§ Without prejudice to any other duty imposed upon them by this Act or any other Act, and in particular to their duty under section 84(1) of the Act 1967, it shall be the general duty of the Greater London Council (hereinafter in this Act referred to as 'the Council') to encourage, organise and, where appropriate, carry out measures, which will promote the provision of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services which appear to the Council to be required to meet the needs of those elderly and disabled persons for whom transport concessions can be provided under section 138 of the Transport Act 1968."—[Ma. BOOTH.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a second time.
The purpose of the clause is to impose on the Greater London Council a duty to promote the provision of services which, in its judgment, may be required to meet the needs of elderly and disabled persons.
It is necessary that such a clause be added to the Bill if the legislation is to serve the purpose for which it is intended, as outlined by the Secretary of State when he introduced it.
The Bill is the result of a series of urgent public considerations by transport authorities up and down the country to a Lords judgment which has thrown considerable doubt on the ability of local authorities to provide public transport services. In this case, we are concerned with those services only to the extent that they are used by elderly and disabled persons. However, the Law Lords ruling was of such a sweeping nature that we contend that there can be little doubt that it impinges upon services used by the elderly and the disabled to quite an appreciable extent.
25 The terms used by the Law Lords in their ruling cannot in any way qualify the restrictions that they imposed in such a way that they would not apply to services used by the elderly and the disabled.
The interesting mechanism of the Bill is that it puts the Greater London Council, in respect of its provisions for concessionary fares for the elderly and the disabled in the same position as the metropolitan and shire counties. Although it refers to the 1969 Act, it cites part of it which says merely that London boroughs are in the same position as other local authorities under the 1968 Act. The provision of these services will be affected by the Law Lords judgment to the extent that it affects any shire or metropolitan county throughout the country.
Over the last few weeks those shire and metropolitan counties have been greatly concerned about what services they can provide and what financial provision they should make for them. In no small measure, that led to the demonstration at Downing Street today and the massive petition that was delivered to the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Booth
If the power in the Bill is to be used without undue restriction, we must include a clause that says that in providing these services the people concerned are not constrained by the Law Lords judgment. In simple and straightforward terms, that is what the new clause proposes. It says that the duty of the GLC to exercise its judgment to develop the services needed for these disabled people is unfettered by the 1968 or 1969 Acts or, in so far as it is legally possible, by the Law Lords judgment.
Let me give one example of the extent to which the Law Lords judgment was sweeping and should not be read in a way that suggests that it would not bite on services to the disabled. I choose the judgment of Lord Scarman. Like the other Law Lords, for part of his judgment Lord Scarman drew on the case of Prescott v Birmingham corporation in 1955—the case of an operator in a transport undertaking.
In that case the Birmingham corporation decided to introduce free travel for old people, which is relevant to what we are now considering. The Court of Appeal held that the decision was not a proper exercise of the corporation's statutory duty. Therefore, there can be no doubt that the courts have taken a serious view of the limits placed on local authority powers to provide fare concessions.
On page 6 of his judgment Lord Scarman said that although Parliament had subsequently intervened to permit fare concessions,a principle was declared by the Court of Appeal. It is well to put in the headnote as being that local authorities owe a fiduciary duty, analogous to that of a trustee, to their ratepayers".He went on to say thatthe principle of a fiduciary duty owed to the ratepayers has never been doubted".In his summary Lord Scarman reiterated the principle as a basis for his final judgment. He said that although legislation had been introduced since the court ruled that it was wrong for Birmingham to operate a free concessionary fares scheme, the fiduciary duty principle was now established. In Lord Scarman's judgment, that still stands and can still be used as a test of whether the powers of a local authority to provide concessionary fares and concessionary travel schemes are used legally.
It is now beyond any shadow of a doubt that if the House decides that the GLC shall have power to promote 26 these services for elderly or disabled people it must say to any court, or to any person attempting to challenge the use of that power "We intended that that should be a free standing duty which should not be subject to any of the limits or circumscribed by the Law Lords judgment or anything else written into an Act".
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
The right hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that the remarks in the House of Lords were directed to concessionary fare schemes. He will know that such schemes were never raised in the House of Lords case and are not referred to in any of the judgments. The whole issue of concessionary fares giving rise to the Bill comes not from the House of Lords judgment, but from the GLC campaign, which has tried to suggest that it would not continue with the scheme.
§ Mr. Booth
With respect, the hon. and learned Gentleman either misunderstands me or chooses to misunderstand me. I carefully distinguished between the Birmingham corporation judgment, which was precisely directed to whether there was a power to provide free concessionary fares, and Lord Scarman and the other Law Lords who issued a judgment. In one case they were referring directly to a concessionary fares scheme, but when referring to Birmingham Lord Scarman was saying that, although subsequent legislation had been passed which made it clear that some powers permitted concessionary fares, nevertheless the principle of a fiduciary duty determined in the Birmingham case still stood. That means that any other concessionary fares powers that have been granted since are, in the view of Lord Scarman and his fellow Law Lords, still subject to the fiduciary duty test.
There would have been no sense in Lord Scarman using that reference unless he intended it to have that meaning. He was not saying that a fiduciary duty was peculiar to concessionary fares, but rather that a fiduciary duty must be considered in relation to any transport provision under any fares arrangement. The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that that should not be the case. We want the House to decide that the concessionary fares issue should be free standing and should not be affected by the Law Lords judgment or their view of a fiduciary duty.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
Surely the Law Lords were saying that the fiduciary duty applied to any local authority powers—not just to transport*—and would apply to concessionary fares under the 1968 Act if the local authority, in the view of the court, failed to weigh the interest of the ratepayer against the interest of the pensioner and the fare payer. For example, if a local authority decided to make concessionary fares wholly free, thereby causing a massive rates increase, on the indication given by the House of Lords the courts would rule that illegal.
§ Mr. Booth
I fully accept my hon. Friend's point. I confined my remarks about fiduciary duty to transport, but the statement of principle cannot be confined to transport. It could even be argued that a council should take account of its fiduciary duty to ratepayers when deciding how much to charge for the home help service. Apparently the principle is the same whatever service is provided by a local authority. It certainly covers all fares issues, including concessionary fares.
§ Mr. Booth
One of the disadvantages of speaking from the Dispatch Box is that one sees one's opposition, but not one's supporters. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for causing me to look behind me. I am delighted that my arguments appear to be of great interest to my hon. Friends. I think that they command considerable support. It is notable that the same cannot be said about the Minister.
§ Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that we are very much in favour of the Bill? We have agreed both clauses and are now discussing the new clause tabled by the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. It is of no interest to us, because it adds nothing to the Bill, and it is not likely to. As to the number of Conservative Members present, will the right hon. Gentleman remember the old adage that it is quality that counts, not quantity?
