HC Deb 02 May 1977 vol 931 cc38-113

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, That Subhead A1(1) (Salaries of Ministers) he reduced by £100. I shall be brief, because I know that many of my hon. Friends wish to intervene in the debate, which is necessarily limited in time.

The context of the debate is the transport crisis in rural areas. If on nothing else, I hope that we all agree that the problems in country areas are both real and acute. For many people today the only way of travel is by car. The car has long ceased to be an optional luxury for many in Britain. Nowhere is that state of affairs more evident than in the rural areas. The number of households with cars in those areas is well above the national average, being 70 per cent. compared with the national average of 55 per cent.

The car is rightly regarded as an essential. All the surveys show this, the latest being that of the Automobile Association, which showed that in country areas no less than 78 per cent. of the working population, and 68 per cent. of the nonworking population, considered their car essential. The same survey showed that the vast majority needed a car to get to work.

The problems are not confined, however, to car owners. Many people, particularly the elderly and the young, who are without cars, must rely on other means of transport. The elderly in particular face difficulties in shopping and in making essential journeys, such as visits to the doctor, let alone in reaching places of entertainment. The fact that so many households have cars should not mask the problem of thousands of housewives who are left without the car during the day.

A problem exists, therefore, concerning both private and public transport. The Opposition's case against the Government is that over the past three and a half years they have ignored the problems and treated the people living in country areas with indifference. The Government have made the problems worse, both by deliberate acts of Government policy, and by omitting to act when such action could have helped tackle the problems.

Let us first take the position of the motorist. As the Government's consultation document shows, the car is the chief means of personal transport in Britain today, and the Government's own figures show that car ownership will rise steadily over the next 10 or 15 years. Yet over the last three and a half years the costs of motoring have increased vastly. Inflation, which the Government did nothing to control in their first years of office, has pushed up motoring costs. Running costs have shot up, and the Royal Automobile Club estimates that last year alone the cost of running the average small saloon rose by no less than £5 a week. So even before we consider motor tax, the fact is that the motorist is being required to pay considerably more just to keep his car on the road.

This position has now been made even more acute by the deliberate Government policy put forward in the Budget, and particularly the increase in petrol tax. It is interesting to look back to February 1974, when a leading spokesman of the Labour Party, the then Mr. Edward Short, said in Stockport about petrol tax: A sensible Government who really wanted to restrain prices would reduce the tax". So how does the Government's record stand up to that statement? Since 1974, petrol tax has not gone down; it has been doubled. Thus, as a deliberate act of policy, the Government have added to the substantially increased costs of motoring.

But that is not all. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced this increase, he gave a number of reasons for increasing the tax, but he added this: In addition there are reasons of transport policy for increasing taxation on the use of road vehicles".—[Official Report, 29th March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 272.] When it comes to lorries, we know what those claimed reasons of transport policy are—the argument of track costs. But the Chancellor went further. He included all road vehicles.

So we ask the Secretary of State to make clear what he has so far failed to make clear—what are the reasons of transport policy which he is advancing? How does it mitigate the already acute transport problems in rural areas to increase even further the cost of motoring there? How does raising petrol tax help the tens of thousands of people who need their cars to get to work?

The Chancellor has pleaded that there are reasons of transport policy for this change. The time has come for the Secretary of State to say what they are. But on one point we can be sure. Not only does the Secretary of State share responsibility for the tax increases; he actually claims some credit for it.

At both General Elections in 1974, the Labour Party said on motoring that it would develop public transport to make us less dependent upon the private car". Whatever else we may disagree on, there is no serious disagreement that, over the last three and a half years, there has been no development of public transport in this country in rural areas or anywhere else. But the trouble is that the Government have pushed ahead with the second part of their policy and made the use of cars substantially more difficult for millions of people.

In the last Budget, the Government have developed that policy. Rather than choose a general increase in VAT as the Shadow Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), has suggested, they have chosen a specific measure which hits hard at people who already face specific and real difficulties.

But the electorate have already passed judgment on those Budget measures in a number of by-elections which have shown decisively the public rejection of the present Government's strategy. Later this week, in the local elections, I have no doubt that once again the public will give Labour the same message. Were it not for the Liberal Party, the whole nation could pass judgment on those policies and much else besides.

Over the last months, the Liberals have shown a mixture of timidity and inconsistency, to list two of their more attractive qualities. They appear to believe that they have influence when everyone else in the country realises that they are being taken for the biggest ride in both political and transport history.

I put this fact to the Liberals. If their words on petrol tax mean anything at all, they must mean that they will support this motion tonight. In particular, they will support it, I suggest, because petrol tax and the cost of motoring is only part of the case against the Government on rural transport.

The other part of the case against the Government is their failure to act to help those without cars and, in particular, their failure to act on the reform of the licensing system. Goodness knows, we have had enough Transport Ministers over the past three and a half years. We have had Secretaries of State, Ministers of Transport and Under-Secretaries, but one thing has remained constant throughout those changes—the Government's refusal to change the licensing system, and the present pair of Ministers must share that guilt with their predecessors.

The licensing system falls into two distinct parts—licensing to preserve safety standards, which, of course, we support; and licensing for permission to operate routes. It is that last part which is due—indeed, long overdue—for reform. It cannot be emphasised too often that the powers of licensing came directly from the 1928 Royal Commission on Transport. It is interesting to see that even then rural councils were the least enthusiastic about the proposed system. The powers were included in the Road Traffic Act 1930 when the then Minister of Transport, Herbert Morrison, told the House of Commons that his aim was a national and co-ordinated system of transport".—[Official Report, 18th February 1930; Vol. 235, c. 1221.] That only goes to show how little Labour slogans have changed over the past half-century.

But what has changed is the conditions of transport. Over-provision of transport, which was one of the main problems that the 1928 Royal Commission had to deal with, is certainly not one of the major problems in rural areas today. Cross-subsidisation was one of the bases of the proposals—the support of unprofitable routes by profitable routes. That, again, is not the position today. Throughout these last 50 years the car has achieved its place as unquestionably the chief method of private transport in rural areas.

It is because of those changes that my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) proposed a relaxation of the licensing law and included the proposals in his 1973 Bill. They would have allowed car-sharing and the development of minibus services and they would have simplified the licensing procedure. On Second Reading of that Bill, the attack of the then Opposition spokesman on transport, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), was not that this was too revolutionary. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would have liked to see something more dramatic, while a Labour Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael), said that he hoped there would not be too many pettifogging regulations about the use of minibuses.

But when the February 1974 General Election intervened, the Labour Government reintroduced the Bill themselves, but with this exception: they left out the three clauses on de-licensing. The Back Bencher who had argued for no pettifogging regulations was the junior Minister who argued against and rejected a proposal to put back the de-licensing proposals into the Bill.

Since then the Government have stonewalled. For two years they did absolutely nothing. A committee on rural transport was announced in November 1975. Such was the priority given to that committee that it took seven months before it had its first meeting. What has resulted from that three and a half years' work?—a Bill to allow four small experimental areas. Even with their own Bill the Government could not find the time for debate on the Floor of the House. It had its Second Reading Upstairs in a Committee room, for one reason and one reason only: the Government said that they could not find time for it on the Floor of the House. Unless the Opposition agreed to that course, the Bill would fail altogether. Such, then, is the Government's record on this subject. In all conscience. I cannot see how even they can claim any credit for that. The prevailing view was put by the Government's transport spokesman in another place. She said that there is much to be said in favour of making haste slowly, and she added similar remarks to the same intent.

Nor is the Government party any better at the local level. I was astonished to see at the weekend that the Labour Party in my own county council area of the West Midlands is still saying that it wants free public transport. According to the local Press, The Socialists will continue to push for free public transport if they have control of the county council at the close of the elections. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity of this debate to dissociate himself publicly from that view, for the good reason, as he knows, as I know and as the House knows, that it raises hopes which simply cannot be realised.

As regards support, the problem today is to achieve the maximum value for the money which is spent. The trouble has been that national inflation has pushed up operating costs, leading to a mixture of both higher subsidies and higher fares, and, sadly, lower standards of service. But some Conservative councils, in spite of all the difficulties, have tried to improve the position, and the least we can do at the centre is not to stand in the way of such local initiative. After all, the local people know the local situation best. Yet what has happened?

I take the example of Oxfordshire County Council. The county council there has tried to do something to improve the position, and after long consultation it put forward an imaginative plan which both provided better services and saved money. Part of its plan, however, required application to the traffic commissioners Application was made at the beginning of 1976. Finally, a hearing was arranged for June 1976. After two days the hearing was adjourned until July. After two days in July the hearing was adjourned until October. After two days in October the hearing was adjourned until November. After two days in November the hearing was adjourned until December. After four days in December it finally finished.

I say "finally" with the proviso that we still do not know, in May 1977, what the result of that application is. As a method of responding to local need, I should have thought that even hon. Members opposite might think that that process is slightly deficient.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Is my hon. Friend able to tell the House what was the cost to the applicant and to the taxpayer of that protracted exercise in nonsense?

Mr. Fowler

Substantial. My hon. Friend brings me to my next point, the question of cost. It is not just a question of delay. As my hon. Friend accurately points out, there is also a question of cost. As my hon. Friend will have noticed, Ian Heggie, the head of the Transport Studies Unit at Oxford University, pointed out in the Economist this week that a small private operator wishing to revise his service better to meet the needs of a small rural community, may have to spend a sum equal to the whole of his added first-year revenue…in order to get a licence from the traffic commissioners. Since innovation is an inherently risky business, it is clearly discouraged by this system. I apologise to my hon. Friend that I cannot give him the exact figure, but what I am convinced of is the very point that Mr. Heggie is making, that the cost of this process stands in the way of the innovation that he and I both want.

One does not have to be an out-and-out revolutionary to believe that the position should be reformed. Yet what have the Government done to help? In three and a half years, the only policy initiative they have taken has been to arrange four experimental areas. With what purpose? According to the Under-Secretary the experiments will add to the store of knowledge which the Government accumulate.

I put it to the Minister that it is not our store of knowledge which is deficient. Is is the willingness of the Government to take action. Indeed, the greatest action taken in this area has been taken not by the Government but by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) in the Bill that he is currently putting through Parliament.

We have had surveys before. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil announced his proposed reforms, he did so in the light of two surveys. There was a survey in West Suffolk which showed the small part played by conventional public services there. There was a survey in Devon which showed and proposed that local private operators should be encouraged to provide those rural services which, by reason of their special circumstance, they can operate far more effectively. If this is not enough, there is other independent work on the same project.

We all know what are the options open to us—minibus services, car sharing, van sharing, post buses, the use of school transport for other purposes within rural areas. The National Association of Local Councils put the argument last year. It said that there is an obvious absurdity in a public transport arrangement…which attempts to move adults, school children, goods, parcels and letters all by different means each of which is proving so expensive that the service which it is meant to underpin is being cut or abandoned. I concede that not all services need a change in the licensing law. But what I must make clear is that we intend that the next Conservative Government will reform the present position. We shall want to retain the safety checking process, but we shall want changes in the law itself. These changes will be based on the 1973 Bill, but I do not promise that they will be confined to those alone. We shall certainly talk with interested parties about them, but we intend to have legislation on the statute book.

That option was open to the present Government, but they declined to take it. The Minister cannot hide behind the forthcoming White Paper. I have not mentioned for example, railway services in country areas, because that subject is probably better dealt with in the context of the general review of railway policy. But on the petrol tax the Government have actually used their powers and acted against the interest of the people living in country areas. On licensing, they have failed to act at all.

Our aim will be to change the law to allow services to develop naturally in response to the different—and they will be different—needs of various local areas. The law should help local initiative; it should not hinder it. We shall reform the law to make this possible, and our aim will be quite simply to set the local people free.

4.9 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. William Rodgers)

You forbore, Mr. Speaker, to explain to the House the nature of the motion. Perhaps I may remind the House that it proposes to reduce my salary by £100. Although I greatly welcome this debate, I find the necessary procedural device distressing. Even in these hard times—we all know that they are hard times—it is unusual to be in danger of losing part of one's salary as the result of the vote of one's colleagues. That is pushing industrial democracy too far.

The issues we are discussing are very important. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) is right to draw attention to the special transport problems of rural areas. However, his choice of timing leaves me—I hope that he will forgive me for the evil thought—with the suspicion that it is not this issue but votes on Thursday which he primarily has in mind. So be it. But I should have preferred a rather more serious and considered approach.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire) rose

Mr. Rodgers

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to finish at least two sentences consecutively, I shall give way. As the House knows, the Government's White Paper on transport will be published shortly. Despite what the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said this afternoon, that is surely the time to consider and form a view of our proposals for rural areas. They must be judged against the whole thrust and balance of the White Paper and not in isolation.

Mr. Fairbairn

The Labour Party deserves to lose votes to the Scottish nationalists tomorrow if the Secretary of State thinks that the country votes only on Thursday. Scotland votes tomorrow. Does he not know that?

Mr. Rodgers

What I do not understand is why the hon. and learned Gentleman is not there doing his best to win more votes for his party tomorrow. I regard it as a neglect of duty on his part not to show more enthusiasm for the cause which he espouses in Scotland.

Let us not seek to deceive ourselves or others that the Opposition are not playing games today. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's consistency, especially in relation to licensing. But in terms of record the Opposition have very little of which to be proud. Despite the urgency they profess to attach to legislation and despite all that the hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, they left nothing whatsoever on the statute book after three-and-a-half years in office.

I had supposed that remorse and the sobering experience of opposition had led them to believe that rural transport should have greater priority today. Alas, though I have scrutinised "The Right Approach" carefully—it was a tedious business which I have no intention of repeating—there is not a single reference to transport of any kind in this latest statement of Opposition policy. I do not believe that the public will be deceived by today's face-saving exercise. If the electorate is sick and tired of party politics, the Opposition are going a long way to confirm it in its disillusionment. The hon. Gentleman should be a little ashamed of himself.

The hon. Gentleman made a passionate speech on a motion of the Opposition's choosing. I had expected a packed Chamber and an enthusiastic response from the Opposition Benches. I count 20 Conservative Members present now. That is as much as they care for rural transport, a subject which they chose and which has a direct relationship to their own constituencies.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

May I ask how many Labour Members are on the Benches behind the Secretary of State?

