London Regional Transport

– in the House of Commons at 10:27 pm on 28th January 1987.

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Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire 10:27 pm, 28th January 1987

I beg to move, That the draft London Regional Transport (Levy) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

The House will remember that in 1984 we set London Regional Transport clear policy objectives. Since then its professional management has been allowed to get on with the task without continuous political interference. Our remit was that LRT should reduce the revenue subsidy to £95 million by 1987–88. It was requested to do so by rooting out inefficiency rather than cuts in services, fare increases or a lowering of standards.

I can report substantial progress. By last year LRT had cut its need for subsidy to £97 million. It has virtually met its target two years early.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

The Minister said that LRT should meet its objectives without fare increases, but can he explain why, since LRT took over responsibility from the Greater London council, short hop fares have gone up by 75 per cent. in inner London and by 50 per cent. in outer London?

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

Perhaps I should not have been so courteous as to give way to the hon. Gentleman. He would have found that I shall deal with fares, and I shall be happy to do so briefly now and at length later, if he wishes me to do so.

Our remit asked LRT to reduce revenue subsidy to £95 million by 1987–88, not through cuts in services, not by large fare increases, not by lowering standards, but by rooting out inefficiency. Substantial progress was made last year. Its annual business plan, published only last month, forecast a requirement down to £92 million this year. What is even better is that the plan shows a further fall to £58 million next year, handsomely beating our target.

We asked LRT to reduce its unit costs by at least 2·5 per cent. each year in real terms. Last year, unit costs were reduced by 4 per cent. and it expects to reduce them this year by 7 per cent. on both the buses and the underground, and to secure a further reduction of 5 per cent. next year on both.

We asked LRT to bring forward a significant investment programme design to reduce future costs, modernise the system, and make it more attractive to the paying customer. LRT will spend more than £250 million this year on investment in the system. Next year, LRT's planned investment increases to £280 million. Nobody can honestly and realistically claim that this is a system in neglect.

Costs will be reduced by a massive investment programme — £135 million on the automated underground ticketing system and £50 million to replace the underground power supply with cheaper access to the national grid. A major rolling programme of station modernisation will improve the environment of the underground. On the bus system, new buses are assisting disabled passengers and improve boarding times. Automatic fare collection is also being developed, to improve boarding speeds. A comprehensive computer system for the bus business is being installed to improve its operational and engineering efficiency.

Our objective is a thriving and well-used public transport system. On the buses, careful matching of supply to demand has stabilised patronage at about 2,700 million passenger miles, after many years of continuous decline. On the underground, patronage continues to exceed forecast increases, rising by 11 per cent. last year to 3,700 million passenger miles, with an all-time record of 762 million passenger journeys.

Our objective of a thriving and well-used system is being achieved. The Government are playing their part by approving expenditure of £45 million for the purchase of additional underground trains. I have just approved a £3 million scheme for the Tower Hill station to reduce congestion at this busy point.

We also made it clear that revenue subsidy target did not imply huge fare increases. Increases in fares are an annual catching-up exercise to restore their real value. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may laugh, but we shall come back to this point. The real value is eroded all the time as the retail price inflation continues through the year. LRT's annual business plan shows quite clearly that bus fares are now only about 90 per cent. of their January 1981 real value while underground fares are but 80 per cent. of that value. That is part of the answer to the hon. Gentleman. Another part of the answer is the huge increase in the number of people who are travelling, who must obviously find it an attractive fare level.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

It would be better if I finished my speech, and then allowed the hon. Gentleman to take the floor.

Particular increases in individual single fares in any one year will naturally be above, or below, the average increase for the year. That is the result of a fairly simple structure of fares, while LRT's emphasis on marketing its services will change from year to year. Notably, the cost of the one zone bus pass has been unchanged since 1983.

London Regional Transport was asked to pay particular attention to the needs of the disabled. Since the demise of the Greater London council, LRT has been responsible for funding London's dial-a-ride services, on which £5 million is being spent this year. Next year we have increased provision by 20 per cent. to £6 million, including the purchase of new vehicles and facilities to improve booking efficiency. I hope that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will cheer at that.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire

I shall sit down shortly to give hon. Members an opportunity to participate in the debate.

Those figures compare with £4 million spent in the last year of GLC control.

LRT's services for the disabled also include the provision of wheelchair-accessible mobility buses, new design features on fleet buses and at underground stations to assist the ambulant disabled, as well as an increasing volume of information services.

Efficiency clearly brings benefits to ratepayers and taxpayers. Our first year of financial control saw a ratepayer levy of 10·8p in the pound and last year at this time I was able to bring forward proposals for a cut of 1p in the pound. The draft order before the House cuts a further 2p in the pound off the bill rate. That is a reduction of nearly 30 per cent. in three years. By any measure, those are astonishing achievements, at the same time as maintaining the network, increasing the services and modernising the system.

I hope that the House will wish me to congratulate LRT, particularly its staff, and I accordingly commend the draft order to the House.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan 10:37 pm, 28th January 1987

It is almost a year since we debated the London Regional Transport (Levy) Order 1986. I remember listening to the Minister saying roughly the same thing then as he has said tonight. It is rather like watching an action replay. He says that everything is doing well, services have increased, there is no problem and that LRT is discharging its responsibilities to the maximum.

During the year Ministers in the Department of Transport have been subjected to a barrage of questions from hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent London constituencies—

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

The questions were about the level of services provided by LRT. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) continually complains. At every Transport Question Time he rebukes his hon. Friend the Minister over the level of services available to his constituents.

As this is a short debate, I shall simply make some observations on the ramifications of the order and of the business plan that has been produced by LRT. I hope that by containing my remarks hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent London constituencies will be able to make their valued contributions to the debate.

This year the Government will provide £239 million for all LRT spending, capital and revenue. Last year they provided £295 million. The Government are allowed to recover two thirds of that money from London ratepayers, yet under this order they will again recover the maximum amount, that is, £156·9 million compared with £193·6 million last year. That is a 7·7p rate, compared with the 9p-plus rate of last year. The Government may claim that the reduction in subsidy springs, as the Minister has just told us, from efficiency. It is important to note that this difference in the rate precept will be made up not just simply by efficiency, but by £27 million in fare increases and £31 million in increases in borrowing and other external sources.

