HC Deb 31 March 1969 vol 781 cc173-202

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Tavistock)

I beg to move, That the Tyneside Passenger Transport Area (Designation) Order 1969 (S.I. 1969, No. 96), dated 27th January, 1969, a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th February, be withdrawn. We now have an opportunity to consider one of four Orders establishing passenger transport authorities. This Order is concerned with establishing a P.T.A. in Newcastle, which is one of four authorities which it was anticipated would be established under the Transport Act, 1968, for four experimental areas.

While nothing said by my hon. Friends and I when that Act was passing through the House has been changed in the light of what has since developed under that legislation, we do not consider it necessary to raise the other three Orders since, while the principles involved in them may be questionable, their implementation in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham seems to have been satisfactory. I wish I could say the same about this Order.

This Instrument began in exactly the same way as the other three. The first indication of the Minister's intention was contained in a letter dated 8th July, 1968, in which the allocation of representation on the Newcastle P.T.A. was set out and the frontier lines for the P.T.A. indicated to the local authorities.

The city of Newcastle's representative—it is important, in considering this matter, to appreciate the focal situation of the city in the area—accepted the basis of the Ministers' letter of 8th July, and it was not until pressure came from Gateshead and South Shields that local difficulties arose, and these difficulties immediately developed along party political lines. My hon. Friends expressed concern, when we debated the 1968 Act, about the possibility of the P.T.A.s developing into organisations which would be at the centre of a political, as opposed to a transport, problem, and our worst fears have been fully justified by what has happened in the North-East.

The transport representative of the city council, having accepted the proposals on behalf of Newcastle, it was a major shock when, in a letter dated 30th October, 1968, all the clerks of the local authorities in the area were told by the Minister that an entirely new set of proposals had been drawn up for the distribution of seats.

10.45 p.m.

Between the July and October proposals there had been a range of local discussions to see which arguments carried weight—I hope in transport terms, but I fear in political terms. In the second set of proposals the area was reduced in size and Sunderland, Washington new town, Prudhoe and Chester-le-Street were all left out. It was widely accepted that this made sense in transport terms, but it was not in those terms that the matter developed. In his letter the Minister pointed out the changes he intended to make in the original representation areas because 50,000 people had been removed from the area and the product of a penny rate, amounting to £6,000, had been removed from the county areas compared with the proposals contained in his letter of 8th July.

If that gave a prima Jack, justification for another look at the allocation of seats on the passenger transport authority, equally a quick look at the redistribution showed that a change of greater significance had taken place. Under the July proposals a passenger transport authority in effect would have been controlled by the Conservatives in that area. It is important to remember that the authority would have been controlled by the political party elected to run Newcastle. Newcastle would be the focal point, the area where the problems existed and without which there would be no passenger transport authority. Newcastle would be the authority envisaged in the July proposals, but by October a change had taken place.

I should like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary what part he personally played in the adjustments which were made. What meetings took place within the Labour Party in the North-East of England to ensure that, despite the wishes of the local electorate in Newcastle, there would be an adjustment of local boundaries to ensure that at least one of the passenger transport authorities would come under Labour control? The more one looks at the October proposals the more obvious it is that this is not an allocation based on a logical geographical or transportation assessment, but one to ensure that there is a Labour majority on the passenger transport authority.

The new October proposals substantially changed the balance within county boroughs. Under the July proposals, Newcastle had four out of the seven county borough seats. Under the new plan Newcastle had only five out of 10, which is a very different proportion. It is true that Newcastle will now have five instead of four seats, but it is five out of 10. Gateshead, South Shields and Tyne-mouth each have one representative and there is a revolving member. One realises how the balance of power has swung. The five county borough members in the first year of operation are to come from Labour-controlled authorities.

The three authorities I have mentioned are to have power to nominate two representatives to represent them on a rota basis, but in the first year of operation Tynemouth will not be responsible for nominating one of those representatives. It may be argued that Tynemouth is the smallest of those authorities, but it is politically convenient in this rejuvenated scheme for Tynemouth not to get an opportunity to nominate one of its representatives.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seeks clarification on this point from the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott). The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the five representatives from Tynemouth, Gateshead and South Shields will all be Labour nominees is not correct. Tyne-mouth agreed on the rota system with Gateshead and South Shields.

Mr. Heseltine

I am not arguing about whether an authority agreed or did not agree. I am merely saying that in this adjustment a new situation has come about whereby there are now to be two Labour representatives in respect of those three local authorities. This changes the balance. Probably that Parliamentary Secretary is right to deal with this very detailed and intricate readjustment in his speech.

The out-turn of it is that all five of the county borough seats other than Newcastle's will have Labour nominees upon them and, therefore, are an equal balance to Newcastle's five Conservative representatives. It is this political balance brought about by the re-cast proposals that has led the Conservatives in Newcastle to appoint five political nominees to the Passenger Transport Authority. This is regrettable, but it has been brought about by the changes which have taken place.

It is also true, in view of the overall balance which has now been weighted in the direction of the Labour Party in this area, that Newcastle itself has suffered in the re-allocation. Newcastle obtains one representative for every £10,000 paid, whereas South Shields, Gateshead and Tynemouth have one representative for just under £8,000. If it was the intention not to take note of the product of a 1d. rate, I do not understand why it was built into Schedule 5, Part I, paragraph 2, of the 1968 Act that it should be part of the consideration which the Minister should follow in drawing up the boundaries.

