§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Sir James Henderson-Stewart (Fife, East)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a modest Measure with a limited purpose, but I believe that if it is accepted by the House and operated with zeal by those concerned in Scotland it may well pave the way to the provision of much-needed amenities for large numbers of our people. I am glad to say that the Bill is supported by representatives of all parties in the House, and I thank them very much for their co-operation. It is supported by the Government. I think I can say that it has the blessing of the Scottish local authorities. In these unusually felicitous circumstances, I venture to hope that it may pass through all its stages quickly.
The problem posed by the Bill is one with which we are all familiar. Passenger transport by road is assuming ever larger proportions. I do not know the figures, but we all know that a very large part of our people move about by road transport, and in many country areas, especially since the closing down of rail services, road transport offers virtually the only means by which country men, women and children, can move about in their daily work.
On the whole, we have in Scotland a very good bus service. Scottish Omnibuses Ltd., which runs most of the services, is a very well-managed organisation and I know that it does its utmost to meet the needs of the people, but there is a profound and widespread conviction in Scotland that these bus services in country districts can be and should be a great deal better than they are. That is a matter which we have discussed more than once in the House and it would be attractive to discuss it again now, but it is not the issue before us today.
The Bill deals with a narrower point, namely, how in a limited field we can make those bus services, such as they are, more convenient and more comfortable to the travelling public. Without doubt, 1401 one of the most acceptable and necessary improvements that could be made would be to increase the number of shelters where passengers could await their buses in reasonable protection against wind and weather. Anyone who has been in the North in the last day or two will have realised what rigours these conditions can create, and how much misery—and that is not an exaggeration—how much physical misery is caused to those who must hang about without any protection or cover, often for long periods in wintry weather, waiting for the bus to come along. That is something that we all understand and have experienced.
In the cities and burghs, such shelters exist in reasonable numbers. Where more are needed—and it may well be that many of us think that more are needed—the local authorities themselves already possess powers to erect them, but in the villages and along the country roads there is a chronic shortage of accommodation of this kind.
Why is that? The reason is an interesting reflection upon the present state of the law. It is not because those shelters are not wanted. They are. Ii is mainly because no authority—and in those country districts the authority is the county council or the district council—has the power to erect them. It really is a somewhat absurd situation that where shelters are most required, and most demanded, they cannot be provided because no public body may lawfully provide them.
We know, of course, that here and there, in a praiseworthy effort to improve themselves, villagers have clubbed together to raise funds and have erected shelters themselves, but difficulties very often arise in relation to maintenance, and in some areas there have been problems of rating and taxation that have made things still more difficult. The result is that relatively few shelters have been erected in that way.
By and large, it remains true that, throughout Scotland, progress is held up simply because powers to act are wanting. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) frequently draws our attention to the important part played in Scotland by the district councils, and I agree with him. I should tell the House that no one wants the powers contaned in this Bill more than do the district councils, and 1402 perhaps nobody in Scotland would have a greater interest in, or do more towards providing the shelters.
The purpose of the Bill is to give to all Scottish local authorities the right, if they chose to use it, to "provide and maintain" such shelters…in any highway within their district which is comprised in the route of public service vehicles…The right conferred by Clause 1 (1) applies to all local authorities, but I should, perhaps, explain that, in practice, cities and burghs already enjoy the power to erect shelters under other Acts. Clause I extends that provision to county councils and to district councils, and, therefore, to all local authorities in Scotland. But it does more, and I wish to draw the attention of the House particularly to this matter.
The Bill enables any local authority—city, burgh, county council or district council—to co-operate with any other local authority, or, as the Bill says, with…any person authorised to run public service vehicles…This is a new provision, and I think that it should turn out to be a very valuable change in the law.
As hon. Members will recollect, the provisions that I have been describing were included in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, of 1953. Sections 4 to 7. The question is asked, "Why was Scotland not included?" The reason was that Scottish local authority organisations principally concerned the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils in Scotland—preferred, at that time, a different solution, so Scottish local authorities were excluded from that part of the 1953 Act and only authorities in England and Wales have enjoyed its permissive powers.
I have tried to find out how the Act has operated in England and Wales; how many local authorities have used it; how many bus shelters have been erected, but I am unable to give the House the actual figures. It is difficult to assess the exact effect that the Act has had in England and Wales, because that Act, like the present Bill, leaves local authorities as free as possible to do their proper business and they are not obliged to report to the Ministry upon this part of their operations. The Ministry, therefore, does 1403 not have figures—they are not available anywhere.
All those whom I have consulted, however, and I have made it my business to make as wide inquiries in England and Wales as possible, are agreed that the extension of these powers south of the Border has encouraged local authorities to provide bus shelters, and has facilitated the co-operation of the bus companies with the authorities. I would hope that the same, if not more, advantage would be taken in Scotland of this provision, and I must just add that, no doubt, the powers in the English Act, and in this Bill, will be even more widely used once the present restriction on local authority borrowing can be relaxed.
When I was invited to sponsor this Measure, one of my first questions, naturally, was, "Why should it be for the local authorities to take the initiative? Why should not the transport companies put up the shelters for the benefit of their passengers, just as the railways provide them at their stations?" That, of course, was the thought in the minds of the Scottish local authorities when they rejected the offer of inclusion in the 1953 Act. They felt strongly then that the provision of such shelters should not be a local authority responsibility but should be made obligatory upon the bus companies.
As the House will recall, that question was discussed at some length during the passage of the 1953 Bill and, at the same time, it was reported upon by the Thesiger Committee, which was of great interest to all of us. In the end, it became apparent that considerable practical difficulties would arise in requiring bus operators to undertake this task, and Parliament therefore came to the conclusion that the powers proposed in the 1953 Act went as far as legislation could then reasonably go.
That view is now accepted by the Association of County Councils in Scotland. I trust that it will be confirmed by the House today. The Bill does not require the bus companies to co-operate, but it makes it possible and legal for them to do so.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Are the local authorities to understand that expenditure under this Bill will be included in the expenditure covered by the block grant?
§ Sir J. Henderson-Stewart
What I wanted to impress upon the House was that the Bill does not require the bus companies—I am talking principally about Scottish Omnibuses Ltd., which runs practically all the buses in Scotland—to co-operate with the local authorities, but it makes it possible and legal for them to do so. I should inform the House that the British Transport Commission accept the provisions in the Bill. Therefore, it seems to me that it will be up to the local authorities in Scotland to persuade Scottish Omnibuses Ltd. to play its proper part. I personally hope they will and believe that the company ought to do that.
What I have been saying is all included in Clause I of the Bill. The only addition in Clause I to which I would direct attention is that where it extends the proposals to the provision of queue barriers and posts. Clause 2 makes the provision of facilities by a local authority subject to various consents. I think that that is the normal practice. These consents may not be unreasonably withheld, but they may be given subject to reasonable conditions. Provision is also made for the settlement of disputes between authorities and other bodies by arbitration.
Clause 3 protects the Postmaster-General and local authorities, the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation and public utility undertakers in cases where an authority has erected a shelter over underground cables, pipes, and so on, and access to this apparatus is subsequently required. Clause 4 provides for the maintenance of shelters which may have been erected without statutory authority and the maintenance of queue barriers which have been provided under the Defence Regulations.
Clause 5 contains the normal financial provisions and will enable any expenditure incurred by a local authority under the Bill to reckon for equalisation grants. Clauses 6 and 8, as the House will see, are formal.
If right hon. and hon. Members afford a Second Reading to the Bill, we shall no doubt examine its details in Committee. Subject to the Money Resolution—which I hope my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will move, and which I hope will be in acceptable terms—I should be glad, in 1405 Committee, to consider any Amendments which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen may care to put forward. I am anxious to make the Bill as effective and useful as possible. As I said earlier, it is a modest Measure. I believe that with the good will of all concerned, particularly my Scottish colleagues in Parliament, it may well be that this Bill will turn out to be a boon to tens of thousands of country dwellers in Scotland. I feel that this is a Bill that ought to be passed through the House and given legislative authority.