If we look at the business plan prepared by LRT, which is funded by the precept which the Minister now wishes to get through the House, we see that there will be 6,650 fewer jobs this year than there were last year. This, in my estimation, will add about £37 million to Government expenditure if all those people cannot find jobs and the Government have to provide unemployment and social security benefits, and at the same time lose taxation revenue. Revenue support for LRT will go down by £13 million and by March 1988 there will be 15,000 fewer jobs in LRT than the number approved in the final plan produced by the GLC.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that London has the highest ever level of jobs vacant in its history?

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

Inherent in the financial structure under the order is the deliberate creation of unemployment. I shall not concede to the hon. Gentleman that those people will immediately get jobs, but in the intervening period it will be a contingency on Government expenditure if those people are made unemployed. I shall leave my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies to answer the question about unemployment in London, but I know that if we made any bus conductors redundant in Wigan they would not find a job within two years of being made redundant, if ever, and that is directly due to the Government's economic policy.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, according to figures issued by the Department of Employment — Conservative Members can attach what credence they like to these figures — there are 393,000 people unemployed in Greater London and there are 36,000 notified vacancies'?

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting that on the record. Perhaps, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will make that point more forcefully than I can.

I shall continue with what I have to say, which is that the total grant from the Department of Transport will be cut by £56 million, from £295 million to £239 million, which is a decrease of 19 per cent., and LRT will be forced as a consequence to borrow £45 million to make up the difference between income and expenditure. This means that services provided in 1987–88 will have to be paid for in future years.

I deal now with bus services. One-person operation, henceforth to be known as OPO, of buses will be increased from 76 per cent. under the strategic plan to 83 per cent. of services. This in itself will cause the loss of 1,100 conductors' jobs, which is 35 per cent. of the total platform staff, mainly from inner city garages.

Let us remember that in June 1984, when the Government took over London Transport, OPO buses were running on 53 per cent. of the services. The reduction in revenue support has forced London Buses, which is wholly owned by LRT, to increase OPO. However, I am advised that to do this it needs 440 new buses, but will get only 220, and will not be able to tender for the majority of the 33 routes which have been put out to tender in 1987–88. Those routes will be simply handed over to private operators. The plan states that bus staff will have to accept changed pay structures and working practices if tenders are to be won. London Buses will not even be able to tender for many of those routes, irrespective of the wage demands or wage claims that people put in. At least two, possibly five, bus garages will be closed. London's red buses will operate as much as 11 per cent. fewer services than in 1986–87, which was the lowest service since London Transport was created in 1933. Some 200 jobs — 17 per cent. of the total — will be lost in bus engineering, with 1,050 jobs going in other areas, such as catering and station cleaning All this stems from what we are debating and what is contained in LRT's business plan.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

Would the hon. Gentleman care to add to what he has been saying about one-person operation and the changes in the buses in London, and mention the dislike of many of us passengers of the inflexible, unfriendly one-person-operated bus'?

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

The hon. Gentleman has preceded me by five seconds. I am about to deal with that precise issue.

Returning, as the words on my script say, to OPO, I readily concede that this operation can be beneficial, and is demonstrably beneficial, in areas—

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

It can be demonstrated that OPO can be beneficial to the overall transport provision in certain areas. It can be proved, I concede that, but I do not believe that OPO is suitable for the nation's capital, where millions of people are conveyed by public transport every day in difficult and heavy traffic conditions. Even with the improved design of the buses that LRT wants to use for OPO, its target is a load speed of 2·5 seconds per passenger. This is still more than twice the time to load an old-fashioned Routemaster bus. The schedules are slower too—15 per cent. extra running time has to be allowed for. Nor are the financial benefits all one way with the introduction of OPO. It will take five OPO buses to replace one of the Routemaster buses currently running on the streets of London.

It is important to look not just at the savings, which the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) mentioned, through the reduction of platform staff, but at whether those savings will translate themselves into a better transportation system for the nation's capital. I do not think that they will.

I travel on London Transport from Tuesday to Thursday when I am down here, because I live in Wigan, not London. My buses coming from Kennington have a conductor. At certain times of the morning the traffic is very heavy. Although there are bus lanes for a certain length of the run, heavy congestion can still build up. I genuinely believe that if there is a move towards one-person-operated buses this can only mean longer running times, more difficulties and more traffic congestion.

Moreover, I think that the presence of a conductor not only adds to the efficiency of the running speed of buses in the city centre, but gives an unquantifiable assurance to passengers, particularly the elderly, women with shopping and children, who need to be helped on and off buses, and the disabled. That is an unquantifiable advantage which cannot be equated with pounds and shillings. The clippy—the conductor on a bus—provides a valuable service in keeping the bus moving at speed for the convenience of the people who use public transport.

There are areas where one-person-operated buses will work satisfactorily, but there are other areas where they will not. I am pleased to have the full agreement of the hon. Member for Epping Forest on that.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Is my hon. Friend aware that the statutory London Regional Transport passengers committee has continuously supported that contention? According to the committee, the 68 per cent. of mileage operated by OPO is the maximum acceptable to Londoners, and public opinion supports that. Is he also aware that, although the Routemaster may be of elderly design, it is preferred by Londoners? If London Transport can revamp Routemasters and try to sell them to China, should they not be kept running in the central areas of London?

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There is unanimity of opinion among those hon. Members who have considered the matter seriously. They have arrived at this conclusion either because they use public transport, or because they are aware of the problems of people who use public transport. This is not an up-front political problem of great significance between the Labour and Conservative Benches. This is a matter of general common sense if we all want to achieve a proper transportation system in the nation's capital. However, I have finished with that point and I have the support of all my hon. Friends and of some Conservative Members.

The problems that will flow from the order that we are debating and the plan produced by LRT, relate mainly to the bus network. I challenge the Minister's definition of prosperity, because I believe that there has been a decline in services. Indeed, one symptom of that decline is predicted by a 9 per cent. fall in revenue, from £310 million to £282 million.

In addition, there is the problem of tendered services. Many of the services that used to be run by London Transport, by the red buses in London, are now, under the Government's free market philosophy, to be put out to tender. Those of us who have the honour to represent constituencies outside London know what happens to tendered routes following deregulation. I would not wish that on my hon. Friends who represent London constituencies.

