HC Deb 19 January 1978 vol 942 cc691-806

Order for Second Reading read.

4.43 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Transport Mr. William Rodgers)

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

The Bill falls naturally into two parts. Clauses 1 to 8 arise primarily from the Transport Policy White Paper, published in June. Clauses 9 to 16 would have been required, irrespective of the White Paper and wider transport considerations, to deal with some essential matters concerning the railways and the National Freight Corporation. The remaining clauses are procedural and consequential.

On 21st November last the Opposition conveniently provided a Supply Day which enabled myself and my hon. Friend to give a trailer for the contents of the Bill. I think that our broad intentions on county transport planning, the licensing of public service vehicles and traffic regulation were welcomed on both sides of the House. I had hoped that this would mean a quick and easy passage for the Bill. After all, within the limits of parliamentary time, we are seeking in a constructive and open-minded way to improve services to the people, particularly in rural areas. For that reason, I am puzzled to see an Opposition amendment on the Order Paper. It is an aberration which I believe they will regret.

If the amendment were carried, one consequence would be to open the way for closing down many of British Rail's passenger services from this time next year. There might be no commuter trains into London. There might be no local services across the country. There might be no services of any kind in large parts of Scotland and Wales. A vote against the Bill is either highly irresponsible and not to be taken seriously—it may be that is what the Opposition have in mind—or it is a vote to put an end to our national rail network.

I am very surprised that the Opposition want this on the record. I can promise that many people will hold it against them when the time comes. I and my hon. Friends will certainly take every opportunity of reminding the country of the significance of the ill-judged amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and her right hon. and hon. Friends.

There is also the question of the improvement of public transport, particularly in rural areas. The Opposition may feel that they are keeping their options open. If so, they are being too clever by half.

Of course, there is room for controversy. There will be a desire, as others see it, to improve the Bill in Committee. But it has been said that successive Governments have talked about the rural problem without doing anything. I believe that largely to be true. This Bill now provides an opportunity for action. There will be little sympathy for those who needlessly delay its passage.

The Government's commitment to public transport has been plainly stated, and we have made available the means to give substance to this. The recent transport supplementary grant settlement for 1978–79 put special emphasis on county councils' support for rural buses. It gave more for new road schemes and other capital spending—after taking into account basic needs—to counties with public transport policies in line with the thinking in the White Paper.

The Bill will help to get the most cost-effective use of the resources available. First, it will provide a stronger framework for the local planning of stable public transport services with the counties in the lead but bringing in the local knowledge of districts and the expertise of operators. Secondly, it will encourage community self-help to tackle the needs that the ordinary bus service cannot reach. Thirdly, it will adapt certain aspects of the licensing system to current conditions—giving additional flexibility without destroying necessary safeguards.

As for our other proposals, I have already said that a most important provision concerns Exchequer grants to British Rail. For those of us who wish to maintain a railway network, there is a continuing requirement for funds to fulfil the commitment that the Railways Board should operate the passenger service under the public service obligation. Our proposals in the Bill do no more than seek parliamentary approval for this continued support to the passenger railway. I am pleased to say that the chairman of the Board has told me that it now expects to achieve a small surplus on its non-passenger business in 1978.

Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)

I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I have a question on the financing of British Rail. What representations has British Rail made to the Government about the workings of the Development Land Tax Act, which he has strongly criticised as inhibiting development of the main line railway termini which could help hard-pressed commuters, certainly in the South-East?

Mr. Rodgers

Normally I should prefer not to refer to the detailed conversations that I have with the Chairman of British Rail. However, I can tell the hon. Gentleman, whose question was perfectly reasonable, that British Rail has made clear to me that it suffers what it sees to be a penalty as a result of that Act. I have made clear that, although I regret it, that is one of the by-products of public policy as the Government saw it. In other words, although it is an unfortunate result from the British Rail point of view, perhaps from mine it is a consequence of a Bill having other purposes which in the end the House approved.

I shall now refer to some of the clauses. I concede that the other main proposals of the Bill are technical and complex. Difficult matters of judgment arise, but the Bill puts forward the most practical and effective solution that we have been able to devise for the financial reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation. I shall say something further about that when I come to the clauses in the Bill which refer to the NFC.

I do not simply want, and I do not think that the House would wish me, to repeat the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, but perhaps a word of comment will help, especially on some of the more important clauses about which the House may wish to know what course I have chosen.

After Clause 1, which strengthens the powers that county councils already have for public transport planning, Clause 2 requires them to produce a rolling five- year plan for public transport in the counties.

Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

Bearing in mind that district councils have a legitimate interest in services in their own areas, why is there no provision in the Bill at the moment for district councils to raise objections in principle to county transport plans? Is it intended to do something about this?

Mr. Rodgers

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, there is provision in the Bill for consultation, and I intended to refer to this in a minute. But I am bound by a local government Act, for which my party was not responsible, which places the planning powers for transportation very firmly in the counties. I know the strength of opinion in the districts that this is not necessarily right, but I have to work within a framework determined by the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends some time ago. I am making the best provision I can in the Bill for consultation, and I accept fully that this will be a matter to which hon. Gentlemen on both sides will want to return in Committee.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

Will my right hon. Friend pay attention to the representations which have been made by his hon. Friends that he should set up some kind of appeal procedure to the Secretary of State, statutory or otherwise, so that in the event of disagreement he will have the last word?

Mr. Rodgers

Odd as it may seem, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am not a Minister who necessarily wants to acquire more powers, rare though this might be. Certainly I do not like to sit in judgment, often on local matters where, frankly, no Minister is in a position to make the detailed judgments required. I am, therefore, reluctant to be called in in the way that my hon. Friend so generously suggests.

The matter certainly needs discussion. I recognise that many matters concerning transportation, especially traffic planning, are of greater concern to districts, particularly in urban areas, than they are to the rural counties. So let us together see whether we can find some solution to the problem.

As I have said, in the course of preparing these five-year rolling plans for public transport, it is extremely important—and I make provision for this later—for consultation to take place.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)


Mr. Rodgers

May I say one or two sentences more before conducting a "phone-in"?

The identification of this essential network of public passenger transport services, which I hope will be a co-ordinated and efficient system, will need the help of the district councils and of the operators too. In particular, there is the market analysis project, MAP, pioneered by Midland Red, which, as hon. Gentlemen will know, is a subsidiary of the National Bus Company. If any hon. Gentleman is not aware of this proposal, the National Bus Company will be happy to explain it. It provides the sort of technique which I wish had been available before to analyse travel patterns and show how services can be tailored more closely to demand. This knowledge will help counties and operators alike to decide how far needs can be satisfied within the money available. Once this basic work has been done, with the need to take account of and learn from the districts and others meanwhile, it will be essential to bring into consultation everyone else who has an interest and who has a contribution to make—trade unions, parish councils and other bodies.

Mr. Adley

The right hon. Gentleman will recognise that there is agreement on both sides of the House about the county councils on this subject. In view of what he has said, is he prepared to say that he would countenance, or recommend to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, an amendment to the Local Government Act 1972 so that we could achieve what we all want to achieve in regard to district councils?

Mr. Rodgers

There are times for instant decision-making and times when it would be inappropriate. I think that instant decision-making on one's feet at the Dispatch Box is not always the way to get the decisions right. Although the hon. Gentleman refers to a common view on both sides of the House, it is a common view among those who feel strongly that the voice of the district councils must be larger. I would suppose that there are other voices, too, which would want to be heard. Therefore, with respect, I think that the right time to discuss this is in Committee.

I should like to say a few further words on this, but I do not wish to keep the House too long because I should be delaying hon. Members' speeches. I know that some county councils feel that they have had difficulty in getting the information they need from operators about the services that really need support. Operators, on the other hand, have found that they did not know where they stood, with county revenue support decided from year to year and, in some cases, even cut at short notice after it had been agreed.

Clause 3 provides for the disclosure of information, under a seal of commercial confidentiality where necessary, and for operators to be given greater stability by formal three-year agreements. These provisions should help the counties and the operators to co-operate effectively to give the travelling public the services they need.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

Before leaving that subject, will the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether I am right in thinking that he has made threats about withholding grant in future years if counties do not toe the line on his proposals? Would he justify those comments, if he has made them?

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think that I have ever made a threat in the whole of my life. That is not the language of diplomacy. But I think that the White Paper published in June made clear the importance which the Government attached to maintaining public transport.

I would say to the hon. Gentleman—I know that he understands this, because he attends all our transport debates—that I have repeated many times that, in determining how grants should be given, I would feel it necessary to take account of the extent to which the counties were acting in the spirit of the White Paper in supporting public transport. I have to say quite frankly, and I repeat what I have said already this afternoon, that there are some counties which, having been given grant explicitly to support public transport, have not in fact paid it over. The operators have often been in extremely difficult circumstances and obliged to cut services at short notice.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

It may save time if I put this point to the Secretary of State now. In a number of cases he has quite explicitly taken away capital grant from a number of counties, and he has thereby stopped a number of road schemes going ahead, because his Department is unhappy with what they have done on revenue account in respect of buses.

Does that not go against the whole philosophy of the transport policies and programmes and the block grant—that is, to devolve the decision making in these matters to the county councils, which are close to the ground, as his own White Paper says, instead of reserving to his Department the ability to take grant away because it dislikes certain things and thereby to destroy the sense of responsibility that he wants county councils to observe?

Mr. Rodgers

I hope that that has not been the consequence. Broadly speaking, however, the hon. Gentleman correctly described the exercise of my responsibilities. I have done so within statute. The TSG is a discretionary grant, and I am free to decide what level of expenditure is accepted. I am also free to examine, as my predecessors were, the details of the TPP put forward by the county to make sure that it is a coherent and effective plan.

Although what I have done may not be liked, and some people certainly do not like being told that they should spend more on public transport, I am entirely sure that it is within my statutory discretion to act in this way. I only regret the necessity to do so, because, of course, I should much prefer to see a high level of responsible local decision aimed to preserve public transport services where they are required.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

Once the counties submit their TPPs, which presumably will enable a three-year agreement to be made with the bus undertakings, will the Secretary of State guarantee that. in deciding the level of the TSG, he will confirm the existence of such three-year agreements and that the Government will pay their share so that the counties will not be left with an increasing percentage of the cost in each succeeding year?

Mr. Rodgers

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about maintaining a reasonable level of commitment by the Government for the years ahead. That is much in my mind. I hope that it will be possible to do it, although there will always be some margin above the line.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)


Mr. Rodgers

I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), but then I must move on or my speech will be too long.

Mr. Spriggs

It is important that we should deal with county passenger transport policy at this juncture. What role will the railway services have in the preparation of county transport policies? It is important that, before we make our speeches, we should know, what is in my right hon. Friend's mind.

Mr. Rodgers

As my hon. Friend knows, the shire counties have powers, under Section 203 of the 1972 Act, to support railway services in their counties if they wish to do so. Very few have availed themselves of the opportunity. At the same time, in preparing county transport plans, they should take account of the rail network within the shire area. I hope that the House will forgive me if I am now less generous in giving way.

The clauses on public service vehicle licensing, which form the next group, will make it easier for voluntary effort to meet needs that the professional bus network cannot reach. Clause 4 relaxes some of the restrictions on community minibuses run by volunteers, while retaining essential safety controls and safeguards for other operators. Clause 5, with Schedule 1, is to allow regular car-sharing and to let schemes be advertised at workplaces or by clubs and societies, and to allow social car schemes more generally.

Clause 6, taken with Schedule 2, requires traffic commissioners to have regard to local authorities' transport policies and plans, extends the simplified licensing procedure under Section 30 of the Transport Act 1968, and allows traffic commissioners to grant short-term licences.

The two clauses dealing with road traffic regulations cover very different subjects. Clause 7, which should be read with Schedule 3, will make the system of controls over unfit or overloaded vehicles more effective, while Clause 8 deals with parking. As the House knows, I take the view that this is one of the areas where there should be a high level of local decision in the light of local conditions.

What we are proposing to do, therefore, is to give local authorities the necessary powers to control privately operated public parking—the powers that Parliament has already given to the GLC. As someone born and brought up outside London, and representing a constituency outside London, I have never understood why the rest of the country should not have been given the powers that London is free to enjoy. As I explained on 21st November, we are not proposing in this Bill to tackle the more complex issues concerning private non-residential parking.

The next three clauses are concerned with the railways. Clause 9 sets a new statutory limit on revenue support. Clause 11 removes doubt about the scope of Section 8 of the Railways Act 1974 and expressly allows rail freight facilities grants to be paid towards privately-owned rolling stock. Clause 10 provides for the majority holding in Freightliners Limited to be transferred from the National Freight Corporation to the British Railways Board and sets a date for the transfer.

This is the first of the decisions that have been needed in regard to the structure of the nationalised transport industries. It is no soft option, as British Rail fully understands. They key element in the decision was the fact that the rail haul is the core of Freightliners' operation, and as part of British Rail its services can be planned and marketed alongside British Rail's other rail freight activities, such as Speedlink.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

The right hon. Gentleman said that Clause 9 sets statutory limits on public support for British Rail, but no time scale is attached to it. The clause says "after 1978". Over what period is this money supposed to be allowed for, and in what tranches?

Mr. Rodgers

I could explain the matter at great length, but I will desist from doing so. The position is precisely the same as in other legislation. The total funds that Parliament has voted run out by the end of this year and, therefore, I have to provide a new ceiling for the period thereafter. The contribution towards revenue support for the railways is set out in the White Paper on public expenditure. The hon. Gentleman will find it there. There is no new element. The practice of providing a ceiling follows convention.

The remaining substantive provisions of the Bill, contained in Clauses 12 to 16, deal with the financial reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation. Clause 12 reduces the NFC's debt to Her Majesty's Government from £153 million to £100 million. Clause 13 empowers me to make grants for National Carriers Limited's capital expenditure up to the end of 1981, not exceeding £15 million.

Clauses 14 and 15 make arrangements for the NFC to be reimbursed for payments to its pension funds in respect of historic pension liabilities. Clause 16 will allow the Government to reimburse the NFC for payments to British Rail and to the London Transport Executive in respect of travel concessions by former railway staff.

Why is all this needed? The NFC's financial difficulties derive, as the White Paper made clear, from the problems of National Carriers Limited and to a lesser extent of Freightliners, the two former rail businesses transferred to the NFC when it was set up under the 1968 Act. The remaining subsidiaries, which were formerly run by the Transport Holding Company, account for two-thirds of the NFC's total turnover. These have always traded profitably, taken as a group, and I am not proposing any Government help for these other companies.

On the basis of the NFC's corporate plan, I expect that it will be viable within its existing capital structure. The reduction in the NFC's capital debt will enable it to write off entirely its liabilities in relation to Freightliners. British Rail's capital debt will not be adjusted on transfer, so the acquisition of Freightliners will not increase its capital liabilities.

The main provision is to deal with the financial problems of National Carriers, which operates in the highly competitive market of parcels and small freight. The business was in poor shape when the NFC took it over in 1969 and was losing —20 million a year. It is now just breaking even at trading level—an impressive performance which does great credit to NCL and also, of course, to the NFC itself.

Over this period, however, the company's below-the-line charges have mounted. As well as paying interest on debt to finance past losses, the company has to make extraordinary pension provisions in addition to employer's normal contributions. These pension liabilities derive from the same source as those of British Rail, whose own historic liabilities are being funded by the Government.

At trading level, the company also has to make annual payments to British Rail and London Transport in respect of travel concessions enjoyed by NCL's former railway employees. The combined effect of these charges is to worsen the NCL's position by £8 million to £10 million per year. The NFC's remaining businesses are not in a position to cross-subsidise the NCL. Nor would it be right, in my view, to require them to do so. The Bill, therefore, relieves NCL of the burdens of the past.

But the company's future viability depends on its ability to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of trading profit, which depends upon rationalising its general distribution business while developing some new services in those markets in which the company is best able to compete.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

The Minister appears to be skating quickly over the question of reconstruction. Is there not the danger in the restructuring that he is fastening a burden round the neck of the NFC. With interest payments and so on, it cannot expect trading with the private sector, to be able to make a return. It will have that debt to service, which will hamstring it.

Is the Minister not in danger of doing exactly what was done at the time of the Transport Bill, with which I was concerned, when we set un various bodies and put burdens on the back of the public sector which made it difficult for it to break even? The Minister now has a golden opportunity to give the NFC a good and fair start, yet he is loading it down, though he is professing to be so kind, with a burden that is difficult to sustain in argument on the figures.

Mr. Rodgers

A good and fair start, to use the words of my hon. Friend, would satisfy me as a description of my proposals. I am relieving the NFC of very considerable burdens. But I agree with my hon. Friend that I am not making it an easy future for it. I do not think that it would be right. The NFC is competing for business in a very difficult world and I want it to have an incentive to do a first rate job. Therefore, I do not make it easy for the NFC, but I give it a fair chance, which I agree it has not had.

Mr. John Ellis

It has to make 16 per cent. before interest.

Mr. Rodgers

We can argue about this in Committee. I am relieving the NFC of a large part of its burden. I am glad that the companies in which my hon. Friend is particularly interested have been paying their way. If that is so, I do not think that they are in need of additional help. Nor—I have said this explicitly—do I think that it would be fair to require them to cross-subsidise the other part of NFC's operation.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Secretary of State is proposing to reduce the liabilities of NFC to the Government by just over one-third. Does he expect to return to the House later in order to propose a further reduction or the elimination of the debt of the NFC to the Secretary of State?

Mr. Rodgers

If I understand the hon. Gentleman's question aright, the answer is "No". I hope that my proposals will ensure that by the end of 1981 the NCL will be fully self-supporting. This is my objective.

There are several ways of tackling this problem, but my proposal on relieving the NCL of the burdens of the past and providing a grant of up to £15 million payable to the end of 1981 will ensure, given a reasonable degree of luck and high quality management, that NCL will be self-supporting after that date.

This is a specific grant limited in time and amount, and not a general subsidy. We have considered carefully whether there was any alternative to making even a limited grant available, but there was not. Even if NCL were closed, quite apart from the prospect of throwing 14,000 people out of work—I do not believe that any hon. Member would believe that that was the right course—grant would still be required because of the high redundancy payments that the NFC would have to make.

The reconstruction measures will enable NCL to press on with the necessary steps to cut out unprofitable operations and adapt to new markets. This will not be easy and will almost certainly involve some further reduction in the workforce. But I am sure that management and employers will not waste this opportunity to secure their company's future.

The subjects in the Bill are disparate but there is a constant theme. Our transport system must meet economic and social needs while taking account of the environment and the uncertain nature of energy supplies. The Bill contains urgent and practical proposals. The first part will be widely welcomed as a major contribution towards improving public passenger transport, especially in the rural areas. The second part will help to ensure that on the freight side the public sector makes the best use of its resources in relation to the industrial growth.

This is not a long and glamorous Bill, but it is a good and necessary one. It should command the support of everyone who will judge it on its merits and not out of mistaken partisanship. Those who vote against it today will wake up tomorrow rather ashamed of themselves and rather worried.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I have to inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and in the names of other hon. Members.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails fully to meet the needs of transport users, particularly in the rural areas. I emphasise that the intent of the amendment is to meet the needs of users of transport. I will deal with the railways question later.

The remarks of the Secretary of State, even on railways—he did not mean them in any way seriously—if anyone should conceivably take him seriously, do him no credit. They carry no conviction and are totally untrue. But one thing must be said about the Bill. It is not the Bill that the Secretary of State himself wanted to introduce. For all his words, he and the House know that he has been overruled in Cabinet on a number of his most important proposals. The general Government policy is to seek to avoid controversy in election year.

The order has gone out that Ministers should not rock the boat. That has meant that this Bill, for example, does not contain proposals on compulsory seat belts. I do not happen to be a supporter of compulsory seat belts, but until the Cabinet had its tortured debate on this matter I had not considered it one of the issues which would sway at the next General Election.

What I find deeply objectionable—I say this seriously to the Secretary of State—applies to many supporters of compulsion. Although the Government do not have the courage to put forward their proposals in the Bill, they intend to legislate by order for Northern Ireland. It seems to me that that shows the Government at their cynical worst. This is a shabby and disreputable way of dealing with any issue, let alone a road safety issue.

Nor is that the only measure which has been abandoned by the Government. The Blennerhassett Report on drinking and driving made proposals for legislation which the Government accepted and pledged themselves to introduce. The only major area of controversy is concerned with random tests. That is not an issue which is beyond the capacity of the House to resolve, but is enough to persuade the Government that there may be some voters they are offending.

That, too, is dropped on the ground that it is election year. To those concerned with road safety there may be disagreements on policy, but here we are dealing with something which goes beyond disagreement. It is a test of honesty and integrity. On those grounds the Government fail miserably.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) spoke easily used words such as "honesty" and "integrity". I share his concern about road safety. If he gets so steamed up about the lack of action on Blennerhassett and on seat belts, what pledge can he give of any assistance from the Opposition if the Government were to take action?

Mr. Fowler

The job of the Opposition and of the House would be to examine the proposals that were put forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] The course that the Government are taking is to introduce by order the compulsory wearing of seat belts to Northern Ireland without having the courage to come to the House to have the matter debated. That is objectionable. If the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that, he recognises very little. Those are two issues on which the Government have been hypocritical and in the withdrawal of which the Secretary of State has acquiesced.

That is not all. The Secretary of State is also keeping warm policy pledges which the Labour Party would implement if it were to win the election. In the White Paper the Secretary of State himself pledges the Labour Party to the nationalisation of road haulage. Just before Christmas his Under-Secretary, upstairs in Committee, pledged himself to the nationalisation of the ports.

