HC Deb 26 July 1974 vol 877 cc2028-63

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)

It is suggested that at the same time we should debate Clauses 18 and 19 and Amendment No. 24.

1.0 p.m.

Mr. Mulley

I think that I am under an obligation to explain to the Committee why Clauses 17, 18 and 19 hang together. They are an attempt—I accept a sincere attempt—to improve the position of rural transport by a series of changes in the licensing system.

I do not think that there is any dispute on either side about the serious problem of rural transport. Hon. Members privately, as well as in speeches and Questions in the House, have expressed their concern about this matter over a long period. We are all concerned about it.

In 1968 there was an attempt to help by giving local authorities not only the power to subsidise services but a grant to help in that way. We know that, for business and other reasons, people are obliged to have motor cars and that situation has generally eroded the services about which we are all concerned.

There is no dispute about the problem. The dispute is about the best way of tackling it. My advice to the Committee is that these clauses will not help very much and may in certain instances make matters worse.

Mr. Hawkins

indicated dissent.

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) shakes his head. This is obviously a matter for argument. I make no political point out of it. Difficulties are involved. The previous administration were extremely concerned about this matter. They had experiments conducted, and so forth. Ultimately, at the end of three and a half years, they brought forward proposals, but they were not acceptable to the operators, the unions or the local authorities.

The proposals before us now, which were inserted in another place, are different from those which the previous Government had in the final print of their Bill. I make no complaint. It is a difficult problem and it is only right that people should try in this or that way to meet this or that difficulty.

The argument about minibuses is attractive. People say that they see a bus going along with perhaps only three, six or eight people in it and therefore ask whether it would be more sensible to have a minibus. They seem to think that because a minibus is only a quarter of the size of a large bus it will cost only a quarter of the money to run. But how wrong they are. The biggest factor in transport, both rural and elsewhere, is drivers' wages. It costs as much—or there is very little difference—to have someone drive a minibus as to have someone drive a bigger bus. Therefore, there are no economies in that respect, unless it is suggested—I do not think that anyone would make such a suggestion—that the drivers of minibuses should not be properly paid.

When we debated this matter before, concern was expressed about people thinking that there might be money to be made in running these services or that they might be motivated by some form of public service to operate such services, that they might take away from some of the existing routes the low level of support that they have, that neither the National Bus Company nor the operators, whoever they are, would be able to run the services any longer, and that the local authority might feel that there was no justification for continuing to support them and withdrawing support. Then, for whatever reason, the people who had introduced the alternative services might find that they were not profitable, or they had gone for contract work, and therefore withdrew the services so that the situation would be even worse than it is now.

There is a lot of scope for argument and study here. I do not pretend to know all the answers. I think that we may need a more radical approach to try to do something for rural transport.

The question was whether we should include what were widely accepted to be the unsatisfactory clauses in the previous Bill. I do not criticise the previous Government for those unsatisfactory clauses. I know the difficulties. That is why we have not seen versions of them here.

In the initial consultations I had to make up my mind about them. It seemed to me that, in the first instance, we needed to get all aspects of the operators' and the unions' views together and then to bring in the local authorities. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State chaired the meetings on that basis. We wanted to bring in the local authorities earlier. However, these additional responsibilities for traffic co-ordination were given to the county authorities only as recently as April. Many were new authorities. Therefore, it was reasonable that they should ask us to defer our meetings with them and the operators and the unions. A number of them have expressed their worry about these provisions and have asked us to defer consultations until the autumn, because they had to get in their transport policies and programmes and so on. That seemed quite reasonable.

I make no promises. However, I hope that out of these consultations with the parties principally concerned—the operators, the local authorities and the unions—we shall get more broadly acceptable and workable proposals than we have here.

Frankly, from my point of view at any rate—I do not know what hon. Members opposite may think—when local authorities, operators and others are asked to do a lot of work with a view to trying to arrange something and they are then told, "The basis on which we are working has changed; Parliament has decided such-and-such", it puts me in an untenable position.

Mr. Farr

The Minister keeps mentioning the great rôle of the unions in this matter. Surely they are not very relevant to these three clauses. Unions in most parts of the country would have no say whether a minibus service was provided by private owner operators who do not employ trade union labour. To find out what the trade unions' wishes are in this respect and apparently to be guided by them alone gives the Minister a false picture of the needs of the countryside.

Mr. Mulley

I did not say that I had been guided by the trade unions alone. I should like to make my attitude to these matters absolutely clear. On all relevant issues I am prepared to consult and, as a matter of course, do consult the trade unions, employers and everybody concerned. I reject utterly any proposal that I should not consult the trade unions. I hope that there is no suggestion that they are taking an obstructive or difficult attitude to this matter. The unions are concerned. They have members in rural areas who are concerned about transport. They happen to agree with the people operating the current services that this proposal could make matters worse rather than better. There is no assurance that the position will be made better.

We have our different views. The local authorities have recently been charged under legislation proposed by the last Government to take on this responsibility. Is it suggested that we should write to them saying, "You need not bother, because Parliament has decided what it will do about rural transport"? That is not the right way of going about it.

With the assurance that we shall report as soon as possible any proposal that we can work out. I ask the Committee to delete these clauses.

Mr. Fox

I think that if and when HANSARD is published again and the Minister reads the speech that he has just made he will conclude that it is not one of his best contributions to our debates.

One would imagine that nothing before had been done in this sphere. I was involved in this industry for some years before I came to the House, and to my knowledge discussions have been going on for 15 years. Indeed, one could go back to when the licensing system as we now have it was introduced in the 1930s. Since then people have been crying out for some relaxation, and for the Minister to talk as though we were proposing something so radical that it would put people out of work and existing bus services out of business is not to tell the truth.

We shall not be able to get through this debate as quickly as we have done some others. "Forty years on" is a very old song. When we say that the present licensing system is out of date, it must be remembered that it was set up to protect established operators in an industry that was buoyant. Their only problem was that the industry was so attractive to others to set up in business that those in it already had to be protected so that they could stay in business and not have their best routes creamed off.

If that were the case today, we should not put forward this sort of proposal. As the Minister admitted, it is accepted on both sides of the House that, particularly in rural areas, the changes that have been made have been disastrous. Over the last 20 years, passenger journeys have more than halved in number while the number of cars has increased fivefold. No industry can see this sort of erosion and expect to continue as it was before. We say that we cannot brook any further delay, and we are not prepared to see these clauses deleted from the Bill.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell) instanced—I thought graphically—the problems in his constituency, and in an Adjournment debate on this very issue my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) did the same.

It is not that we are talking about areas with bus routes; we are talking about many areas which have no buses at all. Railways went some time ago. It is wrong for the Minister to suggest that things can go on in this way. There are people who cannot afford a car, yet they must buy one to get to work. They have three choices. They can buy a car and go to work, they can walk—and that is highly unlikely, because of the distances involved—or they can be unemployed and stay at home.