§ 11.24 a.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland (Lanark)
I beg to second the Motion.
In seconding the Motion, I should like first of all to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) on bringing forward the Bill. I think that everyone whose name appears on the cover of the Bill—which, of course, includes myself—is to be congratulated on collaborating in this enterprise. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it is a modest contribution to the national welfare, and it must seem strange—it has certainly seemed strange to me—that by some hazard or, perhaps, deliberately the power to produce something as simple as a bus shelter has not hitherto been conferred on all local authorities in Scotland. It is the more strange when those same powers exist in England and Wales and were conferred in 1953.
My hon. Friend, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, has laid special stress on the position in country districts. My own interest in the Bill—which caused me to work very hard over a period of two years to get it drafted—arose from experience, not so much in a country area, but in a developing area. I was approached as long ago as 27th October, 1955, by a deputation from the East Kilbride Residents' Association. They were led by their vigorous and enterprising secretary, Mr. Hall. They came to see me to describe a number of current anxieties in this developing new town. Among them was their sense of the public need for bus shelters.
Following that deputation, I spent a very cold and very wet day in January, 1956, touring the so-called streets—they are practically meadows—in the new 1406 town and observing for myself that it was physically impossible on a rainy day to stand for more than about five minutes waiting for a bus without getting at least partially soaked. Here was a crying public need, and, as my later investigations showed, the need was not only not being met, but the local authority associations in Scotland—that is to say, the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils—had actually declined to have conferred on all local authorities the powers to meet this need. It is not generally understood by the majority of our officials who necessarily live in towns, let alone by the majority of our public who necessarily live in towns which are well built up, how great is the need for this simple amenity in a developing building area such as a new town.
East Kilbride is now a town of about 20,000 people, but in 1951 when I first went there it was a town of little more than 1,500 or 2,000. It will ultimately be a town of about 60,000 people. In such a place, bus routes converge and the traffic of commerce and business and of going to and fro is done by bus. At East Kilbride there converge bus routes that go direct to Glasgow, Hamilton, Strathaven and Eaglesham. By those bus routes the people of East Kilbride, who have very few amusement amenities locally—there is no cinema—must travel for their entertainment, such as it is. To a certain extent, the young people of East Kilbride must journey by bus to school; and by that I do not simply mean by bus within the new town to schools that are rising in the new town, but, for example, to Hamilton to attend the Hamilton Academy.
The site is open in a fashion that those who live in a built-up area cannot picture. A road may be two or four carriageways wide, but the space on either side of the road may add up to anything from 150 to 200 yards. It means that between opposing rows of houses on either side of a highway there is an enormous space for exposure to wind and weather. It is not a simple matter of standing and sheltering in a doorway, as it might be, say, in London or Glasgow if one is waiting for a bus.
The normal way to the local hospital, Hairmyres Hospital, is by bus along one 1407 of these open highways. One knows of persons who, perhaps with a high temperature or, at any rate, in need of attention, have been exposed to the wind and weather while waiting for a bus to take them to hospital.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I am interested in my hon. Friend's reference to people with high temperatures having to wait for buses. How can that occur when there is a readily available ambulance service? I do not see why people should have to stand around in such distressing circumstances.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I refer him to the comment of the Home Secretary last night, that not everybody boils at the same temperature. The simple fact is that these needs exist, and in a developing area such as a new town the need is particularly urgent.
I do not think I need weary the Committee with a precise description of all the places in East Kilbride where, I think, bus shelters are needed. I know of some ten sites that were obviously in need of such shelters practically two years ago. What has emerged from one's study of this problem is the obstinacy of certain authorities. It is not without interest that when the new town of East Kilbride began to be built, the East Kilbride Development Corporation asked for and secured authority to put up three shelters as a matter of urgency. This was when there were still relatively few new houses, and there was a need to convey people to and from the building sites. Of those three shelters, two were put right in the middle of the town where, indeed, they were and are most needed. The third was put outside the East Kilbride Development Corporation's own offices.
The Development Corporation has pursued with some vigour and with its familiar resources the argument that the whole burden of providing shelters should he put on the bus companies, and in so doing it has seemed to me, at any rate, to overlook the valid arguments that were produced by the Thesiger Committee.
1408 Then again, there has been the refusal of the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils in Scotland to accept these powers until quite recently. This surprises me, because we know that the Convention of Royal Burghs has a long and distinguished history of being one of the main forums, one might say, for expressing Scotland's interest in Scottish national problems. It is to me somewhat of a surprise that the Convention of Royal Burghs, normally so astute in its attention to public business, sometimes willing to look at matters outside the narrowest confines of local government, should in a local government matter have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the actions of its counterpart south of the border. Here is a case where Scotland has learned from the old enemy, and if the lesson has been rather tardily learned, at any rate it is a good lesson, that the local authorities should have these powers.
What is important to bring out is the weight of the Thesiger Committee's arguments. The relevant passage of the Thesiger Report on the subject of bus companies being required to pay for these shelters, paragraph 144, is quite explicit. The Report pointed out that if bus companies are to be required to provide bus shelters, all sorts of problems of priority as between competing claims would have to be established. How many must a bus company provide in order to qualify for its road service licence?
Then there is the problem where more than one operator uses the same stop. There is the question of sharing financial responsibility between different bus companies using the same stop and following part of the same route. Then there is likewise the question of apportioning the cost of maintenance as between different companies.
Then, as the Thesiger Committee pointed out in paragraph 144:The strongest demand for shelters is in rural districts where the services are already less likely to be remunerative. Compulsion on the operator to provide shelters might therefore result in the withdrawal of a service altogether.If one is going to force the bus companies to provide the shelters as a condition of receiving their road service licences, it would be necessary, no doubt, to specify the type and size of shelters to 1409 be provided. Otherwise, as the Thesiger Committee put it in the same paragraph,…the structure might be inadequate or even dangerous.
§ Mr. Maitland
I am sure that my hon. Friend will allow me to complete my quotations from the Thesiger Report, to which. I know, he wishes to direct certain arguments of his own in due course.
Next there is the question of the operators needing, as they would in these cases, to be given a right to appeal against directions issued to them to provide shelters. Here again, the Thesiger Committee, with an acute sense of some of our thoughts in Scotland, comments that:This would probably mean bringing to Whitehall disputes which are concerned with local amenities and which are essentially appropriate to be settled locally by agreement.The same paragraph continues:For these reasons, we do not recommend that there should be power to require the provision of bus stops and shelters as a condition of road services licences.This Bill, of course, in the preliminary preparation of which I am proud to have played some part, leaves the way open for agreements between the local authorities and the bus companies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East, has pointed out, the British Transport Commission has accepted the principle that there should be some collaboration. We have thus advanced a considerable way towards a reasonable compromise between the two positions. What is also of interest in this connection is that, although the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Association of County Councils in Scotland refused to have these powers made available to them in 1953, the district councils were none the less in favour of them then and, of course, they welcome them now.
We all know—I rather suspect that I shall carry the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) with me in this—that the tendency in Scotland is to pay attention to the big battalions in the shape of the Convention of Royal Burghs and the County Councils Association and rather to brush aside the pleas we hear from time to time from the representatives of district councils. It is a common argument adduced by the Scottish Office to 1410 say that the local authorities want so-and-so, when the fact is that not all the local authorities want it but it is only the strongest who want it. I am particularly happy, therefore, in this particular context, that we are doing something which will gratify the smaller local authorities, namely, the district councils, and, above all, we are doing it with the approval of the more powerful local authorities and the bus companies.