The second point in relation to the Labour plan concerns the county district of the urban districts of Gosforth, Long-benton, Newburn and Seaton Valley. One of the difficulties that we face tonight is that we are not allowed the use of visual aids. It is understandable, because our proceedings would be complicated if we were allowed to use them. However, the only way in which the full implications of the second allegation made against the Government on this Prayer is by looking at a map of the area and seeing how the groupings that have now been imposed by the Minister have been brought together and how irrelevant many of these groupings are to each other when looked at on a map in the context of Newcastle and the surrounding area. I regret that I cannot produce the maps which I have here. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will be familiar with them. The maps tell the story more graphically than it is possible to do at the Despatch Box.

The main substance of the second point is that in the groupings Gosforth, Longbenton and Newburn have been drawn together in order to have one representative on the Authority. In exactly the same way Castle Ward has been drawn together with Ryton, Blaydon and Whickham. When considering the political balance of these local authorities, one realises that the only way in which this makes any sort of sense is that it ensures that, if these authorities are grouped in this way as opposed to the way in which they were grouped in the July proposals, the political power changes from one party to another.

Mr. Bob Brown


Mr. Heseltine

It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary saying that it is disgraceful, because he is as aware as I am that in the local papers, which are more familiar with these problems than I am, this point has been made and argued very seriously. The local Press would not have said this if it was not true. The local papers could not be fooled. Having looked at the problem, knowing the ground as they must do, they have said, "This is the only possible interpretation on the facts". Everybody in the North-East knows what happened. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows what happened, because he was at the meeting at which the great discussions with the Labour Party took place.

Mr. Bob Brown

There were no discussions.

Mr. Heseltine

I shall be interested to hear how the hon. Gentleman explains the great changes which took place between July and October. I would be the first to say that I am speaking as someone who does not live in those parts, and if I were not able to see the evidence of local unrest which the proposals have caused I would not move this Motion. If the Parliamentary Secretary could produce the cuttings from the Journal. He shrugs his shoulders, but this is a reputable newspaper which has a wide circulation in the North-East. I turn to the Leader it wrote. It could not have done that if there were no substance in the allegation. [Interruption.]

We are faced with an interesting situation. There is only one point I want to make and the Parliamentary Secretary says that what I say is not true. If it is not, does he think the Journal would be prepared to publish it?

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)


Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Member says "Yes". The Parliamentary Secretary does not. Here we have a reputable paper accused of deliberately misrepresenting the facts.

Mr. Rhodes


Mr. Heseltine

I am delighted. I hope the Journal will take note of what the hon. Member has to say.

The two groupings to which I have referred have had the effect of giving the Labour Party control of areas which, under the original proposals, would have been Conservative. These groupings cannot be justified on anything other than political grounds. Gosforth, which is Conservative, has been grouped with the Labour controlled urban councils I mentioned. It is not a geographical grouping.

Castle Ward's transport interests are being completely swamped and linked up with those of local authorities south of the river. There is no affinity between these local authorities. They do not have common boundaries and their representatives cannot reconcile the conflicting interests of the areas they are sent to represent.

The Parliamentary Secretary tells me that what I am saying is not true. Will he tell the House whether it is a fact that the clerks of Gosforth and Castle Ward councils have written objecting strongly to these proposals? Is that a fact? If they have not, I would have to look again at the information with which I have been provided, but if they have complained it must be the Parliamentary Secretary who is about to mislead the House about what has happened and not me.

There are two more elements which are bound to come into the public eye shortly about this Passenger Transport Authority. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will try to allay the fears which are widespread in the North-East about the Government's intention, first about the ministerial nominees who are to be placed on the Passenger Transport Authority. Perhaps they are not. Perhaps now that control has gone to the Labour Party it will not be necessary for the Labour Party to weigh the authority down additionally, to give them an even larger majority. Will the Parliamentary Secretary say whether there will be ministerial nominees?

The chairman has to be approved by the Minister and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us whether he is satisfied that in this open and shut case of Labour nominees it will not be necessary to intervene. I hope he can clarify the issues which remain unresolved.

11.0 p.m.

We always opposed the concept of the Passenger Transport Authority purely on transportation grounds. We did not believe that they would add to the solving of the legitimate transport problems in the areas concerned. Nothing I have heard since has convinced me that we were wrong. We never anticipated that the Labour Party would indulge in such blatant horse trading to this degree to ensure that where the electors of the largest city in the area have made it clear they want a Conservative-controlled organisation in charge of transport, the Labour Party would be prepared to flout the wishes of a democratically elected body.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

On behalf of my constituents I welcome this Designation Order. For many years I have advocated the increasing integration of transport, municipal and private, road and rail in this area. The whole political philosophy of those members of my party in New castle in recent years has been to get a substantial integrated local authority striding across the Tyne, consisting of an authority of one million people. This is relevant in as much as I see the integration of transport on Tyneside as something which will eventually be a great asset to such an authority.

This is a more satisfactory solution than we have been able to get for policing arrangements. With the police the river is used as a divider, whereas with this Order the river is a unifier. It has always been a unifier. On Tyneside it has always been the spinal cord. I remember when I was P.P.S. to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and doing research into the extent to which people passed across the river, and along the river, and had relatives on both sides of it, I realised how integrated, socially it was, even though, from a local authority point of view, it was splintered among 17 or so local authorities, just as, until recently, it has been splintered from a transport point of view.

The hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) showed gross ignorance of this central fact when he said, as an aside almost, that there had been a grouping of authorities in one particular area, which could not have a real affinity because one was on the south side of the river. He fell into the trap of failing to understand that an authority on Tyneside, from a transport point of view, could have tremendous interest for authorities on both sides of the river.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

I was not trying to say that there should not be a totality of groupings north and south of the river, I was merely saying that to choose a representative for a smallish area on the north side and link that with a smallish area on the south side, might leave him with conflicting responsibilities.