I do not say that either of these Ministers has his heart in it. As for the Under-Secretary, when challenged, he could not think of one good reason in favour of nationalisation of the ports. He had to pass a note to his advisers by his side. They could not think of a good reason either, so he said absolutely nothing. But the fact that they do not believe in it makes the position worse.

The point is this. For all their words, the reality is that these two Ministers are preserving policy positions which they know are wrong. The reality is that they are the cardboard moderates of the present Government, the facade for public display. But what the Labour Party knows is that when it comes to it, they will not carry the day. It may be said that the Labour Party takes in no one, but that again would be wrong. I think that it actually succeeds in taking in the Liberals. The Liberal Party actually believes that it is influencing policy.

Of course, it would help if we knew what the Liberal Party's policy on issues such as road haulage nationalisation was. On the last occasion on which we debated transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) actually had the temerity to ask the Liberal spokesman and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) replied saying that Conservatives would do Conservative things and that if the Labour Partly won the election it would no doubt carry out all the nonsenses that appeal to its members, but, he added, If somehow we can juggle things around so that neither party wins, we might carry on with a successful course of action."—[Official Report, 21st November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 1226.] That was, of course, a reply that brought joy and reassurance to the whole road haulage industry throughout the country. But perhaps we shall be a little wiser as to the Liberals' intentions after Saturday's assembly—though why anyone should be speculating about the outcome I cannot imagine. They will retreat. They always retreat.

The Liberal Party resembles nothing more than a military vehicle that was supposed to have been designed for a unit of the Italian Army during the last war. All four gears drove the vehicle remorselessly backwards, but there was an emergency gear which drove it forwards—just in case, you understand, Mr. Speaker, they were attacked from the rear. That story may be unfair to the Italians but, my goodness, it sums up the Liberal Party.

Our first objection to the Bill is that basically it is a "phoney" Bill. It is not the Bill that, if left to their own devices, the Ministers would introduce, and it is much less than the Bill that would have been introduced if this was not election year. Even by their own standards—and goodness knows, they are pretty low in this Bill—it is an inadequate Bill. It is inadequate on the central ground that it provides precious little for the user of transport. It does not set out to enable his needs or the needs of the customer to be met.

The reluctant centrepiece of this legislation is the first six clauses on passenger transport in rural areas. Basically, what the Government are saying here, and basically the case that they are asking us to accept, is this. The Government are saying that the county councils should have the responsibility to develop passenger transport policies in their own areas. They should have the responsibility because the county councils know the situation on the ground and Whitehall does not. They should have the responsibility because they are locally accountable and Whitehall is not. That is the expressed theory of the Bill.

The Secretary of State once described the Bill as being the "rural charter". In the light of what he has produced, that is quite clearly pretentious rubbish. On that point, both the passenger transport industry and the county councils are agreed. Nor, indeed, was that ever the intention, because the letter that went from the Secretary of State's own office to Labour councils said: The success of the White Paper policies will depend a great deal on the extent to which local party groups capitalise upon the opportunities now open to them. So that is the reality about these proposals—the window-dressing that we have heard this afternoon. But it must at the very least make us examine very closely the content of the Bill.

Of course, in that consideration, what is crucial are the views of the county councils. Certainly no one who has read the response of the Association of County Councils to the Bill will believe that it sees it as a measure of devolution—quite the opposite. The association sees an erosion of county council's ability to determine the priorities of local transport expenditure according to local needs. Here the Government really must decide. If they want local devolution, they cannot adopt the course that their current attitude is one of "Whitehall knows best."

The county councils are concerned about the almost total silence of the Government on resources. Councils will produce five-year plans, and councils will enter into three-year agreements with the operators, but they see no commitment on the Government's part to match them.

Perhaps most significantly, the county councils challenge once again the traffic commissioner licensing system. The councils must put up their plans not only to the Government but also to traffic commissioners. The House should recognise that under the Bill the system remains fundamentally unreformed. We have community bus services and shared cars, for both of which the Opposition have pressed, and these could have been provided in 1974–75 by the present Government when they scrapped our reforms. But what the Bill misses out is the potential for the development of new commercial services.

What the Government have done—and it is well for the House to recognise it—albeit unconsciously, is to undermine the case for the traffic commissioners having power over stage carriage bus services in the county areas. I shall explain why.

The 1930 Act which created the traffic commissioner system was responding to a situation of over-provision. No one pretends, I imagine, that that is the position today. The basis of the licensing system then changed. The basis then became an argument of cross-subsidisation —that is to say, operators were given a monopoly on profitable routes provided that they cross-subsidised unprofitable routes. Again, this basis has now disappeared. There is precious little cross-subsidisation of that kind.

What has now happened, and what has happened over a series of Acts, starting with the Transport Act 1968, is that local authorities have been given the task of providing transport, and the new demand is for the best possible services at the lowest possible price. The Government have now taken this process one stage further—at least, on the face of it—and have put even more responsibility on the county councils.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Association of County Councils should now press for licensing powers to come to the county councils, and it is not surprising that it should consider the Government's solution inadequate. That certainly is the view of many of the county councils that the Opposition have consulted. The North Yorkshire County Council—the largest county council area in England—says that until the traffic commissioner system is revised, initiative in the provision of suitable services will be stifled.

Cambridgeshire County Council says: We believe that if the traffic commissioners were abolished we could bring a transport system to the county for less expenditure of money and to the greater advantage of those who are already isolated. Oxfordshire County Council says: With planning of public transport services resting with county councils the retention of licensing through the traffic commissioners can only prevent complete local choice and initiative, and will negate, on occasion, specific proposals. Goodness knows, Oxfordshire should know that.

Norfolk County Council says that its view is that county councils should have complete control of licensing.

Kent County Council says that the present duties of the commissioners regarding routing of public service vehicles should be handed over to the county councils.

There is no question but that, in the context and in the theory of the Bill, the county councils make a powerful case. Therefore, once again, we reiterate our view that the traffic commissioner licensing system must be reformed. It must be reformed to allow the county councils to have more power locally. The simplest way would be to transfer to counties the traffic commissioner powers over stage carriage services in the county areas. An alternative would be to change the Bill and make the views of the county councils paramount in decisions affecting their own areas, leaving the traffic commissioners with responsibility to settle any disputes across boundaries. Both of those alternative courses we shall explore in committee.

However, the point to which I would commit us, and what we want to see, is that new services should be allowed to develop. The judges should be the locally accountable councils. It is they who are given responsibility for providing transport and it is they who have the financial obligations. It must follow that they should have more power than is given to them in the Bill.

There is no reason for improvements to be confined to rural areas. We want district councils to be closely involved in the plans. We also want to see real experiments—not watered-down experiments as in the experimental areas—with new services such as commuter coaches, shared mini-vans and taxis and commercially-shared car services. Let us, for goodness sake, allow conditions under which innovation can take place. That is surely what is needed rather than the papering-over of cracks, which is all the Government offer in the Bill.

On railway policy, the Government are basically continuing the Railways Act 1974. That gave £1,500 million to British Rail. Four years later, this legislation is giving up to a maximum of £3,000 million.

It is fair to remind the railway industry that, by any standards, an enormous amount of public funds is going into British Rail, and it is not open to the industry to complain about the commitment of successive Governments in this area. Equally, it must also be realised that the future of the railway industry, which is something that both sides of the House want and are concerned about, is crucially in its own hands.

The Chairman of the British Railways Board has said that productivity is the rock on which the future of British Rail must be built. The Board has set a target which can be achieved by natural wastage and control of recruitment. I hope that the Government will make clear that the productivity target remains unchanged, paticularly as there is a report in today's Daily Telegraph, which, I gather, has been confirmed, suggesting that the whole policy is now under challenge.

It is also worth adding that, apart from productivity, the other important element is efficient management to take advantage of tht railways' natural opportunities. It is only by higher productivity and efficient management that rail fares will be kept in check, and it is vital from the point of view of the passengers that fares are kept in check.

Passengers, particularly commuters, have experienced unprecedented fare increases in the past three years. Such increases cannot go on without passengers deserting British Rail in their thousands and firms moving out of city centres. One of the areas which would be most affected would be London. The seriousness of this position must be taken into account by the industry in the wage negotiations which are to start shortly. In an industry in which more than two-thirds of the operating costs are wage and salary costs, the only effect of big pay rises can be big fare increases, and the only result of that can be a disastrous loss of passengers from British Rail.

Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)

The hon. Gentleman knows that British Rail has the responsibility of trying to make the industry pay, but it also has the job of trying to provide reasonable conditions of service and rates of pay for the people in the industry. At a time of inflation, it can do that only by putting up its charges. When will the Opposition say how they will tackle the problems, particularly of commuters? The Opposition make pious noises about looking after commuters' interests.

Mr. Fowler

I thought that I had just explained that. Clearly, we recognise that if inflation generally goes up, fares will go up. There are no short cuts, as I am sure the Secretary of State will confirm. What we must aim for in the railway industry and in transport industries generally is greater productivity and efficiency. That must be the formula.

We continue to want a breakdown of the costs of the separate businesses. All we know from British Rail at present is that the passenger deficit last year was more than £300 million. The freight losses cannot even be distinguished between general freight and parcels. It would be unfair of us not to recognise the progress being made by British Rail to meet this point. When I first made the point, it was not accepted by British Rail or by the Government. Now it is accepted by British Rail, though the Government's position is still shrouded in characteristic obscurity.

The argument is not whether there should be a breakdown of costs but on what basis it should be done. It could be done on the basis of an apportionment of costs as is done in virtually every other country, but British Rail has chosen to take another course—the avoidable costs basis. It is alone among the railways of the world in doing it this way, and so far the only business which has been successfully costed in this manner is the freight business.

British Rail says that all its business can be costed in this way and that there will be a small rump of costs left for division Clearly, progress has been and is being made. We welcome that, but an incoming Conservative Government will want to examine the basis of the figures and we shall want the breakdown quickly. It will be unacceptable for us to have to wait four or five years, as some people suggest may be the case.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Am I correct in gathering that the hon. Gentleman said that British Rail was alone in its form of analysing the costs of passenger transport? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that British Rail is not alone in having commuter problems and that in every commuter area in the world, including the United States, there are problems at least equal to, if not more severe than, those facing British Rail?

Mr. Fowler

I readily agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point, though I am not sure where that takes us. Certainly commuter problems are not a characteristic of this country. I went throughout the United States studying railways systems and found that similar problems existed in American cities. The point I wanted to make—and this is not challenged—is that British Rail is alone in using the avoidable costs basis.

The essential point is that, if British Rail wants the concept of a contract between itself and the Government, it must be a more specific contract than that which applies at present. If a contract is to have any meaning, it must show what services are being provided and at what cost. This is for the benefit not only of passengers but of the taxpayers, who are financing so much of the railway system.

There are a number of important points concerning freight that we shall want to discuss in Committee, not least Clause 7, which is opposed by the Freight Transport Association and the Road Haulage Association. What gives us cause for concern about the Government's plans for Freightliners Ltd., is the ground on which that decision has been taken. Government policy has been dictated not by what the customer wants but by an apparent desire to please a lobby.

The concept of Freightliners was a jointly owned company including both rail and road in the National Freight Corporation and British Rail. The Corporation has had undoubted success in its period of control and has worked to a position where Freightliners is now in profit. I cannot see the advantage of a transfer for the business or for the customer. The decision has been taken on the classic "provider first" argument. It is a curiously erratic policy that the Government have pursued in this area. Their declared aim is to shift freight from road to rail, and in pursuit of that policy they say that the ownership of Freightliners must change. When we examine the track record of the NFC and British Rail, there is no doubt that the NFC has been more successful in marketing freight, including freight by rail.

When it comes to other areas—for example, the trouble at the Didcot distribution centre, which has been dragging on for months—the Government say and do absolutely nothing. The Secretary of State's view was put in a typically patrician reply earlier this week when he said: I am aware of reports concerning the Didcot distribution centre but developments seem unlikely to have a significant effect on the volume of freight traffic transported by rail."—[Official Report, 17th January 1978; Vol. 942, c. 150.] So much for the Government's commitment to turn from rail to road. So much, too, for any pretensions that they have for securing fair competition, which is what I want to achieve. Again, the Government do nothing for the simple reason that they may again offend the big battalions. That is the characteristic charge against the Secretary of State.

Mr. Spriggs

Can the hon. Member tell the House what a Conservative Government would do about the congestion of traffic on the roads in general?

Mr. Fowler

I should be happy to respond to that question but I do not intend to do so on the Second Reading of the Bill, which has little to do with that point. If I responded, it would take up many minutes of the time that the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) might need to make his speech.

The last user of transport in the Bill is the motorist. For some reason, his interests are never mentioned by this Government. We saw that in the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon. Yet over 80 per cent. of passenger journeys are made by car. We argue that the motorist is entitled to a fair deal in transport policy.

We all know what has happened. The Government have cut back on road maintenance to a point where it is causing concern to virtually every county council in the country. In the Bill the Government give us new parking controls. They have dropped their idiotic plan for selling permits for the privilege of parking in office car parks. That is to say, they have dropped that plan—until after the next General Election and on the most optimistic reading of the opinion polls. But the Government persist with a plan to control NCP-type parking and are putting forward the necessary powers in the Bill. Powers are to be given to local authorities to control charges, hours of opening and so on. The theory is that, if one makes life inconvenient enough for the motorist, he will be forced to use public transport.

The Secretary of State says that powers are already enjoyed by the Greater London Council and should therefore be given to all councils. That is very considerate of him. But he ignores the enormous outcry that went up when these powers were used by the last Labour-controlled GLC. He also ignores that the incoming Tory GLC scrapped those powers. The Secretary of State must make clear why such powers are necessary. It is no use arguing that councils have no need to take up the powers. The House should not give them the powers unless a case is made for them. The advice from the leader of the West Midlands County Council is that, far from turning people to public transport, it is more likely to drive people out of the city centres. That cannot make sense if the Government's intention is to create new life in the city centres.

Mr. William Rodgers

The powers which the hon. Member regards as being so iniquitous were taken by the iniquitous Labour Government in 1969. Why did not his Government take them away between 1970 and 1974?

Mr. Fowler

The Secretary of State still fails to answer the question. Why were these powers not taken away by the Conservative Government? There were a number of things that we should have scrapped between 1970 and 1974, but that is no justification for introducing new powers which nobody wants. There is another reason—now that the Secretary of State has perked up and is showing an interest. It was not until the Labour-controlled GLC actually used these powers that the motorist found out how bad they were. Even on that evidence, the Government still intend to give the powers to the whole country.

Mr. William Rodgers


Mr. Fowler

I shall not give way again. If the Secretary of State wants to check on this, let him ask the RAC or the AA. They are both united in their opposition to his plan.

Our criticism of the Bill is that it does not do what a Transport Bill should do and put the interest of the transport user first. When it comes to rural areas, it simply seeks to shift the blame from the Government to the councils. In the authorised words of the Secretary of State, it gives Labour groups the opportunity for making political capital. When it comes to freight, the Government show little regard for the customer. When it comes to the railways, the Government show no appreciation of the importance of having separate accounts for passenger and taxpayer. The Bill shows a total lack of interest in the motorist.

This is a weak Bill. It omits proposals to which the Secretary of State has personally committed himself. What is left in the Bill makes little contribution to the real transport problems of the country. I urge the House to accept our amendment.

5.47 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)

I welcome the Bill, although I am bound to say that it does not come a moment too early. The state of bus services in my constituency is little short of a disgrace. Exorbitant increases in fares, reduced services and intermittent running have made life for the old, the sick, the housewife and young family almost unbearable.

This is bad enough, but if nothing is done, and done quickly, a further decline is inevitable. This is because the Kent County Council has been unwilling to pay more than half of what London Country Bus Service has asked to run the services. This makes it almost inevitable that either the Dartford or the Swanley depots will have to close, with a resulting further loss of services.

A complication is the artificial division between London Transport and London Country Bus Service: it leaves London country buses the poor relation of the two. This has been responsible for much of the decline and loss of services in recent years.

My constituents do not suffer from the bus services alone. The 2,500 rail commuters from Dartford have also suffered severely. Uncertainty, erratic running, steep fare increases, together with poor rolling stock which is made worse by vandalism, grime and graffiti, have made travelling something of a nightmare.

The Bill will make efficient transport planning possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he was reluctant in general to take further powers to himself. On other occasions this might be to his credit, but it is essential that district councils have the right of appeal when they are convinced that a county plan is inadequate to meet the needs of their area. If not the situation will be similar to that which now exists whereby districts have no redress when they believe that the allocation of money is wholly unsatisfactory.

My right hon. Friend has introduced in the Bill a three-year financial programme, but it is vital, if the bus services are to be planned, for example, for the purchase of new vehicles, that the financial programme should go beyond three years to enable planning for the longterm to take place. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that.

There is undoubtedly scope for reorganisation and more efficient running, but, in my view, unless central and local government are prepared to spend much more money on passenger transport, the Bill will not work.

It is because I believe that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State means business that I support the Bill. Commuters and other travellers deserve a better deal than they have had in the past and they are looking to him for the only relief and improvement in services that can be achieved, certainly in my locality and, I am sure, in others. I therefore welcome the Bill on behalf of my constituents.

5.51 p.m.

Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough)

I start by declaring an indirect interest in that a company with which I am connected acts as an adviser to a bus operation.

I entirely agree with the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) about the need to recognise the district councils' responsibilities. To those who believe that there can be no effective amelioration of the problems of public transport in rural and semi-rural areas without any further amendment to the licensing system, the introduction of the Bill at first sight could almost be greeted with a muted cheer. The Bill contains many faults, but at least the Government have at long last taken another faltering step away from the deeply entrenched position of their manifestos in 1974 towards the kind of policies that we in the Conservative Party have been advocating for many years.

In respect of car-sharing, at long last, after all the supposed intense investigations and deliberations, and after they had resisted the idea for some time, the Government have finally arrived at the point which the Conservative Administration reached in the 1973 Bill which was presented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton). The Government have thus moved with the breathtaking speed of a snail, and they cannot expect our fulsome congratulations at having taken so long to make so little progress.

Whether the conditions outlined in the Bill to legalise the long-accepted fact that many people share the expenses of using cars for a variety of journeys are either intelligible or workable is another matter which will exercise us in Committee. There is the need to advertise all trips organised by clubs and other voluntary organisations. These have to be submitted to and approved by not just the local authorities but the traffic commissioners. Here could be the excuse for a great extension of bureaucracy.

The proposals to relax the licensing regulations for smaller vehicles and the driving requirement for mini-buses could have been included in Bills that were passed in the last Session. It is all very well for the Government to come forward now and proclaim their policies, but over the last few years they have given the impression that every ounce of progress has had to be dragged from them bit by bit. That is not the best way to try to deal comprehensively with problems of rural transport.

Although I give the Government the credit for at least pointing in the right direction I must accuse them of spoiling the Bill by bringing together such a motley collection of transport issues with the General Election rather than the proper implementation of coherent transport policy more in mind. I find unacceptable the proposals for a £3 million payment to British Rail without the conditions outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). I cannot accept the separation of Freightliners, nor can I agree with the need for the control of some public car parking. Furthermore, the proposals for redirecting lorries can only add difficulties and costs for the haulage industry which will eventually fall on the consumer.

All these merit opposition to the Bill, and, therefore, I suggest that in complaining about the fact that the Opposition intend to divide the House tonight the Government have only themselves to blame because of the way in which they have muddled un the Bill. They should have set out their public transport proposals separately so that these could have been properly judged on their merits. They should not have muddled them up with a series of random thoughts which someone in the Department or in the Cabinet thought needed legislation. It would have been better to have concentrated more time on producing a Bill that made sense, rather than producing what has been presented to us here—a document showing every sign of having been hastily written and badly thought out.

I want to relate most of my remarks, however, to the proposals on county transport planning, and to the consequences that could lead from these and the other changes proposed for public transport generally. Unlike some critics of the Bill, I do not object to the five-year plan because I believe that all bus operators—the National Bus Company and the local authority and private operators—desperately need longer-term security than they have at the moment.

There is an annual argument over the level of subsidy. Dramatic changes can and sometimes do take place with little warning and no assistance to the industry, which has had to cope with a falling number of passengers and rising costs. I believe that the lack of action in the past few years has led to uncertainty and low morale amongst management and work force alike in the bus companies. The bus industry carries far more passengers than does British Rail, and it is obviously the main carrier of passengers in this country.

I am not one of those who believe that the solution to many of our public transport problems is the total dismemberment of the NBC. Nor do I believe in the total abolition of the traffic commissioners and the ending of all road licensing. I do not believe either that the answer lies in subsidy being piled upon subsidy, whether from ratepayer or taxpayer.

There is a clear need to bolster the confidence of the bus industry, to give it a clear-cut role to play. I accept the idea of a forward rolling programme which would enable it to buy vehicles, retain staff and to provide what it often does not provide—a service and reliability of operation for the public.

What has been needed for some time is a new framework within which the vast number of vehicles available, more than enough to meet any foreseeable demand, can be properly utilised. This is the test that we should apply to the Bill. We must decide whether that new framework will be created by it.

I note that there has been an application of the duties put upon county councils. These duties were originally given by the Local Government Act 1972, and I accept that. However, I must here enter one small reservation. I am not sure that county councils are yet ready to cater for the transport needs of their areas and to take decisions which are always better than those of the professional managers of bus companies which have been in the business for many years. I hope that they will look seriously at their own county surveyors' departments to get the right degree of expertise and experience to carry out this task.

