to hold down its rate for 1984–85, which is why it has to put up the rate so much next year. This, again, is another deliberate device to whitewash the GLC's extravagance.
I shall now repeat briefly how the sum of £258,179,588 specified in the Bill was derived and why it is reasonable for all the parties concerned — passengers, ratepayers and the GLC. I have already given the House a full explanation in the Ways and Means debate, so I shall not repeat it all.
Section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act empowered me to direct the GLC to pay up to £360 million in grants to LRT, deducting any grants already paid by the GLC in respect of 1984–85 before 29 June, when the Government took over responsibility for LRT. When I made my direction under section 49, my information was that the GLC had already paid £78·7 million up to 29 June of last year, which reduced the amount which it could be required to pay for the rest of 1984–85 to £281·3 million; that is, the £360 million less what had been paid.
I directed the GLC to pay that amount. LRT was then forecasting a small deficit for the year, after grants. It seemed clear that it would need the full amount of grants for which the GLC had budgeted and precepted.
After I made the direction, it became clear that some £10·2 million of payments by the GLC in the period before 29 June had been made in respect of 1984–85, not 1983–84 as LT had requested at the time. As I explained to the House, LT had asked the GLC to pay £10·2 million in grants to settle the position for the financial year 1983–84. The GLC duly made the payments, but insisted on labelling them as payments for 1984–85.
In deriving the sum of grant specified in the Bill, I have decided to deduct those payments, which amount precisely to £10,220,412. LRT will have to absorb that reduction in grant. I believe that the GLC should have settled up for 1983–84, but I accept that it would go beyond the Government's original intentions to require it now to do so, and I did not seek to recover that sum of money through the direction when the matter went before the court.
The GLC did not give the grant for 1983–84 of £10·2 million, on the ground that London Transport did not need it. The whole point of precepting and then paying for services is that the council pays only for the services that are required, and LT did not need that money. As I say, that is why it was not paid.
My information is different. It is that London Transport asked for the money, which it needed towards the end of March. The GLC, instead of paying it, although it had it, deliberately held it over until the new financial year for the express purpose of labelling it as 1984–85 money so that it could get out of having to pay it under section 49.
It was needed, and if the hon. Gentleman asks London Transport I think he will find that it was considerably inconvenienced by having to stand out of that money simply so that that clever dodge could be employed to keep it out of the relevant financial year.
As well as that deduction of £10·2 million, I made a further deduction of £12·9 million from the sum specified in the original direction, and I will explain the basis of that figure. At the time I made the direction, the GLC's money Bill for 1984–85 was being considered by the House. The House had passed an instruction to the Standing Committee considering the Bill which invited the GLC to come forward with proposals to reduce its capital expenditure provisions, failing which the Committee was to make reductions of just under 7·5 per cent. across the board.
The GLC did not take account of the direction which I made concerning LRT by bringing forward proposals, with the consequence that, after I had made the direction under section 49, the money Bill provision for LRT was reduced by some 7·5 per cent. The money Bill has recently been enacted in that form and I have, therefore, deducted £12·9 million from the sum which the GLC was originally required to pay to LRT.
Compared with the section 49 direction, therefore, this Bill reduces the requirement for grants from the GLC by some £23·1 million, £12·9 million in respect of the money Act reduction and just over £10·2 million in respect of the additional payments made at the beginning of 1984–85.
The question which the House must decide — as I said, it is not an appropriate decision to ask the courts to make — is whether the residual amount of grant — the £258·2 million specified in the Bill — is reasonable in relation to LRT's requirements. I am sure that the principle that we should adopt—the one I gave in Committee—is that LRT should not be left with a cash deficit or with unfunded liabilities. Indeed, I said in Committee that we should not take more from the GLC than was needed by LRT. The exact phrase I used was quoted often by myself and others in the Ways and Means debate.
The sum of £258·2 million roughly achieves just that. It will leave a cash surplus of some £30 million at the end of the year. But LRT has liabilities of £21 million for voluntary redundancies and a further £15 million for other unfunded liabilities. Thus, the £285 million is certainly not more than LRT needs to balance its books this year.
LRT also needs a reserve to pay off the cost of the buses which the GLC suddenly decided to lease; £20·8 million is included in the sum in the Bill for that purpose. Without it, LRT's needs would most certainly not be met.
I have explained fully the substance of clause 1(1) of the Bill. I will now briefly explain subsections (2) and (3). Subsection (2) provides for the phasing of payments by the GLC. Its intention is to avoid requiring the GLC to pay money to LRT in advance of when it would have had to do so under the section 49 direction.
It allows for two possibilities. If Royal Assent is received before 25 March, the first instalment of grant is payable on the day following Royal Assent. That instalment is the amount which would have been due under the section 49 direction by 25 February, less the two sums of £10·2 million and £12·9 million now conceded to the GLC. A second instalment will then fall due on 29 March and under the section 49 direction this was divided into two payments, due on 25 and 29 March.
Subsection (2) also provides for the possibility that Royal Assent may not be obtained until 25 March or later, in which case the entire sum of grant due under the Bill will be payable on the day following Royal Assent.
Subsection (3) simply provides that interest will be payable if the grant is not paid on time. This simply revises the provision for interest payments in section 49(5) of the London Regional Transport Act to take account of the provisions of this Bill.
Under our control, LRT's revenue position has improved, thanks to better than expected sales of Travelcards, increased tourism in London and the fares increase on 6 January. Also, LRT's management has been able to bring forward cost savings as part of its drive to improve efficiency and value for money.
On the other side of the balance sheet, LRT will have to absorb the £23 million reduction in grants—the £10·2 million and the £12·9 million which I have explained. It has also incurred substantial liabilities; for example, voluntary severance payments which are a direct short-term consequence of its action to reduce costs.
It is unreasonable for the GLC to say that it should pay less grant on account of the cost savings but should not have to cover the related liabilities which will show in LRT's accounts for 1984–85. As with the leasing reserve, if those liabilities are not covered by grant this year, they will fall as a burden on passengers and ratepayers in the future.
Hon. Members should bear in mind that LRT has a turnover of about £1 billion. Even if it got its forecast right to within 2 per cent., it could still be £20 million adrift one way or the other. With that qualification in mind, I am satisfied on the basis of LRT's latest forecast, that the sum of grant specified in the Bill will just about be enough to meet LRT's needs for 1984–85, including its accrued liabilities. Taking account of all the considerations which I have outlined, I believe that the proposal now before the House is fair and reasonable as between the parties concerned.
How can it be wrong to insist that money paid by the ratepayer for LRT should be given to LRT, especially when it is needed? If the Bill were not passed, and if the money stayed with the GLC, that money would have to be found again from London passengers or London ratepayers. Furthermore, section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act turned out to mean something different from what the House expected. I am sure that the House would agree with me that we should give effect to the Government's intentions as explained to Parliament during the passage of the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman heard me explaining exactly what I thought section 49 would mean. I confess that I gave him the wrong explanation, and I am perfectly prepared to admit that. Having done that, I would expect him to be the first to want me to bring the Bill before the House in order to put matters right.
May I point out to the Secretary of State yet again that he said in Committee on 15 March that it was not his intention to create a surplus? The reason why Mr. Justice McNeill found him to have acted illegally was that he set out to create a surplus which reversed the undertaking that he gave in Committee. It is not section 49 that has changed; it is the Secretary of State.
I have extremely bad luck with the hon. Gentleman. I covered that point at some length some minutes ago, and again he was not in his place. On three occasions I have answered the point which he continues to make. It would be much easier if he took the trouble to listen to what I say. If he did, he would not make the point ever again, because it is a totally bogus one.
We have the interests of the ratepayer and the taxpayer at heart.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when it comes down to it, this is an argument about whether money that has been allocated to LRT should be paid to LRT or whether, when there is an alternative to be funded, such as the GLC, it should be paid to that other body? The objective of the Opposition is to give the funding to the GLC to use for whatever purpose it wants rather than for the specific purpose of funding LRT. In fact, Opposition Members are disagreeing with what they claimed in Committee, which was that they had the interests of LRT passengers at heart. They do not. They have the interests of the GLC at heart. Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the basic reason why Opposition Members are upset is that LRT, since it has been funded, is more successful, more profitable, more efficient and more popular than they ever hoped or prayed for?
The debate is concerned with one thing only: should £50 million which was taken from London's ratepayers to assist LRT be taken from them a second time so that the GLC can make a windfall profit of £50 million? That is the crux. If any hon. Gentlemen dared to vote against the Bill, they would be branding themselves as people who thought that it was right to raise £50 million from London's ratepayers to be spent by the GLC on something else, and then to raise another £50 million and soak the ratepayers twice. If any hon. Members believe that, I think that they will be most unpopular with London. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.
I enjoy listening the the Secretary of State because his speeches have an endearing imaginative quality: they bear appallingly little relation to the truth.
I should like to remind the House of what has happened in relation to the Bill. Once upon a time there was a Secretary of State who decided that he would create an unelected quango called London Regional Transport. He decided that, in order to do that, he would have to take control of it away from the elected body. He therefore brought before the House, because he has a large majority, a Bill which he thought would enable him to do exactly what he liked. He took the Bill into Committee. He explained that what he was asking the GLC to do was simply to pay the amount of money that was owed to LRT because the change was to come about in the middle of a financial year. He said—and we are getting to the point at which we can almost quote it in chorus—that it was not his intention to take more through the clause—the now famous section 49—than was strictly necessary for running LRT for the year in question so that we should not end up with a surplus.
Unfortunately, however, things then began to go wrong. Without any consultation with the GLC, the Secretary of State when he took over pushed ahead with demanding a sum of money. The GLC told him at the time that it was not in agreement with the figures that he presented. It pointed out to him that it had not been consulted and that it was going to appeal against his decision. The GLC took the Secretary of State to law.
What happened when the Secretary of State found himself in the law courts? He was not, as he may have given the House the impression today, being asked to hand over his responsibilities to a judge so that the judge could decide the amount of money. The GLC was claiming that he was asking for sums to which he was not entitled. The GLC made it quite clear that the Secretary of State was asking for a great deal of money that was not his legal right, and the court found for the GLC.
I remind the House of that judgment because it seems to have got lost in the suggestion that all the Government are doing is putting right a little mistake that was made by the parliamentary draftsman. They are doing nothing of the sort. We are being asked to enact legislation that is retrospective, because a court of law found that the Secretary of State had acted
unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers without consideration of all relevant material and without consultation with the Greater London Council.
I remind the House of what happened next. Four times at the Dispatch Box the Secretary of State said that we could not discuss the matter because it was sub judice and he intended to appeal. Four times he sought to mislead the House, and on four separate occasions he was wrong, because he had no intention of appealing. Indeed, he did not appeal against the judgment which was so damning that many Ministers in any Government but the present one would have felt obliged to resign, but, oh, no, not the Secretary of State—he was not worried by these minor problems.
He then decided that he would present another Bill. Even after the debacle of the legal decision that has handed down against him, he had the power to come to the House with a direction and to put the matter right, but that was not good enough for him. He is not prepared to accept that he was wrong. He simply comes back to the House with another Bill saying in effect that, if he did not get it right the first time, he is going to change the rules so that he gets it right the second time. The House should understand the extent of that, dare one say it, arrogance. The Secretary of State would somehow have us believe today that all he is doing is putting right a small piece of creative accounting.
The Secretary of State told us about the GLC and the way in which it deliberately fixed the books. He suggested that he had to present the Bill to the House to put right the mistake that he had made because the GLC, by moving amounts of money from one head to another, had managed to change the payments that were due to LRT. The reality is that the GLC, on the basis of providing a service to the customer, has always paid for the operating needs of London Transport. Now it is being asked to do something very different.
Will the Secretary of State tell us whether it is true that LRT made it clear to him that if it went ahead with the famous Travelcard that he is very fond of and tells us about on every possible occasion, it might find itself in considerable difficulty because of the implications of the integration of its services with those of British Rail? Did not LRT tell him that if he insisted on going ahead—because there could be large fare increases for some passengers—LRT would demand a quid pro quo by way of a considerable amount of extra money not only to "deal with voluntary redundancies", as the Secretary of State says, but to make up for costs that it expects in the coming year? Therefore, it is not a question of the Secretary of State providing some marvellously efficient new service. Having told the House of Commons that he had no intention of trying to take extra sums of money to build up surplus funds, the Secretary of State is now bringing forward new legislation that will do precisely that.
We should make it clear to the ratepayers of London that they may not be getting the bargain that, somehow or other, the Secretary of State would have them believe. Most ratepayers are quite capable of understanding that if the GLC gets the money back into the coffers, it will do one of two things — either lower the rates or provide better services. The Secretary of State has just told us at great length that last year the GLC used its own reserves to keep the rates down. I did not say that — the Secretary of State did. Presumably the GLC did that because it was conscious of the need to think about the proper rate that it would levy on the people of London. However, we are now being told that the GLC cannot be given back that amount of money—it cannot be given extra cash because it would spend it not on the ratepayers but on some other, unspecified, subject.
Today the Secretary of State is perpetuating in the House of Commons his nasty, shabby little battle in his war of attrition against the GLC. I think that he misled the House not once but several times. He came here saying that the spare cash that the LRT did not need during the year could go back to the ratepayers in reduced GLC precept, but now he has changed his mind and is bringing forward a Bill that would make that quite impossible.
What we have here is a bit of legislation of which any Secretary of State should be ashamed. The right hon. Gentleman should be ashamed because there are few people who can have been hauled before a court of law and told that they have behaved disgracefully. He should be ashamed because he has not accepted that judgment but just come back to the House with another Bill trying to make good the mistake that he made in the first instance. He should be ashamed because, like so many in the present Government, when he has done something wrong, does he come back to the House and apologise? No, he does not. Has there been a hint or a suggestion from the Secretary of State that somehow or other he was to blame for the mess that he has got himself into? No; the Secretary of State comes here and says, "Right. I asked the GLC—in fact, I told the GLC—how much money I wanted. I did not consult it or concern myself with the needs of the ratepayers of London. In fact, now I shall have to put on an extra levy because of that. What I have done is create a situation that means that the only way that I can get out of the nasty little corner that I have painted myself into is to bring before the House of Commons a Bill that is retrospective in intent." It is a shabby little manoeuvre. It is an embarrasing little manoeuvre. I am appalled that the Secretary of State will use his enormous majority to push through something of which anyone should be ashamed.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) rightly referred to the enormous majority that we in the Conservative party will have for the Bill. I remind her that it is not only an enormous majority in the country as a whole or in the House, but an enormous majority that the Conservative party received for the abolition of the GLC in the 1983 general election. It is the enormous majority that Londoners gave us as representatives of London. There are far more Conservative Members representing London constituencies than Opposition Members.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich was outraged about the Bill, but where are all her supporters? All three of them are stuck up at the back of the Chamber, almost trying to separate themselves from her. It is fascinating. There they are, lurking at the back underneath the clock, afraid to be associated with her. The verdict will be given tonight by the House of Commons, but it has been given already by the people at the general election. The hon. Lady knows that well.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that measure was put into the manifesto only about six weeks before polling day, and received little notice throughout London? The hon. Gentleman also referred to the three hon. Members sitting under the clock, as he put it. Does he agree that that is our customary place in the House?
I understand why the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, does not wish to be associated too directly with his Front Bench. He has always been an independent-minded Member, and would not want to come too close to the influence of the Front Bench. He referred to the Conservative party manifesto at the election. I had always understood that the hon. Gentleman was on the Left of his party— [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend does not seem to agree with that observation. I am sorry to cause dissension between two hon. Members from the same borough. That measure was clearly in our manifesto. It is a manifesto commitment that we have carried out.
I am sorry, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make a speech in his own time, and I do not want to detain the House for too long.
Why are we discussing LRT and the Bill? The reason is, of course, that it was necessary in the last Parliament for us to make the change from London Transport to London Regional Transport. Why? The reason is simple. One has only to look at the record of London Transport over the 12 years before the Act came into operation to see it. Passengers were down by 25 per cent.; there were real increases in bus costs, which went up 67 per cent.; underground costs increased by 48 per cent.; and subsidies that in 1970 were £6·5 million were about £379 million in 1982. It is a poor record by any standards.
It was right that, having made the changeover to LRT, the Government should place importance on improving the efficiency of LRT. That is why I particularly welcome the Government's decision to reduce the revenue subsidies to LRT while at the same time rightly increasing the capital subsidies. After all, it is investment that we need within the London network.
I particularly welcome the impetus that the Act gave to co-operation between British Rail and LRT. Many of my constituents have benefited from the Capitalcard and the improved communication that it gives to where many of them work at the centre of London.
However, let me refer to the precise terms of the Bill. It was quite clear—as anyone reading the Committee reports must realise—what the Secretary of State was trying to do in this Bill. But as my right hon. Friend has said, section 49 was incorrectly drafted. There is no dispute about the fact that the intention of the Secretary of State as expressed in Committee had not been put into legal form in the terms of section 49. Therefore, it is not at all unreasonable that the Secretary of State, having had a clear majority in Committee and on Second and Third Readings of the Bill, should say that the intention to which he gave expression in Committee had not been put in correct legal form and that he was coming back to the House to clarify the position.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said that she was disturbed that there had been no consultation. Obviously, she has had her head in the sand for a very long time. I know that she is not a London Member so perhaps she can be forgiven, but she is clearly not aware that the GLC has had a policy of non-co-operation with the Government ever since these measures were introduced. To accuse the Government of refusing to consult when the GLC has instructed its officers on almost every occasion to refuse to give information to departmental officials is to mislead the House.
I thought the hon. Gentleman might, particularly in view of the difficulty he is having in addressing himself to the Bill. I would point out to him that a court of law found that the Secretary of State had not consulted and had gone beyond his powers. It was not the Opposition; it was a court of law. He might like to address himself to that point.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting the hon. Lady. The hon. Lady does not realise that what has been happening in London over the past two to three years has been a deliberate attempt by a small Labour majority on the GLC to frustrate the work of central Government, democratically elected in 1983, on a plan to abolish the GLC. I know that the hon. Lady is not a London Member and does not bear direct responsibility but I think it extremely serious that the Labour party should support — nay, instruct — officers in local government to take on central Government and not to cooperate in the time-honoured fashion always followed previously, when local government officers have accepted that they should co-operate with a democratically elected central Government.
I shall be delighted to give way to the hon. Lady if she will explain why the Labour party has gone along with the Left-wing antics of Ken Livingstone, and so on, in forcing officers to take up a political stance.
I do not want to keep interrupting the hon. Gentleman. I should be happy to make another speech altogether. However, let me point out to the hon. Gentleman, since he does not seem to have it right, that there could have been consultation with the GLC had the Secretary of State made the slightest attempt to ask for it. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand that it was the judge, not the Opposition, who said that the Secretary of State had not consulted. We are looking at this Bill only because the judge said that the Secretary of State failed to consult.
The hon. Lady misses the point again. There is no obligation to consult under the terms of section 49. Furthermore, the Secretary of State and all London Members on both sides of the House know very well that when the Government attempt to consult on any matters with the GLC, the response is a policy of complete non-co-operation. Even if there had been an obligation under the terms of section 49, what would have happened? There would have been a complete stone-wall, and no information would have been provided by the GLC, the officers of which are under strict political instructions from Ken Livingstone and his mob.
The subsidy which the ratepayers paid, the £50 million, some of which was paid by my constituents, should have gone directly to London transport to subsidise its operators. That is what my constituents thought they were paying for. They would bitterly attack me if they saw any of that £50 million disappearing to support the women's committee, the police committee and other exercises run by the GLC to squander ratepayers' money. My constituents endorse my support for the Bill.
I propose to be brief because, although the figures in our discussion may be complicated, the principles are very clear. I shall begin, as many other hon. Members have, with the question of the legal judgment. It is a fact, no matter what we say in our discussions across the Floor of this Chamber, that on 29 June, only three days after the Royal Assent was given to the London Regional Transport Act, the Secretary of State directed the GLC to pay London Regional Transport £281·3 million. That was under section 49 of the Act, and there is no dispute between us that he did that without consultation with the GLC.
The terms of the famous judgment by Mr. Justice McNeill in January 1985 were not quite as mild as the hon.
Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) said. What Mr. Justice McNeill said was that the Secretary of State had acted
unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers without consideration of all relevant material and without consultation with the Greater London Council.
The hon. Member for Enfield, North may have a very fair point when he says that the GLC was pledged to a policy of non-co-operation with the Government and that if the Secretary of State had sought to consult it he might have got a dusty answer. The fact is that we simply do not know, because he did not consult. From my point of view, and from that of many reasonable people, had the Secretary of State sought to consult the GLC to obtain all the detailed information it had available and had been refused, he would be in a very much stronger position than he is today.
I am advised that, in case the Secretary of State had decided to consult the GLC, the GLC had already got a draft letter prepared in response to the consultations that the Secretary of State should have undertaken. The fact is that he did not, and it is absurd and untrue for the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) to come out with the remarks he has just made about the GLC not co-operating in this matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving us that information, to which, of course, I am not privy, and I do not for one moment dispute it. However, even if it were not the case, the point I am making is that the Secretary of State, as far as we understand the matter, did not seek to discover whether or not the GLC was prepared to co-operate. He did not even make the initial approach to see whether it would provide the information. That is why, I assume, the judge — whatever is contained in section 49—made the comment he did, to the effect that one of the reasons why the direction was faulty was that it had been made without any attempt to consult the Greater London council.
The second thing that brings me down against this Bill is the question about its necessity. Clearly, the terms of the judgment require the Secretary of State to issue a direction to the GLC requiring it to pay sufficient grants to London Regional Transport to enable it to meet its operating needs in 1984–85. I do not wish to repeat the commitment from the Standing Committee debates on the London Regional Transport Bill, which has dominated this debate and previous debates on this issue, but it is clear that the Secretary of State gave an absolute undertaking that it was not his intention that London Regional Transport should end up with a surplus as a result of the sums of money that the GLC was to be directed to pay to it. Yet, from all the evidence available to us it seems clear that that is what will happen. Some £50 million will be surplus to LRT's operating needs in 1984–85 and will therefore go into reserves.
