Apart from the threatened strike, which we hope will be averted, will my hon. Friend ask the chairman to take my constituents into his confidence and give them some hope that there will be an end to difficulties on the Central line arising from timetabling, the failure of equipment and work on the track?
I join my hon. Friend in regretting deeply the proposed strike, which would be an especially callous act. Speed restrictions for essential maintenance have been largely responsible for the level of service on the Central line for my hon. Friend's constituents, and London Regional Transport apologises for delays. It has plans for new signalling and new rolling stock.
Will the Minister explain why the world-famous driving school at Chiswick has been closed? Will he comment on the allegation that it is possible for private contractors to hire men with public service vehicle licences who have not been eligible for employment on London Transport buses for health reasons?
Will my hon. Friend confirm that in recent months there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of passengers using the Underground service and that this is being reflected by the LRT management in the provision of additional services? Is he aware that some problems arise from the new timetables which were introduced at the beginning of November in the light of staffing problems, but will he recognise that the more people who use the Underground the more the Government should look favourably on providing increased capital expenditure for this vital part of our public transport network?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Last year there were 1,900 million passenger journeys on the LRT network, including an all-time record level of Underground patronage. LRT's investment level is at an all-time record this year and is planned to be even greater next year.
Now that the London Docklands Development Corporation has shown an interest in linking the east London line and the Bakerloo and Northern lines at the Elephant and Castle so that there is an east-west link south of the river as well as the proposed docklands light railway north of the river, will the Minister ask his Department to take a positive interest in the improvement of services south of the river, east-west, so that a natural circuit can be completed and we do not have the present difficulty of travelling in a congested part of south London which is a white hole in the underground network?
When my hon. Friend sees the chairman of London Transport, will he tell him that I still receive complaints about the quality of London Transport bus services, but that in recent months I have had the unusual experience of receiving compliments about contracted-out services, especially the 61 service in my constituency, which is run by Metrobus Ltd.? Is there not a moral to be drawn from this, and will he bring it to the chairman's notice?
London Transport has started a programme of putting out to competitive tender a series of routes. Some of the routes have been won by London Buses Ltd. and some by outside companies. Standards appear to be satisfactory, and in a number of instances better than they were before.
Has the Minister ever travelled on the Underground in London? If he has from time to time, can he account for the fact that throughout the system there are unmanned booking offices, ticket machines that are either out of order or switched off altogether, and unmanned stations, especially after 6 o'clock or 7 o'clock in the evening, yet London Regional Transport's management can still hand back about £20 million to the Government, presumably because it is not needed? Will he reflect on the fact that at £20 million the knighthood for the chairman of London Regional Transport must be one of the most expensive baubles known since Lloyd George was alive?