Mr. Rodgers

I made absolutely clear that this motion was chosen by the Opposition and that it relates to constituencies which they represent far more than to constituencies represented by my hon. Friends.

I turn, then, to the counties that Tory Members represent. The hon. Member must know that many of the shire counties, where his party has majority control, have shown great indifference to the problems he has mentioned. They have certainly not championed public transport. On the contrary, they have even failed to spend money expressly accepted for bus revenue support. In Avon, Hampshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk, for example, payments to bus operators have fallen significantly short of amounts I accepted for grant. In Kent and Gloucestershire councils have cut by more than one-third the claims for support from the National Bus Company. Oxfordshire—the hon. Gentleman chose to boast about it—is not paying any subsidy at all to the National Bus Company.

How can the hon. Gentleman claim that his party cares about rural transport when rural bus services are cut for the sole reason that Tory counties refuse to spend the money I have made available to them? Such a claim is poppycock.

I believe in a large measure of local option. Local authorities are best able to judge local problems and find solutions to them. But the record of many Tory county councils is deplorable, and there is no escape from that.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the way in which the rate support grant has been distributed recently—in favour of the metropolitan counties as opposed to the non-metropolitan counties—has thrown an enormous strain upon rural ratepayers, which is one of the reasons why the non-metropolitan counties have seen fit to try to restrain their public expenditure to a greater degree than Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Rodgers

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not grasped the point. I made sums of money available, as I was asked to do by the counties, but the counties did not spend that money for the purposes for which they asked for it. That is deplorable and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman can possibly defend it. I accept restraints upon public expenditure, but these are specific instances when money was there and the Tory county councils chose not to spend it.

I have referred to Oxfordshire, as the hon. Gentleman did. But if the House has had enough of Oxford, what about Cambridge, another county council controlled by the Tory Party?

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman really claiming that the transport system in Oxfordshire has not benefited very considerably as a result of the initiatives that have been taken there during the past few years? Is that not his responsibility, and the kind of measurement that he should be using at this stage? Does he know the situation in Oxfordshire?

Mr. Rodgers

I do. I have a copy of "Local Transport in Oxfordshire", a document published by the council, and I have studied it in great detail. The point that I was making is that the Tory-controlled Oxfordshire County Council has chosen not to make any grants or subsidy to the National Bus Company. That argument is beyond all peradventure and is without prejudice to the experiments being carried out by Oxfordshire, to which I may refer later in passing.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Rodgers

I hope to give way again, but I have already given way several times, and if I follow Mr. Speaker's in junction, there will be a limit to how often I can do it.

The Tory election address for Thursday in Cambridgeshire says: We will maintain the most essential bus services although bus subsidies will have to be reduced. What does that mean? Cuts in services or increases in fares, or both? What will that do to public transport in rural areas?

The more we look at the facts, the more the whole idea of today's debate becomes disgraceful in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has introduced it. The truth is that in many rural areas the Tory Party does not care a fig for public transport and never has.

The rural transport problem is simply this: greater distances and more scattered population make it harder for people to achieve and maintain even a minimum personal mobility. This causes hardship, especially to the under-privileged but, to a lesser or greater extent, to all. It affects the quality of life. It raises costs and reduces benefits.

I do not intend to be drawn, although the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield asked me to be, into a debate on petrol tax today.

Mr. Norman Fowler


Mr. Rodgers

This subject was discussed in the Budget debate and on Second Reading of the Finance Bill a week ago. The time to consider it further is when the Finance Bill goes into Committee. I fully understand the genuine anxieties about its impact but this is not exclusive to rural areas. As for the price of petrol—another matter of concern to hon. Gentlemen—the Government realise that there are particular problems in some remote rural areas, especially where there are zoning arrangements and a monopoly supplier. However, I think that the House understands that there are real practical difficulties in finding a solution, although I shall, of course, listen to any new suggestions and be ready to discuss them with my colleagues.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Is the right hon. Gentleman serious? Does he not know that the motor car is the chief means of transport in rural areas? Does he not recollect what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his Budget speech—that there were reasons of transport policy for the increase in petrol tax? What are those reasons of transport policy?

Mr. Rodgers

If the hon. Gentleman will be a little less impatient, he will find that I am coming soon to his earlier question about the increase in the use of the private car.

Even if the hon. Gentleman does not agree, I think that there are many other issues of rural transport that ought to be discussed on this occasion. If I am to keep within the time limit, I shall have to devote my concern primarily to those issues, and not to an issue which has been raised in the House and which will be discussed again. I shall be happy to pursue the matter, if the hon. Gentleman so wishes, on a later occasion.

The problem of rural transport has been aggravated in recent years in two significant ways. The hon. Gentleman may feel that this is all very funny and entertaining, but it is a serious matter for the rural areas. First, the tendency in planning has been towards centralisation and larger units. That has made travel more necessary—to work, to schools, to use services and amenities. There is a lesson here for all of us, especially for the planners, because we have taken too little account of the costs and inconvenience of travel. Biggest is not best if it means a day's journey to keep half an-hour's hospital appointment.

Secondly, there is the question of the growth of car ownership, to which the hon. Gentleman very fairly referred. This has tended to make those without a car worse off. I greatly welcome the extent to which more people are able to enjoy the freedom previously available only to a privileged minority who could afford private transport of its own.

There is, however, a "Catch 22" situation, especially in the countryside. As more people obtain a private car, the use of public transport declines and the cost in terms of passengers carried rises. This, in turn, pushes others into car ownership, even if they can barely afford it. It is a circle of frustration.

It is no answer to the problem, as the hon. Gentleman implied today, to abandon licensing in the rural areas and let private operators off the hook. An appreciable number of services are already provided by small operators in rural areas. They can and do get licences. A complete free-for-all would simply mean the unscrupulous plundering of existing services wherever there was a fast buck to be made. The public sector operators would go further into the red, fares would rise, services would be cut, and many people would be worse off than before. The only benefits of such a free-for-all would go into the pockets of a few, lucky individuals.

An effective solution, as the House must know, is a good deal more complicated. It must provide reasonable stability in meeting local needs, and proper coordination.

In fact, within the next five to 10 years rural transport could be transformed for the better. I regard this as a high priority for any Government. For this Government a fair deal for the rural areas will remain a key item on our agenda. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the rural areas have been neglected. That must change.

The solution is a basic network of conventional services, sustained where necessary by subsidies, but supplemented by a variety of unconventional means of transport, tailored to local needs and with adequate scope for self help. Both these elements are important—financial help and variety. One without the other will not do.

The hon. Gentleman chose to ridicule and despise the rural experiments that were announced by my Department on 24th March. But they deserve much more serious consideration, because the experiments in Devon, North Yorkshire, South-West Scotland and South-West Wales are important.

They will include flexible route services with pick-up on demand; a volunteer-driven community minibus, also with flexible routes; the use of shared hire-cars, providing feeder services to long distance bus and local rail services; the use of private cars authorised to charge fares; two hospital transport schemes; three new post bus services; and an emergency car service catering for unexpected and urgent needs.

Perhaps I could add here that I greatly welcome the growth in the use of post buses, which is a success story in rural transport. I understand that the 100th Scottish postbus route will be inaugurated this week. There are a further 25, most of them in the South-East of England, but I hope that there will be many more. They have my very full support.

The hon. Gentleman has complained about the delays in bringing forward the Bill for passenger vehicle experiments. I agree that its history has been chequered. I remind him and the House again, however, that between 1970 and 1974 his Government totally failed to get any legislation on the statute book, despite all the promises they made. Let us stop niggling about it. We want the experiments to go forwards as fast as possible so that we can learn from them and act upon them.

I also remind the hon. Gentleman that we have given full support to the hon. Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt)—who, I believe, is not here today—with his Bill to help schools and voluntary organisations. This, too, is a step in the right direction. Their minibuses will be authorised by a simplified system of permits in place of the complexities of public service vehicle licensing.

Beyond these minibuses run for particular groups, there is the need for more community buses run by local volunteer drivers to carry people on essential journeys in the absence of conventional bus services. I believe that these should remain within the jurisdiction of the traffic commissioners but they should be exempt from the need to obtain public service vehicle and driver licences. They will, of course, have to conform to certain essential safety requirements—the same as I shall be prescribing for the minibuses operated by voluntary bodies. In addition, I think that it is right to review the simplified licensing procedure brought in by Section 30 of the 1968 Transport Act to extend its coverage and enhance its usefulness.

In general, I believe that ways must be found by which the licensing system can be modified to leave more room for local initiative and decision and to ease the introduction of cost effective transport in rural areas within the means of ordinary people. With a White Paper due in only a few weeks' time, despite what the hon. Gentleman suggested, now is not the occasion to spell out every dot and comma. But a new charter for the rural areas in transport policy is my aim.

I have said that financial help is necessary for an effective public transport system. I deplore the neglect of those county councils that have fallen short both in planning for stability and in making subsidies available. This is unfair to passengers and unfair to the transport operators and all who work for them. I pay tribute to those who find their employment in the passenger transport industry. Their needs must be considered, too, because their livelihoods are at stake and many of them live in the very rural areas where they find their work. It would be quite wrong for the House to dismiss their natural anxieties when changes are occurring.

The best guarantee of a worthwhile future is in more stable arrangements between the counties and the bus companies, many of them subsidiaries of the National Bus Company. The Government will play their part in ensuring the right climate and conditions for bus operations to achieve increased responsiveness to the needs of the travelling public and scope for the imaginative development of services. It is also essential that the trade unions should be brought fully into consultation with management and the counties in formulating plans and agreeing new arrangements. I greatly welcome their co-operation in the rural experiments and I am sure they will wish to play their part in making a real success of a new charter for the rural areas.

As for revenue support, I can tell the House that, within the total resources available for expenditure on transport, I hope to make increased provision for the rural areas. This will be of real practical help in maintaining bus services and avoiding the sort of fare increases that might otherwise occur. Again for my precise proposals—and I know the House would accept that this is in accordance with proper procedure on these matters—I must ask the House to await the publication of the White Paper.

Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of the subsidiaries of the National Bus Company are currently in the process of withdrawing services?

Mr. Rodgers

Indeed I am aware of that. This causes me very great concern. The National Bus Company is withdrawing services in many cases, I regret to say, because the county councils have refused to support it and refused to make available to it the revenue support that I have given to the counties. I believe that the responsibility must lie with many of the counties. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is because I am concerned, despite the behaviour of certain counties over rural bus services, that I believe we should make financial provision for them to meet the problem to which the hon. Gentleman has fairly drawn attention.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Will my right hon. Friend give the names of these counties?

Mr. Rodgers

My hon. Friend kindly suggests that I should do that, but the list is extremely long. I have mentioned some earlier and I think that caused a fair furore. I am quite willing to repeat them, but perhaps it would be kinder to the counties to leave them to draw a veil over their nefarious failures on this subject.

As. hon. Members know, Mr. Speaker has asked that we should not speak too long today. I recognise that many hon. Members wish to talk about this subject. It is a very serious one and it should be discussed seriously. I should like to feel that the motion was by way of a probing amendment designed to allow the Government to reveal their thinking.

I should be happy if the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, having heard what I have had to say, which may have surprised him, saw fit to withdraw the motion. The hon. Gentleman may feel that that is the wisest thing to do. It is not for me to advise the Opposition, but they will hardly do themselves very much credit by voting against the policies that I have outlined. It would be far better for them to give a welcome to our new charter for the rural areas and to await the White Paper. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield may live to regret an adverse verdict tonight.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I am much obliged to be called so early in the debate. To a certain extent my credentials have been recognised for I have a constituency—I appreciate that other hon. Members have even larger constituencies—of 600 square miles. Within it there is one traffic light planned by a Conservative Government and triumphantly installed by a Labour Government. It is therefore a neutral traffic light. Apart from that my constituency is a wholly rural area.

As indeed will other hon. Members from this side of the House, I speak with a genuine concern for rural areas. Having that genuine concern I was not exactly delighted with the earlier parts of the Secretary of State's speech which I felt partly spoiled the genuine concern which the latter part revealed. To say that the Opposition are playing games by introducing the subject of rural transport at this particular time completely ignores the fact, which the Secretary of State and his colleagues know very well, that we have been raising the subject solidly in this House Question Time after Question Time. This is not the first debate on rural transport this year. If we are playing games by introducing the subject this week, what on earth were the Government doing last week when giving development area status to the area which includes Grimsby?

This knockabout stuff does not get us anywhere. I would just add another point. I shall ignore "The Right Approach" save to say that I am pleased that it has caused such concern on the Labour Benches. I confess that I have not read the whole thing myself, but hon. Members, not least the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, read nothing else. I can only believe from that that the Government are completely bereft of policies of their own and have nothing to do but comment on ours.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) made an excellent and constructive speech in which he pledged legislation. That is far better than anything in any policy manual. The Secretary of State spent too much time talking about counties cutting subsidies—the villainous Conservative rural counties cutting subsidies to the National Bus Corporation which is making an ever-increasing loss. There is a genuine challenge to Government to give confidence to those county councils so that they do not do that.

My firm belief is that if the counties had confidence in the system, if the licensing system were a little more adaptable, and if their losses were not being compensated by ever-increasing cuts in the rural areas that they represent, and which they locally govern, they might perhaps be more inclined to subsidise the NBC instead of becoming ever increasingly less inclined to do so. There is a challenge here for whichever Government is in power.

I do not want to repeat anything that has been said already. I would just add a comment with regard to what the Secretary of State said in the latter part of his speech. He demonstrated concern for a subject which need not be partisan. That is why I regret the fact that we find it necessary to have a go at each other.

It is legitimate criticism that there has been delay. There were certain other preoccupations between 1970 and 1974, as the Secretary of State knows. But at least legislation was introduced about two-thirds the way through that Parliament. It was lost by what happened in February 1974 and it was not reintroduced. What we have been dealing with since then is just one Bill, which was not even debated on Second Reading on the Floor of the House but went to some obscure room upstairs, to introduce four experiments.

It has taken a long time. There is a just criticism here. If the Secretary of State has the concern which he has shown since taking office, he must concede that it is not good enough that the Road Traffic Bill, which at the time was greeted by the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley), the then Shadow spokesman on the subject, was greeted without a vote against it at Second Reading. The right hon. Member in fact stated that he would take up details in Committee and we all had a reasonable hope that it would go through. But it did not. It was not until 3rd December 1975 that we even had an announcement about these experimental projects. We are now at the beginning of May 1977, and this Bill has percolated through the Committee Room upstairs. But the rural areas are not satisfied with the way in which they are being treated.