Is there something terribly wrong in suggesting a few modest relaxations to help those people and the elderly who, in many areas, are isolated? Is it wrong to help the young housewife with a family, or the infirm? We say that this hardship has gone on for too long, and the proposals in these clauses will help to fill certain gaps.

In 1971, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) produced a pilot study that was concerned with this problem as it related to West Suffolk and Devon. The conclusions that were drawn were simple. The study concluded that there was limited scope for full-scale bus services, and I shall be surprised if the Under-Secretary of State comes forward from the working party with something to disprove that. Apparently, how ever, we have a friend in court in the hon Gentleman, because one sees in HANSARD—I mentioned this on Second Reading—that he said: I hope that there will not be too many pettifogging regulations about the use of minibuses on existing bus routes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January 1974.; Vol. 868, c. 474.] I hope that after meetings with the working party the hon. Gentleman will not forget what he said on a previous occasion. He was, of course, relating his comments to Scotland—an area that he knows well. If the hon. Gentleman has a change of heart, we shall think that he has been nobbled, and by the time I conclude my speech I may suggest that one or two people have been got at. There is limited scope for full-scale bus services, even with the subsidies that county councils are prepared to give.

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State has returned to the Chamber.

Mr. Mulley

I have given my hon. Friend a verbatim report of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

1.15 p.m.

Mr. Fox

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that what I said would percolate through.

The second conclusion drawn from the study to which I referred earlier was that it was necessary to encourage the use of cars to meet irregular needs. The study also said that there was a need to extend the use of minibuses on a much wider basis and, finally, that there was a need for local government to accept a new rôle in co-ordinating transport needs in their areas. This is an important new factor, and local government ought to be given certain new powers to deal with this.

The Evening News of 20th July said: Rural bus services in Hertfordshire are in need of drastic overhaul, say a county council study team. They discovered that villagers are prepared to pay higher fares if the bus services are improved. Many are prepared to buy their own village minibus to overcome transport problems. The council are investigating several schemes including joint mail—minibus services and using school buses to carry general passengers. What is so wrong about that sort of proposal? After all, that is all that we are asking for—that there should be this flexibility.

These facts have been known for a long time. For too long Vested interests have come before the public interest, so much so—I accept some of the blame for this—that nothing has been done for far too long. I must tell the Minister that if he tries to convince us that we have to continue this charade he will not get his way. This issue should have been tackled in 1968. We know that the problem existed then. It was a scandal then, and it would be an even worse scandal to allow it to continue.

I know that the House would not wish me to go into the history of our Bill, but had we remained in government there is no question but that these clauses would now be law. However, certain tragic events occurred which brought someone else into government, and to our amazement they withdrew these changes from the Bill and presented the amended measure in another place. I congratulate their Lordships on restoring these proposals.

Mr. Mulley

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that these causes are in the same form as they were in the previous Government's Bill? They have been substantially modified.

Mr. Fox

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. In view of what he said, I should have thought that the clauses would be far more acceptable to him than what was proposed originally.

Perhaps I may draw attention to a rather strange conversion. I am glad that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) is in the Chamber, because after the Second Reading debate on the previous Government's Bill he tabled certain amendments. I have them here, and I see that they are not very different from what we now have in the Bill. I notice that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) has his name to the amendments. Neither of those two hon. Members has ever been reluctant to admit his connection with the trade union movement, so I presume that when they tabled their amendments they had union agreement to them. If that is not so, no doubt the hon. Member for Nuneaton will correct me when he addresses the Committee.

I wonder why there is this sudden hostility to these proposals. I find it difficult to justify the claim that existing services could be damaged. I have looked carefully at the safeguards in these clauses, and it seems to me that there is adequate protection for operators who are or have been worried about their business. The fiercest opposition to our proposals when they were introduced in 1971 came from bus operators and not from the unions. I am sure that the Minister will accept that. It took a considerable time for us to get agreement to what was proposed, and I have to tell the House that my information now—I have been careful to check this—is that the industry is happy to go along with these clauses and would prefer them to remain in the Bill rather than be deleted. There are three small matters which they suggest could be altered, but they do not in any sense affect these clauses.

Let us consider the protections available for the industry. The traffic commissioners will have considerable powers. We are not for one moment suggesting that minibuses which are operated by commercial undertakings for a profit should be allowed to go into operation without permission. They will still have to apply to the traffic commissioners for a permit. An easing of this law was made in 1968, and all we are saying here is that this should be extended a little further. The traffic commissioners will take into account what services are being operated, and if there is any doubt, even under these clauses, they will advertise the fact that the service is to come into existence and that any objections should be made as soon as possible.

Thus, the only change in criteria or instructions to the traffic commissioners—it ought to have been done a long time ago—would be that the public interest would be the first priority. The traffic commissioners would be instructed that the public interest came first, instead of being third or fourth. I sometimes think that the public interest does not come first with right hon. and hon. Members on the Government side, and I have to say, with some regret, that in this instance I think that they are being misled in trying to delay these proposals.

I have referred to the protection in relation to minibuses run commercially. There is talk of concern also about private minibuses and the effect of our proposals in that sector. There will be safeguards here, too. The purpose is to provide a social service, and under Section 203 of the Local Government Act 1972 a local council would be involved if such a scheme were planned. I think it highly unlikely that a local authority would go along with any such scheme—it should not be forgotten that advertisements would not be permitted—if it felt that it would harm a service which it was already committed to helping by means of grant. Therefore, the additional safeguard asked for in this connection is provided under the co-ordinating policy of local government. We can on longer condone the isolation of so many of our people, and a service of that kind would have a great part to play.

Where do the objections come from? As far as I know, the industry is happy with our proposals. What about the unions? I do not have such close links with the unions as some hon. Members have, but I cannot believe that they are saying that these clauses ought to come out of the Bill in order to protect jobs. If any hon. Member has a constituency in which there is a surplus of bus drivers, will he please let me know? I am certain that many of my hon. Friends would be glad to have their names and addresses, because in their constituencies there is a serious shortage. It is an incredible idea that these proposals should now be removed in order to protect the jobs of existing bus drivers. There is no surplus whatsoever, and our job now ought to be to find a new way round the problem.

There is no question of a social contract here. Indeed, if the Government succeed in removing these clauses it will be seen as an unsocial contract by many thousands of people living in rural areas. I ask the Minister to put the public interest first. If he does that, he cannot fail to allow the clauses to remain.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)


Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)


The Deputy Chairman

Mr. Edwards.

Mr. Huckfield

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I know that it is in your discretion, but I was under the impression that it was traditional to call hon. Members alternately from either side.