If the counties are to be given the responsibilities outlined in the Bill it clearly means that they have to have further powers. I question the definition of their task. Here we come to one of the real and important weaknesses of the Bill.

Clause 1 instructs the counties to develop a co-ordinated and efficient system that will meet their needs. What are the counties' needs'? No doubt we shall be told by Government Ministers that this is up to the individual county to decide. We have already had an example of the attitude of the Secretary of State. One could use the words "bullying" and "blackmail", and it is quite certain that the Secretary of State has his own set ideas about the needs of the counties' transport requirements, and how these should be put into effect. He told them that if they did not spend enough on subsidies he would cut their transport supplementary grants for road building and improvement. If he has any intention of carrying out that policy, at least he should have the honesty to put his definition into the Bill. Otherwise the counties will face an exceedingly difficult problem in trying to carry out the Secretary of State's ideas.

There has been no real attempt for many years now to define need in terms of transport. In 1930 the Road Traffic Act talked about the public interest being preserved, and the requirement was to provide what was considered necessary or desirable. Surely today we cannot accept that kind of definition. What is desirable for one user or ratepayer is clearly unacceptable to another. We must ask the fundamental question of how the counties' needs are to be assessed. I believe that we should have certain clauses in the Bill spelling out these requirements much more clearly.

One way to define them is to say that the counties have a responsibility to provide maintenance for key roads between centres of population, and to provide local services in congested urban areas. On the other hand there are the needs of hamlets and small villages. These needs are no less real than those of people in the towns, but they cannot be included in any definition of county need. This is a crucial question of definition, and it is the weakness behind the Bill's proposals. It would be better for the Bill to say that the counties should agree on a skeleton of essential services in conjunction with the bus operators, and then they should consult the district councils and even the parish councils to discover the special local needs of people in their areas.

For far too long people in the more remote areas have had to accept what they have been given. What they have been given has depended on the staff to man the vehicles, and the vehicles available, not on the users' interests. It is now time that the interests of users were made the primary ones.

Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire West)

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) touched on a very important point when he referred to main routes in rural areas. These can be profitable. The real problem is the connection of hamlets and small villages with county towns, and the most vital ingredient in this is its financing. Can the hon. Member say what he would do about financing these services?

Mr. Fry

If the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) will curb his impatience a little, I shall come to that.

I believe that truly local government—that of the parish or the district—can make the best decisions and the best assessments of needs. Often their assessments will be much better than those of the man in Whitehall or someone in the NBC office in the county town or the county surveyor's department at county hall.

There is an obligation on those asking for services that are difficult to run to contribute towards their viability. I do not believe that people in these areas should expect the ratepayer or the taxpayer to subsidise their services. I believe that people should pay more directly for the services that they want. I would be willing to support a very local rate burden to be raised to subsidise those public transport undertakings, on a local scale, that would be considered necessary, even though they did not fit in with the county's basic need. This would give people a much greater appreciation of the cost of public transport than many have today.

In other words, the county could coordinate, but there is a case for dispersal of decision making and even financing of local requirements. Otherwise the true interests of the user still could be neglected.

Failure to do this and to rely on what the Bill calls "consultation" can only lead to considerable friction between the various kinds of councils. The Bill compounds the error in that direction by talking of the counties encouraging "the amalgamation of undertakings". This is little more than an opportunity for and an invitation to back-door nationalisation or municipalisation. One can imagine the bitter reaction of Leicester or Nottingham City Councils to proposals from their counties that their undertakings should be amalgamated with the NBC operations. This must be opposed, because I can think of nothing more likely to lead to friction.

The even greater error of omission, however, is the failure adequately to define the new responsibilities and duties of the local authorities in relation to the traffic commissioners. Anyone who has studied this subject knows that the rôle and power of the traffic commissioners must be altered. If the Bill passes and comes into force it will itself, de facto, whether we like it or not, produce a situation in which the role and power of the traffic commissioners will be drastically altered.

They will no longer be the sole arbiters of many important matters, as they are now. This is a very great weakness in the Bill, and the Government have ducked the issue of defining the new position.

Indeed, the Bill has created a vast area of potential argument and uncertainty by referring, in Schedule 1, to a whole list of things which the local authorities and the traffic commissioners may or may not do. If the Bill is intended to work it is essential that it should define clearly the powers and the rôle of the traffic commissioners. How much power will be transferred to the local authorities? Who will have the last say? Who will be the final arbiter in any disagreements between the two bodies? The rather vague dual rôle in the Bill is hardly likely to satisfy anyone.

I have already made it clear that I do not think that the traffic commissioners should be abolished entirely. Neither do the vast majority of bus operators—the NBC, the local authority undertakings and the private operators—think that. The traffic commissioners' role should be changed, but they should not be abolished. There is, on the part of the operators, a certain amount of understandable suspicion of what could be the arbitrary action of some county councils, of either political philosophy. Therefore, we must provide for the traffic commissioners a position that will give confidence to the operators and ensure that the scheme will work.

Surely the traffic commissioners should maintain their existing role on safety and inspection. I would go even further and say that I believe they should act as a resort of appeal between operators and local authorities without the need for recommendation to the Secretary of State on every occasion. They should also be responsible for hearing appeals and arguments over the transport supplementary grant involving the Government in local or county matters. They should have the opportunity to listen to complaints of users, because there is a widespread feeling that the user gets a rotten deal. They should also hear appeals not only from the operators but the public as well over fare increases. It would be a matter for the traffic commissioners to take decisions upon and give their advice.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I have had a good deal to do with the work of the traffic commissioners, and I agree with my hon. Friend that their powers should be amended and not abolished. But does my hon. Friend favour their continuing to exercise discretion in respect of bus operators' finances—Chat is, to crawl over their books before agreeing a licence? I believe that in those respects there has been excessive use of their powers and that that part of their work should be removed.

Mr. Fry

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The most important aspect is that the onus in respect of services is being put on county councils. I should like to see a wide and useful rôle for the traffic commissioners, but—and it is a big "but"—if councils are increasingly to plan and pay I do not think that it is conceivable that they should do so without some discussion of fare structure, a matter which hitherto has solely fallen within the realm of the traffic commissioners. Therefore, it is best that we should leave the responsibility to local authorities and operators acting in concert. In this way, the traffic commissioners can hold the ring and listen to interested parties and give their opinions. In the long run, one trusts that there will be a statutory compromise rather than arbitrary action.

The main difference between the scheme that I have outlined and what is now happening is that counties would become responsible for route services and appraisal of fares, because they are supposed to supply subsidies for services which are not viable. Local authorities must have powers to initiate a much greater range of services, otherwise the Bill is doomed to failure.

This is the great weakness of the Bill, namely, its failure properly to determine the responsibility of the important bodies involved. In my view, it fails to recognise that something must be done to show where the responsibility will finally lie. If it does not, I suggest that it will begin a series of difficult relationships, and failure to deal with this aspect will mean that the Bill will not be successful.

I hope that in Committee we shall encourage the Government to come forward with better ideas. Perhaps by that time—after a period of four years, in view of their period in office—they will have done some homework, and perhaps we can award them high marks. Without that kind of deep thought or definition this Bill will fail to make the contribution it could have made to the solution of public transport problems. Because the Bill in its present form will not make that contribution, I shall vote against it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must tell the House that 20 hon. Members are anxious to take part in the debate. It will be helpful to the Chair and to hon. Members themselves if they observe brevity in their remarks.

6.14 p.m.

Mr. Alan Fitch (Wigan)

I give a cautious welcome to this Bill—not because I am in disagreement with any particular provision, but because I would like to have seen a more comprehensive Bill. In its present form the Bill is too bitty—a little bit of this and a larger bit of that.

I welcome the direction in the Bill to non-metropolitan county councils to prepare and publish a public passenger transport plan for the succeeding period of five years. I hope that the local authorities will not suffer in future from the somewhat erratic treatment they have received from central Government since local government reorganisation.

/> I am thinking mainly of road schemes submitted by local authorities which have been knocked awry by the Government. I admit that a great deal of instability has been caused by inflation. The TPP and TSG systems were devised, as were many other systems, for a period of price stability—a period which has not existed for some years. Local authorities are likely to be encouraged to submit schemes for a five-year period if there is some hope that they will be accepted. They want to be able to plan ahead with confidence. The level of local transport expenditure accepted by the Government for 1978–79 is the closest to the level asked for by the counties since the system began, but the counties have reduced the amount for which they asked by over half, from £1,793 million in 1975–76 to £880 million in November 1976 prices. It is to be hoped that councils will make full use of the extra aid of £26.5 million announced last October for local road construction.

I fully support the Government in their encouragement of car-sharing. Four out of every five journeys are made by private transport.

Despite the rise in petrol prices and other motoring costs, the use of the motor car has continued to rise in the last decade. Even in households which do not own a car, nearly one in every five journeys is made in other people's cars. All the increase in car use is accounted for by non-car-owning households from 162 per cent. in 1972–73 to 17.5 per cent. in 1975–76 as the latest three-year survey shows. It would appear that, as more households gain possession of a car, those who remain in the declining minority without a car are able to make more use of other people's cars. Use of cars by car-owning households appears to have remained virtually static in the last few years.

The legalising of the existing practice of drivers charging passengers for car-sharing is welcome, even if a little delayed. I hope that the Government are giving thought to more actively encouraging this practice. The exemption of non-profit community buses from the ordinary PSV licensing is sensible.

I wish to deal with the situation in the North-West—and I do so bearing in mind the request from the Chair for brevity. I hope that I shall not be thought parochial if I say something about the North-West in relation to this Bill. After all, we are living in an era of devolution, as the Minister himself has recognised in his Bill by providing that every non-metropolitan county council should submit forward-looking plans.

The Minister is fully aware of the reports published by the transport working party of the north-west regional council of the Labour Party. His attention has been drawn to the difficulties that could arise where power is vested in single county authorities to decide the future of rail lines which cross a number of county boundaries. For example, the Liverpool to Manchester line passes through three county council areas.

A situation could arise where two county councils are prepared to put a subsidy into the line whilst the third is not prepared to do so, and it could be that the central section of the line passes through territory controlled by the county council which refuses to subsidise. I know that the Minister is not a power-seeking man but a modest man. However, in this case, I wish that he would take some power. I wish to ask whether he has the power to intervene in such a case. If he has not that power, I believe that he should acquire it.

I wish to refer to the clause in the Bill dealing with railways, and I must declare a particular, although not a financial, interest, since I am chairman of the all-party road study group, which advocates an efficient and comprehensive road system. I believe that the rail versus road argument is irrelevant and outdated.

I was surprised to see the advance Press reports on the Leitch Committee Report on trunk road assessment. A distorted view was given of what the committee actually said. The impression was given that the report marked the end of the road programme. That was not true. The situation was summed up in an article that appeared in The Guardian on 12th January. It was written by Victor Keegan. The article stated: The Leitch Report on trunk roads, just published, has achieved the rare distinction of pleasing both the road and rail lobbies. It continues: Some rail enthusiasts were yesterday hailing the report as opening up a new era for the railways while the British Road Federation described it as balanced and sensible'. That is precisely what it is. That is an accurate summing up.

Mr. Adley

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that what the Leitch Report really meant was that those who had been hoping for widespread condemnation of the Department were bitterly disappointed but did not dare say so, and that those on the trunk road programme or a vindi-suprised but did not want to look too smilingly upon the report?

Mr. Fitch

I must think about the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I think that there is probably something in what he says.

The Leitch Report is a masterly review of the whole subject of road building procedures. It is not a comprehensive attack on the trunk road programme or a vindication of the protesters at public inquiries. I hope that it will be read by all those who are involved in the wide debate on road construction.

The Leitch Report recommends using common forms of assessment for alternative road and rail schemes, but it points out clearly that there are few occasions when they would strictly be alternatives.

Most railway systems in the world are in receipt of some form of subsidy, and British Rail is no exception. I was a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries from 1959 to 1964. I agree that that was rather a long time ago. However, during that period the Select Committee reviewed British Rail. A report was published in 1959. One of the recommendations was that rail lines should be kept open in the public interest and should be subsidised. That was the unanimous decision of an all-party Select Committee. There is no doubt that British Rail provides a good service, especially the Intercity section.

We are being asked to authorise the spending of a maximum of £3,000 million, a sum representing 3 per cent. of our annual national product. I support that policy, but I ask my right hon. Friend over what period the subsidy is supposed to extend. Will it be six months or six years?

It is obvious and must be accepted that economic growth will accelerate the growth in the number of cars and of lorries. That must be so whatever might be our particular view. The 1980s are expected to be a decade of growth. That growth, and oil revenues, will provide the wherewithal for investment. The Secretary of State has quite rightly taken a decision in the Bill to continue to subsidise our rail service. My right hon. Friend should take the same bold decision to invest in road construction to ensure that the great bulk of our traffic can move efficiently and safely.

6.24 p.m.

Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)

I have read the Opposition amendment, and the words that catch one's eye are fails fully to meet the needs". Probably every Bill passed by the House of Commons since the turn of the century could be condemned on exactly that ground. I cannot think of one piece of legislation that the House has passed that has fully met every need, especially in this area of legislation. We are lobbied by totally irreconcilable interests, and it is not on to expect a Minister to produce a Bill that fully meets the needs of all those who represent the various interests.

The words particularly in the rural areas are of particular interest. It is my view that the Bill represents the first real attempt to do something more for transport in the rural areas. It is the first genuine attempt that we have had for a long time. I shall try to explain precisely what I mean, but it is necessary first to explain the real problems of transport in rural areas. It must be said that they have not been mentioned so far in the debate.

Those who experience real problems in rural areas are the elderly, the disabled and the young. The bulk of the people in rural areas have partially solved the problem by purchasing their own motor vehicles. At various times I have seen the car ownership figures for Cornwall, Devon and other rural areas, and they are staggeringly high, especially when average earnings in those areas are taken into account. They provide a clear indication that those who live in such areas who have the ability and the money at their disposal have decided that their problems can be solved only by car ownership. That leaves the elderly, the disabled and the young, and especially those who can be described as the rural poor.

Despite the image of the House and the image presented by the spokesman for the Opposition, not everyone who lives in the rural areas has gone to them to retire with a bank account to their advantage. There are people in my part of the country and in various other parts—

Mr. Norman Fowler

The hon. Gentleman has sought to define the rural problem. Has he not heard of housewives who are deprived of their cars? Surely that is a group to which he should address his mind.

Mr. Penhaligon

I do not argue with that. However, many housewives—at least on an occasional basis—have the use of their husbands' cars. The elderly, the disabled and the young very often have no access to a car. Some of the elderly residents in villages in my constituency have told me that local transport is worse than it has been at any time during their lifetime. A secondary inquiry reveals that some of these people are 90 years of age. They have been looking for transport in their area almost before the car was invented. Even in their early days there was a pony and trap to take them to the local town. It is these people to whom I refer. They have no hope of having the use of their husbands' cars. They are stuck in their localities with no real access to transport.

The people to whom I refer are not wealthy. On the basis of per capita income they are probably among the poorest people in the country. Therefore, we must make some effort to direct solutions towards their problems. The historic solution has been to say that we have national bus companies and that the routes that are supposed to be profitable will subsidise those that are no longer profitable. That is supposed to maintain the fabric of public transport in the rural areas, but it is no longer so. It was the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Watkinson) who said that it is well known that profitable routes can subsidise other routes.

Mr. Watkinson

I did not say that.

Mr. Penhaligon

I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction, but that argument will probably be advanced by other hon. Members.

In my county there are over 120 accepted bus routes of which four make a profit. According to the Western National's computation of profit and loss, three of the four profitable routes showed yearly profits of about £100. In crude terms, there are no profitable bus routes in Cornwall. I suspect that there are some profitable routes in the Gloucester area, but no longer anything like sufficient to maintain an adequate rural bus service.

The Government have begun to take some of the action that is required. They are to make a substantial transfer of responsibility to the county councils. It has been argued that the people would like that responsibility to be presented to a lower tier of government, and I do not oppose any movement in this direction. At least we have started. We have moved out of the terrible morass in which we have seen the Department of Transport and the Department of the Environment grow and grow and some of the decisions, ideas and inspirations will be taken, introduced and realised within the county councils. Surely that is the area from which solutions might come.

Essentially they are committed to producing a five-year plan, to be reviewed annually. They will be given the job of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. This is a local issue which can be decided and overcome by local debate. I hope that in the affected areas there will be a running turmoil of discussion, in the letters column of the local newspapers, in the various political parties and in other interested groups, putting forward ideas and solutions.

There have been suggestions that this legislation might lead to too much ministerial interference. I admit that that is a possibility. There is a chance, if the next General Election goes the way that the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) would like, that he will be able to demonstrate how he would run the system without any ministerial interference. It might be interesting to see how he fared.

I oppose one argument that has been put forward in favour of more ministerial interference. Here I refer to the suggestion that the Minister should act as an appeals body. It is my belief that one of the main causes of expensive bureaucracy is the continual ability of district and county councils to transfer disputes to the Minister for final decision.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

I can understand the hon. Member's view, because he; comes from Cornwall. I can understand that he does not see the difficulties which occur in a shire county where there is a large city which has been running its own transport services and which has a different attitude toward public transport from that adopted by the areas outside its boundaries. We have been careful not to specify any type of appeal procedure, but we do need something to prevent conflict between these differing attitudes in some of the counties with which the hon. Gentleman is not familiar.

Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that I am not terribly familiar with the sort of problems he is referring to. Perhaps the argument put forward, that this function ought to be given to a lower tier of government, is the answer. I suspect that, if this appeals procedure existed, the Minister would be used by the different authorities of various political complexions as part of the argument. Decisions would be bounced on to him. If it was clearly understood that there was no appeal procedures and that the local people had to sit down and discuss the issues, that is what would happen.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Gentleman has said that he is not very familiar with the situation outlined by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). Yet that is a situation which is a major problem over a large part of the country. Is he or is he not his party's spokesman on transport?

Mr. Penhaligon

I do not know why I give way to the hon. Gentleman. It is a habit based on Cornish modesty which requires me to sit down and listen when an hon. Member wishes to intervene. I must learn the technique of saying "No" —or some other technique. I am the Liberal Party spokesman on transport, and one or two other things besides, for that matter. I openly admit that as a rural-born Cornishman I am not over-familiar with the problems referred to by the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins). What has come across during the debate so far is that the urban-born and urban-oriented in this House do not have much idea of the problem in rural areas, either. We all have more experience of the areas in which we were born, with which we are intimately familiar.

There has been reference to the rôle of the traffic commissioners. Without any doubt this brings us to the nub of the question, to a problem which is fundamentally difficult to unravel. Some interesting ideas were put forward, such as giving some of the responsibility to the shire counties. These ideas will be worth examination in Committee. Despite the Minister's description, I was not clear about what changes would be made. We are told that the system will be brought into line with modern divisions, but I am not sure what the Minister understands the modern situation to be. Perhaps we can hear a little more of that later.

The Bill says that selling the empty seats in a motor car will be legal. Will it be legal to advertise the seats?

Mr. Adley

Read the Bill.

Mr. Penhaligon

Does the Bill say so? Perhaps someone can tell me. Obviously no one else has read the Bill either.

As a result of the mobility allowances for the disabled and a substantial reapportioning of money to support the rural bus service, the Government have done more in the past 12 months to help the rural poor with their transport difficulties than any other policy which we have had for a long time. I suspect that the reason why the words particularly in the rural areas appear in the amendment is that the Conservative Party recognises that fact. The fight that takes place in the rural areas is more often than not a Liberal-Conservative one. The Conservatives are desperately worried about the problem of the rural areas and the fact that the Government, under our influence can be clearly seen to be making some impact upon the problem.

When I had discussions with the Minister it was not difficult to persuade him not to include any plans for nationalisation in the Bill. I got the impression that if ever his party should have a majority in the House it would have some difficulty in convincing him to produce such nationalisation plans. However, these plans are not in the Bill and I am pleased about that. It did not take much effort on my part to keep them out, although when I am in Cornwall I will try to take the credit for it.

There is a terrible weakness in the Bill. The major failure of the Minister has been his neglect to do anything to deal with the problem of seat belt legislation or to tighten up the drink and driving laws. I am not sure whether this is not due to a failure on the part of the House since the issues involved here clearly have majority support in the House. There is no point in any party claiming special virtue on this subject because I do not know of any party which is united on this issue. All parties have their oppositions within them and my party is no different. It is an appalling scandal and a sad reflection on this House that we cannot enact legislation which the overwhelming majority of hon. Members would like to see on the statute book.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

What about a guillotine?

Mr. Penhaligon

The hon. Member for Preston, North suggests a guillotine, but it would be difficult to introduce on what is, in effect, Private Member's legislation. It is a terrible failure on the part of this House. By its incompetence it is regularly killing several hundred people a year. No less than 40 per cent. of motorists killed in motor accidents last year were found to be over the legal limit at the time of their death. Yet this House is not capable of enacting legislation to deal with the problem.

I am not convinced that the National Freight Corporation ought to be incorporated in British Rail. This issue has served one extremely useful purpose in that it enabled the National Union of Railwaymen and the Transport and General Workers Union to meet and discuss the problems raised. I can only believe that the Minister agreed with the parties in the final analysis—I expressed neutrality during most of the discussions —as a result of pressure on the part of the railway unions.