I would invite the House to see this problem in an overall rural perspective. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) referred today to the rate support grant. I do not want to divert the House from the subject at hand, but there is an ever-increasing feeling of deprivation in rural areas which runs through the agricultural spectrum—the problem over the Common Market, the green pound and the pig farmer. It runs through the cuts this year of rate support grant, which is seen as a continuation of something which has been happening over recent years, and finalises itself in the petrol tax increase. I appreciate that we shall be debating this subject subsequently but surely we are allowed to mention it here, because it has a certain relevance.

The problem in rural areas is compounded, certainly in my own area and no doubt in the rural areas of other hon. Members, by the cut price war which has been going on in urban areas and the cities. There are variations in the price of four star petrol of 10p and, in some cases, up to 14p. I see that one hon. Member opposite—the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson)—agrees with me. This is something which should be taken into account when transport and financial policies, or whatever, are chosen as comparatively easy superficial targets in the Chancellor's Budget.

I wish to address myself to certain specific points before I sit down. The one point to which we must address our minds with regard to this problem is the problem of co-ordinating rural transport. That was implicit in much of what the Secretary of State said. The first example of coordination concerns school buses. Section 30 of the 1968 Act allows them to take fare-paying passengers, so that one is over a certain amount of the hill. I appreciate that one can do a reasonable amount under the present licensing procedure, but in my own constituency it is too inflexible and absolute and there is far too much bureaucracy in the way of any local initiative or inventiveness. We need to utilise these buses throughout the day.

This has been referred to with regard to Oxfordshire. Indeed, other local authorities would like to do this. But it is always vigorously opposed by the NBC which obviously fears that a service will be provided which it cannot provide itself.

May I be allowed the luxury of saying that, as a former practising lawyer, I am distressed at the whole objection procedure adopted in the traffic commissioners' licensing procedures. The same goes for betting and gaming matters, and in the area of licensed victuallers. It is surely not satisfactory to object purely on grounds of self-interest or nihilism. It is a pity that this attitude applies to school buses.

I now turn to the subject of post buses. These have been particularly successful in the remoter areas of Scotland, whose very remoteness makes them suitable for the system of pick-up and collection. But there is certainly much room for improvement in the country areas of England and Wales.

We have tried to introduce a scheme in Leominster, but so far we have not been able to get a scheme going. The Government should be encouraging such schemes. We could not even find a postman to drive a bus during an experiment and that was one of the problems when we tried to introduce the scheme. There was little encouragement from management or unions. As I have said in the House before, surely if men are to take on extra responsibilities they should be paid appropriately for the job. If postmen are also to act as bus drivers that factor should be taken into account, and in that effort to help the community the job should be made worth their while.

On the question of mini-buses, the Norfolk example is a good one since a voluntary element is involved. That scheme had been backed by the National Bus Company and should be carried further forward. Activities by car and taxi drivers are also to be encouraged in local transport matters. It is certainly a nonsense that these activities should be regarded as illegal, because they occur in any case. If they were encouraged, those activities would become more organised. The schemes could be advertised and the community could get together and the local garage owner could extend the schemes from mini-buses to a car-sharing schemes for hire and reward, and all the rest of it. There is much scope for widening these efforts.

It is extremely important that we should encourage self-help. I hope I shall not cast too much gloom on the proceedings if I say that, as matters now stand, many of the fancied topics for experiment are in danger of costing themselves out of the market. This is a complicated subject. The community will have to help itself in these matters. Communal car clubs and car pools within rural communities desperately require encouragement.

One of the parish councils in my constituency, North Bromyard, has a parish car. At the moment it is a pilot scheme and the Department of the Environment, through the traffic commissioners, has done all it can to help. The moral of that activity is that, despite the fact that the authorities have done all they can to help that parish council, it has had more and more red tape to cope with in trying to get that precious parish-council car in service. It is a four-seater family saloon driven for some years in the public good by a local and worthy gentleman. He was confronted with having to obtain a public service vehicle licence for the Austin 1800 saloon. There is then another obstacle since the parish is required to obtain a public service vehicle operating licence. There has been a fusillade of objection by every possible pocket of self-interest among bus operators in the vicinity.

Finally and perhaps worst of all, let me add that that vehicle is intended to be used for getting local inhabitants to the nearest town for medical or shopping purposes, but difficulties have been put in the way of that service because of a fragile and inadequate service run on only two days a week by the National Bus Company. I am giving the House straight and pure fact, and hon. Members will know that I do not usually parade my constituency grievances. I am putting forward a valid example. Surely that is a matter to which a remedy should be found.

We must strive for greater flexibility in our licensing system. I feel that the way ahead lies in obtaining more information about the needs of the populace on routes in rural areas and then greater flexibility in meeting them. The way ahead points towards a licensing system run by the local authorities which, with the help of parish councils and their own experience, can identify need.

If the earlier legislation on this matter had gone through that would have contributed considerably by making "public need" the principle of licensing criteria. Chat is not happening at the moment, and if action were taken in this respect it would do a great deal to remedy the situation of which I am complaining.

The problems are clear and I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. The time for action has come, and it is desperately needed.

4.46 p.m.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) said that throughout the 600 square miles of his constituency he had one set of traffic lights. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he has twice the density of traffic lights in his constituency that I have in mine. I have one set of traffic lights in 1,200 square miles of constituency. I do not know what that is meant to show in rural transport terms.

On the other hand, it may be significant in that my constituency possesses the highest number of car owners per head throughout the population of Wales. This demonstrates the thinness of the population and the difficulties of rural transport. Only one railway line passes through the constituency, and public transport is at a premium and totally inadequate for the needs of our people.

The problems which are being advanced in this debate are not new, and they certainly did not arrive on the desk of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment when he assumed office. When railway lines have been lost in Wales—and I am sure that this applies to the whole of the United Kingdom—we have been promised replacement bus services. Those replacement services operate for three months or six months, but are then withdrawn or depleted. We do not trust any Minister who tells us that he will replace railway lines with bus services.

Those remarks do not apply to my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State because he has not yet given any promises. However, if he tells me that he will retain the central Wales line, I would prefer that to any promise involving a replacement bus service because I know that such a service would not last. I wish to make a plea that the central Wales line is an essential artery for many people throughout Wales as well as for journeys from Shrewsbury. It is a socially necessary line, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider upgrading the line from a light railway to enable it to be brought into fuller use. It could then be used to transport people and commodities in a way that does not now happen. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could say whether he and his Department have considered widening the scope of the line.

I must tell the Secretary of State that buses in the two counties whose inhabitants I represent are almost non-existent. In view of the escalating costs of equipment, vehicles and spares, those buses are becoming expensive to run and people are becoming very concerned about the situation. Obviously there is a limit to the amount of assistance which the Government can give to local authorities in subsidising services, and counties and districts are closely examining the amount of assistance they can give and are limiting their expenditure.

Representations have been made to me by employees of the National Bus Company and others about the future of bus services. It is feared that many uneconomic routes will vanish or will be even further depleted.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) waxed lyrical about changes in the licensing laws, but has he fully taken into account the effect of changes in the licensing laws on, for example, the National Bus Company? They might have a disastrous effect.

I know that my right hon. Friend commented that we should have a debate on petrol tax, and I know that we have the cheapest petrol in Europe. Nevertheless, increases such as we are experiencing in the cost of petrol and the tax on fuel have not been overtaken by wages in the rural areas. Wages are way behind those in urban areas. I believe that in certain pockets in Mid-Wales average wages are as much as £5 a week less than in some parts of the more urbanised areas.

Therefore, it is difficult to run a car, but it is an essential if a man is to get to work. It is often his only means of doing so. I do not understand how some of the families that I know support a car. It involves sacrifices on their part to obtain and run one. They are working for nothing, in effect, and are beginning to feel that the margin between what they would receive if they stayed at home and what they are paid at work is so small that it is hardy worth while. I ask my right hon. Friend to press my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider the matter seriously. It may be that some of my constituents will rebel and say "Enough is enough. I do not think it worth while to do a full week's work for nothing", which is what we shall be expecting people to do if we are not careful.

A car is also the only means of getting around for social purposes in such areas, and not everyone has a car. Even though many of my constituents own one, there are still the problems of the family that is marooned when the husband has taken the car to work and the housewife cannot do her shopping. She has the additional burden of shopping in the most expensive way possible, not being able to go to the competitive areas. Therefore, there is an urgent need to reconsider the whole question of petrol tax.

I have approached some of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the possibility of a differential form of income tax. Perhaps we might consider making certain allowances for travel to work against income tax. I understand that that would have its difficulties, because in effect we should be helping the much wealthier commuters of the South-East if we made the allowances widespread, but I hope that we can reconsider the matter. I should be prepared to face the unpopularity of making up the loss in revenue by increased taxation on alcoholic drinks. At least people have a choice when they spend money on such drinks, but they rarely have a choice when it comes to spending on petrol.

The hon. Member for Leominster mentioned the licensing laws. We have been worried in our area by the increasing use of part-time drivers by small operators. The National Bus Company has suffered considerably in failing to secure certain school contracts and other contracts. It cannot compete because it is paying proper wages to full-time personnel and the vehicles are being properly maintained.

The NBC tells me that many small operators are using drivers who are doing a full shift elsewhere and then earning a bit of pocket money. There are severe limitations on the driving hours of NBC drivers. A person who has done a full shift in any other job and then works as a driver is similar to the person who has done his quota of driving hours. The employment of such people is an unfair practice which has taken many of our public service vehicles off the roads and closed depots. It militates against an adequate public transport system.

It is all very well for a small operator to put in a tender for a school contract if that is all he is going to do, if he is not to put buses on the road for public transport services. This militates against what we need in our areas. It would be dangerous to review the licensing laws independently without considering all the ramifications.

I ask the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield to consider, when he makes his criticisms, whether he has been fair in looking at the Conservatives' public expenditure policy. I do not think that he mentioned subsidies to public transport. Would he cut that form of public expenditure or increase it? That is a fair question, as the hon. Gentleman is so critical of my right hon. Friend and of what is going on. I think that my right hon. Friend is proceeding along the right road. He would please me enormously if he could twist the Chancellor's arm.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I have a suspicion that the main reason for the subject of rural transport being chosen for the debate is not that there is great anxiety on the Conservative Benches about rural transport but that it is seen as an opportunity to put me and my colleagues on the spot. The Minister is in real danger tonight of losing £100 of his salary, because we shall be going into the Lobby with the official Opposition.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

About time too.

Mr. Penhaligon

Despite the efforts that have been made, the Government do not understand the transport difficulties in rural areas. The real problem is over travel to work. I often quote St. Mawes in my constituency, a rural area, where there are six Rolls-Royces. I cannot believe that the owners have great trouble running their cars. Another 5p a gallon on the price of petrol will make no difference to them. But in the same village there a hundred or so of my constituents who commute from St. Mawes to Truro to work, in an area with even lower wages than Mid-Wales—£40–£50 a week. For them, the difference between the money they receive for working and what they would receive if they stayed at home has become so small that many of them no longer regard it as worth the effort. It is those people that I feel so strongly about.

I believe that it would be possible to produce a definition of travel to work where public transport is not available so that the expenses could be allowed against income for income tax purposes. I know that it would be administratively difficult, but I cannot believe that it is not possible. My hon. Friends and I are referring particularly to the people in areas where, in effect, there is no public transport.

There is no point in hon. Members denying that there is a good argument on conservation grounds for gradually, over a decade, screwing the price of petrol up and up. Those who will not recognise the argument will find in about 20 years' time—I expect still to be on this planet then—that we have virtually no petrol. There will be no point then in talking about the price.

We have a terrible tendency to produce a cars policy to fit British Leyland, not logic. I believe that our right policy is to announce to the car industry as a whole that we shall be introducing a Road Fund licence which applies viciously to the cars that use the most petrol. To introduce it tomorrow would only be an enormous encouragement to imported cars, because—whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the British car industry—at the low end of the market, the petrol economy end, it is pathetically weak, producing only the 15-year-old Mini.

I do not believe that the problems are insurmountable. In many rural areas the car is an essential part of transport, and for those who wish to earn a living it will long be so.

Buses have received substantial attention today. I recognise the Government's treatment of buses and bus services. It is all very well for the Conservative Opposition to make their criticism, but without the subsidies that have been directed to bus services in constituencies and counties such as mine most of the bus services would by now be in shreds.

It was the theory that if we gave the bus companies licensing powers the profitable routes would pay for the less profitable. In Cornwall there are 89 routes, and only three run at a profit. One route makes £12,000, another £600 and another £800. The route that makes £12,000 would have an enormous amount to do if it were to be responsible for equalisation throughout Cornwall. Clearly that is not possible.

When visiting rural areas, it is impressive to meet elderly people of 80 years of age, for example, still living in the villages where they were born and brought up. It is interesting to listen to their experience of the technical revolution. When they were children they used to go to the local town by horse and cart, whereas now they have to walk. That is their experience of 60 years or 70 years of technology. My Liberal colleagues and I find that totally unacceptable.

In many areas the bus services have only three categories of customer—namely, the elderly, schoolchildren and the ever-diminishing number of people who are unable to drive. However, there will never be a time when everyone can drive. Indeed, I doubt whether that is a desirable objective.

The fact is that buses have become unbelievably expensive. In my area the cost of travelling a mile by bus costs about 6½ or 7p. That is common in many rural areas. On the occasions when I use the buses in London, I always ask the conductor to tell me when to get off the bus. I pay only 6p, and we seem to go on and on and on.

Nothing irritates me more than to hear the people of London complaining about the cost of transport. They have no experience of what expensive transport means. Even where expensive transport exists in rural areas, it is tragically inadequate. Often the last bus leaves at 8.30 p.m. The young man courting his girl friend has no great wish to finish whatever relationship he is managing to create at 8.30 in the evening in order to get home. That is the sort of pressure that makes a young man get a motor bike or motor car at 17 or 18 years of age and stop using public transport. If he does so, that is another customer lost. The other problem is that in many areas public transport is non-existent.