The Deputy Chairman

It is within the discretion of the Chair. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I did not see him. He will be called next.

Mr. Edwards

The Minister gave us a miserable little speech. When the matter came before the other place, the set of amendments now the subject of these clauses was accepted by the Government, presumably because the noble Lord then replying for the Government could think of no argument with which to defeat them.

Mr. Mulley

I take it that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the Government did not make clear their opposition to the clause when it was proposed in the other place. There were no Divisions on these matters because it was clear that on these, as on many other matters, the Conservative Party always has a majority in the other place.

Mr. Edwards

In fact, Lord Garnsworthy said: I sense that the Committee is behind Lord Aberdare and I shall not, therefore, oppose the amendment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 18th June 1974; Vol. 352, c. 817] That seems about as clear a statement as anything one could imagine.

Today, the Minister has given a reason. He said that he could not consult about other proposals in a situation in which the whole basis had been changed. Are we to understand that these modest proposals change the whole basis of rural transport in such a way that the further radical reform about which the Minister has twice spoken—both today and on Second Reading of the Conservative Government's Bill on 30th January—will be prevented? I cannot imagine why that should be so.

All we are asking is that while we await the further radical proposals which the Minister apparently has in mind we should be allowed to proceed in a modest way to improve what is at present a desperate situation.

I am especially surprised at the Government's attitude because, over the years, in my constituency of Pembroke one theme has been at the centre of speeches made by the Labour candidate. Indeed, there was a time when I thought him incapable of making any other speech. There seemed to be no other point on which he dwelt apart from the need to improve rural transport and, in particular, the need for relaxation of the kind now proposed in the rules affecting minibuses. When we introduced our Bill, his speeches suddenly came to an end, after he had written an article in a local newspaper confessing that we had gone most of the way to meet the demands which he had made. Presumably, therefore, he will be as disappointed as many others will be at the present Government's attitude.

I speak for my widely scattered constituency of Pembroke, and I do so from the backbenches, but I am certain that I speak also for all hon. Members representing rural constituencies in Wales. It may well have been the attitude of the Labour Party, now exemplified by the Government, which swept it from rural Wales at the last election.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) said, opposition to these proposals cannot be based on a threat to the jobs of bus drivers, because there is a great shortage of bus drivers. But, of course, there is a threat of a different kind to jobs. In my constituency people are unable to take jobs because they cannot travel to work. We are told also that there is a threat to existing bus services. In most of my constituency there are no existing bus services. I sometimes think that I provide about the only bus service in my constituency. As I go about visiting constituents, I make hardly a journey on which I do not give someone a lift. Fortunate it is that the owners of private cars are, on the whole, ready to assist people in rural areas in that way—otherwise the life in places such as my constituency would virtually come to a standstill.

We have here a modest proposal which would enable many small villages and communities in rural areas to breath again, to have some prospect of a modest transport service. All this, apparently, is to be halted while the Minister gives further thought to the radical proposals which he first mentioned on 30th January.

It is an extraordinary and quite deplorable state of affairs. In the coming months I shall have a great deal to say to my constituents about the Government's attitude on this matter. My constituents will be frankly astonished that any Government could interfere in this way and put on one side a measure for which they have been eagerly waiting. I know that my hon. Friends will press these clauses—I hope that the Liberal Party will, too—and I trust that the Government will be defeated.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I hope that the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) will accept that just as he no doubt speaks sincerely on behalf of his constituents, so the same can be said of many of us who oppose his view. In opposing what he said and in supporting the rejection of the clauses I shall give voice to feelings I have developed after a fair number of years, if not exactly working in transport then in lecturing in it and doing research in it. I speak as a member of the Transport and General Workers Union which, in the main, is opposed to these clauses. It is interesting to note that, in spite of what the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) said, so also are the majority of bus operators.

Mr. Fox

indicated dissent.

Mr. Huckfield

The hon. Member shakes his head but he must realise that the amendments which the scheduled bus operators urged to be made when the Conservative Government introduced their Bill—which, as he quite rightly adjudged, were the amendments I put down when I was on the Opposition Front Bench—were put down because we were convinced that the Conservative Government intended to shove the proposals through with all their might. I can remember that the previous Minister had a sort of messianic glow in speaking about these proposals. He said that they would revolutionise rural transport, and it was because the Conservatives took that attitude that many of us thought that the only way we could make them more acceptable was by tabling the amendments we did.

From speaking with a number of trade unionists and a large number of bus operators I have found that they still feel that their industry and the needs of our constituents would be far better served if more time were given for a far wider-ranging discussion. To rush into the kind of proposals the hon. Member for Shipley has referred to and to make the alterations to the Bill to bring it into line with what his party was originally proposing would be highly detrimental to rural constituents.

Mr. Fox

I am intrigued that the hon. Member should speak for the operators with such authority. Is he simply referring to private conversations with individuals? The two major trade associations—one including the National Bus Company—have informed me that they would prefer the clauses to remain in the Bill.

Mr. Huckfield

I did not question the hon. Member's sources. All I can say is that my information, which I hope is fairly accurate, leads me to conclude that the bulk of the industry believes that rather than rush into this kind of thing we should make a far more serious study, and that they would prefer the kind of amendment we tabled when in Opposition.

I am even more surprised to hear the hon. Member talking as he does. I respect his sincerity, because he has taken a long-standing interest in transport matters generally. He knows, however, that his party introduced the 1972 Local Government Act which, in Section 203, imposed a statutory duty to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the needs of the county. That duty was placed upon the new metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties. The trouble is that before these authorities have even had time to draw up their public transport maps, before they have even had time to present their transport planning and policy documents to the Department, the hon. Member—who knows that this work has been going on—wants to change the whole basis of the legislation upon which these plans could be based. That is remarkable. He speaks as one who wanted to put the onus of local public transport planning on to the new local authorities, and yet before they have had the chance to complete their planning and submit the documents he wants to change the legislation.

If the Conservatives are to be logical they should allow the non-metropolitan counties—which includes Pembrokeshire—at least to complete the TPP documents and submit them to the Ministry before changing the legislation.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Would it not be helpful for the local authorities, in drawing up their plans, to be able to include in them the possibility of extended transport arrangements of the kind these clauses might permit?

Mr. Huckfield

I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he takes a deep interest in the travelling needs of his constituents. Most of the non-metropolitan counties—I pick them out particularly because they have never had transport experience—and the metropolitan counties have not yet had time to draw up their TPP documents. Why on earth, therefore, does the hon. Member not want to give his local authority enough time before changing the legislation?