Conservative Members argue that it would have been quite wrong if that £50 million had been left in the hands of the GLC because it would have been used for other purposes. But, however the GLC had used that money, the ratepayers who contributed to it through the rates would have had some benefit. I do not necessarily dispute the argument of the hon. Member for Enfield, North that that money might have been spent unwisely. I will not defend the spending policies of the GLC—I disagree with many of them. I might have been opposed to the way in which it spent the £50 million, but that is not the issue. One of the problems of our democracy is that we have governments and local authorities for which we do not care. If they are democratically elected, we must accept that they have power to levy and spend rates. If that £50 million had not been used in the GLC's normal spending pattern, it would have been available to offset the rate levy in 1985–86.
When Conservative Members argue that it would be improper for the GLC to obtain that money on the understanding that it would be spent on the London regional transport system and then to spend it on other services, it shows that those hon. Members have never been involved in local government. It is not unusual in local government to make the best possible estimate at the time that the budget is produced and to raise a rate on the basis of spending estimates, and then to find that during the course of the year situations vary and money is switched from one vote or one service to another. If the GLC has the use of £50 million originally raised for London regional transport purposes there is nothing improper in using it for another purpose in the interests of Londoners.
Like many hon. Members, I have considerable objection to the retrospective element of the Bill. It retrospectively requires the GLC to pay a sum that would have been unlawful under the legislation as it now stands. The Bill goes well beyond the original intention of section 49 of the Act.
I find unacceptable the suggestion that the Bill is only a marginal tidying up on the edges; a clarification of a piece of the original Bill that was not wholly clear. As I read the judgment, it was not concerned mainly with interpretation of section 49 — it was directed at the Secretary of State's action in setting a direction under section 49. The judge found that the Secretary of State did not have his facts correct, that he had not taken account of all the relevant available information and that he had failed to consult the GLC as the appropriate authority.
We are dealing not with a tidying-up measure — a correction of bad drafting in the original legislation — but with an attempt by the Secretary of State to avoid the consequences of his action in administering his law. I regard the Bill as a shabby, shady and hole-in-the-corner measure, which I shall have great pleasure in voting against tonight.
We should at once stamp upon the false impression given by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) about the proposals before us. They are not retrospective; they apply to the tax year ending April 1985 and to a levy on the current tax year. Therefore, it is nonsense to talk about the legislation as being retrospective when it refers to something current.
I see the hon. Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and Leyton (Mr. Cohen) in their places. I became immensely familiar with their faces when we sat through hours and hours of discussion on the original Bill a year ago. It is a great pleasure to see them in the Chamber today. They will no doubt join in the debate and reiterate the arguments that they put in Committee. For the benefit of those who were not members of the Committee, such as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) who has unfortunately left the Chamber, I shall give a brief outline of the reasons why the London Regional Transport Bill was enacted.
The Government's purpose was to restore a stable framework for public transport planning in London — something that had clearly not existed previously. I do not make a party political point, and while Opposition Members do not make such points I shall refrain from doing so. While the Greater London Council had control of the London transport system, its running was incompetent and not in the best interests of Londoners, tourists or other users. That applied throughout the time that it was administered by the GLC, whether Conservative or Labour-controlled. As has been proven by facts, it is wrong to allow politicians to try to take direct control of the overall day-to-day running of a large and complicated business. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich has returned.
While under the control of both parties, the GLC benefited from subsidies that rose thirteenfold in real terms between 1970 and 1982. From the comparatively reasonable figure of £6·5 million in 1970, they rose to £369·8 million in 1982. That is a staggering increase in the running of any business and a wholly unreasonable tax upon both the general central taxation revenue and the London ratepayer.
It was essential that my right hon. Friend acted to ensure that that appalling increase did not continue and multiply. It was abundantly clear that, had matters been left to Mr. Livingstone and the current GLC administration, that increase would have risen time and time again. I cannot say that if political control had altered, the figure would have come down; I do not believe that that would have happened. Looking at the GLC's history, I accept that both parties were guilty of the increase. It could not be allowed to continue.
It must be right that something as complex and difficult as the London regional transport system — both buses and underground — should be run properly by business men. That is what the Government set out to achieve, and I believe that that is what they are achieving. Looking at the London structure, it was important, and it remains important, that the system should be brought fully into line and cohesion with the commuter systems that surround our city. One of the instructions given to the London Regional Transport Board is to look at ways of improving co-operation — and even going further than that in the longer term in its liaison with British Rail. That is an important and significant part of the way in which we should set about running our city's central transport system. That can be done only if fully professional management is in control, not the politicians. I believe that that will be achieved.
I say that with greater confidence having looked at the way in which the 1985·86 plan has been laid out. Most of the targets that the Government should be setting are contained in that plan and can be fulfilled provided that no radical change is made. One way in which a radical change could have been made would have been if the original funding plans had not been fulfilled. The result of the court action would have been precisely that — £50 million, a significant part of the funding, would have been removed from the London transport system and would have been put to use by the Greater London council heaven knows where.
I do not know what the GLC would have done with the money, but I know that it would not have benefited my constituents because they come within a Conservative-controlled area. Most GLC funds during the past two or three years have been funnelled towards Labour-controlled areas in one of the most party politically biased pieces of gerrymandering that I have seen in this country.
The underground mileage will remain unchanged, despite the waffling and wailing in Committee last year when the Opposition suggested that the Government's intention was radically to slash the capital's underground and bus systems. Bus mileage will decrease by 2 per cent. overall, which reflects a change in population shifts. An increasing number of people are able and willing to use their own transport, and there are changes in ownership and the way in which people are living. Two per cent. is not a significant change, and it reflects entirely the system in which it is carried out.
Average fares will be held down so that they increase only with inflation. That is obviously a correct approach. The one matter for which I wish to give credit to Opposition Members and the GLC, although they did it for the wrong reasons, is for standardising fares on the London underground system. For a long time many Conservative Members had longed for the leadership of the GLC to do that. It was a brave step, which was amply proved to be correct because far greater numbers of people use the London transport system now that one can travel a long way on the single fare of 40p than one did previously. It also proved, probably to Opposition Members' surprise, to be an extremely sound commercial act. Because of the increased numbers using the system, the revenue returns increased. I only wish that British Rail could take a leaf out of the book of London Regional Transport, and standardise and lower some of its ordinary fares, which are driving people from the railways to the roads.
The measure will bring about two major changes in the way in which London Regional Transport is run. The first relates to the way in which the unions have managed to prevent changes in the man hours worked. That will be examined, and efficient manning of the system achieved. It is sad to reflect that we have been employing far too many people. We have been using four people per station compared with one person per station in Hamburg, which is directly comparable with our underground system. We have been achieving only half the mileage per man of the Hamburg system and most other foreign systems. It is no good giving ourselves the luxury of overmanning in such an industry. It is necessary to change to an efficient system if we are to provide the required services.
Secondly, to assist with that change, the Government will increase the amount of capital invested from £155 million under the plans of the GLC to more than £200 million. We are increasing investment in the system, which in the long run must be to the benefit of Londoners and tourists who visit London. The reasons for the Bill have already been proved to be valid. The change from political to proper business control will have great benefits for the users of the system.
I shall now deal with some points on which the Government have been criticised. As I said, this is not retrospective legislation but corrective legislation to reintroduce that which those of us who served on the Transport Bill Committee originally intended. Section 149 of the Bill was challenged successfully in court, and by the Opposition. It is wrong to say that the Bill seeks to undo the courts ruling, and that we seek to put back in new legislative form a matter on which the Secretary of State sought, but was not entitled to legislate. We seek to make the Bill what it was originally drafted and intended to be by those who gave it a majority vote. We seek to ensure that the funds that we intended to be made available under that Bill are produced.
I accept the court's judgment because there has not been time to appeal against it and, therefore, that the court order stands, and that the Government acted mistakenly. It is not the first time that they have been wrong, and I accept that. However, that does not mean that we must allow the consequence of that to be that LRT is deprived of the £50 million that we intended it to have. As Opposition Members know, when a court makes a judgment, it is not allowed to look behind the wording of an Act to find out what the intention of Parliament was. That is specifically excluded. I have practised as a lawyer for 10 years and have often found that immensely frustrating when I was arguing a case and knew that the statute was not being interpreted as intended. For that reason a court comes to conclusions on the effect of a statute which do not always reflect the intentions of Parliament. Today we have an opportunity to ensure that the original intention of Parliament is replaced before it is too late, before the legislation becomes retrospective and before there are good reasons why we should not do so. That is why we are debating this matter, and why I am absolutely confident that we shall have a majority when we vote.
I close by apologising to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) because I cannot be present to hear his reply. I shall certainly read his speech with great interest. The Bill is absolutely correct, and I endorse and applaud what my right hon. Friend is doing.
The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar), who, unfortunately, has now left the Chamber, made many points about the reasoning behind the Government's intentions to remove London Transport from the control of the Greater London council. At the time he was talking about the abolition of the GLC, which he said was in the election manifesto and won many votes for the Conservative party in June 1983. We are discussing the matter elsewhere and will undoubtedly continue to discuss that claim during the next 12 months or more.
However, the hon. Gentleman did not say that the policy to remove London Transport from the GLC was not in the Conservative party manifesto of 1983. The only reason why London Transport was taken from the GLC was to make the abolition of the GLC more acceptable to critics on the Conservative Benches. Clearly, the more services that the Government could take from the GLC, the greater the strength of their already weak case. Clearly, the administration of London Transport was an essential feature of the council's activities, and to make abolition more acceptable, London Transport had to be the first casualty. Therefore, Conservative Members need not lecture us about London Transport being used as a political football. The Government blatantly attempted to use, and succeeded in using, LRT in a wholly party political and partisan way.
The hon. Member for Enfield, North read out some statistics. I do not know where he found them. Unfortunately, he would not give way to me, and now he has left the Chamber, so I shall have to find other ways to find out from where he got them. The figures made little sense to me, and certainly did not accord with reality as we appreciate it. It is nonsense for a Conservative Member to say that the GLC was not running London Transport efficiently and in a way that was popular with the electors of London. I remind the House that the "Fares Fair" policy, which the Labour party in London put at the centre of its 1981 manifesto, undoubtedly secured a great deal of support. The policy was undoubtedly successful in terms of the numbers of extra people who used London Transport while that policy was being followed.
The hon. Gentleman's party gained support from the "Fares Fair" policy because it was supported by people who live in London and do not pay rates. There are vast numbers of such Labour voters. It is obvious that they would support something that took from the fares and put on the rates the charge for their travel.
If my memory serves me right, the hon. Gentleman and I crossed swords on this issue many times in Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill. It appears that I must make the same point again. The hon. Gentleman says that the policy was especially popular with those who did not pay rates. All businesses in London pay GLC rates but the cost of travel in London for their employees was reduced. The policy was, therefore, popular with such ratepayers. Conservative Members speak volubly about business and commerce they benefited enormously from the "Fares Fair" policy as London's business and commercial sector draws large numbers of employees from outside Greater London. In terms of social cost benefits, we at county hall considered that policy to be appropriate. It benefited people who live in London, and commerce and industry in London. One of the reasons why the London weighting allowance was able to be stabilised was the GLC's "Fares Fair" policy.
In economic terms, it is silly and short-sighted to insist that the only people who benefited from "Fares Fair" were those who were not ratepayers. There is no such thing as a free system. We at county hall believe — the figures seem to bear us out—that "Fares Fair" was popular with London ratepayers and economically beneficial to London's commerce and industry. I should have thought that, instead of criticising the GLC for that policy, the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir. N. Bonsor) would have been one of the first to applaud it.
The "Fares Fair" policy increased the Labour party's popularity—no one would expect me to shun that—and led to significant increases in the use of bus and underground services. There was a 10 per cent. reduction in cars coming into central London. That also benefited commerce, as it reduced travelling time, congestion and road accidents. There were 3,000 fewer accidents during the operation of "Fares Fair". Moreover, LT was able to produce a £36 million surplus in 1983. How can any Conservative Member say that the GLC did a bad job when it was responsible for administering LT, when all the statistics prove the contrary?
I had hoped that there would be a reasonably free and objective discussion of the statistics and facts and that Conservative Members would have accepted them with some grace, but there are times when Conservative Members allow their predjudices to prevent them from acknowledging that the GLC ever did anything worthy of London ratepayers. We maintain that the GLC did an excellent job with LT. All the facts bear that out.
Since LT has been taken from the GLC and nationalised —that is a strange thing—can Conservative Members say that London ratepayers have benefited? In the short time since the Secretary of State has had control of London Regional Transport we have had fares increases of twice the rate of inflation, cuts in services and a proposal for 6,950 job losses in the next three years. We now hear that there is to be a 35 per cent. increase in the rate precept over last year's GLC precept for London Transport. How can any Conservative Member argue that that represents a good deal for London ratepayers?
The Conservative-controlled Westminster and Sutton councils have made representations to the Government expressing deep anxiety about the policies that the Government are pursuing in London's transport. One would have thought that the Secretary of State would have second thoughts about his policies when Conservative-controlled councils begin to complain.
The Secretary of State has reprimanded me for being absent from the debate on the Ways and Means resolution on 7 February. I apologise to the Secretary of State and the House but, as I have explained, I was occupied in the Committee considering the Local Government Bill—the abolition of the GLC Bill. If the Government would only lay off the GLC for a while, I might be able to stop rushing around the Palace trying to plug the gaps as the Government assault the GLC from all sides. I have the same problem again this evening. No doubt the Committee is progressing in stately fashion in Committee Room 14, and my name will be missing from the Division list.
That is just one of the burdens that we have to bear as the Government drag the whole House into the day-to-day affairs of local government. I look forward, as I am sure do all hon. Members, to a week in which we are not preoccupied with local government matters. I look forward to a week in which locally and democratically elected councillors are allowed to get on with the job that their ratepayers and electors voted them in to do—to run local services. It is not our place to be so preoccupied with the day-to-day affairs of local government. We do that only because of the general style of the Government. The Prime Minister will not allow anyone, it appears, to take a decision without reference to her. The consequence of such centralised and authoritarian government is bad for the country and bad for the House.
The Bill is unjust and would be wholly unnecessary if the Secretary of State were a man of his word. The Bill arises from another piece of characteristic bumbling by the Secretary of State who, quite uniquely, manages to combine incompetence with breathtaking arrogance. The best description of the Secretary of State is that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who said that the Secretary of State is the only man he knows who can strut while he is sitting down.
The transfer of control of London Transport took place part of the way through the financial year 1984–85, and after the GLC had approved grants to London Transport and set its precept. Section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984, which is the central provision on this, empowered the Secretary of State to direct the GLC to pay grant to LRT for the remaining part of the year after transfer of control on the appointed day under the Act.
The Secretary of State rushed through the transfer of control of LRT on 29 June, only three days after the Royal Assent. On the same day, he directed the GLC to pay LRT £281.3 million under section 49. He did that without consultation with the GLC. As we all know, he exceeded the maximum permissible sum under the Act by some £10.2 million. He later conceded that error.
The GLC informed the Secretary of State, as my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, in July of that year that it thought that the direction that he had issued with unseemly haste was unlawful. However, the GLC continued to make payments to LRT, without prejudice, to enable LRT to maintain its operations. Accusations coming from the Conservative Benches that the GLC was not worthy of its control of London Transport, that it had tried to embarrass the Secretary of State, or was trying to sabotage the operations of LRT do not bear examination.
The Secretary of State chose to ignore the GLC and to press ahead. As we are all now aware, the GLC rightly took the Secretary of State to court and Mr. Justice McNeill held that the Secretary of State had acted, in those famous words
unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers without consideration of all relevant material and without consultation with the Greater London Council.
Whatever the hon. Member for Enfield, North might think, that was the judge's opinion. The consultation process did not take place. The GLC had been promised that there would be consultation, but the Secretary of State, in what can only be described as his usual highhanded, arrogant fashion, chose not to have that consultation. He got himself into the mess in which he now is. He is now, with no shame, asking the House to dig him out of the hole into which he dug himself. He deserves no sympathy from any hon. Member.
The Bill is unnecessary because, as I said in an earlier intervention in the Secretary of State's speech, he could issue a new legal direction under section 49 after consultation with the GLC. He could have issued a new legal direction after the High Court judgment. Returning to the point about me not being here on 7 February, the Secretary of State said that I should read what he said in the Ways and Means debate. His words are all but engraved on my heart. They are emblazoned within my mind.
In case I should forget them, I have a closely annotated copy of what he said during the debate on 7 February. I should like to remind him of what he said, because he seems ready to try and forget some of what he said. He has forgotten, disowned or reinterpreted what he said in Committee. I have the feeling that if we do not remind him of what he said on 7 February he will conveniently forget that as well. He said:
As I told the House, I intended to appeal against the High Court judgment. But, having studied the judgment, I concluded that it was the Act itself that did not correspond with our intention, which was clearly stated at the time when it was passing through Parliament.
The Secretary of State's first point was:
As I told the House, I intended to appeal against the High Court judgment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, the Secretary of State deliberately sought
to mislead the House when he was asked questions about the judgment on 7 February by saying that it was sub judice. That was accepted by Mr. Speaker. It was not sub judice at the time. If he does nothing else, the Secretary of State could apologise to the House because he misled it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, the Secretary of State at best was thinking that he might appeal. He did not appeal, because he did not have a leg to stand on. That is what it amounted to. To claim that the matter was sub judice and therefore divert Parliament's attention when it should have been discussing the matter was a cruel deception. It was a deliberate attempt to mislead the House. The Secretary of State should apologise to the House.
The second point that the Secretary of State made in that quotation on 7 February was:
But, having studied the judgment, I concluded that it was the Act itself that did not correspond with our intention, which was clearly stated at the time when it was passing through Parliament."—[Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1198.]
The Act, of course, allows the Secretary of State to require the GLC to pay sufficient grant to LRT to meet its operating needs for 1984–85, but not to create a surplus. I remind the Secretary of State that in Committee he said about section 49:
It is not my intention to take more through the clause than is strictly necessary for running LRT for the year in question, so that it shall not end up with a surplus." — [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 March 1984; c. 1114.]
The Bill seeks to do the reverse. Why has the Secretary of State changed his mind? That is the question that he has yet to answer.
The Secretary of State says that it has been answered. It has not been answered to the satisfaction of Opposition Members and the explanation does not equate with the words that the Secretary of State used in Committee. The Secretary of State might say that it was some other Secretary of State who said it, but we believe that it was this Secretary of State who said that he was not going to create a surplus. This Bill creates a surplus. Where do I have it wrong? I should gladly give way to the Secretary of State if he wishes to tell me.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman's point on three occasions. LRT has accrued liabilities for which it needs to have funding in relation to the year in question. He will find the matter set out at some length in the two speeches that I made on the Ways and Means resolution, for neither of which he was present. He will find that I repeated the point this afternoon, when he had left the Chamber. How can I be expected to go on answering the hon. Gentleman's point if every time I do so he rushes out of the Chamber so as not to hear?
I do not feel that that was fair. I do not rush out of the Chamber. I find little appealing in the Secretary of State but he does not have that effect on me. I am capable of sitting here listening to him. I am just as capable of reading the words that he speaks. I read the words that he used in Committee and in the Ways and Means resolution debate on 7 February. There is no doubt that what he is seeking to do is the complete reversal of what he said he was going to do when the London Regional Transport Bill was in Committee.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State does not understand what this Bill is all about. He did not seem
—he has accepted the fact — to understand what the LRT Bill was all about. If he cares to cast his eyes over some minutes of a meeting held on 6 June between officials of the Department of Transport and London Transport he will see that those officials were planning a surplus in 1984–85. It is on record. The officials were planning a surplus by increasing fares in January by 11 per cent., when the GLC had originally budgeted for a fares freeze. One understands from the minutes that LRT wanted the increase to be 6 per cent., but, in fact, the fares went up by 9 per cent. Despite what the Secretary of State said in Standing Committee, his officials and LRT officials were planning to create a surplus in 1984–85. Mr. Justice McNeill said that the Department's officials seemed
more concerned with creating a surplus in 1984–85 to be carried forward to enable much smaller revenue to be required in 1985–86 than with careful appraisal of all the relevant facts.
How does the explanation by the Secretary of State now stand? His officials were clearly discussing with LRT officials the creation of a surplus in 1984–85. That is contrary to what the right hon. Gentleman said in March last year in Standing Committee. That was certainly the reason why Mr. Justice McNeill concluded that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully. The Secretary of State will not be able to get away with this. His actions will follow him for a long time yet.
The London Regional Transport Act corresponds with what the Secretary of State said he intended last March. It does not accord with what the right hon. Gentleman now wants, because he has changed his mind. The right hon. Gentleman has decided to break the undertaking that he gave to Parliament. The London Regional Transport Act requires the GLC to pay over to LRT some £50 million in grants that are surplus to LRT's operating needs in 1984–85. Our information is that only about half that sum is required in 1985–86 and in the case of the leasing reserve, the money will not be fully utilised until 1996. How can the Secretary of State explain that this money is now necessary? It is not necessary. If his brief tells him that, he has been badly briefed—in much the same way as he was badly briefed during the passage of the London Regional Transport Bill.
The Bill is retrospective in its effect. It is designed to allow the Secretary of State to escape the consequences of his
unlawful, irrational and procedurally improper
action. The hon. Member for Upminster should have though about this aspect as well. Retrospection is not merely about raising money in a particular tax year. It is about getting a Secretary of State off a hook upon which he has impaled himself. In many ways, that makes the Bill even more objectionable.
The Secretary of State is getting around the law. He is abusing his position of power and using the Government's great majority to escape the legal consequences of his action. I remind the Secretary of State that in 1971–72 some decent-minded Labour councillors in Clay Cross decided, in defence of their services and council tenants, to defy the Housing Finance Act 1972. Many of those councillors are still barred from office. They are prevented even from holding positions such as school governor because of the legal action taken against them and because they were bankrupted following the surcharge. Those councillors do not have the power of the Secretary of State to stumble into the House and say, "I have got myself into a bit of trouble down at the courts, lads. You have to get me out of it. We need another Bill so that we can escape the consequences of my unlawful actions." The Secretary of State by doing that is abusing his powers and undermining democracy. The Bill is therefore especially repellent to us.
