HC Deb 01 December 1966 vol 737 cc769-87

Order for Second Reading read.

10.13 p.m.

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

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

The House will know that when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 20th July announced that a 10 per cent. surcharge on motor fuel duties was to be imposed under the regulator, he said that this increase would be refunded to bus operators in the same way as this Government had refunded the 6d. per gallon increase imposed in the autumn, 1964 Budget. The Prime Minister said that the necessary administrative arrangements would be made as soon as possible, and that Parliamentary authority would he sought in the ordinary way.

The Finance Act, 1965, gave the Minister of Transport power to make grants to bus operators in respect of the 6d. increase in 1964. Under this power the Minister introduced a scheme of payments, after consultation with the bus industry, and the scheme is available to make the extra payments now promised. But the Minister's powers under the Finance Act, 1965, are specifically limited to the 6d. increase. At the time of the Prime Minister's announcement in July, this year's Finance Act was too far advanced for it to be practicable to include an alteration of this limit, and in the ordinary course this would need to wait for the Finance Bill next year. So it was thought right to put before the House this short Bill, to enable the payments to begin without this delay. The Bill will extend the Minister's existing power to pay grants by raising the limit of 6d. per gallon to cover the additional amount payable by virtue of the Order which imposed the 10 per cent. surcharge, this power being retrospective to 21st July, 1966, the date of the surcharge.

It will also give my right hon. Friend a continuing permissive power, subject to the approval of the Treasury, to pay grants for any surcharge imposed under any future use of the regulator. This provision has been included to avoid any future difficulty of this kind. I must make it clear, however, that this does not suggest that the Government would, in all cases, accept that grants should be paid. This would depend on circumstances at the time and the provision implies no automatic commitment to make the repayment.

Bus operators are already receiving grants totalling about £4½ million a year because of the 6d. increase. Under the present Bill, in respect of the surcharge, it is estimated that they will get additional grants of just over £1 million in the current financial year. These additional payments can begin as soon as Parliamentary authority has been obtained under the Bill. Future payments will naturally depend on decisions yet to be taken, which the House will not expect me to anticipate.

These grants to offset taxation increases have been given to the bus industry as an earnest of the Government's intention to help the stage bus services—the essential short distance services in town and country—which are a vital part of public transport, which it is our policy to strengthen. I hope that the Bill will have general support and a speedy passage.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

We are grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his explanation of this Bill, which we welcome and support. We are pleased that it gives the Government power to provide a rebate for the increase which they imposed on 20th July last. We agree that the Government should have the power for the future to provide such grants.

However, we hope that taking this permissive power in no way indicates—when the hon. Gentleman mentioned this in no way indicated, I hoped that this assurance was to follow—that they have in mind any further increase in the petrol tax, but apparently it was decided that if there were an increase, it was not automatic that such a grant would be provided.

We hope that taking this power will give the Government no temptation to increase still further the petrol tax and the tax on fuel oil. We will give the Bill the swiftest possible passage. I committed our side of the House to this only a few days ago, when the matter was raised at Question Time.

Presuming that the Bill goes through all its stages in the next seven days, how soon will the industry obtain the considerable payments which it has already made in the 19 weeks since the imposition of this extra tax? My information from the bus companies concerned is that, during that period, they have paid £1,250,000 in duty which is due to be repaid to them. This relates to Derv alone. The payment in petrol duty over that 19 weeks was £178,000. This is a considerable sum which the bus companies have had to pay during a period of very high interest rates. Many of them have to work on overdrafts and to borrow to meet the additional charge. We should make it perfectly clear that the Government are giving away nothing at all tonight. What they are saying is that in future they will not continue taking away, as in the last 19 weeks, additional taxation from the bus companies.

I ask about the seemingly rather extraordinary procedure of dealing with this Bill. Why was it not possible between 20th July and the time when the House rose for the Summer Recess to introduce the Bill? It was a very easy Bill to draft and the Government must have known that it would have the full agreement of the House. They must have known that the delay would cause extra cost and difficulty to the bus services. No action was taken before the Summer Recess and, much to our surprise, no action was taken when the House returned.