I question the arguments of the hon. Member for Shipley for another reason. The evidence which led the Conservative Government to conclude that the licensing rules needed relaxing was based primarily on two studies of rural transport. One, perhaps purely coincidentally, was carried out in the constituency of the then Under-Secretary of the Environment. The other, perhaps again coincidentally, was carried out in the constituency of the then Minister for Transport Industries. Presumably, that led to the conclusion that the needs or the supposed needs of these two constituencies were precisely the needs of all rural areas. Surely the transport needs of Pembrokeshire are totally different from the transport needs of Yorkshire—which, again, are different from those of Bury St. Edmunds and Yeovil. That is why I support the Minister when he says that we should not only give local authorities more time to develop their plans and policies but should allow the Minister more time to complete his consultations.

There is an economic argument, to which the hon. Member for Shipley did not refer in detail. It is that the labour costs of a minibus, a 30-seater, a 42-seater, or a 70-seater, are all about 70 per cent. of the cost of the operation. In areas where minibus services have been operating for five years following the changes in the 1968 Act, the operators have been asking for exactly the same kind of subsidies as the National Bus Company.

Hon. Members have spoken on television about the "great minibus solution", and have touted it around their constituencies as the saviour of public transport in the areas they represent, but it has been found from hard practical experience that in most cases the minibus operators are now asking for exactly the same kind of subsidies. For that plain economic reason, I do not think that the minibus solution will work.

We must realise that under the 1930 Road Traffic Act the traffic commissioners have to take account of public need. They have to bear in mind the three Ps of the Act—priority, protection and public need.

Mr. Fox

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to give the House the wrong impression. I never suggested that public interest was not within the consideration of the traffic commissioners. I said that we were now going to give it a fresh emphasis and make it the first priority.

Mr. Huckfield

The hon. Gentleman turns his back quite conveniently on some 40 years' experience of the operation of the 1930 Act. If the hon. Gentleman reads the 1951 report of the Thesiger Committee, which examined the workings of the Act, if he looks at the analysis conducted by the Jack Committee, the analysis in the mid-Wales study in 1961, and some of the Dartington Hall studies —in fact, pretty well every study apart from the two to which I have just referred he will see that they all recommend a continuation of the 1930 system augmented by bigger subsidies, administered either by the traffic commissioners or by the county council.

That is why I believe that the hon. Gentleman is not merely interfering at the edges. What he will do is to undermine the whole basis of cross-subsidisation as outlined in the 1930 Act. Instead of just one or two minibus operators and one or two larger operators asking the traffic commissioners and local authorities for bigger subsidies, we shall see even more operators asking for even more subsidies, and we shall return to the 1930 situation of people coming along on the other operator's timetable. All this will be permissible under some of the suggestions being made. I do not believe that that would be a step forward in serving the needs of the travelling public. It would decidedly be a step backwards.

What is suggested by the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends appears to be innocuous, but certainly the Transport and General Workers Union—

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

Here we go again.

Mr. Huckfield

If hon. Members take the trouble to consult the National Bus Company, as I have done as the chairman of my party's transport group, and if they take the trouble to consult some of the private bus operators, they will find that it is not only the union that is concerned about these proposals. Most of all, it is the existing operators of scheduled services, because they can see that it is not only the so-called unprofitable routes but also some of the more profitable ones that the minibus operators will then wish to eat into.

Evidence already available to hon. Members shows that the minibus is not the answer. In the counties where we have a proliferation of minibus services, they have simply resulted in even more operators asking for even more subsidies. For that reason I hope that the request that the clauses should be withdrawn will be heeded by the Opposition, on the basis of experience, so that we can at least wait until my right hon. Friend has completed his consultations with the operators and the unions and until the local authorities have had the chance, which the Opposition wanted to give them, first to draw up their own transport plans.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Hawkins

I have taken a great interest in this matter for many years. The situation is getting worse in my constituency and the whole of East Anglia.

The Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) both come from town constituencies, and I do not think that they have grasped the problems of a rural constituency. The hon. Gentleman knows far more about transport matters than I do, but I do not believe that he has lived and worked in the sort of constituency that I represent.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield

I spent the most formative years of my life in South Worcestershire.

Mr. Hawkins

The Minister talks of subsidies. Except for main runs, they are no use to a rural area such as mine. I cannot believe that the local authorities are objecting, although I think the Minister talked of their being one of the parties who were objecting. I was a member of my county council. It never objected through me to our Government when we introduced our clauses in the last Parliament.

The Government do not appreciate the immense, intractable problem in the countryside. In an Adjournment debate on 10th April I urged the Government to put back in a short Bill the clauses that we had had in our Bill, so as to relieve the anxieties of my constituents. The Minister then said that consultations were taking place on the matter. It seems to me that consultations have been going on for 10 to 15 years. Something should have been settled by now. If it is not settled, we must put the clauses into effect to give relief to our constituents.

There is a desperate need for a flexible system of rural transport. It will be realised that in a constituency such as mine, which is not unique, 45 miles long by 35 miles wide and has 120 polling stations, we need something that can be used flexibly.

We have seen a large influx of retired people of modest means from urban areas into my constituency from North London, Essex and elsewhere. The constituency has a large population of cars, but those people do not possess cars, and when they retire it is unlikely that they will have the money to buy them. It is also unlikely that all know how to drive them.

The need for transport to get to hospital to go shopping and even to see the countryside is obvious. The social needs are even greater. The social life of the average village is being destroyed because so many people cannot get out in the evenings. Women's Institutes and Mother's Unions, whatever organisations are a focal point in the village, cannot meet their neighbouring clubs and cannot go on organised shopping. The young people cannot go to pop dances in the local town in the evenings.

In 45 miles' length of constituency, I have only three small market towns. Any activity for youth takes place in the towns. It is far safer for a bus proprietor to run an evening service for the youngsters and to run them into town for a pop concert or a dance than for one of their number to drive an overcrowded car into the town. Such a service would make a real difference to the quality of life of thousands of people. This matter is of the most pressing concern for hundreds of people in isolated villages. Many people have come to Norfolk to settle in a county which they have come to like, but they rarely get the opportunity to see the countryside unless a friend, a son or a daughter comes from London, Northampton, Leicester or Nottingham to see them and to take them for a drive. Otherwise, they are confined to their village, their house or their garden.

The difficulty is that most bus companies and bus operators run their services into market towns only on Saturdays, when places such as the employment exchange and the social services centre are shut. We talk about minibuses but it is clear that other vehicles can be used in their place. I understand that large cars carrying a certain number of people can be used for this purpose. I have always found country bus drivers and conductors to be the most helpful sort of people. I am convinced that they would not wish to prevent this improvement taking place. If it is not allowed to take place it will be seen as yet another blow against the rural dweller, and from this Government they have received blow after blow.