The Secretary of State has maintained in Parliament that the court's judgment was about the interpretation of section 49. That is not so. The right hon. Gentleman made that statement again today and was briefly supported by his hon. Friends. Contrary to the assertions of the Secretary of State, the judgment of Mr. Justice McNeill was not primarily concerned with interpretation. It was concerned with the action of the Secretary of State in setting a direction under section 49. The judge found that the Secretary of State had got his facts wrong. The right hon. Gentleman had not taken account of all the relevant factors and had failed to consult the GLC, despite the fact that he had promised to do so.
The Bill is not about correcting bad drafting, but is about the Secretary of State avoiding the consequences of his action in administering the law that he was responsible for piloting through the House. Despite what the Secretary of State says, the Bill is not in the interests of London ratepayers. In speaking on 7 February about the Ways and Means resolution the Secretary of State said:
In laying this resolution, I have at the front of my mind the interests of travellers, LRT and London ratepayers. All stand to lose if we do not legislate. The GLC, through creative accounting and legal action has tried to deprive LRT of substantial sums of money which ratepayers paid specifically for public transport".
The Secretary of State went on:
It is the London ratepayers and the London traveller whom the GLC is seeking to rob."—[0fficial Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1199.]
I am capable of reading the right hon. Gentleman's words, even if I was not present to hear such little gems.
The Secretary of State said that the GLC precepted for the sum in question specifically for LRT so that it should be paid over. The payment of precepted grant regardless of performance and need is absurd and contrary to all past practice between the GLC and LRT. For example, in 1983–84 budgeted grants were £235 million but the GLC paid over only £173 million and the balance went to offset the 1984–85 precept, the ratepayer receiving the full benefit.
Can the Secretary of State give another example where the Exchequer pays over to a Department of State money for services that were not rendered? If Social Security payments fall short of the amount for which the Exchequer has budgeted — that is pretty unlikely, given the Government's economic and social policy—would the Secretary of State for Social Services award a bonus to all recipients of social security payments? Of course he would not. The money would go back to the Exchequer and would later be used, we hope, to lower tax demands.
The Secretary of State for Transport is suggesting that, despite the fact that LRT does not need the money, the GLC should still pay over money to LRT, thus creating a surplus. Where is the financial or economic sense in that? Where is the natural justice? If the GLC retains the full £50 million now being demanded in the Bill, the ratepayers will get the full benefit of that money either in a reduced rate precept or through improved services.
The hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright) rightly said that it is not for the Secretary of State to say to a democratically elected council, "You will not get that money because I do not like the type of services upon which you are likely to spend it." The fact is that the GLC is an elected body. It has a perfect right and duty to spend money on behalf of ratepayers. If the money were left with the GLC, the ratepayers would get all the benefit of that £50 million. If LRT received grants surplus to its needs, the ratepayers would get only two thirds of the benefit.
How can the GLC rob the ratepayers by not paying to LRT money that is surplus to its needs in 1984–85? How on earth can the Secretary of State say that this is robbing the ratepayers? It defies both logic and orthodox accounting. The only real beneficiary of this Bill will be the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I have another quote to give the Secretary of State, as he seems to think that I do not pay attention to his words. Again, this comes from the debate on 7 February, and refers to my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich. He said:
The hon. Lady will doubtless seek to argue, as her amendment implies, that payments of grant by the GLC should be further abated in respect of the improvements in LRT's financial position, which have developed since control was transferred to the Government. That is an intolerable suggestion. It would mean that additional income, which has resulted from improved productivity, better than expected sales of Travelcards and from LRT's decision to raise fares earlier this year, would all be handed over to the GLC. It would mean that the benefits from the efforts of LRT's management and work force since the GLC lost control of LRT would go to the GLC, and not to LRT, its passengers, and London's ratepayers.
There are a number of peculiar statements in that quote. First of all, the GLC is not some sort of corporate body that exists offshore somewhere in the Cayman Islands. It represents ratepayers, so if it is get any money back, the ratepayers of London will directly benefit from the way that the GLC spends the money. The quote is nothing more than a nonsensical self-deception by the Secretary of State.
The improved financial position of LRT is almost entirely due to the success of Travelcard—which was introduced not by the Government but by the GLC—the increase in fares after the GLC had budgeted for a fares freeze, and the introduction of Capitalcard, with its higher charges, when the GLC had planned for integration with British Rail at no extra cost to travellers. None of the changes that the Government have effected in the policy of LRT since seizing control of it from the GLC could be described as
benefits from the efforts of LRT's management and work force since the GLC lost control of LRT". — [Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1200.]
Even the Secretary of State would appear to be capable of putting up fares without making a bodge of it, but he should not claim in the House that it was some sort of miracle, for which he was responsible.
The Bill is nothing more than an attempt by the Secretary of State to legalise his previously illegal position, a position into which he got himself when he refused the help offered by the GLC. It is nothing more than nasty retrospective legislation for which the Secretary of State is responsible. He has misled the House, he is misleading us again and he should have the honour and decency to get up and apologise. He should then drop the Bill.
The Secretary of State praised his handling of LRT. It is not unexpected for politicians to praise their own policies, but in this case it is a bit like Inspector Clouseau praising his policing powers. The Secretary of State has Inspector Clouseau's incompetence, but he does not have his charm. His handling of LRT has been and still is abysmal. It has been announced that rates are to go up by 35 per cent. mainly because the Secretary of State is lumping on an additional £69 million of debt charges which would have been spread over several years if LRT had still been with the GLC. That is despite the Secretary of State's repeated promises in the Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill that his policies would keep rates down.
On top of that, fares are to go up. They have already gone up by an average of 10 per cent. from 6 January. There are variations on that average. For example, short distance journeys, which represent about 35 per cent. of all fares, and which are made by many people such as shoppers and disabled people who need buses for short journeys, went up by about 25 per cent. Children's bus fares rose by 50 per cent. At the same time, fares to Heathrow airport were either kept the same or, in some cases, went down. The Secretary of State's policy is impose fare increases for the ordinary people, while jet-setters get reductions.
The direction of LRT under the Secretary of State has to be taken into account. I shall now quote an article in The Guardian on 21 November 1984 about the direction of LRT. I hope this will make the matter clear to the Secretary of State. It says:
There's a document circulating within LRT called 'Meeting the Challenge' which they are loth to show the public. The 'Challenge' is to reduce the transport budget from £190 million to £95 million over the next three years and LRT will achieve that by cutting services (by 11 million bus miles, which means you wait longer) axeing 6,000 jobs, putting up fares and eventually converting the whole bus fleet to One Person Operation.
That is where the Minister is taking transport for Londoners. I shall quote a little more of this article, which has some interesting points about one-person operation. It says:
OPO buses are a must. They enable LRT to dispense with thousands of conductors and they're the buses that you climb on to with your children, buggy and shopping, balance it all on the steps or platform, and while you grovel for change the passengers inside and the ones queueing outside wait and wait, cars and more buses queue up behind, while upstairs out of sight, thugs, vandals and robbers are busy attacking fittings and women passengers, and when they've finished up there, they can always have a go at the driver because there is no conductor to see or to run for help.
The Secretary of State is proud of the direction in which he is taking LRT, of which that is an example.
I have asked a series of questions about what LRT is supposed to be doing for disabled passengers, for whom the Secretary of State claims to have such regard. I asked how much was being spent on the unit for disabled travellers and was given a cover-up answer. Unless I get a more detailed answer, I can only believe that LRT is spending either nothing or next to nothing on the unit. That point needs to be followed up.
An undemocratic element is involved. People have no say in the rates and fares going up and the services being cut. The Secretary of State cannot be proud of his record, or of the early days of his creation of LRT. On top of that
there is a court judgment against the Secretary of State which I shall read again, because the House, the Secretary of State and the public should hear it over and over again.
Mr. Justice McNeill held that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers without consideration of all relevant material and without consultation with the Greater London Council.
It is the Secretary of State who, according to that judgment, is in the dock. The Secretary of State said today that the Bill is needed because acceptance of that judgment would provide a windfall profit for the Greater London council. It is not a windfall profit that the GLC wants. It wants its money. The judgment makes it clear that the Secretary of State took this money illegally from the GLC.
Another claim made today by the Secretary of State's Back-Bench supporters was that throughout the GLC had not co-operated with London Regional Tranport. That is not the case. It is patently untrue. The actions of the GLC have been impeccable throughout. It was the Secretary of State who refused to consult the GLC. The GLC has been available for consultation throughout. The Secretary of State could have avoided the judgment going against him if he had consulted the GLC, in particular about the £10·2 million for leasing. The GLC made it clear throughout that although it believed that the Secretary of State's direction was ultra vires—and it was proved to be right—it would continue to provide money without prejudice for the operational needs of London Regional Transport in order to maintain a transport system for London. That is exactly what the GLC did. Far from being unco-operative, the GLC has acted impeccably. It sought to get the court case resolved as speedily as possible, but the Secretary of State has continued his vendetta against the GLC. Last week in this House he called the GLC robbers and tricksters, yet, according to the judgment of Mr. Justice McNeill, it was the Secretary of State who was found with his hand in the till.
The Secretary of State is not concerned with London's transport system. I do not know whether he regularly uses the buses and tube. He is not concerned with the good management of LRT, with its users, with its employees or with those who have to pay the bill—the ratepayers of London. The Secretary of State has effectively taken control of the London's transport system, but he has no real interest in its users or in the ratepayers of London. His actions are coloured by his obsession with the GLC. He follows his master's voice — the Prime Minister. He bashes the GLC whenever he can. It is especially convenient for the Secretary of State to bash the GLC in order to cover up his own incompetence. It is the Secretary of State who has been shown to have acted illegally.
The Secretary of State received a nasty shock in court. Conservative Members are not here to hear me say this, but they will feel the repercussions. There is a very nasty shock on the way for the Tories, in London and elsewhere, at the next general election. The obsession of the Secretary of State with the abolition of the Greater London council will not go unnoticed. Londoners will realise that the Secretary of State is ruining London's transport system. I remind the Secretary of State that 74 per cent. of Londoners are now against the Government's attempt to abolish the GLC. Many Conservative Back Benchers are not in the House now, and they will not have the right to be here after the next general election.
That is a very important point. After the next general election Labour Members will be on the Government Benches in vast numbers, and then we shall be able to make sure that the transport system for London and, indeed, for the rest of the country is run properly.
On the Secretary of State's comments about section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act, in Committee, the right hon. Gentleman said:
It is not my intention to take more through the clause
—that is section 49 of the Act—
than is strictly necessary for running LRT for the year in question, so that it shall not end up with a surplus."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 March 1984; c. 1114.]
The judgment of the court went against the Secretary of State because the decision was that the Government were creating a surplus. Was the statement in Committee by the Secretary of State a deception? I ask the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box and deny or accept that he has deceived the House. We have the right to know whether or not he deceived the House. If the Secretary of State deceived the House, he should admit it. If the Secretary of State did not deceive the House, he ought to admit that he made a mistake, and the House ought to be told why he made the mistake. Was it the result of incompetence? Was it because the Secretary of State did not understand the provisions of his own Bill? I suspect that the Secretary of State knew throughout that the Government wanted a surplus to be created and that that was his intention, despite his words in Committee. I note that the Secretary of State is not prepared to come to the Dispatch Box and deny it.
The House was again deceived when my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) asked parliamentary questions after the judgment of Mr. Justice McNeill about the intentions of the Secretary of State. In reply, the Secretary of State said that he was not going to answer those questions because the matter was sub judice; an appeal was pending. Yet the Secretary of State did not intend to appeal, and he has now admitted that no appeal will be made. He knows that he would lose such an appeal. Therefore, the House was further deceived so that the Secretary of State could avoid answering the parliamentary questions that had been asked by my hon. Friend. Those are very grave charges. They are every bit as grave as those which were made and debated yesterday. Even though the House may be sparsely attended today, whereas it was full yesterday, the Secretary of State should not be allowed to get away unchallenged with that kind of deception.
The Bill is retrospective. That must be bad. Its intention is to try to circumvent and thwart the judgment of the court. If everyone found guilty in our courts could do the same as the Secretary of State, our prisons would be empty. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to go to prison, but he should accept the judgment of the court, because it contained the important principle that he should not abuse his powers as a Minister of the Crown. Neither should the right hon. Gentleman use retrospective legislation to get himself off the hook created by his own legislation.
The Secretary of State has said that the Bill is necessary in the interests of ratepayers. That is patently untrue as well. Under the Bill, the GLC will have to pay £50 million more than it need do so to cover LRT's operational costs in 1984–85. The court judgment does not affect LRT's operations this year, because it has sufficient finances to continue its operations. The judgment will affect forthcoming years, yet the Secretary of State is altering the financing of LRT this year.
Originally, future financing meant that two thirds of the total would have come from London's ratepayers and the other one third from the Exchequer. By forcing the Bill through, the right hon. Gentleman is ensuring that the entire 100 per cent. of that £50 million will come from London's ratepayers. That is why he wished to create the surplus in the first place. Yet, even now, when he has been found out, he is still forcing it through via the back door. It is a sleight of hand to ensure that London's ratepayers, instead of the taxpayer, foot the bill for that one third of the £50 million. In effect, this is yet another fiscal tax on Londoners, when it should really be borne by taxpayers as a whole. Consequently, the Secretary of State is robbing the GLC, and his Bill is against the interests of London's ratepayers.
The right hon. Gentleman justified the Bill by stating:
The GLC precepted the ratepayers of London for the express and explicit purpose of passing the money on to LRT. How it can then be said that because it rated the money it should not give it to LRT baffles me."—[Official Report, 29 January 1985; Vol. 72, c. 171.]
The Minister is arguing that, just because the money was included in the GLC budget, it should be handed over to the LRT. That is not the way in which public administration works in this or many other countries; nor is it the way in which private companies, nationalised industries or central Government work. An organisation may well include something in its budget, but if circumstances change and a shortfall arises, the money does not have to be spent. If the right hon. Gentleman is baffled by that, it really puts his competence in doubt.
What is contained in a budget is only an indication of the grant that may have to be paid over. If services and fares policy relating to that grant alter—and we have heard that they have — if the financial requirements change — and we know they have — and if the wider interests of the ratepayers change, that money does not have to be paid over to LRT, as the Secretary of State seems to think.
Indeed, Mr. Justice McNeill was specific about this point in his judgment. He found that the Secretary of State had failed to take account of all the relevant facts. Once again, the Secretary of State's comments reveal the paucity of his competence.
Another justification for this bad Bill is that if the money is not paid over to LRT, there will be disruption to the service. The right hon. Gentleman gives no justification for that claim. It is false, because, as the judgment made clear, this does not affect LRT's plans for the current financial year.
When the House of Lords judgment on the "Fares Fair" case went against the GLC, legislation was refused by the Government. As a result, fares doubled and services were drastically cut. In this instance, we know that fares and rates have aready gone up substantially. They cannot be affected again this year, and the situation can be rectified next year. Although the Government refused to legislate as a result of the "Fares Fair" case, in this case, where the urgency is not so great, they are rushing the Bill through. There seems to be one rule for the Government and another for the GLC. When any Government act like that, they bring the law into disrepute, and it ill-behoves them to tell councils—as the Secretary of State for the Environment is doing—that they must obey the law.
The GLC's officers are highly professional. They are not politically motivated; they are strictly professional and have the interests of London's transport system at heart. In a report which they submitted to GLC councillors, they concluded:
In the officers' view, new legislation as proposed by the Secretary of State is not necessary and his reasons for introducing it do not stand up to detailed examination. It will inevitably have serious financial and other consequences for the Council and will present considerable difficulties and uncertainties to the Council in preparing and approving its 1985–86 budget and making its precept.
It is obvious that the Secretary of State does not care about the GLC, as he made clear in his speech. The officers also state:
Consideration of the detail of the statement by the Secretary of State though should not detract from the basic objection in principle to the proposed legislation. Mr. Justice McNeill found that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers without consideration of all relevant material and without consultation with the Greater London Council. The Secretary of State has not appealed against this judgment, but now intends to introduce new legislation that is retrospective and goes beyond the original intentions of the Act. Such action is in our view contrary to any principles of fair or reasonable public administration, and contrary to the interests of the London ratepayer.
That sums up the Bill in a nutshell.
The whole debate should be regarded like yesterday's debate. It is a mini-Belgrano for the Government because there are shades of deception. When they are found out, they try to cover up. In both instances they were found out in the courts. The deception of the House and the country arises because of the attitude of Ministers and of the Prime Minister herself. An arrogant and ignorant approach, throwing up smokescreens, is the Prime Minister's style of government. She and her Ministers are prepared to ride roughshod over all opposition, even if that opposition is clearly shown to be in the right. They are also prepared to ride roughshod over public opinion if it does not suit them, regardless of the law.
So much for a party that claims at election after election to be the party of law and order. What a sham. The electors of London and elsewhere are becoming increasingly wise to the attitude of the Government. They are increasingly aware of the Government's nasty, squalid little policies and they do not want them. They will torpedo this terrible Transport Minister and this intolerant Tory Government at the first opportunity.
I did not hear the Secretary of State make his announcement about the direction he would take in regard to the legal judgment against him. I did not have the privilege of hearing him at first hand, neither was I a member of the Committee that considered the Bill. However, I speak as a member of the Select Committee on Transport. I am seriously disturbed about the transport system, as planned in the Transport Bill for which the Minister is responsible and in this Bill. In both cases the Government are making a crude attempt to attack the conditions of transport workers in the country as a whole. They are attacking wages, conditions, pension arrangements and decent standards through privatisation of bus undertakings. In some cases services are falling to bits, as has been shown in the Worcester and Hereford experiment about which the Select Committee took evidence when we went to the area recently.
The Bill has an Alice in Wonderland content. I have been reading the figures of what could reasonably be expected to be the revenue requirements of the new London Regional Transport Board. Usually the GLC met its requirements. I cannot understand what the additional requirement is. We have not got many details. It is an elementary duty of Ministers to inform the House about what is required.
I do not want to repeat arguments already made because the case has been well aired, but I must refer to the way in which the Secretary of State led hon. Members up the garden path by suggesting that he would go to the Appeal Court against the legal judgment, and then shied away. When a Minister announces that he is going through a further judicial process, that effectively stops searching questions. During the past two days the Chamber has been occupied in debating the relationship of the law courts with the Cabinet, a Cabinet of excesses and of revolutionary change.
Last Thursday there was a walk-out at my local bus garage, which affected bus services, because that garage is scheduled for closure. How many other bus garages in London are scheduled for closure? How many other bus workers are scheduled for the dole? There are procedures within London Regional Transport to discuss redundancy but redundancy is no substitute for jobs. The people of London require jobs and bus services.
What has all that to do with the Bill? I think that the £50 million extra is required to finance redundancies. The Minister must tell us clearly. Now that London transport services have been nationalised, we cannot ask detailed questions in the House about them, as we could in the past question members of the GLC. The public in London are being denied the opportunity to question representatives on fares and other policies. Fares have gone up but at the same time people are facing a reduction in bus services.
Many people are puzzled about why, if the Transport Bill is so good, its provisions are not being applied to London. It is because London bus workers would fight it every inch of the way. It would mean a total shambles for London traffic. If this madness goes on, that legislation may be applied to London.
We have yet to hear the real reasons why the additional money is required. It is ratepayers' money. In effect ratepayers are being robbed. I think it is to offset what would otherwise be required in taxpayers' money from the Exchequer. We know the Secretary of State hates to part with taxpayers' money. His whole political record has been based on this kind of philosophy right from the days when he was sacked by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) for his handling of disputes with Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State knows much about transport. I doubt whether he does. He is a very good water colour artist. We used to be joint conveners of the annual art exhibition. He is accomplished in that direction but in regard to transport he seems to be the extreme amateur and very clumsy. He is absent at the moment from the sparsely attended Government Benches. In the Alice in Wonderland context I thought that we were looking at the dormouse and that Alice was sitting behind him. He seemed to be having a quiet snooze but I know him better than that. I am sure he had both ears open. He will have to face searching questions.
I have been ploughing through lots of figures about the requirements of London Transport. No doubt the Secretary of State was working out the requirements. We want only to break even. The Secretary of State will have another option when he takes this additional money. He will then be able to boast that at last London Regional Transport is making a surplus.
The Minister might say that under the dual management, as it were, of the GLC and the old London Transport Board, the system managed only to break even, whereas now it has £50 million available. One can think of various reasons why the Bill has been introduced. I believe that it is designed mainly to finance the rundown of the public sector, particularly the bus sector, of the transport industry in London.
We appreciate that policies of what one might call natural wastage will allow for a degree of rundown. At present, there are agreements with the unions — for example, with my union, the Transport and General Workers Union — to the effect that there will be no compulsory redundancies. However, if the compensation is high enough, there will be a degree of rundown in the numbers of staff. That does not mean that people will stop being bus drivers and take up some other occupation. The unemployment scene in London does not allow that to happen; there is no provision for alternative employment.
The Conservatives have been responsible for an awful financial situation in industry and commerce because they have been financing idleness. Whatever the real reasons for their policies, in transport and in other spheres, the Minister must come clean and tell us exactly what the Government have in mind for the future financing of London Transport. What do they envisage as the role of London buses in the future? Over the generations people have learned to rely on the buses. Are we to return to the old days — of 50 years ago and more — that I recall, when we used to wait for the cheap, shoddy bus to arrive? I fear that what the Government are doing is part of a cheap and shoddy policy for the future development of London Transport.
It is no coincidence that so far in the debate two speakers have come from Newham. We in that part of London rely more on public transport than perhaps the people of any other London borough. The rate of car ownership is relatively low and even those with cars must take into account the disabled and others who are not fit enough to drive. We want to see increased and improved provision in public transport not just in Newham but throughout London.