On 17th November I put a Question to the Minister of Transport, which was replied to by the Parliamentary Secretary. I asked when we could expect the Government to provide these rebates. The Parliamentary Secretary replied: As soon as the necessary Parliamentary authority has been obtained."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 17th November, 1966; Vol. 736, c. 187.] No further information was given. A week later a similar Question was put by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) to which the reply was given that the Government were soon to introduce legislation. This was the subject of one of those many Press notices from the Ministry of Transport, which gave the impression that it was a most important announcement made by the Minister, with all the usual appropriate wording of such Press notices.

Why the difference in treatment between the Question I put on 17th November and the almost identical Question a week later? Was it because the Government preferred to make the announcement that at last they were to take action to the Liberal Party rather than to ourselves? Or is the more likely explanation that the Government had completely forgotten to introduce the Bill; that when asked about it on 17th November they woke up to the fact that this was something they should do, and a week later they announced that they would do it? We should like to have an explanation why there was the considerable delay of 19 weeks before the Second Reading of the Bill.

The Bill is important. When introducing it the Parliamentary Secretary said it was a further indication of the Government's wish to assist the bus companies involved in public transport. There is little need to remind the House that those same bus companies have the very difficult task of meeting the Selective Employment Tax for which they will obtain no rebate for six months and in those six months, I am told, they will loan to the Government an interest-free payment of no less than £8 million. That is a very considerable burden on the companies and, added to that, the Government by their quite ruthless decision have done away with investment allowances for bus companies and they are not to provide investment grants. We heard during the economic debate today a Government announcement that investment grants were to be increased.

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary said when introducing the Bill, I urge the Government, especially in view of the delay in introducing it, to reconsider the whole question of investment grants for buses. Doing away with investment allowances has cost the companies more than £2½ million a year. The Government have put up the fuel tax to bus companies, given them no rebate for 19 weeks, taken away investment allowances and taken an enormous interest-free loan from the companies. The combination of all these events has added considerably to the cost of public transport in many areas, particularly rural areas.

Although we welcome the Bill, we regret the necessity for its introduction. We think that it should have been introduced within a few days of the 20th July measures. We regret all of the additional burdens which the Government have imposed upon bus companies. We very much hope that there will be no future increase in fuel duty but, if there is, that the facilities offered by the Bill will be put into immediate operation.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

My constituents have been very hard hit indeed by the imposition of the charge. Therefore, we are very glad that at long last the Government are taking it away. It should never have been imposed in the first place. It should have been removed much earlier. Now that it is being removed, the Government should go much further in alleviating the problems of rural bus companies. I cannot deal with the wider problem tonight. I merely want to ask one or two questions.

First, the Government indicate that £1.1 million is to be paid back retrospectively in the financial year 1966–67. We must suppose that this sum is what the Government consider they owe to the bus companies in respect of the surcharge. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) put the cost to the bus companies considerably higher, at £1¼ million. Which of those two figures is correct? If my hon. Friend's figure is correct, what is to happen to the further £150,000, which is a considerable sum for rural bus companies? Are they to get it back? Does the Minister have intentions in respect of the very large sums of interest which small rural bus companies have been forced to pay over the last few months to meet this very high, this iniquitous, tax on their movements?

I want to ask about the procedure whereby bus companies will be able to get back the amount of surcharge which has been taken from them. I understand that the method will follow that laid down in Section 92 of the Finance Act, 1955. Under subsection (3) the operator of a bus company, in order to recover this money, is apparently required to compile, preserve and produce running sheets, accounts or other records". He must give facilities for the inspection, removal or copying of such records". All bus companies keep records. It is reasonable that inspectors should have access to them. However, how much additional cost does the Minister think will fall upon operators in once again taking on much more paperwork to get back money which was theirs in the first place? When is it likely that the individual bus operator will get his money? In many cases in my constituency bus companies are in real need. They are hard up. They are waiting for this money. I hope that the Minister will take steps to expedite repayment.