Mr. Rhodes

The hon. Gentleman perhaps made a Freudian slip that displays a misunderstanding of the basic problems on Tyneside. I was concerned until recently about the persistent rundown of Tyneside's rail services. This is relevant in so far as this authority will have it in its power to get the kind of financial and administrative integration between road and rail services running along the river to the coast which did not exist in the past. Those of my constituents who have to travel out of the city and have found that stops and trains have been less frequent, and have been increasingly worried about this rundown, will welcome this Order.

That was all that I intended to say, but it is regrettable that I feel constrained to say something more because of the introduction of a party political debate into the question. I get bored and tired with the crocodile tears shed by Conservatives who believe that every action done by the Labour Party is inspired by a party political plot whereas they are the only party who see the issue from an objective transport point of view. That is a lot of nonsense. We are all conditioned in our outlook towards transport by a degree of political bias—obviously we are—but the way that the hon. Member for Tavistock and the local Press—I will deal with them presently—are spying Labour plots under every political bed in the area amazes me.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there are in the House tonight only two Members who served on the Transport Bill Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) and myself? To support my hon. Friend's point of view——

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is all very well for the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) to say that he and my hon. Friend were the only members of the Standing Committee who are present. So am I. Let us get the truth of it.

Mr. Leadbitter

I did not hear very much of the hon. Member in Standing Committee, but I take the point. The hon. Member for Tavistock, however, was against the passenger transport authorities hook, line and sinker. That is why he has introduced a political emphasis tonight.

Mr. Rhodes

One of the difficulties about giving way—and I am interested in what my hon. Friend has said—is that when I said three minutes, I meant three minutes and not three minutes plus all the interventions.

I know the campaign that was waged by the local Conservatives against the passenger transport authority. I am the only Member in this Chamber, including my hon. Friends from Newcastle, if they will forgive me, who regularly rides on Newcastle City transport, because I do not happen to run a car. I travel regularly on the 19, 20, 61, 62, 63 and 64 routes and morning after morning I have to see these little notices, paid for, I presume, by the transport department, by my constituents, not all of whom voted for the hon. Member's party, attacking the whole concept of the passenger transport authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) is right. I do not know whether the Conservatives were against all P.T.A.s, but they were jolly well against this one. If they were not against this one, why were they squandering my constituents' money on a campaign against it? However, I do not want to pursue the point indefinitely.

I do not know whether the July proposals would automatically have resulted in a Conservative-controlled authority. I have looked into this. I think that it is supposition. It may be that the hon. Member has done his mathematics differently from mine, but if these plots, with political groups of Labour machinators under the beds all over Tyneside that the Journal wants to write its leaders about, have been going on, they have been going on without my knowing about them. They have been going on behind my back. I have not been consulted about these plots, and perhaps I should have been.

As for the presumption by the hon. Member that it must be true because it was in the Journal, a reputable paper, let me tell him—I do not want to attack the Journal this evening—that it was only ten days ago that it suggested that the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) was backing a Labour-inspired rents action group in Newcastle which planned to have a rent strike. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North knows that the newspaper can be wrong. I am sure that he will not deny this.

Only a few days after that, it accused me in a leader of holding up a hospital inquiry because I would not give a name to the hospital when the hospital already had the name from the Department of Health and Social Security. So do not say that a newspaper must always be right. I happen to read that paper every morning. The hon. Member for Tavistock does not. It is a reputable newspaper. It makes mistakes occasionally, and I suggest that in this matter it was spying plots which did not exist.

As for its general attitude, while I do not want to go on at length about this, and it may not even be in order to do so, I must say that in the two years the Conservative Party has controlled Newcastle it would be thought from reading the local Press that it was heaven's gift to Tyneside that it should have that Conservative Council. There has been hardly a word of criticism of it in the local Press. That is clear for any objective-minded person to see. The political plots and machinations which the Conservatives talk about as going on to control this new authority simply do not exist. For that reason I regret the tone and the style of the hon. Member's speech.

I have spoken for too long, but I make one further point. There have been suggestions that Newcastle has done rather badly out of this new arrangement. Now it is suggested that the Chairman of Newcastle's transport authority should be the chairman of the new authority. All I can say is that he should direct his attention a little more to improving the bus services inside his own city. I have to travel, along with my constituents in Newcastle, on incompetent, inefficient, badly run transport services in that city which is supposed to have the leading transport authority in the Tyneside area.

It is suggested that the chairman of the city transport authority should be the chairman of the transport authority for the whole area. I am doubtful about that, because it should be borne in mind that that man was the leading person on Tyneside to fight against the proposal for the new authority in the first place. I know that there have been strange conversions, but I should find it very strange indeed to find conversion in Councillor Neville Trotter out of his sort of schizophrenic, love-hate relations with the city and the proposed new authority.

I intended to speak for only three minutes about the transport authority. I was provoked to speak for four or five minutes longer because of the party political attempts made by the hon. Member to find plots and machinations which simply do not exist.

Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

I give a pledge to the House that I shall be three minutes only. I hope that all hon. Members will shout me down if I am longer, because I wish to hear the reply which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is to make to our objection tonight to this Order.

I should, however, like very briefly to take up one or two points made by my political neighbour the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes). I, too, ride in Newcastle's buses, the hon. Member is not alone in that. I have a car, but I cannot find anywhere to park it in modern conditions, so I, too, ride on the buses, and I find them remarkably efficient.