It is ironic for us to be debating this subject because until 1933 the corporations of East Ham and West Ham ran their own public transport services. They were run by the borough councillors, whom one could see any evening; otherwise one could go to an advice centre to discover all that one wanted to know about the local publicly owned tramways.
Those transport services were gladly given up in 1933 on the assumption that Herbert Morrison's Bill of that year —taken over by the Conservatives of the time—would provide an integrated public service in the new model public corporation to be known as London Transport. That contract has been broken because under the London Regional Transport Act, passed since the last general election, that structure is up for fragmentation. The coordination in the old sense has gone and privatisation will be the order of the day.
The Secretary of State accuses my colleagues at the GLC of being robbers and plunderers. Is the right hon. Gentleman not plundering £50 million from the ratepayers of London in this financial year? For what reason is he doing that? I shall answer that question later in my speech.
The additional £50 million that the Secretary of State has tried to get was adjudicated over in a court of law. The action of the Secretary of State—of this party of law and order — is, therefore, unlawful, irrational and procedurally improper. I cannot help but compare this debate with yesterday's, when we were discussing the verdict of a court in which a person's action was judged by 12 Londoners to have been lawful, rational and proper —the opposite of what the Secretary of State tried to do by order and is now doing in this measure by changing the law.
It is surprising that we should be debating this subject because the Conservatives have all along deplored centralised power and democracy and undue additional legislation. However, since the last general election we have had to put up with the London Regional Transport Act; we now have the Local Government Bill in Committee upstairs, to the proceedings of which the Secretary of State has no doubt had to scurry, and under which only one third of the GLC's functions will go to the boroughs; a few days ago we had the annual London Regional Transport (Levy) Order; we have had the financial resolution which gave effect to the Bill that is now before the House; and today we have Second Reading of the Bill, with the remaining stages and Third Reading to come on Thursday.
All of those measures should not have been before the House of Commons. They should have been in county hall and with the borough councils. All of that has been done by a Government who claim that there has been too much legislation and that Whitehall has too much power. Allthose measures, however, make for greater centralisation in favour of Whitehall. That is why we look on the Bill with a jaundiced eye.
The Capitalcard has received much publicity, and rightly so, because in principle it is a good scheme. Public transport is the lifeblood of London. Without the pulsing of tubes, buses and British Rail trains, much of the social, industrial and commercial life of London would not be possible. Those activities are more possible where those services are cheaper and more frequent, so enabling private cars and taxis to be used to the best advantage.
The Capitalcard scheme which the GLC had intended to introduce—which would have aided that development by, for example, the ease of movement of passengers between BR and LRT—would have cost 37 per cent. less than the scheme which has been introduced under the aegis of the Government. I understand that an additional £5 million in subsidy was to have been allocated to get the scheme off the ground.
It would be a good idea to divert some of the £50 million back to the benefit of London's ratepayers by reducing the cost of the Capitalcard scheme, preferably to the extent that the GLC was planning. In that way, everybody would gain: the ratepayers would get more of their money back in cheap transport, there would be fewer cars on the roads, and more people would travel by buses and trains.
I imagine that many hon. Members listen to the radio programme each morning which comes before and after "Yesterday in Parliament". Just before 8 o'clock this morning a gentleman spoke about what constituted a good deal. He said that when he was in China he found it difficult to understand the claim of the Chinese that there was no necessity to go to lawyers and to the court, because if a deal was good, it would be to the mutual advantage of everybody to keep to it. He was expressing an important principle.
If the principle of the Capitalcard scheme could be instituted in the way that I have suggested, everybody would gain. It would be a good deal for all, including the Government, because they would get more support than they are getting today from their Back Benchers for this legislation. However, we do not have that scheme.
We have others in the five-year plan that LRT is proposing, including an extension of OPO. It used to be called OMO, but we have become more enlightened and it is now OPO—one-person operation. Will a wholesale extension of one-person operated buses in central London be an advantage? Most people who use buses in central London would question that. In suburban services, with relatively long distances between stops, one-person operation may well be an advantage. But is it really believed that in central London it will be useful, and do we want to get rid of conductors everywhere? I suggest that we do not. It may be appropriate on a Sunday morning or in some parts of the day to have one-person operation, but why not retain two people when it is useful and necessary to have the services that the man on the back of the bus provides?
Is my hon. Friend aware that studies carried out by the GLC and the old London Transport Executive, before it was taken over, demonstrated that the use of conductor-operated buses resulted in shorter journeys and less traffic congestion? On the other hand, one-person operated buses take much longer at every stop, create more traffic congestion and are therefore much slower on the journey, which in turn results in fewer passengers wishing to use them because this is a slower way of travelling round London.
I endorse what my hon. Friend has said. Any individual who travels in London, by one-person operated bus, by car or even, if I dare mention it, by bicycle knows that only too well. That was recognised years ago when LT found that its plans were not working out. One of the reasons why the GLC managed to persuade LT to adopt the Travelcard was that it speeded up one person operation.
By reminding me of that, my hon. Friend also reminds me that the remaining two-crew buses in London are largely of the Routemaster variety—known as RMs— the last real London bus for many people in London. Although some of them are 20 or more years old, they are running well and economically because they do not have the gimmicks, gadgets and electronics that are incorporated in the new buses. I hope that LRT will not dump the lot, because the Routemaster is the best bus that London has ever had. I know of no reason, given judicious capital investment and renewal, why they should not last a good deal longer.
The Government, however, have other plans. It is ironic that in Bromley and other areas in that part of London they intend to introduce privatisation. We shall see how it works out. However it works out, some of the rates imposed on the ratepayer to pay for LRT will go to subsidise the private operators. It may be questioned how one can have private operators in London, and it may be thought that such a service will not pay if it is run throughout the day. The answer is that it is not designed to pay. This operation will be subsidised by the central London regional transport company to the minimum extent that the tendering operation will permit. Even if private buses are run in Bromley and similar areas, they will not make profits, and, should they make profits, they will be at the expense of the subsidy paid by the ratepayers and the Exchequer. That is one of the hidden features of the Bill, but it is difficult for people to understand it until it is fully explained.
My hon. Friend is correct. Does he agree that, once the routes that are likely to make profits are hived off, the ratepayers will be left with the unprofitable routes? The ratepayers will not have those routes on which profits are made to set against the non-profit-making routes, which will result in a higher overall cost to the ratepayers.
If the routes that are privatised are the cream routes, to which my hon. Friend refers, that will indeed be so. Of course, those will be most attractive routes.
I have to say that the speech of the Secretary of State in opening the debate was largely unintelligible. I endeavour to understand London Transport, as he knows, but, although I listened carefully, his speech was so technical and convoluted that I was unable to follow what it was about. That may have been intentional because, as the court found, some of us believe that what he is attempting to do is highly improper and illegal until the Bill is enacted.
I wish to remind the Secretary of State of some of the exchanges that he and I had in consideration of the money resolution on 7 February. I said that the money resolution would permit the Secretary of State to take back from London Transport any surplus revenue. He said that the proceeds from any property development
had nothing to do with London Transport. Such proceeds would be paid into the Treasury. In no sense would the money resolution power be used for the purposes of paying in the surpluses.
So far, so good. Prior to that, he said:
The power in the money resolution was intended to cover the unlikely event of the discovery of oil or of a gold mine on LRT property, or of major property development, the proceeds of which had nothing to do with London Transport.
Is the Secretary of State telling the House that he will take an extra £50 million from the ratepayer and that, if there is a windfall of £50 million through some kind of property development — which, with all the property money swilling around nowadays, I imagine is not very
big in property terms, but is quite substantial from the ratepayers' point of view—he intends to put that money back to the Treasury?
I trust that I have quoted the Secretary of State in context. When he winds up the debate he will of course have available a copy of Hansard, and will correct me if I am wrong. The only interpretation that can be put on reading Hansard of 7 February is that, while taking £50 million from the ratepayer, he does not intend to put any revenue that may result from property development at the disposal of LRT, but intends to collar any surplus for the Treasury. That seems to be an inequitable arrangement, if nothing else.
In the same debate, I said:
I assume that all the additional revenue, over and above the requirements for this year, will be used for improving the service or reducing fares. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman can give us that assurance.
Courteous and helpful as ever, the Secretary of State leapt to his feet and said:
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance categorically."—[Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1213–14.]
I therefore went away pleased and happy, as far as one could be after such an awkward debate, that the moneys that were going to be paid in by the ratepayer would be used in a proper way for improving services or reducing fares.
However, what did the Secretary of State tell us today? He told us that that money would not be used for that purpose; it would be used for what he called accrued liabilities. He repeated that later in the debate. What are those accrued liabilities? He said that London Regional Transport has contracted, among other things, future redundancy liabilities. He said that he wants the money for future redundancy payments. We know that under the LRT plan there will be 2,450 redundancies in 1985–86, and just under 7,000 redundancies in a three-year scheme.
Can it be that yet again the Secretary of State has, perhaps unknowingly—I am not sure that he is master of his brief—misled the House? Has he got it wrong? How can he, on 7 February, give a categorical assurance that the money will be spent on improving services and reducing fares, when he says today, on 19 February, that the money will be spent on accrued liabilities —redundancies? That is one of the clues as to what the Government are trying to do. They are reducing the manpower on LRT, irrespective of anything else. That has always been one of their objectives. They are asking ratepayers to pay for that not only out of their pockets, but almost certainly in higher fares and probably in longer waits.
It is sad that we should be here today debating this rather sordid little Bill with hardly any Government Back Benchers present, few other people present in the House and very little comment about the Bill in the press. I can only think that if this situation was reversed and a Labour Government had to introduce a small piece of legislation to correct earlier legislation the press would be screaming about it and the Conservative party would be screaming about the denial of democracy and so on. However, we have a tame press and a nasty little measure that can be pushed through so that yet again Londoners will be robbed by the Government of a great deal of money.
Today's debate started logically in December 1983 when the Secretary of State introduced the LRT Bill. He said:
The purpose of the Bill is quite simply to improve London's transport. It marks the end of an unsuccessful 14-year experiment … the mixing up of the commercial and the political. It was the age of 'big is beautiful', when everything had to be coordinated and integrated with almost everything else, so London Transport was thrown to the mercies of the GLC.
The GLC was given a duty under the 1969 Act to 'promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic transport facilities and services for Greater London'." — [Official Report, 13 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 855.]
In his lengthy attack on the GLC during his introduction of the LRT Bill that day, the Secretary of State was putting an end to what had been a successful period of public transport planning in London. When the GLC was given in 1969 authority to run London Transport, that was the start of a much more democratic period of operation. It was the start of local councillors having some say in the way in which public transort was run. It was a move towards a much more efficient and integrated public transport system.
The Secretary of State's main objection was that Londoners had voted to elect the GLC, which was prepared to levy sufficient rates to subsidise the integrated public transport system. That was his objection, which was entirely political. When he talks about making LRT into an efficient, board-like operation, he means that he wants LRT to be run at a profit, and then privatised, but he gives no thought to the consequences for other aspects of transport in London, such as road planning, and the effect on the lives of Londoners. Consistently he has shown himself to be unfit to hold the job that he has and unfit to run LRT. Despite all his other duties and the fact that he represents a delightful part of the country a long way from London, the right hon. Gentleman considers himself admirably suited to run LRT. What a mess he has made of it in a short period.
The right hon. Gentleman, when he introduced the Bill, talked about the start of a golden age and about how LRT would become a very efficient operation, fares would not necessarily rise so much, services would not be cut and nobody needed to be afraid for the future because LRT would be efficient under his stewardship. After only a short period, we now have the reckoning of what he has done.
Let us consider the fare changes in LRT. Fares rose by 9 per cent. on 6 January this year. There were variations in that increase. Nevertheless, it was far higher than the rate of inflation. It falls most on the poorest people in London, and the right hon. Gentleman knew it when he put through that increase. The biggest increase was for short-distance journeys. Short-hop fares, which amount to 30 per cent. of all fares taken, rose by 25 per cent. There have been fare increases, and more are on the way. There have been service changes. There were promises of a better service in London, increased bus miles and better integration with tube services and British Rail. Under the plan that the GLC had put forward when the Bill was introduced, in 1987–88 we would expect to have 170 million bus miles per year. Under the business plan put forward by LRT, the figure is only 159 million miles. Therefore, the figure gets worse as one goes further into the future.
There is a serious effect for the people who have worked hard for a long time on LRT or its predecessor authorities, many of whom have worked for it since they started their working life. The Secretary of State is bringing in one-person operated buses, so 515 jobs are to go this month and 2,450 jobs are to go during 1985–86. The bus business as a whole is to lose 3,800 jobs within the next two years and total job losses over the next three years will be 6,950.
What do the people of London get in return for all that? Do they get a better transport system, or do they pay lower rates or lower fares for it? No; they are paying more. More money is being taken away immediately by the legislation that is being pushed through today, and they are getting a worse public transport system.
I should like to reflect on what my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said about the effects of one-person operated buses. That might not seem of great consequence to the Secretary of State or his deputy, the Under-Secretary of State, as they have both left the Chamber. Presumably they do not often travel on buses. Presumably they are not particularly interested in what it is like for those who have to wait for or travel on a bus. As has been explained by many others, if one-man operated buses are introduced in London, we shall have slower and more dangerous buses. There will be more traffic congestion and probably fewer passengers on the buses. Thus more commuter motorists will drive through London. There will be a cycle of decline of transport movements in London.
The only way forward for London is to get rid of the ludicrous so-called business plan and bring in a social plan for transport in London aimed at getting the commuter cars off the roads and getting people on to buses, tube trains and British Rail trains. We should end the nonsense of sacking bus drivers, bus conductors and bus maintenance workers, thus increasing the traffic jams in central London. That is all that it will succeed in doing and that is really what is behind the original legislation, last week's levy order and now this amendment Bill.
I hope that the House will consider what the Secretary of State is proposing and will for once think whether it is sensible to allow him to push through this legislation today and, effectively, tell the people of London that money will be taken from them because the Government got the figures wrong in the first place; that because the Government do not like the council that runs London at the moment they will demonstrate their contempt for the electoral process in London. That is what this Bill is all about. I hope — it is a very faint hope — that the Secretary of State will think again and will withdraw this Bill. His record on public transport matters is a very poor one indeed.
In continuing on this path of once a year debating a levy order for London Regional Transport and the Secretary of State's issuing edicts on the way London Transport should be run, what is his long-term aim? Is it, as he outlined on Second Reading, to have an efficient and businesslike London Regional Transport authority that will have been slimmed down and will be making lots of money; or is it really to make it, in his commercial terms, an efficient operation, disregarding the needs of people in London completely, and then sell it off to private enterprise? Is it to privatise the most lucrative bus and tube routes in London and possibly parts of the British Rail network and not care a hang about the needs of people in London, so that we go back to the situation before the first world war and immediately after it when there was competition on bus routes and competition for public transport in London? That is the direction in which the Secretary of State is taking us.
My hon. Friend was on the Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill, as I was. He has just mentioned going back to pre-war times, when there was a private element. Does he recall that it was stated in the Committee that in those times private buses would go to where there was perhaps a football match or some other popular function and pick people up there, but instead of the bus coming back the other way so that passengers waiting to go in the other direction could get to their destination it would ignore those people, turn round and go back to pick up the profits on that route? That was surely against the public interest. Does my hon. Friend recall that and does he think that we are likely to go back to those awful times?
I do not remember those times because I am a product of the welfare state and I am proud to say that I was born under a Labour Government. That is presumably why I enjoy good health.
However, I well recall the Secretary of State's trips down memory lane during the Committee stage of the London Regional Transport Bill when he was talking with misty eyes about what it was like when there was competition in London transport. That competition meant that there were buses competing for places at a bus stand, picking up passengers where there were many of them and ignoring passengers where there were only one or two of them, so that we had the sort of cut-throat methods that operate in some other countries. Indeed, this is starting in London now. If one goes down the Embankment in the morning and at about 5 o'clock in the evening there are numbers of private enterprise coaches running to the Kent coast, to Surrey and to Hertfordshire, competing for passengers and disregarding the traffic regulations on where they have to stand to pick them up. That is what the Secretary of State's policy will lead to all over London if it is allowed to go on.
During the day when there are not such large numbers of people wanting to travel on London Transport buses there will be fewer buses, and the competition certainly will not be interested in looking after those people. It certainly will not be interested in providing a good bus service for pensioners, even if they are able to continue to have the bus pass, for which the London boroughs have now been forced to pay.
That is the grim future which the Secretary of State has in store for us if the Bill goes through and if his original policies continue to operate in London as a whole. I hope that the Government will at least begin to see the idiocy of the position that they have manoeuvred themselves into, the damage that they are doing to London and to the livelihood of many people who work for London Transport, and the sense of anger and frustration that many of those people feel as they see their jobs being threatened, bus routes being taken away and tube lines threatened with closure, and all because of this ludicrous altar of competition upon which the Secretary of State has set his mind, while devastating so many other areas of British industry and so many other areas of service in this country. That is the direction in which he is taking us.
In my constituency the majority of households do not have access to a car and even in those households which do have such access usually only one person drives, so the majority of people in that household do not have access to a car either. In the 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of households in my constituency that do not have access to a car the people rely entirely on public transport. They are not particularly wealthy people. They are not the sort of people from whom the Secretary of State's slimmed-down, privatised, super-competitive London Transport network would be particularly interested in attracting trade. They are the people who will suffer through his Bill, his policies, and his levy order, for they will have to pay for this whether they like it or not because he and his friends will push this Bill through the House tonight.
The future of London is very grim indeed while the present Secretary of State continues to be in charge of public transport because the other side of the coin is that in his other hat as so-called transport planner he is preparing plans for major motorway networks through London. He is employing consultants to discuss the possibility of creating a further motorway network through east London, another down to south London to join the M23 and others in other parts of London. The only term of reference of those inquiries is not whether the road can be built or whether it is sane to build a road, but when, where and how it should be built. The Secretary of State is trying to drive these motorway networks through London and, in his other hat, taking public transport away from London.
In 10 years' time London will be a very different place unless we get rid of the present Secretary of State. It will be a very grim city. It will have poor public transport, it will have more through roads and more commuter motorists, and it will provide a miserable life for the poorest people who cannot afford or hope to afford a car, as they struggle to travel on a very inefficient, outdated public transport system, as the super-coaches fly to and from the Kent and Surrey suburbs. That is the future which the Secretary of State plans for London.
This amendment Bill is a disgraceful little measure which is robbing Londoners of money which they desperately need for the running of London. It is before us because the Secretary of State was so incompetent in introducing the original Bill, in the levy order debate last week and in every aspect of transport planning that he has espoused. He has shown himself to be a failure in every job that he has had. He has created redundancy after redundancy all over the country. He is now planning to do exactly the same to London transport workers and to those people in London who cannot afford a car and who rely entirely on London Transport to get around their own city. He is an enemy of the people of London, he is an enemy of public transport in London, and he is an enemy of rational transport thinking in London.
It is odd that this measure should have attracted no contributions from the Tory Benches, involving, as it does, substantial sums of public money and affecting the capacity, or incapacity, of London Regional Transport to do its job for the people who use it daily. What is being proposed will have considerable effects on the financing of the Greater London council, which the Tory party hates so much that it is seeking to abolish it. For that reason, if no other, I would have expected that we would have heard speeches from the Tory Benches, although as the Benches are incapable of speaking themselves, it is necessary for hon. Members to stand up—
They were the statutory Back Benchers and the Secretary of State, who recited his Ministerial brief — not, as they say in the divorce courts, for the first time. It is extremely difficult for the Government to muster any of their London Members—of whom there are more than 50 who should have been present today, but who are not — to come to the House and support this squalid measure.
I am happy to acknowledge that everyone can make a mistake. I am as capable of that as the next person, and no doubt many would say that I am even more capable.
Of course, my hon. Friend is much less capable than most of making a mistake. While commenting on the lack of Conservative Members, perhaps my hon. Friend will reflect on the absence of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who usually has so much to say at enormous and legalistic length. Perhaps this shows that the Liberal and Social Democratic parties do not give a damn about money being stolen from Londoners by this incompetent Government.
I must not be tempted by my hon. Friend to cast aspersions on the Liberal party, or even on its peculiar ally the SDP. However, its members are spectacularly noticeable by their absence. In view of the value of the contributions that they normally make to our debates, we will not miss them and there will be more time for other hon. Members to speak.
From time to time the House has sympathy with people, even Tory Ministers, who have made mistakes. I recall the occasion when the Secretary of State for the Environment — presumably shortly not to hold that office — was Secretary of State for Social Services. Without the necessary statutory provision to back him, he dismissed certain members of the Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark health authority because they would not carry out every word of his bidding. It then turned out that he did not have the power to dismiss them, so he quickly introduced a Bill that was referred to at the time as the law of Jenkin's cock-up to put right his little mistake.
Although there was a certain arrogance in the way that the right hon. Gentleman dismissed those people without having the statutory right to do so, people felt that it was the sort of mistake that Ministers in a hurry might make. He took the power to set aside the court's decision. That is exactly what the Secretary of State for Transport wants to do tonight. However, there will be little sympathy for him because his major characteristic, acknowledged even by his hon. Friends, is one of overweening arrogance. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) once summarised it perfectly. He said that the right hon. Gentleman was so arrogant that he was the only man in the world who could strut while sitting down.
We know that the right hon. Gentleman comes from an ancient and distinguished Northumbrian or Durham family — I am not sure which. It might be that they are descended in part from people who were prominent in the religious life of this country during the reign of Bloody Mary. I am told that Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were educated at Cambridge and burned at Oxford. They suffered for their Protestant views. In the dispute with the Catholic divines before their demise, it was said that Master Cranmer leant upon Master Latimer, and Master Latimer leant upon Master Ridley, and Master Ridley leant upon the singularity of his wit. It is a pity that the witty branch of the family was snuffed out at such an early stage.