A third question arises about the projection in the Bill, which I find worrying. Not only are the Government asking that the money should be paid back, with which we are in entire agreement. They are asking for powers to repay any such additional duties as may be imposed in the future by virtue of any later order". To my suspicious mind this suggests that the Government will increase the surcharge on fuel to bus operators yet again. I hope that the Minister, though he has explained his purpose, will at least go as far as to say that the Government have no intention of adding to this tax, which has already done a very great deal of damage.

In rural Suffolk, where there are 135 small villages, many people, particularly the elderly and the disabled, have been held up and unable to travel, in the worst of weather, in the most difficult of conditions, because the bus operators are unable to provide services that they were providing two years ago. There has been the removal of the allowances, the Selective Employment Tax, and. of course, this surcharge on petrol and Derv.

I do hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that in the country districts village people have to be cut off from their weekly visits to market, and have not been able to have their groceries delivered by buses, as often they were. We shall be relieved when this tax is paid back. That cannot come too soon, and I hope that the Minister will put out of his mind any intention of imposing such an iniquitous surcharge again.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I should like warmly to support my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths). Everything he has said about England is twice as important for Scotland, where, of course, the majority of the route mileage is in rural areas.

I was very suspicious when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary spoke about short-distance bus routes, because, after all, a great many of the routes in Scotland are extremely long. There are three routes through my own constituency—Carlisle to Stranraer, Carlisle to Glasgow, Carlisle to Edinburgh—all of 100 miles. I wonder whether these are short routes in his opinion, and whether or not there is any difference between what he calls a short route and what I would call a fairly long route.

I would, too, support my hon. Friend's plea for the rural areas, because paragraphs 78 and 79 of the White Paper published in August, dealing with rural transport, made out that the people who were most affected were those who had the lowest incomes and were the most economically weak. Therefore, I hope that in Committee on the Bill we shall, if anything, help the rural bus services further.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary is well aware of the extreme problem of the area of Leadhills. I know that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) has spoken to him about it and written to him about it, and I join with her, because my neighbouring village of Wanlockhead is in exactly the same position. These are the two highest villages in Scotland and therefore in Britain. They are extremely high up, and a great amount of fuel is required by buses grinding up and down to and from those villages. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary may make out that the higher their consumption of fuel the more sixpences they will get back, but I do not think that is at all logical in this respect.

I hope that some consideration is given to the rural areas of Scotland and that some concessions will be given in the very near future, because there is no doubt at all that buses are being reduced in number and in frequency and the people of Scotland are suffering very severely indeed.

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)

I, too, wish to support this Bill and to endorse everything that has been said by my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). I want to add only one very brief sentence. I hope that in producing this Bill the Ministry is not under the impression that it is doing any great service to the bus industry. If the Ministry really wants to help the bus industry it will have to do much more than just pay back this extra charge. The best thing the Ministry can do—and this must be well known to the Ministry, because it has been the request of the bus industry for many years—is to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make some general reduction in Derv taxation. It does not matter so much about petrol because buses as a rule do not use petrol. If that could be done it would do more to help rural services than anything else.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will have noted that it is becoming more and more difficult to please the Opposition. They say they welcome the Bill and support it. They appreciate that, at a time of great national crisis and economic difficulty, there is here £1 million which might well have stayed in the Exchequer. But then they grizzle and grouse and take up the time of the House of Commons with points which really do not arise.

I have two questions on the Bill. First, are the rebates to the bus companies to be based on the details and machinery to which the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) referred, and will they be made yearly, half-yearly or quarterly?

Second, although most of the bus companies have co-operated fully in trying to hold their fares, some of them, a minority, have based claims for increased fares wholly or partly on these increased costs even though it was made clear that a rebate would be coming at some time. Will this point be taken into account when decisions are made about allowing fare increases?