I do not wish to detain the House much longer, but, since the Bill does historically have its origin in the deputation brought to me—
§ Mr. Maitland
Yes, with respect; it does, in fact, historically have its origin in a deputation brought to me by the East Kilbride Residents' Association. I think it is only fair to express the hope that residents' associations in East Kilbride and elsewhere will note that it is not altogether useless to come to Members of Parliament, even though results are not immediate.
Here is a case on which we started working two years ago; and now we have at least got to the point that a Bill is brought to the House for Second Reading. I only hope that the residents of East Kilbride will be active, first of all, in supporting their residents' association in this and other public matters and, secondly, in pressing the local authorities to get on with the building of the shelters, for I have no doubt that every kind of argument will be used to delay and to push the thing completely on to the bus companies, to prevaricate by saying that the bus companies have not agreed to a portion of the cost, and so on. It is up to the residents of East Kilbride to press hard.
It may well be that, if the residents of East Kilbride had greater representation on the local authorities, they could make their voices better heard. Not very long ago, I received an approach from the East Kilbride Community Association asking for my help in efforts to secure the provision of two more county council electoral districts in this growing new town. I am bound to say that I replied by return of post last December, but I have not had any further answer from the residents' association. I hope that they will keep it 1411 up, keep up their pressure on their Member of Parliament and on all public representatives. It is by such pressure-that democracy can be invigorated locally and kept alive.
There are other parts of the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire which will benefit from the Bill. Here I come back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East. In the country districts, the Bill can be a very considerable boon. I am thinking of one particular place, Harelaw crossroads, where Councillor Monteith and his distinguished father have been pressing for years to have a bus shelter erected.
I am happy that a project of this kind has been so readily sponsored from both sides of the House, as the names on the back of the Bill bear witness. I am very glad to offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East, for taking the matter up. The Scottish Office is to be congratulated on its response to my own approaches and its known help in assisting me to have the matter brought forward.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
All hon. Members representing agricultural constituencies in Scotland will welcome the general purpose of the Bill, inasmuch as we are all anxious to give necessary comfort and convenience to people who live long distances from the towns and who have to use the bus services. I certainly sympathise with the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) in his experience of having to wait on a bus route on which there was no shelter provided, though my sympathy is tempered by some measure of hope that, after the next General Election, he will not be called upon to wait at those bus stops so often.
I welcome any sort of initiative by hon. Gentlemen opposite in extending what is essentially public enterprise. Apparently, we are all Socialists now, even the hon. Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley).
§ Sir Colin Thornton-Kemsley (North Angus and Mearns) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman seems to disclaim any such views; at least, he was in favour of extending municipal enterprise in the last Bill with which he was associated on a Friday.
1412 The subject matter of the Bill must have some relation to the general policy of the Government. Only yesterday there were fervid exhortations to us to reduce Government expenditure, yet the very first Bill introduced the next day, with the approval of hon. Gentlemen opposite is a Bill which involves increasing local expenditure.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes; it is Scottish Members who are interested in this Bill. We have to rule out certain misfits. We apparently overestimated the progressive instincts of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams).
What is the argument? Yesterday we were told that the immediate necessity is to reduce public expenditure, to save the £ and to stop inflation, and all Government legislation on local matters is to tell local authorities to keep down costs. Yet here we have, presumably at the instigation of the Government, a Measure which may involve local authorities in considerable expense and, as an old member of a finance committee, I am always asking where the money is coming from? When I asked the hon. Member for Lanark whether he had made any estimate of what this scheme was likely to cost the County Council of Lanark, he just slithered away and did not answer.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
I am sorry to cut into the entertaining diversion of the hon. Gentleman, but I did answer his question. The answer was, no.
§ Mr. Hughes
As Scottish Members we are entitled to have an estimate of the cost of any proposed legislation. I was interested to find out whether the hon. Gentleman had made any attempt to give an approximate estimate of what this would mean to Lanarkshire. For instance, will it mean anything on the district council rates? As hon. Members know, district councils are very limited in the amount of money they can spend. Here is a Bill in respect of which no estimate has been made of the expenditure involved, and I think that the promoters of the Bill should have made an effort to 1413 obtain one. Certainly, if what is suggested here for East Kilbride is to be repeated over a large country like Lanarkshire, it must involve the county in considerable expense which will not be borne by the bus companies.
§ Mr. Maitland
It is plain from the Bill that the bus companies may share the cost, so it is not accurate to say now that the bus companies will pay nothing.
§ Mr. Hughes
Share in what? We have no estimate of the expenditure that is likely to be incurred. Suppose we try to look at this from the point of view of the next county, Ayrshire. I am all in favour of giving the rural population the necessary number of bus stops, because the climate is rather like the climate of Lanarkshire, only sometimes it is worse. I am sure, however, that the Ayrshire County Council, although it will be interested in this Bill, will immediately want to know how much expenditure is likely to be incurred on the provision of bus stops.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
To assist the hon. Gentleman, may I draw his attention to the provisions of Clause 1 (2) under which, no doubt, the Scottish county councils who are providing the money can pass on the whole cost to the bus companies, thereby relieving the rates of that expenditure.
§ Mr. Hughes
If that had been explained earlier it would have enabled the hon. Member for Lanark to answer some of my questions, but, in any case, the local authority will be faced with a financial problem.
Suppose, for example, the Ayrshire County Council asks its county surveyor to present estimates and plans for a number of these bus stations. The county council will ask, can it be done under £100,000 for a county the size of Lanarkshire or Ayrshire? Then it will ask, "Where are we to get that amount of money?" Then somebody will ask. "Are we to borrow this at 6 per cent.?" Somebody else will ask, "Are we going to the Public Works Loan Board?" Somebody may then ask, "Will the Secretary of State for Scotland authorise the expenditure?" And in that case will the Secretary of State go the Treasury? At that point, are we to be told, "Oh, no, the time has come for reducing expenditure and this would result in inflation."
1414 These are questions we want answered, and they are questions which inevitably will be asked when we come down to earth. At present, every local authority is having to face the fact that each item of expenditure has to be scrutinised closely because of the interest rates of 6 per cent. and 6½ per cent. With all the good will in the world, I cannot see this proposal materialising as long as the hon. Member for Lanark is in the present Parliament. So I suggest that when we reach the Committee stage of the Bill we shall assure local authorities that this expenditure will not be piled on them.
The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), who does not really know the Scottish local authorities, thinks that they will "pass the buck" to the bus companies. He may think he knows the Scottish local authorities, but he does not know the Scottish bus companies.
These are some of the snags in the Bill. Nowadays, when discussing the finance of any local authority in Scotland, we are asked to develop the local block grant. Recently, I have received strong representations from the Ayrshire County Council, who are much perturbed about the effect of that grant. They say that if the Government's financial provisions get on to the Statute Book the expenditure of local authorities will be limited considerably. This applies especially to education. Local authorities are not going ahead with schools, and if they are not going ahead with schools will there be any great enthusiasm for going ahead with bus stops?
I suggest, therefore, that while this Bill may be a very useful one, its financial implications should be examined carefully because they are utterly out of keeping with Government policy. The Government are not likely to help and the "buck" is likely to be handed on to the local authorities, who will have to pay large sums in high building costs and extortionate rates of interest. I hope, therefore that by the time we have examined this Bill it will be a little more acceptable to the local authorities.
§ 11.58 a.m.
Sir Colin Thornton-Kemslev (North Angus and Mearns)
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) is very much 1415 to be commended on his choice of a Private Member's Bill to sponsor in this House. I think he sensed, as I did when placed in similar circumstances two years ago, that if he brought forward a Bill that was likely to arise a great deal of controversy it would be unlikely to secure the time of the Scottish Standing Committee. He has, therefore, I think rightly, brought forward a Bill which he has described as a modest Bill and which I hope, with one or possibly two exceptions, will today meet with the approval of the House.