The right hon. Gentleman is definitely one of the northeastern Ridleys. While sculling around in my mind, I remembered an immortal line from "The Blaydon Races." It was said that people were going to the races
to gan on' see Geordie Ridley's concert in the Mechanics Hall at Blaydon.
It is extremely unlikely that the right hon. Gentleman is a descendant of the Ridley in question, especially as the Library supplied me with a reference which shows that that famous song was written by someone described by the rather pious producer of the reference work as a crippled pub comedian.
This is a rather crippled Bill coming from a crippled activity by the Secretary of State. We must be straight about this matter — the Secretary of State gave certain undertakings when the London Regional Transport Bill was in Committee. He put them into operation and the courts—not the GLC or Mr. Clive Ponting—found that he had behaved unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly. The court might also have added that he behaved characteristically, but it is not unlawful for him to do so. It is not right that he should behave unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly. Tonight he is trying to put right what he did wrong — a form of legislative Tipp-Ex, trying to cover the slip-up. But it was not a slip-up — it was a deliberate effort by the right hon. Gentleman to do what he did not have the power to do.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot claim that he was not warned. When he put forward his proposals, the GLC told him that he was wrong before it took him to court. It said that he had his figures wrong and that he should do them again. But the right hon. Gentleman persisted, in the hope — no doubt in the knowledge of the prejudices that prevail in the British courts—that he might get away with it. On this occasion, he did not.
We debated in a rather curious manner the Ways and Means resolution flowing from the Bill. We discussed it before we saw the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman told my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that he would remind her of the Travel Concessions (London) Act 1982, which was the result of the Bromley case. He said:
The House of Lords decided that the Greater London Council did not have the power to allow concessionary fares to be paid, although it had been doing so."—[Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1222.]
So the Government introduced a Bill to put that right.
That is a complete misrepresentation of the position. The fundamental reason for the Secretary of State losing this case was not his interpretation of the law but his administration of it. The Law Lords in the case to which he referred did not rule that the GLC's concessionary fares scheme was unlawful, but that the GLC's "Fares Fair" scheme was unlawful. The detailed terms of the judgment raised doubts about the pensioners' concessionary fares scheme. I can say that because I was one of the first hon. Members to raise those doubts.
It is therefore legitimate for me to remind the House what the Secretary of State's predecessors said when I raised doubts about the continued validity of the concessionary fares scheme. On 17 December 1981, the Prime Minister said:
I welcome the clear and unanimous judgment from the House of Lords and congratulate Bromley on having taken steps that have clarified the position for London's ratepayers." — [Official Report, 17 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 447.]
On 18 December 1981 the Minister for Health, then the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, said:
There is no doubt about the validity of the concessionary fares policy. The GLC and London Transport have clear authority, under section 138 of the Transport Act 1968, to grant concessionary fares to pensioners.
In case people had not taken that on board, he continued:
I have scotched one fear already, that the judgment affects concessionary fares to pensioners. They are not affected by yesterday's judgment because concessionary fares are covered by different legislation." — [Official Report, 18 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 562–80.]
On 21 December, the then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said:
There is no threat to London pensioners' free fares. These are expressly provided for in a separate statute. My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport made that clear … Therefore, there is no question of frightening London's pensioners into thinking that their free fares are at risk."—[Official Report, 21 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 804.]
The next day, there was a slight shift, when the aforesaid Under-Secretary of State for Transport said:
But a week after the judgment the first shock horror stories in the newspapers or the more reasoned comments in this debate have not persuaded us that anyone has yet established any basis for rushing into legislation."—[Official Report, 22 December 1981; Vol. 15, c. 926.]
In other words, the idea that there was a threat to pensioners' concessionary fares was a nasty, stupid smear being put about by the Labour party. That is presumably why, on 24 February 1982, the Government introduced the Travel Concessions (London) Bill to reaffirm the right of the GLC to provide concessionary fares for pensioners. To suggest that there is any comparison between the judgment of the House of Lords on the "Fares Fair" campaign and the Government's introduction of a travel concession Bill with what the Secretary of State is doing is utter and unremitting twaddle, and exactly what we would expect from the Secretary of State.
If, after the House of Lords' judgment on the "Fares Fair" policy, the Government had introduced a Bill that did what this Bill is supposed to do — turn the law to what the Secretary of State says that he thought it was — the Government should have been doing the decent thing by making lawful the GLC's "Fares Fair" policy. But they did nothing of the sort. Far from it. To use the Prime Minister's word, they rejoiced at the GLC's embarrassment, rejoiced that the "Fares Fair" policy had been stopped by accident by the vandals in ermine and rejoiced that, without any change as a result of an election in London, they could change London's transport policies. The Government relished what happened. That also is typical.
It is worth considering what the Government's creature — London Regional Transport — has been doing since what might be described as the successful, clear, up-to-date and legally unchallenged part of the London Regional Transport Act has come into effect. Before considering what LRT has been doing, we should put down a proper basis for comparison. To make a proper comparison we must compare LRT with what the GLC intended doing with transport, fares and the movement of Londoners about this great city had its duties not been snatched away and handed over to the Secretary of State's faceless quango, which is known as LRT. I remind the House that it is a quango that levies rates on Londoners.
The GLC planned to increase bus services to 170 million bus miles a year, instead of the current 166 million, to increase rail services to 30 million train miles per year, instead of the current 29.3 million, to have no increase in fares in real terms, to integrate LT and British Rail ticketing at no extra cost to passengers, to provide from ratepayers, who have done that thing which ratepayers sometimes do to the horror and indignation of Tories—voted in favour of it—broadly the same level of subsidy in real terms during the next three years and to seek a 1.5 per cent. improvement in productivity per year for three years.
The first results of that general policy from the 1983 fares cuts and simplification proved its success. By the third quarter of 1983–84, there had been a 10 per cent. increase in bus passenger miles, a 25 per cent. increase in underground passenger miles, a 10 per cent. reduction in car commuting into central London, no less than 3,000 fewer road accidents on London's roads and a £36 million surplus for London Transport.
Under LRT we have had a 9 per cent. fare increase at the beginning of the year, cuts in services and the threat of further cuts. The result of reductions in subsidies is increases in fares and cuts in services. We are getting back to the barmy old spiral that LT had gone down for years. There had been fewer people travelling, less income from the travelling public and a deteriorating service, leading to fewer people travelling, less income and a further deterioration in service. The reintroduction of that deterioration has been the Government's policy objective, using their faceless creature, LRT, to put that policy into effect.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the board of LRT was, by and large, in office when the GLC was running LT, and that it worked well for the GLC on the policies that the GLC put forward on behalf of ratepayers and the travelling public? The fact that the board now has a different view of the future of London's transport must be the result not of the board changing its view but of it being instructed to undertake different policies, which are less in the interests of the travelling public of London than those put forward by the GLC.
I am sure that there is a great deal of truth in that. There have been and still are a considerable number of thoughtful and talented people who are members of the board of LRT and who were previously members of the board of LT. But it all depends on what the gaffer says. If he tells one to run down the services, and provides less money for them, as the Secretary of State does, the board will do it because it is its job to follow the instructions given.
Will my hon. Friend reflect that the primary purpose of LRT authority legislation was not to provide good public transport for Londoners but to make an efficient businesslike operation of LT services? As a secondary consideration, the number of passengers it carried depended on how much money it could make from them, and not on whether the passengers were satisfied with the service.
I am sure that that is the case, whatever the Secretary of State said in the interminable debates that took place on the London Regional Transport Act 1984. It is clear that the last consideration to enter the minds of the Government was the standard of service that LRT should provide for Londoners in future. Their first consideration was to wrest control of LT from the elected GLC. That was their primary, vindictive objective. It was followed by their desire to reduce the amount of taxpayers' and ratepayers' subsidies to LT and, if possible, to get their people to run LT in such a way that certain readily identifiable profitable aspects of the business could be sold or handed in the usual squalid way to their mates, who could make money from them while the rest of LT suffered from the disappearance of the income from the profitable parts. That is a typical Tory attitude to a public body.
I move from general comment to the question of the proposed reductions in the staff of LRT by a figure approaching 7,000 during the next few years. Whatever the policies of the GLC and the trade unions involved in LT may have been, I have always been opposed to shedding jobs in public transport in London, because, whenever jobs are shed, services suffer. It will not be those who travel on one-person operated buses who decide whether we shall have them, but those who are driven in one-chauffer operated cars. They will also decide whether we travel from tube stations that are denuded of staff and on tube trains that have few staff, whether ordinary ticket collecting staff, ticket inspectors or transport police.
Every time there has been a reduction in the staff working at London transport's stations, on buses or British Rail's trains that carry commuters into Greater London, there has been an increase in violence, hooliganism and vandalism. They are a major deterrent to people who travel by bus, underground and train. People like to feel safe. Those who work on the buses, the underground and trains also like to feel safe when they are doing their jobs and helping the public by providing a decent public transport service. The more we reduce staff at stations, on buses, trains and the underground, the more violence there will be. If that violence were suffered by the decision makers, they would not reduce staff. There is not a recorded case of a board member of London Transport being assaulted while on duty, but there are innumerable instances of assaults on people who drive buses, collect fares, sell tickets and check whether travellers have tickets. As far as I know, no member of management nor a Minister has had that experience.
In the middle of last year I went to a funeral at Seven Kings. The only crime of the deceased was that he had asked three vile people for their tickets. They picked up a piece of metal, poked it in his eye and killed him. That is what is happening in our capital city, and it must be stopped. But the only way to stop it is to ensure that there are sufficient staff at work on the transport system.
What my hon. Friend described was a sad but apt example of what is happening in London now. I know that he is a regular user of buses. Would he describe what it is like travelling on a one-person operated night bus in London? Such buses are often full of drunks and extremely violent people, but the driver is the only person from LRT on the bus. He has difficulties in controlling those people without assistance and, in some cases, he has not even a radio contact to ask for help.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The reason why nothing is done about such matters is that none of those responsible for making decisions ever travel on those buses. It is not only that they do not drive the buses, but that they do not enter them as passengers. So long as the rich and influential do not use our transport system, that system will be unsatisfactory for everyone else.
I am told by constituents, especially women, that they do not like to go out at night, especially on London transport. They do not like arriving at Mornington Crescent or Camden Town tube stations because they are frightened. They fear that if someone tries to rob or assault them, there will be no one to help them, because of the policy of getting rid of staff. They are right. There is no case recorded of a ticket vending machine coming to the aid of a member of the public or a member of staff who has been assaulted. Automation spells a reduction in safety as automatically as it spells a reduction in staff.
If we are to have a humane and safe transport system for the capital city—people deserve it—we must return to having people working on the system. I utterly reject the idea that we can measure the standard of services of LRT and improvements in what is called efficiency solely by saying that we have got rid of another 2,000 or 3,000 members of staff. What is the cost of getting rid of those members of staff? What is the cost in fares evaded, people who are put off travelling, and damage from vandalism, which we then all have to bear? None of that is borne in mind when the cost accountants are working out the cost-benefit analysis of sacking a few more underpaid LRT and British Rail workers in London. That is the last consideration to arise.
Violence manifests itself on our transport system in various ways. The first is associated with fare evasion. If someone who is possibly drunk decides that he does not want to pay his fare, he may well start beating up someone whose job it is to ask for that fare. If there are two or three such people and they feel secure that there is only one member of staff, they are on a good thing, are they not? They are likely to succeed in not paying the fare, if necessary by threatening violence, or carrying out a violent act against the person who is trying to get that fare from them.
Does my hon. Friend appreciate that as the staff are reduced on tubes and buses there will be an increase in fare evasion on LRT because there will be greater opportunities to get away with it? My hon. Friend, I and hon. Members from both sides of the House often travel on the tube late at night after Sittings of the House. It is appalling to find that when one arrives at one's destination there is usually only one person left. The ticket office is usually closed because of staff shortages and there is just one forlorn ticket collector — usually a man although not always. On numerous occasions I have seen young people threatening the ticket collector and going through without paying their fare. Such behaviour will increase. It is the result of running down facilities.
That is right. Over the years it has become easier to evade paying a fare because of destaffing late at night. It leads to more violence. People are taken by surprise if someone asks them to pay their fare. They feel frustrated and angry. It may be that when they went to the amusement arcade, boozer or whatever, they decided that they could safely blow their last few bob because the chances were that no one would stop them and ask for their fare. When someone does they are upset because they have no money. That is related also to the fact that the fares are going up. The higher the fares, the more people will wish to evade them. People will find it less and less easy to afford the fares.
The issue all boils down to whether there will be anyone to help. Will there be anyone to go to the aid of the person who is doing his job? If one passenger starts beating up another during a row will there be members of staff to do anything about it?
Will alarm systems be installed in our public transport? I am glad to say that there has been an increase in the number of buses in which alarm systems are installed. We need more. We need them on the underground and on British Rail's London suburban services. If their existence were well known; if cameras and alarms were readily recognisable; and if there were a few spectacular cases of people getting nicked and punished for what they were doing, the alarms would be effective and people would be deterred. The alarm itself would deter an assault or threatened assault, but no alarm system will work if at the same time we get rid of the people who would respond to it when it goes off. If there is no one to respond to the alarm that is worse than not having an alarm. Destaffing would again lead to increases in violence.
Considerable efforts should be made — they might have been by the GLC but are not likely to be made by LRT and British Rail—to go into schools and colleges to persuade young people not to be violent on our transport system, and that vandalism should be reduced. We need co-ordination between the various responsible bodies in London. We need co-ordination between London Transport and British Rail because at the moment their approach on how to stop people lobbing rocks over a bridge is different. One of them fences off the line, the other does not. "Daft as brushes", to quote the Tory party chairman from yesterday. That is unsatisfactory.
We need also a greater commitment from Ministers, including the Home Secretary who, when he is not deploying Metropolitan police in the coalfields, might remember that his primary responsibility is to deploy the Metropolitan police in London, where we pay their wages. We also pay the wages of the transport police in various ways. The Home Secretary had a well-publicised conference on violence in May 1980. It was then proposed that the number of transport police employed by London Transport should be increased from about 200 to about 500. We believed that that was a massive commitment from the Tory "law and order" party even if not many Conservative Members listen or take part in debates such as this one. There has not been much commitment towards increasing the number of London Transport police. There are now about 300. That is still considerably short of the figure of 500 which was talked about and which obtained considerable Government publicity in May 1980.
That is one of the problems with this Government. They think that if they can have a press conference, two press statements, and an appearance on TV on law and order the problem is solved. It is rather like their short, sharp, shock treatment, which has been a complete failure. We want a steady and consistent commitment to improve the safety of people who travel and work on London's transport system. We are not having that commitment.
There has been a reduction in the number of British transport police deployed on the railway. That is not what we want. We want an increase in the numbers. I do not believe that the problems of violence and vandalism on our transport system are likely to be resolved simply by deploying many more police. That is not my normal approach to any such matter. To reduce violence to its previous low levels, when the lack of violence was a source of pride and provided a sense of security to those people, including women, who worked on and travelled on our public transport system, we need more people working on the buses, the stations and trains. The sooner we recognise that that is the only way to a secure and sensible system, the better.
I agree with my hon. Friend's analysis of the problems in providing security on London Transport services and safety for passengers because of the LRT's destaffing policy. The Conservative party—the party of business efficiency and private capital—is killing many businesses and enterprises in London by its public transport and road planning policies. By continually destaffing London Transport and throwing more traffic on to the roads as commuters, the Conservative party is increasing public congestion and thus slowing the journeys of delivery and commercial vehicles. Businesses are therefore disinclined to invest and operate in central London.
I am sure that that is the case. Certain employers, including those in the service and leisure industries, are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit staff, especially women, unless they provide private transport to bring their staff into central London and, particularly, to take them home late at night. Civilised life in other countries and other capital cities requires that people should feel safe and secure, whether in their homes or travelling from their homes. Until a sense of security returns to our city, we shall be failing in our task.
I believe that the GLC had taken that fact on board. The GLC was vilified by the Conservative party for recruiting more staff for London Transport. It is a fact that some of the staff who were recruited were London Transport police and that more people were put to work on the trains, buses and stations. All that has come to an end. To save a few measly million quid, LRT, under this Government, is going all the other way.
Before my hon. Friend ends, may I raise one point? My hon. Friend has made an excellent analysis of the deterioration in safety because of lack of staff, and I fully agree with him. Will he reflect on the fact that many dingy and badly lit stations are a paradise for the violent person? Such places encourage violent people. The GLC had a major programme of refurbishment of stations. That would have helped to reduce violence. This Bill is about cutting LRT's budget, and that means cutting the refurbishment programmes. That will increase violence.
My hon. Friend must have some sort of sixth sense, because I proposed to end on that very point. A place that is well lit and well staffed gives people a sense of security. If some Cabinet members, instead of travelling to and from their offices in chauffeur-driven cars, travelled late at night—for example, to the Mile End or Bethnal Green stations—
May I just finish this passage, as the Secretary of State for Defence would have said yesterday. If Cabinet members travelled to such places late at night, they would recognise that people do not feel safe in places that are dingy, wet and full of puddles. Such places do not engender a sense of security. What comes to mind is a sense of Dickensian London. There are still far too many Dickensian premises in our transport system. We have to spend some money now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) so acutely pointed out, the GLC proposed to improve the conditions in all these rundown stations.
Will my hon. Friend help us, and perhaps give way to a Conservative Member, if one cares to rise, by telling us the last time that the Prime Minister travelled on a bus or used any other form of public transport? When did the Secretary of State for Transport or Under-Secretary of State last travel on a bus or train? Minister have the most expensive form of public transport available to them—a chauffeur-driven car, from which they can view the buses travelling around them. Does my hon. Friend agree that if Ministers lecture people about the efficiency or otherwise of London Transport and London Transport workers the least they can do is come to this place and travel home at night by bus to find out what it is like?
I have no means of inquiring into the Prime Minister's transport habits. In so far as it was possible within the rules of order of the House, I asked the right hon. Lady a couple of years ago whether she had travelled by train while she was Prime Minister—first class, second class, in the guard's van, or Bob's your uncle. The answer was that she had not. As far as I know, the only time that the right hon. Lady had been on a train was on the first day of the general election campaign when she came to my constituency, without telling me —breaching the usual courtesies—to name a locomotive at Euston station. That is the nearest the right hon. Lady has got to travelling on a train since she became Prime Minister. Those who have been to Euston station will recognise the fact that it is very different from, and less Dickensian than, the places I described previously.
Was not the intervention by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) totally foolish? It is obvious to everyone that a Prime Minister or any other Minister is so intensely busy that he or she must set about saving every five or 10 minutes. It is idiotic to say that people should be egalitarian about queueing for buses. Everyone knows that that is ridiculous.
I travel on the 77A bus. I would not want the right hon. Lady on that bus, because it might disturb me in the morning.
I am not saying that such people should necessarily travel all the time by public transport. I suggest that they might take some time to do what the rest of us have to do —the people who pay the taxes and the rates to enable London Transport and British Rail to carry out their spending programmes.
I am interested in what my hon. Friend is saying. To dispel the myth created by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), does my hon. Friend recall the days when I used to work for a former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan)? During his term as premier my right hon. Friend often travelled on public transport. He used the railways constantly and therefore had a good knowledge of the railway system.
I am sure that that is the case. I am glad to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) had a good railway service to Cardiff of which he made use. The Prime Minister should make use of the railway system now.
A point needs to be kept in mind, for example by the Conservative Members who took part in the GLC money Bill, when there was a revolt of Tory Back Benchers from London that was about as spontaneous as the crowds in Red square in Moscow. They put forward a proposition to reduce, for the first time in its history, the GLC money Bill totals below the level that the GLC and the London boroughs wanted. Several items in that Bill were lopped away. One was the money to provide for LRT to improve some of the rundown stations.
The GLC had made proposals to help British Rail finance improvements to some of its stations, no doubt in the commuting constituencies of many Conservative Members. These were positive proposals to make the stations decent again, so that people could take a pride in their job, so that people did not sit in ticket collecting boxes with water running down the back of their necks, so that they did not have to talk to members of the public who were standing in great puddles of water on a platform, and so that people could keep dry and warm while waiting for a tube or British Rail train. There was nothing startling — no proposition that London ratepayers should send people to the moon. All that was being proposed was that the standard of all LRT stations should be raised to the level of the best.
As part of my basic political philosophy, I believe that if a good standard of station is right for any person, community or neighbourhood in London, it is right for everybody. There should not be nice stations in nice areas and rundown stations in rundown areas. There was a commitment from LRT when it was controlled by the elected GLC. Now we have an acceptance by LRT of the limitations imposed by this private transport Government trying to make sure that the improvements that Londoners have consistently voted for will not be carried out.
It looks as though my hon. Friend will leave the point of the refurbishment of stations, with which he has dealt excellently. Before he does so, I have one more point to draw to his attention. At this time of extreme cold, many people are homeless. They should be found homes, but, in the meantime, many of them die from hypothermia because they are outside—
Order. The hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) should allow the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to reply to him on the points that he has made so far.
I accept my hon. Friend's point. Parts of the underground system are warmer than places where people doss down on the Embankment, in a park or on a street corner. I have never seen the primary function of our transport system as being a place for the homeless. If there is to be a commitment to a transport system about which we are not ashamed, there should also be a housing system of which we are not ashamed so that we do not feel embarrassed when we see people who are reduced to going down to underground stations because it is the only shelter that they can get and the only place where they can get warm in the capital city of what is still one of the most prosperous nations in the world.
Many aspects of our great city are a source of profound grief and shame to many of us, and something should be done about them. The trouble with this squalid little Bill and this squalid little Government is that we are not getting even a proposal to do something about transport. We need a much greater commitment to ensure that the services that Londoners have made clear at the ballot box they want will be provided, particularly when they have also made it clear at the ballot box that they are prepared to fund the improvements and the standards that they desire.