This is a simple Bill. if we want it to go through speedily, as hon. Members opposite have suggested it should, let us give it a speedy Second Reading and send it on its way without more ado.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mills (Torrington)

I support what my hon. Friends have said, and I assure the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that we have constantly complained about the treatment meted out to the rural bus operators. We have done so for the last two years, and even before then. Some of us have been concerned about these matters for a very long time. My predecessor in the House constantly raised the problems of the rural bus operator. We know only to well what the problems are because we live in the countryside.

Is what the Minister is doing enough? I am sure that it is not. It will not save the rural bus operators. They have suffered continuing harm during the past 18 months or two years, and they now have no more finance left. They have no reserves. In my constituency, many bus operators are heavily overdrawn, and I cannot believe that this Measure will do enough to save them.

This is a sad state of affairs. After the rail closures in many parts of the country, the only alternative means of transport is the rural bus. For those whom I call the hard core, the elderly and people with small incomes, the bus service is the only means of transport. It will be denied them in the years to come.

The Government's measures are insufficient and too late to overcome the rural bus operator's acute problems. The future for people living in the countryside will be grim, especially for those I call the hard core of people who use the rural bus services, unless the Government are prepared to do a good deal more.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

My constituency is very similar to those of my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) and Torrington (Mr. Peter Mills). It has many small villages lying a long way from the main bus routes which are served by small private bus operators. These bus operators have suffered tremendous blows over the last two years, through increases in fuel duty, the Selective Employment Tax, and in other ways. I welcome the palliative which the Bill will give, but it will not cure their troubles.

In my constituency, many of the villages and small towns have seen quite an influx of elderly and retired people from London and the bigger towns of the Midlands. These people, who retire at the age of 65 or 70, have never had cars and they rely on the buses to get them to the local small market towns. More and more bus routes are being discontinued. More and more bus operators are going out of business. A lot more must be done about bus operators in rural areas if we are to keep open these lifelines for the elderly and retired living in many of our villages in Norfolk. Although I support the Bill, I feel that it is only a very small move towards making up the losses these people have had over the last few years.

I understand that the Bill will apply only to stage services, but many of our routes are what are called express routes and I understand that the addition will not be given to operators running these routes. But our towns are far apart and these express routes are very important to the area; they carry people for long stages. Will the money help these express routes as well as what are called stage services? I hope that the Bill is but the first step only of really big assistance to our rural bus operators, who do a first-class job in providing the only means of transport for many elderly and retired people.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (North Angus and Mearns)

I remember the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) in earlier debates discussing the question of living in the remoter areas of the north of Scotland. I suggested to him that it might be worth his while coming to the north of Scotland and seeing for himself some of the difficulties. I hope he will still feel that the offer is open. We would welcome him and let him see the great problems with which people in that part of the country have to contend.

Mr. Ogden

The hon. Gentleman will remember that I also invited him to come to Liverpool, but other arrangements intervened. That offer is also still open.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am interested in this exchange of amenities, but we must get back to the Bill.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad to hear that the hon. Gentleman's invitation is still open. My offer is still open as well.

What concerns us, following what the Government have done, is the rise in the cost of living in the remoter areas. Transport costs have risen and the rise in fuel tax has hit the car owner as well. It has placed a burden on social life in these areas. That is something that the Government must take into account. We in Scotland know what depopulation and emigration mean and the rise in these costs is one of the factors contributing to them. We want to see the movement reversed. We welcome the Bill in that it helps in some way to alleviate some of the other measures the Government have introduced.

It is important to realise the effect of the increased fuel tax on bus operators in rural areas. Not only do they have greater distances to cover but they are operating in a time of declining demand. While many elderly people do not have cars, an increasing proportion of younger families do and the bus operators face declining demand.

But that does not detract from the fact that it is vital that bus services should remain for those who do not have cars—the old, the very young and the infirm, who are dependent upon them. This is a dual problem—that of those without cars and of the bus operators facing higher costs and falling income on their services.