My hon. Friend was wise to do that because those of us who are members of the Scottish Standing Committee know that we shall be very much engaged in the months that lie ahead. Indeed, it looks as if we may well be in Standing Committee when the House rises for the Summer Recess. It is important, therefore, that the Bill should be one which is likely to command general acceptance.
I am a little perturbed by the fact that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has taken the line he has today, which is so reminiscent of the line he took in respect of my local government Bill two years ago. Indeed, so reminiscent is it that I begin to fear that he will try to hold up this Bill as he did the former Measure.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
The hon. Member will remember that I certainly took an interest in his Bill and that he thanked me for improving it.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
I thanked the hon. Member for at last ceasing to speak throughout the whole of the morning's sitting, so that we might finally get the Bill through rather than have it withdrawn.
I believe that this Bill is likely to be acceptable. Unlike other legislation before us or coming before us in the Scottish Standing Committee, there is no body of opinion in Scotland which is opposed to this Measure. The Bill is supported by local authority associations and accepted by the British Transport Commission, and we all know there is a strong case for it in our constituencies.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire thinks that some blame attaches to the promoters for not having furnished them- 1416 selves with detailed estimates of the cost of the proposals. He must have failed to notice that the Bill is permissive. It will, therefore, rest with local authorities whether they make use of the provisions or not. In such circumstances, it is impossible to make any detailed estimate of the cost. Such matters ought to be considered in local council chambers and not the House of Commons. We give the permissive powers, and it is for local authorities, through their elected representatives, to decide whether or not to avail themselves of the powers.
I do not think that the objection raised by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire is valid, but two valid objections to the Bill might be raised. The first is that the Government's new arrangements for local authority finance, the arrangements contained in the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Bill, might conceivably mop up all cases of this kind where permissive powers are given to local authorities, and that the Government might say, "In future we shall not give detailed block grants on fixed percentages of Government expenditure. We are substituting for that system a general grant which local authorities can allocate as they think fit between various local services. Local authorities will have greater responsibilities in future to decide whether to spend part of the money on bus shelters, private street works and other services which call for local authority expenditure."
I see the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) shaking his head. All I have said is that it might conceivably be argued that in comprehensive legislation dealing with local government finance, such as we are putting forward at the present time, these things might be dealt with together in a Clause. I do not think that it is too late to table an Amendment to provide that local authorities, since they will, in future, have power to spend public money as they think fit, shall be allowed to allocate money for the erection of bus shelters and other purposes.
§ Mr. T. Fraser
I was shaking my head because the Government are not prepared to include highway expenditure within the provisions of the general grant in the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Bill.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
I am not talking about a highway grant, but a grant for the erection of bus shelters, which is very different.
This is one way in which it might be done. It would seem sensible that when we give these new financial powers to local authorities a lump sum from the central authority should be provided together with a generous proportion of the proceeds of the rerating of industry, so that local authorities may be allowed to allocate the funds to certain services, including education, housing and the provision of bus shelters.
§ Mr. Fraser
Housing does not come within the general grant arrangement. Apparently the hon. Gentleman is merely saying that local authorities can build bus shelters out of the general grant. Such things are possible without a new Clause in the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Bill. Local authorities can use their rates and their general grant for what purposes they think fit so long as they have legislative power. If they have legislative power to erect bus shelters, they can spend some of the money upon bus shelters without requiring a new Clause permitting them to do so.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
I was not going beyond that. Legislative powers are required. I was merely saying that one objection which might be made to the Bill is that such legislative powers might be included in a comprehensive Clause in the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Bill. Perhaps I expressed myself in a roundabout way.
I think it would be possible to object to the Bill and say that it is unnecessary because the Government are proposing new measures for local government finance in which they could insert a Clause giving local authorities power to spend funds as they desire upon such things as bus shelters. However, the Government have not done that, and so I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East is absolutely justified in bringing forward this Bill.
The second argument which might be advanced against the Bill has been dealt with fairly fully. It is that the bus companies themselves ought to do this work. That could be argued, but the contrary 1418 argument is so convincing that I find it conclusive. The great need for bus shelters is in rural areas. Buses are few and far between in such areas, and in order to make sure of catching them people go to the bus stops in very good time and wait there, sometimes for long periods, perhaps in the hope that, by some miracle, the bus will be on time or even ahead of time. Where I live, about two and a half miles from a market town, we get a bus only every three or four hours. In such circumstances people will go to the bus stops early and stand about to make sure that they do not miss the bus. This applies particularly to children and very old people.
The Thesiger Committee was right in pointing out that the operating costs of bus services in rural areas are so high that there is a real danger that if the responsibility for providing bus shelters in rural areas is placed upon the companies it will be a matter of the last straw which breaks the camel's back, and we shall have no service at all.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
I do not think that the position is the same at all. There are a great many ratepayers, and bus shelters are not all that expensive, and the burden can be borne over the whole area of a county or district council. While I think it wrong to place the whole responsibility for providing shelters on bus operators, with other hon. Members from this side of the House I welcome the fact that the British Transport Commission has not objected to the Bill and has accepted it, since the Commission controls Scottish Omnibuses Ltd., which runs nearly all the services in Scotland.
My hon. Friend said that he was prepared to accept Amendments. It will be necessary for some of us to propose some Amendments to enable local authorities proposing to erect bus shelters to receive financial assistance not only from the bus companies, but from individuals and from others. I say from individuals because I have a case, which I know very well, of a friend of mine who is a landowner and who has near her property a crossroads which forms what is called a fare stage of the bus service. Because of the number of farms round about and 1419 children going to school, at certain times of the day a number of people stand at this crossroads waiting for a local bus.
This lady thought that it would be a good thing if she were able to erect a bus shelter on a corner, and she spoke to many parents of children about it. There was an estate joiner and other people skilled in carpentry and brick laying and farm workers accustomed to doing a great deal of constructional work on farms. She said that she would provide the land, the timber, the plans and the consents. She went to an architect, who drew an attractive plan of a bus shelter made of timber and with three sides so that there was shelter from the weather. This plan was handed with detailed instructions to the people who were to make the shelter. The lady said that she would provide matured timber if they would do the work, but nothing more happened.
That may be an unfortunate example, but the point I want to make is that in many such cases contributions could be received from landowners and others. Very often the shelters will be on land adjacent to the highway and unless the land is given by the owner it will have to be acquired, presumably by agreement, because my hon. Friend has not inserted anything giving compulsory powers for the local authority to acquire land for this purpose. It may well be that the local authority ought to be able to accept gifts of land, perhaps even gifts of timber and materials and even of shelters.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
My hon. Friend will be aware that in certain cases ratepayers have voluntarily clubbed together to provide a shelter. The village of Chapelton is one example of which I know and no doubt there are many others. No doubt my hon. Friend's remarks would cover such a situation.
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
That may well be so.
I said that the Bill might be extended to empower local authorities to receive gifts from individuals "and others" and I had in mind particularly one form of enterprise which might help. I have already said that the most effective shelters in country districts are those which have three sides—the back and two flanking walls—covered in against inclement weather and with a roof. It is 1420 possible that advertising contractors would, with local authority consent and approval, be prepared to erect shelters of that kind in return for the facility to display advertisements of an approved form in frames, or in some other permanent form—not fly posting—on the internal sides of the three walls.