I thought the hon. Member's remarks about the Newcastle Journal a little extreme. I quote from that leader: The layman may be forgiven for thinking that the question of boundaries should have followed fairly logical lines of local geography. I do not think that that is an extreme or political comment to make. That is what our local newspaper said.

All I wish to say to my other political neighbour, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown), the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, is this: my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) has made one major point in his objection to the Order. I do not wish to go over the ground which he has already covered. I have some notes here on exactly the same points as those which he has made. But I shall resist the temptation to repeat them all. I will repeat one—the grouping now as compared with the grouping in the July proposals. Would the Joint Parliamentary Secretary concentrate on this and give the reason for it?

Would he also bear in mind that my hon. Friend opened his speech this evening with the very reasonable suggestion, and a true one, that the practice in other areas and the groupings have been perfectly satisfactory? It is only in the Tyneside area that there is suspicion—I emphasise the word "suspicion", and I shall be happy if it can be dispelled—of political rigging. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will be wrong if he discounts altogether, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East has done, any suggestion or feeling in the area that there has not been political rigging, because I assure him that there is a strong suggestion and suspicion that there has been.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells), on a point of order, claimed that he was a Member of the Standing Committee which considered the Transport Bill. He seems to have missed the bus because—and the records of the House will prove it one way or the other—my recollection is that he was not.

Mr. John Wells

I am afraid that I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but there are so many transport Bills leading to Acts and he should have specified which Measure he meant instead of being se woolly about it.

Mr. Milne

Instead of missing the bus the hon. Gentleman appears to have got on to the wrong one.

The points which I wish to raise are not confined to the City of Newcastle but deal with wider aspects of the Tyneside Passenger Transport Authority. Two or three points need clarification. Paragraph 13 of the Order relates to expenses incurred by the Authority for "official courtesy" to persons representative of, or connected with, associations or organisations concerned with public passenger transport.… What is to be the position and rôle of consumer interests? Is my hon. Friend envisaging that organisations such as the Railway Invigoration Society will come within that context?

The hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) dealt at some length with the construction and set-up of the Passenger Transport Authority and with the supposed political machinations which went on. He is not conversant with the problems which some of us have who are just outside the Tyneside Passenger Area, however. Two of the local authorities in my constituency, both containing heavy Labour Party memberships on their councils, are excluded from the Authority, although one would have imagined that the Urban District of Bedlington, the Borough Council of Blyth and the Urban District of Ashington, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Will Owen) could well have been included in the designated area.

We are not, however, complaining over much about this exclusion, except to press on my hon. Friend that, when he dealt with paragraph 20 of the Order, he should have a close look at the question of sub-paragraph (2), dealing with the setting-up of advisory committees, which … may consist wholly or partly of persons who are not members of the Authority … and remember that a passenger transport area is not something around which one can just put a boundary and then leave it at that.

As the areas which I have mentioned are excluded from the Passenger Transport Area, there should be some link with the important industrial area of South-East Northumberland. The developments in the integration of transport, particularly of road and rail, make this an extremely important matter because the Borough Council area of Whitley Bay is contained within the Tyneside Passenger Area, yet a considerable number of my constituents from the council areas which I have mentioned are using the coast line from Whitley Bay to Newcastle in moving to and fro.

There is a case, for instance—and I refer to this only briefly as an illustration—for re-examining the whole position of the coast line and of the Whitley Bay, Newcastle area, with a view to doing a good job of passenger transport integration, of resiting stations and possibly of putting Whitley Bay, Monkseaton and West Monkseaton into a single station in order to attract passengers back to the coast line.

Two points were mentioned briefly in the debate—the question of local unrest and the question of the local newspapers. I think that both the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes) would agree with me when I say that while I endorse what they have said about the Journal, the Journal—like most other if not all newspapers—can be inaccurate at times. It can be inaccurate intentionally, or it can be inaccurate unintentionally, and I warn the hon. Member for Tavistock that he must never rest a case too heavily on what the Journal says and on the opinions of the Journal of what is happening in the area, because the question of local unrest has been exaggerated to a considerable extent.

Having said that, I am certain that what we are looking for from the new Passenger Transport Authority in the Tyneside area is the implementation of the policies contained in the Passenger Transport Act and consultation by that Authority with the authorities excluded from the area with a view to giving to Tyneside and South-East Northumberland the type of passenger transport services to which they are rightly entitled.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

As we are debating a Motion on the Order Paper and not a Prayer, I understand that we are not inhibited by time and that the debate is not necessarily to finish by 11.30 p.m. Nevertheless, I will not keep the House long.

But I want to call attention to the fact that this Order has been reported by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments for the reason that it appears to use the powers given to the Minister in an unusual way in the delegation of the power to the Authority to fix the salary of their own chairman.

By Section 9(1) of the Transport Act 1968, under which this Order is made, the Minister and no-one else was given the power to make an Order designating these Areas and setting up these Authorities, and by Section 9(4), such an Order, and I quote the words of the Act shall include —not "may" include but "shall" include—certain provisions which are set out in Part III of Schedule 5 to the Act.

Turning to Part III of the Schedule, we see that one of the provisions set out in an Order was—and I quote paragraph 5: The payment of allowances to, or to any class of, members of the Authority and the payment of remuneration to the chairman of the Authority. By paragraph 12 of the Order, the power is given to the Authority itself to fix the salary of its own chairman. The Select Committee on Statutory Instruments came to the conclusion that that was not what the Minister had been empowered and ordered to do by the Statute in making provision for the remuneration of the chairman. If the Minister is directed to make provision, he does not make provision by giving the power to somebody else to make that provision. That is surely an elemental principle of delegated legislation.