Those of us who are at all involved in politics can understand the pressures, but I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had managed to get rather more from the NUR on this occasion than he appears to have done. There have been no con- crete steps forward with regard to productivity and, although productivity is not the sole answer, I believe that a real concession ought to have been wrung out.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

With regard to pressures, is the hon. Gentleman able to give one provision that has been put into the Bill or not been put in due to the representations and actions of the Liberal Party?

Mr. Penhaligon

I have mentioned several provisions that were not put in, although that was easy. I cannot believe that we would spend a Thursday afternoon discussing a Bill which mainly revolves around rural transport, subsidies for rural buses and changes in rural transport legislation if it had not been for the endeavours and the pressures of the party of which I am spokesman. I recognise that Conservative Members will deny that, but I have no doubt about that whatsoever. I rather suspect that agreement to it can be obtained from the Labour Benches.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

I am sure that the Minister will confirm that many of the clauses dealing with rural buses are almost precisely the same—but brought up to date—as those incorporated in the Conservative Bill of 1973 for which I had some responsibility. That was before the hon. Gentleman was ever heard of.

Mr. Penhaligon

I understand that Mr. Gladstone had a Bill to that effect in 1872, but that did not reach the statute book. The simple fact is that this Bill will reach the statute book. Bills that are introduced but which never get anywhere have rarely solved any problems. This Bill will be implemented and will, I believe, help solve some problems. I do not believe that it will solve all the problems of rural transport, but it makes a solid contribution. I welcome and support it—[HON. MEMBERS: "The hon. Gentleman has not read it."] I have read the vast bulk of it.

I shall not lead my colleagues into supporting the rather ludicrous amendment which in future could well be applied to virtually every piece of legislation which any Government introduced.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Walter Johnson (Derby, South)

I hope that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) will understand if I do not follow him in his discourse. As well as making some very serious points it was a rather amusing speech.

I welcome the Bill because it is the first real attempt that we have had for a long time to put right some of the serious problems facing the transport industry. In particular, the financial provisions give new hope and heart to both British Rail and the National Freight Corporation.

My main criticism is that the Bill does nothing to further Labour Party policy of integration between road and rail. That has been Labour Party policy for a very long time and was overwhelmingly endorsed a t the recent conference held by the Labour Party. That is where I believe the Bill fails. Judging by the correspondence that I have received this week, rather than helping integration between road and rail the effect will be to widen the gulf. I must ask my right hon. Friend to look at this problem again.

I fully understand the difficulties. I know of the problems about the unions and the NFC. I understand the rivalry that exists in certain sections of the industry. However, with all that, it surely makes sense to have within the public sector all sections of the transport industry working together, in the interests of the nation, rather than against one another.

One of the features is that at present we have British Rail, the NFC and even the Post Office vying for the same type of parcel traffic. That is absolutely nonsensical. I hope that even at this late stage, perhaps in a new clause or other amendment to the Bill, the Minister can find some way to take account of the decisions which have been taken at successive Labour Party conferences.

I welcome the Minister's courageous decision to return Freightliners to the complete control of British Rail. These services are complementary to the British Railways Board's air-braked freight services. I am pleased that the capital investment has been authorised by the Minister to enable the air-braked freight network to be developed and commercially exploited to the full. It is my belief that the integration of Freightliner services with the air-braked freight services will be of considerable advantage to the British Railways Board, the customer and the country at large.

It is with some regret that the Minister could not go all the way and return National Carriers Limited to British Rail at the same time. I understand the difficulties. I realise that this would have been controversial and would certainly have been opposed vigorously by the NFC.

I am also sorry that there is no mention in the Bill of the establishment of a national transport planning authority. I consider that such a body is necessary if we are to move to a fully integrated and co-ordinated transport service. In my view that is vitally necessary. I am aware that the Minister has suggested a little "Neddy", but that is not the answer, and I again ask my right hon. Friend to look at this in the future to see whether we can set up such a national body.

The provision in the Bill to require county councils to enter into agreements with public passenger transport undertakings to provide financial support for services that are required by the county transport plan is long overdue. Long-term agreements covering a number of years are necessary if the proper utilisation of expensive capital resources are to be made.

The funds provided by the 1974 Act for passenger support grant have virtually been extinguished. I welcome the fact that the Minister has accepted the need to continue with this method of support and is taking steps through the Bill to obtain authority for the money to enable this to continue for a number of years to come. Stability in financing brought about by this method will enable the British Railways Board to plan much more for the future.

When grants were introduced I felt that the terms and conditions applied to them were restrictive. I accept that the Minister has taken steps to ensure that grants can be made towards the provision of privately owned rolling stock under this section. The new traffic to the railways arising from the early Section 8 grants is only just being felt, and if there is any complaint about Section 8 grants it is the length of time it has taken to examine and approve them.

The alteration to the planning laws by general development legislation has not assisted in this connection because private companies wishing to erect installations for reception of traffic on railway property have had to obtain special planning permission. With regard to financial provisions in this connection, I would ask my right hon. Friend to give assistance particularly to the British Railways Board in future planning.

It is all very well to tell the Board this year or next year that it has so much money available for investment. If it is to make full and proper use of its investment it has to know well into the future, so that it can put down long-term contracts for modernisation and electrification in order that these things can be planned properly. If we are to take advantage of the planning that is necessary in this direction the Government must say "There will be this level of investment in Britain Rail for the next four or five years." That will be of great advantage to British Rail and the country as a whole.

The steps being taken by the Minister to carry out a financial reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation by reducing its capital liabilities are particularly welcome. They will considerably reduce the interest charges that the Corporation has to meet at present.

I believe that my right hon. Friend is convinced that there is a long-term future for National Carriers Limited. I welcome the power that is being sought to make grants not exceeding £15 million to the NFC for capital expenditure by NCL. That, together with the provisions being made to fund certain historic pension obligations and to reimburse the Corporation for payments made to the British Railways Board and the London Transport Executive for travel concessions enjoyed by former railways staff, will do much to help the National Freight Corporation to ensure the long-term financial viability of National Carriers Limited.

I understand that the NFC will have anticipated gross receipts for 1977 of nearly £400 million with a trading profit of approximately £14 million. Such a trading profit will be an improvement of more than £1 million on budget. That has taken place during a very difficult period. The anticipated net loss will be about £9 million compared with £15 million in 1976. The significance of the interest payable is seen in the fact that the anticipated interest payable for 1977 will be just over £16 million.

Clearly, with that kind of burden, it will always be difficult for the NFC to break even and to go ahead and make a profit.

All these matters affect quality of service and conditions of employment. I hope that the Minister will pay heed to what was said earlier—that we should try to wipe out this situation so that no interest has to be paid. The Bill will enable the NFC to make a fresh start. I hope that the NFC, with this reduction in interest liability—perhaps wiping it out altogether in future—will take advantage of it and go from strength to strength.

I am opposed to the transfer of power to local authorities over rail transport. The Bill goes some way to allay my fears in that direction, but it does not go far enough. I hope that this part of the Bill will be strengthened in Committee. I believe that it is absolutely vital to strengthen it.

I turn now to fares, about which I made an intervention earlier. The great problem with commuter traffic is that, for about two or three hours both morning and evening, a tremendous amount of rolling stock and staff are required. If people were prepared to work for three hours in the morning and three hours at night with a break during the day, much of the problem could be obviated. As it is, it is almost impossible to have a proper fares structure for commuters. This is a serious problem. For example, young people who move 20 or 30 miles from the inner London area suddenly find their budgeting has gone awry. We must try to help the commuter. No one appreciates fares going up. Similarly with rates. No one likes paying rates, and no one likes paying fares to and from work.

As I indicated earlier, British Rail has a responsibility to try to make the industry pay and at the same time to provide reasonable conditions for its employees, whether in pay or in general conditions of service.

We must make up our minds one way or the other about a subsidy. I do not know what attitude, generally, people take towards a subsidy. Personally, I favour the idea. It is either a subsidy, or the public, if they are not prepared to pay in that way, must pay for the service that is provided.

It is all very well for people to talk about more modernisation and greater efficiency on the railways. I attend many meetings of the British Railways Board Consultative Body at which the unions and management get together to exchange views on how to improve the efficiency of the industry. Both sides, unions and management, sit down to consider how best they can improve efficiency in the industry. That goes on all the time. I ask hon. Members not to be nitpicking about such issues, but to give encouragement to those who work in the industry.

Whether we have a successful transport industry will depend on those who work in it. There are hundreds of thousands of loyal people in the industry who want to do a good job for the nation. The Bill will help them to provide that service. I commend the Bill to the House. I am sure that it will receive a Second Reading.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch and Lymington)

The hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) made a number of points, and I should like to touch briefly on one of them—the working hours of people on the railways. The hon. Gentleman said that it was extremely difficult to get people to work three hours on and three hours off. I believe that he is in a better position than anybody in the House to tell us what, if any, discussions there have been with the unions about that matter.

The Transport Policy White Paper—the spiritual father of the Bill—on page 47 refers to those who work in the industry, and comments: provided that they play their part in securing the increases in efficiency which alone can make those improvements possible. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should turn their minds to what they can do about that situation.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

There seems to be a misunderstanding. I understood my hon. Friend to be talking not about those in the industry who work those hours but about those who use the services working three-hour shifts. That would make the industry more serviceable and profitable.

Mr. Adley

I understood the hon. Member for Derby, South to say that it we could—

Mr. Walter Johnson

I think that I should try to make the position clear. I indicated that the provision of services for approximately two and a half hours both morning and evening, to accommodate commuters who come into and go out of London, requires a large amount of rolling stock and staff to operate them. However, we cannot get people to work only in the morning and in the evening and to go home during the middle of the day. They will not accept that kind of job. People have to be employed on shift work—six to two, two to nine, four to 12 or whatever it might be.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Gentleman made the matter quite clear in his speech. I tried, out of courtesy, to take up what he said in order to lead into my own speech and my reference to the White Paper. Sadly, the White Paper seemed to have got lost by the time the Bill was drafted.

I must tell the Secretary of State that this is a boring little Bill. On the front cover there should be the picture of a little dog listening to a gramophone record with the large initials "HMV"—His Master's Voice. The right hon. Gentleman knows what I am talking about. If not, I shall tell him shortly anyway.

We have had four years of this Labour Government, during which time we have been promised a major Transport Bill. We had almost four years of the previous Conservative Government, during which time the present Secretary of State for Defence, in his then capacity as Shadow transport spokesman, did nothing but scream at the Government morning, noon and night about the necessity to introduce a major piece of transport legislation.

Sometimes one must undertake disagreeable tasks. Sometimes one must say nice things about nasty people, and sometimes nasty things about nice people. The latter is the case here. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that he has by no means done himself justice in this miserable little Bill. The pious hopes of his right hon. and hon. Friends about improving the bus and rail services are very unlikely to be fulfilled.

The right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) told us in a short speech about the problems caused for his constituents by the bus services provided in his constituency. He did not mention that there is little or no opportunity in his constituency, or in virtually any other, for the provision of the one missing ingredient that the Bill could have provided but has not—realistic and viable competition in bus transport. Wherever we look in the Bill in a vain search for evidence of the Government's intent to provide competitive bus services, or conditions under which operators can provide such services, we find that it deliberately sets out to hamper and stifle competition.

In line 38 on page 5, there is a reference to those vehicles and those only, adapted to carry at least 8 and at most 16 passengers. In line 19 on page 6 we see that the driver must be a volunteer". Line 23 on page 7 speaks of no more than 7 passengers". This is a sham Bill, pretending to provide alternative transport services when, because of the activities of Mr. Jack Jones and the Transport and General Workers' Union, the damper has been put fair and square upon any real attempt to provide adequate alternative and competitive bus services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) mentioned some of the items that have been left out of the Bill. The Secretary of State spoke of the Bill's being in two parts. It is really in three parts, with the third written in invisible ink. Where is the discussion and legislation about tachometers, an item that many people feel is essential, although controversial, and without which we may be unable to maintain our position as a provider of competitive road transport services? Equally, competitive commercial bus services cannot be provided if they have to be run by "volunteers".

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Does not the hon. Gentleman have some knowledge of the history of bus transportation in this country? There was a time, long before any nationalisation, when there were many small bus operators. Because they were uneconomic, they were merged into larger groups. Productivity in public transport comes from large capacity use and not from competition, because if you have large capacity use the cost per unit is less. What you want is more investment and a greater concentration on public transport units.

Mr. Adley

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the hon. Gentleman was referring not to you or to me but was saying what he wants. It is not what I want.

My knowledge of transport history is that the traffic commissioners regulations were introduced partly because of the cut-throat competition in the 1930s which was totally unregulated. They were introduced for safety reasons in an era far distant in the memory of most hon. Members. We are having to reform the law now because we live in a totally different world. There is a rôle for competition, but the Bill seeks to stifle it.

Another omission—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) will touch on this if he catches the eye of the Chair—is anything to deal with the appalling situation at Didcot, where we have seen the battle of Didcot. Jack Jones and his hatchet men are deliberately preventing, at Didcot, something that many Labour Members are always talking about—the mythical transfer of traffic from road to rail. At Didcot there is a minor opportunity which could be encouraged, but the Government are backing off. They are too frightened even to stand up for the efforts that British Rail is making to introduce a new service.

Other items that are totally missing must be mentioned, because they were all in the White Paper which is the forebear of the Bill. What about ports nationalisation? The people who live in and around our great ports want to know where they stand either with this Government or —God forbid! —a future Labour Government. They wonder whether there will be nationalisation of many of the ports now run by municipal undertakings.

I want to put on record one sentence of the Under-Secretary, forced reluctantly from him when we had a brief debate in Committee on the National Ports Council Provision of Funds Scheme (Confirmation) Order. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield extracted from him the following statement: We remain committed to that"— the nationalisation of ports— as an intention. That being so, we must eventually bring forward legislation to achieve it."—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., 14th December 1977; c. 24.] Why is not that legislation in the Bill? What has happened to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), who was always so keen? Has he been silenced? Has he lost the battle? Are we to be told that he is no longer interested in nationalisation of the ports? Of course not. The hon. Gentleman has been told "Never mind, Ian. Go away and keep quiet. If we can kid the country and somehow fiddle our way back to power at the next election, we shall be all right, and then, chum, you will get everything you want."

What else is missing from the Bill? The Government now talk about the need for competition, and we hear how they are converted to this view. The Prime Minister tells us that he is converted to the importance of competition, but in transport the Government's true attitude to competition is shown clearly by the White Paper and the Committee debate to which I have referred.

The Bill tries—but very limply—to satisfy the consumer, but unfortunately it does not allow the consumer to be the arbiter of what is in his own best interests. The Government think that they, the Department of Transport or the county councils know best, but I am sure that in their hearts Labour Members, like us, do not believe that Government Departments or the county councils are really the best arbiters of what is in the public interest. I am sure that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), who, as usual, made his speech and ran away, does not believe it.

The Government's attitude to competition and the National Bus Company is shown by the references to the National Bus Company in the White Paper. On page 31, in reference to the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group in paragraph 145, the White Paper says: and the decision that they should remain as national organisations will secure their role for the future. It may well secure their rôle for the future, but, by golly, it will not do much for the poor old consumer. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) on the Opposition Front Bench, and I look forward to hearing his winding-up speech.

I next take up the reference in paragraph 158 to the Scottish Islands. Where better than in the island of Islay can one examine what has happened when private enterprise has sought to compete with a nationalised undertaking? The saga of Caledonian-MacBrayne v. Western Ferries should be told week in and week out to anyone who is interested in whether it is possible for private enterprise to provide a competitive transport service.

Using its own investment funds, Western Ferries provided the first roll-on roll-off ferry for the island of Islay. This caused the business of the nationalised undertaking, Caledonian-MacBrayne, to suffer. The nationalised undertaking fled to the incoming Labour Government and said "This terrible private enterprise company has started a new service in competition with us. Let us have a huge subsidy." Caledonian-MacBrayne received that subsidy and used it to undercut Western Ferries. The sufferers were the islanders. That is an example of how the Labour Government behave when faced with a successful private enterprise company giving competition to a nationalised organisation.

The point about the district councils and the county councils is important, because there are many counties—Hampshire is one—where what goes on in transport at one end of the county bears little or no relation to what goes on at the other end.

The north-east corner of Hampshire is virtually London commuter land, but for people in my constituency London is more than 100 miles away and a visit to London is a luxury, which many in such places as Milford-on-Sea or New Milton cannot afford. To rely solely on the county councils for the provision of these transport plans, without the district councils being given any opportunity to present their views and some guarantee that they will be heard, is thoroughly unsatisfactory.

Another matter of importance to many of my constituents—again, it appeared in the White Paper but is glaringly absent from the Bill—is the question of concessionary fares for old folk. As matters stand at present, the provider of the transport service is in a position to give concessionary fares funded by the ratepayers. In large urban areas where the transport services are operated by the local authority itself, this is a simple matter. It requires merely a bookkeeping arrangement between the departments of the local authority so that the transport department is allocated the subsidy.

It is, therefore, no surprise that in places so diverse as Bournemouth and Sheffield, regardless of political complexion, concessionary fare schemes are provided. It is simple in such circumstances. In my constituency, on the other hand, the bus company, the Hants and Dorset Bus Company, is in no way related to the local authority and covers a geographical area unrelated to local authority boundaries. The situation here is totally different and wholly unsatisfactory.

The Hants and Dorset Bus Company pressurises the local authority to pay from the rates subsidies for the company to provide these services. Many of my constituents want to know, and I want to know, when the Minister will take up the suggestion, which I have put to him and which many hon. Members have put to him, that he should insist that the National Bus Company, in return for its virtual monopoly, be forced to provide some form of concessionary fares scheme along the lines of the British Rail concessionary ticket scheme.

Such a scheme would not be a cost to the Exchequer. I am not suggesting anything which would call for more public expenditure. The concessionary fares scheme operated by British Rail is self-financing. Tickets are available and can be purchased by pensioners. I am keen to see something similar done for bus services, although the National Bus Company continues to resist it as hard as it can. I receive more letters on this subject, I think, than on almost anything else.

I turn briefly to the Leitch Report. One had hoped that the Secretary of State would find a moment to mention it, if only in a sentence or two. I suppose that the fact that he did not bother to do so is no reflection on him but is a reflection of the fact that Leitch is really a bit of a damp squib. Great hopes on the part of the anti-road lobby were vested in a violent condemnation of the methods of the Department of Transport in the way it plans major road schemes.

However, I think that the matter can be best summed up by the words in the Leitch Report, Chapter 29, headed "Some Final Thoughts": The fact that they"— that is, the Department's road building methods— have attracted so much criticism is, we think, unfortunate since although we have made a number of suggestions for improvement it must be clear from the report as a whole that we have found much that is good and much that compares favourably with practice in other countries. Then, in paragraph 29.6: we have been unable to recommend any overall simplification in the methods and procedures currently used. So the Government do not have to be frightened of Mr. John Tyme and the lunatic fringe. Perhaps I should not refer to Mr. Tyme as the lunatic fringe, since he is far from the fringe; he is in the middle.

Mr. Tyme's goings-on over the Winchester Bypass, for example, are absolutely ridiculous. One has there today a road with an appalling accident record, and the antagonism which Mr. Tyme has stirred up represents the views of a comparatively small proportion of fairly well-to-do people in Winchester who are not representative of the users of transport services or the inhabitants in and around that area. But the result is that the road scheme is being delayed and delayed, while the Winchester Bypass continues to provide accident statistics which are absolutely appalling in relation to the nation's motorways and dual-carriageway A roads. I shall not read out the statistics, but I recommend anyone interested to look at Hansard for 2nd December 1977.

In spite of the interventions at the beginning of my speech which have somewhat prolonged what I had to say, I hope that the House will allow me to make one further point on the need for co-ordination of air services within transport thinking and planning. The Minister will know that I have mentioned this on more than one occasion. We seem to be out on a limb in the European Community in continuing to regard air services as something other than transport.

In this connection, I again quote from the Leitch Report. On page 129, in paragraph 27.12, we read: We believe that the issues of principle we have discussed in this chapter are equally relevant to investment in coastal shipping, in ports and in airlines and airports. I hope that somehow, somewhere, sooner or later the Government will take note of that.

This is a miserable little Bill. It is a "phoney" Bill. The only things significant in it are the things not in it, if that is not too Irish a sentence. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield on putting down the amendment, and I shall gladly support it.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I shall refrain from going too far along the road taken by the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), but I must entirely discount his story of a plot between my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikado) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Such a possibility is entirely beyond comprehension.

The Opposition's attitude tonight wants a bit of comprehending, too. I could not understand the trenchant manner in which the hon. Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) put his case, because there were certain contradictions within it. He seems to think that this is just a little electioneering stunt, and several times he alluded to "election year". Judging from the way he put his explosive remarks, which were not based upon an explosive situation, I thought that it must be election week.

I shall present my credentials for taking part in the debate, and I shall refer to one or two areas of concern stemming from the specific changes proposed in the Bill, doing so from a road passenger and freight worker's point of view and also, I believe, from a public point of view.

One must not expect that the dynamism for a social transport policy is likely to come from the owners of the most expensive, large and high-powered motor cars and the well-to-do who are able to arrange for their proper garaging and servicing. Nor can we expect it to come from private interests in road haulage which are not charged with the duties of a common carrier.

The push for a decent national transport policy and legislation to go with it will never come from the Tories and the the interests which they serve. The necessary policy can come only from the Labour and trade union movement. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Johnson) pointed out, the policy traditional to the Trades Union Congress and Labour Party Conference decisions has time after time spelt out principles for an intergrated and coordinated planned transport system free from the near-anarchy from which we all suffer.