Many of us who travel by Green Line bus have seen excellent bus shelters which carry very good matter advertising London Transport Executive and rambles in the countryside, and so on. There are sometimes attractively coloured pictures in frames and plans of routes. That might be extended and, after all, these would be valuable advertising sites. The advertising contractors might send representatives regularly to change the advertisements. That would be revenue producing in certain areas and some big firms of advertising contractors might be prepared to shoulder the cost of putting up shelters because of the advertisements.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does this not mean more national expenditure? Is the hon. Member thinking of the argument of the poor Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley
That is not a valid argument. We are not increasing expenditure, but providing for these shelters to be erected if the local authority so desires.
I conclude by saying that the Bill commends itself to me and I hope that it will to all those who have the interest of Scotland at heart because, first, it should be non-controversial; secondly, it is wanted by some public authorities at any rate and is not opposed by any; thirdly, its powers are permissive and not mandatory; and, fourthly and finally, in cases where it is operated it may do much to reduce the number of colds and what the medical profession describes as "complications" following colds and may greatly help many worthy folk, especially the very old and the very young.
§ 12.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)
I had not intended to say anything on the Second Reading of this Bill, because I thought that the matters of detail could be more properly discussed in Committee. However, it is certainly a 1421 temptation to a Scottish Member to take part in the debate on the Second Reading of a Scottish Bill and it is unusual for that temptation to be resisted. I confess that I have been unable to resist the temptation because of the speeches which have been made.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) should not be taken too lightly. We should not regard it as one of his normal impatient objections nor opposition for opposition's sake. He was on very good ground in what he said. Apart from the objection he raised, and the difficulties he described, the Bill will have universal approval because we all want more bus shelters, especially in rural areas. I was not surprised to hear him make the point about expense, because the same point immediately occurred to me. We both represent county constituencies. He has a long experience in local government, both in the county council and as a distinguished member—indeed, as provost for many years—of a small burgh.
There are six small burghs and one county council in my constituency, which is a fairly typical Scottish constituency. The county forms the constituency, and, therefore, consists of the county council and, within it, six burgh councils. None of those authorities is blessed with money to spare, at any time. At the present time, especially, the average small Scottish burgh is extremely worried. Nearly every one—and there are far too many of them—is worried about its financial position.
The question of the provision of bus shelters is a very old one. It has cropped up for years. Endeavours to provide them have been made time and time again. There must have been hundreds of discussions among local authorities and particularly town councils in small burghs on this subject. They have all fallen through when the question of who will pay has arisen. Everybody wants these shelters; nobody wants to pay for them.
At present, that fact will constitute a very grave handicap to the Bill becoming effective—because it is still only permissive. The hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) pointed out that Clause 1 (2) lays down that 1422any such agreement may in particular provide for the payment by the first-mentioned authority or person of the whole or any part of the cost of the provision and maintenance of the shelters or other accommodation, or barriers or postsIt is purely permissive. The difficulty is that there will be a continuation of the argument as to who will pay.
I was, however, extremely pleased to hear the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) say that the British Transport Commission had agreed to the Bill. That agreement may not mean very much; the Commission may very well think that it can safely agree with the Bill because it does not commit the Commission definitely to any expenditure, but, as it has hitherto been inclined to resist it, this agreement may be a useful sign.
The fact that the Bill has been discussed and passed in this House—as I am sure it eventually will be—will renew the whole question, and there is no doubt that we shall have a few extra bus shelters. I hope that we shall be able to devise some means whereby a definite method of financing this project can be incorporated into the legislation, with the approval of all the parties. Things have come to a rather sorry pass when we have to admit in this House that we cannot bring in a Bill of a definite character because it would not get through the Scottish Standing Committee. Eventually it would, perhaps, but it would take a very long time, and with all the other legislation there just is not time for it.
We shall just have to see how the Bill works. We shall have to hope that it will provide a large number of shelters, but it is quite clear to me that the seven authorities in my constituency will all have considerable difficulty in doing this work, and I am not very sanguine about any great amount of co-operation on the part of Scottish Omnibuses Ltd., although I may be pessimistic in that.
Bus shelters are for the benefit of the public, and I do not think that we should be pernickety about suggesting that ratepayers ought to pay at least a part of the cost. It is a dangerous thing to say, but I believe that ratepayers ought not to be too resistant to the idea of making some contribution, and it may be that the undertaking authority—which in nearly every case in Scotland will be Scottish Omnibuses Ltd.—will then be encouraged also to contribute.
1423 I think that we ought to pay some attention to the point of view of that company. It is a very large concern and, although the travelling public in Scotland are under the impression that fares are high, those of us who travel about London and other parts of the country know that the Scottish fares are comparatively cheap; indeed, they are probably the cheapest bus fares in Britain. By a deliberate policy the company has endeavoured to maintain its fares at the lowest possible level. For long periods we have had to suffer the inconvenience of travelling in decrepit buses in order to maintain that cheap fare policy, but that day has gone and the general standard of the buses is steadily improving.
There are many new buses on the routes, and it may well be that the company will now claim that if it has to make a substantial contribution towards the provision of shelters the only way in which it can do so will be by increasing its fares. So the public is likely to have to pay—as, of course, it always does in the long run.
I also want to say a word about the design of these shelters. It is possible to put up a shelter very cheaply. The hon. Member for North Angus (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) referred to some of the very attractive bus shelters which exist in the London Transport area. There are one or two, but the usual London Transport bus shelter consists of four posts with a tin roof, which is almost useless as a cover except when the rain is coming straight down.
§ Mr. Taylor
When a wind is blowing the shelters are not shelters at all, and anyone standing under them gets wet. Such shelters would be quite useless in Scotland because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) has just stated, the rain does not come straight down in Scotland; it comes down at an acute angle. The three walls suggested by the hon. Member for North Angus are, therefore, an absolute essential, especially in the rural areas of Scotland. Design must enter into the question, and I imagine that we should all wish the design of these shelters to be a pleasing one and not a blot on the rural landscape of Scotland.
1424 The hon. Member for North Angus should be most enthusiastic on that point, because of his well-known interest in town and country planning and the preservation of rural Scotland. If these shelters are left to be financed by hard-up local authorities, and especially by small burghs—who, at the present time, with a 7 per cent. interest rate, are having to canalise most of their expenditure into housing, and are reluctantly being forced even to cut down there—they will look askance at anything of this nature, which can be done without.
If public opinion induces them to provide bus shelters, my fear is that they will probably be of the cheapest and nastiest possible kind. We shall have to consider this matter in Committee to see whether we can prevent the unpleasant and ugly type of bus shelter being erected, especially in the small burghs.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Fife, East for appearing to damn his Bill with faint praise, or praise it with faint damns, when it is really a very useful Measure. I hope that the best intentions behind the Bill will be carried out. I am not quite sure that its genesis is as the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) claims. I do not think that it originated from the East Kilbride Residents' Association. However, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his adroitness in making an electioneering speech in the course of a debate on a small Bill of this kind.
§ Mr. Patrick Maitland
Of course, I would not wish to take the major part of the credit for this proposal, but it happens, historically, that the matter does arise out of conversations which I had with the Scottish Office which themselves arose from suggestions made by the East Kilbride Residents' Association. The problem is a nation-wide one. Having said my piece, I do not want to claim any more credit for it, and am happy that the Bill is so warmly welcomed by the House.
§ Mr. Taylor
We will concede that point in part to the hon. Gentleman and after the General Election we shall recall that the great achievement of the former hon. Member for Lanark, as we shall then describe him, was that he sponsored a Bill which gave permission to the local authorities and bus undertakings to build 1425 bus shelters in rural areas if they thought fit and found the necesary money to do so. It will be a very good political monument to the hon. Gentleman.