Rail closures have been mentioned. In my constituency the passenger station of Laurencekirk, on the main line, has been closed. We are disappointed that it has been closed. Much of the problem resulting could be overcome if adequate alternative bus services were provided. The bus company is naturally unwilling to provide these services for the same reason that the railways wished to close the station. The bus operator is not anxious to take on the job of providing a service because the custom is not very great. However, there is not an alternative bus service, people in the town of Laurencekirk will be denied transport to enable them to get to the neighbouring town of Montrose, which is the only place in which many of them can find employment. Therefore, an added burden is placed on the bus operator in rural areas in which station closures have taken place. He is obliged by the Minister who has allowed rail closures to take place to put on extra bus services.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman will not be out of order if he refers to the Bill.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I am pointing out the extra burden which bus operators in rural areas must face as a result of Government action. I welcome the Bill in that it alleviates the burden put on them.

Secondly, I wish to emphasise a point made by my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) and Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) about longer-distance services in rural areas. This relates again to railway closures. Extra express bus services will have to be provided if the Strathmore line is closed, as is proposed. I welcome the Bill in that it will enable bus operators obliged to put on these extra services to recoup some of the extra costs which the Government have laid on them.

I come now to the White Paper and the sections on rural transport. Can the Minister give some indication when the proposals contained in the White Paper to help rural bus operators will be implemented? One of my hon. Friends earlier indicated that he felt that what was being done was not all that could be done to help such operators.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

If all the Members representing rural constituencies who have spoken have given the Bill only a qualified welcome in that it does too little not soon enough, it is simply because we are all faced with the fact that public transport in the countryside is scanty and is not as frequent or cheap as our constituents would like. In my constituency, fair criticism is often made by Londoners who have moved to Norfolk as part of the G.L.C. town expansion scheme, and they frequently tell me how difficult and expensive public transport is in the countryside compared with public transport in the big cities. I therefore very much hope that the Minister will look, perhaps not straight away, into the economics of rural transport yet again and will use the powers in the Bill to make increased grants.

As has been said, there is the progressive cancellation of railway services, particularly stopping services. The Railways Board often says, "We hope that the difficulties caused by the closure of railway lines will be overcome by the provision of further bus services". Although the bus company in Norfolk is owned by the Railways Board, it is not all that willing to run further rural services as often they have to be run at a loss. If a factor in the loss is simply central taxation, I would hope that the Minister will use to the full the powers given to him by Parliament to reduce the effect of that taxation.

Secondly, will the benefit of the Bill extend to school bus services? I am not clear whether school bus services, which cost a very great deal, will get any benefit from it. Yet again, there is some pressure in the countryside for an extension of school bus services. I do not want to go into all the difficulties, the dangers, and the hardships, because they are well known, and you would soon call me to order, Mr. Speaker; but, equally, I know that the matter of children getting to school safely and punctually is very dear to your heart.

I should like to know, first, if school bus services receive the benefit of the Bill, and, secondly, if they do get the benefit of the Bill, will the Minister consider giving them perhaps more than sixpense rebate so that they can be more widely used? If they do not get the benefit of the Bill, will he consult with the Minister of Education to see that they do?

10.51 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

Although most hon. Members on this side of the House would wish to give an unqualified welcome to the Bill, some of the comments made in the debate by hon. Members opposite make it difficult to do so. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) thought that any criticisms were made for party political purposes. I, for one—in company with a number of hon. Members on this side of the House—have been criticising for years the policy of rural bus services, even when Conservative Governments were in power.

When the Minister has the effrontery to say that the present Government are doing this to support the bus companies, that is the type of hypocrisy that is hard to swallow. Whatever the Conservative Government may not have done, they did not go out of their way to make worse the position of the bus companies as the present Government have done. The Bill will not be of benefit to the bus companies. All it does is, in fact, to make tardy reparation for one of the items of damage which these companies have, suffered at the hands of the present Government.

I should like to say to the Parliamentary Secretary that, in view of this Bill having been presented to the House, it is time that the Ministry of Transport really took time to consider what they are trying to do about bus services, and rural bus services in particular. All hon. Members on this side of the House must have welcomed the Answer to a Written Question that appeared in yesterday's HANSARD, which said that an experimental Post Office bus service will operate in Wales. I should like to commend that proposal as the type of idea which could well be pursued. I hope this will be done as part of a sensible and co-ordinated policy to do something for rural areas.