The trouble with this Government is that they are not prepared to accept any decision. Today we are expected to set aside a decision of the High Court. Yesterday, with a rigged jury of 400 Tories, the Secretary of State for Defence decided that he could set aside the judgment of 12 good men and true at the Old Bailey. It will not wash. The British people, including the people of London, will not tolerate this attitude towards what the courts have decided. They will measure and judge those who wish to set aside, in a cavalier fashion, the decisions of the courts. I am confident that it will not be long before a vast majority of Labour Members of Parliament in London will be battling away to ensure that Londoners have not just the transport but every service that they want and deserve and that their children deserve. That is what we are here for. We know that the Government do not subscribe to any of those views—but then they are a Tory Government.
I shall not go down the many avenues traced by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I frequently use the bus, underground and rail services. However, whenever possible, I use my bicycle — a bicycle presented to me by the pupils of the school that I left to come to the House. When I am on that bicycle, I notice that the GLC, of which the hon. Member has spoken with such tenderness, has seriously failed to maintain the roads of London, because I get many ghastly jolts caused by potholes every few yards. The hon. Member talked of going to the funeral of somebody who was injured on the public transport, and that was a sad story. However, not long ago, I had to go to the funeral of a constituent who had had a fatal accident on an unmaintained road.
That road was totally unmaintained by the Greater London council. It led to a fatality—a very serious matter.
When the hon. Gentleman referred to Bethnal Green and to east London underground stations and said that they were bad, I wondered whether he had ever been there. I lived in east London for a few years and I taught there, too. Bethnal Green station is a very fine station and the people of Bethnal Green are very fine people. They would not be very pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman speak in the way that he did about them. He spoke disparagingly. That was both unacceptable and unfair to the people and underground stations in east London.
I cannot accept the obsequious attitude of the hon. Gentleman. There is no place in this House for obsequiousness of that nature.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras also spoke of Ministers travelling in chauffeur-driven cars and castigated the Prime Minister for doing so. The hon. Member ought to go to Ealing and see the Leader of the Opposition regularly whisked away in his chauffeur-driven car — and he is not the only one. So what is the hon. Member talking about? He is talking a lot of nonsense and he knows it.
For the LRT board to be running London's transport is a breath of fresh air for Londoners, after the GLC's abortive attempts of the past four years in particular. We must remember exactly what happened and look at the facts. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, who tried to intervene twice in such contrasting ways, spoke of Mornington Crescent station. I am able to speak from personal experience, having worked very near to Mornington Crescent station for a period of 12 years and used that station every day. The hon. Member said that people were afraid to use the station at night because no staff were on duty there. There never were any staff at Mornington Crescent station, and for a very long time no trains stopped there. The hon. Member needs to learn a little more about his constitutency and also about a number of other aspects of transport in London.
It is only right to answer some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, especially since I have such personal knowledge of and acquaintance with the area and of the people the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The group that ran the Greater London council since 1982—the group that is particularly near to the heart of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and to the hearts of so many of his hon. Friends—was responsible for doubling the fares of my constituents and of other Londoners in 1982 and 1983. At the same time it doubled rates for Londoners. One had a hell of a time under that beloved GLC.
Order. We are getting a bit too much of this chiacking from both sides of the House and too much hand waving, too. I hope that the hon. Member will be allowed to continue his speech.
I can inform you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of what I heard. I have very acute hearing in both my right and left ears, whether the hon. Member speaks in a low voice or in his usual mellifluous tones.
According to my experience, during the short hime of its existence London Regional Transport has produced a quite new attitude towards London's transport. I shall give instances. In my constituency the busy A40, which many people use regularly, has five bus stops. Large numbers of my constituents have to stand at those bus stops in draughts, rain and great discomfort. When the GLC ran London Transport, I tried for many years to get bus shelters for my constituents at those five bus stops. Did I have any success? I am afraid not. However, as a result of my right hon. Friend's Act, London Regional Transport was created and within six months I was able to persuade that body to provide bus shelters for my constituents. There is a whole new atmosphere of reasonableness and helpfulness in LRT. It has been caused by the removal of the heavy hand of the GLC, with all its political pressure, on the body running London's transport.
There are other examples of ways in which the LRT is being helpful. A bridge close to the Hoover factory is used by some of my constituents when they alight from buses on the eastern side of Western avenue in order to reach the other side of the road. There is no other way to cross the road. I have persuaded LRT to create an extra bus stop by the bridge. That request was refused by London Transport under the GLC. Why, I do not know. Elderly and disabled people had to walk or be pushed long distances from another bus stop to the bridge in order to cross the road. Now, because of the new bus stop provided by LRT, buses stop at the bridge. That is very helpful.
In Mandeville road a new bus stop is needed for the No. 187 at the point where a number of disabled people live. I was unable for many years to obtain approval for a bus stop. However, I have succeeded in persuading the LRT to establish a request stop for a trial period of three months. It was established two days ago, and the trial period is to begin soon. Helpfulness of this kind is such a new phenomenon of transport in London, in particular for buses, that it is worth mentioning. I welcome it warmly. These are solid, true examples. I am not mucking about, as the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras did.
I have not given way so far, and I do not intend to do so on this occasion. I may give way in a moment.
There is another important aspect of London's transport to which I should like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend — the point at which children are charged adult fares. Last week I spoke at a brains trust for young people. They asked the important question, whether full fares should be paid at the age of 14, as now, or at the age of 18 when young people become adults. I believe they made a reasonable point when they asked whether the full fare could be deferred until the age of 18, when they pass into adulthood in legal terms, although I appreciate that they may take up a full fare seat.
There have been leaflet deliveries from the GLC—as usual, at the expense of the ratepayer and taxpayer — trying to frighten people into believing that fares have gone up by more than is the case. It is clear from inquiries that those leaflets have been totally inaccurate. The GLC must answer for that sort of inaccurate political advertising on the rates, because it is absolutely deplorable.
Yes, I have heard of that noble Lord, but I do not know who he was. He has never been identified.
LRT's current ban on smoking ought to be considered carefully. I am a non-smoker, and have been for many years. However, there has been a substantial number of protests from smokers and non-smokers alike, who feel that there should be some provision for people to smoke if they wish to do so, even though they should realise that they are injuring themselves. People should have the right to choose whether or not to smoke. The fact that LRT has adopted the GLC's autocratic attitude over this matter has, I know, caused considerable irritation to many travellers.
I understand that the GLC introduced a partial ban, which is what I said, and that LRT has introduced a 100 per cent. ban, which is also what I said. I do not think I was inaccurate, and in no way did I intend to mislead the House.
Many things in relation to London Transport ought to be looked at, and I hope that they will be. The bus service continues to be irregular. Fleets of buses come at once, and as a result people face long waits. That problem ought to be tackled. It has occurred for many years, although it has improved slightly recently. I hope that yet more work will be done to solve that problem.
The irresponsible and disgraceful GLC campaign on pensioners' passes is now behind us. However, I remind the House that the GLC spent £5 million of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money—
—alleging that pensioners and the disabled would lose their passes when the GLC was abolished. It was never intended that those passes would be lost. I remind the House that, for the first time ever, pensioners' passes and passes for the disabled and blind have been guaranteed in law by this Government. No Labour Government ever did that, and neither did any Lib-Lab pact.
Socialist Members should remember that this Conservative Government have guaranteed pensioners' passes. The Labour Government did nothing like that, and Labour Members are now jealous.
Fraud on London Transport is now being tackled, and it needs to be tackled. I welcome that.
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that under the new LRT body we shall see more buses in our area? Has he been acquainted with the proposal to close the Southall bus garage, which serves his area, and the fact that many workers fear that they face the sack? Are any of the hon. Gentleman's constituents involved? I imagine they are.
In fact, under LRT there have been more buses in my constituency. There is a problem in that the No. 187, which will be known to the hon. Gentleman, has been re-routed — unhelpfully, from a constituency point of view. Some of that unhelpfulness has been overcome by the LRT board, but given its current helpful attitude, I hope that we shall get things completely right in the end. I believe that we shall.
There is also a need to look at ticketing. LRT should look at the possibility of introducing the French carnet, so that tickets are interchangeable between bus and underground transport. That is enormously helpful in France. Perhaps the possibility of flat-rate fares could be looked at again. Much progress has been made in that direction. I hope that even more can be made, because it will be helpful to the people of London.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will forgive me if I do not immediately take up his remarks, but in a moment I shall comment on what he said about pensioners' bus passes. I apologise to the Secretary of State for the fact that I was not in my place during his opening speech. I spent two hours this afternoon with a constituent and was unable to be in the Chamber.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the fact that I have already heard from the chairman of LRT in response to two issues that I raised in our recent debate on the Ways and Means resolution. I said that a bus service in my constituency, which connected with a large mental hospital in the neighbouring area of Redbridge, was to stop running on Sundays. That is still happening, but I have been assured by the chairman of LRT, Dr. Bright, that the position could be reviewed in due course. He said that he would keep an eye on it. That will be of some comfort—although not as much as would be the case if the bus service were restored—and I am delighted to have heard from Dr. Bright in those terms.
I also spoke of the use of one-man buses in London. Again I have received a reply from Dr. Bright, and it is praiseworthy that it should have come so quickly. I do not altogether agree with the direction that LRT is taking, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) pointed out, one-man operation carries dangers for people using such buses, given that only one LRT employee rather than two will be on duty. We shall have to watch this carefully.
The Secretary of State, and indeed the Leader of the House, should note that we ought to have an annual debate on LRT. Had the GLC continued to control London Transport, there were ways and means whereby the democratically elected GLC councillors could discuss the problems and raise issues in a public forum at least once a year, if not more frequently, when they debated the reports of the transport committee. That will not be possible now that the Secretary of State is in control of London Regional Transport unless the Government are willing to allow an annual debate which will at least give London Members — some of whom have taken part in the debate, but by no means all; they number 83 — a chance to air the views of their constituents about the services provided by London Regional Transport, about fares and so on. That would be only one day in the parliamentary year which would be far less time than was devoted by GLC councillors to the control and discussion of the affairs of London Regional Transport, but it would be something. At the moment we have no guarantee, as I understand it, of having a regular debate on London Regional Transport.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North gave a distorted view of what happened about pensioners' bus passes. I remind him and the House that the pledge to abolish the GLC was inserted in the Conservative party election manifesto in 1983 not long before the campaign started. We know that from a speech made by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in a debate before Christmas. That pledge had not been thought out and had not been through the proper policy committees.
The pledge said nothing about the future of pensioners' bus passes. Indeed, I was tackled by a pensioner couple in my constituency in the first week of the campaign who said that the Conservatives intended, if re-elected, to abolish the GLC and they wanted to know what would happen to their bus and tube passes. I did not know. I read the Conservative manifesto, but there was nothing in it about that. Pensioners were entitled to be alarmed about the future if and when the GLC was abolished.
No statements were made by Government representatives on that issue during the 1983 general election campaign. In the following six to nine months, pensioners, aided by the GLC, organised protest meetings, deputations and petitions. This may not have happened in Ealing, North, but it happened in most other parts of London. Pensioners were worried stiff that they were likely to lose their bus and tube passes, that they might have to pay a lot of money for them or that they might be made more restrictive and would not be of as much use. As a result of all that pressure, the Secretary of State was forced to concede. It is nice for the hon. Member for Ealing, North to make a virtue of necessity, but the statutory provision was forced on the Government by pensioner power from outside. It was not given gratuitiously.
The hon. Gentleman has got his facts wrong. The facts are clear. Three or four of my hon. Friends brought pressure on my right hon. Friend during the Committee stage of the London Regional Transport Bill in 1984 to make this concession. It was not made as a result of pressure, although most right hon. and hon. Members received petitions and letters from pensioners. I assure the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) that the concession was made not because of that but after careful consideration by my right hon. Friend who, after consultation with his civil servants, decided to bring in the scheme. With great respect, the hon. Gentleman has his facts wrong.
Other hon. Members on both sides wish to speak. I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and I may give way to other hon. Members in due course, but I wish to make some other remarks.
I was just taking up the remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, North and putting the record straight. Without the pensioner pressure, in my view and in the opinion of most people of London, the concession would not have been made to put the scheme on a statutory basis.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has described this as a squalid Bill. The deteriorating economic position is affecting the background against which we must consider the £250 million which is being transferred compulsorily from the GLC to London Regional Transport. The country is in a devastated economic state. In spite of all the Government's promises and optimism, the economic position is deteriorating greatly, as evinced by the exchange rate not merely against the dollar but against other currencies. The fall in the exchange rate has led the Government to push up interest rates drastically. They have admitted that, so I am not making a point that people could disagree with. Interest rates have gone up substantially in the past few months because the exchange rate has deteriorated as a result of the country's general economic performance under this Government.
High interest rates are likely to be around for some time. They affect the GLC and LRT because both are public bodies and they have to borrow money. In both cases it is the ratepayers of London who will have to pay the economic consequences of the foolish monetarist policies of the Government. Interest rates are higher in real terms than they have ever been. That will affect the ability of LRT and the GLC, certainly until 1 April 1986, to conduct their business efficiently and effectively. No public body could operate effectively in the economic climate that has been created by the Government.
In passing, I mention that the cost of the miners' strike is likely to be £4 billion to £5 billion. That is the background to this squalid little Bill. The economy is getting out of control. There are a number of examples. The Government are rapidly losing grip. They are grubbing around in this silly little Bill to find an extra £50 million from the GLC to fund not merely this year's operations of LRT but other parts of its activities in future. Against the cost of the miners' strike and the high interest rates that are a burden on the economy it is almost footling to be talking about all stages of the Bill, Second Reading, Committee stage, and Third Reading—I am not sure whether it will have to go to the House of Lords; I assume that it may not because it is a money Bill—having to go through urgently because the Government got their sums wrong last year.
This squalid little Bill is part of the Government attack on the GLC. The Government are planning to get rid of the GLC, as we all know. They are also robbing the citizens of London of the chance, through the GLC, of controlling the operations of London Regional Transport. I have already said that we need an annual debate. This has been an unexpected debate because the Bill was not foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech, even under the heading of other legislation, because the issue had not arisen. Once this Bill has gone through, there will be no future occasion, unless the Government or the Opposition give up a half day, to debate the affairs of LRT, one of the world's greatest passenger transport authorities which is of great interest to the 7 million people in London.
Not content with attacking the GLC by removing control of London transport, the Government are planning to abolish that very popular democratic body. The Government have done themselves a disservice because they have made the GLC the popular democratic body that it is. Indeed, I think they will see an adverse reaction from the people of London—obviously I cannot speak for the rest of the country, because people there may not be interested in the affairs of London—in the local council elections in London boroughs next year and in the general election, when it comes.
I am afraid I cannot answer that, because I know only north London. Although I once lived at the Elephant and Castle, affairs south of the river are much stranger to me than those north of the Thames.
In spite of the hon. Gentleman's optimism about Lewisham, there can be significant local factors in wards in by-elections, as we all know. When the elections take place in London next year issues such as the abolition of the GLC and the removal of democratic control of London Regional Transport from the people of London through their elected representatives will figure largely in the way people vote.
The Bill is only one part of the Conservative attack on local government. Rate capping will be debated again tomorrow. We have seen rate support grant cuts which will once more raise rates in London in particular, but also in the Tory shire counties. It will be interesting to see how people vote in the shire county elections this year. It would also have been interesting to see the way in which the people of London would have voted in GLC elections this year had not the Government abolished those elections because they feared the results, whatever they may say to the contrary.
There is more to come in this attack on local government. Indeed, if they are not careful the Government will soon be running local government. They say that they do not want to do that, but the effect of their actions in strangling local government and imposing an ideological and bureaucratic stranglehold on it will be to ensure that local government is run not by elected councillors with officials responsible to them but by officials responsible to officials in Whitehall. No Minister, however much grasp he has of detail, can keep a grip on the whole of local government.
We are supposed to have in power the party of law and order. I shall not repeat the content of earlier speeches, except to say that we have in this measure a sorry tale of haste and arrogance on the part of the Secretary of State, which last year led to the Court's view to which reference has been made.
One issue in the court judgment was the fact that there had been no consultation with the GLC. Why, when sums as enormous as £250 million and more are involved, was there no such consultation? While there may not have been a statutory duty to have consultations, one would have thought that they would have taken place. It would have been prudent of any Government to consult an authority as large as the GLC, whatever the council's politics, as part of the democratic process in London, especially between one elected body and another.
When one is under threat of abolition it is a different matter. I am talking about consultation between the Secretary of State as the Minister concerned and the GLC. The circumstances are different and circumstances alter cases. As part of the democratic process, the right hon. Gentleman should have consulted the GLC. I grant that Parliament is supreme, but the GLC represents the interests and needs of Londoners, particularly in relation to their travel arrangements
We are talking about the future of London Regional Transport and it is clear that the Government are moving towards privatisation. We are bound to wonder what the future holds for those who use the buses and tubes in London. Already competition is in prospect. The management of LRT has taken that on board, but it seems to be over-sanguine about the effects of competition.
It is one thing to have competition which, on routes which are not at present served by LRT, brings feeder flows of people on to main bus and tube routes from which LRT then benefits. It is another to have competition directly between so-called pirate buses — or private buses, as I suppose we shall have to learn to call them — and LRT buses. That prospect should appal Londoners, and I hope that it will appal LRT as well.
The background to the Bill lies in the Government setting unrealistic financial targets for LRT. That is typical of this Government, who are setting financial targets for many public sector bodies which are not merely unrealistic but which are designed to raise prices to the consumers so that the Government can cream off profits from those public sector bodies.
That has happened in the gas industry, in which domestic consumers are having to pay a tax. Some days ago we debated the water industry and it was made clear that consumers in London will be paying a 10 per cent. increase in their water rates this year when the board of the Thames water authority wanted only a 3 per cent. increase. That 10 per cent. increase has been forced on that authority by the Government in their determination to tax one of the basic commodities of the people.
The setting of external financial targets in an arbitrary fashion, of which the Secretary of State for Transport is an ardent advocate, is one more means by which the Government are indirectly taxing the British people on commodities which have not previously borne a tax. The electorate will bear that in mind at the next general election.
The money with which we are concerned tonight—or at least £200 million of it—may be necessary under the Transport Bill for the operations of London Transport. However, it has already had a 9 per cent. fares increase and one hopes that in future LRT will restrict its increases to the rate of inflation.
The Government are interfering more and more in the public sector. This measure interferes with the rights of the GLC, whose actions in this matter have been backed up by a decision of the High Court, and the Bill must be regarded as a piece of retrospective legislation.
I have never interfered, as a Member of this House, with pay claims. In any event, the hon. Gentleman should accept that what matters are not claims but settlements, and settlements are made between managements and unions. I am not here as a surrogate GLC Member debating the internal affairs of London Transport. I am here as a London Member questioning the Secretary of State about the overall operations of London Transport and the affects of the Bill on those. Whether or not we have an annual debate on the operations of LRT, as I hope we shall, I trust that we shall not go into the nitty-gritty of the type of matters raised by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) but will debate the major issues of policy concerning the future of bus and tube services in London.
I will not refer to certain remarks made by the Minister because other hon. Members have dealt with those. Suffice it to say that the Minister has misled the House. He is a Minister in an authoritarian Government, and yesterday we debated the actions of Ministers in misleading the House of Commons. With such a large majority, they think that they can get away with it. There was a time—before I arrived in this place, in the 1950s, 1960s and earlier—when it was considered honourable for Ministers to resign on matters of principle or when they had misled the House. I fear that, under this Conservative Government with their large majority, those days are past and that we can no longer expect Ministers to resign, either on matters of principle or when caught, so to speak, in flagrante delicto.
The Bill is not necessary. The ratepayers and taxpayers of London will be paying for no better service, a service which will be under increasing financial pressure from the Government in their effort to reduce the amount of public subsidy to LRT. Indeed, that has been admitted by the Government.
What does the future hold for LRT? Are we to have higher fares, lower subsidies and gradually worse bus services? There are some signs of that happening already. I hope that they are not early warning signs and that we shall be able to retrieve the situation. Or will it be a future in which fares rise roughly in line with inflation and in which bus services, in particular, improve—remembering that many people, particularly pensioners, use bus services for local journeys—as happened when the GLC was in control?
The remarks of the hon. Member for Ealing, North were a travesty of the true position of four years of GLC control of London transport. We should retain the GLC, restore control of LRT to it and, above all, have a different Government so that we are never again faced with a squalid little Bill such as this.
I support the Bill. I am one of those hon. Members who was much maligned earlier in the debate. However, I have been largely, if not totally, dependent on London Transport public services for most of my life, certainly since I was aged six or seven. I speak perhaps with a longer perspective than some Opposition Members who have addressed themselves to the subject.
In recent years I have noticed a distinct deterioration in the service provided by LT. There has been increased uncertainty about the schedules of buses and tube trains. Passengers have experienced long waits and frequent cancellation of services without any warning and, the ultimate insult, having waited for an hour or more for a bus, of three or four ariving in convoy. This has been common in the past four or five years. I admit that there have been improvements in the last two or three years. However, over a period of 10 years the public transport service in London has been unsatisfactory and passengers and potential passengers have rightly made their feelings known.
When I was a member of the GLC, although I did not serve on its transport committee I received innumerable representations from my constituents in Dulwich who live in a part of south-east London particularly ill-served by public transport services. Coupled with the general sense of uncertainty, long delays, cancellation and bunching, was the low morale of the staff and lack of confidence of the passengers. To an observer this would have appeared to be a thoroughly demoralised service. The record of GLC involvement in recent years has done nothing to improve the situation; in fact, the reverse is the case. The GLC in the last few years has been Luddite and reactionary in its approach to any innovative ideas. Indeed, I think that this has helped to intensify the downward spiral of demoralisation in the service.
Against this background, in the 1983 general election I found myself fighting in an area in which there was a great desire for some change in London Transport arrangements for public transport in that part of London. The opportunity that the Government have taken to make improvements to set the public transport arrangements on a proper line has been welcomed.
With the formation of LRT there has been a realisation of the necessity for an integration of transport services in London. We have noted a greater co-operation between British Rail and LRT in ensuring that those who make use of their services in a single journey enjoy a better integration than hitherto existed. There is the will to integrate, and that goes a long way towards making a more effective and efficient travel organisation.