We have only to consider the way in which agriculture has been hit and the way in which rates have been increased for rural dwellers under this Government—it is true that after four or five months of great dislocation the rating position has been reconsidered—to appreciate the care which they have for rural constituents. I do not believe that the Ministers understand the problems that face people living in isolated areas who want to go to their local town, who want to join with their neighbours in the activities of the next village and who want to go to various function once or twice a week. I urge the Ministers to think again.

In London I pay only 3p to go from the House to my digs, yet in Norfolk I would be paying 10 times as much to travel almost the same distance. I believe that the town dweller is well looked after by public transport compared with the country dweller. I urge Ministers to consider this matter closely. We have thought about it and considered it time and time again, until we are all fed up with it. Many of the people for whom I am concerned will die before there is any improvement in the life of the country dweller.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

In his opening remarks the Minister made it clear that he had an understanding of the needs of the rural areas but that he was not prepared to put into effect the necessary measures to help them. I do not think that his understanding of the present position weighs very much against the picture over the past 10 years of those of us who have lived in rural areas. For over 10 years we have seen not only a tremendous contraction of the road and rail services that are available in the rural constituencies, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) has said—an enormous increase in the cost of travel, which is becoming insupportable for many people.

In the countryside we have split ourselves into two distinct groups—namely, the "haves" and the "have-nots". The "haves" are those people who are lucky enough to be able to afford a motor car for getting to work and for other purposes at the weekends. The tragedy of the present situation is that increasingly many people come into the category of the "have-nots". The position has been made much worse by the increased cost of motoring. The number of people who now come into the category of the "have-nots" and who cannot afford to use a motor car is very large, and is increasing. There is a clear understanding in both district councils and county councils that authorities cannot continue to increase the subsidy from the rates. The chairman of my local district council told me yesterday that he intends to consider carefully the rate subsidy that is now being provided for rural transport services. He felt certain that that attitude would be shared by county councillors.

There is also the problem of people who have a long way to go to work. In places like West Dorset the work is concentrated in the larger industrial towns. They are very often outside the constituency. Many people in my constituency and in the next-door constituency of South Dorset work in Yeovil, at Westlands. Yeovil is nearly 30 miles from Lyme Regis, and the same distance from Weymouth. The people at West-lands have been engaged in that work for many years and for them no alternative work is available. They find that the cost of travelling to their work in their own private cars or by an erratic public service will be impossible to support very much longer.

These clauses make sense to those who live in rural communities and who have to use public transport to get around very large areas. Above all, they provide flexibility. We need flexibility and not dogma.

Mr. Farr

I support the remarks that have been made by my hon. Friends. I cannot help feeling that the Minister has paid little attention to the points that matter for those who live in remote areas. I like the right hon. Gentleman and say in his absence that I find him a pleasant person. In his short speech he made so few points and repeated so often that his prime consideration was to ascertain the views of the unions concerned that I could not help feeling that he was obeying the dictates of some former direction.

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was concerned with the plight of those living in remote areas. We went on to say that the clauses were not acceptable to the unions and to local authorities. He referred to them in that order. It may be that time has not allowed the new local authorities to form a view of the clauses. They are similar clauses to those in a previous Bill which the old local authorities thoroughly endorsed in principle and in detail. Before the right hon. Gentleman sat down he said that the unions had been consulted and that they had said that they did not approve.

2.0 p.m.

We feel that the Minister has completely and utterly failed to appreciate the position in remote rural areas. Trade unions are not concerned about this. The people we are anxious to get on the road, the people who ought to have legitimate use of the road, are those individual proprietors of garages and perhaps one or two minibus owners who have one or two vehicles which can each carry 12 or 13 people, who do a little bit of school contracting, who have a taxi service, and are able to provide in their own time, at different times of the week, a service enabling those living in remote areas to get into the towns.

The buses are there. The operators are there. They are not paid at union rates because they fit this in far more efficiently with their taxi-ing and funeral services. All we ask is for the right to release this potential which exists in the countryside to improve the lot of those who are cut off from the towns. This clause is similar to a clause tabled in the previous Bill introduced by the last Government. My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for the Environment tabled such a clause because he had received a considerable number of representations from hon. Members, mainly my hon. Friends, on this point. The Bill does not provide all that is needed, but what this clause and one or two others do provide goes some way to improving the situation of those in remote areas.

Some of us regarded these provisions as the mimimum acceptable when they were first introduced. That was 18 months to two years ago. In that time we have suffered and are still suffering from an international fuel crisis which has greatly increased the cost of running a car—even supposing that people can afford to buy one. The hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) suggested a week or two ago that the price of petrol could possibly rise to as high as 80p a gallon.

The least the Committee can do is to maintain these vital clauses because they give country dwellers some chance of some forms of local bus service. Local buses are needed for a variety of reasons in the countryside today. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) mentioned some of the reasons, such as the school children who have to travel long distances, or the pensioners who have to go to the next village to pick up their pensions.

An other example is related to the network of health centres which the previous Government strove to introduce throughout the country. These are centred on one of a group of five or six villages which means that other villagers may have to travel five or six miles to get to them. A large bus is not available to take such people to the health centre and back to their homes. The ideal vehicle is the minibus. In Leicestershire, 18 months ago a survey revealed that over 50 communities, some with a population of 3,000 people, had no form of public transport by train or coach.

In my own constituency in the last two years 29 out of 30 passenger railway stations have been closed.

The bus services which were provided in their place were generally supplied by large buses running at a hopelessly uneconomic rate. Eventually, due to lack of patronage, or because they ran at inconvenient times or along the wrong routes, they were mostly withdrawn.

I hope that this clause will remain in the Bill. There is no doubt that the hand of the TUC is behind the attempt to reject it. This is true of so many of the Government's actions today. The TUC has no interest in the countryside or those who live there.

If the huge National Bus Company, which is the only large bus company operating in many parts of the country, cannot carry these country dwellers profitably, then it seems that they are ex-welcome the easing of the restrictions on petted to stay at home. I particularly rural transport licensing which Clause 19 begins to provide. I should like to see that made more comprehensive.

Mr. Waddington

The message that comes through loud and clear from the Conservative side of the Committee is that we are concerned not so much with the interests of the unions or of the operators as with the interests of the public. I remember the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) speaking during the Second Reading of the Bill introduced by the previous Government in January. The hon. Member talked about pirate buses. I have never come across a pirate bus. No doubt they were a great menace at the end of the 1920s and no doubt they were one of the reasons for the introduction of the 1930 Act. But the world has moved on. The case for a relaxation of the restrictions imposed in 1930 has been made out for years.

I do not represent a rural constituency but I am absolutely convinced of the need to make relaxations which would permit the running of minibus services in the rural areas. My division is fortunate enough to be surrounded by beautiful countryside. People travel out to visit that countryside and many people who live four or five miles from my constituency travel into it to shop, to visit the doctor's and such like. The public bus service now operating outside my division is nothing less than atrocious. People suffer as a result of the decline in the service.