The ending of licensing has been offered as the great solution to our problems in rural areas, but there are places in my constituency, as in the constituency of the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), where there are no buses. I know that that is the position in other areas. There is no licensing control in some areas, and anyone who wished to run a bus from Truro to St. Mawes, for example, would be welcome. If it were of some assistance. I should pay the first fare. The truth is that, given the normal laws of economics, it is no longer possible to run a conventional bus service between Truro and St. Mmes.

The House must encourage traffic experimentation. I wish that the experiments were to be applied in a far wider area. I wish that local councils could initiate experiments in their areas much more easily. That is one of the matters that I raised in an earlier debate. Decision-making must be directed to the areas concerned. Westminster will never understand the difficulties of rural transport. There are some county councils that do not seem to recognise the difficulties, but we can yell and shout at them because they are in the areas where the decisions are to be made.

A factor that causes much of the trouble is the asinine idea that we can solve all the problems in various areas by over-increasing centralisation. There is the idea, for example, that the education committee can save a few thousand pounds a year by amalagamating three or four primary schools. The enormous increase in the cost of transport seems to be totally ignored. Only 400,000 people live in Cornwall, yet the county spends £1 million a year on carrying children to school. Everyone knows that it will be about £1½ million next year, or perhaps even more than that.

In reality there is only one major hospital in Cornwall—namely, at Truro. The other end of the county is serviced by Plymouth. The centralisation of the hospital services continues. It is true that the Government are, so to speak, holding the dam, but there is the feeling that the day will come when the process will be allowed to continue.

As a result of the difficulties that are now being faced by the hospital boards, it seems that there is a scheme in existence that will have the result of cutting the expenditure of the hospital car service to one-third of its present level. What effect will such a scheme have in reducing waiting lists if only one-third of the cars are to be provided to carry my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Bodmin to the local hospital? If the cut is made, most of them will die on the walk to the hospital. Cornwall is providing the service at a cost of about £600,000 a year.

I was recently assured by the regional manager of British Rail that the local train service in Cornwall accounts for El million a year. That means that we are spending £1 million on taking children to school, £600,000 or £700,000 on the hospital car service, £1 million on subsidising the local train service and £500,000 on subsidising the local buses. The net result of that enormous expenditure is that we have a miserable, pathetic local transport system. I cannot believe that there is not enough wisdom in the world to use the money on a far more intelligent basis.

There is a lack of co-ordination. There needs to be real action to bring about proper co-ordination. At the same time, there is unpreparedness on the part of the Government—we always live in hope—to concede the 5½p-on-petrol argument before they are bashed in the elections.

When tonight's Division takes place, we shall be voting for the Opposition. That is not because we have enormous faith in the solutions that they put forward but because we believe that the Government have demonstrated that on this issue they do not understand the problems and the consequences that are having to be faced by ordinary working constituents.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that he recognises the folly of ever-increasing centralisation, a matter that has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). In reaching his conclusion I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman spent some of his time considering various documents issued by the Scottish National Party?

I am amazed by the hospital centralisation in my constituency. So many cases from the extreme west of the constituency have to go to Dumfries yet Dumfries now sends food supplies to the hospital at Stranraer, which is in the opposite direction. This seems to be an odd way of behaving, especially as it means that the suppliers in Stranraer, who had previously supplied the hospital for many years, no longer have this source of orders.

Like the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), I pay tribute to the post buses. They have fulfilled an important rôle in the more neglected areas of my constituency. On Saturday I was in the village of New Luce, which for some years had the privilege of having no bus service. The railway line passes close to the village but the station has been closed. It could not be said that British Rail exceeds any speed records between Girvan and Stranraer. Surely the trains could have continued to stop at New Luce without endangering connections with the Irish passenger boats.

The trouble with post buses is that while they are of great use to housewives and patients travelling to see their doctors, for example, they provide no services in the evening. Therefore, young people have to take to motor cars or motor bicycles. That brings the problem that those who want to go out in the evening for a drink are obliged to travel by car. They have to use their cars for social activities.

I can see some difficulty, at least in my region, in using school buses to supplement the transport system. Often, the drivers serve as assistant janitors or groundsmen during the school day. However, I am sure that other arrangements could be made.

I am speaking as a rural dweller in what Governments are pleased to think of as a remote area. In fact, Galloway is almost in the centre of this island, but we are remote from London of course and to some extent from Edinburgh. Yet we are an important area, serving as an international link.

I also speak as one who, up to 14 months ago, had depended all his life on public transport. I suppose that if I had not been elected to this honourable House, I might never have been forced on to the road as a car driver. I use a small car, not just to save petrol but because I still believe that it is the only car that I can park without running into a car on either side.

I have been wondering how far into the future the long-term planning of transport goes. I was impelled into this thought recently by attending a small conference organised by the Scottish Association for Public Transport and the Stewartry Council for Social Service in Stranraer about the feasibility of reopening the railway line between that town and Dumfries.

It struck me that one thing which had not been taken on board by our transport planners was the enormous development of forestry in Scotland, at least on the hills. I wonder whether the Department has thought about the immense amount of timber which will be coming from the forests, even in Galloway alone. I am told that by the year 2030 it will be 1 million tons a year. The supply of timber is perhaps a trickle at the moment, but it will become a spate by the end of the century.

I suppose that any question about the energy crisis will meet the answer that we must await the White Paper. There have been so many good trailers for the White Paper that my excitement at its imminent arrival increases with every word that the Secretary of State utters. What longer-term projections has the Department made? What plans does it have if the scientists do not come up with a new, fast, cheap propellant for the motor vehicle? I suppose that everybody will have to follow my example and move over to the small car.

The hon. Member for Leominster mentioned the importance of co-ordination. What infuriates me as one who has always used public transport is the lack of coordination between railways and buses. When I spent a year teaching Brittany I was surprised, after my experience in Dumfries, by the fact that one did not have to go from the railway station to the bus station to get a bus to any of the rural areas. Every bus from the bus station went to the railway station to pick up passengers. It is only in recent years that that has happened to some extent in Dumfries. I am sure that the picture is the same in other small towns in Scotland. It is important that the bus companies and the railways link up.

For instance, this morning I had to get up 10 minutes earlier because the Glasgow-London train through Dumfries is now scheduled to leave Dumfries 10 minutes earlier. So at least it would have done, had it been on time. But I do not want to make snide remarks about British Rail. The driver nearly caught up; although we were 35 minutes late leaving Dumfries, we were only 10 minutes late at Euston. I pay tribute to that, but not to the heating system, which for most of the journey did not appear to be functioning.

Is British Rail interested simply in inter-city transport, or does it consider the humbler rural dwellers who want to join trains en route? Did British Rail consult the bus company to see whether the bus from Kirkcudbright would arrive at Dumfries station in time for passengers to catch the train? It will be interesting to inquire more deeply into that next weekend.

I could give many more examples. For one, there is a bus from Newton Stewart to Glasgow which arrives at Barrhill just as the train leaves the station, when a journey of a quarter of a mile up the road and back again would link with the train.

On the subject of integration, how will it be possible for a Scottish Assembly to deal with transport properly if British Rail does not come within its jurisdiction? We must not have the sort of limping system that we have now, with someone responsible for one area of transport and someone else for another.

I said that we are told that in our area there is a Euro-route. That is said when people want to flatter us, but when it comes to spending money, those with the money seem to regard it as an unimportant trunk route from Gretna to Stranraer. I am talking, of course, of our old friend the A75. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will know that I have made numerous interventions about this neglected highway. Perhaps he saw in The Guardian recently an article about the problems in Glenluce. It was an excellent article, which should have made the Scottish Office fully aware of the state of affairs in Glenluce, but so far as I can see, the only result so far has been a number of cancellations of hotel bookings in the village because people read of the horror of living in a village on the A75.

Would it not be possible for the regional councils to allocate some of the money that they spend on minor roads to improving trunk roads if the Scottish Office does not have enough money to do so? I can think of a few places where regional councils could do this if it were permitted.

There are many discrepancies between one region and another in concessionary fares. A wealthy area like Strathclyde can provide a very good service for pensioners, but a sparsely populated one like Dumfries and Galloway cannot. Thus, if a pensioner travels from my village to Ayr, at Dalmellington he will see people getting on the bus paying much lower concessionary fares than he pays under the token scheme.

Is it not time to allow school pupils half fares up to the age of 16, instead of the present frequent disputes about age?

In view of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak, all I will say about what the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) said about taxation is that I back him all along the line. The Government should be putting pressure on people in the cities not to travel around in motor cars instead of allowing them to get cheap petrol to do so. Surely some of the people whom I see floating around the City of London every morning as I walk from my lodgings would benefit from walking to their offices, restaurants and so forth. As my party's spokesman on health, I commend the idea.

My party awaits the White Paper with great interest and I await it even with excitement. We shall subject it to the closest scrutiny, so it had better be good. However, in view of what happened on the Devolution Bill, we feel that it is necessary to administer a stimulus to the Secretary of State and that a slight diminution of his salary would be an excellent stimulus to ensure that all the excellent ideas that he has put to us today will actually appear in the White Paper. That is why we shall administer the stimulus to him tonight.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)

I hope that the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) will forgive me if I do not follow him on his personal travelling arrangements. I wish to echo a chord that the Secretary of State struck in his balanced speech at the beginning of the debate as opposed to the blatant electioneering shown by the Opposition spokesman.

My theme has been taken up by every speaker—it is the problem of centralisation and the difficulties to which it has given rise to in rural areas. Indeed, in Gloucestershire there were proposals to shift the offices of the Department of Health and Social Security to the other side of Gloucester which would have meant some of my constituents literally travelling all day if they wanted to go to their local office. I am delighted to say that the Government rejected this proposal.

If my right hon. Friend learns nothing else from the debate he will learn that there is a strong feeling in the House that although there is—perhaps rightly—a concentration on the cities and their problems, there is also considerable rural deprivation. The hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) referred to this. In the same context, my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) referred to the effect of petrol tax increases. It would be inappropriate if I did not also refer to those increases.

As my hon. Friend so eloquently pointed out, the increases will have a significant impact on people living in rural areas. My hon. Friend emphasised—as did the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon)—that the effects of the increased tax on people travelling to work in rural areas, such as those that we represent, are fundamental. I absolutely back up my hon. Friend on that point. Such people basically rely on cars as their means of transport to work.

The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor referred to the possibility of a differential tax system on petrol. The hon. Member for Leominster pointed out that such a tax already operates because petrol is more expensive in rural areas than in urban areas—so it is operating in the reverse way to that which we should like to see. Just as petrol costs more in the country so do many other things cost more for the people who live there. In particular, food prices are higher. This all adds to the difficulties that exist in rural areas.

I am sure that all hon. Members would concede that a balanced view shows that rural transport problems have not emerged suddenly since this Government came to power. We all know that there has been a decline in the use of bus services, not just during the last three years but during the last decade. The net result has been a downward spiralling of the public sector transport available. I doubt that it would come as a surprise to the Government to learn that some of my constituents are deeply concerned about the high price of transport in their areas, particularly on the buses.

I can go so far as to say that elected representatives in my county concede that transport problems are of the utmost importance and place them second in the list of the serious problems that now confront Gloucestershire County Council. Yet, as my right hon. Friend indicated, Gloucestershire County Council has shown itself to be less than keen in availing itself of all the resources that are available for the provision of rural transport. The Secretary of State referred to the fact that the county council has cut back a claim for support.

Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam) has pointed out, the Labour Government have made funds available to assist public transport in rural areas. He has said that in the supplementary grant for the coming year all claims have been met, but my county did not ask the Department for enough. The funds were there but they were not requested. It is for that reason that I criticise Gloucestershire County Council.

In the area of the Forest of Dean, the Red and White Bus Company will run at a loss of £135,000 next year—yet the company has been offered only £60,000 by the county. This can mean only that services in my area will be cut in circumstances in which the county could have asked the Government for more money. Indeed, the county council's record is singularly poor in this matter. The county ranks fifth from bottom in the list of all counties in the country in terms of support per capita for transport.

Gloucestershire County Council has a poor record in not only transport but road maintenance. The burden has been made heavier by the de-trunking of roads in the county. That means that the county council will be under even greater pressure—and expenditure on road maintenance is already extremely low.

I wish to refer to one or two points that have been made by the Opposition. Remarks have been made about school transport. This is an issue that causes endless difficulties in my constituency. Whilst it might be possible for the Secretary of State to shrug this off on to the Department of Education and Science, nevertheless, as my right hon. Friend well knows, the traffic commissioners play a key rôle in this area.

Some of my constituents can watch contract buses, taking children to school, passing their doorsteps. The buses have seats available that their children could use, except that they are not allowed to do so, because, according to the provisions of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, the road traffic commissioners cannot allow this when a public transport service exists in the area. As a result, school children in my area must go to school in a way that is more expensive than is absolutely necessary. This is a crazy situation and one which, as the chief education officer in my area has said, is absolutely baffling—not only to parents but to many hon. Members.

I also echo the remarks that were made by the hon. Member for Galloway when he referred to concessionary bus fares. This is a significant way in which we can increase and improve the mobility of the old in rural areas. I am sure that every hon. Member can tell stories of the tremendous financial difficulties faced by old people in getting about. It would be helpful if more money were available for concessionary fares but, perhaps more important, it would also be helpful if there was at least common treatment—at least within counties. In Gloucester some district authorities give concessionary fares and some do not. I should like to see the same treatment for all and a common level of concessionary fares so that pensioners could not complain about more advantages being available in one area than in another.

I am sure that the Government are aware that, as has been pointed out, there are severe problems that must be tackled and they must be tackled in a flexible manner. In my area the cost of running a public bus service on approximately the same route as private bus services is nearly three times higher. I know that the National Bus Company operates over a wider area than the private services and therefore has much higher overheads than the private operators; but this is a perfect example of what one could call the "Laker syndrome" when these private operators can get on to the highly profitable bus routes and can operate much more cheaply than the National Bus Company.

Perhaps it is time to look at the costs of the National Bus Company, to identify the routes on which it can compete with private companies at their rates and to subsidise more heavily the distant outlying areas that must have public transport. There is scope for further investigation here.

In general, I support the Government's proposals for a much more flexible approach to public transport in rural areas. I do not know whether we have fully tested whether a reduction of bus fares would bring people back to public transport, but I am highly sceptical about that. I was talking recently to one of the managers of my local bus company and his experience was that in areas where this had been tried, there was not a vast increase in the numbers of people using the buses.