I am advised that because of the tendered routes in certain geographical areas of London the Norbiton garage which was built in 1983, and the Plumstead garage, which was built in 1981, will be affected. If the Government intend to go ahead with their policy and put the routes out to tender, what will happen to the buses that are garaged at Norbiton and Plumstead? There has been massive public investment in new garages, yet the buses from these garages are to be subjected to tendered routes. As a consequence they may be put out of business. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends will refer to tendering.

I should deal briefly with the Underground. One person operation does not stop at buses. It is also being introduced on some parts of the Underground. One person operation on deep tube lines will be introduced for the first time on the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines, with no satisfactory evacuation or rescue procedure for trains that have broken down or whose drivers are taken ill in the tunnels. This will create a saving of less than 0·3 per cent. of London Regional Transport's total expenditure. Overall, 1,050 jobs will be lost on the Underground through a combination of more one person operated trains and a further reduction in station staffing.

I must tell the Minister that a further large reduction in station staffing will cause a serious security problem, especially late at night. People travelling late at night, with no one on those stations, could be the victims of muggings, violence and similar problems. It is money well invested to service those stations properly with adequate staff at all times when the trains are running.

I see that Conservative Members are becoming anxious about the time that I am taking—

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

So are the people behind my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Roger Stott Mr Roger Stott , Wigan

And some of the people behind me, too. I get the message loud and clear, and I shall conclude my remarks.

This will probably be our last debate on London Transport before the election. When the Labour party wins that election it will, as a matter of priority, restore local democracy to London. London Transport will be run by the elected representatives of London for and on behalf of the people of London.

Photo of John Maples John Maples , Lewisham West 10:56 pm, 28th January 1987

One hoped that since the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) did not hold his present job when the Labour Front Bench was opposing the London Regional Transport Bill, he might have brought some fresh light to bear on his party's thinking, but he obviously shares all their old prejudices. He seems to believe that a public transport system is no good unless it is heavily overmanned, massively subsidised and incurring huge losses.

It is worth remembering the Greater London council's record on running London Transport. For the 12 years during which it was run by the council, unit costs increased by 66 per cent. on the buses and 50 per cent. on the underground, the subsidy increased from £5·5 million to £370 million, the revenue grant increased from zero in 1970 to £250 million in 1982 and fares increased by 85 per cent. in real terms, while passenger demand fell by 25 per cent.

As a result, the Government wisely proposed to reform the method by which London Transport was run. Against that, the GLC ran a disgraceful scare campaign about dial-a-ride, pensioners' bus passes, massive fare increases, the closure of 35 underground stations and route closures. It spent £1 million of ratepayers' money on the campaign, which was echoed slavishly by Labour Front-Bench Members, including the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who danced to the tune of their county hall puppet masters and read their briefs very well.

I thought that it might be interesting to look back at our debates on the Bill. A little delving into history might provide some interesting facts. We find an extremely rich diet of words for eating. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said: My hon. Friends and I believe that fares will rise and that services will be cut. That belief comes not only from our judgment, but from well proven and observable principles of public transport economics … it is equally clear that the system that the Secretary of State will influence by the amount of support that he gives … will lead to service cuts and fare increases … It is clear, however that the ratepayers' contribution is likely to increase … The Bill will have the effect of increasing fares and reducing services.

In winding up that debate, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East said: The Government's aims are patently contradictory. They cannot have both an improvement in services and a reduction in subsidies."—[Official Report, 13 December 1983; Vol. 50, c. 866–912.]

We then had an extended Committee session in which we thought that they might have wised up a bit, but no, they had not. On Third Reading the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East said: The Bill is ideological and will undoubtedly produce a transport service that costs more, is inferior and does not meet the needs of London."—[Official Report, 9 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 99.] One may divide those criticisms into three. There will be massive fare increases, massive service cuts, and ratepayers will pay more.

Let us examine what happened. Over the four years covered by the fare increases introduced by LRT—they cover from May 1983, which is before it took over— fares have risen by 23 per cent. During that period, the retail price index rose by 20 per cent. and earnings rose by about 30 per cent. That is hardly a massive fare increase. According to LRT, next year fares will fall in real terms by ·05 per cent. That 3 per cent. rise in real terms compares very interestingly with the 85 per cent. real rise in the 12 years during the time that the GLC ran it. That disposes of the first criticism. [Interruption.] All I am saying is that it has now been allowed to be managed by people who know how to manage, without politicians interferring.

I now move on to the next criticism, that there will be massive—[Interruption.] If Opposition Members are not pleased to know that fares have hardly risen in real terms, I do not know what they want.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Perhaps he does, but let us give him the opportunity to prove it. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to use statistics, that is fine, but he should use a common base and not a 12-year period. He should take into account the different periods of Labour and Tory administration and the Law Lords' ruling on the price increase, and he can then make a fair comparison. Without doing that, his statistics are nonsense and misleading.

Photo of John Maples John Maples , Lewisham West

The Law Lords' ruling has nothing to do with the matter. Fares went down and went up again. I am not seeking to make a party political point about the GLC. I am seeking to say that LRT is run and allowed to be run by its management and by people who know how to run it, and it is doing a hell of a sight better job than it did when the GLC ran it. That disposes of the first criticism that there have been massive fare rises.

The second criticism was that there will be massive cuts in services. There have not been. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) should read LRT's plan In fact, there have been substantial rises in the train miles run by the tube from an index of 94 in 1983 to 104 next year. and on the buses from 93·5 in 1983 to 96·5 next year. The service level has actually risen every year except for one blip on the buses when it went down one year and up to a greater level the next. Next year, the route miles run by the bus services are planned to increase from 16·6 million to — [Interruption.] I shall make my own speech. Opposition Members will have a chance to make theirs. The bus service mileage will rise from 166 million to 169 million, and tube miles will rise from 30·6 million to 31·8 million. That does not sound to me like a massive service cut.

The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford) asked about passengers. The index of bus passenger miles has risen from 97·5 to 107·5 and on the tube from 105 to 147. I should have thought that that was a fairly massive demonstration Londoners' confidence in London Transport.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

In view of the hon. Gentleman's tendency to use rather peculiar bases for statistics, will he please give the House the figures of the trend in passenger usage of London Transport before the fares fair policy introduced by the GLC? Will he tell the House how that fare cut led to a dramatic reversal in a declining trend and the beginning of an upward trend in passenger usage? Will he be fair and give credit where credit is due, to the Labour GLC?

