HC Deb 10 March 1952 vol 497 cc1016-22
77. Mr. C. W. Gibson

asked the Minister of Transport if he is aware of the discontent in London about the increase in fares on London Transport and, in particular, of the alteration of fare stages which has resulted in a large increase in the cost of travelling; and if he will exercise his powers under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, to require the Transport Tribunal to review the operation of the relevant charges scheme at an early date.

78 and 80. Mr. Ernest Davies

asked the Minister of Transport (1) if he will refer to the Central Transport Consultative Committee the question of the recent rise in fares in the London Passenger Transport area and request them to review its effects upon the budgets of the travelling public of London; and to make recommendations;

(2) if he will request the Central Transport Consultative Committee to inquire into the manner in which the London Transport Executive and the Railways Executive have carried out the decisions of the Transport Tribunal on the Passenger Charges Scheme. 1951.

81. Mr. Henry Brooke

asked the Minister of Transport if, under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, he will require the Transport Tribunal to review the recent increases in fares, brought into operation by the London Transport Executive a week ago, on the ground that they are an excessive burden to the travelling public of London.

82. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Minister of Transport whether he will refer the recently raised London Transport fares to the Central Transport Consultative Committee for their consideration, drawing their attention to the fact that not only have fares increased but shorter fare stages are now in operation, with a view to their recommending an adjustment in fares and stages to reduce the hardship; and if he realises the effect on travellers, who require to make long journeys to and from work and the burdens involved.

The Minister of Transport (Mr. John Maclay)

Mr. Speaker, I should be glad to have your permission and that of the House to answer orally and together Questions Nos. 77, 78, 80, 81 and 82, which deal with London passenger fares—

Sir H. Williams

On a point of order. Last Monday, Sir, we were discussing this problem on the Second Reading of the British Transport Commission Bill and I sought to intervene on the subject of these increased fares. I was told that I was out of order and prevented from making my speech. Apparently we are denied the right of speech but, as the result of a variety of decisions that have been made over recent years, it is possible to ask Questions on a subject which we are denied the right to debate. Therefore, I want to know whether these Questions on the Order Paper are strictly admissible, having regard to the Ruling given in respect of my speech last Monday.

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Member for giving me notice that he would ask me this question. In the debate last Monday on the British Transport Commission Bill, the subject of freight charges and fares was ruled by me to be out of order for the reason I then gave in c. 106 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. That was why the hon. Member was prevented from reading a letter he had received on the subject of the increased fares in London. However, the Questions addressed to the Minister of Transport today are in order because he has power under Section 80 of the Transport Act, 1947, to require the Transport Tribunal to review the operation of any charges scheme and, under Section 6 (7), to refer any matter, including charges, to the Central Transport Consultative Committee for consideration. The two matters are really quite different and the one Ruling does not conflict with the other.

Sir H. Williams

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, but may I make the further point that, if I had been permitted to speak, I should have asked the Minister to do what all these Questions ask him to do.

Mr. Speaker

I am sorry that we did not have the advantage of the hon. Member's speech.

Mr. T. Price

May I raise another point of order, Mr. Speaker, in connection with the point just raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams)? May I, with great respect, draw your attention to the fact that today I tabled two Questions to the Minister of Transport. They have not been printed on the Order Paper, neither have I received any explanation as to why they are not on the Paper, although they both deal with matters of substantial public interest and not with the day-to-day administration of the British Transport authority.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has not given me any notice of this. Therefore, I cannot possibly answer him now, but I assure him that I will make inquiries into his complaint and see him about it.

Mr. Maclay

I take it that I have your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House to proceed.

The increases in London Transport fares were made by the British Transport Commission under the authority of a scheme referred to the Transport Tribunal, an independent judicial body, in April, 1951, and recently confirmed by them after a public inquiry. I am advised that it would be inconsistent with the intentions of the Transport Act in regard to the control of the Commission's charges for the Consultative Committee to review the Tribunal's decisions, or for me to invoke Section 80 to require the Tribunal to review the operation of a scheme which they have just confirmed.

The scheme, however laid down maxima within which the Commission have discretion to fix actual fares and this discretion covers alteration of fare stages which appears to be a main cause of complaint. Alterations of fare stages and fares in relation to them are matters which can properly be referred forthwith to the Consultative Committee and I am so referring them.