When one looks at the Schedule, one feels that it is significant that, where Parliament intended the Authority or the Executive to make the provisions, it said so. In paragraph 7 of the Schedule, the following words are used: The establishment by the Authority and the Executive respectively of committees …", thereby giving a power to the Authority and the Executive to establish committees. In paragraph 8, one sees: The delegation of functions by the Authority or the Executive to a committee …". Here again, clearly Parliament is giving power for the provision to be made by the Authority or the Executive. In paragraph 10, one sees: The appointment by, or provision by the Executive for, the Authority of officers and servants …". In paragraph 12: The provision of accommodation for the Authority by the Authority or by the Executive. However, such words are not used in paragraph 5. There it is said definitely that one of the provisions the Minister should make in the Order is, The payment of allowances to, or to any class of, members of the Authority and the payment of remuneration to the chairman of the Authority. The practical point of this is that, by Section 22(2) of the Act, a Parliamentary procedure is laid down for the consideration of an Order of this kind, and that is the procedure by Prayer. To that extent, hon. Members have a right to debate subjects in the Order. It is true that we are debating this on a Motion, but we have no right to claim to debate these Orders by Motion. It is by gracious permission of the usual channels, if I may say so, that it is being debate by a Motion tonight. But where Parliament by Statute gives a Parliamentary procedure of a Prayer, we have a right to debate this sort of thing.

If the Minister gave the Authority power to fix the salary of a chairman, we should have no right to discuss it in this House, except by the grace of the Government and the usual channels. The salaries of the chairmen of boards of this kind are a very topical subject at the moment, and it is right that the Minister should take the responsibility for fixing the remuneration of the chairman of a board like this so that we are able to discuss it in the House.

I think that he has exceeded his powers in this case by delegating those powers to the Authority. To that extent, the Select Committee reported the Order as being an unusual use of powers.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)

I want to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) on a point about which I, too, feel deeply. We are living in times when not only hon. Members of this House but large numbers of people outside it have strong views on salaries. I was surprised to find in paragraph 12 of this Designation Order that the chairman of the Authority would be paid such sum by way of remuneration as the Authority think reasonable". In an Instrument of this kind, the word "reasonable" can have many meanings—meanings of expediency and meanings relating to competition between one P.T.A. and another as they evolve in the areas laid down in the Act.

I was also surprised to find that, in paragraph 14, the appointment and remuneration of officers is based upon the same principle, except that the word "reasonable" is not used. In this case it is, … as the Authority may think fit. Whatever the arguments about the make-up of the Authority—and an unhappy note has been introduced about that one tonight—the fact remains that the P.T.A. will need some time to settle down. What they will think fit in the early days might be quite unrelated to what this House might think, or, indeed, to what the passengers served by the authority might think or to what the general public might think if, in the course of time, they are required to pay a precept, which is one of the conditions laid down in the Act.

Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) has left the House. I think that he might have stayed, knowing that I was to get to my feet, because he rather rudely intervened to say that he was a Member of the Standing Committee. When my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) referred to this matter to try to correct the situation, again the hon. Member for Maidstone rather rudely said that he now understood that he was not a Member of the Standing Committee and that this misunderstanding arose because of the woolly nature in which the matter had been put to him.

In order to put right the hon. Gentleman's misdemeanour, I refer to the Designation Order, which is dated 1969. On the front page, under "Interpretation", it states that the Act referred to is the Transport Act, 1968, so that any hon. Member would understand that we were talking about the Transport Act, 1968. For that reason, I hope that it will be on record that I should have liked to say this in the presence of the hon. Member for Maidstone, because I had hoped that he would take the opportunity to withdraw what was an unnecessary comment in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth.

Concerning the Order, I feel that one point has gone unnoticed in Newcastle and the areas affected. When the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Heseltine) referred to the political emphasis that had been laid upon the question of the nominations, he conveniently—although he referred to it in a particular way—slid over the fact that Newcastle County Borough has, by a deliberate act, nominated five Conservative Members. The hon. Gentleman makes the excuse that this nomination arises from a knowledge that there has been some determined effort by those who have been taking part in the consultations with the authority to see that there was a Labour majority.

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is thinking about. In a two-party system it is quite clear that in the North-East of England, in connection with this Order, either there is a Conservative predominance of nominations or there is a Socialist predominance of nominations. It would take more than a politician with a crystal ball to achieve parity of representation of a kind which might neutralise us here and place us all outside the political sphere of argument. In other words, if there had been a clear Conservative majority under the Order, the hon. Gentleman might well have been sitting there quite happy and would not have used it as an argument. Is that correct? I presume it is. The hon. Gentleman nods, but he has fallen into the great dilemma——

Mr. Michael Heseltine


Mr. Leadbitter

I will finish my sentence and sit down. I repeat what I said upstairs. That is not the argument at all and it never could be, because the hon. Gentleman's principal ploy has been that he is against the P.T.A.s hook, line and sinker and he will have no truck with them whatsoever.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not against the P.T.As. The hon. Gentleman heard all the arguments which I advanced ad nauseam upstairs in Committee in which, in many ways, I accepted the principle. The objection which I have to the Order is simply that the basis was laid down in July, giving a Tory majority, and that there was then a gerrymandering period leading to proposals in October giving a Labour majority. The only justification for the change was to bring about the Labour majority.

Mr. Leadbitter

The hon. Member persists in his argument. No Member of the Standing Committee was more obdurate and difficult about the P.T.A.s than he was.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. We are not discussing the Transport Act but the Order before the House.