Secondly, there is a realisation of the necessity for a greater flexibility in the provision of transport services. My constituency is served by a bus which is very dear to those who use it, the P4 bus. This bus fulfils a social as well as a practical role. It provides transport for many who would not otherwise be able to reach the major shopping centres such as Brixton from the more remote parts of the area. The bus provides an important and necessary social service. However, for most of the day the bus has only a handful of passengers. The service could equally well be provided, not by the single-decker 53-seater bus, but by something smaller and more adaptable which can stop with greater ease to pick up the elderly on a difficult road without causing a major hold-up or pile-up. It is a question of the will to take the opportunity to respond to the need, to recognise the need of people to make use of public transport in London and to provide an adaptable and flexible approach to meet that need. That is something that London Transport has not done satisfactorily in the past but which I see it doing in the future.
Is the hon. Gentleman urging that the P4 bus route, which runs through both our constituencies, should be privatised? Does he not understand that the quite large P4 bus is provided for reasons of economy, because it helps neither London Transport nor any other transport system to duplicate the number of buses, and the bus that runs on the route in question is perfectly satisfactory?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is my personal friend and neighbour, for making that point. However, I cannot accept that to run a big bus carrying a handful of people is more cost-effective and cheaper than to run a small bus carrying the same number of people. Such economics bedevilled the London Transport Executive in the past and the GLC members who were responsible for giving it guidance and direction. The bus is a much valued and needed facility in the locality. I cannot say that I think that it was provided as the result of direction from the GLC. It was rather a response by the professional management of the London Transport Executive which brought the service into being.
They were introduced by the London Transport Executive, which I agree took its guidance from the GLC, in policy directives at the time. If we follow the line taken by Opposition Members that there was some semblance of democratic accountability by the members of the GLC, then they were responding to a need and there was some element of need, which was recognised in that case.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for making that point because I was the GLC member for Dulwich when Mr. Sam Silkin was the Member for Dulwich, and I led the pressure from Dulwich to ensure that the P4 service remained. I was conscious at that time that there was no unwillingness on the part of the LTE to accept the point. It was prepared to investigate any such issue and was receptive to the representations which were made by me at the time.
Perhaps we have exhausted the possibilities of making political capital out of the P4 bus, although I am grateful for the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has given me to expand on the matter.
I welcome the Bill because it clarifies an obscure passage in the Act. When the Bill was considered in Committee, there was a clear indication and determination of what the will of Parliament was to be. Sad to say, by some slip or an unanticipated amendment, this was not made crystal clear in the drafting of the legislation. I am conscious that the GLC, by creative accounting, has sought to exploit a technical inadequacy in the Act and therefore has attempted to deprive the ratepayers of London of the money that has been contributed to LRT and of the transport services which that payment represents. The Bill seeks to clarify that point and to ensure that the will of Parliament and of the electorate is properly reflected in parliamentary legislation, and that the deficiency, if deficiency there be, in the High Court ruling on the Act can be eradicated and rectified.
For this reason, I give wholehearted support to the Bill, recognising that in the ultimate it will improve public transport services for those who live and work in London.
I apologise to the Secretary of State for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate when he spoke. I had other pressing business to attend to. However, I have checked with colleagues as to what he said, and I am assured that I did not miss very much.
I should like to correct one or two errors of fact by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who is not here, and the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan). The hon. Member for Ealing, North talked about pensioners' bus passes. That issue was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins). The fact is that right from the time of the last general election, there was enormous concern by pensioners all over London about what was to happen to their bus passes in the event of the GLC and London Transport going the way that the Government wanted them to go. That pressure worked. It obviously worked on one or two Conservative Members, because they realised that their seats were in danger and responded to that pressure from their pensioners.
With respect, the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. We were aware that the Secretary of State wanted to give responsibility to the boroughs. The reason for the change that was made in Committee was that we were not convinced of the strength and ability of the London boroughs to meet what the Secretary of State thought would be their responsibility. It is for that reason, and that reason alone, that the clause was introduced to make the change. The change was not made in response to major pressure from pensioners, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, although, of course, we were aware of such pressure.
It is difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument, because I was certainly aware of enormous feeling on the part of pensioners all over London. If the hon. Gentleman says that he and his Government were prepared to ignore the feeling of pensioners and brought in the change for some other reason, so be it. However, the fact is that that was an excellent example of how the feeling of and pressure from pensioners brought about a change in Government thinking. The original commitments that were obtained from the Government were pretty weak and, as the pressure mounted, the Government felt that they had to do something. That is my interpretation.
Does my hon. Friend recall that on Second Reading of the London Regional Transport Bill two Conservative Members asked the Secretary of State for Transport to write a clause into the Bill to safeguard concessionary fares for pensioners in London, and the Secretary of State categorically refused on both occasions?
I thank my hon. Friend for reminding me and the House of that important point.
The second thing that the hon. Member for Ealing, North said that was surprising—he did not allow me to intervene when he said it and now he has scarpered—was that he felt that when London Transport came under the GLC, it was not responsive to pressure from hon. Members, and since it has ceased to be under the GLC, it has suddenly become very responsive. What he said does not reflect my experience, nor does it reflect the experience of anyone to whom I have spoken.
Of course, over the years we always wanted London Transport to be more responsive, but I have detected no increase in accountability since London Transport was taken away from the GLC; indeed, rather the reverse. There is now no longer the possibility of political pressure being exerted on the GLC which, in turn, would reflect itself in the nature of transport policies. Political pressure means the wish of people in London to have a better and more efficient transport system, which we began to achieve while the GLC was in charge of London Transport. Such pressure is no longer possible since the change in arrangements.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. It is not my experience that no political pressure is being applied. On the contrary, on several occasions I have intervened as the political representative for my constituency to improve a service. On one occasion a bus stop was placed outside the house where a disabled person in my constituency lives, and it was highly inconvenient for that individual, who came to see me. I made representations immediately. LRT's sensitivity was put into practice straight away. That bus stop was moved within not months but hours of that complaint being made.
The fact is that the present set-up in London Regional Transport is not democratically accountable. When the GLC was in charge, the system was democratically accountable. There seems to be a world of difference, even if the hon. Gentleman and others can exercise influence over cases of particular bus stops or shelters.
An error of fact was expounded by the hon. Member for Lewisham, East when he referred to two council by-elections in Lewisham. He was talking about the reaction of Londoners to changes in the GLC and London Transport. If he looks at the facts of local government election results throughout London since the last general election, he will see that his party has been consistently losing out and that we in the Labour party have been doing better. I refer him to election results in Lambeth, Wandsworth and even in the London borough of Barnet, in the Prime Minister's own constituency, when a safe Conservative seat was won by the Labour candidate. I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the results over the past year and a half and then he will see—
I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at the results. It may well be that in one London borough there were two results that went against the general trend, but overall the hon. Gentleman cannot substantiate his case, even if he wants to go on shouting at me.
I am concerned about the Bill and the basis on which it is being put forward by the Secretary of State. I am reminded of many years ago when there was a poster campaign. I cannot remember the context, but the poster went something like this, "It is not your fault that Britain"—
I shall not give way now.
The poster said, "It is not your fault that Britain's going down the drain. It's the person standing next to you." Members of the Cabinet could well take a leaf out of that book and, when they go to the next Cabinet meeting, might say, as no doubt they have been doing, "Prime Minister, it's not my fault that the Government are going down the drain. It's the Minister next to me."
A series of disasters is striking the Government and a series of excuses is being given. If it is not one Minister blaming another, it is Ministers blaming civil servants. Yesterday was a pretty unedifying spectacle, when two senior Ministers were saying that it was not their fault but the fault of one individual civil servant. The Secretary of State has made a monstrous error in his legislation, or his interpretation of the legislation, and he is pretending that he is not culpable. He has quite a lot to answer for.
The Secretary of State individually seems to have blundered from one disaster to another. There are more important things for us to debate in transport matters than a Bill that should never have been introduced because it was unnecessary. I should like to remind the House of the more important transport matters that should be before us rather than this measure. There is the question of Stansted airport, which is still unresolved. There is the quality of London transport, the increasing fares that are now being introduced and the effect that that will have on Londoners. There is the enormous concern throughout London about schemes to trunk roads in London. In my constituency, there is a proposal that the south circular road should be trunked, meaning that extra traffic would be sucked in through residential areas. There is even discussion of a new bridge across the Thames. I doubt whether that will happen, but it is being contemplated. That bridge would take the extra traffic created by the Secretary of State's transport schemes across from Chelsea and Kensington, through my constituency and on southwards. We have the whole question of the competence and integrity underlying the measure now before us.
Other hon. Members have already referred briefly to the history of events. If the Secretary of State had not been in such great haste to introduce the order under section 49 despite the warnings from the GLC—that GLC that was not consulted by the Secretary of State — all the difficulties today would have been prevented. Indeed, the basis for the £50 million which the Secretary of State is seeking to get back from the GLC would not have applied had the original fares structure been maintained and had there not been anxiety to impose extra fare increases on Londoners, plus some reduction in bus mileage. It seems to me that both elements have contributed to this £50 million.
If London Transport had come directly under the GLC it would not have been a problem because money that was raised by the GLC from the ratepayers of London could easily have been used for other London purposes. But now that is not going to happen.
The real tragedy for Londoners is that this is what is occupying the House and the Secretary of State rather than the fact that London transport is under-funded and when most major cities in the world are improving their public transport systems we in London are seeing attempts to increase fares and drive passengers off the buses and tubes, so that we are going back to ever lower standards of public transport. Heaven knows, my constituents complain enough to me already about the infrequency of public transport in London.
Turning to a matter which was covered partly by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) — the need for the safety and security of passengers travelling on London transport and the security of the staff of London Transport, whether drivers, or conductors or at London underground stations —I and other hon. Members know just what the difficulties are for the staff and how the shortage of staff at London Transport stations, for example, means that those on duty are vulnerable to the attacks of criminals and other wrong doers.
One particular difficulty that faces London Transport staff is what happens at football matches or on the way to and from football matches. I note that by a mischance for London Transport staff tomorrow evening Wimbledon are going to be at home to West Ham United in a fifth round FA cup replay and that Chelsea are going to be playing Sunderland in the return leg of the semi-final of the Milk cup. This means that some parts of the London transport system, particularly the District line and Fulham Broadway station, may have as many as four different sets of football supporters travelling through that station at the same time. I shudder to think what the consequences will be.
Tomorrow evening may be an exceptional occasion — I hope that it is — but the safety and security of ordinary London Transport passengers are prejudiced by the pressure on the system on occasions like this, and also by the staffing shortages, the sheer lack of numbers of staff to cope with the situation.
London Transport is not the sort of transport system that Londoners wish to have, or can be proud of. Years ago we had, without doubt, the best public transport system in the world. People from other countries came to London and said how good, efficient and inexpensive our system was. We have come a long way since then towards having a system that does not match up to the earlier standards. We had a brave effort to improve things in the brief period when the present GLC was in charge of London Transport. Alas, the clock has now been turned back and Londoners will be increasingly sorry and dismayed at what has happened.
I hope that before too long we shall have a different Government in charge of transport arrangement in London and in the country as a whole so that we may have a type of transport in our capital city of which Londoners can again be proud — a modern, fast system, frequent services and low fares.
When we have that, we shall begin to solve the problem of too much traffic on London's roads and problems on London's roads which cannot easily be met because of the number of motor cars. If we have the sort of efficient system we want we shall, as in other cities, particularly Paris, get people back on to public transport in increasing numbers, and that will be a system of which the capital can be proud. I hope that that day soon comes.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) talked about the clock being turned back on London transport; but my own postbag, which is a large one, from an articulate area in outer London which includes a very high proportion of retirement pensioners, shows a reduction in the number of complaints about London transport since last summer when it ceased to be run by the GLC. Hitherto, I have had something like 10 or 15 complaints a year about bus services, but in the last six months I can remember only two or three. It seems to me that most people either have not noticed any difference in the running of the services of London transport or have noticed an improvement.
I, too, have seen a decrease in the number of complaints in my postbag on London Regional Transport. Would my hon. Friend agree also that in the past nine months we have seen an improvement in morale, as I have found in the Catford bus garage, which serves my constituency, as well as increased efficiency, greater sensitivity on routeing and, above all, an improvement in the level of service provided for the local residents?
I believe that that is right. London Regional Transport, in seeking to serve the public in Greater London and to provide a better service, is now less inhibited by the constraints that applied before.
I regret that no hon. Member of either the Social Democratic or Liberal parties has been in the Chamber for several hours. For two parties that claim to care about transport and the environment not to put in a show for several hours — although they have 25 members — is disgraceful. I hope that the House will take note of that.
The Bill provides for £258,179,588 subsidy to LRT. Evidently someone has worked that out with great precision. I understand that that is the amount for the year, and it is a very large sum. With a population of 6·5 million in Greater London, that figure averages some £40 for every man, woman and child, and well over £100 per average household. Yet some hon. Members want that subsidy to be higher still.
We must strike a balance; we must try to be fair. One quarter of all the users of London transport do not live or pay rates within Greater London — either they are commuters coming from outside the boundaries of Greater London and the provinces, or they are foreigners. The greater the subsidy by Greater London ratepayers, the more unfair it is on them — and they include the business ratepayers, whose rates are a tax on jobs. As we all know, too heavy a rate demand upon businesses threatens their survival and threatens jobs.
The House should note another unfairness, which derives from a geographical imbalance. Although half of the subsidy goes to buses, which are evenly distributed geographically, the other half goes to the underground, which is far from evenly distributed. A map of the London underground shows clearly that well over 80 per cent.—perhaps 85 per cent. — of all London underground stations are north of the River Thames, with only a tiny minority to the south. For historic reasons, there is a network of non-underground railways in the south, the south-east and the south-west — mainly the southern region of British Rail. Therefore, far fewer residents from the south, south-east or south-west use the underground. If the burden is evenly distributed through all quarters of both outer and inner London, that means a subsidy from householders south of London for those to the north of London.
There is no underground station in Twickenham, but there are seven British Rail southern region stations. They all go to Waterloo. A minority of my constituents change at Richmond or Wimbledon to the underground service, but the majority who commute to central London — whether to the City or the west end—do not change to the underground until they are in central London, either at Vauxhall, or mainly at Waterloo. Most commuters make the bulk of their journey on southern region trains. The same is true for commuters from the rest of the south, south-east and south-west of London. That is what lay behind Bromley council's case against the GLC. The greater the subsidy to London's transport, the greater the injustice. It is entirely wrong that a subsidy which is drawn evenly from ratepayers on all sides of London should be any larger. The Opposition have not taken sufficient account of that argument, although they have historically sought to be concerned with fairness.
Bus passes for old-age pensioners are quite a different matter, as each borough will impose a rate evenly throughout its area to finance such a pass. I am aware of the argument that old-age pensioners would be treated more fairly if their pensions were higher and if there were not subsidies for certain areas of expenditure, such as transport or heating; or in the old days, for tobacco. I recognise the strength of that argument, but the fact remains that pensioners in London are used to having a free Travelcard and there would be widespread disappointment if it were no longer available. I hope that my right hon. Friend will enable the scheme to continue.
I am glad to support the Bill.
I have served on the Committee of every major Transport Bill since 1980 and, having listened to the turgid remarks of the few Conservative Members who have turned up today, I am glad that I was not on this one. For my sins, I have had to read most of the relevant copies of Hansard to familiarise myself with the discussions between my right hon. and hon. Friends and the Secretary of State.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. As the Member of Parliament for Wigan, I have found it interesting just to sit and listen. I should like to re-emphasise what many of my hon. Friends have said—that the Secretary of State's actions, judgment and activities in the past few weeks have brought us to this sorry state of affairs. The Secretary of State is in the dock in the high court of Parliament.
My hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) mounted an assault on the London Regional Transport Bill in Committee. They made it clear that we opposed, root and branch, the transfer of powers from the GLC transport committee to some Government-controlled quango, especially as it would be controlled by the Secretary of State, at least temporarily. In Committee, my hon. Friends continually warned the Secretary of State of the folly of pursuing such a course, but the Secretary of State knew best. With characteristic intuitive judgment, he plotted his course and ran straight on to the rocks. He is making a habit of doing that, and has of late made several excursions in that direction. To extricate himself from the product of his own incompetence he has had to resort to the shameful practice of introducing what can only be described as retrospective legislation. My hon. Friends have concentrated their remarks specifically on what is contained in the Bill. I shall reinforce at length what they said because this is our last chance to try and get through to the right hon. Gentleman.
The Bill requires the GLC to pay LRT £258 million in the remaining part of 1984–85—that is the initial year after the transfer of control of LT to the Secretary of State for Transport. Since the GLC has already paid £177 million, the Bill requires it to pay £81·1 million, either in two instalments, if the Bill is passed on or before 25 June, or in a single instalment, if the Bill is passed thereafter. The transfer of control of LT took place during the financial year 1984–85, and after the GLC had approved grants to LT and set its precept in March last year.
Section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984 gives the Secretary of State powers to direct the GLC to pay grants to LRT in the remaining part of the year, after transfer of control on the appointed day under the Act has taken place. The Secretary of State rushed the transfer of control to LRT and, therefore ostensibly to himself, on 29 June, which was only three days after Royal Assent was given to the Bill. On the same day he directed the GLC to pay LRT £281.3 million under section 49 of the Act. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have continually said, he did so without consulting the GLC. He also exceeded the maximum sums permissible under the Act by £10·2 million, and I am informed that he has conceded that error.
In July the GLC informed the Secretary of State that it thought the direction was unlawful, but it continued to make payments to LRT without prejudice so that LRT could maintain its operations. However, on 11 January 1985 when the GLC challenged the Secretary of State in the court, Mr. Justice McNeill held that the Secretary of State had acted
unlawfully, irrationally and procedurally improperly in giving a direction which exceeded his statutory powers.
All hon. Members know that, but it is worth repeating. If that is not a damning indictment of the Secretary of State, I do not know what is. Those are not my words, nor those of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), but those of Mr. Justice McNeill.
Initially, on 14 January, the Secretary of State told the House that he intended to appeal, but on 29 January he announced his intention to introduce new legislation, and the Ways and Means resolution that paved the way for this amending Bill was approved by the House on Thursday night. The Bill is undoubtedly unnecessary.
The Secretary of State could quickly and easily have issued a new and, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friends, this time a legal direction under section 49 of the London Regional Transport Act 1984 after consultation with the GLC. Had he done so, the judgment and the matters surrounding it would have been fully resolved. The terms of the judgment are clear. They allow the Secretary of State to require the GLC to pay sufficient grant to LRT to meet its operating needs for 1984–85 with the possible exception of the leasing reserve. The Secretary of State told Parliament about section 49. He said:
It is not my intention to take more through the clause than is strictly necessary for running LRT for the year in question, so that it shall not end up with a surplus." — [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 March 1984; c. 1114.]
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West gave that quotation.
The Bill will require the GLC to pay LRT some £50 million in grants that are surplus to LRT's operating needs this year and next year. Only about half the sum is required for the following year— 1985–86. It will not be fully utilised in the case of the leasing reserve, as I am advised, until 1996. If the £50 million were not paid it would be available to offset the 1985–86 GLC precept. London ratepayers would benefit to the full amount. If the surplus is applied by LRT in 1985–86 and beyond, the maximum ratepayer benefit will be limited to the size of its future contributions — two thirds. The other one third will accrue to the benefit of the taxpayer via the Treasury because the Secretary of State is now in charge of London Regional Transport.
The Bill is, as I and my hon. Friends have said, retrospective in effect. It allows the Secretary of State to escape the consequences of his own unlawful, irrational and procedurally improper actions in administering the law. Contrary to the Secretary of State's assertions in Parliament, Mr. Justice McNeill's judgment was not primarily concerned with the interpretation of section 49, but with the Secretary of State's actions in setting a direction under section 49. What the judge had to say about the right hon. Gentleman's attitude is important. The judge found that the Secretary of State had got his facts wrong. He had not taken into account all the relevant factors, and had
failed to consult the GLC when a promise to do so had been given.
Those are not my words. They are the judge's words. The Bill is not about correcting bad drafting but about the Secretary of State avoiding the consequences of his action in administering the law.
The traveller need not be affected if the Secretary of State takes the necessary action. Although the surplus has been taken into account in the LRT annual business plan for 1985–86, the Secretary of State could compensate it for the loss of grant which would take place if the Bill were not passed. Had he acted quickly enough he could have recovered two thirds of that from the ratepayers, but the 1985–86 London Regional Transport Rate Levy Order has now been approved so that method is closed. That is in marked contrast to the position that faced the GLC after the Law Lords' judgment in 1981, when the Government refused to act quickly to clarify the law and a doubling of fares and cuts in services followed.
The original direction specified a sum of £281·3 million. The bill specifies a sum of £258·2 million, the difference of £23·1 million being due to the abatement of the £10.2 million error conceded by the Secretary of State and the £12·9 million surplus capital grants. LRT's actual needs in 1984–85 are some £50 million below this — £208 million.
The Secretary of State outlined four separate sums at issue in the debate on the Ways and Means resolution. I apologise to my hon. Friends, but I believe that these points need to be answered and I shall answer them in some detail. I refer first to the error in respect of payments made by the GLC before the appointed day — £10·2 million. The Secretary of State said:
This was a trick — a piece of creative accounting — to enable the GLC to avoid paying what it owed LT in 1983–84.
The right hon. Gentleman agrees. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not intend to take that sum now. During the debate he said:
The House should be under no doubt that the GLC has robbed LRT and the ratepayers of this £10·2 million".
In the past, the GLC has paid London Transport on the basis of needs, and it does so now. The sum was not required until 1983–84. The Secretary of State made an error in the amount that he assumed the GLC had paid in 1984–85 before the appointed day. That error could have been avoided if the right hon. Gentleman had consulted the GLC before issuing the directive.
Clearly LRT does not need the £10·2 million, and the Secretary of State does not propose to include it in the sum specified in the Bill. It is nonsense to suggest that the ratepayers are being "robbed". It was clearly in the ratepayers' interests that grants surplus to LRT's needs were not paid over.