As there is no direct opposition to the Bill, I think that we should now hasten to give it a Second Reading and deal with the detailed points in Committee.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) has said that there is no opposition to the Bill. As I understood the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), he was opposed to the Bill. Although I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) who has done much to introduce the Bill, to which, I suppose, some of his constituents are looking forward, it is my intention to do my best to see that it never gets on to the Statute Book.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, All Saints)
And no doubt the hon. Gentleman will see that no other legislation passes on its way to the Statute Book today.
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Gentleman will no doubt have an opportunity to catch Mr. Speaker's eye in due course and to make his point. Interruptions of this nature only hold up legislation. Indeed, when such interruptions are made, one has to take rather longer in developing one's argument than one intended.
I understand that the Bill follows on facilities given to local authorities under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953. I wish to say right away that were the Government to introduce a Measure of that nature at this time I should find it very difficult indeed to give it my support. As hon. Members opposite mentioned, we have been asked to economise on Government expenditure. A very moving speech was yesterday made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) on this very point, a speech which I think commended itself to all right hon. and hon. Members of this side of the House. We now find that under the Bill we are to give permissive power to local authorities in Scotland to 1426 embark on a vast programme of expenditure.
The hon. Member for West Lothian, who has just left the Chamber, said that he hoped to see large numbers of bus shelters appearing as a result of the Bill. All I can say is that such bus shelters will not appear without a considerable expenditure of money, and that in itself is most undesirable at the present time.
Another thing that I think one must bear in mind is the Government's proposal for the reform of local government finance. I have already made some criticisms of the detailed proposals in this respect. If local authorities in Scotland are to be pressed, as they will be pressed, by the people living within their boundaries to put up bus shelters, there will undoubtedly be pressure put upon the Government by Scottish hon. Members to change the basis of calculation of the block grant system which is now the feature of the Government's proposal for reform of local government finance. If this happens we shall have a bus shelter factor introduced into the whole question of the block grant system. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh at that, but it is a very valid point.
The intention now is that block grants should cover the major part of the activities of local authorities, and, of course, the greater part of block grants is used for education purposes. It is only fair, when we are trying to maintain the standards of education, that we should not put additional burdens upon local authorities. It is most unfair at this time to pass legislation which, although it certainly only gives permissive powers to local authorities, puts them in a position in which considerable pressure can be brought to bear upon them.
We all know to what pressures we as hon. Members can be subjected and how easy it is to give way. The moment any such surrender is made by a local authority in Scotland some other feature of local life will be bound to suffer. My fear is that the service which would suffer most would be the education service. That is why I oppose the Bill and why, in due course, I propose to ask the House to divide on its Second Reading.
I am surprised that in the Bill as drafted no definition is given of what is regarded as an effective bus shelter— 1427 what sort of erections we want to see put up as a result of the Bill. That point was made by the hon. Member for West Lothian, who said that if we were not very careful only the cheapest structures would be erected and that these would be particularly hideous in Scotland. I do not know why that should be so in Scotland and not in Devon. Whenever I go to Scotland I can hardly stand up because of the wind.
§ Mr. Williams
I do my level best to get away from the place as soon as possible. As I say, there is no definition in the Bill of what is a suitable shelter. It might be four poles with a piece of tin on top. That, presumably, would come within the definition of a shelter.
Provision is made in Clause 1 (2) of the Bill in respect tothe provision and maintenance of shelters or other accommodation, or barriers or posts…I should have thought that this was an important subject for which the Bill could have made provision, that it could have made provision for the adequate development of shelters by a body such as the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
I remember waiting in Devonshire for a bus, just after the First World War, to take me to where I was living at that time. I will not mention where the incident took place, because even after this length of time I do not want the local authority to feel that I was critical of the way it was administering its boundaries. There were a few bus shelters in those days. The bus shelter at which I was waiting at the time in question was constructed of wood. I was surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark should suggest that bus shelters might be made of wood.
The particular shelter about which I am speaking was about 10 ft. high—much too high. At that time the local buses were of the type called T-4s. I expect that some hon. Members will recall the kind of thing that was. It had projections sticking out at the side. As a small boy I was there, waiting for the bus. Along came one of the vehicles to pick me up. The projecting part caught the shelter and threw the whole 1428 structure over. It missed me. Only by good fortune have hon. Members today the opportunity of listening to me. Otherwise, my somewhat strange career would have been cut short.
It is essential to say what sort of shelter we ought to have. It is very disturbing to think that dangerous structures may be put up in Scotland. I feel very strongly for the Scottish people. I would not like structures to be erected which might endanger their limbs.
One or two other things about the Bill are confusing, and I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will spend a little time explaining them. Surely it is not necessary to consult all the authorities set out in Clause 2 (1) before a bus shelter is put up. The subsection mentionsThe highway authority, the undertakers"—not the sort of undertaker with which many of us are familiar—the Ministerand other authorities. I hope that the Bill can be amended in Committee so as to give the local authority reasonable compulsory powers to acquire any land it requires for this purpose.
I find Clause 3 most disturbing, because it anticipates that shelters will be put up so as to be a nuisance to the Postmaster-General. It is undesirable that the shelters shall inconvenience a Government Department. I hope that this Clause can be amended in Committee, and that I shall be a member of Standing Committee C in due course, so that I can make my contribution to the Bill.
§ Mr. Williams
I am not sure that I want to get on to that Committee, but I will try to do my best. The Postmaster-General should be asked to agree before shelters are put up. It is always disturbing when a local authority which has lust dug up a road has to go back a fortnight or so later and dig it up again.
Will my hon. Friend also enlarge on Clause 4, because I do not like the idea of Defence Regulations being continued? It looks as though the local authorities are simply taking over powers from the regulations. I do not like the sound of 1429 it. It seems like a back way to carrying on the Defence Regulations.
There is no other point about the Bill that I want to refer to now. I emphasise what was said by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire about the block grant. This is not the time for us to put additional burdens upon local authorities. For all these reasons, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) will not make it necessary for me to take the matter to a Division, but, when the debate is finished, will withdraw the Bill.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) has exaggerated the importance and the cost of the Bill. I very much regret that he said that if the Bill were not withdrawn he would divide the House.
It would be unreasonable of him to do so. About four years ago a Bill was passed to give precisely similar powers to local authorities in England and Wales. I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, and I cannot remember that the hon. Gentleman had any objection to granting the powers to those local authorities. I think he would agree that it is unfair now to deny to Scottish local authorities what he then agreed to give to local authorities in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
The situation has changed considerably since 1953. There is now a drive for economy in a world which is becoming much more competitive.
§ Mr. Fraser
Because we have had a Conservative Government all the time. It is understandable that the economic situation now is rather worse than it was then. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that we are legislating not only for 1958 but for years to come. It is doubtful whether a lot of bus shelters will be constructed immediately. It will take time for local authorities to negotiate with bus companies and others. My right hon. 1430 Friend the Member for East Fife (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) is to be congratulated upon choosing this Bill when he had good fortune in the Ballot. I hope that the Bill will soon become law.
My hon. Friend said that the Bill had its origin in the deputation which he received in 1955 and that he had conversations in the Scottish Office following that deputation. I do not think the idea had its origin only in 1955, because many people had been canvassing it for a very long time. When the 1953 Bill was before the Committee I remember asking the then Under-Secretary—now the Minister of State—why these powers were being given to English and not to Scottish local authorities. The Minister said he would like to see the powers given, but unfortunately Scottish authorities were most unwilling to have them. I had to accept that explanation. I had already had discussions with the Lanarkshire County Council about the provision of shelters, and although it said the powers would be helpful, I found that the county council did not really want them because it considered that shelters should be provided by bus operators in the same way that waiting rooms are provided by railway authorities.