I wish to make one point which has so far not been mentioned. I refer to Clause 17(2) which deals not with minibuses but with ordinary cars. For years, because of some of the more absurd restrictions in the 1930 Act, we have been turning perfectly law-abiding taxi-drivers into criminals. The law says that if a taxi-driver takes, say, four people to work every day and accepts separate fares from them, the taxi-driver is committing a criminal offence, and each of the people travelling in the taxi is committing a criminal offence, namely, aiding and abetting the tax i-driver to contravene the 1930 Act.

The taxi-driver is committing an offence every time he carries people on a regular route for a separate fare. For years and years all over the countryside taxi-drivers have been doing that—thank goodness they have. Many people I know in the area in which I live would not be able to get their children to school, or would not themselves be able to get to work, unless they and the taxi-drivers contravened the law.

I am extremely cross at the Government's attitude in this matter. I was proud in January of this year to be able to tell numerous taxi-drivers whom I know in my constituency that Parliament was to see sense and that the law would be put right. But now this pusillanimous Government apparently do only what the TUC tells them to do. They obey the TUC's dictates when the TUC is saying something which I do not believe any other people in this country would accept, namely, that the clock should remain stopped as it has been since 1930, so that taxi-drivers who carry people to work for separate fares will continue to commit offences.

I support Clause 17, particularly subsection (2), and I would have thought that every reasonable person would support it.

Mr. John MacGregor (Norfolk, South)

I represent a constituency with similar problems to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins).

It is a large constituency, the rapidly growing population of which is evenly scattered over a large number of small villages, and a few large towns.

Two groups of people are particularly suffering because of the present situation. Many people who have come from London, Essex and elsewhere to retire in my constituency are finding that because of the rising costs of maintaining a car they are unable, as they had originally hoped, to motor from the villages in which they have settled into Norwich or other main centres to shop.

There are also young one-car families in which the husbands commute by car to Norwich, leaving the wives behind in expanding yet still small villages to face difficulties in trying to do shopping.

I have been struck by the number of letters containing queries and complaints that I have received, since being elected to Parliament, from both these groups of people. The problems they face are get- ting worse each year, because of the rising costs of maintaining a car and because many services which used to be provided in the villages are now falling away. Small sub-post offices are closing in some areas and it is impossible to replace them, partly because of the costs involved. Many people who would otherwise use sub-post offices are able to go into major centres such as Norwich, but pensioners and others, such as young single-parent families are dependent on sub-post offices and are concerned that some of them are closing. The solution of a mobile post office, which so far has been rejected, partly on grounds of cost, must be looked at again.

The owners of village shops are now wondering whether they can continue in business, not least because of the high increases in rates. Rate increases and rising petrol costs are changing the pattern of life in rural areas, and we must look again at solutions previously rejected.

I recognise the difficulties of costs in providing minibuses. I also appreciate that the labour costs involved are, proportionately, as high as for larger buses. But we ask that opportunities be given for people who wish to undertake local transport services to do so. They can provide flexibility for the small villages which larger bus companies cannot. In my constituency the larger bus companies serve mainly the major routes and provide few services in the country areas.

During the past four months a post bus has been introduced in my constituency. There were difficulties at first, and the service was losing money, but I am now told that it is improving and that another post bus is being considered.

The proposals we are considering are at least worthy of trial, to enable those who wish to operate rural transport services to do so. I am told that there are people in my constituency who would be willing to do so, if given the opportunity. No doubt they recognise that the problems facing rural areas are becoming worse every year.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Newton

I support the argument that has been developed by my hon. Friends. It is worth restating the issue. These are modest clauses designed to provide people in rural areas with some hope of improvements to their transport services. There is every sign that the Labour Government are fighting this proposal tooth and nail. I do not know whether Members of the Liberal Party intend to appear during the debate. It is a scandal that not a single Member of that party has been present so far. I trust that if the Liberals are not present if and when we vote on the matter, the fact will not be missed in rural areas, bearing in mind the fuss made from the Liberal benches about issues such as this in the past few months.

I have rarely heard a more shamefaced speech than that from the Minister. My guess is that he knows perfectly well that these are reasonable clauses, and I sense that for himself he would be quite happy if they were in the Bill. My hon. Friend said that this had nothing to do with the social contract, but my suspicion is that it has everything to do with the social contract, that the Minister has been told that the Transport and General Workers' Union wants these clauses out of the Bill and that, for a whole variety of reasons connected with the posture of the present Government, what the Transport and General Workers' Union wants is what the Labour Government will do. That is why they are now trying to take these clauses out of the Bill.

The response of the Minister, who has been very urbane and good humoured throughout the day, was rather aggressive on this particular point and seemed clear evidence of a guilty conscience on the matter.

Mr. Mulley

If my remarks appeared to be aggressive, let me withdraw, but I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's proposition that trade unions should not be consulted, along with every other relevant interest in a particular matter. That was the only point that I wanted to make clear.

Mr. Newton

Of course I accept that from the Minister. What we suspect, however, is that this is not a process of consultation but a process of veto.

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) has now returned to the Chamber. I was out of the Chamber for a while and I heard only the last part of his speech, but I got the drift of the argument. I was deeply unimpressed by his argument. We heard from him a great deal of talk about subsidies and the disadvantages thereof, which comes oddly from the Labour Party, especially as the Secretary of State for the Environment was all too happy to make changes in the rate support grant which in effect increased the problems for the rural areas while helping the urban. So I am not prepared to listen to a long argument from the Government side about the disadvantages of paying subsidies in the rural areas to deal with this problem.

Of course we accept the need for consultation, but I am equally unimpressed by his suggestion that the National Bus Company may not like some of these proposals. I do not know what the National Bus Company's views are, but I am no more prepared to have public policy in these matters settled by the National Bus Company than I am prepared to have it settled by the Transport and General Workers' Union. Both bodies have a vested interest in these matters. Many of my constituents believe that the National Bus Company is taking advantage of what amounts to a monopoly position in many existing services to charge them more than they should be charged and to restrict competition that might otherwise exist, even under the present law.

I say that simply because it is not good enough for hon. Members opposite to say that the unions and the National Bus Company do not like these proposals. Our purpose as the House of Commons is to decide what we think is in the interests of the people of this country, and to do what we think is right after such bodies have been consulted.

Mr. Molloy

About decisions from Brussels?

Mr. Newton

If the hon. Gentleman wants me to make a speech about the Common Market, I will do that on another occasion, but I am sure, Mr Gurden, that in this debate you would prefer me to deal with rural transport.

I should like to support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) about the concentration of services. Rightly or wrongly—I do not mean to argue the merits at the moment—we have just carried through a major reform of local government and in my area that has meant putting four or five authorities together, with the concentration of many services in one centre instead of dispersing them over five.