§ Mr. Booth
I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, who is normally fair-minded. His presence today indicates that he, at least, is prepared to listen to the arguments about whether the new clause is needed. I only wish that the same courtesy had been extended by some of his colleagues.
The issue impinges on what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would claim to be a matter of some importance for the powers of local authorities. In previous debates Conservative Members have made sweeping criticisms—some of them highly personal—of Greater London Council members who took a different view from them on this issue. We are trying to deploy a case which is realistically based on our most recent experience of attempts by local authorities to provide services that they deem to be necessary.
In doing that we are reflecting a proper concern for local democracy, which does not seem to be common to both sides of the House at the present time.
We must look at the provision of concessionary fare schemes under the 1968 Act. The powers of the GLC will now be the same as those of all the shire and metropolitan counties. Those powers, as the Under-Secretary of State well knows, vary enormously. There are areas in shire counties where there are virtually no concessionary schemes, areas where there are good concessionary schemes, and areas where there are different concessionary schemes. The same power will apply in London.
Up to the present time, particularly over the past year, the provision of concessionary fares for the elderly and disabled in London has been of a high order. Therefore, it is an important and valuable service that is at risk. When we debated this issue on 24 February the view was expressed from the Government Benches that the number of passes for concessionary fares applied for in London was not a good indication of the need for or the usage of those passes. It was even suggested that a modest fee might be charged on the pass application as a means of deterring undue use of the passes by people who did not really need them.
I made careful checks on both the contentions made at that time. One was that the cost was unduly high because 28 it was set against the number of passes. The second was that the use of the passes was comparatively modest. However, the use of the concessionary fares pass in London, far from being modest, is massive. There were 245 million passenger journeys travelled in London in 1979–80, as against 890 million journeys by normal fare-paying adults and fare-paying children, excluding those on travel tickets and education authority passes. For every three who were travelling as normal fare-paying adults or children, there was one travelling on a travel concession. There is massive use of the concessionary fare scheme in London. It is much greater than anywhere in the metropolitan counties. The scheme will be under exactly the same legal provision as in the metropolitan counties if we leave the Bill unchanged.
The collapse of services is very different in degree in its effect upon the concessionary fare user as compared with other passengers. Those entitled to the concessionary fare will be the very people who are least likely to have a car to use as an alternative if the concession is withdrawn. They will be the people least likely to be able to afford a taxi if the service is withdrawn. They will be the people least likely to be able to walk the necessary distance if the service is withdrawn. Therefore, we also have to see the question in the perspective of the service being threatened.
For that reason, we make no apology for using in the new clause the wordsthe provision of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and servicesin relation to the people that I have mentioned. We believe that it is the desire of good local authorities throughout the country to provide services for the elderly and the disabled in a way that is efficient and economic. Provided that they have a free standing power to do it, we believe that they will do it in he majority of cases.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if the Government were serious about their economic and social policies in this respect, rather than using political opportunism in regard to Ken Livingstone and the GLC, they would be thinking of concessions for the unemployed, so that people could look for work effectively, rather than being asked to ride around on their bicycles.
§ Mr. Booth
I bow to you on that, Mr. Weatherill. Inasmuch as we are confined in our discussion of the Bill to concessions on services used by the elderly and the disabled, I urge the Committee to consider the fact that those provisions can make for a more efficient general use of the system. It was the case that, with London running superior concessionary services, there was better use of its vehicles.
According to the figures for 1979–80—I have the later figures if anyone wants them—London was getting 7.49 journeys per mile operated, as compared with only five journeys per mile operated in Greater Manchester, 5.99 in West Yorkshire, and 7.34 in South Yorkshire, which has a policy of very cheap fares. Nevertheless, even with that cheap fares policy, mainly because of the concessionary fare differences, the authority in South Yorkshire could not get as full a use of its vehicles as was obtained in London.
29 It is a matter of simple common sense that, if we believe it is right for local authorities to make provision for disabled and elderly people, they should make it in a way that leads to the maximum utilisation of the buses. There is little point in having a subsidy to run a service that can be used by disabled people if that results in a lot of empty seats. It is the combination of the services in an intelligent manner that leads to the maximum utilisation of the vehicles and that is what we want to see developed.
The reason why, over the past year, the concessionary travel arrangements have been regarded as so valuable in London is that, when the Labour GLC took office, it decided—and it is to be applauded for having done so—to extend the concessionary travel scheme for the elderly so that it would include free travel on the London Underground from 9.30 am on Mondays to Fridays and at any time on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Prior to that decision, the charge made to an old-age pensioner for using the London Underground had been 20p, but even the withdrawal of the 20p fare has resulted in massively greater use, and that is very much to be welcomed. I do not believe that any hon. Member wants to sit in judgment on whether it is appropriate that an old-age pensioner should be able to travel on one day or another, or at one hour of the day or another. It is for local authorities to decide how to use their powers.
If the Government are to confine the Bill to the narrow issue of concessionary fares in London, we should insist that that is done effectively. We want to ensure that the Greater London Council will have a power that will not be circumscribed by the House of Lords—a free-standing power, irrespective of any other duties in legislation, to promote properly services for the elderly and the disabled.
There can be no doubt, from any careful consideration of the judgment of the House of Lords, that unless it is made clear by some device—such as the new clause—that that power exists, whatever is written into the legislation will be subject to challenge and will be subject the test of fiduciary duty in a way that will put the service at risk and lead to authorities that might otherwise do so being deterred from providing services that are not only valuable, but desperately needed.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The new clause raises the issue of the level of services that can be provided for the elderly and the disabled and embraces not only the power bestowed on the GLC by the Bill, but, in a sense, the Transport Act 1968, which allows for the provision of concessionary fares for the disabled and elderly outside London.
The Under-Secretary tried to argue on Second Reading—as he argued in an intervention today—that the question of concessionary fares had never arisen in the Lords judgment and that the 1968 Act was not prejudiced by the decision of the Lords about the exercise of fiduciary duty by the GLC. If there is no doubt about the right of the GLC to provide services for the elderly and the disabled, why is the Bill needed? The Transport (London) Act 1969 allows the GLC to provide those services. That was referred to by some of the Law Lords only in passing and was said to be part of the reaction of the Government to the judgment in the Prescott case. A number of the Law Lords referred to section 40 of the 1969 Act, which allowed similar rights as the 1968 Act. If that were true, 30 we would not require the Bill to reassert the power of the GLC to provide concessionary fares for the disabled and the elderly.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
That point was argued last week. The answer was that under section 40(a) only the London boroughs could act in that role. As a result of that we were able to give freedom to London as a whole for the concessionary fares by using a 2p rate, which brought the matter under general local government powers and not under the 1968 Act.