Mr. Leadbitter

But we are discussing a very important Part of the Bill—Part II, under which the Order is produced. The hon. Member for Tavistock is against passenger transport authorities in principle.

Mr. Heseltine


Mr. Leadbitter

I will not pursue that further. I have made my point and I will respect your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

Because of that obduracy, the hon. Member has attacked the Order on the ground of representation. But what I have said about him does not retract in any way what I said elsewhere about his outstanding work on the Bill.

I respect much more on this issue the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott). He went no further than to suggest that in the North-East there was a suspicion—and he would go no further because he has no evidence which would support an argument that there was deliberate action to provide a political majority one way or the other. The complexion of local authorities in the North-East is such that, whatever the groupings, there was bound to be support for a particular party.

Looking at the Order, I am astounded at the highly marginal advantage of the Labour Party, having regard to the Labour majorities on many local authorities in the area, even though some seats have gone Conservative in recent years. No one can put it higher than to say that there is a rather marginal advantage in favour of the Labour Party. In the circumstances it would have required a great deal of ingenuity to arrive at a situation which gave the Conservative Party even such a marginal advantage. Would it not have been strange, in politics as in anything else, if the Tory Party had been in power and responsible for such an Order and they had deliberately set out to create a Socialist majority? The argument of hon. Members opposite is illogical and unreasonable and does not comply with the democratic process.

What has happened is a result of consultation. The hon. Member for Tavistock has not produced a single solid argument against the principles of the P.T.A.s. My hon. Friend rightly spoke of the co-ordinating influence of the River Tyne on the communities. The hon. Member for Tavistock did not do that. He did not attempt to show the objectives of the P.T.A. or the great difficulties of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Hon. Members will agree that the transport problem of Newcastle is not a recent creation. It has been a growing problem for many years because of the conglomeration of people and the increasing volume of traffic in that area. It was therefore necessary for there to be some rationalisation of the transport system.

The July and October proposals are not indications of machinations and plotting but an exercise in continued consultation to try to arrive at the best answers in a highly complex situation. It was important for the Government that these consultations should have gone on after July, so that this Order should get off to a firm, fair, and reasonable start on the appointed day.

If hon. Gentlemen opposite can do no more than voice suspicions and are unable to find any real objections to the Order, they should keep quiet. I hope that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) will not drag Scotland into this debate but will keep quiet and admit to himself that hon. Members on this side of the House not only have the edge on his hon. Friends in this case but, as in the Standing Committee, have beaten them hands down.

11.42 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I am sure that the hon. Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) intended his speech to be helpful to the Government's case, but it was just the opposite. I had the pleasure of putting my name to this Motion because on the basis of the information supplied by our colleagues in the area concerned it seemed that something was wrong.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether anyone could imagine a Conservative Government setting up P.T.As and putting a Labour authority in control. Our concern is that this matter may have been looked at from a political point of view and not, as was intended, purely from the point of view of transport considerations. This is the point which was made so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine). Our fear is that transport considerations have not been taken into account and that other considerations have been taken into account. It rests on the Minister to explain how the proposals set out in the Schedule make sense from a transport point of view.

The other matter which was raised in our discussions on the Bill was community of interest from the point of view of joint representations. That was the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott). There are three areas in the second grouping, and as an outsider I should like to know precisely what is the community of transport interest between these three urban councils. I cannot see it, and I hope that the Minister will explain it.

I hope, too, that the Minister will take very seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page), because to protect Parliament, to protect democracy, and to protect the people of this country we have a Select Committee which spends many hours considering Statutory Instruments. We were told that assurances given in Committee would not be abused, but here we have a clear case, not of an assurance but of the letter of the law as set out in the Bill, being overturned.

The Government started with a weak case. The hon. Member for The Hartle-pools undermined what was left of that after the splendid attack of my hon. Friend.

11.45 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bob Brown)

Before I reply to the various points made in this debate I think it will be helpful to the House if I remind hon. Members of the objective of empowering my right hon. Friend to set up the passenger transport areas. We are establishing them to make possible, for the first time, the unified planning and closer integration of all forms of public passenger transport—rail as well as road—in and around the great provincial conurbations. The new authorities and executives will be required to carry out their duties with due regard not only to the ordinary, prudent requirements of safety and economy but also to the town planning, traffic and parking policies of councils in the constituent areas. All this is a new and exciting concept in local government, opening up a great new possibility for the future development of urban public transport.

Despite all the fuss that was made about these P.T.As.—despite the Leader of the Opposition's assertion in Manchester that this was "nationalisation"—which it is not; I would not get support from my hon. Friends about this as a nationalisation project although I might get support for it as an extension of municipalisation—despite all the tendentious comparisons with experience in the U.S.A., the fact remains that the operation of setting up the P.T.As. is proceeding smoothly and the local authorities concerned are playing the full part that Parliament assigned to them.

Most of them have now appointed their members to the passenger transport authorities for their areas, and on the whole these appointments represent a very fair cross-section of local interests. There have been preliminary discussions within the areas and a great deal of ground-work has been done to ensure that the new authorities get away to a good start when they begin their work in what in a few short minutes will be today. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that is being done and to congratulate the majority of local councils concerned on their responsible approach.