Photo of John Maples John Maples , Lewisham West

When the GLC cut fares massively, usage increased, and when it raised them again, it fell. The criticism of the Bill was that it would result in massive service cuts. Quite obviously and palpably, it has not done so. Services have increased and passenger usage has increased. Tube usage has increased by nearly 50 per cent.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

Does the hon. Gentleman travel by

Photo of John Maples John Maples , Lewisham West

I travel by tube quite a bit. I have noticed that a lot more people seem to, as well.

The third criticism was that ratepayers would end up paying massively more. That is interesting because, in fact, the rate precept was 10·8 per cent. in LRT's first year, 9·79 per cent. in the next and 7·7 per cent. in the next. I make that a fall of 28 per cent. I assure Opposition Members that ratepayers in my constituency do not regard that as a massive increase in their rates; they regard it as a substantial fall and welcome it enormously. It is a result of the revenue subsidy given to the GLC falling from more than £200 million to £58 million next year. That is a commendable performance by LRT. After all, the GLC's planned revenue support for next year was £245 million—another £200 million that would have had to be met out of public expenditure.

The prediction of massive fare increases, massive cuts in services and massive increases in contributions from ratepayers has not been justified. Fares this year will fall in real terms, service levels and passenger usage are increasing and the rate precept has fallen 28 per cent. in three years.

All the Opposition's prejudice about the way transport should be run in 1983 and 1984—against anything other than a heavily subsidised, politically manipulated and municipally run service — seems to continue. It is unfortunate for the Opposition that the facts in the LRT plans, some of which I have quoted in my speech, are so confusing to those prejudices. They have to remember that the real proof of the pudding is in the eating. Opposition Members should have the grace to eat their words quietly and amend their prejudices.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 11:06 pm, 28th January 1987

Although some of the points made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) were accurate, the selective use of statistics, and in particular the reliance on the projections rather than the actuality, undermines a substantial amount of the authenticity of what he said. He must not criticise others for selectively using statistics when he then falls into exactly that trap himself.

The last report from the consultative passengers committee—which was set up only, as I remember from Committee, with any proper accountability because of a great deal of pressure—was last March. Then follows, about 10 months behind, the time of the year when we periodically debate the order. The summary of London Regional Transport made by the Committee then holds equally good today. It summarised the performance of LRT as having poor bus reliability and an improved service on the underground. In very general terms, that has been the pattern.

I want to give what are, I hope, some authentic and certainly accurate statistics on the facts, as opposed to the forecasts or plans. On the service levels for bus use, 1985–86 — the last year for which we have complete figures—had the lowest million bus miles since 1982—162 million, which is 4 million lower than the preceding two years. I accept that underground miles have risen slightly.

For the passenger miles on buses, the last full year shows a reduction to the lowest figure for three years—down to 2,587. The forecast goes up again, but the reality is that it has not happened yet. Again, I concede that underground figures have been greater.

The waiting time—an important statistic for people in London — for the underground has remained consistent throughout the last five years at 3·3 minutes, but the waiting time for buses for four years from 1982 to 1984–85 was 7 minutes, and last year it rose, albeit marginally, by another 0·3 minutes. That is not substantial, but allowing for mergers it means some substantial increases in waiting times. That is not an acceptable statistic.

I have two further relevant statistics. The number of passenger journeys on buses has gone down to a figure lower than the preceding two years, and certainly the number of miles operated as a percentage of the schedule has gone down.

Of course, there have been substantial areas of improvement. For example, if we can obtain a service where the ratepayer and taxpayer pay less and the service is better, that—depending on the fare—is a good deal. The fares have gone up slightly higher than perhaps they might have done, but I accept that London Regional Transport had a particular initial capital investment job to do, and certainly the renovation of the underground stations is very welcome. That is one of the improvements that is entirely acceptable. The number of travellers on the underground again manifests the greater appeal of the underground. But there are other criteria which I would like the Minister to address, and which are equally relevant.

There is, I hope the Minister will accept, a limit to the number of people who can be crowded into the underground. One of the current problems is that at peak times, because of greater passenger use and because we do not yet have the new stock on stream, there are increasing periods of congestion on the underground as well as congestion overground, which highlights another problem. I would like to know whether we shall see a commensurate reduction in the difficulties at congested periods on the underground, which seems to be the greatest problem in passenger use terms that the underground service faces at present.

There are several problems in regard to London buses which I hope that the Minister will honestly address, because they seriously concern Londoners. The first is, of course, as statistics show, that bus services are, at best, improving only marginally so far, since LRT took over, and, at worst, are getting worse. There are substantial areas of London, as I am sure the Minister knows, where the reliability and regularity of the service are not good.

For example, there is a bus that goes almost directly from my home to here, the 53. I use it quite often. When the cab does not work I go on the bus. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the bus every day. Coming along the Old Kent road in the morning, that bus is often crowded and often late, and the timetables are often not there. Some parts of Southwark have timetables for this year already displayed; my part is not likely to get them for another four months, until May. That is not acceptable, not even knowing when the buses are meant to come, let alone not knowing whether they will come according to the timetable.

The second problem is that there is a tendency, which is welcome, to look at shortening the routes. The logic is that if we shorten the routes the delays should decrease. But that is just the sort of consideration that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) introduced, supported by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). Clearly, one of the factors that increases the congestion on the already congested roads of inner London is reducing the number of personnel on the bus from two to one. The obvious result is the delay when people get on; there is also not the support service for passengers—information and so on—on the buses, and that slows the whole system down.

The delays mainly arise — and I have had frequent correspondence about the lack of regularity of buses running to schedule in the Selkent district and elsewhere — because of the congestion on the roads of inner London. We must address that problem and do much more to make sure that we have a higher percentage of services operating according to schedule and on time. We are still failing badly in this, compared with many European cities.