I shall deal now with the £12·9 million capital grants surplus to LRT's requirements. An amendment to the GLC's money Bill during its passage through Parliament reduced by £12·9 million the provision for prescribed capital expenditure to be funded by grant from the GLC. That was a Conservative Back-Bench amendment, opposed by the GLC but in line with the Government's policy. By not including the sum in the newly specified figure, the Secretary of State conceded that the GLC should not be required to pay over capital grant that LRT is unable to spend in 1984–85. The sum of £23·1 million is deducted from the originally directed figure of £281·3 million to produce the figure which is now contained in the Bill. I apologise to my hon. Friends for going into this detail, but these are extremely complex matters. I wish that some of the London Conservative Members were here to listen to this explanation, because they would then be able to understand the complexity of the issues and the way in which the Secretary of State is trying to dodge the column by introducing this Bill.
The GLC decided to include £27 million in 1984–85 after the Government had determined the GLC's capital allocation for the year. According to the Secretary of State:
That was another piece of creative accounting deliberately designed to circumvent the controls of the GLC's capital expenditure … the GLC hoped to escape the responsibility for funding more than a tiny fraction of those costs, pushing the rest on to LRT and the hapless ratepayer for future years." — [Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1199–201.]
The GLC decided to use leasing following the impossibly restrictive capital allocations in 1984–85. The GLC submitted its money Bill to Parliament but the Government inisted on a 52 per cent. reduction in capital available for new starts in 1984–85.
The GLC has not budgeted for the sum and has no powers to borrow for it. Leasing is a commonly used practice of other local authorities. The Department of Transport has not denied this. It encouraged the GLC to use leasing in 1984–85. The money will no longer be fully utilised until 1986.
There is one other sum of money involved in this matter to which I should like to draw the attention of the House, and that is the revenue grant that is surplus to LRT's requirements. On this, the Secretary of State said that it would be "intolerable" to abate the payments of grant by the GLC because
It would mean that additional income, which has resulted from improved productivity, better than expected sales of travel cards and from LRT's decision to raise fares earlier this year, would all be handed over to the GLC."—[Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1200.]
That money, he said, would be needed to fund accrued liabilities incurred in the course of turning the business round.
In Committee on the London Regional Transport Bill, the Secretary of State said that he intended to take only what London Transport intended. In the early stages of the debate, he said:
There is perhaps a slight piece of compensation for the GLC, in that if the Government succeed in getting London Transport to make some economies during the rest of the financial year, it will be possible to pass those economies back to the GLC by requiring a reduced contribution."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B; 24 January 1984; c. 94.]
The surplus, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West pointed out, has not come about through the efforts of the Secretary of State or of LRT, but through increasing fares when the budget was set on the basis of a fares freeze, meeting the cost of British Rail and LRT fares integration by higher charges to travellers rather than by the subsidy budgeted for by the GLC and the success of the GLC's Travelcard scheme.
It is absurd to say that LRT needs the money in 1984–85 because of accrued liabilities, which is what the Secretary of State has told us. LRT's annual business plan shows a surplus of £8 million, and there are no real liabilities but for the provision of future redundancy costs. The GLC does not accept this principle and, in 1983, refused to fund LRT's provisions for surplus staff and bus work reconstruction until final decisions had been taken and the money was needed.
I maintain that the Secretary of State for Transport has on at least two occasions misled the House. He has constantly maintained that, in setting the direction, it was not his intention to create a surplus and I shall weary him again by reference to the Standing Committee Hansard, col. 1114. However, confidential minutes of a meeting on 6 June between his Department and LRT officials make it clear that they were planning a surplus in 1984–85 by increasing fares in January by 11 per cent., when the GLC had budgeted for a fares freeze and LRT wanted the fare increase to be 6 per cent. In the end, the fare increase was of 9 per cent.
Mr. Justice McNeill said that the Department's officials seemed
more concerned with creating a surplus in 1984/5 to be carried forward, to enable much smaller revenue to be required in 1985/6
than with the careful appraisal of all the relevant facts required when setting the correct figures for the direction. The Secretary of State is on record, on more than one occasion, in Standing Committee and in the House as saying that it was not his intention to create surpluses. Despite that, in this confidential minute, it is clear that his departmental officials and LRT were doing precisely that. That is an absolute disgrace.
Secondly, the Secretary of State made it clear to the House that he intended to appeal, following the judgment. Therefore, he would not respond to questions. The implication was that an appeal had been lodged. In fact, the Secretary of State was at best considering an appeal. In reality, he had probably decided not to appeal. Thus, the Secretary of State avoided answering questions immediately after the judgment by misleading the House about his intentions. He dodged behind the sub judice rule. He was pursued on that point by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East.
The Secretary of State made a number of comments during the Ways and Means debate. These should be refuted. During that debate, the Secretary of State made a wide-ranging attack upon the GLC. The GLC precepted for the sum specifically for LRT in order that it should be paid over to LRT. The payment of precepted grant, regardless of performance and need, is absurd and contrary to all past practice between the GLC and London Transport. The budgeted grants in 1983–84 amounted to £235 million. In the event, the GLC paid only £173 million. The balance went towards offsetting the 1984–85 precept, the ratepayers getting the full benefit.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) commented in his very long and interesting speech upon the "Fares Fair" argument. The interpretation of "Fares Fair" by Conservative Members is a complete distortion of the facts. The House of Lords ruled that the "Fares Fair" policy of the GLC was unlawful. As a consequence, doubt was raised about the GLC's powers to pay for concessionary travel. The Government introduced new legislation to provide the necessary statutory powers. The Government did the minimum that was necessary to protect themselves from the embarrassment of the collapse of the concessionary fares scheme and specifically refused to legislate in order to deal with the main issue — the requirement upon London Transport to break even, so far as practicable— and a doubling of fares, together with cuts in services.
The judgment which we have been discussing today did not primarily turn upon an interpretation of the law or upon bad drafting but upon the Secretary of State's exercise of the law. A clear course of action is open to the Secretary of State that would avoid any damaging consequences for the traveller and would be in the positive interests of ratepayers. Those alternatives have been enunciated by the Opposition throughout the afternoon, but the Secretary of State, with his characteristic stoicism, has chosen completely to ignore any advice.
If the Secretary of State is not prepared to accept my advice or to listen to comments made by Members of the Opposition, perhaps at this late stage he will listen to what was said by the leader of the Conservative Opposition on the GLC, Mr. Alan Greengross. At a transport committee meeting held on 6 February, he said:
The way the Government has handled this matter is very wrong—it has been badly handled. It is very embarrassing for the minority party. There are many Tory MPs in the House of Commons who have reservations about Nicholas Ridley's approach, but the tone of Mr. Judge's remarks (comparing Nicholas Ridley to Hermann Goering), will not assist them to tackle the Government. The Council"—
that is the Greater London Council—
should stick to the very strong professional reasons set out in the report in conducting its case, because the Government has made a complete"—
I had better stop there, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because the rest is what would be described as unparliamentary language.
I return, finally, to what I said at the beginning of my speech: that the Secretary of State was warned during the Standing Committee proceedings that in exercising his powers under section 49 of the Bill we were not in any way reassured by his remarks. We were not reassured by them at all. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) said:
I do not think that Secretary of State's assurance is worth a great deal. If I were a London ratepayer — indeed I am a ratepayer in my constituency and in London—I should not put much store by that promise."— [Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 March 1984; c. 1117.]
How right my hon. Friend was! The Secretary of State has been caught with his fingers in the till. Instead of accepting the legal judgment which was successfully brought against him, he has now plummeted to depths by introducing this squalid little Bill, this retrospective piece of legislation, to get his hands on the money which the court of law said he had no right to have.
By his disreputable behaviour tonight, the Secretary of State is merely trying to mask the enormity of his own incompetence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said repeatedly, the central and crucial issue surrounding this whole shabby affair is that the Secretary of State wants to force London's ratepayers into paying London Regional Transport vast sums of money which will only go towards creating a surplus which LRT does not need. That is why I invite my hon. Friends to joint me in the Lobby to prevent the Secretary of State from making a mockery of Parliament.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I should like to reply. We have had two debates, a short one of not much steam about the Bill, and a long and interesting one about London Regional Transport, punctuated by the marathon speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I was extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because his speech enabled me to get something to eat—more than one usually gets when one is replying to a debate.
The matters which do not strictly fall within the Bill are none the less extremely important, and I am sure that the House was grateful for the opportunity to debate LRT's past and future.
I think that my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), and for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) had the best of the debate. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North for the way in which he answered the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras at less length but with concrete examples of the way in which the service has improved since LRT was set up. That is what matters, not some vague concept about whether the GLC is co-ordinating or is being democratic. What matters is whether the bus stops are built, or whether the P4 bus, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich referred, is fulfilling the function that it should fulfill.
I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North that LRT carries school children free until they are 16, after which they become adults, as 16 is the age at which compulsory education ceases. He might like to take that point up with the chairman.
For the record, I must recall that underground mileage has not been cut. However, bus mileage will be cut slightly —by 2 per cent. The LRT board has put up fares by 9 per cent. They were last put up in May 1983, and during that interval the increase in prices has been 7·75 per cent. Therefore, this increase is just a tiny bit above inflation.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) alleged that prices had been put up twice. He is wrong. London Transport fares are 10 per cent. lower in real terms than they were when the present Labour GLC came to power in 1981. So much for all the rubbish from Labour Members about high fares. I do not accept what has been said and I never will. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West must get his facts right and become more accurate. The hon. Gentleman said that London rates had gone up by 35 per cent. for London Regional Transport. That is not the case. The rate for LRT is lower than it was under the GLC. It will be £50 million less next year than was taken from London ratepayers in the last year of responsibility of the GLC. How the hon. Gentleman could make that argument, I do not know. He was trying to conceal the GLC's excessive spending on matters other than transport.
To show how enormous an improvement the present board is making, I should point out that the revenue subsidy this year to London transport is £190 million. In two years' time the board hopes to get it down by half, to £95 million. That is against the figure of £245 million which the GLC was planning to pull out of the pockets of London ratepayers and give to LRT. There are crocodile tears about looking after the interests of London ratepayers. Who is looking after their interests? Is it the Government, who will take £95 million in revenue subsidy in two years' time, or is it the GLC, who wanted to take £245 million? Let us have no more nonsense of that sort.
Some points have been made in a desultory fashion about the Bill. It has hardly been argued at all. The ritual points of criticism which we have heard this afternoon and which we will no doubt hear again at a later stage are that the legislation is overturning a decision of the court and that it is retrospective. Those two points have been made over and over again, but, interestingly, without being developed by any Opposition Member.
The Bill is not overturning a decision of the court. We accepted the decision and have not appealed against it. We have decided that the original legislation was defective in that I told Parliament what its effect would be but I turned out to be wrong. If the House wants an apology, I apologise for having been wrong. I am sure the House will agree that, since I was wrong, I should give the House an opportunity to put the legislation right. That is what the business is today.
There are plenty of precedents. In the debate on the Ways and Means motion I cited one which hon. Members tried hard to debunk, but without success—the Travel Concessions (London) Act 1982. If hon. Members do not like that one, let me give them another. In 1955 a Birmingham ratepayer successfully challenged a scheme run by Birmingham corporation for travel concessions for elderly people. Following the Appeal Court ruling that Birmingham was in breach of its fiduciary duty, the Travel Concessions Act 1955 was passed to give local authorities which run transport undertakings the power to give travel concessions.
When the Government of the day passed that Act, were they behaving illegally or retrospectively? We have heard many terrible adjectives. The adjectives used by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) are not nearly as good as those used by her hon. Friend. She must get better adjectives. She is short on argument and long on adjectives.
There are good precedents for giving the House an opportunity to change the law where it has been found to be different from what the House thought it was. Often the House has decided to put right earlier legislation.
No; I have a lot to say and there is not much time.
Retrospection was mentioned by the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich, for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) and by many others. They used various adjectives in passing and then moved to the next point. On the Ways and Means motion the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said:
The GLC will be charged for services provided by another authority in a period of time pre-dating the enactment of the Bill, and it was never warned at any point that this might happen."—[Official Report, 7 February 1985; Vol. 72, c. 1204–5.]
It was strange for the hon. Lady to say that the GLC was not warned at any point. It was warned in December 1983, when the London Regional Transport Bill was published, that the figure could be £360 million. It was warned again by what I said in Committee. It was warned again when the direction was made. And when it won the High Court case, it was warned again that I had the intention of appealing. Thus, at no point throughout that saga did it have the slightest reason for believing that it might not need to find the full amount. In fact, the GLC's liability under this measure is £23 million less than it was under the original section 49 direction, so in no way can it claim that it was never warned or that it was not fully under notice that that was the amount of money that it might have to provide and for which it should make provision.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said that I never intended to appeal against the decision. I must put her right. I did intend to appeal, and if I temporarily made a slip at Question Time—[Interruption.]—and said that the matter was sub judice, it was sub judice to me—[Interruption.]—and that is what I said.
The hon. Lady knows that I said that. If I am considering an appeal, there is no way whatever that I shall answer questions on the substance of the matter. I made that absolutely clear at the time of the point of order being raised—
—and if the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich had taken the trouble to read the Official Report, she would have known what she was talking about. [Interruption] In fact, the Government decided not to appeal—[Interruption.]
The Government decided not to appeal because it was necessary in this matter to get the right answer.
I return to the parallel that I gave. If it had been decided to appeal against the Birmingham judgment to which I referred, and if the appeal had given the answer that Birmingham corporation was not allowed to grant travel concessions to elderly people, would Labour Members have suggested that that should simply be accepted? Surely it is not a matter ultimately of leaving it to the law. It is a matter of this House being able to decide what is essentially a political issue and to prevail in achieving that political end.
I come to an issue that was dealt with by the hon. Members for Woolwich and for Wigan (Mr. Stott), and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West might benefit, for the first time, from hearing the fourth speech that I have made on this subject. I refer to the question of what LRT needs for this year, and let us first get the facts right, which the hon. Member for Wigan did not do.
The expected current cash surplus at the end of this financial year is not £50 million, as he said, but £30 million. As I said, it is necessary to provide for the needs of LRT, and they are, including the accrued unfunded liabilities, the following sums: £21 million for voluntary severance payments already agreed and accepted; £6 million for insurance claims against LRT, which it will in due course have to pay; £4 million for claims outstanding on the Jubilee line; £5 million in relation to development land tax which it owes and will have to pay; and £1 million for land compensation claims. That makes a total of £37 million which its auditors will certify as being due and having to be covered in this year's accounts. Thus, far from there being a surplus, there is a small deficit of £7 million — £37 million less £30 million — which is the cash that it has available.
The hon. Member for Wigan said that nothing had gone to the GLC and that everything that the Government are claiming should go to it. I repeat that £23 million less is being taken from the GLC than under the original direction. That is something which the hon. Gentleman—
No, because I have little time remaining and the hon. Gentleman has had his say.
The judgment on the question of consultation, a matter that was raised by many hon. Gentlemen, stating that although there was no statutory right to consultation, the GLC had a legitimate expectation that that would take place. I am not sure what "a legitimate expectation" means in a judgment, but it is odd that during the passage of the Bill the Opposition did not seek to insert a statutory right to consultation. If they feel so strongly about it now, they would surely have done so. We carefully did not include such a right in the original section 49 because I do not believe that it is necessary to consult on this matter.
Opposition Members have made a complete mess of this part of the argument. As my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing, North and for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) have pointed out, it seems to be the policy of the Labour party that one forces people to consult on matters when it is to one's advantage, but when it is not to one's advantage, one does not consult, one will not consult and one will not discuss it. It is this partiality that I find so unpleasant.
The consultation is irrelevant. It is Parliament, not the court, that should decide how much money should be paid by the GLC to LRT for 1984–85. The court did not set out to decide that; the court did not decide on any sum of money. It is our job to make that decision. I thought that section 49 gave us the power to do that, but it turns out that it does not. Therefore, LRT will be some £50 million short if the Bill is not enacted and the GLC will have £50 million surplus which it did not expect to have.
The hon. Members for Wigan, for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and for Newham, North-West used the ingenious argument that it is not necessary to have the Bill and that I could have made a new direction. Indeed I could have made a new direction, but it would have been £50 million short of what is needed.
Let us consider what that £50 million is. It is £50 million of ratepayers' money. The hon. Member for Wigan let the cat out of the bag. He said that I could have made a bigger levy on the ratepayers next year and that I could have got the money back by increasing the levy. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that not only should £50 million have been taken from London ratepayers last year, but that he would like the Government to take another £50 million from them this year—to pay twice for one lot of subsidy to LRT. The ratepayers will know on whose side the Government are. The Opposition are not on the side of the ratepayers. Through sleight of hand and deceit they seek to cheat London ratepayers if they oppose the Bill.
I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time: —
|Division No. 113]||[10.00 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Alexander, Richard||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Amery, Rt Hon Julian||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Amess, David||Blackburn, John|
|Ancram, Michael||Bonsor, Sir Nicholas|
|Arnold, Tom||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Bottomley, Peter|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Baldry, Tony||Bright, Graham|
|Batiste, Spencer||Brooke, Hon Peter|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Browne, John|
|Bendall, Vivian||Bryan, Sir Paul|
|Best, Keith||Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.|
|Budgen, Nick||Heddle, John|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Henderson, Barry|
|Burt, Alistair||Hickmet, Richard|
|Butterfill, John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hill, James|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Cash, William||Holt, Richard|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hordern, Peter|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Howard, Michael|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Chope, Christopher||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Churchill, W. S.||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Irving, Charles|
|Cockeram, Eric||Jackson, Robert|
|Colvin, Michael||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Conway, Derek||Jessel, Toby|
|Coombs, Simon||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Corrie, John||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Couchman, James||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Dicks, Terry||Key, Robert|
|Dorrell, Stephen||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Dover, Den||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward||Knowles, Michael|
|Dunn, Robert||Knox, David|
|Durant, Tony||Lamont, Norman|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Lang, Ian|
|Eggar, Tim||Latham, Michael|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Evennett, David||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Fallon, Michael||Lester, Jim|
|Farr, Sir John||Lightbown, David|
|Favell, Anthony||Lilley, Peter|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Forman, Nigel||Lord, Michael|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Luce, Richard|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fox, Marcus||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Franks, Cecil||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Freeman, Roger||MacGregor, John|
|Fry, Peter||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Gale, Roger||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Galley, Roy||Maclean, David John|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Madel, David|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Major, John|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Malins, Humfrey|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Malone, Gerald|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Maples, John|
|Gow, Ian||Marland, Paul|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Marlow, Antony|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Greenway, Harry||Mates, Michael|
|Gregory, Conal||Mather, Carol|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Grist, Ian||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Grylls, Michael||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Hannam, John||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Moore, John|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hayes, J.||Mudd, David|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Murphy, Christopher|
|Hayward, Robert||Neale, Gerrard|
|Needham, Richard||Stern, Michael|
|Nelson, Anthony||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Newton, Tony||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Normanton, Tom||Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)|
|Norris, Steven||Stokes, John|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Ottaway, Richard||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Parris, Matthew||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Patten, John (Oxford)||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Pawsey, James||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Thurnham, Peter|
|Pollock, Alexander||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Portillo, Michael||Tracey, Richard|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Trotter, Neville|
|Powley, John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Raffan, Keith||Waddington, David|
|Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Renton, Tim||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Watson, John|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Watts, John|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wheeler, John|
|St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.||Whitfield, John|
|Scott, Nicholas||Whitney, Raymond|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wilkinson, John|
|Silvester, Fred||Wood, Timothy|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Squire, Robin||Mr. Michael Neubert and|
|Stanley, John||Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.|
|Abse, Leo||Cohen, Harry|
|Alton, David||Coleman, Donald|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Ashton, Joe||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Cowans, Harry|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Craigen, J. M.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Crowther, Stan|
|Barnett, Guy||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Barron, Kevin||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Dalyell, Tam|
|Beith, A. J.||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)|
|Bell, Stuart||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Deakins, Eric|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dobson, Frank|
|Blair, Anthony||Dormand, Jack|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Douglas, Dick|
|Boyes, Roland||Dubs, Alfred|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Eadie, Alex|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Eastham, Ken|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Ellis, Raymond|
|Buchan, Norman||Evans, John (St. Helens N)|
|Caborn, Richard||Ewing, Harry|
|Campbell, Ian||Fatchett, Derek|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Fisher, Mark|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Flannery, Martin|
|Cartwright, John||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Forrester, John|
|Clarke, Thomas||Foster, Derek|
|Clay, Robert||Fraser, J. (Norwood)|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Garrett, W. E.|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Nellist, David|
|Golding, John||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Gould, Bryan||O'Brien, William|
|Gourlay, Harry||O'Neill, Martin|
|Ground, Patrick||Park, George|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Parry, Robert|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Patchett, Terry|
|Hardy, Peter||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Pendry, Tom|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Pike, Peter|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Prescott, John|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Radice, Giles|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Randall, Stuart|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Redmond, M.|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Home Robertson, John||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Howells, Geraint||Robertson, George|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Rogers, Allan|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Rowlands, Ted|
|John, Brynmor||Ryman, John|
|Johnston, Russell||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kennedy, Charles||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Lambie, David||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Leighton, Ronald||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Snape, Peter|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Soley, Clive|
|Litherland, Robert||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Stott, Roger|
|Loyden, Edward||Strang, Gavin|
|McCartney, Hugh||Straw, Jack|
|McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|McGuire, Michael||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)|
|McKelvey, William||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Tinn, James|
|McNamara, Kevin||Wainwright, R.|
|McTaggart, Robert||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McWilliam, John||Wareing, Robert|
|Madden, Max||Welsh, Michael|
|Marek, Dr John||White, James|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Maxton, John||Winnick, David|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Woodall, Alec|
|Meacher, Michael||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Michie, William||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Mikardo, Ian||Mr. Frank Haynes and|
|Millen, Rt Hon Bruce||Mr. Don Dixon.|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|