§ Mr. Lyon
I take the hon. Member's point, but the issue to which I was coming, and which the hon. Member may have overlooked, is not that the power in section 40 was restricted simply to the London boroughs and that we wanted to give the power to the GLC, but that the issue that arose in relation to the general power given in the 1969 Act, and which was so circumscribed by the House of Lords in the GLC decision, is capable of being used against the 1968 Act and against the Bill.
The Law Lords have asserted that any power given to a local authority is subject not only to the ultra vires rule, but, as Lord Diplock made clear, to the ultra vires rule that is inextricably part of the discretion of any local authority. Therefore, in exercising discretion, a local authority is bound, by its fiduciary duty, to balance the interests of the ratepayers and any other group with which it is dealing.
The other group is not just the fare payer, which was the issue in the GLC case, but the elderly and the handicapped, for whom we are seeking to provide in the Bill and who were provided for under section 40, at least within the London boroughs, and in the 1968 Act. We are not yet clear—because no one has gone to court on the 1968 Act—whether the courts would take the same view of an exercise of discretion under the 1968 Act as they did in relation to the 1969 Act and general subsidies for transport.
It was assumed, as is clear from the fact that the Government have produced the Bill, that the courts would say that the provision of concessionary fares was not an unreasonable exercise of discretion, but there is no reason to assume that. I suppose that the exercise of discretion by the GLC on the fare structure under the scheme produced after the London elections was a reasonable exercise of' power given the considerations to which the GLC applied itself. However, if the GLC considers that all elderly people and all handicapped people should have not just concessionary fares, but free travel, and that they could' use the tubes or the buses at any time, with a consequent loss of revenue, which was made up by the rates to the point at which the precept rose sharply, would it not be argued by an outer London borough that the same issue had arisen there as arose on the fares structure for general passengers? The answer is "Yes".
We have got into a mess because the judiciary has taken it into its head to exercise a political role. It denies that, but there is no doubt about it. Once we get beyond the stage of defining what an Act says, as a matter of English law, wording and construction, and go into whether a local authority or any other political organisation has to decide between one set of people and another and into the sort of criteria that it should apply, we are applying a political decision.
Saying that something is unfair to ratepayers is a political decision. I can equally say that an action is unfair 31 to passengers. I do say—indeed, it is implicit in everything that I have stood for—that it would be better if the less well off got benefits from the better off. In that sense, the general ratepayer is better off than the general fare payer. They may coincide in some instances, but where they do not—where one group comprises judges going to the High Court in their robes—the one group is better able to pay than those who can afford to travel only by public transport.
In evaluating the interests of one group against the other, my presupposition would be to weigh heavily in favour of those who are least able to afford the money involved. In making that judgment I am applying what I freely concede to be a political test—but so were the Law Lords.
In those circumstances, how do we know that when we have passed the Bill it will be applied as we wish? We cannot rely on what the Minister says, because we all know that no court is entitled to take into account what a Minister says. It can take into account only what the Act says, as interpreted according to the criteria applied by courts in the past.
Ever since the Poplar case, and especially since the Prescott case, the courts have taken to themselves the power of evaluating interest politically. We cannot enact the Bill in a way that will obviate that danger. The courts will always take the interest consideration into account in evaluating any decision made by a local authority. At the time of the Prescott case it was considered unthinkable that an authority could not provide free transport in Birmingham for the elderly. The court's decision was subsequently reversed, apparently, by the 1968 Act. It is now an axiomatic feature of social services in all major urban areas to provide free travel on the buses, or cheaper travel, for the elderly. The public now think that that is reasonable. There has been a sea change in political decision-making.
§ Mr. Lyon
It is true that it has not percolated into all areas of Conservative-held territory, but it is true over a broad generality. It is possible for the Minister to argue that if the Bill is enacted it will safeguard the rights of pensioners only because there has been a sea change in the political consensus.
Where is the political consensus of the judiciary? It seems that it is away to the right of the political consensus in the country and a long way to the right of the consensus in Labour-held councils and on the Opposition Benches. We have a serious problem. Ever since Dicey produced his constitutional theory in the nineteenth century it has been supposed that the House is the final arbiter of political decision-making. Increasingly, that is being undermined—
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman's remarks would be better related to a Second Reading debate than to the new clause, which has nothing to do with what he is speaking about.
§ Mr. Lyon
I was trying to lead, Mr. Weatherill, to my understanding of why the clause is necessary. Although the clause is probably the best that we can do, given the 32 long title and other considerations, it probably will not be enough. That is the factor that worries me. Even this clause, if it is accepted, will have to be interpreted by judges who have already stamped their political colours on the criteria that will be applied in interpreting it. That is a serious difficulty for the House of Commons.
If we were discussing these issues in the United States Senate, we would understand the position perfectly well. We would know, to take President Roosevelt's example, that if we wanted to enact the clause we would first have to change the Supreme Court judges. If we want to pass this sort of clause here in the House of Commons, we may have to change the judges in the High Court and in the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Lyon
Those who argue that the judiciary is the final bulwark of liberty fail to understand what they are asking the judges to do. Judges such as the Master of the Rolls, who make judgments of the type to which I have referred with their eyes open, fail to recognise that if the country decides in a general election to elect a Government who have a different view and a political consensus different from theirs, that Government must rule and that if need be they will have to change the judiciary if they are to rule.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has said "Shame". I, too, say "Shame." When I was studying constitutional law I was told that what Parliament said would be applied by the judiciary. The constitutional law that I learnt was right. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it was right. However, it seems that things have changed. If the new clause is passed and is subsequently enacted with the rest of the Bill, there is no guarantee that the judiciary will apply it as the House of Commons wishes. I suspect that the Minister will say that the clause is unnecessary because the Bill as it stands will do what is set out in the clause. However, I maintain that we need the clause. It should appear in the Bill with three lines under each line of it. We need a sort of three-line Whip. But even if we had a three-line Whip, that would not necessarily carry the day.
We shall not know what will happen to the clause until it reaches the House of Lords, when a number of judges will express their view on the political reality of the balance between the elderly and the disabled and the ratepayer.
§ Mr. Lyon
My right hon. Friend is right. I think that the Labour Government thought of that in 1968. The retiring age of judges has been reduced to 75. However, there was one that got away, and he is the worst of the lot. The next Labour Government may have to reduce the retiring age of judges substantially. Perhaps I err a little when I say that we shall have to change the way in which judges are trained and appointed and the way in which the Bar is recruited. However, that takes us outside the confines of the clause and the rules of order.
Order. I say with the greatest kindness that the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say a short time ago that he was coming round to discussing the new clause. I hope that we shall come to that now.
§ Mr. Lyon
I am grateful, Mr. Weatherill, because I had just about got there. I recognise that I had erred and strayed in my last remark.