Newcastle City Council, unfortunately, has not seen fit to approach the question of the appointment of members on a fair basis; instead it has appointed all Tories. That is a matter for Newcastle City Council. Suffice it to say, however, that it does not compare very favourably with the less partisan attitude of Tory-controlled local authorities in other areas, who have seen fit to appoint Labour as well as Tory members. Tyneside local authorities have acted very well, as have other P.T.A.s. They have already come together for preliminary discussions about the arrangements for setting up their P.T.A. I had the honour of being invited to chair their first meeting. We made good progress there. As recently as Friday of last week a preliminary informal meeting of the Tyneside P.T.A. was held in Newcastle, and good progress was made at that meeting.

But when we consider the matter, is it at all surprising that the local authorities on Tyneside should be getting together in this way? Any rational examination of the complexity of travel patterns and bus and rail routes on Tyneside shows that there is a clear case for setting-up a single authority to take responsibility for all forms of passenger transport serving the area. There is no other way of enabling public transport to play its full part in the development of Tyneside—no other way of giving a fair deal both to the people who use public transport and to the workers who run it.

I do not think there is any real dispute about this. Even Councillor Trotter, the Chairman of the Newcastle Traffic, Highways and Transport Committee, the most vocal critic of the P.T.A. concept as established in the Transport Act—he is even more critical than the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine)—wrote to my right hon. Friend last October, saying: Having regard to Newcastle's past opposition to certain aspects of the P.T.A. proposals it may be helpful for you to know that now that the Transport Bill has become law we feel that no useful purpose would be served by further argument. That was on 29th October last year. He also said: I feel that the public good will best be served if all concerned with the P.T.A. now work together in harmony.… Everything was lovely—that is, when the Bill became an Act.

Mr. Leadbitter

I hope that my hon. Friend will not bemuse himself into assuming that the letter of 29th October meant a change of heart. Mr. Trotter was only asking the Minister, in effect, "Now that the legislation has been passed, may I be chairman of the P.T.A.?"

Mr. Brown

That hardly measures up to Mr. Trotter's latest outburst in the local Press about the chairmanship of the P.T.A., particularly his comment to the effect that he had been warned off, that he had been told he was politically undesirable as chairman.

The chairman of the Tyneside P.T.A.—indeed, this applies to the chairmen of the other three P.T.A.s—will be selected by the appointed members, the full membership, of the local P.T.A. Neither my right hon. Friend nor I will have any say in the issue, despite the backstairs machinations which have been alleged tonight by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The membership of the P.T.A., having decided from among themselves who will be their chairman, will, it is true, have to submit the name to the Minister—[Interruption.]—but I assure hon. Members without fear of contradiction that if my right hon. Friend or one of his successors told such an elected body, "I am not prepared to accept the individual you have selected to be your chairman". he would deserve all the criticism he got.

Mr. Michael Heseltine

That is an interesting assurance and we are grateful for it. May I take it that no instructions will be issued to the Ministerial nominees about how they should vote when the question of the chairmanship is discussed?

Mr. Brown

I do not know at this stage who my right hon. Friend will be selecting as his nominees.

Mr. Heseltine

That is not the point. Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question?

Mr. Brown

As long as we get the quality of nominee we hope to get, then he would not accept directions from any Minister. He would have an independent mind and—

Mr. Heseltine

May we have a straight answer? Will there be any instructions?

Mr. Brown

Of course there will not, and it is nonsense to suggest that there will be instructions.

There is a consensus that the Tyneside P.T.A. should be set up and that the Authority should be given every help and encouragement to get on with the job. Parliament decided that we should not wait for the results of the Royal Commission on the reorganisation of local government. The local councils concerned seem to accept that the sooner the P.T.A.s start work the better.

The area of the P.T.A.s has been questioned. The hon. Member for Tavistock made disgraceful and unworthy suggestions about the part which I, as Joint Parliamentary Secretary, had played. He questioned me about the Labour Party meetings that I had attended and about all sorts of other backstairs work that had gone on. Those suggestions were unworthy of him and I hope that he will have the dignity to withdraw them. I would describe them more or less as slanderous imputations.

I willingly tell the hon. Gentleman about the meetings that took place. I have addressed a meeting of Labour members of Tyneside councils about the Transport Act, just as I have addressed meetings throughout the country, from Exeter to York.

Mr. Heseltine

In public?

Mr. Brown

I have addressed meetings in the East, West, North and South about the Transport Act. As a member of the Labour Party and a member of the Government, I am at liberty to address Labour members of local councils in any part of the country, just as the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are at liberty to address whom they like about the Transport Act.

Mr. Heseltine

I take it that the hon. Gentleman is referring to those public meetings which are widely reported in the Press and elsewhere. However, is he referring to a meeting which took place in Gateshead of the Labour movement early in November? Was not that a pri- vate meeting at which various Labour members of local councils considered the political and other implications of the Tyneside P.T.A.?

Mr. Brown

I am talking about a meeting of Labour members of local authorities on Tyneside at which the Transport Act was discussed.

Mr. Heseltine

In private?

Mr. Brown

In private, and I have had many more meetings in that category, three in and near Birmingham and two in Manchester.

Mr. Heseltine

With Labour councillors?

Mr. Brown

With Labour councillors.

Mr. Heseltine


Mr. Brown

Not only Labour councillors of the P.T.A. area but Tyneside Labour council representatives. Do not let anyone complain that I have not the right to do that.

The hon. Member went on to talk about the proposals of 8th July, the sinister fact that groupings were suggested in the letter of 8th July following these nefarious activities within the Labour Party organisation on Tyneside and that on 30th October a new circular was sent out completely altering the groupings so that the Labour Party would have more seats in the area. Let me scotch that right away as another lie. I can forgive the hon. Member, but I am rather surprised that my next-door neighbour, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North (Mr. R. W. Elliott) should be so ill-informed as to allow his colleague on the Opposition Front Bench to make the classic faux pas of accusing us of having altered the groupings of 8th July when in fact there were no groupings of 8th July. There were no groupings at all.

