HC Deb 17 May 1978 vol 950 cc693-7
Mr. Gow

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 3, line 17, leave out "1979" and insert 1980 or such later date as the Secretary of State shall appoint".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, we may take Amendment No. 13, in page 3, line 20, leave out from "plan" to end of line 23 and insert "when it thinks fit".

Mr. Gow

Clause 2(1)(a) provides that a metropolitan district council shall prepare and publish a public passenger transport plan for the ensuing five years not later than 31st March next year. We have not yet reached the end of the Report stage of the Bill and we are moving towards the end of May. It would be very much more realistic to provide that the date by which county councils must produce their five-year plans should be 31st March 1980 or such later date as the Secretary of State may appoint.

It is unrealistic to invite county councils to prepare and publish a plan for five years ahead in the short time—if there is any time at all—that will elapse between the Bill receiving Royal Assent and the date required for publication of the plans. Who knows how long the Bill will take in another place? It may not receive Royal Assent until late July or early August. Indeed, it may not receive Royal Assent until the autumn and we may have a General Election then.

I am not very keen on five-year plans anyway, and if I could defer their coming into operation, that would be a cause dear to my heart. However, there is another purpose behind the amendments. It would be open to an incoming Secretary of State—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler)—to relieve county councils of the obligation to produce a five-year plan. At worst, the amendment would postpone the date by a year and at best, it would postpone the date for very much longer.

Amendment No. 13 provides that a plan shall be produced by a county council whenever it thinks fit. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) was almost on my side on the last amendment. We are both keen to preserve the rights of local authorities. Amendment No. 13 also should command the hon. Member's sympathetic attention. It provides that the republication of a plan should take place whenever the non-metropolitan county council thinks fit. I do not think it is right for the Bill to lay down that there should be specific dates for republication. Why not leave it to the county councils concerned? Why not devolve power from the centre and give it to the county council. For these reasons I commend the amendment to the House.

Mr. William Rodgers

On Amendment No. 9, it is a reasonable principle that once the wish of Parliament is determined, it is proper to get a move on. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was frank enough to say that he was not very keen on the plans anyway, and it is a legitimate dodge to suggest that the evil day might be postponed.

We warned the county councils of our intentions before the Bill was published. It is up to them to prepare for the likelihood of the Bill passing through the House. I do not think that they will be inconvenienced by producing the first plan by 31st March 1979.

Mr. Loyden

Will the Secretary of State consider the question of the Mersey ferries? These will be the responsibility of the county council. These are transport facilities in my area which cannot be viable in the general economic transport sense. Other considerations should be given to the question of facility in the area if the clause is not amended, will this mean that the locality cannot decide this matter? Would there be a reference to the county council, and is there a possibility of its considering the question before the Secretary of State makes his decision?

Mr. Rodgers

I reassure my hon. Friend, the Member for Rochester and or not in the way that the hon. Member for Eastbourne has proposed, it will have no effect on the serious matter of the Mersey ferries. The present proposal would not affect either way this very real problem.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne freely admitted that Amendment No. 13 was a wrecking amendment. Therefore, he would not expect me to accept it.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Rodgers

I beg to move Amendment No. 15, in page 3, leave out lines 25 to 43 and insert—

  1. "(a) a review of the county's needs, and the needs of communities comprised in it, in respect of public passenger transport services, and the extent to which those needs are met by existing services (this review to be accompanied by an account of the criteria applied to determine need);
  2. (b) a description of—
    1. (i) the council's policies and objectives for public passenger transport, and the services and facilities they consider to be needed by the county; and
    2. (ii) the measures proposed for securing them in the short, and also in the longer, term;
  3. (c) estimates of the financial resources required for the realisation of those policies and objectives, with proposals for obtaining such resources; and
  4. (d) an account of how far forecasts in earlier plans have been, and are being, realised as regards the availability and use of such resources.".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government Amendments Nos. 16 and 17, and Amendment No. 18 in page 4, line 28, at end insert— (6) The Secretary of State shall not in connection with accepting a county council's expenditure for the purposes of section 6 of the Local Government Act 1974 require, directly or indirectly, any changes in the policy of the county as set out in their public transport plan".

Mr. Rodgers

These are, in a sense, tidying up amendments dealing with problems arising from the Committee.

3.0 a.m.

The first part of Amendment No. 15 deals with matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean). Similarly, paragraph (d) in the amendment deals with a matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). What we have attemped to do in this and subsequent amendments is to meet the legitimate points made in Committee, when there was some criticism of the order of the clauses and the logic of the argument. I hope that we have gone a long way, perhaps the whole of the way, to satisfy those who raised these matters.

I wish to draw attention to that part of Amendment No. 16 dealing with the problem of the relationship between the county councils and the district councils. This was discussed at length in Committee when a number of my hon. Friends expressed considerable anxieties about the isolated position of the districts and the extent to which they would not be able to make their views known. It was at that stage, in response to the powerful arguments of my hon. Friends in particular, that I said that I wanted to return to the matter and consider it with the district and county councils. I said that I would prefer not to have any new powers of my own to make an arbitration. We have redrafted part of this clause to meet the needs of the Association of District Councils and the Association of County Councils. They have endorsed it, and I hope that the House will do likewise.

Mr. Norman Fowler

On behalf of the Opposition I welcome these amendments. I particularly pay attention to the amendment concerning the position of the district councils. It would have been fairer for the Secretary of State to say that the position on this issue was put not only by his hon. Friends but by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. What we sought to do was to find a way in which the situation of the district councils could be strengthened. The suggestion of an appeal was regarded as unsatisfactory. The Government amendment has the considerable advantage that it is agreed by both the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils. I had a meeting with the latter earlier this week when it stressed its satisfaction with the situation. That being the case, the House should take note of the position and act accordingly.

Mr. John Ellis

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) should remember that it is the way that an hon. Member votes that counts. In Committee those of us who took a stand on behalf of the district councils claimed that they were being left out in the cold. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mr. Bean), the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and I voted in favour of that proposition.

The Minister has done what he undertook to do. This amendment strengthens the position of the district councils. I should have liked their position to be strengthened even more. It would have been interesting to see what the result would be had we voted earlier on Amendment No. 8. I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts, which go some way to meeting our objections.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 16, in page 4, line 3, at end insert enter into consulations with—

  1. (a) public passenger transport service operators in the county, or their representatives;
  2. (b) district councils in the county; and
  3. (c) the following, if they or their areas may be affected by the policies described in the plan—
    1. (i) other county councils,
    2. (ii) the Greater London Council, and
    3. (iii) joint planning boards set up under section 1 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971.
  4. (d) where they have entered into a contract for the carriage of containers or goods in containers (with or without provisions in the contract specifying whether the carriage is to be by road or by rail), and the contract is to be performed predominantly by rail carriage, to use any road vehicles in partial discharge of their obligations under the contract;
and 'containers' means high capacity containers of a kind capable of being carried by freightliner rail vehicles. (6) The annual report made by the Board under section 4 of the Railways Act 1974 shall include, in addition to the matters there mentioned, such information about the Board's exercise of their powers under subsection (5) above as may be called for by the Secretary of State.".

No. 17, in page 4, leave out lines 4 to 28.—[Mr. William Rodgers.]

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