I suspect that, because of the number of cars in rural areas and the fact that people find them so convenient, it is unlikely that there is a vast reservoir of people waiting to jump on to public transport. However, that does not mean that we should not provide public transport. We should do so on a flexible basis.

I welcome the stand taken by the local authority in South Yorkshire that has said boldly that transport is a fundamental and basic social service, and that it will ask ratepayers to subsidise that service. I support that fine attitude.

My right hon. Friend suggested that we would have a viable rural transport system in five or 10 years. I hope that he has his eyes firmly fixed on the lower, rather than the higher, figure.

5.32 p.m.

Mr. Richard Luce (Shoreham)

The main message in the speech of the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) was that greater flexibility is needed in relation to the law and rural transport. I thoroughly agree with him. That has been the cry for several years. The main burden of our criticism is that the Government should have grasped the problem much earlier.

Rural transport provides us with a precise example of where legislation could be introduced that would be of useful and practical effect and of benefit to the people in rural areas—as opposed to much of the legislation of recent years, that has had the opposite effect on many of our people.

We have a wrong sense of priorities in this Chamber if we have left it this long before introducing even minor legislation to deal with the problem. We are faced with licensing laws and petty regulations that hold back the prospect of improvement in rural transport and that stifle experiment, innovation and enterprise. That is what is wrong with the present system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has described vividly and well the steady deterioration in rural transport in the 1970s and the fact that it has become a major social problem. He and the Secretary of State have described how fares and costs have both gone up and how, almost by force of circumstances, car ownership has increased in rural areas and the number of passengers in public transport has declined. There has been a vicious circle and it will be exacerbated unless something is done about this major social problem.

Car ownership in rural areas is higher than average. About 70 per cent. of people living in rural areas own a car but the 30 per cent. who do not are far more isolated than the people without cars in cities and towns. They are often elderly and handicapped people who find it difficult to get to hospital or to the doctor or to their shopping and carry out their normal daily activities.

Of the 70 per cent. who own cars, many have bought them of necessity because the cost and difficulty of getting to work has increased so much in recent years. They have had to buy a car, but now they find themselves clobbered by a doubling of petrol tax in the space of three years and a doubling of the vehicle excise duty in two years. This has also become a major problem.

We have needed for a long time a comprehensive approach to the difficulties of rural transport instead of a tinkering with the problem. The different aspects of the problem in different parts of the country must be considered and interrelated.

The Secretary of State implied that the Opposition were having a bit of fun today and were not genuinely concerned with the problems of rural transport. I remind him that in 1973 my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) introduced the Road Traffic Bill that was designed to deal with the problem on a comprehensive basis. That was lost only because of the 1974 General Election.

I introduced a Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule to ease the problem of rural transport and to sanction the use of minibuses for voluntary organisations. One of the reasons that the Bill did not get through was that the Government did their best to stop it. Indeed, I believe that it was only because of the overwhelming pressure from voluntary organisations that my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Hunt) was successful with his excellent Bill to help voluntary bodies.

We need a comprehensive approach in the White Paper and a decision that licensing laws must be relaxed to allow innovation and enterprise while ensuring, of course, that safety standards are maintained at the highest level.

In order to illustrate the importance of interrelating the difficulties and problems in the White Paper, I should like to identify five important areas. First, there is the straightforward problem of rural bus services that are diminishing at present. We need not merely a Bill that tinkers with the problem but legislation to relax the licensing laws and to enable county councils to experiment with private enterprise and mini-buses. The problem is too desperate to allow only experiments in Devon, Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales that will take two years to produce any conclusions. The situation will have got much worse in that time.

The second problem is faced by commuters who are finding it increasingly difficult to get to work. The people of Brighton tried to find a cheaper way of getting to their jobs in London. They wanted to run a coach service, but the traffic commissioners put up all sorts of objections and obstacles. This is an obvious area where the law needs to be relaxed. When people share private cars, the passengers are not allowed to pay a fare to cover the cost of sharing, and this is yet another area where relaxation of the law is needed.

Thirdly, there is the clear social need of people living in isolated villages who have to get to doctors and hospitals and to do their shopping but are unable to do so. We need a relaxation of the law to allow voluntary drivers and mini-buses to take these people where they want to go. We should also allow a sharing of cars and permit the sharing of essential costs and the provision of hospital and emergency car schemes.

The fourth area, which is closely related, is the area in which the Government have given their support to the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, which relates to the provision of mini-buses by voluntary organisations. There is an extremely urgent need for the Bill. I welcome the fact that it has passed through its Committee stage and hope that it will be on the statute book in the very near future.

The final area, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West, is the problem of schoolchildren. Here there are problems connected with the use of school buses, which in many county areas are under-utilised outside those times when they are used for taking children to and from school. There are also problems affecting people who live just beyond the two-mile or three-mile statutory limits and who therefore have difficulty getting their children to school cheaply. Here again, relaxation of the law is needed to allow experimentation and innovation to lead to an improvement in the situation.

I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. The Government should have introduced a comprehensive approach to the problem a long time ago. They have been dilatory and have only tinkered with the problem, for which they deserve to be condemned.

5.41 p.m.

Miss Joan Maynard (Sheffield, Brightside)

I represent a constituency in Sheffield, a city based on heavy industry, but I am the only Member sponsored by a union which represents the interests of farm and rural workers. The question of rural transport is of tremendous importance to them and to everyone in rural areas.

I find the attack of Opposition Members rather hypocritical, because they have been calling for more and more public expenditure cuts. Surely, if one reduces public expenditure, it makes it more difficult to subsidise rural transport. Also, the core of the philosophy of Opposition Members is the profit motive. Surely it is the profit motive that has driven rural transport into the ground?

Will the learned Lady confirm that her answer is solely to increase the subsidy for providing rural transport?

That is against the whole tenor of the debate. Many other alternatives have been put forward. Does she not agree that while subsidies have increased, services have been reduced?

Miss Maynard

I shall explain how I think the problem should have been tackled in the past and how it should be tackled now. If we had tackled it in a logical way we would have gone for an integrated and co-ordinated transport system a long time ago. In that way we would have been tailoring our transport system to the needs of the people. We would have been using those areas where the population was greater to help the rural areas.

One hon. Member has stated that if we did that in Cornwall it would mean a very heavy burden, for example, on the one area that had a large population. I am not proposing that we should do it on the basis of counties but on a national basis. This should have been done in the past.

I am sure that many hon. Members regret the Beeching cuts on the railways. We may have listened at the time to those who called for an economy drive and the specialists who thought that they knew best, but many of us realise today that those decisions were fatally wrong. Public transport should be a public service because it is of so much importance to the community.

One Opposition Member has referred to the example of South Yorkshire. The South Yorkshire experiment is sound from an economic point of view and has been extremely successful. The buses in South Yorkshire are full. It has also been successful in the social sense because it has helped the ordinary and less well off people in the community. Had we had this approach throughout the country we would not have had the growing bus crisis in rural areas. We would not have had inadequate services or, in some cases, no service at all.

Bus services have been deteriorating at an alarming rate in recent years, and that has been causing enormous hardship to those least able to bear the consequences, the aged and the less well off. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is no longer in the Chamber. He said that these are times of hardship for all of us, and if they are times of hardship for Secretaries of State, how much more must they be times of hardship for low-paid workers in rural areas?

My right hon. Friend also said that he did not think that we ought to introduce the question of increased petrol charges in this debate. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend is back in the Chamber again, because I want to tell him that it is impossible to divorce the increased petrol charges from the debate because they will have such a serious effect on people in rural areas. My right hon. Friend said that the effects are not exclusive to rural areas, but I must point out that they are particularly pernicious to people in rural areas because of the effect on jobs and the isolation of people who live in areas where public transport is lacking.

It has always seemed particularly unfair that a company director running a car can set the cost of that car, or some of the cost, against tax, but a worker who must have a car to get to work cannot do so. I do not know whether it is possible to do anything about that but I hope my right hon. Friend will look at that problem, because it seems iniquitous.

Reference has been made to problems that arise from centralisation. I share the concern of other hon. Members about the centralisation of hospital services and the building of huge new district hospitals which are impersonal and virtually impossible to visit except by car because of the lack of public transport in rural areas. We have built lovely new health centres in market towns but people in the villages who do not have cars find it almost impossible to reach them. There is also the difficulty of collecting prescriptions and the difficulty of shopping. At a conference in Cornwall last month one hon. Member said that he and his wife had to travel 14 miles each way to get their groceries. That kind of situation is faced by many people in rural areas.

It is only on schools that I am not so sure about my attitude to centralisation. I believe that the closure of one-teacher schools has been a good thing from an educational point of view. In my experience as a member of the North Riding Education Committee for nine years I know that, when we were interviewing for head teachers, we found that the calibre of applicants for one-teacher schools was very poor. I therefore think that there is a good educational case for having bigger schools with two or three teachers.

Nevertheless, I am concerned about the transport problems created by the centralisation of schools, particularly the problem of taking five-year-old children straight from their homes to school and the effect of that on a child and also the additional strain imposed by taking that child by bus to an adjoining village. The ideal solution would have been to have nursery schools in every village for the four to six-year-olds and not take children to the bigger schools until they were six years old, although I accept that that would have been expensive.

The vehicle licence fee is important, too, and the increase here will hit the lower paid. The well off will pay the licence fee for a year, but those not well off will pay at intervals and in that way pay more. Again, the least well off will be asked to pay even more.

I look forward, as do other hon. Members, to the White Paper. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend say that in it there will be a proposal to give extra special help to the rural areas. I hope that that help will be substantial.

I conclude with another reference to the petrol duty, and I ask my right hon. Friend and the Government to think again about the increase which they have introduced. The effect on people in rural areas will be traumatic. It will be traumatic for all workers who use cars to get to work, but workers in rural areas will be particularly hard hit. I urge the Government to think again very closely and carefully on this issue, because many of us will have to think carefully about how we shall vote on it.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

Cars in rural areas are an outstanding example of what were luxuries in one generation becoming necessities in the next. I live in a large constituency. In size, it follows closely on the heels of the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), and it forms part of a county which contains only four constituencies yet covers a quarter of the whole area of Wales.

In my constituency there are 55 villages with no bus services and no train services at all. In such circumstances, where people have to travel a long way to work, it is useless to talk of concessionary fares. I was told last night by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) of a craftsman in Aberdaron in Caernarvonshire who travels every day a distance of 45 miles to work in Bangor, a daily total of 90 miles. That is certainly not the average. I think that the average is more closely illustrated by the journey made by two young women who live in a village not far from Carmarthen who travel daily a distance of 14 miles each way to work in a shop in Carmarthen. It costs them £6 a week for petrol alone, without all the other costs which cars are heir to.

Those are examples of the situation in rural areas. I could give hundreds of others. They come to my notice all the time in my surgeries. I move among these people, I live among them, and I know them well. For instance, I know of a father of three, a craftsman, who has to go from a village near Carmarthen into Carmarthen, and the distance is 14 miles. It costs him £6 a week for petrol alone, and his total take-home pay is £43 a week. In my village we have a creamery, a milk factory, to which people from villages round about, from such places Rhandirmwyn, Cwmllynfell and Llandybie, have to travel every day. [Laughter.] In a Welsh Assembly there would be no smiling at that, because all these places would be well known. People have to travel anything up to 10 or 20 miles to the creamery each day to get to work. Their average take-home pay is about £40 a week.

It is no use our boasting that we have the cheapest petrol in Europe when people have only £40 a week and they have to pay £5, £6 or £7 every week for petrol. That is the problem which we face.

The situation is worse in Wales than it is in many parts of Britain because the average income in West Wales at least is only some 74 per cent. of the average in Britain as a whole.

I emphasise again that in such areas cars are essential. They are essential not only for middle-class people but for those in the lower income bracket. The choice is between making it possible for rural workers to get to work or having yet more rural depopulation and unemployment, with a still emptier countryside and fewer chapels and churches, fewer schools, fewer societies and fewer institutions of all kinds to make life interesting. This is the consequence of our transport problem—the depopulation of our countryside, a countryside which was once so interesting and lively a place in which to live.

In my area today, people can live—indeed, they have to live—without refrigerators and without washing machines, but they cannot live without cars. Cars are an absolute necessity. I recognise that the local authorites are coping as best they can with the situation. I hope that the outcome of the experiments now in process in our district will bring improvements in some places and even the renewal of bus services in some villages. Improvement is of immense importance for people of many classes, and especially for the elderly, the many old-age pensioners, for example, who cannot afford to keep a car and who therefore cannot visit a hospital, go to see the doctor, do their necessary shopping or even go to the chemist unless they can find a neighbour to help them. We should be thinking of all such people, and the local authorities, certainly in my area, are doing just that.

Apart from the increased cost of petrol and other taxes, there are the cuts in public expenditure, including expenditure on roads, which result in deterioration in public services. In my constituency, for example, there are nearly 2,000 miles of road, and, as I have said, my constituency forms part of the county of Dyfed, where there are four constituencies. In his report last year, the county surveyor said that, on the existing budget, the cycle for resurfacing the county's principal roads would be 51 years, that is to say, it would be completed in the year 2028. For unclassified roads, on the other hand—there are 1,500 miles of unclassified road in my constituency alone—he said that the cycle for resurfacing was 259 years. In other words, all the unclassified roads in Dyfed will have been resurfaced by the year 2236 AD.

Many of these roads need urgent attention today. They need urgent attention because of the development of the bulk milk tanker, as anyone who lives in a rural area knows. These vehicles just cannot go along many of our roads. Urgent attention is equally necessary if we are to have the development of small rural industry which we so badly need. The number of unemployed is appalling, and in many areas vacancies or jobs are almost non-existent.

The situation would be less grave but for the cuts in bus services and the closure of railway lines to which reference has already been made. Those railway closures came in the more distant past, of course, but each of the lines remaining to us in Wales is a constant source of anxiety. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor spoke of the Mid-Wales line, and I support him completely on that. I hope that that line, which runs through the glorious countryside of Mid-Wales, will remain. Although it is a light railway now, it is none the less necessary for those who live near it so that they may get to work, and it is being used greatly now for several months of the year by those who take advantage of it as part of the growing tourist trade in Wales.