The clause is unexceptionable and I am sure that the Minister will accept it. It merely states what the Bill is supposed to do. It does so in terms similar to the ill-fated terms of the 1969 Act. In using the phrase "integrated, efficient and economic" we are employing the dreadful word "economic". We know what happened to "economic" when it reached the House of Lords. When we ask "How will the judges deal with this?", the answer is that they will probably deal with it in the same way as they dealt with other legislation. That is what worries me.
Surely the clause sets out what the Bill is supposed to be trying to do. Its purpose is to say that the elderly and the disabled of London are entitled to concessionary fares, too. We should be able to guarantee concessionary fares for them in the way that we desire and as we have guaranteed elsewhere. Of course, there are some who question whether it is right to have concessary fares in Birmingham, Leeds, South Yorkshire, or even in the fair city of York.
One of the major problems in York is transport. There are narrow streets and many large buses and cars. The only way in which we shall overcome the problem is by subsidising bus passengers to the point where we persuade people to use the buses and to leave their cars. Even if we had the statutory power to do that, the judges would overrule it. How do we know that they will not do that with concessionary fares for the elderly and the disabled?
If the Minister says that he accepts the general principle set out in the new clause, I hope that he will say that a further amendment will be introduced in the House of Lords which states that no court will be able to exercise the discretion that is vested in the clause and that it will not be possible to challenge the exercise of that discretion in any court. If the Minister were prepared to do that, I do not doubt that we could overrule the power of the court to apply political doctrine to the Bill. However, until we do that, although I am not sure that the new clause is adequate, it is the best that we can do in the circumstances.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
In debates of this kind, the House is in danger of being subjected to a lawyer's beanfeast. I suggest that we have just listened to one such speech. Although I agree with the general tone of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), it could have been much briefer. There is no amendment in his name that suggests that his ideas are superior to those of my fight hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth).
My main concern is about the prospect of interference with the existing benefits of the aged and disabled in the London area. Of course, the Minister will suggest that the Bill preserves those benefits, but that is not the view of many hon. Members and members of the public. The Minister must clear up that problem this afternoon. There will always be a running argument about the role of the House and that of the judiciary, but whatever we do today or before the Bill is passed should not impair that system—whether we change the wording of the new 34 clause, or whether the Government accommodate it or promise second thoughts about the present inadequacies of the Bill.
This is a limited discussion, but part of the burden of my speech on Second Reading was the enormous boon of free travel for many aged people in my constituency, who I know I cherished it. The fiduciary and financial aspects have clouded the discussion to the extent that there is a risk of losing sight of human considerations and of the iron necessity to do what we can to safeguard and even extend the mobility of the aged. It is mobility that is so important to them in getting together with their relatives over long distances.
§ Mr. Ronald W. Brown
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) put his finger on the issue. Having worked in local government over the years, we both understand the rules of the game. Those rules were called into question the first time that someone took action against a local authority—I think that it was Tameside—which had acted within its political remit and done what it had promised in the local elections. The council was challenged by the ratepayers.
Since then, in a continuing process, the Government have taken local authorities to court through third parties, third parties have taken local authorities to court and local authorities have taken other local authorities to court. The whole thing is now in a mess. The hon. Member for York is right to say that whatever we draft here, representing local government, will always be challengeable in the courts and can always be set aside or interfered with depending on who hears the case. The case can be taken as far as the House of Lords and a different decision secured every time. The Minister must ask himself whether we can any longer accept the risk of such challenge.
From his years in the courts the hon. Member for York knows whether it is right to argue that the individual's right should be so circumscribed as to refuse him recourse to the courts if he thinks that a local authority is abusing the law. On his argument, that is what we must do, but it is a dangerous move. In a whole range of matters, an individual should have the right to take a local authority to court if he believes that he has a case.
I do not see how new clause 2 provides anything more than is provided by section 138 of the Transport Act 1968, under which any local authority has a right to provide concessionary fares. The cause of the present difficulty is that the GLC in 1981 apparently decided that it could no longer operate concessionary fares under the 2p rate system. If it could have done so, there would have been no problem. I understand that the Minister said on Second Reading that the GLC claimed no longer to be able to continue that service under the 2p rate system. We agreed that years ago, with no equivocation about the proper way of doing it. Once it was said that the service could not be provided by means of a 2p rate, we were kicked into touch and London had to do something about it. Therefore, it is important to ensure that, under section 138, we have no less a right than the rest of the country. If the hon. Member for York is correct and that right has been equivocated, it must affect every local authority. The issue is much broader than concessionary fares for London alone. One must therefore consider the application of the 1968 Act as 35 a whole to ensure that London is no less privileged than the rest of the country. That seems to be where we are now.
I support the Bill and I advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to support new clause 2 because I see nothing wrong with it. It is simply a re-emphasis—the Minister may say, an unnecessary one—of the existing law but there is nothing wrong with it. It could be argued that these further words might provide a greater opportunity for someone to challenge the law. I can think of a whole range of possible arguments about the "efficient and economic" nature of facilities in London.
For instance, the 277 bus route through Hackney is more like a 138½ route because people wait half an hour for a bus and then two come along. That has been a continuing complaint over the years. If I wanted to be contentious I could have a go about the words "efficient and economic", because the facilities in my borough are neither. We have no underground and we could argue that that makes our facilities uneconomic and inefficient.
§ Mr. Brown
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point but I would ask him to consider something else. He made an excellent case for the new clause, but we have had this argument about efficiency before in London. When we were pressing for the original concessionary fares, this was the major plank of the opposition by Sir Richard Way, who was then the chairman of London Transport, against my argument about putting bottoms on seats. I argued that, in the fares structure, the seat was paid for and that whether the seat held the bottom of an elderly person or not was neither here nor there. Sir Richard Way quoted figures which allegedly showed that many of the people for whom this benefit was claimed were at that time paying passengers and that London Transport would lose money if concessionary fares were introduced. That is how we reached the figure of £3 7s 8d. per concessionary pass, because it was argued that that represented the loss to the LTE of giving each elderly person concessionary travel between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm.
The argument was also advanced that one could not expect the same number of vehicles to be on the road between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm as during the two peak periods. It is in this context that I ask the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) to consider the words "efficient and economic". A duty has been placed upon London Transport by the Law Lords and everyone else to run an efficient and effective service. To do that, it will have to leave the majority of buses in the garage between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm in order to save costs and thus be sure of remaining within the concept of efficiency.
§ Mr. Booth
With respect, taking buses off the road at times when concessionary fares are most likely to be used cannot be consistent with a duty to promote services specifically to meet the needs of elderly and disabled 36 people. I believe that that duty would be a protection for the GLC if anybody challenged it. Because it has a duty to provide for the needs of these people, it is entitled to keep the buses running efficiently.