The local authority in question—Braintree District Council—has made great efforts to make sure that there are proper information offices, but some additional concentration has been inevitable. Similarly, it is public policy to try to concentrate social security offices and to make the existing offices better and rather more attractive. These policies may be right and they certainly have advantages, but they become intolerable for people in rural areas and especially for those most in need of the public services if at the same time they cannot get to the concentrated offices.

The hospital problem needs very little elaboration from me. It has been the policy, aspects of which I have done my best to oppose and limit, to run down our local hospitals and concentrate on large district general hospitals. Again I do not mean to argue the merits of the case at the moment—I have made my view clear locally—but it is essential to make sure that people can attend these hospitals and that relatives may visit, and that is all too difficult in many cases.

Not everyone has a car, and that fact has important implications for Members of Parliament, too. In my constituency I am trying to hold surgeries as frequently as I can at 16 or 18 places throughout the constituency and not simply in the two main towns. I think that that is right, because many of the people who want to see me are precisely those who do not have their own cars and who cannot go dashing about the constituency to see their MP.

But even when people have cars—this has not been sufficiently emphasised in the debate—many families in rural areas need two cars, because the husband may have to drive a long distance to work or to the station in order to commute to London, and unless there are two cars his wife is stranded. There are many families with one car, but not yet many with two. This situation is a growing problem in constituencies such as mine, and in recent months the difficulty has grown in both suburban and rural areas. Mothers with young families have found it difficult to get to a chemist with prescriptions for their children, for instance, and old people have found it difficult to visit a doctor.

I hope that the Government will recognise these problems and will not continue their resistance to these clauses. Of course there will be problems and these clauses will not solve them all, but they can make a contribution to improving services where such improvement is badly needed. I hope that my hon. Friends will press their views to a Division if the Government maintain their opposition to the clauses.

Mr. Fry

I make a swift intervention. I regard these as the most important clauses in the Bill. Those of us who represent large rural areas know only too well that the closing down of post offices and the almost total ending of any form of organised public transport have meant tremendous hardship for many people.

I give one example. Many pensioners are having problems because of the failure to issue pension books. They are told that in case of difficulty they should apply to the local social security office. That is all very well for people living in cities or towns, but for those who live 20 miles from the nearest office, who do not have a car and who do not have a friendly neighbour, it presents considerable problems if there is no bus. The Minister has excluded a way of solving a major human problem.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) has mentioned people who give lifts in private cars in order to get people to work. Not only taxi drivers but hundreds of thousands of workmen give lifts to colleagues to get them to work every day. If they accept payment, without exception they contravene the terms of the insurance certificate and policy of insurance. If there is an accident, the insurance company is strictly entitled to repudiate any liability for damage, and there may be considerable difficulty about obtaining adequate compensation for those who are injured. One strong reason for retaining the clause is that it would legalise an existing situation.

If the clauses are not retained and something is not done for rural transport, county councils will continue the kind of subsidies that they are already paying. It is interesting to examine the routes that have to be subsidised in many areas. In Northamptonshire, and especially in my constituency, it is not the rural but the urban routes that are most heavily subsidised, funnily enough. The rural routes are not so heavily subsidised because they virtually do not exist. The trouble comes with the regular routes to and from the medium and small towns. The cost of running those services is proving to be very expensive.

Without these clauses, the ratepayers and taxpayers will be paying even more subsidies to urban dwellers, while people who live in the rural areas will get poorer and poorer services. That is why it is essential to press these clauses, and I hope that we shall be victorious in the Lobby this afternoon.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

On Second Reading I warned the Minister that we should wish to have a major debate on this subject. I am sure that he must have been impressed by the strong feeling expressed by Opposition Members throughout the debate.

Any hon. Member representing a rural constituency must know that rural transport is a sensitive subject. I have represented a rural constituency in Wiltshire for the past 12 years and I claim to know what I am talking about. The people who are suffering most are the worst-off members of the community. Many people today have their own cars and they can manage, but the poorest—and that, of course, includes old-age pensioners—suffer from the totally inadequate bus services of the rural areas. These clauses, which the Minister seeks to exclude would be of enormous help to such people. We intend, therefore, to do all in our power to keep these clauses in the Bill.

I cannot see how the industry can possibly object. We recognise that the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huck-field) knows a great deal about transport matters, but the safeguards are clear. Minibuses will be exempt only if three conditions are satisfied—first, when they are not operated in the course of a commercial business; secondly, when the passengers make special arrangements for that particular journey; thirdly, if there is no advertising to the general public.

The hon. Member for Nuneaton said that we should not rush into these proposals. That is a misuse of the English language. Ever since I have been in the House we have been discussing rural transport and the time has now come to take action.

2.30 p.m.

Several powerful speeches have been made by Opposition Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) said that in his constituency people simply could not get to work unless they were given lifts. My hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hawkins) said that local authorities in his area supported us. I am sure that local authorities in all rural areas support us in our efforts today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer) emphasised that we were seeking to give greater flexibility in transport matters. Surely we all agree that it is badly needed in the present circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Fan) said that we should release resources to deal with the problem. Again, surely we all agree with that point of view. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Waddington) raised an important point arising from the absurdity of the laws on taxis. It is time that we tidied up the situation. Many other hon. Members made speeches of which I am sure the Minister will take due note.

We are convinced that the time for talking is over and that now is the time for action. The House of Commons has the opportunity to improve the quality of life of thousands of people in the countryside. I regret the fact that no Liberal Party representative is present for this debate to speak and vote on this important topic. We advocate only a modest advance, but it will be welcomed throughout the land. I hope that my hon. Friends will join me in voting to allow the clauses to remain in the Bill.

Mr. Carmichael

We have had an interesting debate—a debate which many of us have heard many times before. There has been a change in the situation on road traffic matters since the Labour Government took office—although we have been in office for only a short time and have had a great deal of work to do. Therefore, I hope that I shall be able to say a few words about what we as a Government have been trying to do.

The point has been made that on previous legislation I intervened to say that I hoped that the advances which we should like to see in rural transport would not be held up by pettifogging regulations. That is still my view. I hope that when, ultimately, we are able to present our proposals on rural transport, they will be bold and general proposals and will not seek to solve only a particular problem, which is always easy. I think I would be able to solve any one of them individually. However, it is when we are seeking to deal with the entire country and to consider all the varying points of view that things become slightly more difficult.

It has been suggested that we on the Labour benches are completely dominated by the actions of the TUC. I have never been able to understand that argument. Some Conservatives constantly see members of the TUC or the Transport and General Workers' Union under the bed and would be extremely disappointed if, instead, they found Liberal Party members there. I am not sure at the moment who constitutes the bête noire of the Conservatives—the Liberal Party or the Trades Union Congress.