The same is true of the Aberystwith-Shrewsbury line and the Cambrian line, too. The closure of any one of these lines would be a fearful blow to the economic and social life of Wales.

Moreover, workers on the Swansea-Fishguard line are frightened every time some service is withdrawn, as happens from time to time. The Fishguard-Waterford trade is a current source of anxiety also, and it is felt that it should be a matter for public inquiry. But, then, the whole of rural transport is a matter for public inquiry, for inquiry in depth, and I hope that we shall find that that will be the outcome when the White Paper is published. We would have a happier situation if Wales had a Transport Board for the whole country. I am sure that when we get a Welsh Assembly this will be given the highest priority.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Jim Spicer (Dorset, West)

The Secretary of State rightly referred to the genuine concern about this subject. There is an underlying concern about the problems of rural transport. The Government highlighted that in their consultation document. Paragraph 3.3 states: People have a right to expect a reasonable degree of mobility". In the last 10 or 15 years those of us who live in rural areas have been increasingly deprived of that essential mobility. The tragedy is that we see it decreasing at the same time as a reduction in our services. Our doctors are moving away from the villages. Our chemists are closing down. Our dentists are going away to work in multiple practices elsewhere. At a time when we need more mobility, we have less.

I make no apology for mentioning my own constituency. There are two aspects of maximum hardship. They involve those at work and those who have retired to the area. In West Dorset we have an unemployment rate of 11.7 per cent. Yeovil, with Westlands, is the great magnet that lies some distance away. Because of the high unemployment in the depth of my constituency people are travelling between 20 and 55 miles a day to get to Yeovil. First, because they must use their cars to work, they find that they must leave their wives and young children in an isolated hamlet miles from anywhere with no transport. Secondly, the increased costs of getting to work is forcing them to leave villages in which they have lived all their lives in order to live in Yeovil. That is the last thing that they want to do.

I shall give an example of the problems experienced by those who have retired. A couple retired last October. They bought a bungalow one and three quarter miles outside a small town, just off a main road which has no pavement. They had a car and thought that they would continue to keep it to do their shopping in town. They find that they cannot keep their car. They cannot walk down the road because it is narrow and busy, particularly in summer. The road is due for improvement but it is being delayed. The bus fare into town is 18p each way.

The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) said that his constituents often had to pay as much as 7½ a mile. My example is considerably more. It illustrates the problems. The couple do not know which way to turn. They live only one and three quarter miles out of town and yet they are completely isolated. The Minister said that it is a "Catch 22" situation. I agree with him.

The problems stem from two factors—the monopoly position that the National Bus Company has enjoyed for many years and its continual demand for more subsidies. I mentioned the buses unashamedly because in rural areas 50 per cent. of journeys are made by bus. The railways play a small part. More and more money is being poured into the National Bus Company's services. In 1970 the subsidy for Dorset was £18,866. In 1977 the subsidy for Dorset and Bournemouth was £748,000. I am not surprised that some of the counties, when examining the poor services and return from more subsidies, are beginning to say that they do not represent only ratepayers but taxpayers. They are therefore saying that they must cut back. I consider rate and taxpayers together. I take issue with the Secretary of State on that.

I turn to the rôle of the traffic commissioners. It would, perhaps, be wrong to say that they are the niggers in the woodpile. But they have too much power. Many of their powers are outmoded. Inquiries and investigations have revealed that their action and their positive rôle has often been to deliberate, to delay and to vacillate. The Minister talked of the Oxford scheme. The delay last year, before it was implemented, was scandalous. The traffic commissioners were the cause of that delay. I should like to see the rôle of both the National Bus Company and the traffic commissioners reduced. I should like to see the establishment of a national network covered by the National Bus Company.

The people who know and understand the problems of rural areas, or those of other areas, are the local councillors. They should be held to account. I should like to see not the establishment of an amorphous national system but a reduction in these powers. I am not against subsidies. Services cannot be run without them. County, district and parish councils should work out their own schemes and be allowed to do their own things. National schemes should not be imposed upon them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce) said that it was fine to have experiments and he mentioned a period of two years. Experiments may be all right but they take time. In this matter, hardship is involved. We do not have time.

6.7 p.m.

Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)

The debate has illustrated in detail the importance of transport—both private and public—to rural areas. By this time the Minister will be fully aware of the importance of transport to the family living in a rural area. It is important not only for work, schooling, shopping and leisure but because of the increasing need of people living in non-urban areas to visit towns. The offices of reorganised local authorities and other public facilities are often to be found only in towns.

The Government will also be fully aware of the transport costs falling on family budgets. The transport costs of families living in rural areas represent a large proportion of their budgets.

We have heard about increasing car ownership, which in many cases is a necessity in rural areas. This has contributed to the decline in public transport. I was interested to hear the Secretary of State refer to that as the "circle of frustration", an apt description for the feelings of many people living in rural areas who have witnessed a decline in public transport systems. Many services have been terminated.

We should not be misled into believing that the problems of the car dominate everything. We must remember that thousands of people living in rural areas do not own cars. If they are forgotten and public transport is abandoned, they will become increasingly isolated and we shall see an acceleration of emigration and a decline in industry.

The debate indicates a general genuine desire for a major campaign of support and money for public transport. People living in rural areas can be assisted in a number of ways, which have been suggested in the debate. Together with my hon. Friends, I certainly welcome the experiments in transport about which we have heard this afternoon. The 16 experiments now taking place must be welcomed. I look forward to an early extension of those considered successful to other parts of the country.

First, however, I should like a general recognition that subsidies are necessary to enable public transport to survive. I do not think that we can dodge that recognition. Secondly, I believe that there is a great need for a fares policy, on both rail and buses, that encourages use. I believe that the present policies have brought us to a situation—certainly on the railways—in which we are near, or beyond, the point of diminishing returns.

I believe that British Rail has successfully introduced a number of special offers that have been designed to increase rail use. I am, therefore, sorry to hear that British Rail, as from September, I understand, is to discontinue the juvenile season ticket and charge full fares for youngsters travelling regularly to school by rail. I understand that this move has been approved by the Price Commission. I urgently ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to review this move because I think that it is a retrograde move and certainly one which is not in the interests of parents or, indeed, in the long-term interests of British Rail.

In that connection as well I should like some comment from the Minister about bus passes for schoolchildren. He has heard some of the anomalies mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester, West (Mr. Watkinson), but I would ask him whether there is any possibility of making the present arrangements more favourable. It seems that a circle is drawn around a school on a map and anyone living a few yards inside the circle does not merit a bus pass while a child living a few yards outside the circle gets a pass. This is anomalous, and I certainly ask that the arrangements be made more favourable.

I should also like to hear some comment from the Minister about the possibilities that I understand are open to companies to provide transport for workers, particularly those who are engaged on shift work. I understand that the provision of transport for workers to travel to a company is a wholly allowable expense. This is an arrangement that could be extended. It is certainly a matter to which publicity needs to be brought.

We certainly need—this has been stressed—a very flexible approach in the provision of transport. We need different types of vehicles, vehicles of different sizes, and vehicles operated over flexible routes. This is very much the objective of the experiments about which we have heard today.

I pose another question about bus fares. I remember that a little while ago the Secretary of State confessed ignorance as to why applications to increase bus fares were not dealt with in the same way as applications to increase rail fares. That is something that I cannot understand. I believe that the traffic commissioners who consider applications for increases in bus fares are remote bodies and individuals with little opportunity for public accountability. Again, I suggest that this is something that could be usefully looked at so that we can have public consideration of applications to increase bus fares.

I come lastly to the whole issue of petrol costs and the excise duty. I believe that the increase recently announced has been very substantial, and it bears very hard indeed upon those living in rural areas, particularly those who need a car for travelling to work and for the other reasons that have been set out. I understand some of the reasons for that increase. I do not understand the reluctance to reintroduce a differential excise duty, which I think would help in conserving energy and petrol supplies. Again, this is something which, in equity and in the interests of conservation, should be examined urgently.

I welcome, however, the Government's determination to reduce expenditure on motorways. There is still an enormous lobby pushing for major road-building exercises, and we ignore it at our peril. Recently the Department of the Environment published details of the tax revenue as opposed to the cost of heavy lorries. I am sure that the House will share my concern about the figures published in the survey, which showed that a 32-ton, four-axle "artic" attracts subsidies of about £1,700 a year, and there are more than 41,000 of those vehicles. A two-axle rigid vehicle is subsidised to the tune of £412 a year, and there are 76,000 of those vehicles. Other categories of vehicle attract subsidies of between £200 and £1,400 a year. Therefore, in the face of those figures we must reject the very fierce campaign of the road lobby for more and more big money to go into major motorway-building exercises.

I must here warn that in "Black Top", the journal of the Asphalt and Coated Macadam Association, a copy of which reached me today, the Opposition transport spokesman is quoted at length. He says, We"— that is, the Opposition— recognise the economic importance of roads investment. He goes on to talk about this being a major priority.

I think that we also need to contrast those comments with the comments of Tories in some other parts of the country, because I believe that transport is of crucial importance. In Tyne and Wear we find that the Tories are simultaneously calling the bus service a disgrace and complaining about subsidies. The conclusion must be that fares would rise steeply and that concessionary fares would go, yet the Tories do not mention fares at all in their electoral literature for this week's county council elections in the Tyne and Wear area.

The Tory candidate seeking my support for election to the West Yorkshire County Council tells me in his leaflet that the Tories, if elected, would provide passenger transport tailored to the needs of the community, and that financial support will be given only to meet essential needs. Commenting on the railways he produces a gem of electoral vagueness by saying, Our railway line is a vital link for all of us, which must be maintained—but at what cost, and at whose cost? Getting adequate information about the cost is difficult, but I am sure the cost is high; however, unless we are to become even more of a backwater that cost must be found from somewhere. Unfortunately, the railway is not an adequate answer to some of our industrial problems and transporting goods without a great deal of capital expenditure in millions of pounds. In Derbyshire the Tories have excelled themselves, even by their strange standards, by advocating a reduction in bus services and that passengers left by buses miles from their homes be driven home by teams of volunteer motorists. Such are the barmy depths of Tory transport policies in some rural areas.

I believe that Labour's policy on transport must be for a better public transport system, proper transport subsidies to provide it and to hold down fares, proper co-ordination of transport services and a real belief in the importance of transport, especially for people living in non-urban areas. The Government have received a number of ideas in the debate. What we want, and what I believe has already been demonstrated, is a real determination to implement some of these ideas.

The people living in rural areas are extremely anxious for action to be taken. We have indicated that that action is to be taken. What we want now is for it to be pressed on with a sense of urgency and a real belief in success.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am hoping to call other hon. Members, but I understand that the Opposition Front Bench reply will begin at about 6.30 p.m. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Kinross and West Perthshire)

I regret to say that that party political broadcast will not get my vote in the rural areas of Westminster on Thursday.

May I pay tribute to the Minister? He appeared in a television programme on transport recently. I think that he understands the problems and is anxious, if he is allowed, to find the solutions. Perhaps with him more than with most holders of his office this is the case. At the same time, I do not think that he did himself any service by alleging that this matter, being raised by Conservative Members, was a matter in which we were not interested. It is a matter in which we are intensely interested. Transport affects the whole of the United Kingdom. I find it extraordinary that the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is a Welshman—[Interruption.] He ought to be if he is not, Mr. Speaker.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

Will the hon. and learned gentleman withdraw that remark?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that he will not.

Mr. Fairbairn

I do my best to pin pearls upon swine, but if they will not accept them, it is no wonder that the pig industry is in trouble. It is unfortunate that no Scottish Office Minister has been present during this part of the debate because, with the possible exception of Wales, there is no other part of the United Kingdom which has a bigger rural transport problem.

Mr. William Rodgers

I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not wish to be unfair to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been here for a large part of the debate.

Mr. Fairbairn

With great respect, the Under-Secretary has not been here for a long time. I timed him. He was in the Chamber for six minutes. I can tell the Secretary of State which six minutes they were.

There is, however, one matter with which we ought to deal, a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson). If he thinks that it will be difficult to co-ordinate everything with a Scottish Assembly, what will happen to British Rail and the National Bus Company if there is complete independence? Co-ordination will be utterly impossible. The logic of the hon. Member's argument is defeated by his party's policy.

It is important to remember that rural people do not complain. We should remember the extent of the burdens which they have to bear, which are not borne by urban people. On the farms there is tractor fuel to purchase. That has gone up in price. They have to use a Land-Rover, probably using diesel, to fetch supplies and spares over long distances. Diesel, too, has risen in price. Such people have to use a car to buy things like a postage stamp, to take their families to town, and for a host of other reasons.

There are major burdens on those living in rural areas not experienced by people in the urban areas. Lower wages are paid in the rural areas. The rural people do not complain.

It is not spurious for us to raise this matter. No one in the country uses more fuel than he needs. It is not as if we were lashing it around so that the Chancellor had to say "You are wasting valuable energy. We shall put a stop to that".

Mr. Penhaligon

Would the hon. and learned Member agree that the ludicrous car allowance which we receive as Members of Parliament encourages us to drive our cars unnecessarily between our constituencies and the House?

Mr. Fairbairn

I do not drive my car between my constituency and the House. I am glad to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been quickly summoned to correct the error which his right hon. Friend made. I hope that he understands the small part of my speech that he will hear.

In the country the distances that people have to drive are in inverse proportion to their income. I do not think that that is sufficiently understood. My constituency is 80 miles by 100 miles. It is transfixed from north to south by a railway line, yet British Rail refuses to halt the trains using the line so that they can serve the villages. A person who lives in Dunkeld or Killin cannot get into Perth to shop. He cannot go to Callendar to shop unless he stays the night there, because, once in town, it is not possible to get back on the same day.

There are thousands of villages in the rural areas in which there is effectively no public transport. What we need is a development of the postal buses, an integrated system, with an allowance for the local man, the grocer, or postman, who has to do it himself. At present such an arrangement is forbidden.

There are enormous possibilities in these areas for the imaginative development of transport. At present there is too much centralised prohibition. That will no doubt appeal to Labour Members. They preach that Socialism is the great egalitarianism: everyone must be equal and everything must be fair.