§ Mr. Brown
That may be so. I do not know. I merely ask the question. The overwhelming duty upon the GLC, and through it on the LTE, is that it must run a financially viable service, and to be efficient and effective in so doing. It seems to me that the efficiency and effectiveness rather than the financial viability will be subject to qualification, so that it will be driven to set the financial viability of the undertaking as a whole as primus inter pares among those criteria.
It would then follow that the majority of buses will be in the garages between 9.30 am and 3.30 pm, so that people receiving the facility of concessionary travel in London will have the misery of being unable to find a bus in which to travel. They will be frustrated. If they succeed in finding a bus and getting out of London to visit their families, they will have difficulty in getting back because they will fall foul of the time limits. They will therefore have to wait far longer than they wish and return to areas such as mine in the dark, when they will be afraid to walk home from the bus stop. That, too, will be a disincentive.
I do not object to the new clause, but I do not think that it adds anything to section 138, which already provides all these powers. There have been no complaints from the metropolitan counties or from other passenger transport authorities, who have enjoyed this power since 1968. If there had been any way in which those authorities considered themselves to be circumscribed, we should have heard about it. The Association of Municipal Authorities would have said that changes were needed. So far as I know, it has never done so.
§ Mr. Brown
As the hon. Gentleman says, nobody has tried it on. Nevertheless, authorities have plenty of lawyers, but even the AMA has not asked for the legislation to be amended to protect its members.
I do not disagree with the new clause and I do not argue against the ethos of it. I simply believe that it does no more than restate the fact that any local authority wishing to run such a scheme is entitled to do so. In London, there is a problem in that the London Transport Executive is a separate entity. There has never been the same degree of control as for other passenger transport authorities, so there is the major difficulty of trying to run the local authority and the transport authority when there is that distance between them.
As has been said many times, the question is how to reconcile the duty being placed on the LTE to be financially viable and this technique to allow concessionary fares or any other form of free fares—"Fares Fair" or however one describes them.
I therefore offer this advice to the Minister for the third time. As I said on Second Reading, we must have a meeting with all the relevant parties to discuss how to get out of the difficulty. We shall not achieve a solution by tinkering in this way. I support the Bill because the fears of the elderly must be allayed, but I hope that the Minister will tell us that he has reconsidered the matter since Thursday and that he and his right hon. Friend will undertake to get together with the GLC, the LTE and local authorities in London to discuss how best to proceed, 37 bearing in mind all the points raised by the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness, and how to ensure the best safeguards to achieve the aims of new clause 2 in terms of integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services not only for the elderly and disabled but for London as a whole.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I support the new clause, but I share the scepticism of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) about the amount of good that it may do. Incidentally, I have no objection to a Yorkshireman who has drifted down to London contributing to a debate about London. I see no harm at all in foreigners having a go on these matters.
As I understand it, the Bill has been introduced because the GLC has asked for it because it feels that it would help to protect its concessionary fares scheme. The new clause has been introduced by the Opposition in the hope that it will help the GLC a little more by releasing it from the trap in which it has been caught by the House of Lords.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I have tried to contain myself, but so far everyone has been speaking on false premises. The GLC has not been caught by the House of Lords. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said, the GLC has decided that it does not wish to spend the 2p rate on the concessionary fares scheme. It has, therefore, asked for this power, and we are giving it. There has never been the slightest doubt in the mind of anyone who has considered the matter that the GLC could continue the concessionary fares scheme. The debate has been based upon nonsensical and mythical fears.
§ Mr. Price
It is all very well for the Minister to say that the GLC might wish to spend the 2p rate on something else so it has asked for the Bill. Nevertheless, after the Lords judgment, a number of eminent lawyers advised the GLC that the concessionary fares scheme might be in doubt, while other eminent lawyers advised—perhaps not in such wild language as the Minister used, but roughly in the the same terms—that it would not be in doubt. The speeches so far show that the arguments have merit.
I come to the most important point. As my hon. Friend the Member for York said, notwithstanding the Bill and the new clause, it is still possible for any court, whether it be the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal, to say that none of the legislation helps at all because, in taking these decisions and balancing its duty to the elderly against its duty to the ratepayers, the GLC has failed in its fiduciary duty to the ratepayers. Since the House of Lords decision, any court may rule in that way on old or disabled peoples's fares or any other transport aspect. That issue is relevant to this new clause because we must decide whether there is any point in introducing it and whether it has the force, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) said, of ensuring that the GLC, when operating a concessionary fares scheme, is not frustrated by the judiciary.
I know all about the difficulties of this matter because I had a brief appointment as a parliamentary private secretary in 1976 over the Tameside case. The now retired legal adviser to the Department of Education and Science, Mr. Dudman, told the Minister in a laughing tone that he must not believe he could draft judge-proof legislation. He was, of course, right; the House cannot pass legislation with any certainty that a bench of judges will not overrule it.
§ Mr. Bidwell
I appreciate my hon. Friend's point and the possibility of overturning what might be adduced as the will of Parliament. I understand that we are dancing words on the end of a needle. We agree, even if the wording of the amendment is not perfect, that it seeks to impose a specific duty on the GLC which it did not have previously.
§ Mr. Price
I understand that aspect and hope that it is helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for York is a lawyer and I noted his remarks. However, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) are not. The amendment might not be helpful. One will only know that when the Bill is first litigated and not on the Royal Assent. I notice that the hon. Member for Ravenshourne (Mr. Hunt) has left the Chamber. Only if a busybody outer London borough council takes the matter to court to discover, using ratepayers' funds and public money, what the House of Lords, as presently assembled, thinks about this Bill will we know whether it will be helpful.
The Bill attempts to put the GLC on all fours with other local authorities under the 1968 Act. Since the GLC judgment, the 1968 Act has been litigated in Liverpool by Great Universal Stores. On 18 February R v. Merseyside county council ex parte Great Universal Stores was heard before the wise, intelligent and wonderful Mr. Justice Woolf. I know my Erskine May and that I am allowed to praise judges, although I must not cast any aspersions on them. I praise Mr. Justice Woolf to the skies. He represented the Government as a Treasury devil in the Tameside case. Although he was not made a judge for his pains on that case, he became a judge soon after it.
Mr. Justice Woolf has an excellent track record. He found the Secretary of State for Social Services guilty over the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham case and recently exonerated the Liverpool council over its cheap fares under the 1968 Act. I quote from his judgment on the 1968 Act because it is extremely relevant to this new clause; it will help Parliament to know what the judiciary might in future think about the wording of the new clause. On the Liverpool decision, he said that it did not automatically follow that the setting of fares to a level which would result in a deficit, which it was practicable to avoid, was unlawful. There was a discretion to do so and whether the discretion was lawful or not would depend on how the decision to set the fares at such a level was reached.