I repudiate the idea that we are merely concerned with the TUC, the trade unions bus operators or local authorities, but we cannot make important decisions in a vacuum. We must consult those involved—the unions, the local authorities, and the operators—since they have important interests to be considered.

Mr. Waddington

Is the Minister seriously suggesting that when the Labour Party was in opposition it did not then consult the trade unions and operators? Surely at that time it had ample time to decide its attitude to a relaxation of the restrictions imposed in 1930. Why on earth does it need more time now?

Mr. Carmichael

Of course we had talks with various people, but only since March have we had the power to introduce legislation. That is why my right hon. Friend asked me to become involved and to chair a committee representing all interests on rural transport. We have set up that committee and so far have had preliminary discussions. It is not easy to get all the people together on a certain date. We have had some meetings with the operators and trade unions, we are hoping to have meetings with the local authority associations. This is not an easy problem but, in combination with other people, we ultimately hope to find a workable solution.

Hon. Members have mentioned fares for regular journeys. Operators find this point difficult and object to the idea that it should be possible to charge fares for regular journeys, although they would not be stage journeys.

On the matter of public interest, I agree that Conservative Members represent rural communities, but that is not to say that the Labour Party has no connection with rural communities. I have very close connections with rural areas and frequently visit such communities in Scotland. I am well aware of the problems of people who have only one bus per week to enable them to reach the market town—or indeed, sometimes no bus at all. We are concerned about this problem, as are the local authorities. Therefore in rural matters the Conservatives do not have a monopoly of interest.

Local authorities have asked for more time. One association expressed doubts about the Lords amendments and thought that there should be more time for consideration. This is what we are trying to do. I believe that my right hon. Friend needs more time to complete consultations and that it would be wrong to present the House with a fait accompli We need more time for study, but such studies will be carried out urgently. We must try to solve some of the hardship in rural areas in transport matters and local authorities are coming forward for consultation.

I am strongly advised that the clauses contain many technical defects. I appreciate that the Conservatives are intent on voting on this matter and I can only attempt to argue that we are acting in good faith. My right hon. Friend and I have met the people concerned. We believe that it is not possible out of thin air to bring in a series of clauses seeking to solve difficult problems which Conservatives agree are complicated and intractable. I hope that the method we propose, involving consultation with all the interests and putting forward suggestions, is a bold and effective process. Therefore, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the inclusion of the clauses in the Bill.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Waddington

I should like to put on record that in the other place no suggestion was made that there were any technical defects in our proposals.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The House divided: Ayes 63 Noes 114.

Division No. 101.] AYES [2.39 p.m.
Atkins, Rt.Hn. Humphrey (Spelthorne) Hannam, John Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Awdry, Daniel Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Bell, Ronald Heseltine, Michael St. John-Stevas, Norman
Berry, Hon. Anthony Hooson, Emlyn Shelton, Willam (L'mb'th, Streath'm)
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent, N.) Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Surrey, E.) Sims, Roger
Channon, Paul Hutchison, Michael Clark Sinclair, Sir George
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Jenkin, Rt. Hn. P. (R'dge W'std & W'fd) Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Clark, A. K. M. (Plymouth, Sutton) Langford-Holt, Sir John Spicer, Jim (Dorset, W.)
Cockcroft, John Lawrence, Ivan Steel, David
Cope, John Lawson, Nigel (Blaby) Townsend, C. D.
Dixon, Piers Lester, Jim (Beeston) Waddington, David
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Macfarlane, Neil Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Durant, Tony MacGregor, John Weatherill, Bernard
Dykes, Hugh Miller, Hal (B'grove & R'ditch) Wiggin, Jerry
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Moate, Roger Winterton, Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey Moore, J. E. M (Croydon, C.) Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Fookes, Miss Janet Neubert, Michael Young, Sir George (Ealing, Acton)
Fox, Marcus Newton, Tony (Braintree)
Fry, Peter Osborn, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gardiner, George (Reigate & Banstead) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Mr. Paul Hawkins and
Goodhart, Philip Pattie, Geoffrey Mr. Michael Roberts
Grieve, Percy Prior, Rt. Hn. James
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Rathbone, Tim
Archer, Peter Gilbert, Dr. John Park, George (Coventry, N.E.)
Armstrong, Ernest Graham, Ted Parker, John (Dagenham)
Atkinson, Norman Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Pavitt, Laurie
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hamilton, William (Fife, C.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Bates, Alf Harper, Joseph Pendry, Tom
Bennett, Andrew F. (Stockport, N.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Bishop, E. S. Hattersley, Roy Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)
Booth, Albert Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Price, William (Rugby)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. Arthur Hooson, Emlyn Radice, Giles
Brown, Ronald (H'kney, S. & Sh'ditch) Horam, John Rees, Rt. Hn. Merlyn (Leads, S.)
Carmichael, Neil Huckfield, Leslie Richardson, Miss Jo
Carter, Ray Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rodgers, William (Teesside, St'ckton)
Clemitson, Ivor Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (L'p'l, EdgeHI) Rooker, J. W.
Cocks, Michael Janner, Greville Shaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilford, S.)
Cox, Thomas Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'ctle-u-Tyne)
Cryer, G. R. Jeger, Mrs. Lena Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham, D'ford)
Cunningham, G.(Isl'ngt'n, S & F'sb'ry) Kelley, Richard Skinner, Dennis
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.) Lamborn, Harry Snape, Peter
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Latham, Arthur (City of W'minster P'ton) Stallard, A. W.
Deakins, Eric Lawson, Nigel (Blaby) Steel, David
Delargy, Hugh Lipton, Marcus Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Dormand, J. D. Mackenzie, Gregor Spearing, Nigel
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Madden, M. O. F. Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Dunn, James A. Magee, Bryan Tomlinson, John
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Mallalieu, J. P. W. Urwin, T. W.
Eadie, Alex Marquand, David Varley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.
Edelman, Maurice Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Edge, Geoff Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Watkins, David
Edwards, Robert (W'hampton, S.E.) Meacher, Michael Weitzman, David
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Whitehead, Phillip
English, Michael Mikardo, Ian Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)
Ennals, David Molloy, William Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Faulds, Andrew Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Flannery, Martin Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Moyle, Roland TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Mr. John Golding and
Fowler, Gerry (The Wrekin) Orbach, Maurice Mr. Walter Johnson.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Ovenden, John
George, Bruce Palmer, Arthur
Mr. Waddington

On a point of order, Mr. Gurden. Is the fact that the Liberal Party voted in both Lobbies further evidence that the party wants it both ways?

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Harold Gurden)

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Gurden. On a Friday afternoon when the House is occasionally a little thin, is it permissible for hon. Gentlemen to go into both Lobbies and lead you to think that more hon. Members are present than in fact there are?

The Temporary Chairman

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

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