We hoped that we should get a lead from the councils in the area and, having got no lead, we got down to the job of making groupings. There have been no objections to the groupings as such except in the case of Gosforth, Castle Ward. The Minister has confirmed the groupings as originally circulated. This is the second point on which I join issue and on which I ask the hon. Member to withdraw. Incidentally, the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North by inference, although he was kinder, gave support to his hon. Friend. It is quite disgraceful that allegations, such as those of political rigging, have been made by councillors. I understand that political rigging came in when a Tory controlled authority started to put pressure on other authorities in the area to complain about groupings so that in the groupings then suggested, and accepted by the Minister, there might be more Tory nominees on the P.T.A.s. That is where political rigging came in—from the Tories in Newcastle.

It is to the credit of Northumberland County Council that, despite the pressure from the Tories on Newcastle City Council, it agreed that 50 per cent. of the representation—that is, one—shall be a Labour member. It is worth repeating that Northumberland Tory County Council stood up against the machinations of Newcastle City Tories and said, "Damn you. We shall appoint one Labour member". I think that that deals broadly with the allegations made by hon. Members opposite.

The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) mentioned the Report of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. The Committee did not suggest that my right hon. Friend had no power to provide for this, only that the provision was unusual. It is not unusual for Parliament to give this power to local authorities. For instance, the Local Government Act, 1933 provides that a county council may pay to its chairman such remuneration as it thinks reasonable. Parliament approved a similar power in the private Tees and Hartlepools Port Authority Act, 1966. River authorities, too, are empowered to decide what remuneration their chairmen should have. There is no new principle involved here.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

In the cases which the hon. Gentleman mentions the bodies concerned are empowered by Acts not by regulations.

Mr. Brown

I concede that point, but it is splitting hairs. The principle is the same.

Mr. Graham Page

It is not splitting hairs. The Minister is delegating a power which he is given himself to exercise. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of the Report of the Select Committee. The Report was that the Minister is delegating powers which Parliament gave him.

Mr. Brown

I am suggesting that this is not something that is exclusive to the P.T.A.s.

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Brown

I have answered. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard my answer. Surely he does not want me to repeat my answer about the power of a county council, the Tees and Hartlepools Port Authority Act, and river authorities. Although the power is delegated to the Minister, the Minister can make delegation to the authority, if he so desires, and he has done so in other cases.

On the question of the allegation that Newcastle is under-represented—this rateable value question is trotted out so often—I have not noticed Newcastle Tories being very vociferous on the issue of de-population. In terms of population, Newcastle has done very well for its representation. Basically, rateable values have been as far as possible evened out.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) asked about the disputed urban district council grouping. If the Minister had accepted the proposal put to him in the case of the Gosforth-Castle Ward areas, we should have had a completely disproportionate rateable value situation. There would have been one urban district council grouping with a representative for about two-and-a-half times the rateable value as that calculated for the other authority, whereas by keeping them as they were we kept it straight forward on the issue of rateable value.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) asked about co-operation with adjoining areas. This is an important point. It is largely a matter for the Authority itself. Nevertheless, I hope that the Authority will take note of what has been said tonight. The coast railway line has been mentioned. The Minister intends to apply Section 20 to the Tyneside Passenger Transport Area. It will be the Authority's positive duty to review all local rail services, including the coast line.

The question of railway lines was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Rhodes). It is high time that we put this in perspective, because the Minister intends to give a grant at the rate of 90 per cent., tapering off. The remaining 10 per cent. of existing losses would amount to only ½d. in the £ on local rates. The total loss is only 2¼ per cent. of the combined revenue of the Newcastle and South Shields bus undertakings. That puts it in much better perspective. In conclusion——

Mr. Graham Page

Does the hon. Member propose to dismiss the Report from the Select Committee in just a few sentences, with a brief in front of him which does not even refer to the Report? The House sets up a Select Committee to report to it. It reports, and the hon. Gentleman takes no notice of it at all.

Mr. Brown

I wish the hon. Member would not get quite so excited.

Mr. Graham Page

I am justified. This happens again and again, night after night.

Mr. Brown

I read the Report, and I have a sizeable brief, but I get the impression that hon. Members have beds to which they want to go. If I have missed any point the hon. Member has made, I will give an undertaking to write to him, but I do not propose to take the time of the House at this time of night.

Mr. Graham Page


Mr. Brown

I have been reasonable in giving way to the hon. Member, and I do not intend to give way again at all. I am giving an assurance that I will write to him.

Mr. Graham Page

It should be done now—not at some other time.

Mr. Heseltine

On a point of order. The House is in some difficulty and would welcome your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I understand it, if this Motion is not pressed the Statutory Instrument comes into force tomorrow.

Hon. Members


Mr. Heseltine

The Statutory Instrument, I am told, is already in force today, and the only way to prevent that from happening is for it to be withdrawn. It seems to me that the assurance the Minister gave was not enough.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not a matter for the Chair to compel a Minister to reply. The Minister has replied in his own way.

Mr. Brown

Much of what has been said tonight is no more than an attempt to revive political differences which most people on Tyneside had hoped were behind them. I speak as an hon. Member for Newcastle as well as speaking as a Joint Parliamentary Secretary when I submit that even if it were possible to do so, it would be wrong for the Minister to withdraw the Order and to delay the setting up of an Authority which most thinking people on Tyneside want to see in being as soon as possible.

Question put and negatived.

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