In my own constituency, not a month passes without some new item being published about a bus service being withdrawn. That is a problem to which the hon. Gentleman's Ministry must give attention. I am sorry that this debate should have been spoiled, so to speak, by speeches by hon. Members opposite on the two matters to which I have referred, but nevertheless I give the Bill my support.

10.54 p.m.

Mr. Swingler

By your leave, Mr. Speaker, and the leave of the House, I think I should reply to some of the points raised by hon. Members.

I rather resent the arguments of the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). I did not claim that what we were doing is of great benefit to the public transport operators. I simply explained quite plainly that the Government had taken the decision in 1964 to rebate an increase in duty, and this was the policy that we were continuing.

I should explain, for the benefit of the public, that I did not invent the duty on petrol and Derv; nor did I invent increases. Having been in this House for 20 years, I think that the duty on petrol and Dery has accrued over a long period. I can claim that the present Government have recognised the important rôle of public transport to the extent that, having found it necessary, for the sake of general revenue—I am frank about that—to impose increases in the duty on petrol and Derv, they decided to rebate the duty in respect of those people who are stage-carriage operators. That is what we are now discussing.

I take the criticism of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) about delay. We had hoped to include this provision, as would be the normal practice, in the Finance Bill. That was not possible because of the time factor, and we have, as he will see, now produced the Bill in a slightly extended form which gives the Minister of Transport this permissive power, with the Treasury's approval, to continue, if it is found desirable by whichever Government are in power, to rebate any increase in duty that may be imposed on petrol and Derv. That has taken a little time and has involved some consultations. I apologise for any extra delay that has been involved, but I hope that the House generally agrees that this is a desirable Bill.

In reply to other hon. Members who have put interesting points, I will only say that they will find from the White Paper on Transport Policy that this is only one of the steps that we intend to take in order to stimulate the rôle of public transport, especially in the rural areas. Next year, we shall be taking two further steps. One will be to provide State grants for transport infra-structure by increased capital investment in public transport supported by grants from national funds.

The other step, which we are quite specifically discussing with the local authority associations, is to provide for subsidies for rural transport on a 50–50 basis between State and local funds to enable the services to continue. It would be beyond the rules of order, Mr. Speaker, and I see you are getting restless in your Chair, to go further into those matters, but they show that this Bill is part of a developing programme, especially in support of transport in the rural areas.

Many hon. Members will remember the Jack Report, which was published some years ago. The previous Government sat on that Report for quite some time, but we have decided that action should be taken on it. I can tell the hon. Member for Ludlow that we intend to experiment with the Post Office vans and the school buses, and with other forms of transport in the rural areas—

Mr. Geoffrey Wilson

The Minister has mentioned the Jack Report. Will he bear in mind the minority Report of Mr. James?

Mr. Swingler

Certainly. We have spent some little time in studying these Reports very carefully, and we are carrying out various experiments, as I announced recently to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) in an Adjournment debate. I shall be delighted to inform hon. Members of the places where the experiments will be carried out.

Mr. Peter Walker

As the hon. Gentleman has moved from the content of the Bill, may I ask him to answer the point raised by myself and by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) about the amount of money involved in this Bill? The amount referred to in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is £1.1 million for the financial year 1966–67 I do not see how this can possibly be a correct figure. The official statistics show that in 1965 the amount of fuel tax paid was over £47 million.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may not make a second speech in the debate. This is an intervention.

Mr. Walker

May I have the permission of the House to speak again? If we take the fuel tax paid at £47 million, it means an increase on Derv alone of £4.1 million for a full year. From 20th July, there are eight months involved, so that the sum of £1.1 million on that calculation must be wrong.