I make the next point on every available occasion and I repeat it today for the Minister. North of the river there is to be the Docklands light railway going into the area east of the City. We do not yet have any commensurate routing south of the river, yet boroughs like mine, Southwark, and on into Lewisham and Greenwich are relatively badly served by public transport. So I ask the Minister to follow up the answer that he gave to me in the first Transport Questions of the year, on 12 January, when I asked him to look at a way of linking up the tube lines going to the Elephant with the east London line as a matter of urgency — and the London Dock lands Development Corporation has been thinking about and working on this — so that we can have much more effective east-west access south of the river to deal with many of the delays. I gather, for example, that Greenwich has just had a station opened but has still only two trains an hour in each direction. That is not satisfactory, because the potential demand is much greater. So I ask the Minister to consider the very poor bus services and the linkage between types of services south of the river, particularly in dockland.

The point that still has not been adequately addressed is how we raise to an equal standard all the public transport services in London and then run them at equal cost to the public. There is an inner London suburban railway system. I hope that the Minister has read the book, "The Clandestine Railway", that has been produced by the passengers' committee. It contains pictures of stations such as South Bermondsey in my constituency which looks as though it had not been attended to by British Rail for a generation at least. Primarily it is a potentially useful service, but first it has to be made to look as though it is there to serve the public, with proper stations and so on, and then it needs to be properly integrated into the underground and bus network.

Then the last step in the Travelcard/Capitalcard system has to happen, which is that a person would pay the same for a card no matter what public transport system was used for the journey in inner London. I hope that the Minister will encourage the House by saying that soon, no matter whether one goes by bus, by underground or by rail, there will be a common tariff for the Capitalcard or Travelcard with proper interchangeability.

I share the concern that we have so short a time only once a year to debate the only and very anomalous public corporation that runs transport for the capital city. Clearly it is not enough. Although there have been substantial improvements in some areas, I hope that the House will remind London Regional Transport that, particularly for the bus user in inner London, the public transport service is not as good as it could be and that passengers are still paying a relatively high price for a service that often lets them down badly.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes 11:16 pm, 28th January 1987

There is not mch left to say after the powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples). He set out the history of the London Regional Transport Act 1984 with a clarity and honesty which we have rarely heard from the Opposition. He served with me on the Standing Committee and we both remember well the arguments from the Opposition. It is a very cynical and unpleasant politician who tries to curry favour by living on the fears of others. I well remember the leaflets being given to people on buses saying that there would be massive tube station closures as a result of the legislation.

One thing that struck me in the contribution from the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and the interjections of other Opposition Members was that they seemed to believe that the London transport system as a whole is meant to be a job creation and a job protection scheme. Hardly ever did any of them mention that it is a passenger scheme. It is there to provide passenger facilities at the levels that passengers require, with a price structure that ratepayers, passengers and Government can afford.

The use of the underground reached an all-time record of 762 million passenger journeys in 1985–86. Is that a 10 per cent. or a 20 per cent. increase? No, since the legislation was introduced, it is a 50 per cent. increase in journeys. And the long-term decline in bus usage has been halted. Overall last year there were 1·9 billion passenger journeys on LRT services.

It is pathetic when Opposition Members start saying, "All right, yes, we agree; the use of tube services has increased, but the bus services have gone down. That is one success and one failure." The answer is that one must give credit for the fact that the tube system is among the most attractive, efficient and well-run systems in the world. At the same time one must recognise the great difficulties that those who run London's buses have, for the simple reason that, because so many people have their own cars—a sign of affluence and of a small increase in prosperity amongst the nation as a whole—that causes difficulties above ground that cannot happen below ground. It must be desperately difficult for John Telford-Beasley to keep the buses from bunching in the traffic levels that we have. Yes, it is irresponsible of millions of people to bring their domestic cars into London. It is also unnecessary and wasteful. The bus services would improve dramatically if domestic cares and smaller lorries would keep out of inner London.

That will be achieved by making the bus services even more attractive and by imaginative schemes to make sure that parking is introduced outside London towards the M25. Individuals must be educated out of the socially unacceptable habit of coming alone into London in motor vehicles. Success will depend on matching the efficiency of the service, and the attractiveness of the facilities provided above ground with those below.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

Many Labour Members accept much of what the hon. Gentleman says about the strategic importance of seeking a reduction in private vehicle usage in central London in order to facilitate bus movement. But he went on to say that one of the keys to that was making buses more attractive. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one-person operated buses and an increase in the time taken to pick up passengers, so reducing the efficiency of buses, would have exactly the opposite effect?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Mr. Telford-Beasley has exactly the right plans to make buses more attractive. He has already achieved that on some routes in the centre of London. He has introduced midibuses to make sure that people sit in comfort and not in long, draughty buses, often empty during the middle of the day, apart from the odd one or two passangers.

Bus mileages have reduced over the years on some routes because the level of passengers per bus has been reduced. Therefore, one must expect to reschedule the buses to make sure that they are more efficient. The midibus system and competitive tendering will bring more attractive routes that are more responsive to individual's needs.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford , Fulham

I was asking about one-person operated buses.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

The hon. Gentleman seems to believe that a bus is inherently more attractive if two people are working on it rather than one. What is important is that the system is efficient, cheap and works. Merely having two people on a bus does not achieve that. I readily admit that one of London Buses biggest problems is in one-person operation. There is a resistance to that among the public. There are routes where it will be discovered that passenger resistance is such that buses will have to go back to having extra staff. I do not deny that. But the professional management of London's buses is exactly what is needed to decide on the future of the bus network. That will not be decided on the narrow political point of having as many working on the system as possible. It will be decided upon giving the best service to the passenger and that is what Mr. Telford-Beasley is capable of.

I also want to congratulate Dr. Tony Ridley. His professionalism on the underground has been superb. Let us remember that the highest level of passenger usage on the underground was last summer when the fewest holidaymakers ever came to Britain, and especially to the capital. That is indeed a tribute to Dr. Ridley and his staff. Any hon. Member who looks at London's underground system can see how attractive, informative and clean it is. Not only that but the new station designs are appropriate to the areas they serve and enhance the original architecture, as at Baker street on the old metropolitan line.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

How many of the station improvements that the hon. Gentleman is talking about were planned or commenced under the Labour-controlled GLC and how many have been carried out since LRT took over that had not been started or planned by the GLC?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

The same GLC forecast the closure of 35 stations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] It was starting to do improvements in certain stations, but it is now an attractive scheme for the whole of London which spreads out into the provinces.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

No. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech in due course.