He continued that while in both cases—the GLC and Liverpool cases—initially there was indecent haste about the attempts to put into effect the policies which had been pronounced in the manifestos before the election, in the present case there was more temperate consideration given to the desirability and consequences of putting into effect the policies. A further distinguishing feature of the present case was of the policies adopted by the council after the election which were very much more important in, accordance with the Merseyside structure plan, as approved by the Secretary of State, which made it clear that transport was important for the regeneration of the area.
I use those two passages to stress the narrow thread on which hangs the interpretation of this new clause, if it passed into litigation and was tested in the courts on its legality. The GLC must consider its various duties towards old peoples' transport, farepayers and ratepayers and 39 whether it has properly carried out its fudiciary duty to the ratepayers according to the quotation given by my right hon. Friend from the House of Lords Scarman judgment.
The whole matter turned on temperate consideration. The House of Lords said that Ken Livingstone was intemperate and Mr. Justice Woolf said that the Liverpool council was temperate. That cannot be a sensible way to legislate. We are certainly voting on the new clause and trying to perceive some sense in this narrow Bill, but there must be a better way of legislating.
There is no London underground system in Lewisham. Buses are provided and my constituents consider them to be unco-ordinated; they come in bunches and do not provide an integrated or efficient service as in the terms of the new clause. They are certainly not integrated as are other transport facilities provided in my constituency by British Rail. The GLC rightly wanted to grant concessions with British Rail so that we might have the service as set out in the Bill—"integrated, efficient service". The Minister said "No"; British Rail was not to be allowed to grant concessions. Pure Government policy prevented what the new clause attempts to provide in London; integrated, efficient and economic facilities and services.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
The GLC intended to do a little more then my hon. Friend said. Its leadership offered British Rail £20 million in order that British Rail might reduce its fares in line with the fare reductions for buses and tubes in London, which would have considerably helped people in Bromley—those who originally brought the action. My hon. Friend is right; the Government refused to allow British Rail to do that because it would have been outside the external financing limit.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman attempts to respond to that intervention, I point out that the new clause is concerned with the needs of the elderly and the disabled, not with general fare reductions.
§ Mr. Price
I am aware of that, Mr. Weatherill. I am also aware that one can get away with murder from the Front Bench. We poor folk on the Back Benches have to tread much more carefully. I agree with the point, but I shall not follow my hon. Friend. We are talking about whether the right of the GLC to make concessions to elderly people is further entrenched by the new clause or whether it makes no difference.
In future, the GLC will wish to give old people and disabled people the same concessions on British Rail that they receive on the buses and the underground. If the track record of the Minister is any guide, he will use his powers of fiat that Parliament has given him to prevent London Transport giving such concessions. I should therefore like to know from the Minister his attitude to concessions on British Rail. I once asked the hon. and learned Gentleman in a parliamentary question if he would care to accompany me on a journey around the South Circular road. The hon. and learned Gentleman demurred, saying that it was some time since he had been around the South Circular road and that he did not wish to undertake such a journey in the near future. I understand his feelings.
If, however, the Minister had accepted my invitation, we would have come to a large traffic jam at Forest Hill in my constituency. It is your unhappy task and duty, Mr. 40 Weatherill, to have to cross occasionally the South Circular road, if not to have to face the prospect that confronts me of driving repeatedly round it to get from one end of my constituency to the other. On this journey, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had accompanied me, we would have come to Forest Hill station where four or five bus services terminate. That raises the issue of integrated services for old people and disabled people and whether the GLC should be allowed to contribute towards helping to build a bus station to form a proper interchange with Forest Hill station. I see the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) taking a vague interest because he was the former hon. Member for the constituency before I defeated him in the 1974 general election.
If the GLC is to be allowed to put money into facilities to enable buses to park at Forest Hill so that old people and disabled people can transfer to trains and receive the same concessions, there must be some indication from the Minister that he will not simply use his powers, as he did in the previous case, to say that he intends to prevent this sort of integrated public transport for old people and disabled people in London.
Exactly the same situation prevails at Catford and Catford Bridge stations. Again, on your peregrinations south, Mr. Weatherill, you will know that these are also points where a number of buses reach their terminus. There is a desperate need for some integrated system that will free elderly people and disabled people from the need to cross difficult roads and negotiate awkward steps and staircases to change from one form of public transport to another.
I should like to know from the Minister whether he would refuse to agree if the GLC, under the terms of the Bill when it becomes an Act, were to suggest investing substantial resources in this sort of interchange system that is desperately needed to assist the mobility of elderly and disabled people in moving from one form of transport to another. This is the sort of scheme that the Bill should produce.
I shall vote for the new clause. I shall vote for it in the knowledge that the Bill is completely inadequate and merely tinkers with the real needs of the elderly and the disabled in London. There is need for an assurance from the Minister that this is essentially an interim measure and that he will produce proposals for proper public transport that old and disabled people in London can use and can afford.
§ Mr. Jay
In expressing my support for the new clause I should declare an interest, in that I am myself a beneficiary of concessionary fares, although I assure the Minister that I am still a good deal younger than the Master of the Rolls.
The poverty of the Government's case is made even more evident by the almost total lack of support that they have received from their Back Benchers. My hon. Friends the Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) have made it clear that the law on this whole matter is very much in need of clarification and that this will not be achieved by what is an extremely meagre Bill.
§ Mr. Greenway
I wish the right hon. Gentleman nothing but good health in his seventies, eighties and beyond. He will recall—he attended the whole of the 41 Second Reading debate—that a substantially greater number of Back Benchers supported the Bill from the Government Benches than spoke in opposition to it from the Labour Benches.
§ Mr. Jay
Although some Conservative Members may have supported the Bill on Second Reading, it is obvious that, after taking some time for reflection, they have concluded that it does not deserve so much support after all. The Minister, in his brief intervention, argued that the whole debate rests on a misunderstanding, that everyone knows what the law is and that there is no need for clarification. Following the experience of the Law Lords judgment, I do not think that many people will be comforted by the hon. and learned Gentleman's remarks. Everyone thought, until December, that the low fares policy of the GLC was legal. The Minister could have got up and said that there was no need for legislation, because there were no doubts. I have every sympathy for the new clause, which is intended to put it beyond doubt so far as is humanly possible that old people and the disabled have the right to concessionary fares.