Mr. Swingler

This is the best advice that I have. The power in the Bill is retrospective to 21st July this year for this financial year and our calculation is that this amounts to just over £1 million of payments. As soon as the Bill becomes law, the payments will start and they will be made on a quarterly basis—the same basis as the rebate of the 6d. increase in duty which was made in 1964. I am prepared to check the calculation. No doubt we shall have an opportunity in Committee to go into this matter further, but the advice which I have is that a sum of just over £1 million is involved in this year.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

This Bill gives power for the payment of that sum during the financial year. If there are further moneys still to be paid, are we to assume that some operators will not get their money until after this financial year?

Mr. Swingler

I think that the time has come, Mr. Speaker, when I should sit down, and this is my final paragraph—

Mr. J. E. B. Hill rose

Mr. Swingler

I will not give way. There is a Committee stage to every Bill when points of detail can be raised.

The provisions of the Bill are quite clear in providing for the rebate of the surcharge announced by the Prime Minister on 20th July. We are prepared to re-check any of the calculations which have been made. The payments will be made on a quarterly basis. The sooner the Bill becomes law, the sooner we can get on with the job of paying to the bus operators the rebate to which they will be entitled. I have given the best information I can to the House and I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading in order that we may go into any details which hon. Members wish to raise.

Mr. Hill

Before the Minister sits down—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister has sat down.

11.3 p.m.

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for helping us in this way although I am in some difficulty about the sum of £1.1 million in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum because it seems that this is a very small amount and I hope that nothing we do limits the sum to that amount. The figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) show that this is an under-estimate, and we should like later to look at the sum very closely.

As I said in another debate today, the Prime Minister's statement of 20th July was made a week too late. He talked about moaning dismal Jennies who were running down the economy, then went off to Moscow, then returned and made his statement. Had he made the statement a week earlier he would have been able to make it on the Report stage of the Finance Bill and these people would not have had to go without their money for this considerable length of time. It may seem to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that this is a short time and that this is a small amount that these people are out of pocket. In some respects I agree with him, certainly when it is compared with the £2.8 million which they have lost on investment allowances. It compares with. £8 million, which is the Selective Employment Tax payment out from operators alone at the peak period before they start getting their rebate.

It has been said that one of the main methods of keeping life going in the countryside is by public transport, but when one reads the White Paper that claim sounds very hollow. Bearing in mind the fact that the investment allowance approved by the Conservative Government was £620 the bus operators are losing a substantial amount of money. In addition there is the S.E.T., which is also penalising the service industries. My hon. Friends who have spoken on behalf of country constituencies have been very moderate indeed, in view of the way in which the bus operator has been seriously afflicted by the Labour Government. They talk about the drift from the land, and it is clear from the National Plan that this drift has accelerated immensely because of S.E.T.—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thought that the Second Reading debate would follow the usual pattern, and that if hon. Members wished to speak they would do so before the Second Reading debate was wound up by the Minister. The hon. Member must keep to the terms of the Bill.

Mr. Webster

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. Normally in a Second Reading debate there are two Ministers, one to start and one to wind up. That is the convention, and we wanted to hear what the Minister had to say. When the Road Traffic Bill went to a Second Reading Committee we had the wrong Minister, and so we had great difficulty. We had to go away for a whole week and rewrite our speeches and rethink the matter. I was glad that in the following week both Ministers came, although one only was chosen. We were glad to see their great enthusiasm. I understand there is only one Minister here tonight.

I have referred to these matters for a purpose. In Committee, having heard what the Minister has said and not having heard the precise detail of when the repayment will be—and the figures in the Explanatory Memorandum give us extra doubt about this—we shall wish to put down Amendments not only to make sure that we get the right amount at the right period and the right interval but also to achieve some compensation for the way in which the bus industry has been sorely treated by the loss of the investment allowances. That is why I wanted to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary had to say in this respect.

We know there will be legislation as a result of the White Paper, but it will not be in this Session. It cannot be until 1968 or 1969. That is a long time to wait. For those reasons we shall want to scrutinise and amend the Bill in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Fitch.]

Committee tomorrow.