Ticketing has been made more attractive. It has been a hard battle to persuade LRT that passengers should be able to buy a ticket where it is most convenient for the passenger. The increase in the number of ticketing outlets is bound to increase business. It is now easier to get on an underground train, and fraud has been heavily reduced.

I should like to remind the House of the intentions behind the London Regional Transport Bill. LRT was to restore a stable framework for public transport planning. That has been achieved. It was to reduce unnecessary costs and provide better value for money for travellers, ratepayers and taxpayers. That has been achieved. It was to bring bus and underground services into the same policy framework as the BR commuter services, and to improve co-operation. Through-routing has never been easier.

Plans that London Regional Transport and BR unveiled recently are exciting and what should have been introduced years ago. They have been achieved under this structure. LRT was to redirect resources to cost-saving investment. That is exactly what has happened. The capital investment programme has increased and the need for revenue support cut while fares have been held steady. It was to ensure fully professional management. Under Sir Keith Bright, who has not been mentioned, but to whom great tribute should be paid—

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

—we now have a system which is improving, not declining, is popular and serving the capital rather than union and Labour pressure.

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea 11:27 pm, 28th January 1987

It is a matter of regret that there are so few opportunities to debate public transport in London. I get a steady stream of complaints from my constituents about the bus services in Battersea. I am surprised that the hon. Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) and for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) seem to think that loyalty to their Minister is more important than loyalty to their constituents. The world that they describe is not that which is known in most parts of London.

During the past few years we have experienced a steady deterioration in bus services in London. This naturally attracts more cars. There is therefore more pressure for trunk roads. Therefore there will be more traffic, and therefore the environment will get worse. The evidence of the time under the Labour-controlled GLC was that public transport can win more passengers if services are reliable and fares are reasonable. That is the lesson of the past and the lesson of other cities such as Paris.

I shall concentrate on bus services in south London. Whatever are the planned services, the fact is that there are approximately 30 per cent. deficiencies on at least some of the routes in London due to staff shortages and shortages of spare parts for older buses. London Buses is some 800 drivers short, and in the Wandle district, which covers part of my constituency, there is a shortage of 160 drivers. In south-east Kent there is a shortage of 120 drivers.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Will the hon. Gentleman ask bus conductors to take a promotion and apply for those jobs?

Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Battersea

I think that that is a somewhat irrelevant point.

I receive many letters of complaint and I should like to quote briefly from one of them. The letter complains about services on the 44, 137 and 170 routes. My constituent complains that for a week recently, and not during the heavy snow, she had to wait at least half an hour every day to get a bus from Battersea to Vauxhall or Whitehall. She concluded her letter by writing: I wonder if there is anything further you can do to put pressure on LRT to improve the bus services in North Battersea. People are utterly fed up with excuses. We want an improvement, not excuses. It seems that that attitude and those words typify the views of so many Londoners about bus services.

If all is as well on London buses as Conservative Members suggest, why is it that London Buses is estimating that revenue in the current year will fall by 8 per cent.? That is a sign of a service that is failing, not succeeding.

I have received bitter complaints from constituents about one-person-operated buses. The operation may be all right in far suburban areas or in the country, but in inner London it leads to congestion at every bus stop, to enormous difficulties for the disabled, who complain that if there is not a conductor on the platform they get no help to climb on the bus with the result that they cannot manage to use buses, and to similar difficulties for those with shopping or with young children.

One-person operation has been opposed by the London Regional Transport passengers' committee and criticised by the police. It is surely not the way to run an efficient and sensible bus service in inner London, yet we hear that because of less revenue support there are to be more one-person-operated buses and that London Buses will need an extra 440 new buses for this purpose. It seems that it has the money for only 65 new buses, based on £23 million of investment, and that it will have to buy 220 second-hand buses instead. Some of the 220 will be buses which it has previously owned and sold. This is ludicrous. London Transport will not have sufficient buses with which to tender for the 33 routes that will be put out to tender this year. The Minister knows that, so I am interested to know how he can say that London Buses will have to compete for routes when he is preventing it from having the resources with which to compete with private operators.

There is a list of the services that will be affected. We know that one-person operation will affect a number of routes in south London, such as the No. 1 from Marylebone to Greenwich. It will be converted to one-person operation in May. In September the 53 route from Oxford circus to Plumstead will be affected in that way. The southern section of the 88 route from Acton Green to Mitcham will also become a one-person operation. There is a long list of routes that will be affected by tendering, including many that may be lost entirely to public transport. These are services that will affect Plumstead, Norbiton, Harrow, Merton and Sutton. The tendering process may result in these areas losing public transport services. There is a list also of possible job losses.

I agree that London Transport's primary aim is to provide a decent service, not to provide jobs, but my submission is that London Buses is failing the people of London. This is clear if we listen to the complaints of our constituents and ascertain for ourselves how long it takes for buses to appear. If services are running to schedule all may be well, but time and again schedules are not maintained because of lack of resources, inadequate buses and poor repair facilities.

We know, for example, that London Transport has had to close its driver-training school at Chiswick. We know also that many of the training resources in the districts are inadequate. It seems that the bus services will continue to offer poor and deteriorating service for the people of London. It is time to say that we do not have to run our capital's bus service in that way. It is time to say that there is another way of doing it. Provided that the resources are made available, we can have decent transport for London. Transport is the lifeblood of the capital, and given the way in which bus services are deteriorating year by year, that lifeblood will cease to flow. It is up to the Government to say that they will provide the resources in future, instead of always saying, "Never mind the bus passengers, let them wait. They do not matter."

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington 11:35 pm, 28th January 1987

It would be quite wrong if consideration of this order was simply restricted to hon. Members with London constituencies. A large part of the estimated grant in paragraph 4 of the order must be provided, not by the ratepayers of London or by London Regional Transport's customers but by taxpayers throughout the rest of the country.

We should note—whether we represent London or elsewhere—that this year the total grant of £285 million provided to LRT exceeds the entire regional aid budget for the rest of the counry. It is only right that somebody from outside London should be asking some slightly harder questions than we have yet heard from either side of the House tonight about the performance of LRT.

Why is it that the most prosperous part of the country has the most heavily subsidised commuter network in the country? Why should taxpayers in the north fund those southern comforts?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

No. Why should taxpayers in Glasgow and Darlington subsidise the City slickers from Fulham broadway or Sloane square as they travel to work? Why does LRT make a loss? There has been a great deal of stale thinking on the issue of LRT—that has been displayed in previous debates on the Bill and during tonight's debate.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

No, I will not give way.