My other criticism is that the Bill is inadequate even in its provision for the old and the disabled. By refusing wider concessions the Government are forcing other travellers in London, who will now have to pay much higher fares, to pay for the old people's concessionary fares instead of those concessionary fares being paid, as should be, from Government support grants.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The right hon. Gentleman makes a false suggestion. As he knows, the present, lawful budget that the GLC has approved allows £58 million to be spent out of the rates on the concessionary fares scheme. There is not the slightest doubt that the GLC has the legal power to do this. It has the Attorney-General's advice that it can. It will be paid, like everywhere else, out of the rates. It is nonsense to suggest that there is doubt about that part of the law. It is nonsense to say that it will be paid for by other people.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Jay
I am arguing that, as a result of higher fares, London Transport will have a smaller deficit to meet and therefore the Government will not be under the same pressure to provide funds to cover the deficit as they would have been if the fares had not been increased. That is clearly so. Therefore, support for concessionary fares for the elderly is partly dependent upon the large increases in other fares which we shall be forced to meet.
People forget that the elderly often do not live alone, but live and are dependent upon one or more breadwinners, who also travel to work. If the breadwinner is unable to travel to work because of the extremely high fares, the elderly person's standard of living will also be severely affected. Only today I received a letter from a constituent which states:I am a nurse and I travel every working day from the above address"—in Battersea—to Camberwell … I found that the fair fare helped me a lot in the few months it came into being…Please can you do something to help us—the travelling public. I am the breadwinner of the family as my husband is unemployed, and with the benefit cuts I am feeling the crunch at the moment because it is me who has to pay the rent and the bills.That brings a breath of the real world into the debate. The bureaucratic atmosphere in which the Minister moves gives him little contact with that world.
42 As a result of the general increase in fares there will be an undoubted deterioration in services. I think that it was the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) who said that people may have to wait half an hour for a bus. It should be borne in mind that it is not only the relatively young who have to wait that time, but the elderly. Given the Government's policies and this meagre Bill, services will undoubtedly deteriorate.
Only a few days ago Sir Peter Masefield, chairman of London Transport, and Sir James Swaffield, the director-general of the GLC—who are not mad Marxists, or even mad monetarists, but who have considerable knowledge of London Transport—warned that the present policies would lead to a further deterioration of conditions. According to the Financial Times, Sir Peter Masefield said:London Transport expects that when fares double in three weeks time, 18 per cent. of passenger traffic will be driven away from the buses and tubes.Services will be worse and there will be longer waits, and that will clearly affect the elderly as well as those who are younger.
According to the Financial Times, Sir Peter said:The new fares will be twice those offered by urban transport authorities in Paris and Amsterdam.Indeed, Sir Peter Masefield confirms what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) and by my hon. Friend the Member for York, that there is a crying need for the law to be clarified, and the Bill does not do that.
We have rightly been told that great emphasis has been laid on the novel doctrine that local councils owe a fiduciary duty to ratepayers. However, they also owe a fiduciary duty to fare payers. It is ludicrous to say that ratepayers and not travellers—although they are often one and the same—are owed a fiduciary duty.
Hon. Members receive many letters on this subject. I received a letter from the Rickmansworth and Croxley Green Farepayers Association. Let hon. Members note that there are now fare payers' associations as well as ratepayers' associations. The letter states:As an Association we are totally non-political, but we support completely that which you are seeking to achieve.However, I shall not discuss my Ten-Minute Bill now.Our members face a horrendous rise in fares and we are most grateful to you. If we can assist in any way, please let us know.I hope that it will be realised that local authorities owe a fiduciary duty to fare payers as well as to ratepayers.
I am glad to note from your tolerance, Mr. Weatherill, that my speech has been wholly in order. Therefore, for the reasons that I have given, I support the new clause and continue to regard the Bill as inadequate.
§ Mr. William Pitt (Croydon, North-West)
I apologise for the slight croakiness of my voice, but I think that I am about to go down with something nasty—[Interruption.]
When discussing our duties—fiduciary or otherwise—we must remember, in our duty, humanity. The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) said that if Greater London did not have an integrated, efficient and economic transport scheme the system would collapse and paralyse those on concessionary fares. I refer not only to old-age pensioners—some of whom may well be mobile—but to the disabled, and particularly to the blind, who rely heavily on buses and tubes. In the south London suburbs, people rely heavily on the buses.
43 As I said on Second Reading, without an integrated service our bus services will not run at uneconomical times. The Bill does not give the GLC sufficient powers to provide such integrated services. Those services are necessary in the interests of humanity and in the furtherance of our fiduciary duty. Hon. Members have spoken at length about fiduciary duty. Indeed, I wonder whether any hon. Member will count in Hansard the number of times that that phrase is used during this debate alone.
Many old-age pensioners are also ratepayers and travellers. I have many old-age pensioners in my constituency, and we have fiduciary duties towards them. One of those duties is to provide a transport system from which they can benefit, through fare concessions. It is pointless to give a fare concession to an old-age pensioner or to a disabled person if he arrives at the bus stop only to discover that as a result of the Law Lords judgment no buses are running or that they may run only during the latter half of a morning and on Tuesday afternoon.
We are in danger of turning old-age pensioners and the disabled into second-class citizens. The humanity that should be implicit and inherent in our duty is to ensure that our citizens—whether they are pensioners, disabled or perfectly fit and able—are not divided into two classes. That is the predominant reason for supporting the clause.
I take the points made by the hon. Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I am not a lawyer but I agree that it is impossible to draft judge-proof legislation. However, we must draft legislation that places the correct duty on an authority. The Bill does not give the GLC sufficiently strong powers to carry out its fiduciary and humanitarian duties to all those in Greater London. My right and hon. Friends and I wholeheartedly support the new clause, because in both fiduciary and humanitarian terms it places that duty on the GLC.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Before I stray into the possibility of becoming controversial or advising the House to reject the new clause, I shall take up the parts in the speech made by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) with which I agree. When one cuts through all the remarks that have been made, one finds that everyone agrees on this point. There is no hon. Member on either side of the House who does not wish to see the Greater London Council have powers to operate a concessionary fares scheme for elderly and disabled passengers on London Transport. The Law Lords judgment was not directed to that aspect. The Government have never questioned it. The purpose of the Bill is to put beyond doubt the ability of the GLC to have such a concessionary fares scheme.
The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) said that pensioners in London were scared about the future of their concessions. Some people are concerned. They have been scared by irresponsible campaigning by people in the London Labour Party who have been trying to advance their views on separate issues—the cheap fares policy and the raising of the rates. They have been trying to advance that cause by dragging in doubts about the concessionary fares scheme and claiming that someone somewhere wants to stop it. That is not so.
44 Upon examining the legislation after the Law Lords judgment, it was found that the GLC does not have the same express power to use the rates for concessionary fares as is given to every other local authority up and down the country—county councils and boroughs, including the London boroughs. The GLC could have continued the concessionary fares scheme using its general power to levy a 2p rate. It made it clear to us that, as a matter of policy, it would not do so because it wanted to spend the 2p rate on other things. For that reason—in order to make sure that it could not introduce genuine doubt about the future of the concessionary fares scheme—we introduced the legislation, which gives the GLC the same powers as every other authority.