I well remember saying that the bus company might reply that it paid a lot of money in taxation, in petrol tax, fuel duties, Road Fund licences and so on and that motorists subscribed about ten times more to the national "kitty" than they get out of it in improvements of the highways. The reply I received was that the Government got the benefit of that money, not the local authority. The Government took the money from the bus companies in taxation which made it improper for local authorities to ask bus companies to provide the same accommodation for waiting passengers as was provided on the railways. The taxpayer, not the ratepayer, should pay for the building of the shelters. I could understand that attitude of the local authority, although I did not entirely agree with it. I thought it a good thing if they could have the power to put up bus shelters here and there.
The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire was not, as the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) said, a diversion. It was a 1431 speech which applied itself to the conditions of today. My hon. Friend called attention to the stringencies imposed on local authorities. He was showing that it is all very well to make speeches saying that local authorities should do this, that and the other to increase and improve services available to the people, but when measures are taken making it impossible for local authorities to do that the Government are guilty of misleading the people. They would be guilty of a deception such as our Government say the Soviet Union are guilty of from time to time in their offers for consultation in order to ease world tension and so on. They would be guilty of giving us words unsupported by deeds. That was the sense of the contribution made by my hon. Friend.
In that connection, one thinks of legislation passed in recent years. A few years ago, under great pressure, we put through the Agricultural Roads Act. That was needed, not because we were economically strong, but because we were economically weak. We had balance of payments difficulties and it was necessary to increase the amount of beef produced in this country. We had to improve roads into livestock rearing areas. Grants were made from Government funds to enable that to be done.
We all co-operated on that Measure to get it through speedily, but nothing has happened. Because of the seriousness of the balance of payments situation and the situation at home, that Measure was made necessary, but then the position got worse and we could not afford to cure it ourselves. I think nothing has ever been done under that Act. Very little has been done under the Local Government (Street Works) (Scotland) Act, which was promoted by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) two years ago. That is because local authorities cannot afford to do the work.
As the hon. Baronet the Member for East Fife said, the councils most likely to take action under this Bill if and when it becomes an Act are district councils. Those authorities have been anxious for this legislation. I have been to their conferences at which speeches have been made and resolutions passed calling for these powers. I think that with the exception of only one councillor out of 1432 several hundred the district councils were unanimously in favour of having this power.
It has been suggested that councils might get some assistance to finance these activities from the new general grant. The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns suggested that it might be possible to introduce a new Clause to deal with that position. Although I seemed to reject what he was suggesting, I think I can offer him a way out of the difficulty. Under a Bill now before the House, district councils are having taken away from them grants they received under the Physical Training and Recreation Act and they are offered nothing in return. I invite the co-operation of the hon. Member in ensuring in Committee that provision may be made in the general grant for district councils, which are the authorities which want to build these bus shelters, to enable them to do so after power has been given.
I mention a difficulty in my constituency to show in what way I think things may go wrong with this Bill. I am not opposing the Bill; I very much want it. I have had discussions from time to time with the bus company, the Central S.M.T., and with Lanark County Council, about the need to build bus shelters outside some of the big factories on industrial estates, particularly where large numbers of girls are employed. Those girls when they leave work, hundreds at a time, sometimes have to stand waiting for a long time in very inclement weather at a bus stop. The bus company could not erect shelters and the county council said it had not the power, and in any case did not want to do so. It had too many other claims and could not decide on its priorities.
One of these bus stops is in Larkhall outside a large factory operated by Simpsons, the clothing people. They employ many hundreds of girls. Immediately behind the factory there is a large housing scheme, the Hareleeshill housing scheme, where the district council wants to build a hut for aged people. It would cost about £600 to provide such a centre for old people to meet there in the evenings. There is no public hall of any kind in the housing scheme. The old people ought to be able to meet together from time to time. The district council cannot meet the expense out of revenue and 1433 the Joint Under-Secretary has explained to me that the council cannot be given borrowing consent.
§ Mr. Fraser
It has been turned down. If the district council had power to build bus shelters and were able to do so without seeking borrowing consent it might do so, but if not, I hope that if the Joint Under-Secretary has to decide on the priority he will put the needs of the old people before those of the girls working at the factory. I fear, since bus shelters cost less to build, that they will be given priority, especially if the council does not need to seek consent to borrow as it would need in the case of the hut for the old people. I think that local authorities might be put in the position of getting the priorities wrong as a result of that.
This position of stringency will not always be with us, nor will the present Government. There will be a change, I think, with the change of Government. I therefore want this Bill to be passed and placed on the Statute Book. I am very pleased to see that the Secretary of State has been able to put a Money Resolution on the Order Paper to make provision for expense to fall on the Exchequer arising out of the Bill. That makes it clear that the Bill has the backing of the Government. We on this side of the House give it our blessing and congratulate the hon. Baronet on having introduced it. We hope that the views of the hon. Member for Exeter will be rejected by the Joint Under-Secretary and that the Bill will become law.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. J. Nixon Browne)
Let me say at once that the Government fully support the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart) on his fortune and wisdom in introducing it.
I should like to clear up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland), who claimed that the Bill was the result of his efforts arising out of a request by the tenants at East Kilbride. From my narrow point of view, what he says is substantially correct. He came to me and asked for a bus shelter and, through the 1434 normal office channels, I gave him the reply, "I am sorry. We cannot do this because there are no powers." Hon. Members on both sides of the House know my hon. Friend to be an insistent fellow. He would not take "No" for an answer. Finally, he got me to the stage where, if it were the last thing which I would do as Joint Under-Secretary, I was determined to see this Bill on the Statute Book. I must give him both credit and my thanks for his backing.
The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) were for a moment strange bedfellows. They both appeared to confuse themselves and the House by trying to draw an inconsistency between the national need for economy and the permissive powers in the Bill to erect shelters. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, referred to the fact that the Bill was likely to become more fully operative when the financial climate became easier, a point of view which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) supported.
We do not know exactly how much bus shelters will cost. They can be of varying types and sizes. They can be either simple barriers or complete glass enclosures with roofs. My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) was right when he said that local authorities would he free to determine their own priorities in this matter. As far as we can see, an authority which erected one to three of the most urgently needed shelters a year would spend about £1,000 a year. I want to get the figures in perspective in the mind of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire.
§ Mr. Browne
We must go quietly and steadily forward in making progress. Borrowing for expenditure on bus shelters, as the hon. Member for Hamilton rightly said, would require my right hon. Friend's consent, and, as he again rightly said, any application would have to be closely scrutinised in the present circumstances. It does not follow that the most urgently needed shelters could not be fitted into the capital investment programme even now. No doubt the 1435 Measure will not take full effect until times are easier, but, as the hon. Member for Hamilton rightly said, we are already five years behind England and Wales in this matter, and it would be wrong to reject the Bill, which will do permanent good, simply because of our immediate economic difficulties. If the hon. Member for South Ayrshire goes back to his constituency, as I know he does every week-end, I think he will find, on talking to his constituents, who have waited so long for these shelters, that they wish that at least the powers to provide them should be available.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
My constituents are perturbed because the hon. Member's Department refused to grant £25,000 for necessary works at Girvan. If they cannot spend £25,000 at Girvan, what hope is there of bus shelters?
§ Mr. Browne
They would prefer that the powers should be available rather than that there should be no powers. As the hon. Member knows, we pay great attention to anything he puts up to us on behalf of his constituents.
The financial position is as follows. The four cities which have transport undertakings already provide shelters out of the funds of these undertakings. Other burghs provide shelters under the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, and the expenditure ranks for equalisation grant if the local authority qualifies for that grant. Similarly, any shelters provided under this Bill by local authorities which qualify for equalisation grant will attract that grant. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife said, Clause 5 (b) provides for any necessary addition to the grants for this purpose.
