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London Regional Transport

Volume 86: debated on Monday 11 November 1985

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Transport if, when he next meets the chairman of London Regional Transport, he will raise the subject of the progress being made by London Regional Transport towards achieving the objectives set by the Government in 1984.

London Regional Transport's excellent progress towards achieving the Government objectives is regularly discussed whenever I meet the chairman. LRT is well on course to achieve all the targets we have set it. In particular, it is forecasting a sustained reduction in real unit costs of at least the target figure of 2·5 per cent. a year and the earlier achievement of its target to halve revenue support. Fares continue to keep broadly in line with inflation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the good news that he has just given. What further steps is LRT considering to improve efficiency and, therefore, to reduce costs to London's travellers and ratepayers? Bearing in mind the many moving services of remembrance throughout London yesterday, when the Secretary of State next meets the chairman will he discuss with him the possibility of LRT buses coming to a halt during the two minutes' silence, as that might set a trend for other road users?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. LRT has embarked on a major programme of cost-cutting investment, including a new Underground ticketing system, new sources of power supply and increasing use of one-person operation on buses and Underground trains. It is pursuing a vigorous programme of putting bus services out to tender, which on current evidence provides the opportunity of savings of up to 20 per cent. As to my hon. Friend's other suggestion, I agree about the moving nature of yesterday's events at 11 o'clock, and I shall certainly bring what he has said to the attention of the chairman of LRT.

Is it the Government's policy to cut the wages of London bus drivers in the outer areas? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a risk of that happening with the contractors of LRT and with LRT itself? If it is not the Government's policy, will he make sure that those contracting for such routes keep to London wages, and that LRT does the same?

The hon. Gentleman knows that these are matters for the management of LRT to work out in consultation with the unions. It is odd to hear him griping at the possibility of less subsidy, possibly even cheaper bus fares, through greater efficiency, but how that is achieved is for negotiation.

None the less, does my right hon. Friend agree that the achievements that he has just detailed have been in the face of campaigns in relation to excessive fare increases which did not take place and in relation to alleged station closures which also did not occur? Will he underline that this is the sort of thing that we in London must put up with?

I shall never forget the nonsense talked during the passage of the London Regional Transport Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "By the right hon. Gentleman."]—about station closures, a 25 per cent. increase in fares and the ending of concessionary bus passes. The Opposition did not believe that it was possible to achieve the efficiency improvements that LRT has already achieved. That really showed up the Opposition, particularly the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), as wholly ill-informed and ill-briefed.

The right hon. Gentleman has waxed so eloquent about the objectives that he has set that it almost seemed as though he was leading us to the promised land. However, is not the reality one of continuing job losses and an outrageous proposal to cut the wages of some bus men by £40 a week, or 30 per cent.? Would not the right hon. Gentleman do much better to call in LRT and tell it to reverse his costly decentralisation proposals as a far better way of saving money and becoming more efficient?

I first welcome the hon. Gentleman back to transport issues. He had that responsibility in a previous incarnation. We look forward to many attempts at educating him in the coming years. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be careful of other occupations that he undertakes, because we do not want to lose him prematurely.

It seems that the hon. Gentleman does not know a promised land when he sees one. LRTs extraordinary performance improvement not only shows how well managed London's transport is, but how extraordinarily badly managed it was under the GLC.