The Tories have always scoffed at integration and co-ordination, seeming to regard them as dirty words.

Mr. Adley

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by "the interests which they serve" when referring to the Conservative Opposition? Second, will he tell us whether he is a sponsored trade union Member, and, if he is, which union?

Mr. Bidwell

Yes, I shall come to that. I speak as a former railway worker and now a Member sponsored by the Transport and General Workers' Union.

To my mind—this has always been recognised by those who have been interested in the whole field of transport over he years, in its history and in the many debates on the subject—we ought to approach these matters in a quite straightforward way, considering all forms of transport and making proper use of them in the national interest. That is not a sectarian interest, as I may be able to explain a little later, unlike that inevitably put forward by vested interests, whether in oil or to some extent in motor car production—though not so much today since nationalisation.

The Bill now before the House leans against the Tory one of 1972. I think that its weakness—perhaps this is inevitable in the sequence of events—will be that it rests on county authority decisions and their possible plans. I know that the Bill ties them down to an extent that they have never been tied down before, but I consider that dealing with the nation's transport problems as a whole is much too urgent for this sort of pedantic lead-in. But we shall see, and I shall not oppose the Bill. So far as it is the Government's aim to tighten the obligations on counties, that is to be welcomed.

Some of us on this side of the House will be looking at the community bus services part of the Bill, as we shall be at the car-sharing for social and other purposes part of it, whatever that means, and arising out of that we shall perhaps seek to amend the Bill and explain the fears to which the existing provisions necessarily give rise. Some of the fears might prove to be exaggerated, but, so far as I can understand it, there is not sufficient control over a development that is now to be legalised. I know that much of this goes on today anyway, and that will probably be my right hon. Friend's defence for legalising what is becoming a common practice.

One will have to consider the matter of mini-buses, as they are known, the people who handle them, and how far it will be open to anyone to handle these vehicles. One has also to consider such matters as vandalism and proper people being in control of services that will be open to the public as a whole. These matters give rise to anxieties not only among busmen but among the public as a whole, and I hope that somewhere along the line—perhaps in Committee—we can discuss how the police can be brought into the scheme of events to see that things do not get out of hand. This is, of course, a matter of interest to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), who advises the Police Federation. When we are leaping, as it were, from an illegal to a legal position under the Bill, great care and attention must be paid to what is done.

Some reference has been made to the fact that we owe a debt of gratitude to the workers in the nation's transport services. When I was a railway worker I sometimes had to get up at 2 a.m. to start work on a train at 3 a.m. That was one of the worst turns of duty that I can recollect, and when the weather is as bad as it is at the moment my thoughts go out to those men, and the increasing number of women, who are out at all hours of the night and day to make the nation's transport system possible.

That brings me to a matter that I have been asked to raise by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). He was hoping to be called in the debate to make his point, which relates to the freight side of transport, but because of the way in which things are going it is possible that he will not be called to speak. His view is that some provision should be made whereby operators, be they common carriers or the National Freight Corporation, are required, within the limitations of their earnings to provide decent accommodation facilities for transport workers when they are on the road and that there should not be so much emphasis on the production of vehicles that have a sleeping cab. Most working people like to get away from the job for a break at some time or other, and I hope that this matter will receive serious consideration.

On the freight side again, I do not need to spell things out in great detail because my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South has produced figures relating to some queries which the National Freight Corporation will raise on the Bill, which provides for a certain amount of financial reconstruction. I hope that serious consideration will be given to the representations that will be made on that count from the point of view of both employers and working people, because, if the National Freight Corporation, as a common carrier, is saddled with an unfair burden and cannot pick and choose its traffic, much closer attention will have to be paid to the interest aspect of its finances than appears to have been done in the Bill. I leave the matter there.

I hope and expect that in Committee the Bill will be subjected to searching scrutiny to make sure that the counties meet their new responsibilities and exercise the powers to be given to them. What gives rise to some of my fears and doubts is the position in London. For some years the Greater London Council has been responsible for transport matters, perhaps notionally—perhaps that is not the right word—but it is surprising how little the public know about the present set-up.

People are more prone to hold the Secretary of State for Transport responsible for provincial, county and national transport problems than they are their representatives on a county authority. Perhaps forthcoming events will make them more aware that their county council representatives will henceforth have some say over the development of transport in certain areas. For reasons that have been advanced from both sides of the House, this must give rise to all sorts of questions about what will happen when there is a conflict between one authority and another, or between neighbouring authorities, because transport is not a matter of vehicles operating within a particular county. It is a matter of their operating in a small country territorially—that is, the United Kingdom as a whole.

There is a great deal of "wait and see" about the Bill. I cannot imagine that all county authorities, especially with their present political complexions, will be zealous in getting ahead with transport policy. Many of us will pay continuing attention to the matter to ensure that they are obliged to carry out the duties offered to them under the Bill.

7.29 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Warren (Hastings)

I am particularly concerned with the problems of meeting the requirements set out in the Bill, because, on the one hand, county councils are required to enter into an obligation to produce a five-year rolling plan, but, on the other hand, one does not find anything on the table about how the Government will meet their part of the obligation, which is to provide the knowledge over the same period that the money that is needed to meet the demand on the county councils will be available, not only in terms of the five-year period, but in terms of the rolling programme of the updating each year.

I hope that the Minister will be able to refer to this matter in his reply and that he will give some guidance on the Bill before it goes into Committee. I hope that he will make it clear that the Government are prepared to offer guarantees to match the obligations which the counties will have to enter into if the Bill becomes law.

The proposals in Clause 2(3) of the Bill require the counties to say that the forecasts that they make shall be measured as to the likelihood of the required resources becoming available. They cannot possibly know. They can only judge the amount of the resources that they will have to provide if one takes account of what the Government are prepared to do. I ask the Government to clear up this matter right from the start. The Minister is well aware of the counties' problems in the last year. The East Sussex County Council, for instance, in February last year, when the public expenditure guidelines were published, was told that there would be less bus subsidy. That county council was not unique. Most counties were told that.

When East Sussex like all the other counties, makes its budget up in February or March, it will work on what it is told about subsidies. It then finds, when the White Paper is published, that it looks as though the subsidy will be increased. The council is hammered by the Depªrtment of Transport for not applying for enough money.

How can we win in a situation such as this? The application for subsidies has to be put in about July of each year.

I ask the Minister to examine the effect of these changes in policy on the authority of a county to carry out its obligations which it is required to carry out under the proposals in the Bill.

Clause 1(2) states that 'public passenger transport services' means all those services … on which members of the public rely". In the Minister's opening speech this afternoon one of my hon. Friends intervened to ask "What about British Rail?" I believe that the Minister answered "Yes, the county must take account of the rail network." But how is it supposed to plan its transport policy if it has not the right under the Bill, if it becomes law, to have some arrangement with British Rail on how it will integrate the proposals for bus services of various kinds with rail transport?

This is of particular importance in commuter belts, where not only must the buses meet the trains, but one has to know the volume of passenger traffic and the demand in order to satisfy the commuter or, in the case of East Sussex, the commuter and the holidaymaker. How can the council do this without having access to a working arrangement with British Rail?

With great respect to the Minister, the Government's attitude towards British Rail is too slipshod. In Clause 9 we are told that there are two tranches of money. There were questions earlier as to when these tranches were to be made available. One of them is the sum of £1,750 million and the other is the sum of £1,250 million—a total of £3,000 million. We are invited calmly to say "Let us have £3,000 million." But for what does British Rail want this money? We have a right to know the projects which have given rise to those sums of money. They should be displayed for information of Members of the House and for members of the Committee so that they might judge the merits of the submissions. It is a tremendous amount of money.

Hon. Members are being invited to agree that every family in the country should contribute about another £250 a year in taxation. We shall expect either in the House tonight or in Committee to be given a list of the projects that British Rail has in mind that give rise to that extra tax burden. We need to know the period involved.

Clause 9 is open-ended. It does not provide that we cannot be asked for more—just another couple of thousand million, perhaps. These figures really matter in terms of their impact on the families of this country and the taxation that they have to pay.

Looking at the county planning requirements, I wonder whether we could stretch ourselves further forward and ask the Minister whether he will, in terms of trying to produce some sort of integrated policy, agree that the Government must produce a five-year rolling programme on the road policy for trunk roads which they are to implement in the county areas. This has a direct impact not only in terms of the British Rail projects—but on the ability of councils to produce a satisfactory rolling road programme. I hope that the Government will introduce in parallel a policy which for once, they can be asked kindly to keep.

There is an absence of criteria on the methods by which the counties will be required to collect the data to make up the rolling plans. May we be assured that the Department of Transport will agree with counties the kind of data to be collected and how it is to be collected, and perhaps how much it will cost to collect it? We could have a uniform collection system throughout the country.

The Minister knows that I have been in correspondence with him, and I have a massive file on the A21 road that goes through Kent and my own county of East Sussex. He knows that we have been able to discover together the historical inaccuracies of the data on which judgments are being made on whether that road should be made a dual carriageway. We find, through the correspondence, that no account is taken in this country of the length of vehicles which travel on British roads.

In 1974 the Government doubled from 8,000 to 16,000 the number of vehicles that had to flow along a road before it could even be considered for a dual carriageway. No account has been taken of the juggernauts and the extra length of vehicles on the road and the subsequent problems of queueing which this produces, because it becomes impossible for one vehicle to pass another on a single carriageway, and then the average speed of vehicles drops. This is an example of the Department not keeping up to date with the requirements of the customer, the user and the taxpayer.

I do not think that the proposals in the Bill have been properly thought through. The quality of the Bill is not up to the standard required for the enormous transport problems of counties and the country. The Bill does not show the strength of vision and the sense of purpose which the Department of Transport must exude if it is to give proper leadership in transport matters. At the moment it is presenting counties with problems that they will be unable to surmount. The Government must look to their duty to make it possible for the Bill to work.

7.39 p.m.

Mr. Harry Cowans (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

I welcome the Bill. It has been referred to as boring. It may be boring to some people, but it is bread and margarine to many railway workers and it is a chance to obtain some transport where it does not exist. That is not a boring subject.

As an ex-British Rail employee, I particularly welcome in the Bill the return—I emphasise the word "return"—of Freightliners to British Rail. I have always taken the view that Freightliners was a rail-based concern and should therefore belong to British Rail.

I also welcome the provision of the principle that non-metropolitan county councils should have a rolling five-year transport plan. However, in looking at the particular planning of that, I wonder exactly where railways fit into it and in what context they can have an input into the transport plans at county level. Some clarity on that point is definitely needed in the Bill. When people are looking at transport plans, they will need to know the mechanics of how British Rail could contribute. We are all seeking the best system, and if British Rail can contribute we must look at the mechanics of that.

Clause 1(3) deals with the ability to establish new transport companies. It is equally important that a little more detail of exactly what that means and exactly how the railways will fit into that should be given.

Clause 4 deals with public service vehicle licensing. I understand the thinking behind it. It is thought "Here we can try to get some passenger service where none exists." It is true that there is even the introduction of a safety factor, in that traffic commissioners have to satisfy themselves, that there are no other transport facilities available to meet the reasonable needs of the proposed route. At face value, that would seem to be reasonable enough. However, what I am worried about is that it is relatively easy to make a situation fit that criterion by the running down of an existing service, by taking away a service that exists and making the situation fit the criterion. What is worrying me is the thought that this provision might be used as a method of closing further rural railway lines. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will confirm tonight that the proposals will not be permitted to become the basis for the withdrawal of Government support for the local railway services. That would not do anything to help the situation when we are really trying to build up a transport service.

As to the Bill's financial aspects, one side of the argument is that there is too much investment, but I believe exactly the opposite. There is too little investment. If we had invested more, we should now have a better service altogether and it would be attractive to customers. However, because we are not investing more and the railways are running down, people are not using the railways. That affects the morale of the work force, who are ultimately responsible for supplying an acceptable service to the customers. If the morale of the work force is low because they see that the necessary investment is not being made and they get the impression that no one believes in the railways, we get into a very vicious circle.

Certainly the amount of investment that we are making is far too low. Other countries—some of them have been converted belatedly—are investing more in their railway systems. There is a limit, which I think we have reached, to the amount of rolling stock, track and so on that one can patch up. One is really begging the question, because if one believes in the railway system one should leave it to do its job and one must make the necessary investment, because the service that the railways supply relies on the extent to which they are used. If we run the railways down, obviously the extent to which they will be used will be less.

That is acknowledged in the White Paper on Transport Policy, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes the point and calls for a review of the investment programme. My point is that if we do not have that review very quickly, by the time we have it the actual system will be so run down that the review will not help. Now is the time when we should be looking forward and not pulling down the raiways.

We talk about productivity. No industry in the country has pruned its work force to the same extent as British Rail. There is not a shadow of doubt about that. But there is a limit even to that. There is a liimt to how many people one can remove from the service if one still wants the end product of the supply of a viable service. That is the whole crux of the issue.

It is about time that another issue was examined. I was hoping that in the Bill there would be some provision for a rolling programme of investment so that we could increase the railway service and make it better and so that we would not hear continual carping about running down British Rail all the time. That does nothing for the service and nothing for the morale of the people trying to supply that service.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

I shall relate my remarks exclusively to the National Freight Corporation. I begin by questioning whether we need the NFC at all. It is one of the strange anomalies of the NFC that it accounts for between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. only of the total freight movements in this country.

I believe that one of the reasons why we have been relatively unsuccessful as a nation and relatively unsuccessful in transport is that we have relied too much upon the assumed superior wisdom of politicians and not enough on the social market economy. Therefore, I for one regret that the House of Commons should be discussing the NFC at all. I do not think that it ought to be the responsibility of this House or of Ministers to presume to impose their imagined superiority of judgment over and above the disciplines of the market place.

This debate takes place just over nine years after the Transport Act 1968 achieved the Royal Assent. It is timely, when we are considering the clauses dealing with the NFC, to remind ourselves of the timing that Parliament—and, indeed, the Labour Party—set for itself at the time when the 1968 Act was passed. I want to underline the continuing gulf between the forecasts and the intentions of Parliament and the reality.

Section 41(2) of the 1968 Act provided: It shall be the duty of each of the authorities to whom this section applies so to perform their functions under the Act … as to secure that the combined revenues of the authority and of their subsidiaries taken together are not less than sufficient to meet their combined charges properly chargeable to revenue account, taking one year with another. There was there a statutory duty laid upon the NFC, in the most solemn terms, to break even, taking one year with another. If that is regarded as fanciful, that view was confirmed by the NEDC document published in July 1976. It was the background paper No. 1 on the state of the United Kingdom nationalised industries. Its cryptic comment was: No targets, other than a statutory duty to break even, have been set by the government. Just so. In the 1976 report and accounts presented to the Secretary of State there is an analysis of the extent to which the Corporation has been in virtually continuous breach of the solemn statutory obligation laid upon it.

Since the Corporation came into being on 1st January 1969, eight years' accounts have been completed. For six of those eight years the Corporation has been in breach of its statutory duty. Only in the years 1972 and 1973—and I take some small pleasure that they should have been those years—did the Corporation comply with its statutory duty. Yet now the Secretary of State presents to the House a Bill which will write off £53 million of accumulated debt and in introducing the Bill he said simply that he was proposing to reduce the debt of the Corporation. That remark might have been interpreted as calculated to deceive, but it would be out of order for me to make such a suggestion, so I shall not.

However, the other side of the coin should have been presented. In so far as we are reducing the debt of the Corporation, we are writing off an obligation of the Corporation to the people. The British people have been told that there is no prospect of the Corporation repaying £53 million; they have to say goodbye to it. I find that proposition deeply offensive. Are the Government really saying that they see no prospect of the Corporation building up sufficient profits and reserves to be able to repay the debt which is owed to the Secretary of State, or, as I prefer to say, to the British people? That is the confession that was made by the Secretary of State earlier. He was saying that the debt had to be written off because there was no prospect of its being repaid.

This is why I come back to my first point. Is it necessary to have a National Freight Corporation subjected to continuous ministerial interference and direction, for it is impossible to separate ownership from control?

I fear that before long the Secretary of State will have to introduce another Bill and to tell us that we shall have to say goodbye to a further chunk of the indebtedness of the Corporation to the Secretary of State. The only way that we shall be able to introduce the discipline which needs to be introduced into the Corporation and into that area of freight movement which is in public ownership is to remove ministerial direction and control.

The story of the National Freight Corporation has illustrated as clearly as it is possible to illustrate that when there is ministerial and political interference it is likely that political decisions rather than economic or industrial decisions will triumph. It has been one of the characteristics of the Labour Party and, too often, my own party that the latent arrogance of politicians comes out and they say that there is greater wisdom and a superiority of judgment with them than with the mass of people.

January is the time when we can study letters of intent written by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Dr. Johannes Witteveen. By a happy selectivity, the Chancellor chose 15th December 1977, as he had chosen 15th December in the previous year, to write to Dr. Witteveen. I note the contrast between the words used in those letters. In 1976, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—and these words must have been music to the ears to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport— an essential element of the Government's strategy will be a continuing and substantial reduction over the next few years in the share of resources required for the public sector. By 1977, the wording had changed, but it still left us with some grounds for hope. The Chancellor wrote: The ratio of public expenditure to national income has been reduced. But that was before the Secretary of State introduced this Bill. The small grounds for hope which those of us who study this series of letters might have had from reading those extracts have been shattered by this Bill in which £53 million is written off in Clause 12, another £15 million of expenditure is provided for in Clause 13, and a further £30 million in Clause 14.

If the Government are still in office in December 1978, there will no doubt be another letter of intent, but it will make hollow reading as long as they persist in measures of this kind.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)

This is a miscellaneous Bill and something of a hotchpotch. It has been referred to as an insignificant little Bill, but in comparison with many of the irrelevancies that we have been discussing in recent weeks it is of earth-shattering importance.

The Bill is a welcome step forward. It is difficult to deal with in a normal Second Reading speech because it is a hotchpotch.

Mr. Anderson

My hon. Friend has said that the Bill is important in comparison with other measures. Does he agree that the fact that we are discussing those three major irrelevancies is preventing a proper Transport Bill from coming before the House?

Mr. Ovenden

I was going to suggest to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) that much of the worthwhile legislation for which he was pressing might be possible if he had used his undoubted influence to get the Government to drop the Bills that we are spending so much time on at the moment.

The first three clauses of the Bill deal with the development of county transport plans. I am sure that we all welcome attempts to achieve a partnership between local authorities and transport operators. For too long they have been at loggerheads, sniping at each other and passing the buck while leaving the travelling public unaware of who is responsible and knowing only that public transport is collapsing about them while county councils and bus operators argue among themselves.

However, I am sceptical about the effectiveness of the proposal, not because the machinery is necessarily wrong but because the record of most county councils, particularly the shire counties, in their commitment to public transport leaves little room for confidence. The Bill places far too much power in these councils. It makes them the planners of transport policy and the final arbiters of any dispute. It gives no guarantee to other local bodies that proper account will be taken of their views. There is no guarantee that their views, having been sought, will not be ignored.

Many shire counties have appalling records of ignoring the transport needs of local areas simply because they do not want to finance them. We need to protect local travellers from the often reactionary attitude of the counties. We should amend the Bill to provide for a public inquiry system, perhaps along the lines that already exist for structure plans. That is the only way that we can encourage full public debate and make the counties face their obligations in public rather than engage in planning behind closed doors.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider giving district councils and perhaps even parish councils the right to finance certain services if that is what they wish. A county council could decide that a particular service was not important to the general structure of county transport. The district or parish councils might take a different view—and they are often in a good position to make such a judgment. If the district and parish councils are prepared to pay out of local rates for the provision of that service, I see no reason why anyone should seek to prevent them from entering into arrangements with the local operators. The Bill places too much power in the hands of the county councils, whose records leave us little room for confidence. However, the Bill is a step forward.

The Government should ensure that the counties have no excuse for not trying to work the scheme. I should like an assurance that the allocation of transport supplementary grant will be made known early enough for the counties to indulge in long-term planning. I can envisage many county councils excusing themselves from proper and effective planning because they do not know soon enough what the level of grant will be. We must give them every opportunity to do their planning.

I should like an assurance that the transport plans which the counties are expected to draw up will include estuarial ferry services, which are important to many communities, including my constituency. We have been involved in troubles over the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry service. The difficulties were caused mainly because of the arbitrary decision of the Kent and Essex County Councils to withdraw their subsidy. Ever since then the service has been under threat of closure or of reduction of service because British Rail has been trying to save money. It is vital to our transport needs.

Will there be an obligation on the county councils to take account of that type of service when drawing up their plans? I hope that they will not be able to turn their backs on it because they are not prepared to face up to their obligations.

The danger in that clause is that, if an authority does not wish to pay, it is able to ignore the needs of the locality and to scale down its transport plan to the level which it is prepared to finance. Finance rather than local need will dictate the drawing-up of the plans. What right have district councils which are affected by such decisions to appeal against the view of the county councils which ignore their obligations towards these services?

Clause 9 of the Bill deals with financial support to British Rail. I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State that a subsidy commitment to British Rail is essential if we are to have an adequate transport system. That view contrasts with the evasiveness and sheer opportunism of the Tories when they talk about the problems of commuters and other rail users. The Tories are fond of making political capital out of the problems of commuters. They are keen on dangling carrots before them in the form of promises of what a future Tory Government would do. However, the Tory Front Bench tends to leave the making of such promises to the Back Benches. The Front Bench refuses to give a commitment to public subsidy for British Rail, although that is the only way that these services can be financed if commuters are not to be faced with even bigger burdens. The Tories refuse to give a long-term commitment.