If there is one area of unfairness it arises because the rural areas increasingly have to pay the rates for urban transport. I hope that it is appreciated that the rural population will have to leave the countryside unless a solution is found to the problem. For those who live in the countryside the only means of getting food, of making contact—of surviving—essentially lies with the motor car. Thousands of people in my constituency do not mind walking. They have to walk further and further to get the necessities on which they rely. If the Ministers sitting on the Front Bench did that—at any rate, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—they would have a figure like mine.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The greatest discipline that can be imposed upon any hon. Member is to tell him that he has five minutes in which to make his speech. Since I am under that discipline, I had better be as brief and as succinct as I can be.

I have not been present for all of the debate, but what I have heard leads me to think that there are one of two matters on which I ought to comment. The first is that all of these problems—whether they relate to the current debate or to the subsequent debate that we shall have on the construction industry—stem from inflation. That is our basic problem—our public enemy No. 1.

It is easy for hon. Members to pose problems. As far as I can gather, we have been very thin on solutions which do not incur considerable amounts of public money, which we do not have. This is the problem. As there are increased demands, whether for rural transport, schools, or hospitals, it must mean increased public expenditure. Those who advocate that, quite properly, must also advocate public expenditure cuts elsewhere.

I emphasise the undue concentration on the car that has been evident during the debate. The Government ought to take into account the fact that the car is not necessarily always something to be desired. In cities the car is an antisocial machine. Our fiscal system ought to take account of that.

We have all seen the fellow who drives into the city alone. We can see this in the rush hour in London, when nine cars out of 10 have only one occupant. There is no more anti-social exercise than that. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), in an intervention, made a pertinent point when he said that the car allowance that we receive encourages hon. Members to behave in this way.

I live a few miles out of London and could use public transport. I do not. There ought to be a penalty imposed on me and the likes of me to discourage us from using the car. If we persist in doing so, we should pay a proper charge, which could then be channelled into the rural areas.

I agree with those who say that there is a social problem in the rural areas. It does not affect only the rich people. The debate has tended to emphasise the hardship encountered by car owners in the rural areas. We have tended to forget that, although car ownership has increased greatly since the war, there is still a substantial proportion of the population who, for one reason or another, do not own a motor car.

That brings me to my central point, namely, the fact that this problem will not be solved unless we regard transport as a public service requiring increased public investment. Here I emphasise the railways. I disagree with the road lobby. Priority must be given to rail services rather than to the roads. Whoever advised the Government to impose this 51p tax on petrol ought to be sacked forthwith. There is something wrong with the thinking of anyone who can give that advice to the Chancellor. He does not know how the country ticks. He may appear in the next Honours List for all I know. This is the way we are run. Such people must understand the problems being faced by people all over the country.

The Scottish National Party Member based his arguments entirely on the principles enunciated in the recently issued canvassers' guide book, the basic principle of which is "If people are bellyaching, you should bellyache with them, no matter what the subject." In this period of rampant inflation there is bellyaching all along the line, and it is the easiest thing in the world to agree with people on various topics. The difficulty is to pose viable solutions.

As the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr Fairbairn) said, Scotland has a central industrialised belt, but the Lowlands and the Highlands must be subsidised somehow if they are to survive. In that context private enterprise and the profit motive are irrelevant. The subsidy must come from public finance, namely, from the taxpayer.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)

When we first tabled the motion calling for a reduction of £100 in the Secretary of State's salary I thought that we were being rather severe. Then, as the Secretary of State's speech developed and it was obvious that his thinking was becoming more extreme, I became increasingly amazed at our own moderation. I thought that if the right hon. Gentleman had been docked £100 for every bad point he made, he would have ended up by owing the country money.

The right hon. Gentleman brushed aside the very important point of the increase in motoring costs, which fall heaviest in the rural areas. He failed completely to deal with the key issues of the increase in petrol tax and the vehicle excise duty. I cannot understand how a Secretary of State can take part in a debate on rural transport without dealing with those key issues.

The right hon. Gentleman then, I thought rather offensively, suggested that we had tabled the motion to gain votes in the county council elections. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman noticed a little by-election result at Ash-field, but I can tell him that we do not need to engage in such ploys to secure a few votes. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) suggested that we had tabled the motion to put the Liberals on the spot. It might come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Truro to learn that we tabled the motion because we care about the problems in the rural areas, as—I believe—do the hon. Member for Truro and the other hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who have spoken today.

I am delighted to learn from the hon. Member for Truro that the Liberals will be voting with us tonight. I hope that the hon. Member will not take it amiss if I say that we shall be voting in the Aye Lobby, which is that Lobby over there. The last time we had a similar vote was in 1974, when we made proposals for relaxing the licensing system. Unfortunately, on that occasion the members of the Liberal Party rushed in rather late and cast their votes in the wrong Lobby. They then proceeded to correct that and to vote in the right Lobby. Thus, they voted both ways on the same issue, which is, of course, an alternative to not knowing which way they will vote.

Anxiety about the problems of those in rural areas has been expressed time and time again by Opposition Members in recent years. We have had innumerable debates on rural transport, on the problems of licensing, on rural motoring costs and on rural bus services. Invariably we have had sympathetic and understanding responses from the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary, followed by departmental dithering and total inertia.

Later in his speech the Secretary of State made a very strong attack on certain county councils. He even used strange phrases such as "their nefarious activities". The right hon. Gentleman should check his facts before making such attacks.

This is not the first time that such attacks have been made. On 6th April the Under-Secretary said: Last year, North Cornwall failed to pay £250,000 that it had received in bus revenue support.—[Official Report, 6th April 1977; Vol. 929, c. 1205.] Earlier the Under-Secretary had described that council as a Conservative-controlled county council.

Mr. Horam


Mr. Moate

I have the Official Report here. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no such county council as North Cornwall, but that is a minor detail. If he was referring to Cornwall, that is not Conservative-controlled. However, perhaps these are only minor points of accuracy.

It is worth putting on record the response to those allegations of the Press officer to the Cornwall County Council. He was reported as saying: Mr. Horam's conclusions could not be more wrong… Instead of being criticised the independently controlled council should be congratulated on good housekeeping for it has achieved significant savings of public money without diminishing public bus services… It was eventually agreed to pay Western National £52,000. 'Quite a bit less than asked for, but they agreed on that figure', he said. 'The money the council saved is still in the Government coffers, and they should be pleased with Cornwall acting so responsibly.' That is one example. With such errors emanating from the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, one begins to doubt the whole case put forward.

However, that is not all. I have another example. This afternoon, the Secretary of State vigorously attacked Cambridgeshire County Council. I understand that the council has cut back on bus routes which cover less than 50 per cent of costs. I am told that the National Bus Company in the area is in agreement with the policy and that no unemployment among NBC employees has resulted. That seems to be a proper and responsible approach and I am amazed that the Secretary of State should attack the council as he did.

Mr. John Cope (Gloucestershire, South)

I took the precaution of checking with the Avon County Council, which covers most of my constituency and which was mentioned by the Secretary of State this afternoon. Indeed, he made the same accusation about the Avon County Council. The councillor to whom I spoke refuted the Secretary of State's allegations in the same detail as my hon. Friend has just given in the case of Cornwall.

Mr. Moate

Now we begin to see the justification for reducing the Secretary of State's salary. I rather regret now that we have sought to reduce it by such a modest sum only

If the Under-Secretary intends to reply to some of these points, perhaps he will answer the point-blank question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler), namely, whether it is part of the Labour Party's programme to back up the promise of free fares on buses put forward by the Labour Party in its campaign in the West Midlands council elections.

I turn briefly to the key question of licensing. The Secretary of State attacked us for putting nothing dealing with this matter on the statute book during our years in office. The reason we put nothing on the statute book was that the Labour Party deliberately abandoned the provisions that, prior to the February 1974 General Election, it had seemed all set to accept. It is true that we had periods of experimentation in 1971. We had a process of consultation and then we made proposals. The Government are going through the whole long process again.

The Government's commitment to the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill was so feeble that they had to rely on the Opposition's co-operation to allow the Bill to be taken in a Second Reading Committee. The right hon. Gentleman's imagination took flight when he came to deal with the licensing system. He talked about our proposals to relax and reform the licensing system and not to abolish it. He said that this could mean the plundering of the profitable routes by people only in the business for a fast buck, and he said that it would be a free-for-all. This sounded to me much more like buccaneering on the Spanish Main than Britain in the late 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps he should welcome compensation of that sort for buses, as the public would.

In our debates on the Road Traffic Bill in 1974 the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) referred to The spectre of returning to the competitive era of the 1930s".—[Official Report, 30th January 1974; Vol. 868, c. 555.] All I can say is that the public would welcome such competition for the privilege of carrying them to and from their homes, or wherever they wish to go.

We do not blame the Government for all the problems in the rural areas. We realise that there has been a major social change. We know that the number of car owners has increased from 2 million to 12 million in the past two decades and that bus travel has diminished by 50 per cent. Inevitably the major part of the problem relates to the rural bus services. But the Secretary of State and his predecessors are very much to blame for the way in which they have allowed the problems to escalate and for the fact that it has taken them three years to introduce the modest Bill on experimental areas.

Had the Government allowed the Conservative proposals of 1974 to proceed in the rural areas and had they reached the statute book, we should be in a much stronger position and would be better able to take care of the crisis which has developed. "Crisis" is not too strong a word to use. I hope that, as a result of this debate, the right hon. Gentleman realises the depth of feeling in areas where communities are becoming increasingly isolated and where all the ordinary activities of day-to-day life are becoming much harder to perform because of the crisis. We do not say that a relaxation of the licensing system would be an immediate panacea for the problems, but it would make a constructive contribution to their solution.

The reluctance of the Labour Party to admit competition in the provision of public services in these areas is quite extraordinary. Even the Bill now going through Parliament is notable for its omission of the right of commercial operators to use mini-buses. That is very strange. The Minister in another place, when introducing the Bill on the experimental areas, said: The essential point here is that the Bill is not intended to provide short cuts for people who want to be in the business of carrying passengers."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 15th February 1977; Vol. 379, c. 1518.] It is extraordinary that the Labour Party should be so determined to prevent operators from carrying people for profit. We do not say that the mini-bus is the answer to all our prayers, but the solution to the problem lies largely in the operation of commercial mini-buses in many areas. Yet that possibility is deliberately excluded from the Bill.

I must allow time for the Under-Secretary of State to reply, but before concluding I must deal with the question of petrol duties, which was totally ignored by the Secretary of State. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that the problems of the rural areas are different from those of the urban areas. In many instances there is literally no alternative in the rural areas to motor transport as a means of getting to and from work.

In addition, average earnings in many rural communities are less than the national average. In Devon and Cornwall they are about £10 a week less than the national average. Further more, petrol prices in these areas are already very much higher, because there is no scope for shopping around for cut-price petrol as there is in many urban areas.

Therefore, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased petrol tax by 5½p and increased the vehicle excise duty to £50—roughly a 100 per cent. increase in petrol tax and a 100 per cent. increase in vehicle excise duty since the Labour Party took office—he dealt a double blow at the motorist. Even if the Secretary of State for Transport wishes to demonstrate his concern for the rural areas, the Chancellor has sabotaged his efforts.

The Chancellor has dealt a major blow at the rural motorist for whom the car is an essential, not a luxury. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will have to answer, as will his party, to the electorate for his insensitivity on this fundamental issue. No doubt his colleagues will want to take him to task for his political ineptitude.

We ask the Secretary of State to answer for his failure. His party, which was elected on the pledge of a co-ordinated and integrated transport system, after three years in office and, I suspect, in its dying days in office, has suggested an experiment. Therefore, we tabled the motion suggesting a modest reduction in the salary of the Secretary of State as a way of demonstrating our strong criticism of the Government's conduct of transport matters, particularly in the rural areas.

6.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Horam)

Despite the attempt of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) to launch what appeared to be a major and certainly a vehement political attack, and despite the attempt of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to soup it up, I think that most hon. Members would agree that this has been a low key debate, because a certain unanimity about the problem has been demonstrated, to such an extent that the debate could almost be said to be an endorsement of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the ideas that he put forward.

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) said that he would vote against my right hon. Friend in order to encourage him, which seemed to me a remarkable piece of Scottish logic. Such was the enthusiasm for my right hon. Friend's proposals that they were endorsed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The fact that this feeling was demonstrated on both sides of the House must have been to the chagrin of the hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield and Faversham. However, I was rather suspicious when it appeared that the final coping stone for the general superstructure of unanimity was being placed by the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). I am not sufficiently conversant with Scottish politics to know what devious motives lay behind the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments.

There has been unanimity on a number of major matters, first, on the view that rural transport has been neglected. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) and the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) referred to that matter. I am delighted to learn that there is one set of traffic lights for every 600 square miles of the constituency of Leominster. That is one of those transport facts which delight the aficionados.

There has been general unanimity that we need to consider planning and planning measures in the countryside with a view to their impact on transport. My hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) and Sowerby (Mr. Madden) touched on this point when they spoke about the centralisation of hospital services, schools and health centres causing the sort of transport problems about which they were concerned. Any Government must take seriously the link between land use planning and transport. A strong feeling against centralisation has been demonstrated by the hon. Members for Galloway and Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). Given what both of them said, I am surprised that they are even contemplating voting against the Government, but perhaps they have some political motive which I, in my naïve way, have overlooked.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another point which has been demonstrated is total opposition to the Government's proposal to increase petrol tax? Does he propose to say how the increase in petrol tax fits into the Government's transport policy?

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman is on to a wrong point. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary ever said that the increase in petrol tax had anything to do with transport. During the debate last Thursday on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, he said: But their merits"— he was referring to other increases in indirect taxes— on grounds of energy, transport and health policy have been recognised and have, I think, been by and large explicitly or tacitly accepted. With the petrol duty, it is a different story."—[Official Report, 28th April 1977; Vol. 930, c. 1509.] It was plain that he did not include transport reasons in his justification for the increase in petrol tax. What my right hon. Friend was rightly referring to, my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby again referred to it this afternoon, was the increase in derv. It was part of a general argument about the cost between rail and road freight.

Mr. Norman Fowler rose

Mr. Horam

I am sorry, but I do not have very long.

Mr. Norman Fowler rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Minister is not giving way, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Mr. Horam

I think the reasons for the increase in derv and vehicle excise duty are well understood. They are not a part of any justification for an increase in petrol prices. Many of my hon. Friends, as well as several hon. Gentlemen opposite, referred to the consequences for rural transport of an increase in petrol prices. One can well understand that. But I would point out that this makes it even more important to support public transport in the way that we are doing.

