HC Deb 20 November 1964 vol 702 cc777-81

Considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

11.25 a.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First, I express our gratitude to the House for affording this modest Measure a swift passage. We hope to have it on the Statute Book very soon. As we said last week, it fulfils a definite pledge which we gave, and, once again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and other hon. Members who, over many years, agitated for this scope to be granted to municipal bodies running transport undertakings.

I can speak very briefly in moving the Third Reading, but I wish to emphasise two points. We are not compelling anybody to do anything by the Bill. We are not enforcing any system at all. We are giving to local authorities which have municipal transport undertakings and are responsible for conducting them the right and scope to decide for themselves whether they should grant travel concessions.

Some of them have granted travel concessions in the past. They judged that it was socially beneficial so to do under a system which these enterprising municipal bodies developed for themselves. What we are doing here is to remove the restrictions which were imposed by the Public Service Vehicles (Travel Concessions) Act, 1955, but accepting the principles on which previous developments had taken place up to 1955. We are thereby expressing our faith in the judgment of those local authorities which conduct municipal transport undertakings.

I realise that there have been hon. Members and other people outside who wished to go much wider and to legislate about concessionary travel itself. This would be a far more difficult and complex undertaking, but, of course, some of the considerations which have been mentioned in that connection we are taking into account in our general survey of transport planning in the interests of the community.

This Bill is purely about the rights and responsibilities of those locally elected representatives who conduct transport undertakings, and we are confident that they will be wise in exercising their judgment about the scope given to them under it.

11.29 a.m.

Sir Robert Cary (Manchester, Withington)

I realise that the debate on Third Reading is tightly circumscribed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I shall try not to trespass beyond the bounds and incur your displeasure.

I have two regrets to express about the Bill. I understand that there has been absolutely no consultation on the Bill with the Public Transport Association, of which many of the municipalities are members, or with the Public Vehicle Operators' Association. This is a contradiction of what has happened in the past as between the Ministry of Trans port and the main bodies representing the industry. An absence of consultation is becoming rather fashionable among members of the present Government, as I gather from the headlines in my newspaper this morning. I think it a great pity that consultation did not take place with the Public Transport Association, and, therefore, with the municipalities, before the Bill was brought before the House.

My other regret is that the traffic commissioners, the licensing authority, will not now be concerned with this important matter of concessions. Hon. Members opposite will recall that under the Transport Act, 1930, the commissioners were always fully informed of monetary concessions given in various parts of the country. Following the 1955 Act and the present Measure they are more or less shut out of the picture. Under the Bill all that a local authority will have to do will be to submit the concessions to the appropriate committee of the municipality and those recommendations will be placed before a full council. There will be no check whatever on the degree or amount of concessions given because the municipality will be financed from central revenues.

I fully appreciate what hon. Members have said about municipalities being mainly wise, but when I examine the concessions already given—and in the case my large authority, Manchester Corporation, little is given in the way of concessions—the temptations to overload this capricious world of concessions will be extremely great. It may be extended in certain areas vis-à-vis ratepayers with growing unwanted pressures.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in an excellent speech on Friday last, made it clear that this is not a service. It is in no way related to those matters which fall to the Department of Education and Science or the Ministry of Health which are provided in the Welfare State. Municipalities will be able to turn to the central revenues to have their concessions subsidised. This will lead to untidy and unwanted administration and temptations. Because of that I much regret that the traffic commissioners as the licensing authority will not have some controlling interest in this matter. Concessions in this form flow from many sources within our society. Perhaps in a way they are linked with compassion, certainly for people over 70 and limbless ex-Service men, but the range of concessions may go far beyond that. By enabling small authorities, which are most generous in concessions to school children under 18, if it becomes the pattern over the whole country, the bill will be quite large.

On Second Reading, the amount was described as small and perhaps infinitesimal. With the fares which I have in mind in this capricious and untidy system, if left in its present form, it may present a substantial bill to central revenues. The Bill satisfies the Christian compassion with which we like to discharge our civic duties to certain persons among us, which has made us the pioneers in the world at large in relation to the Welfare State. For that reason, the Bill has my blessing.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Birmingham, Yardley)

I congratulate the Government on bringing the Bill forward as the first to receive the Third Reading. I believe that its passing will be welcomed in most parts of the country. Indeed, I suggest that the reason why there are so many hon. Members on this side of the House representing constituencies in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and other places is that the present Government will try to introduce social justice to the country, whereas it has been denied by previous Governments.

The Bill has been already referred to as the "Short" Bill because of the action taken in this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short), the Chief Whip, but, in addition, it could have been called the Birmingham Bill, because in a way it was due to the desire of Birmingham City Council to see these concessions given although that incurred the wrath of every reactionary ratepayer. The City of Birmingham has a long tradition of progressive and pioneering effort in local government administration. It seems strange that whereas this tradition was carried on many years ago by Conservatives such as Joseph Chamberlain, the Conservatives of today are hidebound with Tory doctrine and dogma.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Dr. Horace King)

Order. This is a Third Reading debate. The hon. Member must confine himself to the Bill.

Mr. Evans

I believe that the Bill will be welcomed because the cost involved is not great and the Bill seeks to prevent one of the problems which faces old people. That problem is not just one of an adequate pension, but one of loneliness. We have seen by the concessions given in the past that old people can be encouraged to visit their friends and relatives and to attend old-age pensioners' meetings at little extra cost.

For this reason the Bill will be welcomed. If we do not call it either the "Short" Bill or the "Birmingham" Bill, we might call it the "Good Samaritan" Bill, because it seeks to care for those who may be left by the wayside. During off-peak hours they will fill empty places in buses. In this way they can be encouraged to get out and about and so not suffer from the problem which faces many of them today, loneliness.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.