The right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) is recorded as saying that he is in favour of cutting down subsidies, including those for transport. I advise the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) to get together with the Shadow Chancellor to try to work out a coherent transport policy before the electorate realise that the Tory commitment is merely crocodile tears.

Rail travellers have faced harsh burdens in recent years. Commuter fares have more than doubled since 1975. Since the Transport Policy White Paper was published in July, there have been further increases of between 14 per cent. and 16 per cent., and now the situation is even worse. There are many myths about commuters which some of my hon. Friends tend to perpetuate. But not all commuters in the South-East are stockbrokers. That myth pervaded the thinking of the Department of the Environment for many years. I hope that the Department of Transport will not take the same view. That Department seems to have thrown aside the myth.

Perhaps some commuters are wealthy and well-heeled, but they certainly are not in my area. The majority who travel to London from the Gravesend area do ordinary jobs and are not well paid. Many pay between 10 and 15 per cent. of their take-home pay on fares to get to work. Many young people are forced to go to London to work because there are no jobs locally, and they pay up to one-quarter of their take-home pay on fares to work. They travel to work in London not by choice but by necessity. The economic structure of the South-East is such that it fails to provide jobs where people can afford to live. That dictates the need of commuter services. The costs should not be based solely upon the shoulders of those who are affected by our planning failures and who cannot work and live within a reasonable distance.

Many people give up two or three hours a day of their leisure time simply to travel to and from work. That is burden enough without heaping upon them greater financial hardships by forcing them to carry massive and far too regular increases in fares. The last increase of 16 per cent. took place only a couple of weeks ago and was the last straw for many people. It came at a time when increases in pay were restricted to 10 per cent. by the Government's pay policy. That increase had an adverse effect upon the budgets of many families.

The White Paper recognises that massive increases have had an adverse affect. It states: the Government recognises that the suddenness and the severity of the increases in recent years have caused special problems, particularly for the lower-paid, longer-distance commuter. Many of the most important personal and family decisions about where to live and where to work are made on the basis of expectations about fares, housing costs and personal in comes, and too rapid or unforeseen a movement in any one of these items can have painful consequences. I endorse every word of that. If anything, it is an understatement. I hope that, having said that in the White Paper, the Government intend to do everything to make sure that these sorts of burdens are not placed on commuters in future.

Commuters in the South-East at least deserve the assurance of the Government and British Rail that fare increases will be restricted in future either to the general level of inflation or to the level of wage increases if that is lower. I do not know whether there will be another phase of pay policy. I hope not. If we have another phase, however, I hope that commuters will not be asked to pay greater increases in fares than they are allowed to have in salaries.

Many people who have had to pay these 100 and 120 per cent. increases over the last few years have been very lucky if their take-home pay has increased by more than 30 per cent. That factor poses enormous problems.

The complaints of commuters are not limited solely to fares. There are strong complaints, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) said earlier, about the standard of service and the quality of rolling stock upon which people have to travel. To pay rail fares equivalent in many cases almost to taking on another mortgage just for the privilege of getting to work is bad enough, but to travel in the dirt and discomfort that many South-East commuters have to endure is adding insult to injury.

If we are to produce a modern transport system which can provide efficient, comfortable travel, there must be a much greater level of investment in new rolling stock for British Rail. I have made representations on a number of occasions to the authority in my area, and I have been told that it very much regrets—I am sure it does—the standard of rolling stock that my constituents have to suffer but that until the Government are prepared to agree to a reasonable level of investment in new rolling stock there will be no solution.

Therefore, over and above the commitment to proper revenue support, I hope that there will be a commitment from the Government to an adequate level of investment in British Rail which will provide the rail system we need for travel in the 1980s.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

I shall take up the points raised by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden), but only to a limited extent, because of the time available to me. He said a great deal about county councils, and much of what I shall say will answer his points. Therefore, I do not wish to go over the same ground twice. However, in direct answer to the hon. Member, the counties will have to finance these proposals anyway under the provisions of both the White Paper and the Bill and, therefore, they, like everyone else, must have confidence in the system. Therefore, it is no good criticising them. We must work constructively to create a system which enables them to play an integral part and in which they have confidence.

I want to concentrate on county council and licensing aspects, and that includes the traffic commissioners. I also want to draw attention to the diversity of control in planning, financing and enacting plans between county councils and the traffic commissioners, because that is not a healthy part of the Bill. Any Transport Bill—this Bill does not quite do it—must equate the responsibilities for planning and finance with the power to put into effect what is planned and paid for. Without that, there is a recipe for muddle, confusion and ill feeling. That is already present and it will continue. The Bill will make no difference to that.

The counties are at present obliged to contribute to services which they do not control and in which they have little say or confidence. They do not like the present licensing system, and that feeling is increasing as the problems compound. In addition to that—this is the last straw —there is the "blackmail" aspect from the central Government. The Secretary of State said that he had never threatened anyone in his life but that he used diplomatic language. To me, a threat can be conveyed in either a four-letter word or diplomatic language, and that answer does not fit in with the Secretary of State's endeavours always to deal fully with matters we raise with him. Never theless, it boils down to the fact that when the central Government say that there will be no revenue support, it means that there will be no roads. The Government must try to remedy that situation.

The White Paper on which the Bill is based accepts that control goes to the county councils. It says in paragraph 74: In the Government's view, the right level for most of these decisions is the local level and they should be taken by people who are accountable locally. Therefore, if the Secretary of State increases the powers of county councils we must stress that they are democratic bodies. That cannot be said of the traffic commissioners.

The White Paper continues, in paragraph 75: County councils in England and Wales … should continue to have the prime responsibility for local transport decisions. So the whole build up of the White Paper is towards county councils, yet when it is boiled down the traffic commissioners have almost a vice-like hold on the county councils which have to submit these five-year plans. Because of the phraseology of Schedule 2 to the Bill, which deals with the powers of the traffic commissioners, they can, if they wish, cause great difficulty for these five-year plans.

I agree that the plans are in principle a good idea. I welcome the consultation requirements of Clause 2(4), which mentions both district and parish councils. I believe that where a subsidy has to be given it should be the council nearest the item to be subsidised which should have to make it. On this point I agree with the hon. Member for Gravesend.

As well as the five-year plans the unfortunate county councils have to make their TPP submission. There, as most hon. Members know, are vast documents, and the deadline for the submissions is 31st July. Clearly the county councils will be extremely busy, especially since these five-year plans are annually renewable from 31st March. During the course of the Bill, we should make clear that if the councils have to provide plans on an annually renewable basis they should have to do it only once.

sIf there are to be increased responsibilities for rail and the shire halls and county halls are not anxious to inherit these responsibilities, the decision will have to be made as to whether the councils are to bear the avoidable costs of these local lines or see the lines perish. This strengthens the case for them to have more powers overall for deciding routes on road as well as rail, otherwise they will perpetually be in a situation where there will never be unity between the different modes of transport. Many people want as far as possible to integrate transport. It seems clear that that concept has been abandoned in the White Paper, although this is a local example of where it could work.

The Bill's reduction of the powers of traffic commissioners is slight, but I welcome the promotion implicit in the phraseology of Schedule 2 of the concept of public interest, which appears alone and above the various listed types of interest. This approach has been urged before from the Conservative Benches on the handling of licensing matters.

But we shall have a struggle when the county councils submit their plans to which the traffic commissioners have only to "pay regard". As the traffic commissioners have to have regard to other matters as well, we could see a diluting of these dramatic five-year plans, which have been heralded as a great increase in the counties' powers. Rather than an increase in their powers, I believe that it is only a definite increase in bureaucracy and in the work burdens placed on the county council, with no definite guarantee that the plans will become a reality in the event.

If the county councils are the best arbiters of local needs and the best people to provide the plans and put up the money, they should also have licensing powers that go with it. That is my central point.

I come to the three-clause "rural charter". It is too little, too late. My party's 1973 Bill would have done the same thing. I do not want to encourage the Under-Secretary to make his usual winding-up speech on this. It is sad that some of our proposals trickled over into the Road Traffic Act 1974 and were then withdrawn for consultation. These were the proposals concerned with vehicles carrying fewer than 13 passeng- ers. The Government are still consulting and have ignored these proposals, or will as our 1973–74 Bill, which never saw the light of day after the change of Government until today.

The Bill we are discussing today excludes commercial services for profit. Why should it do so? Surely we should do our best in this area. If there is a community bus in one area, why should not the local garage owner in another area run a bus and make a bit of money? There is no great money in these rural areas, as any hon. Member who represents a rural constituency will know.

There is no overall strategy for rural transport. We must strive to get a defined system for main routes which will involve licensing, and a certain amount of protection. For the rest—for all the tributaries, including the major highways and byways of the rural areas—there should be the maximum amount of freedom, and subsidies should go as far down the line of councils as possible.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. R. E. Bean (Rochester and Chatham)

The Secretary of State has described the first three clauses of the Bill as strengthening the commitment of the county councils towards their public transport roles. In my county the need for this is clearly illustrated. In its bid for the transport supplementary grant, Kent applied for £878,000 when its real needs were considerably greater. Indeed, the Secretary of State has said that if Kent had applied for a much larger sum its request would have been considered favourably.

The result has been disastrous for Kent. The four main passenger operators in the county—the East Kent, the Maidstone and District, the London County Bus Company and British Rail—have forecast that their combined deficit for 197879 will be £2,590,000. Allowing for the county's bid of £878,000, there will still be a shortfall of £1,710,000. In reality this will lead to cuts of about 1,000 bus miles and to some fare increases substantially above the rate of inflation in an area where fares are already high. There will be 320 jobs lost as a result. The reduction in bus miles is the largest in the country and represents one-eighth of the total cuts by the National Bus Company throughout the country.

I welcome the proposals to ensure closer co-ordination between the counties and the operators. However, there is still a need for powers for the Secretary of State to intervene if either of the parties fails in its duty to the public.

There is a need for the Bill to define minimum standards of service. In housing and public health minimum standards are laid down by central Government while the mechanics of the operation are left to local government. I believe that public transport should operate in a similar manner.

The Confederation of British Road Transport, which represents nearly 98 per cent. of bus operators has called for a level of personal mobility that demands acceptance". This is a clear definition, but criteria still need to be established.

The National Bus Company has produced a paper entitled "The Minimum Standard of Service" which attempts to establish benchmarks. Perhaps of more relevant significance is the work carried out by the Cheshire County Council which has issued a consultation document called "Options and Implications for Revenue Support of Public Transport". This document has aroused a great deal of interest and the decisions that have been made in response to it have led to greater financial contributions by the council and consequently to improved services.

It is possible to establish minimum criteria, but I should like to see the traffic commissioners having wider terms of reference, and better back-up service and legal service to enable them to act as arbiters for the public.

Just as there is a wide divergence in the financial support given by the county councils, there are variations in the efficiency of the various operating companies. How do we define efficiency? Certainly not purely in financial terms, but in terms of reliability, standards of maintenance and the general awareness of public needs.

It is encouraging to learn that recently one application for fare increases was turned down because a local protest group was able to prove that the company concerned—the Alder Valley Com- pany—was not operating a reliable service. Therefore, I hope that this legislation will encourage people to establish consultative groups to pressurise the counties, the bus operators and the traffic commissioners.

I welcome the new powers to check the overloading of lorries. This is a problem that is not only damaging to the environment, but also risks life because vehicles are not safe to drive when they are overloaded. In Kent we have been cursed by the increase in heavy lorry traffic to and from the Continent. There has been a 200 per cent. increase in the number of heavy lorries using the port of Dover in the past five years.

One of the problems is caused by the wide variations in regulations governing lorry loads in EEC countries. The consumer protection unit of the Kent County Council inspected a number of lorries in the last six months, and found a great deal of overloading. Some 8,329 British lorries and 2,152 foreign lorries were inspected and 33 per cent. of the British and 41 per cent. of the foreign lorries were overloaded. This represented a total of 698 overloaded vehicles.

Another interesting statistic was that similar random checks held on Sunday revealed that up to 67 per cent. of all vehicles stopped were overloaded—obviously proving that the practice of overloading is deliberate and that the people concerned feel that the consumer protection officers spend their Sundays in bed. Therefore, those people took a chance.

We need to bring in greater control of the traffic that enters and leaves the ports, but to do that at the ports would produce chaos. There is not room to cope with the snarl-up that would occur if we attempted to check every lorry that entered at Dover from the Continent. However, if lorries were checked when they left the ports of embarkation from this country to Europe or into Ireland, it would present fewer problems. I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether talks are being held with our EEC partners in an attempt to control overloading.

Finally, I turn to the subject of commuters. I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) about the problem of commuters in the South-East and Kent in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend said that he was glad that the Government were to retain the public service obligation grant. Respective Governments since the war have encouraged the development of growth areas in the outer metropolitan regions of the South-East. These growth areas are centred on good lines of communication with London because under the policies laid down in "Strategy for the South-East" many towns would still look to London for their work. Many of the people who moved out of London did so because it was the only way they could afford to buy a house. They are now a captive market at the mercy of British Rail. I feel that the Government have a social responsibility to these people and that the public service obligation grants should be considered on a line-by-line basis.

The South-East Economic Planning Council produced a report last year which considered the question of commuting to London and proved that on average commuters from North Kent and South Essex earned less than those who lived in the South-East. Since there is every reason to expect in future further increases in fares, this is a problem which British Rail must take into consideration.

Last month Mr. Peter Parker, Chairman of British Rail, called for a public debate on commuting. I hope that this was not just a public relations gimmick and that Mr. Parker is sincere in his intentions. I for one would support him in his efforts because the whole subject of commuting needs to be tackled. It will not just go away.

8.32 p.m.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I approach this Bill in a spirit of sympathy with the Ministers in the Department of Transport. There are nearly always seven or eight different subjects that require legislation which Ministers would like to bring forward to the House, but it is always difficult to get the legislation committee of the Cabinet to agree to a Bill containing 70 or 80 clauses. What happens is that the Ministers have to drop some of the provisions which they would like to see contained in legislation.

No doubt the Ministers concerned would like to have had measures to deal with drink and driving and to introduce additional road safety provisions, including regulations on the subject of seat belts. I suspect that they are as sorry as anybody that they have had to be content with a Bill containing only 20 clauses. Therefore, what we have before us is a Transport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. That is the only way to describe it.

I wish to make a few brief points. The first concerns the vast new dollop of money that is being made available to British Rail. I have great affection for the British Railways Board. Anybody who has to deal with it comes under the spell of railwaymen. I wish British Rail well, as I am sure do all hon. Members. But I must point out that my calculations show that since 1974, when I think I had the honour of introducing a Bill which made £1,750 million available to British Rail, the Board has got through the whole of that amount of public money. It now returns to Parliament for a topping-up amounting to a further £1,250 million. So in four years the railways have lost an average of nearly £450 million a year of public money. I suspect that the Board lost a lower figure in 1974–75 but that this year the figure of loss will be as much £500 million. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that figure when he replies.

I make it clear that I am not attacking British Rail. But in the last week or so we have seen the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries demanding to know why the British steel industry is losing precisely the same figure—£500 million per year.

The House needs to know why British Rail is losing nearly £500 million a year. I for one will draw to the attention of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries that the £1,750 million obtained four years ago has now been expended and that £3,000 million is now required. He will of course know that already. However, I shall ask him to make it his business to obtain from the Chairman of British Rail, and from the Secretary of State, precisely the same sort of information that the Select Committee is seeking from the steel industry. Accountability for these enormous sums of public money to this House, and through the House to the public, is a matter of urgent importance. It is a House of Commons matter.

My second point concerns rural buses. The relevant clauses look suspiciously like the ones that I helped to draft as long ago as 1973. I say that in no partisan spirit. I am glad that the Government have come round to our way of thinking.

It seems that we have reached some common ground. It is common ground that wide areas of rural Britain are becoming bus deserts. Real hardship is being suffered in rural areas such as mine, especially by the elderly, the disabled and the youngsters who have no motor cars. There are also the housewives who are left without transport when their husbands go to work. This is a social problem that requires to be remedied.

The second area of common ground is that there is no absolute lack of transport in the rural areas. Survey after survey has proved that there is an abundance of transport. It happens to be called the motor car, and it happens to be called the "dedicated bus," that is, the bus used to collect people to take them to work, or to take people to hospital. The crucial problem is not the lack of transport but the fact that the available transport is not being used to the maximum benefit for the maximum number of people.

The third area of common ground between the two parties is that we need to place responsibility on some public body to deal with the problem. The Local Government Reorganisation Act 1973 placed responsibility on the county councils, and I believe that was right. On the whole, county councils have done a respectable job in bringing forward their transport policy plans.

The final area of common ground is the need to mobilise the private sector to come to the aid of the public sector. In villages throughout rural England there is an enormous reservoir of good will and energy on the part of individuals and voluntary bodies such as the British Legion, the WRVS and the Women's Institute. Many organisations and individuals are prepared to use their own vehicles to mount a social car service or to run mini-buses. It is that fund of good will that the Bill must tap.

I am sure that that is what the Minister has in mind, but I am worried about the manner in which it is to be done. No doubt that will be thrashed out in Committee. However, it must be said that the Clauses, 4 and 5, which govern car-sharing and community bus services, are extremely complicated and appear to approach these issues through the back door. The clauses are cumbersome and awkward in their drafting.

Schedule 1, which changes the existing legislation, imposes some onerous restrictions on the way in which the schemes are to work. It is also enormously complex. Parts of it, in my view, are self-contradictory, especially in respect of advertisements and other matters. I counsel the Minister strongly, if he wants the clauses to work, to take a very much more simplified approach. He should ensure, through the county councils, which will be to start these small social schemes, that a very simple statement of "can do" and "cannot do" is made widely available. Only then will people know precisely what limitations there are to be and what they are allowed to operate under the new legislation. If anything as complicated as Schedule 2 is used to operate this scheme, I am bound to say it will not work. I beg the Minister to simplify this.

The whole philosophy of placing upon the county councils a responsibility to organise their transport passenger plans was based on the assumption that once they moved over to the block grant, the local authorities themselves would have to decide on the balancing of their expenditure. The previous situation was that there were Government grants of 75 per cent., 50 per cent. or 25 per cent. Inevitably there was a tendency among local authorities to go for those schemes which attracted the largest proportion of Government grant, irrespective of whether they were the schemes most needed. That is why we moved to the block grant system, giving the authorities an overall sum within which they would have complete discretion, subject only to the Minister's agreement to their TPPs. I believe that that was the right philosophy and one which is agreed to by many Labour Members.

The Minister has, I think wrongly, interfered with that system because he is providing himself in the Bill with more powers of intervention. In my county of Suffolk the local authority has done a pretty good job in providing subsidy for unremunerative bus services. We would all like to do more, but within the available limits the authority has done its best. Now, the Minister has said "Because I do not like the way in which you have settled your unremunerative bus service grants vis-à-vis the National Bus Company, because there has been an argument and I do not like what you have done, I will reduce your available capital grant for new road building schemes ".

The Minister has substantially reduced the expected amount of money available in Suffolk for capital projects, that is, roads, from £2.5 million. He has done so on one ground alone, which he has spelt out. It is because he does not like the way in which the county council, on its revenue account, has dealt with the Eastern Counties bus service. That is wholly wrong. The Minister should not put his hand into one pocket, namely, the capital accounts that are provided for county councils to help them build roads, because he does not like something that is happening on revenue account, which is quite different. I cannot say that it is ultra vires because I have not recently studied the legislation. But it is in spirit wholly wrong that moneys provided by Parliament and disbursed by the Minister to the county councils for one kind of project involving capital expenditure should be docked or interfered with because the Government take a different view from the local authority, which has the responsibility, about the way in which the county council has operated the revenue account.

Such a practice is wrong in spirit. It is a bad precedent to have created. It is deeply resented by local authorities on whom the House has placed the responsibility. I do not believe that the Minister has done this maliciously. He may have done it carelessly. He ought not to have done it at all. As one who held his office for some years, I beg him to think again about fining county councils on capital account because he dislikes what they have done on revenue account.

I do not think that this is a very good Bill. I welcome parts of it, but we must have more accountability on the British Rail subsidy and the Minister must think again about the way in which he is twisting the arms of the county councils.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea. East)

What was significant about the speech of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), relying on his experience in office of dealing with transport matters, was the stress he laid on the "common ground", on the elements within the Bill which necessarily had to be dealt with—apart from his criticism of points of detail concerning revenue and capital allocation—and his description of the Bill as the Transport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. This is clearly what it amounts to.

If that is so, it is hard to reconcile with the amendment moved with such vehemence by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler). I can only surmise that the change of mind on the part of the Opposition in moving the amendment and the genuflections in the direction of the rural community have more to do with the fact that we are perhaps entering an election season than with any objective appraisal of what the Bill is about.

Like the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, I regret that the Bill not more voluminous—although it contains these necessary elements—especially since over the past few years there has been a major debate on transport matters in the country. We had the consultative document, with all the lobbies on both sides mobilised to make known their views and the reaction of the Government to that document. We then had a welcome rethink on the part of the Government, particularly affecting rail, which culminated in the White Paper. We have had a series of other major reports. I think in particular of the Blennerhassett Report on drink and driving.

In spite of all the amount of energy, paper and consideration that we have had on transport over these last three years, this is what has emerged—a Transport (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I am sure that this is due in no way to lack of pressure on the part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. No doubt he would have wanted a grander Bill. But the reality is that, for good or ill—in my view, for ill—very little Government time is available this Session because of the three major constitutional Bills. As a result, this area, of far greater significance to our own people, has to be neglected and only those things which need to be done by and large have been done.