LRT has a virtual monopoly of the bus network and a complete monopoly of the underground network. Why does not LRT contribute — through profits — to the national wealth? Why does LRT not help to fund our schools and hospitals in the rest of the country instead of drawing resources from them?

We have an agenda for privatisation. Why is LRT not on that list?

Photo of Mr Jeremy Hanley Mr Jeremy Hanley , Richmond and Barnes

Is the metro in Newcastle making a profit?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

I apply the same argument to the metro, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the metro does not rely on as heavy a subsidy from public funds as LRT—that is the point. LRT is the most heavily subsidised network.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

I will give way, but I am anxious to let other hon. Members participate in the debate.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

As the hon. Gentleman is drawing attention to anomalies, does he think that it is ever so slightly anomalous that Britain's biggest education authority receives not one jot of subsidy from the taxpayer, as every penny comes from London's ratepayers unlike the hon. Gentleman's area?

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington

That question is entirely beyond the scope of the order.

Why is the privatisation of LRT not one of the Government's priorities? How can the Government justify taxpayers in the rest of country having to subsidise a merchant banker's journey from Fulham Broadway into the heart of the City when that same merchant banker is working on the privatisation of transit systems in the far east? It is ironic.

I have two specific questions for my hon. Friend. First, when will the estimated grant under paragraph 4(1) be zero rather than a figure reduced from £235 million in subsequent years? At what point will there be no estimated grant? At what point will taxpayers in the rest of Britain be free of the burden of subsidising southern comforts?

Secondly, when will my hon. Friend come forward not simply with guidelines that tell LRT how to manage its system better but with a positive plan of privatisation? That would free LRT of the politicking that we have seen tonight in the House. Privatisation would allow LRT to flourish as a fully commercial company and would allow those who work in it to share in the fruits of its enterprise rather than to rely on the generosity of the taxpayers in the north.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 11:39 pm, 28th January 1987

The Conservative Government have reduced public transport in London to a state of crisis. They took democratic control away with the abolition of the GLC, but since then they have made ratepayers pay a higher bill for a reduced service. The Government subsidy has more than halved and, as a result, fares have shot up. Services have been cut and jobs lost. That is due to get worse, as privatisation and deregulation increasingly hit London. Private operators will squabble over the profitable routes, leaving residents everywhere else to suffer. Frequent service changes, poor information, unreliable timetabling and short cuts on safety will bring chaos and dissatisfaction. The Government are responsible for this decline, and have no remedy but to make it worse.

I wrote to Sir Keith Bright, the chairman of LRT only this week, and I shall quote part of the letter: Travelling regularly on the underground, including to the House of Commons from my home in Leytonstone, I am aware that there are frequently delays in service caused by signal failures, trains out of commission, staff shortages and other managerial problems, adversely affecting the service. I am also aware of the dingy state of many of the stations. I know that the GLC had plans and was undertaking a programme to invest in both rolling stock and station refurbishment, but that these plans have regrettably now mostly been delayed or abandoned. I call on him to be ready with a plan that will meet the joint aims of improving public transport in London and creating jobs, which will be necessary with the next Labour Government.

I am going to raise this matter when the next general election is held. Public transport will be part of my campaign in the leaflet that I shall be producing, and I shall be demanding the reversal of this decline, and calling for a Labour Government to provide much-needed investment to modernise the road, rail, tube and bus network in London; to provide adequate finance for the services that people need at fares that they can afford; to restore democratic accountability so that local communities can have a say in their public transport; to undertake action on traffic management, with schemes such as bus lanes and selective road building to reduce traffic congestion; to guarantee the free travel passes for pensioners—when the Tories look for cuts, these could still be at risk — and to improve travel facilities and access to the buses and stations for disabled people.

That programme, started by the GLC, has been cut to nothing. Staffing levels should be increased to assist and protect travellers. There must be a proper maintenance programme to improve safety and reduce the dangers of crumbling roads. That is the programe for effective public transport in London. It is a much better programme for people to get around on public transport than the market mayhem and Conservative chaos that is being inflicted on the people of London.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith 11:43 pm, 28th January 1987

It is a bit much for the Minister to open the debate by saying that the GLC was politically motivated, with the implication that he was not. He is a politician, and the Secretary of State and the Minister are imposing political conditions on LRT. I make no complaint about that right, because they won an election just as the GLC won its election, and so had rights over London transport—until it was abolished in case the Labour party won another election, as it was bound to do.

Many Conservative Members show an appalling ignorance. All the station improvements, the fares card to cut fraud, the "Fares Fair" scheme and other improvements all came from the GLC, not the Government, and the Government are picking up some of them because it has turned out that they work. It was the GLC that appointed Dr. Bright, so the Minister's comments are even more out of tune with reality.

What the Minister said about dial-a-ride is grossly misleading. I wrote to the Minister and I have sent his reply to the dial-a-ride people. I can tell the Minister that not just my supporters but people across the political spectrum were angry with his reply, because it raised expectations. The tiny increases have allowed dial-a-ride to advertise its services more widely and provide new capital equipment in the form of buses. However, there is no provision for the increased use that will follow. All the Minister will do is upset many disabled people who will try to use dial-a-ride and find that the facilities are not available. I challenge the Minister: if he does not believe me, he should ask the dial-a-ride organisers because all of them, across the political spectrum, told me that, and I am prepared to give him further details.

The 207 bus route starts in my constituency and thereafter passes through several constituencies held by Conservative Members such as Ealing, Acton and so on.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Shame. We should re-route it.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

All the Conservative Members from Acton to Uxbridge have come out in opposition and have given the Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith Gazette, the local paper that has taken up the issue, their commitment to oppose one-person operation. They have done that because they know that it is unpopular. It is unpopular because, as has already been pointed out, one-person operation, on average, increases journey time by between 15 and 20 per cent. On a route such as the 207, the journey time will be increased by much more. There have been complaints about that service for a long time.

The one area in which I was wrong in the past about one-person operation is that there is some evidence that crime and accident rates have gone down. However, it is wrong to associate that just with one-person operation. It is due to the automatic closing doors which stop people from falling off and so on. The lessening of attacks is probably due not only to the low fares in certain high-risk areas late at night, but to the shields that have been put up and radio links and so on. To say that it is because of one-person operation, as is implied in some of the recent publications, is grossly misleading and another example of the misuse of statistics of which Conservative Members have given such an appalling example this evening.