If I remember it correctly, the hon. Member for Hamilton said that the general grant does not come into the picture; this is not one of those services which will be taken into account when fixing the amount of the general grant. I should tell him that it would not be practicable to allocate to district councils any particular percentage of that grant—
§ Mr. Fraser
District councils provide playing fields and public parks, which are covered by the new general grant. It is not proposed in the Bill as at present drawn to give any general grant to district councils in respect of that provision.
§ Mr. Browne
I do not think I could go into the merits of the Bill dealing with the general grant. I think that the district councils will do all right just the same.
On the surface, this looks a simple enough little Measure, but the policy which it seeks to enact has had a long and chequered career, and I think it would be wise to get the position on the record. Before the passing of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1953, which, as has been said, applies only to England and Wales, the provision of bus shelters, as the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) said, has been for many years a subject of lively and sometimes heated disagreement. In the early days of road transport, the buses were run mainly by private operators, and the local authorities considered, I think quite rightly, that as the operators made the profit they should provide their customers with facilities such as shelters.
With the growing control over bus operation by the Ministry of Transport and by local authorities the situation changed. Furthermore, bus routes were increasingly taken over by the local authorities themselves. It was only to be expected, therefore, that the private operating companies would be increasingly less inclined to provide shelters when their operations had become more restricted and less secure. The travelling public, rightly or wrongly, expect a higher degree of service from their local authority than from a private operator, and there were increasing demands for shelters on routes where local authorities controlled the buses.
Until 1953, no one in England and Wales, or in the Scottish counties, it appears, had any legal right to erect or maintain a bus shelter in the highway. The English Act of that year did not attempt to make this mandatory, but gave the local authorities permissive powers to erect shelters, or take them over by agreement with others concerned; or make agreements with bus operators or other local authorities to share the cost. The exact terms of any deal were, wisely, I think, left to each individual case. The hon. Member for Hamilton gave us the history, and I will not go further into it. His knowledge is greater than mine.
1437 Before the Bill was passed, the Scottish local authorities were asked whether they wished to come in. We would have liked them to have come in and we were sorry when they decided not to. They felt, at the time, that without specific aid from the taxpayer, this was not an obligation they were prepared to accept, even on a permissive basis. So the position in Scotland, until today, is the same as it has been since the beginning of public road transport.
Until this Bill is passed, I shall, probably as a result of pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark, have the thought in my mind of how foolish we should all feel if a visitor from another planet were to visit one of our county areas in Scotland. He might see people standing in the rain waiting for a bus, and he would ask, "Why not give these poor people a shelter?" The answer he would have to be given would be that no one has any authority to build one. It is true that all we would be able to say would be that county councils and district councils have wide responsibilities for the area, but they can do nothing about it. I think that the interplanetary traveller might he forgiven for deciding that his wisest course would be to return whence he came. He could expect no commonsense here.
I have referred to counties. This Bill includes burghs as well as counties—but hon. Members will have seen bus shelters in many Scottish towns. How then, one might ask, have the burghs managed to provide these shelters? The answer lies in a court decision defining the powers of Section 110 of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1892, and Section 104 (2) of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, 1903. I sympathise with hon. Members who may, not unreasonably, wonder what these provisions have to do with sheltering bus travellers from the elements, and perhaps the House will bear with me if I read out the relevant sections, which are not without interest.
Section 110 of the 1892 Act provides that:The Commissioners may erect or continue public water closets or earth closets, and latrines and urinals in suitable places…1438 Section 104 (2, b) of the 1903 Act provides that:section 110 shall extend to lavatories, waiting-rooms, and other similar accommodation.In the case of Cumming v. Magistrates of Inverness, the learned sheriff decided—and three eminent judges of the Court of Session agreed on appeal—that the power to provide waiting-rooms included a power to provide waiting-rooms which were not attached to a public convenience. In the words of the late Lord Cooper:…these provisions are sufficiently wide to authorise a local authority to erect an omnibus shelter.Thus, it was only through this loophole in laws framed before bus shelters were ever thought of that some comfort was provided for at least the burghal section of the Scottish travelling public.
So far, this is a sorry tale, but, of course, it has its brighter side. Under their own private Acts, the cities have taken powers to provide shelters. Elsewhere, in many instances in the counties, private funds have been used by inhabitants who had resigned themselves to the fact that if they wanted a bus shelter they would have to pay for it themselves. In some cases, community funds—such as the balance of funds raised at the Coronation—were used for this purpose. The shelters were, of course, technically illegal. Those who provided them had to maintain them themselves, which was also technically illegal. In some cases, the passing of the benefactor has meant that the shelter he provided is now almost in ruins. I hope that some of these shelters will be maintained, if only as monuments to private initiative and public irritation.
I think that we are all pleased to see the district councils in the Bill. The part that each district council plays in helping the county authority depends on local circumstances. The division of responsibility is never easy. In this case, the Association of County Councils has welcomed the part that the district councils can play. The local people whom they represent, know best where the shelters are needed. I believe that the district councils will, as a whole, gladly take on this small but important responsibility, and that they will do well.
The hon. Member for West Lothian spoke about the importance of design 1439 I agree with him that smart, well-maintained shelters can give both pride and satisfaction to the local people. This Bill, of course, does not, and should not, specify any details about the shelters to be built, but, on this, I think that now is the appropriate time to say a word about the shelters themselves.
I have vividly in mind a most elaborate shelter in concrete and glass, with delicately curved ends and a full length seat. It was a noble and an expensive edifice, worthy of any locality, yet it brought the people who lived near it almost to nervous breakdowns until it was taken away. It was sited immediately opposite somebody's front door, outside which there was, therefore, nearly always a small crowd. It was such good protection from the elements that, both summer and winter, it was a goad place in which to drink ginger pop and eat ices, the residue of both of which found its way into the front gardens.
The glass windows were a temptation that the "kids" just could not resist and, when night fell and the buses became less and less frequent, the busy chatter and life around the shelter was replaced by the whispering of lovers, who found the seat and the seclusion ideal. Finally, when all was still except for occasional footsteps going down the silent street, the footsteps would stop near the shelter, their owner finding it a convenient place to answer a call of nature. With the best intention in the world, that shelter was everything it should not be. It was unnecessarily expensive, badly-sited, and incorrectly designed—
§ Mr. Browne
I am giving no particulars, but the story is true.
When local authorities come to build or to help in the provision of shelters under the powers which this Bill would confer upon them, I hope that they will not repeat that sort of mistake. To help all concerned, and if there is a request for such advice, the Scottish Committee of the Council of Industrial Design has illustrations of shelters of suitable types to meet the varying needs of the travel- 1440 ling public, together with information about the firms that manufacture them. The Committee tells me that it will be very willing to make this material available to any local authorities that propose to build shelters under the Bill. The Committee is rightly concerned about the question of design. For the sake of the record, its new offices and new display premises are at 46, West George Street, Glasgow.
A shelter that is cheap, that is easy to erect, has a long life and can be easily maintained can still give all the facilities needed. Furthermore, with care in design and choice of colour, it need not be a blot on the landscape, even if it does not exactly enhance the view.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns mentioned advertising. Personally, I am not averse to a little judicious advertising inside the shelters. At least people would have time to read the adverts, but, of course, I realise that there might be other views. I know that this has already been done in various places, and I have not known it to spoil the amenities of the shelter. Like my hon. Friend, I have often found the most surprising and interesting information in the form of bus shelter advertising in London. I can recommend it to anyone who would like a little bright reading.
To conclude, as my hon. Friend has said and as the speeches with one exception have confirmed, we have here an agreed Measure. All the Scottish local authority associations, both sides of the House and all the travelling public in Scotland welcome the Bill. There will be certain matters of detail to iron out in Committee, but I feel sure that the day will come when, in recognition of his efforts, a local authority will ask my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife formally to open the first legally-erected bus shelter in any county of Scotland.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).