I personally would like to have seen a greater attempt to look at road safety. I find not particularly attractive the answer given to me by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that if road safety matters were to come before the House it would be the Opposition's duty to oppose. Questions about the transference of freight from road to rail and, indeed, the wider debate about the place of the motor car in our society might have been tackled. In particular, there is the question of parking and the question which has been ducked, that of private non-residential parking.

I wish to make one or two quick points. I very much welcome Clauses 2 and 3 concerning the five-year plans and the contracts for bus operators. Two years ago, together with my colleagues in West Glamorgan, I took part in an exercise in which our own transport union came to us faced with substantial redundancies in the manpower of our bus services. We tried to salvage what we could. We had meetings with the Department of Transport and the Welsh Office, which were very helpful. It was said that the county had been granted its full allocation. The county said that that might be so but that it was subject to overall Government restraints on public expenditure. The company said that it simply did not have the money.

There seemed to be no real coordination and no one point to go to to solve this problem. Happily, as a result of the meeting, we were by and large able to solve the problem, but it became clear to me and my colleagues in West Glamorgan at that time that there needed to be a much greater co-ordination of the various bodies involved at county level.

I concede that the counties are the proper bodies for this. Perhaps more significantly, we realised that if one was not to have this danger of redundancy recurring year after year there ought to be a greater certainty for the bus operators. I hope that Clauses 2 and 3 will provide that greater security.

It is all very well to lay down broad principles in Clauses 2 and 3, but clear guidance must be given to the county on how it is to carry out its obligations. I am concerned where the rail operation fits into this county co-ordinating rôle, as in most areas the rail services would cover several counties. I should like to know what kind of co-ordinating apparatus, county to county, is envisaged.

It is clear—this is not meant to be a party point—that by and large the counties over past years have shown no great commitment to public transport. I accept that if the Government are to lay the obligation on counties to have a contract with bus operators, whether public or private, implicit in it should be a commitment by the Government to provide the necessary finance. I think that my right hon. Friend, in answer to a question, accepted that the Government recognise that commitment.

It is clear that there will be a new and much closer relationship between the bus operators and the counties. The counties are, in effect, major shareholders in bus operations, with all the implications in the allocation of contract services and so on which follow from that.

The Bill lays on the counties the obligation to consult district councils. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said that district councils should be more involved. Section 203 of the 1972 Act, to be re-enacted in this legislation, makes no reference to district councils, but the Government have to work within the framework of that Act.

Clearly, there will be conflicts between districts and counties. A quick example is Clause 8, relating to parking. The county is the responsible authority. Therefore, the county will make the bids for off-street parking. However, by and large, it is those who come into the cities from outside from the rural areas who provide the problems. The urban areas, the districts, will experience the problems. There will be political conflict and conflicts of interest between them. The cities will have to bear the burden, but the counties will have to make the decisions. There should be clear guidelines on how such conflicts are to be resolved.

The Government are moving tentatively in the direction of giving greater powers to some of the old cities which are now districts. It may be that in this area recognition will be given to the inevitable conflict between urban and county areas and that some means of resolving it in a detailed area, such as parking, will be incorporated in the legislation.

I say no more because of time. This is a tidying-up, miscellaneous Bill. For that reason, I find it difficult to understand why the Opposition wish to divide upon it.

8.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) in his criticisms of the Bill. Indeed, it has earned so little praise, even from Labour Members, that not one of the Transport Ministers has chosen to be present towards the end of the debate to hear what hon. Members have to say about it.

Having said that, I can find something to praise in the Bill. I am a member of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and I had a hand in drawing up the report on the future rôle of British Rail, which came out last year.

In that report we laid considerable stress on the rôle of rail freight. Indeed, we set it almost as our task to discover whether the consultative document's statement that any massive shift to rail freight was a pipe dream was as gloomy and pessimistic as it appeared to be. I think that by what we wrote in the report we showed the House, and perhaps even the Secretary of State, that, in our opinion there could be a shift of freight from road to rail. So when I say that I have a word of praise for the Bill, it is because with the amendment of Section 8 grants, the Government are helping private industry to build up wagon fleets, which means more freight for rail, and because there is the statement that Freightliners Ltd., shall become the responsibility of British Rail again.

Our Select Committee recommendation that Freightliners should be run by British Rail did not imply any inefficiency or incompetence on the part of the National Freight Corporation. We made it because we believed that Freightliners would become what it should be, an additional specialist service that British Rail, in offering its variety of freight services, should have under its control. When it was under the control of the National Freight Corporation it was simply an additional service in a fundamentally road-oriented organisation.

We were all very impressed by the enthusiastic desire of railwaymen and management in British Rail to make a success of rail freight. But if Freightliners Ltd. as managed by British Rail is to succeed, the Government must ensure that British Rail is in a fair competitive environment vis-à-vis trains and lorries. It is not good enough to insist that British Rail shall do away with its freight subsidy, as the EEC recommends, but then find every reason under the sun why tachographs should not be fitted to lorries simply because the Government suspect that tachographs may increase the cost of road transport. What is sauce for the train gander is sauce for the lorry goose, and until we have a sense of fair play over social and other costs we shall not have fair competition.

I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of fair competition. When I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield reading out the Secretary of State's answer to his very reasonable question about the Didcot distribution centre, I asked myself "How much longer can the Secretary of State sit on his hands while the muscle men of the Transport and General Workers Union hold up that distribution centre and prevent British Rail from getting that share of the market which is its by right, by competition and by hard work?" I shall stay with this question of the distribution centre for the rest of my speech, because it is a subject that has long been due an airing on the Floor of the House, and it is one about which I want the Minister to say something tonight.

I do not want to bore the House with the history of this most unhappy and scandalous affair. I have no doubt that hon. Members will remember that last summer a number of national newspapers published stories to the effect that the Didcot distribution centre, which one may describe as an inland port, was being blacked by the Transport and General Workers Union because its members at Southampton believed that if the centre were successful there would be less work in Southampton.

That claim was made openly in a newsletter published by a group of shop stewards. In their newsletter, called "The Hook", printed by 2/28 Branch Shop Stewards' Committee, No. 8 Gate, Southampton Docks, those dockers said that the Transport and General Workers' Union went to Didcot, had a look round, and returned to Southampton with a list of the agents likely to use the centre. This is how it went on: We went to everyone in turn and told them straight they had a choice—either use Southampton or Didcot—and if it was Didcot they would not get another container through Southampton Docks, or any other port. Most made up their minds there and then to use Southampton. This is the claim with which "The Hook" finished its story: After two years and about 1,000 miles of travelling, it looks as if we have closed down the biggest threat to our future. What a boast. Perhaps, if I were a docker at Southampton, I might say "Well done". But I am not a docker at Southampton. I am a Member of Parliament, and I see the action of those members of that union as being in restraint of trade—the sort of thing which, if a company did it, would cause us to take it to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Yet it is something which the Government are unwilling to do anything about and which the union's own general secretary, Jack Jones himself, claims to know little or nothing about.

Let me explain why I have raised this issue. We are asked tonight to agree that Freightliners should be operated by British Rail. I agree. But before I vote for such a measure, I must know that Freightliners will be allowed to compete fairly for such traffic as is around.

If the Minister says that I am using this Bill as an opportunity to raise the problem at Didcot, I remind him of something else. One of the very few trains which ever got to Didcot some years ago, before it was blacked, was a Freightliner sent by the NFC. The moment it arrived at Didcot the blacking started, and so this great container service, which should be a very profitable part of British Rail's freight system, is now threatened by the unions.

The Minister must tell the House, the taxpayer and all those who might want to use Freightliners that if they use that service it can operate in any distribution centre in the United Kingdom, and especially in a container centre such as Didcot which was designed to do that job. If he cannot say that, is not the Minister admitting that Freightliners will go over to British Rail and be hobbled before it starts?

I remind the Minister of this, too. He will know that the railway line from Cowley to Kennington Junction, south of Oxford, was one of the few lines in Oxfordshire left when the great cuts took place so that cars could be moved from British Leyland to the Didcot distribution centre by train, thence to be sent round the country or out to the ports. He knows very well that 10 days ago one train did try to travel with cars from Cowley to Didcot but, curiously, a van blocked the line. But does he know also that the Transport and General Workers Union has told British Leyland that if it tries to move any more cars by train the union will stop the production lines at Cowley?

That state of affairs cannot continue. British Rail has a right to its share of the market. We have rightly taken the subsidy from its freight business. So now we must ensure that it has a chance to compete fairly.

I am not interested in a union jungle war. What I am interested in is fair play for all the workers in our country. I hope and expect that the Minister will tell us tonight that Didcot will in future be operated for those who wish to use it, that they can choose the transport system they like, and that no union, no matter how much muscle it has, or how important it is, or how large its funds, shall stand in the way of fair trade and fair play for all industries, particularly those that are owned by the British taxpayer through nationalisation.

9.5 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)

Because the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has raised the Did-cot issue I feel that I have to abandon my own speech and refer to what he said. The hon. Gentleman knows of my interest in this matter, just as I know of his. I have every respect for his interest, and he probably has a respect for mine.

There is no doubt that what has happened at Didcot is deplorable. I went to the site last year, and although both sides —the T and GWU and the business men there, the employers—deny that blacking exists or at least do not admit to its existence, I am convinced that there is blacking.

I repeat that the situation is deplorable, but I do not want us to think that these shop stewards, or the T and GWU men on the site, are typical of the whole of the trade union movement. If one looks at the railway unions, and no doubt at many parts of the T and GWU membership, such as bus men, one finds that there have been tremendous redundancies since the decline in public transport. Railway men have lost more than 400,000 members—probably twice the number that they have today—with very little resistance to change.

Here we have British Rail coming into its own. It has made enormous progress on the freight side in the past few years. The management is keen, progressive, and far-sighted, and it has introduced remarkable innovations on both the passenger traffic and freight sides. It has TOPS, which is almost frightening in its efficiency. It is going into airbrake wagon loads, and these can be run extremely efficiently with freightliners.

We ought to remember that Freightliners was a railway development, and in my view should never have been taken away from British Rail. This was one of the developments of which British Rail was extremely proud in those days, and its removal from British Rail was extremely damaging to morale.

I come back to the question of Didcot. What should the Government do? That is the difficulty, as I think both sides of the House recognise. Should the Government have a confrontation with the T and GWU in Didcot? Should they bring in the Army? We all know that that would be wrong.

Work is being done behind the scenes. It is common knowledge that I took this matter to the National Executive Transport Sub-Committee of the Labour Party because someone leaked the minutes to the Press. I did not do that, but it might have done some good because this is a topic that should be discussed publicly and in this House. This is Luddism, and the future of this country does not lie in Luddism. It is the graveyard of our aspirations for industrial regenera- tion. The only confrontation that occurred was between myself and Jack Jones in this committee. It was a bitter confrontation, but, to be fair to Jack Jones, I think that if the matter were left to him—I ought not to be saying this because I should not be speaking his mind—the dispute would not occur.

One knows of the way in which Jack Jones' position has been dramatised as the most powerful man in the country, but he is only as powerful as the unity of his union. His great union has many different sections, and sometimes they are opposed to one another. The most obvious example was that of the dockers and the lorry drivers. But on this occasion the lorry drivers and the dockers are combined, because they both fear the same thing. It is a human fear—the fear of losing one's job. It is said in society today that one does not mind losing one's job and that one likes to live on social security. But to believe that of the vast majority of working men is a disgraceful slur. Most people want to keep their jobs. Some of those concerned in the dispute are misguided and their action is deplorable.

Mr. Bidwell

My hon. Friend knows that in this debate I have carried some of the brief for the Transport and General Workers Union. I do not know enough about the nitty-gritty of the affairs at Did-cot at the moment. However, would my hon. Friend not agree, as an old Socialist friend of mine, that the Luddite attitude is not quartered only in the trade union movement? There is a juxtaposition of the acceptance of progress and a Luddite feeling and attitude because of the fear of the existing economic situation in our country and in the Western capitalist world as a whole. Would he not agree that that extends into managerial circles in private industry?

Mr. Atkins

Of course, as I have already explained. One of my difficulties in the committee was that, although information was given to me in confidence by the business men concerned, I was not able to reveal it because I was under oath, as it were, not to do so. The employers must bear some responsibility for this.

My difficulty was that Jack Jones was denying that there was blacking. He said that he denied it in public. The employers denied it. So it is difficult to proceed to complain about blacking when both sides say that it does not exist, or at least do not admit to it. I finished up by saying to Jack Jones "Make a public announcement that it is not union policy." It is certainly not Labour Party policy or Government policy, and it is not Transport and General Workers Union policy either. Jack said "I have already announced it." I should have liked him to make another announcement, and I hope that one day he will do so.

At the moment things are being done, I am informed. I have discussed this matter with other Labour Members and we are to have a meeting on the subject once negotiations take place between Jack Jones and some of the general secretaries in the trade union movement.

To trade unionists I say that the constant message from one trade unionist to another is one of fraternity. Surely there is room for the existence of some railway workers—the numbers have been greatly depleted in recent years, although there is an enormous, rapidly growing trade union—in a sector which will always expand, whatever work goes to British Rail, because road haulage is an expanding industry. I am sad about this. This is a serious social problem with which we all have to deal. One way to deal with it is to reduce unemployment, among other things, and to guarantee security of employment. I shall press the Secretary of State to do what he can—although it will have to be done discreetly behind the scenes and without talk of confrontation—to settle the problem. Then I believe that we shall get the true Labour Party policy of integration, the end of duplication of systems and free choice of the most efficient form of transport.

British Rail has made great progress in the past year or two, with great credit to everyone. Railway workers are beginning to get their morale back. It would be a great shame if this great new development, which is likely to gain ground in the future because of our problems with energy sources and so on, were to be destroyed.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

Like the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins), I agree, as I think would all hon. Members, that my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) has electrified the tail end of this debate with his very vivid and disturbing account of the events at Didcot. I shall not add to what he had to say. I merely pay tribute to him for the way in which he expressed it.

Many hon. Members have said that this is really a miscellaneous provisions Bill. I think that that is an apt description of it. I want to confine my remarks to only two small and narrow points. One is to do with bicycling and provision for cyclists, which is a notable omission from the Bill. The other is to do with the plight of commuters and the way in which they are affected by British Rail.

I turn first to the question of provision for cyclists. It is a disappointment for all those who have been following these matters to see that, although paragraphs 128 and 129 of the White Paper made some quite helpful noises about the sort of things that the Government wanted to encourage local authorities to do for cyclists, none the less there is in the Bill nothing to enable local authorities to provide cycle routes and cycle parking racks, to take just two examples.

I hope that in Committee, even if not this evening, the Government will agree to look again at this matter and see whether, as it is only a small point and would not entail much, if any, public expenditure, they would be willing to introduce perhaps a new clause or an amendment to make adequate provision for cyclists.

I am myself a cyclist. I enjoy cycling. It is a healthy activity. It is also something which, in the nature of things, will have to be expanded in the years ahead for those in a position to use that form of transport.

I turn briefly to British Rail. All my constituents—very many of whom have to commute—are very concerned at the rapid increase in commuter fares.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

A monstrous increase.

Mr. Forman

I know that this worry applies throughout the South-East. None the less, I think commuters recognise that, if this sort of increase is to be controlled, there is a continuing need to see that the increases are predictable and containable. The public—taxpayers, those paying fares or those contributing in any other way—want to know that they are getting the best possible value for money.

Obviously, it is very unfortunate that, although British Rail has come forward with some very creditable efforts to raise the productivity of the rail system over recent years, this has come about largely as a result of declining services and an even more rapidly declining work force, so that the net effect is positive—if one could call it that. But that is clearly not a very constructive way in which to go about the matter.

The evidence provided by the excellent Select Committee report shows that many other countries on the Continent, in a situation in which road traffic is expanding, interestingly enough, have still managed to get better productivity out of their rail systems. I should like to give one interesting quotation from the report. It says, in no uncertain terms: The existing support payment is not good `value for money'. It is referring to the support payment in favour of passenger services. It says: A higher volume of traffic and/or higher service quality would be desirable in order that the existing level be justified. That is a very clear bipartisan statement from the Select Committee.

I hope very much that, through such things as more reasonable and intelligent manning levels and Government action to help British Rail to gain a larger share of the available passenger market, which is vitally important to the future of British Rail, we can legitimately expect British Rail to improve its productivity in more constructive ways. If those two things could be done and if the necessary reassurances which follow from them could thereby be given to the hard-pressed commuters in my constituency and in many others around London, there would be a better understanding of the value that people get from the money that they have to fork out, in either taxes or fares, to support what is a necessary transport and social system.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

Here we are, at long last, with the Transport Bill about which we have been talking and speculating for so long. It has had what can only be described as a muted reception. Every parent is proud of its offspring, and the Secretary of State came along clucking like any proud parent to show off his offspring. Alas, it is a somewhat pale and sickly infant that has been presented before us.

Although the Secretary of State thinks that his offspring looks beautiful, the House has not taken that view. Not only have all my hon. Friends expressed their belief that it is a disappointing Bill, but the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) said that he could support it only if the Government meant business by it, which was a pretty half-hearted reception, the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) gave it a very cautious welcome and described it as too bitty, the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) said that it was a miscellaneous provisions Bill, and so on.

We have to look at the Bill against the long background which has accompanied it. There was a vast consultation document in two volumes with orange covers which we pored over with such interest, the four years of study which accompanied it, numerous representations from every sort of organisation, a White Paper and debates on that document.

It is a disappointing Bill. The Secretary of State made great play about his surprise that the Opposition should have put down a reasoned amendment. I wonder why he was so surprised. What on earth did he expect us to do when we do not approve of the Bill in general because it does not go far enough and leaves out so many of the things which people in the transport world expected to be included? Any Opposition would have put down a reasoned amendment, and ours is an extremely reasonable amendment which the House should support.

Mr. Bidwell

The deficiency in the Opposition is not that they put down an amendment but the terms in which they put it down. It is a direct negative and is not at all constructive.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman might like to entertain himself at home later by jotting down what he would have tabled as a reasoned amendment if he were in opposition. The amendment is exactly right in expressing what we think and what probably most people in transport think.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), in an excellent speech, pointed out that a large part of the Bill had been in draft form and public knowledge for the past four years and was practically enacted by the last Conservative Government. It was held up solely because the present Government decided to go back for consultation and have come back now, three and a half years later, with very much the same provisions. We welcome that, but we are bound to point out that it is undesirable that four years have been wasted because the Government would not go ahead with something that was handed to them on a plate by their predecessors.

However, all has not been lost. We have had the usual splendid contribution from the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon), who never disappoints us with the quality of his contributions. He delighted us with a description, which I am sure the Under-Secretary will confirm was accurate, of what appeared to be a tense and moving interview between him and the Secretary of State in the course of which the hon. Gentleman radically altered the contents of the Bill. He claimed to have struck out a lot of nationalisation measures and to have made all sorts of other alterations. The effect of this on the House was very great but was marred by the fact that the hon. Member let out later that he had not actually read the Bill before the debate. I hope that, as the Liberal spokesman on transport, he will go back to his rural constituency and spend a little time studying the problems of transport in those areas where there are Liberal candidates, if not Liberal Members, who would like his advice.

I have not had time to check the hon. Gentleman's interesting revelation that Gladstone introduced a Transport Bill in 1822. If it is true, I suspect that he must have introduced it from his cradle.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Gladstone was going to introduce a Bill to nationalise the railways.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful for that fascinating contribution.

I turn to the main provisions of the Bill. One of them is that county councils will be expected to produce five-year transport plans. We welcome the placing of responsibility upon county councils. It is a good thing to pass the responsibility down to the level of those who are in close contact with the problems. But we are somewhat suspicious about how real this provision is. We were shaken when the Secretary of State said that the counties would have to obey Government policies if they were to receive transport supplementary grant as they would wish.

Most hon. Members have said that they do not believe it can be right for the Government to use their ability to parcel out the transport supplementary grant for roads, for example, to ensure that the counties carry out the Government's view of what are the counties' own responsibilities. Are the Government prepared to trust the counties to find out the needs of their residents and to make policies which coincide with those needs? If the counties work out the needs properly, surely it follows that it is not right for the Government to intervene capriciously and decide to alter the grants, which are to be used for other purposes. That is a most important point. I hope that the Minister will think about it and that the Under-Secretary of State will comment upon it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) read out a list of representations from district councils. We think that some of the anxiety that they express is valid. We hope it can be made clear that the provision that the districts must be consulted about the plans means that consultation will take place early enough for the districts to feel that their representations have a chance of being effective.

I turn to the question of money. It is all very well for the Government to say that the county councils will have responsibility, but there are several aspects to that. The Government commit the county councils to five-year plans and to three-year agreements with the operators. That does not take into account that any Government can and do radically alter their own arrangements with the county councils at much shorter intervals. The county councils have been screwed down by the Government and have to save money in some way. If we believe that the county councils should have the responsibility of working out their own needs, it follows that when they are screwed clown to find economies it is they who must find them. If they believe that one way is less painful than another, the Minister should be reluctant to criticise them for taking that decision.

The Secretary of State is glibly handing over responsibility to the county councils, but he still commits them to a five-year plan when the Government have no five-year commitment. There is to be no commitment from the Government and, therefore, the counties commitment is to that extent subject to variation or modification.

I do not think that anyone in the House has expressed a wish to see the traffic commissioners abolished.