I now turn to the particular points raised by hon. Gentlemen during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West talked about the anomalies of concessionary fares and schoolchildren's fares. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby also referred to this. These are very important points which we fully understand. I would point out that local authorities have discretionary powers to help.

Mr. Watkinson

That is the trouble.

Mr. Horam

My hon. Friend says "That is the trouble". I would go back to my remarks about the local options. I think that the local authorities have the right to decide these matters. I would also say that the Department of Education and Science is looking at this matter and discussing it with local authorities. It is something which is being discussed both locally and nationally. The problem of anomalies between different parts of the country should be of special concern.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby mentioned transport provided by employers for employees being wholly allowable against tax. That is indeed the case where they provide a bus or means of transport or voucher. Vouchers are taxable from the employee's point of view. It is a subject that should be explored further as we face the rising cost of transport for certain employers where there is a special transport problem and public transport may not be very good, which is possibly the case in my hon. Friend's part of the world.

My hon. Friend also said rather feelingly that the traffic commissioners were sometimes rather remote from reality when setting fares. I understand my hon. Friend's feeling. But the traffic commissioners have a very difficult job in coping with this inflationary era.

The two central themes of the debate were, first, the general problem of how we support buses and in what way. I should like to endorse all that my right hon. Friend has said about the necessity for subsidies. County councils were first given the power to subsidise buses in the 1968 Act by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). That was a very important step given that subsidies for rural areas alone, forgetting all the other subsidies which go to the bus services, in the current year are expected to total £40 million. That is an increase from £34 million last year. It shows the importance that my right hon. Friend and I attach to increasing the amount of support for the rural bus services.

In addition they get support via concessionary fares, although, regrettably, in some cases some county councils have not been as generous as some of the Labour-controlled metropolitan councils. Secondly, there is the new bus grant, which still continues at a high level and, thirdly, there is fuel duty rebate.

All these four subsidies give to buses in rural areas a considerable amount of public support when they have shown that they need it. It is my hope that they can be increased even further. I recognise the point made by the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Spicer), which the hon. Member for Faversham also mentioned, about the dangers of giving subsidies. It is a point that we take on board.

But the fact is that, had we not given this level of subsidy we should have a far poorer level of bus service in rural areas than we have today. The hon. Member for Truro said it would be reduced to shreds. He is quite right. That is one reason why we have a better bus service even today than any other country in Western Europe.

It is also the case that the level of support that the Government have given has risen substantially. Conservative Members must answer this question. Would they cut that support as part of a general public expenditure policy? We, of course, accept that subsidies are not the whole answer. The Opposition must face this issue, just as they must face the issue of bus licensing and all that that involves.

One should not overlook that one of the major improvements in bus licensing in recent years has been the 1968 Transport Act of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn. I am sorry that she is not here to hear this. Section 30 of that Act allowed for the post buses and the use of school buses and all the rest about which the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire was waxing so eloquent. As my right hon. Friend said, the 100th post bus in Scotland has been introduced precisely because of that legislation, and that shows that that legislation can have a clear effect in this area. That development flowed from that Act.

But I accept that what we have done in present legislation is not enough in itself. This is why we are promoting the present Bill, and that is why my right hon. Friend mentioned the need for further revisions in the bus licensing law. It is something that we must take on board.

The third thing we must do is to get the NBC to undertake far more experiments and innovations. Its record has improved, as I am sure hon. Members from rural areas would agree, but there is considerable scope for further improving the way which its services relate to the needs of those who live in rural areas. The NBC provides 90 per cent. of stage carriage services in rural areas.

With regard to bus licensing, the question is posed whether we should go further down the path which the Conservative Party is indicating, especially when the problem is the declining number of passengers. Is it right to encourage further competition so that instead of one bus carrying six passengers, we have two buses carrying three each? Is that the logical answer to a situation which has changed totally from 1928 and 1930 when the bus licensing system was introduced?

The Conservative Party must question its own methods if it is to be logical in that situation.

Mr. Moate rose

Mr. Horam

I am just concluding.

Mr. Moate

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down I hope that he will either justify or withdraw the violent attacks that he made on certain county councils, which have now been proved to be totally unfounded.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. Of course, those county councils disagree with what my right hon. Friend and I said. It is natural that they should disagree, but the facts are there. The hon. Gentleman in no way sought to question those facts. He simply interpreted them from a Conservative point of view, or an independent point of view in the case of Cornwall. But the fact is that many councils—they are predominantly Conservative councils—are not giving bus services the support that we accepted for grant purposes let alone the amount which the NBC requires to maintain the existing level of service. Therefore, Conservative Members should seek to influence their own supporters in the counties before they complain too much about the level of bus services in rural areas.

The fact is that the Conservatives have achieved nothing on bus licensing. They achieved nothing in their last Administration. The last time a Conservative Government

did anything about bus licensing was in 1956, and then there was no significant relaxation. It was all mere pettifogging, detailed stuff, hardly worthy of being put into a Road Traffic Act.

It is extraordinary for the Conservatives now to say that we are going slow, when they did nothing since 1956, although there have been three Conservative Governments since then. The debate rightly did not concentrate on those points, because it is the kind of politicking that the Opposition would be well advised to avoid.

The Conservatives have achieved nothing and learnt nothing. I am sorry that they intend to go down the same path as the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) started on so gaily in 1971. He had to abandon his approach under the pressure of events and the interests and problems that he came up against. If the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield ever becomes Secretary of State for Transport, I hope that he will not find himself making the same painful retreat as the right hon. Member for Yeovil made. The Conservatives have achieved nothing and have learned nothing about transport, and the evidence of their colleagues in the county councils shows that they do not care about it very much.

The Opposition would be well advised to withdraw the motion, which is a piece of humbug. If they do not, I hope that the House will oppose the motion and support the record and plans of my right hon. Friend.

Question put, That Subhead A1(1) (Salaries of Ministers) be reduced by £100:

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 293.

Division No. 116] AYES [7.2 p.m.
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hon Robert Channon, Paul
Alison, Michael Bottomley, Peter Churchill, W. S.
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)
Arnold, Tom Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Clark, William (Croydon S)
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Braine, Sir Bernard Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Awdry, Daniel Brittan, Leon Clegg, Walter
Bain, Mrs Margaret Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Cockcroft, John
Baker, Kenneth Brooke, Peter Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)
Banks, Robert Brotherton, Michael Cope, John
Beith, A. J. Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Cordle, John H.
Bell, Ronald Bryan, Sir Paul Cormack, Patrick
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Buck, Antony Corrie, John
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Budgen, Nick Costain, A. P.
Benyon, W. Bulmer, Esmond Crawford, Douglas
Berry, Hon Anthony Burden, F. A. Critchley, Julian
Biffen, John Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Crouch, David
Biggs-Davison, John Carlisle, Mark Crowder, F. P.
Body, Richard Chalker, Mrs Lynda Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Reid, George
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord [...]ames Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Drayson, Burnaby Kershaw, Anthony Rhodes James, R.
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Kilfedder, James Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Durant, Tony Kimball, Marcus Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Dykes, Hugh King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Ridsdale, Julian
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John King, Tom (Bridgwater) Rifkind, Malcolm
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Kitson, Sir Timothy Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Elliott, Sir William Knight, Mrs Jill Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Emery, Peter Knox, David Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Lamont, Norman Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Eyre, Reginald Langford-Holt, Sir John Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fairbairn, Nicholas Latham, Michael (Melton) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lawrence, Ivan Royle, Sir Anthony
Farr, John Lawson, Nigel Sainsbury, Tim
Fell, Anthony Lester, Jim (Beeston) Scott, Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Scott-Hopkins, James
Fisher, Sir Nigel Lloyd, Ian Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Luce, Richard Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles McAdden, Sir Stephen Shelton, William (Streatham)
Fookes, Miss Janet MacCormick, Iain Shepherd, Colin
Forman, Nigel McCrindle, Robert Shersby, Michael
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Macfarlane, Neil Silvester, Fred
Fox, Marcus MacGregor, John Sims, Roger
Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) Mackay, Andrew James Sinclair, Sir George
Freud, Clement Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Skeet, T. H. H.
Fry, Peter McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Madel, David Speed, Keith
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spence, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian (Chesham) Marten, Neil Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Mates, Michael Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol Sproat, Iain
Godber, Rt Hon Joseph Maude, Angus Stainton, Keith
Goodhart, Philip Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Stanbrook, Ivor
Goodhew, Victor Mawby, Ray Stanley, John
Goodlad, Alastair Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Steel, Rt Hon David
Gorst, John Mayhew, Patrick Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Meyer, Sir Anthony Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mills, Peter Stokes, John
Gray, Hamish Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Stradling Thomas, J.
Grieve, Percy Moate, Roger Tapsell, Peter
Griffiths, Eldon Monro, Hector Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Montgomery, Fergus Tebbit, Norman
Grist, Ian Moore, John (Croydon C) Temple-Morris, Peter
Grylls, Michael More, Jasper (Ludlow) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Hall, Sir John Morgan, Geraint Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Thompson, George
Hannam, John Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Mudd, David Townsend, Cyril D.
Hastings, Stephen Neave, Airey Trotter, Neville
Havers, Sir Michael Nelson, Anthony van Straubenzee, W. R.
Hayhoe, Barney Neubert, Michael Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Newton, Tony Wainwright, Richard (Coine V)
Henderson, Douglas Normanton, Tom Wakeham, John
Hicks, Robert Nott, John Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Higgins, Terence L. Onslow, Cranley Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Hodgson, Robin Oppenheim, Mrs Sally Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Holland, Philip Page, John (Harrow West) Wall, Patrick
Hordern, Peter Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Walters, Dennis
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Page, Richard (Workington) Warren, Kenneth
Howell, David (Guildford) Pardoe, John Watt, Hamish
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Parkinson, Cecil Weatherill, Bernard
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Pattie, Geoffrey Wells, John
Hunt, David (Wirral) Penhaligon, David Welsh, Andrew
Hunt, John (Bromley) Percival, Ian Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Hurd, Douglas Peyton, Rt Hon John Wiggin, Jerry
Hutchison, Michael Clark Pink, R. Bonner Wigley, Dafydd
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Price, David (Eastleigh) Winterton, Nicholas
James, David Prior, Rt Hon James Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'dt'd) Pym, Rt Hon Francis Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Jessel, Toby Raison, Timothy Younger, Hon George
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rathbone, Tim
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal) Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Jopling, Michael Rees-Davies, W. R. Mr. Michael Roberts,
Abse, Leo Armstrong, Ernest Atkinson, Norman
Allaun, Frank Ashley, Jack Bagier, Gordon A. T.
Anderson, Donald Ashton, Joe Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Archer, Peter Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)
Bates, Alf Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Bean, R. E. George, Bruce Molloy, William
Benn Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Gilbert, Dr John Moonman, Eric
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Ginsburg, David Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Bidwell, Sydney Gould, Bryan Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Bishop, E. S. Gourlay, Harry Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Graham, Ted Moyle, Roland
Boardman, H. Grant, George (Morpeth) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Grant, John (Islington C) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Grocott, Bruce Newens, Stanley
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Noble, Mike
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Hardy, Peter Oakes, Gordon
Bradley, Tom Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ogden, Eric
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hart, Rt Hon Judith O'Halloran, Michael
Broughton, Sir Alfred Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Orbach, Maurice
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hatton, Frank Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hayman, Mrs Helene Ovenden, John
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Healey, Rt Hon Denis Padley, Walter
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Palmer, Arthur
Buchanan, Richard Hooley, Frank Park, George
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Horam, John Parker, John
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Parry, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Huckfield, Les Pavitt, Laurie
Campbell, Ian Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Pendry, Tom
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Mark (Durham) Perry, Ernest
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Phipps, Dr Colin
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Roy (Newport) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Carter, Ray Hunter, Adam Prescott, John
Carter-Jones, Lewis Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Cartwright, John Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Price, William (Rugby)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Radice, Giles
Clemitson, Ivor Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael Janner, Greville Richardson, Miss Jo
Cohen, Stanley Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Coleman, Donald Jeger, Mrs Lena Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Conlan, Bernard John, Brynmor Robinson, Geoffrey
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Johnson, James (Hull West) Roderick, Caerwyn
Corbett, Robin Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Cowans, Harry Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rooker, J. W.
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roper, John
Cronin, John Kaufman, Gerald Rose, Paul B.
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Kelley, Richard Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cryer, Bob Kerr, Russell Rowlands, Ted
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ryman, John
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kinnock, Neil Sandelson, Neville
Davidson, Arthur Lambie, David Sedgemore, Brian
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lamborn, Harry Selby, Harry
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Lamond, James Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lee, John Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Deakins, Eric Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton and Slough) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lever, Rt Hon Harold Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Lipton, Marcus Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Dempsey, James Lomas, Kenneth Silverman, Julius
Doig, Peter Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Dormand, J. D. Luard, Evan Small, William
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Lyon, Alexander (York) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Dunnett, Jack McCartney, Hugh Snape, Peter
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth McDonald, Dr Oonagh Spearing, Nigel
Eadie, Alex McElhone, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
Edge, Geoff MacFarquhar, Roderick Stallard, A. W.
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McGuire, Michael (Ince) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) MacKenzie, Gregor Stoddart, David
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Mackintosh, John P. Stott, Roger
English, Michael McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Strang, Gavin
Ennals, David McNamara, Kevin Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Madden, Max Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Magee, Bryan Swain, Thomas
Evans, John (Newton) Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Mahon, Simon Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Faulds, Andrew Mallalieu, J. P. W. Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tierney, Sydney
Flannery, Martin Maynard, Miss Joan Tinn, James
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Meacher, Michael Tomney, Frank
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Torney, Tom
Ford, Ben Mendelson, John Tuck, Raphael
Forrester, John Mikardo, Ian Urwin, T. W.
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Freeson, Reginald Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Mitchell, Austin Vernon (Grimsby) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Whitehead, Phillip Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ward, Michael Whitlock, William Woodall, Alec
Watkins, David Willey, Rt Hon Frederick Wool, Robert
Watkinson, John Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Weetch, Ken Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Herlford) Young, David (Bolton E)
Weitzman, David Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Wellbeloved, James Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
White, Frank R. (Bury) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton) Mr. Joseph Harper and
White, James (Pollok) Wilson, William (Coventry SE) Mr. James Hamilton.

Question accordingly negatived.

Original Question again proposed.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ashton.]