My main reason for intervening, as the Minister will know, is the development of the Hammersmith Broadway site. I realise that the Minister cannot reply at this time, because there is an appeal before the Secretary of State. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Raynsford), the Members of the European Assembly, councillors and supporters of the Conservative party as well as myself, believe that the scheme for Hammersmith centre will be totally unacceptable in the form that has been proposed by LRT. That scheme is one of the biggest proposals of its type in the country — some say in western Europe, but I do not have all the figures. LRT has proposed that form because political pressure has been put on it by the Government to make money.

The interchange affects all hon. Members. Anybody returning from Heathrow comes through there and changes to the Piccadilly line. Many people use it to get to the Metropolitan line. It is a crucial interchange for buses, tubes and other traffic. By telling LRT that it must stay within certain cost limits and by not allowing it to fund the docks railway without finding its own revenue, the Government have put pressure on LRT to make sites such as Hammersmith pay. Therefore, there has to be a mighty office development on top. In Hammersmith centre there will be an enormous office development which will dramatically change the nature of the area. It was a major issue at the local elections and it will be a major issue again because it is ripping apart the town centre at a time when we are trying to rebuild the town centres of Britain because we know that by having them turned into derelict areas and office space areas we have created the problems of inner cities and made them worse in recent years. I ask the Minister to take away the message that if the Government allowed Dr. Bright and the LRT more flexibility on the money issue they would not have to build developments which alienate hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Even people who do not live in Hammersmith have been complaining about the nature and scale of that development. It is huge.

Dr. Bright has undertaken, following a meeting with some of us, to go away and look at that scheme again, but his room for manoeuvre is limited unless the Government alter their political instructions.

I understand that the Minister cannot reply to me on that tonight, but I ask him to take away the great seriousness with which people across the political spectrum view that issue. It is extremely important and will have a dramatic effect on the whole of west London. Priority must be given to passenger users and to people who live in the area, not to office development.

Photo of Mr David Mitchell Mr David Mitchell , North West Hampshire 11:42 pm, 28th January 1987

It may be convenient if I respond to a number of points that have been made. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) opened in his usual style. He referred to some of the unfortunate side effects of improving efficiency which often means, in any business, that one operates with less manpower than one had before. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House referred to the fact that it is not part of the work of LRT to provide an employment agency. It is its task to provide the best possible services for the citizens of London and others who use its services. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) interrupted the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan by saying that there were 393,000 unemployed in London and 36,000 registered vacancies. The hon. Member for Wigan must bear in mind that the registered vacancies are a third of the total vacancies—that is 100,000 vacancies—and that must be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) told the House that LRT had a shortage of staff. If LRT has a shortage of staff, that is self-evidently an answer to the question about what happens to some of the people who lose their jobs as a result of improved efficiency.

The hon. Member for Wigan has said before that he deplores the decrease in subsidy. He appears to regard subsidy as some sort of virility symbol. I do not do that and I do not think those who pick up the bill, the ratepayers and taxpayers, regard it in that light either. The hon. Members for Wigan and for Battersea claimed that London Buses will not have enough vehicles to run all the routes which are being put out to tender. However, we know from experience that London Buses has won 41 per cent. of the tenders for which it has entered. It would be nonsense for it to put aside the 100 per cent. of vehicles required for the tenders that are coming up and then to find that it won the same proportion, or roughly the same proportion of tenders that it won before and had a whole lot of surplus vehicles on its hands. The hon. Members who pressed that point cannot have thought clearly about the matter.

I turn to OPO services because it is an operational matter for LRT. They clearly bring major cost savings, there are fewer accidents to passengers, fewer assaults on crew and service reliability is greatly enhanced by dependence on one rather than two persons to operate the service. LRT is not committed to 100 per cent. OPO operation, although that is the norm in most major cities throughout the world. London Buses appraises each stage of OPO conversion on its merits taking account of cost savings, time losses to passengers, and congestion effects. It is also looking especially at ways of achieving faster boarding times and reducing delay.

The hon. Member for Wigan threatened that if the Labour party was ever to win a general election, it would re-introduce political control over LRT operations. All I can say is that I am sure that that threat will be noted in the right quarters, and plenty of people will want to see that it does not happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples), in a hard-hitting speech, demolished much of the case against LRT, particularly the Labour party's prophecies that if the Greater London council ceased to run LRT, it would deteriorate. All that has been proved to be arrant nonsense.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised several points. He said that there was the lowest-ever figure for London Buses mileage. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he implied by that that fewer bus miles were being run in London. He is confusing himself with figures. While it is true that London Buses is running fewer miles, that is because the company has failed to win some of the contracts that have gone out to competitive tender. If he looks at the overall mileage in London, he will see that the deterioration that has gone on over many years has come to a stop. The crucial difference in the figures is that the 163 million miles to which he referred is the mileage by London Buses whereas the total mileage being operated in London is 169 million miles. I think that that will give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to congestion on the tube. London Transport is well aware of that. We have helped by approving £45 million worth of additional rolling stock for London Transport. On top of that, as an emergency measure, some older stock is being brought into operation. The fact that there is such an increase in demand is a sign of success. It is perhaps one of the penalties of success, but the last thing that one should do is in any way to fail to recognise that it is success that has led to the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) paid tribute to Sir Keith Bright—rightly so. I add to that a tribute to the role played by Dr. Tony Ridley and John Telford-Beasley. Those professional managers have achieved a great deal, and are responsible for the success that has done so much to improve the services in the capital.

The hon. Member for Battersea also referred to a reduction in the revenue of London Buses. That is because it failed to win the tenders. The same point was raised earlier. The hon. Gentleman is misleading himself if he thinks that there is any other reason for that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) asked me certain questions. He was concerned about when the subsidy to LRT would come to an end and why we had to subsidise it. That is because—

It being one and half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved,

That the draft London Regional Transport (Levy) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 17th December, be approved.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I place on record how thoroughly unsatisfactory it is to have a one-and-a-half hour debate on something as important as London Regional Transport at this time of night when many hon. Members have been unable to speak?