Mr. Gow

My hon. Friend does me an injustice. I do.

Mr. Younger

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I should not have taken his name in vain. We do not envisage that the traffic commissioners should be removed from the scene. If, however, the county councils are to be required to assess the needs of their areas, it must be necessary to redefine the rôle of the traffic commissioners in the light of the change in policy. The Minister has said nothing about redefining their rôle, and there is nothing about that in the Bill.

At the very least, the traffic commissioners should in future be required to have a bias towards the plans drawn up by the county councils. It may be that there is a rôle for them as a sort of appeal body when there is a dispute between different counties or between operators and counties. I do not think, however, that we can leave the traffic commissioners to carry on in their own sweet way as they are doing now when we are radically revising transport plans and priorities. We shall want to return to this point when we go into Committee.

I come briefly now to the PSV licence system. Of course, we welcome the Government's conversion to our case on this. They have come round to our point of view. We must be sure, however—this is another matter we shall deal with in Committee—that the relaxation of the restrictions is genuine and that it will allow the maximum scope for competition and innovation to develop.

The main thing that the rural areas need, apart from money, which they always need, is the freedom to experiment with new ideas, new methods and new forms of competition. I hope we can ensure that there is a genuine relaxation of the restrictions so that this can take place.

There is then the question of the road traffic regulations. The first aspect I shall deal with is that concerning the parking measures in the Bill. The Minister completely failed to give any sensible reasons, or any reasons at all, why these measures are desirable and why local authorities should be empowered to restrict and alter public parking in their areas.

There has been no suggestion of the sort of regulation that is envisaged. Is it envisaged that county councils will want to close down parking areas or increase the charges made in them? No one has told us that or has produced evidence of benefits which will arise from the proposals. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said, where these measures have been tried out in Greater London—the example that the Secretary of State used to show why he was introducing them—they have proved to be widely unpopular among the general public and they have been sensibly abandoned by the GLC since the change to Conservative control.

We then come to road haulage, which has hardly been touched upon. It is a strange feature of our debates on transport—the last debate was just the same—that we do not deal to any great extent with road haulage.

Mr. John Ellis

Some of us try to put the problems of the road haulage industry, but we are not successful in catching Mr. Speaker's eye.

Mr. Younger

I take note of what the hon. Member says. No justification or reason has been given by the Government as to why it is necessary to increase the difficulties and, therefore, the costs of road haulage through the additional arrangements for the inspection of vehicles and the extension of the distance by which they can be diverted from one mile to five miles. This proposal has come out of the Ministry, but why put it forward? It is bound to increase road haulage costs and, therefore, the cost of living. Road hauliers will feel ill done by at a time when they are already suffering so many other crippling increases in costs.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the railways. It is not good enough to ask us to agree to a further tranche of £3,000 million for British Rail without having a date attached to it. I am not suggesting that it is possible to predict, over three or four years, the need for subsidy. These forecasts never turn out to be right. However, the House of Commons should not accept such a huge sum of money without any date on it at all. British Rail should be given a yardstick and should know over what period Parliament expects it to use this money.

I do not think that the Secretary of State expected us to take seriously his remarks at the beginning that our attitude has anything to do with removing the rail support grants. We are firm in supporting these. In fact, when my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was at the Department of the Environment he took the decision that the rail network had been cut far enough, and he deserves credit for that.

The plight of commuters was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Mr. Forman). Commuters do not expect rail fares never to rise, and they do not expect them never to rise in a way that hurts their pockets. However, they expect a real effort on the part of British Rail and the Government to explain why such an increase is reasonable and to show that it has been done only after the most rigorous attempts to cut costs and to be efficient. It is not good enough to make out that it is easy to cut costs, because it is not. On the other hand, it is not good enough to suggest unreasonably that costs should not be cut at all. Our rôle in Parliament is to press for increased efficiency.

One hon. Member said that British Raid had cut its staff more than any other industry. That would bring a great laugh from the agriculture industry. That industry has ben forced to cut labour by a far greater amount over many years.

It is absolutely essential that we should get maximum divulgence of British Rail's accounts in individual sections of that outfit. It would be a great help to the public to see where profits or losses are being made. The whole question of fare increases would be much easier if this were done.

On the question of the National Freight Corporation, we heard two remarkably courageous speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury and the hon. Member for Preston, North about the Didcot container terminal dispute. Nobody in his right senses would expect the Government or the Minister to sort out that difficult problem by stepping in and waving a magic wand. However, the House must ask the Government, on a matter like this, to let their view and position be known. That is only fair to those involved. The Government should give a lead and let everyone know where they think the solution lies. I hope that we shall have an equally courageous statement from the Minister, either tonight or in Committee, about this matter, because the speeches on both sides of the House deserve it.

We are not happy about the transfer of Freightliners back to British Rail. The Government gave no reasons or advantages for this transfer. They have taken this action purely in response to the lobby that demanded it. The Minister has chucked a hunk of red meat to that lobby and has given no reason for doing so and no indications that there will be any improvement in efficiency in doing so.

It is essential for the Minister to reconfirm that the accounts of Freightliners' operations within British Rail will be clearly and separately identified. This is necessary in order to gain the confidence of those who transport freight either by road or by rail.

We all thought that this would be a big parliamentary occasion on which we would have before us a major Transport Bill which had been the subject of many years—four at least—of careful and detailed consultation by transport interests all over the country. Frankly, the Bill is a considerable disappointment. It is the product of a Goverment running out of steam. They have spent a long time considering transport matters, but they have left themselves in a position, where, having reached an election year, they cannot even produce a proper Transport Bill. We are left with a Bill that will disappoint as many people as it pleases. For that reason, the Opposition believe that the Bill is not good enough to be passed as it stands and we have tabled a reasoned amendments. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will accept it.

9.41 p.m.

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

I am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) will understand if I detected a slightly different note in the debate from that which he detected. I thought that as a whole my hon. Friends gave a welcome to the Bill, and, indeed, I detected a note of welcome in a number of Opposition speeches. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) seemed to be claiming paternity for parts of the Bill. I do not know whether that raises questions of legitimacy between the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, but I shall not explore that matter too far.

I was grateful for the warm and unsolicited testimonial of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon). I always trust his first thoughts, and they were admirable on this occasion. From his totally unbiased and non-partisan position he said that the Government had done more for rural transport in 12 months than had ever been done before. That shows the absurdity of the Opposition amendment.

Mr. Norman Fowler


Mr. Horam

No, I cannot give way. I have only 18 minutes left in which to reply.

Mr. Fowler


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Minister does not give way, he must be allowed to continue.

Mr. Horam

I shall not give way. This has been an exceptionally good debate and I wish to reply in some detail to the points raised.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) made an excellent speech. He thought that there should be a right of appeal for district councils against the plans of county councils. One of or two of my hon. Friends and some Opposition Members also expressed that view, although the hon. Member for Truro did not feel that that would be right. We shall return to the matter in Committee, and I shall go no further than my right hon. Friend went in his opening remarks.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), in an impressive speech, pointed out that we were going in the right direction, but rather more slowly than he wanted. Surely to travel from a White Paper to the Second Reading of a Bill within about six months is almost the best that has been achieved in parliamentary history. Therefore, I scarcely agree that we are guilty of slowness.

The hon. Gentleman also opposed the total abolition of the traffic commissioners—something which the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) hastily disavowed, whereas the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) seemed to ramble uneasily between these two well-defined positions, a not unaccustomed situation.

The hon. Member for Wellingborough criticised the Bill for being vague on the general question of the relationship between the traffic commisisoners and the county councils and in defining the role of county councils. When the county councils were first given powers in this respect by the Conservative Government, the relationship between the county councils and the traffic commisisoners was simply assumed. Therefore, in this Bill for the first time we make express provision for the responsibility of county councils in this regard.

Basically, it is for the county councils to plan and initiate and for the commissioners to adjudicate, taking into account, as they do now, the views of users as well as of operators. I think that we define for the first time—

Mr. Fry


Mr. Horam

No, I must get on.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Give way.

Mr. Horam

I praised the speech of the hon. Member for Wellingborough and I shall not give way as well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Fitch) and the hon. Members for Carshalton (Mr. Forman) and Hastings (Mr. Warren) made a valid point about the financial provision for British Rail. The Bill provides a large sum. It may be a small Bill in terms of the number of clauses, but it is a large Bill in terms of the financial implications for public transport.

I say in reply to my hon. Friend and the hon. Members for Carshalton and Hastings that in 1978–79 the public expenditure provision, including the new replacement allowance, is about £440 million on outturn prices. At that rate £1,750 million, the first large tranche, would last nearly four years. We expect the Board's claim to decrease slightly in real terms. Continued inflation would have an effect, and the limit, which is in cash terms, would be reached sooner than that if inflation increased at a faster rate than we expected. That is how long the finance for British Rail will last.

My hon. Friend and the hon. Members for Carshalton and Hastings also made a legitimate point, as did the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, to do him justice, about providing information concerning British Rail's activities and tracking it down between the various parts. We made our position clear in the White Paper. We want to give as much information as we feel it is reasonable to provide and we have taken the first step in answering the Select Committee's report. For the first time we have given a breakdown in clear terms of the various profit centres of British Rail. I accept the comment of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that this is a matter not only of open government but for the House of Commons. That is a fair point.

Parking was referred to briefly by one or two hon. Members. As Clause 8 makes clear, our aim is to provide further means of regulating traffic in urban areas. In general, I do not think that it would be right for the powers to be used outside congested urban areas such as town centres. I do not envisage that they will be needed where car parks are provided outside such centres—for example, airports. The House will recall that Heathrow was specifically exempted from the 1969 Act, which applied only to the GLC area.

The hon. Member for Hastings, in a thoughtful speech, rightly said that, if we are expecting local authorities to provide guarantees for operators to reach agreement with them about the sort of money that they may expect over three years, we have a duty to provide a reasonable fin- ancial guarantee for local authorities. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State dealt with that issue in the course of his opening remarks.

We are saying quite clearly that we are providing a certain level of public support for public transport and that we expect that support to be roughly at the same level as is contained in our White Paper proposals. In addition, we have changed the machinery of the transport supplementary grant this year to provide a new threshold so that all bus revenue support comes above the threshold and automatically collects the transport supplementary grant. In those two ways, we have sought to make it clear that any county council that provides the right level of bus support will not find public resources lacking for it.

I hope that those remarks cover the points that were made in the first half of the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) spoke well and sensitively about the plight of commuters. I take his remarks very much to heart. My hon. Friend asked a number of questions and I shall write to him. There were so many questions contained in his speech that I cannot answer them all tonight.

My hon. Friend pointed out that district and parish councils have the right to finance bus services if they wish to do so and if the county council is not doing so. At the moment, under Clause 1, district councils will have the right to subsidise bus services and, as my hon. Friend knows, parish councils do not have such a right. They have the free 2p rate out of which they can provide free community bus services if they feel that that sort of provision is necessary. Ferries are within the scope of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean) also spoke of the problems of commuters and mentioned in particular the problems in Kent caused by overloaded lorries, with all the consequences that flow from that. Kent certainly has a very good policy in this respect. I only wish that its policy on public transport was as good as its policy for dealing with overloaded lorries. This is the point of the clause dealing with new and longer limits for redirecting lorries when there is a suspicion that they may be overloaded.

This is a small part of our total programme for civilising the heavy lorry, and I am surprised that the hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield and for Ayr were so churlish about welcoming proposals to deal with this major problem of large lorries trundling through the countryside. This is something which hon. Gentlemen ought to support. I was surprised that the hon. Members felt that they ought to criticise it.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield is always partisan, but he was strongly partisan this evening, determined to show that there was a difference between the Conservative approach to transport policy and the Labour approach. There is a clear and simple difference. We give proper support to public transport and the Conservatives do not.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths


Mr. Horam

Last week—

Mr. Griffiths


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister is clearly not giving way.

Mr. Horam

I have sacrificed 10 minutes of the time allotted to me to allow more time for debate. I must answer the questions that have been put to me.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer published his annual White Paper on Public Expenditure. On page 40 of that document there is a most interesting table. It shows total public spending on transport, actual and planned, each year from 1972–73 to 1981–82 in constant prices. It is an interesting table because it could not reveal more accurately the priorities of the two main parties. In 1973–74, the Tories' last year of office, when presumably their philosophy was at its most fully developed, and certainly when they could hardly say that they were just rolling forward the programmes created by the previous Labour Government, no less than £1,076 million was spent on constructing new motorways and roads. This was actually a greater amount than was being spent at that time on the entire nation's council house building programme. It is no wonder that in those days local elections were being fought on the slogan "Homes before roads".

Public transport, I am afraid, came way down the list of priorities. In that year, the level of support from the Government to the railways was £292 millions, an odd contrast with £1,076 million on new motorways and trunk roads. In local transport, concessionary fare schemes received £42 million, and support for buses, tubes and ferries combined—the White Paper does not distinguish between them—was the princely sum of £27 million. The mistake here was not just that this was a wholly unbalanced transport programme. It was that it invited a strong public reaction.

It is no coincidence that it was at about that time that the anti-motorway protest groups began to gather strength and that public concern about the plans of motorway engineers and the procedures at public inquiries was mounting. Of all the damage which that traumatic period of Conservative Government did—with the Industrial Relations Act, in local government with the misconceived reorganisation, in finance and industry with Slater Walker, and in housing with the property boom—not the least damage was to public confidence in road building and its procedures. By contrast, under the present Government—

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister seems to be rather confused as to which debate he is referring to. He has referred to Slater Walker and the Industrial Relations Act. We were under the apprehension—perhaps it was a misapprehension—that he was the Under-Secretary at the Department of Transport. Would the Minister be kind enough to explain these matters?

Mr. Speaker

If we wait, we shall find out.

Mr. Horam

I think we are very clear about what we are talking about. We are talking about the performance of my right hon. Friend and myself and the performance of the Conservative Party when in Government. Under the present Government and the policies of my right hon. Friend, spending on new road construction next year will be £675 million, central Government support for railways will be £462 million, and in local transport £109 million will be spent on concessionary fares and no less than £149 million on bus support, compared with £27 million in the last year of the Tory Government.

Added together, with other items, this gives a rough equality between expenditure on public transport and that in support of private transport in the shape of new roads. That balance is right, and it will be continued into the future.

I am sure that that is the best approach, because, while we all recognise the freedom and enjoyment which possession of a private car has brought and we acknowledge, too, the need of industry for good road connections, it is also clear that there must be just as much concern for rising fare levels on public transport as well as, in some instances, its declining quality. We must not, and never shall, while we are in power go back to thinking that transport is all about roads. It is not.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson


Mr. Horam

Yet that is apparently the view of some Conservatives.

But the very serious facts are that, since they regained control in so many county councils, Conservatives have cut back on public transport support. Since he has not publicly dissociated himself from this, I take it that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield must agree with this process.

I gave some of the figures when the Opposition were foolish enough to choose transport as the subject for a Supply Day debate.

Mr. Norman Fowler

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister has made it clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Horam

In Tory-controlled Derbyshire, support is to be cut by more than one-quarter in the next financial year. We are told that this implies a reduction of services by 9 per cent. as well as fare increases greater than the rate of inflation. I shall forbear to mention Tory-controlled Northamptonshire because of the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough, but in Humberside, another county where the Tories gained control, support for bus services has again been reduced. In other words, the direct consequence of a Tory victory in local elections is likely to be higher fares and worse public transport services.

Nor is reduced support the only problem we have with the Conservative attitude to public transport. Many Conservative-controlled counties persistently deny to bus operators the amount they calculate they need to maintain services. Nor are these the small differences which could spring from an understandable desire by the counties to maintain pressure on the National Bus Company to improve its efficiency. The differences are huge.

For next year, Conservative-controlled Berkshire is bidding for only 56 per cent. of what the NBC has asked for, Humberside 45 per cent., Kent 37 per cent. and East Sussex 26 per cent. Two counties—Oxford and Suffolk, both Conservative-controlled—are refusing to promise anything at all to the NBC.

The Tory amendment is absurd. I am sure that the House will want to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 153; Noes 185.

Division No. 68] AYES [10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Channon, Paul Fairgrieve, Russell
Arnold, Tom Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Farr, John
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Finsberg, Geoffrey
Atkinson, David (Bournemouth, East) Clegg, Walter Fisher, Sir Nigel
Banks, Robert Cockroft, John Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)
Biggs-Davison, John Cope, John Fookes, Miss Janet
Blaker, Peter Costain, A. P. Forman, Nigel
Boscawen, Hon Robert Critchley, Julian Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)
Bottomley, Peter Crouch, David Fox, Marcus
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Fry, Peter
Braine, Sir Bernard Dodsworth, Geoffrey Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Brittan, Leon Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)
Bryan, Sir Paul Durant, Tony Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)
Buck, Antony Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Goodhart, Philip
Bulmer, Esmond Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Goodhew, Victor
Burden, F. A. Eyre, Reginald Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)
Carlisle, Mark Fairbairn, Nicholas Gray, Hamish
Grieve, Percy Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Shelton, William (Streatham)
Griffiths, Eldon Mayhew, Patrick Shepherd, Colin
Grist, Ian Meyer, Sir Anthony Shersby, Michael
Grylls, Michael Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Sims, Roger
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Sinclair, Sir George
Hampson, Dr Keith Moate, Roger Skeet, T. H. H.
Hayhoe, Barney Montgomery, Fergus Smith, Dudley (Warwick)
Higgins, Terence L. Moore, John (Croydon C) Smith, Timothy John (Ashfield)
Hodgson, Robin More, Jasper (Ludlow) Speed, Keith
Holland, Philip Morgan, Geraint Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Hordern, Peter Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Stanbrook, Ivor
Hunt, David (Wirral) Morris, Michael (Northampton S) Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Hurd, Douglas Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Tapsell, Peter
James, David Neave, Airey Tebbit, Norman
Jessel, Toby Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Neubert, Michael Thomas, Rt Hon P. (Hendon S)
Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Newton, Tony Townsend, Cyril D.
Jopling, Michael Nott, John Trotter, Neville
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Page, John (Harrow West) Vaughan, Dr Gerald
Kershaw, Anthony Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Viggers, Peter
Kimball, Marcus Page, Richard (Workington) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Percival, Ian Wall, Patrick
Knight, Mrs Jill Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Walters, Dennis
Lawrence, Ivan Raison, Timothy Warren, Kenneth
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rathbone, Tim Weatherill, Bernard
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Loveridge, John Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Wiggin, Jerry
Macfarlane, Neil Rhodes James, R. Winterton, Nicholas
MacGregor, John Ridsdale, Julian Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
MacKay, Andrew (Stechford) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Younger, Hon George
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. (Farnham) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Scott, Nicholas Mr. John Stradling Thomas and
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. Spencer Le Marchant.
Mather, Carol
Anderson, Donald Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) McCartney, Hugh
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Ashton, Joe Faulds, Andrew McElhone, Frank
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Atkinson, Norman Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Flannery, Martin Madden, Max
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Magee, Bryan
Bates, Alf Foot, Rt Hon Michael Marks, Kenneth
Bean, R. E. Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Beith, A. J. George, Bruce Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Golding, John Maynard, Miss Joan
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Gould, Bryan Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Bidwell, Sydney Grant, George (Morpeth) Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbrlde)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Grant, John (Islington C) Mitchell, Austin
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Grimond, Rt Hon J. Moonman, Eric
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Grocott, Bruce Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Moyle, Roland
Bradley, Tom Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hart, Rt Hon Judith Newens, Stanley
Buchan, Norman Hayman, Mrs Helene Ogden, Eric
Buchanan, Richard Henderson, Douglas O'Halloran, Michael
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Horam, John Orbach, Maurice
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Canavan, Dennis Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Ovenden, John
Carmichael, Neil Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Carter, Ray Hughes, Roy (Newport) Palmer, Arthur
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Hunter, Adam Pardoe, John
Cohen, Stanley Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Park, George
Coleman, Donald [...]ving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Parker, John
Conlan, Bernard Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Parry, Robert
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Pavitt, Laurie
Corbett, Robin Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pendry, Tom
Cowans, Harry Johnson, James (Hull West) Penhaligon, David
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Perry, Ernest
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Jones, Barry (East Flint) Phipps, Dr Colin
Cronin, John Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)
Crowther, Stan (Rotherham) Judd, Frank Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Kaufman, Gerald Robinson, Geoffrey
Davidson, Arthur Kerr, Russell Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kinnock, Neil Rodgers, Rt Hon William (Stockton)
Davies, Clinton (Hackney C) Lambie, David Rooker, J. W.
Deakins, Eric Lamborn, Harry Rose, Paul B.
Dormand, J. D. Lamond, James Ryman, John
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Sandelson, Neville
Dunnett, Jack Loyden, Eddie Sedgemore, Brian
Eadie, Alex Lyon, Alexander (York) Sever, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Watt, Hamish
Silverman, Julius Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Weetch, Ken
Skinner, Dennis Thompson, George Whitlock, William
Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Snape, Peter Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Spearing, Nigel Tierney, Sydney Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Spriggs, Leslie Tomlinson, John Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Stallard, A. W. Torney, Tom Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Steel, Rt Hon David Urwin, T. W. Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Stewart, Rt Hon Donald Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Wise, Mrs Audrey
Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Woodall, Alec
Stoddart, David Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Woof, Robert
Stott, Roger Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Strang, Gavin Ward, Michael TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Watkins, David Mr. James Tinn and
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Watkinson, John Mr. Ted Graham.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 39 (Amendment on second or third reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills.)

  2. cc805-6
  3. TRANSPORT [MONEY] 490 words