I must make it clear, that under the Transport Act, 1947, no action other than reference to the Consultative Committee is open to me.

Mr. Gibson

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable disturbance in London about the fact that the increase is in many cases not the 20 per cent., which the public thought was to be imposed, but as high as 100 per cent.? May I also ask whether the reference to the Consultative Committee can result in a recommendation being made to the Minister to use his powers to secure an alteration of some of the grievances which the public feel about these matters?

Mr. Shinwell

While not denying the right of the Transport Commission to refer this matter to the Tribunal, and the right of the Tribunal to revise charges, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether they are entitled within the limitations of the Act to adjust fare stages about which, as is rightly said, much of the trouble has arisen?

Mr. Maclay

I am not clear whether the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the right of the Tribunal or of the Commission.

Mr. Shinwell

The Tribunal.

Mr. Maclay

The Tribunal is bound to consider a scheme put to it by the Transport Commission and, as far as I can understand it, under the Act the Transport Tribunal then produces its decisions.

Mr. Shinwell

On this point, which is one of real substance, am I not justified in believing that the reference to the Tribunal was on the matter of increased fares and that no reference was made on the matter of the revision of fare stages? Was this revision of fare stages decided upon arbitrarily by the London Transport Board without any decision being reached by the Tribunal?

Mr. Maclay

No, the scheme put forward to the Transport Tribunal included certain intentions with regard to the charges and fare stages. They were considered by the Transport Board and there were certain discretions left to the Commission by the scheme finally approved by the Tribunal. It is that discretion which makes it possible for me to make the statement I have made. This is a procedure which the right hon. Gentleman and others on the opposite side of the House should understand, because it is under their Act that it happens.

Mr. Charles Doughty

Will the Minister also refer to the Tribunal the removal of facilities by the London Passenger Transport Board, particularly the right to travel to different stations in London and neighbouring stations at the other end within the transport area? These have been removed and represent a grave hardship to those season ticket holders who have been accustomed to use their tickets to different stations. Secondly, in view of the great hardship imposed on those who have to buy season tickets to travel from their place of residence to work, will the hon. Gentleman ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether a change could now be made so that this can be made a proper charge against Income Tax?

Mr. Maclay

I really think that my hon. Friend is going very wide of the statement I have made.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Would the Minister review the question of referring this matter to the Transport Tribunal in view of the fact that there have emerged some new facts? Following the decision of the Transport Tribunal, the way in which their findings have been carried out by the Transport Commission has caused this great dissatisfaction. Would he not consider that justification for referring this back to the Transport Tribunal to have another look at it?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Member sat through the whole of the proceedings on the Act when it was passed by the previous Government. Therefore, he knows what is in the Act and I am assuming that he is asking me to change the Act—

Hon. Members


Mr. Davies

May I put it to the Minister this way? This is not a question of the Act; it is a question of the way in which the Transport Commission has carried out certain findings of the Transport Tribunal. The dissatisfaction is due to the way in which those findings are now being carried out in London. I am suggesting that, in view of that, he is competent to see that a review is made.

Mr. Maclay

My original statement was that it is within this latitude given by the Transport Tribunal to the Commission that there is a case for putting something to the Consultative Committee, and that is what I propose to do.

Mr. Brooke

As soon as opportunity arises to amend the Transport Act, will my hon. Friend consider rendering it more difficult for a nationalised undertaking to make these fresh impositions on the travelling public without reference to Parliament?

Mr. Maclay

My hon. Friend's remarks will be carefully noted.

Mr. John Hynd

When the—

Mr. Robert Boothby

On a point of order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, what Motion is now before the House?

Mr. Speaker

There is no Motion before us. We are still on Questions. I gave permission, in view of the public interest in this matter, for certain Questions to be answered together.

Mr. Hynd

When the Minister constantly refers to the Act, is he suggesting that before the Act there were no greater safeguards for the public with regard to increased fares? Were they not also submitted to a Tribunal, and could they not be enforced without any protection to the public, such as Questions in the House and the Consultative Council?

Mr. Maclay

The hon. Member is going very wide of the Questions on the Order Paper.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

This is now becoming a debate.