Incidentally, the powers given by the Bill as it stands, without the new clause, are not subject to the other parts of the Transport (London) Act 1969 that cover the general financing of London Transport. There will be a free standing power to use the ratepayers' money for the purpose of financing a concessionary fares scheme. Acting on that, the GLC has already made provision for a concessionary fares scheme.
I apologise for giving the wrong figure when I was speaking off-the-cuff to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). I should have said not £58 million, but £50 million. There is already provision in the GLC's budget for £50 million for the concessionary fares scheme in London. That is a lawful budget. It is not cast in any doubt by the Law Lords judgment. Because doubt continues to be expressed, we have gone to the extent of letting the GLC have the Attorney-General's opinion, which puts it beyond doubt that it is a lawful budget.
§ Mr. Jay
If, as the Minister said, there was a distinction between the powers for concessionary fares between the Greater London Council and all other local authorities in the rest of the country, surely there was some reason for doubt? It was not a political myth invented by the London Labour Party. There was a real distinction in the law. That is why the Bill has been introduced.
§ Mr. Clarke
The GLC could have continued using its general powers for a 2p rate, but, in order to produce certainty, the Government acceded to its request to introduce the Bill. We now have a Bill which is not hedged round by the other duties.
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman as I wish to make progress. I shall deal with the legal and supposedly legal points bandied about in the debate.
The new clause is an attempt to add to the Bill over and above what we have provided. There is a clear power, which is the same as that provided for other local authorities, to provide a concessionary fares scheme.
What is wrong with the new clause is that it produces a convoluted addition to the Bill. In Committee I normally do not make drafting points against the Opposition. I remember the difficulties that I had in Opposition. I do not believe that one should make drafting points. However, given that the whole burden of the case presented to the Government is that the law is confused and that judges play about with badly drafted law, in my view the clause is absolute nonsense and will not assist.
45 The clause refers only to statutory duties imposed on the GLC. The fiduciary duty to the ratepayers is not statutory, so it does not cover the legal point that was exercising the minds of the hon. Members for York (Mr. Lyon) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). It sets out a convoluted and extraordinary sequence of words, which would give fruitful sources of income to lawyers in future as they attempted to make sense of the Opposition's new clause.
It is amusing to see that the wording of the new clause is taken from the dreaded 1969 Act, which, according to the campaigners on behalf of the GLC, is a source of all the trouble. An attempt was made during the debate to find virtue in the phrase "integrated, efficient and economic". That phrase is used in the 1969 Act, which has been much debated. Having lifted the phrase from the 1969 Act, the new clause applies it not to transport, but to facilities and services. There is already a duty to provide "integrated, efficient and economic" transport, whatever that means. It is said that there is a duty to provide such transport not for Greater London, but for disabled and elderly persons. Instead of having a general duty to provide integrated and economic transport for Greater London as a whole, apparently that duty is to be confined to elderly and disabled persons.
The new clause is a legitimate basis for debate. I understand the desire of some hon. Members to debate the matter further, but as a piece of legislation it would be an appalling dog's breakfast and would give rise to a greater risk of litigation in future.
The Bill gives power to use ratepayer's money for concessionary fares schemes. It does not make that subject to the other parts of the 1969 Act that troubled some hon. Members, the London Labour Party and the GLC. It is true that all the statutory powers of local authorities are subject to the fiduciary duties of ratepayers, which for many years all local authorities have owed to ratepayers, as the courts have said. It is not a novel doctrine, as the right hon. Member for Battersea, North keeps saying. It goes back 20 years or more.
When exercising their powers, the councils must consider their fiduciary duties to the ratepayers from whom they derive their revenue. The law is not only well understood, but can support a wide range of policies. It is not true that all councils, when exercising their discretion, are constantly taken to court by their ratepayers. I invoke in my aid the recent case on Merseyside. I willingly add to the praises of Mr. Justice Woolf who recently upheld my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in his judgment on the Swanley-Sevenoaks section of the M25. He has come to some sound conclusions. The learned judge did not overrule the fiduciary duty point.
Merseyside, having addressed itself to fiduciary duty towards ratepayers, still found it possible to have a reduction of fares, which was within its powers
§ Mr. Clarke
I shall give way in a moment.
In the GLC case the Law Lords touched on fiduciary duty. Amongst other things, their Lordships drew a distinction between the duty in relation to transport, which is essentially a trading service, and other social services. They applied a stricter test to transport than they might have done to other social services, but the concessionary 46 fares schemes operated by councils have a clear social purpose and a clear statutory basis for every council. That will be so in the GLC.
It is tempting fate to say this, but I am not aware of anyone who has brought an action or who is contemplating bringing one. There is no serious prospect of anyone challenging a well thought out concessionary fares scheme introduced by councils that exercise the statutory powers that they have had for many years. Therefore, I do not believe that the Bill or the controversy about transport in London in any way justifies the political attack on the judiciary made by the hon. Member for York in discussing the obscure and extraordinary new clause.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
The Minister was tempting fate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) pointed out, in the Liverpool case Mr. Justice Woolf decided in favour of the local authority and against the complainant. But he was the judge of first instance. The judge of first instance decided for the GLC in the way that everyone else believed was the rule. The higher judiciary applied a political judgment. The hon. and learned Gentleman should come off it. Everyone recognises that it was a political judgment. It is about time that he did, too. There is a danger in encouraging the judiciary to follow that line. As a lawyer, he should be the first to recognise that it is a serious step for the judges.
§ Mr. Clarke
I was not expecting the outcome of the Merseyside case. The judge of first instance upheld the policy and said that it was not in breach of the authority's fiduciary duty. But, as I said, the Merseyside case is not directed to concessionary fares for the elderly or disabled. I do not believe that anyone since Prescott v. Birmingham Corporation—which was years ago and predates the legislation—has legally challenged the concessionary fares schemes. We are talking not about the position of the elderly and the disabled, which, I repeat, has never seriously been in doubt, but about the general legal position of the GLC in the extreme cheap fares policy that it is seeking, regardless of the cost to London ratepayers.
So far no one has strayed far out of order, and I shall not do so. Although we are allegedly talking about doubts about the position of the elderly and disabled, there is no party political controversy about it. The elderly and disabled always had a concessionary arrangement. and it will continue. That is not the problem. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North clearly illustrated the point. People are continuing to claim that there is confusion about the law in all areas to further the campaign to change the law more fundamentally to allow the GLC to return to the policy that it wants. There is no question of the Government being induced to change the law, nor of London ratepayers being overjoyed if the Opposition succeeded in going that far.
We are prepared to look at the general law if and when we reach the stage where we feel that we are receiving serious representations on it from the GLC and the London Labour Party. At present, the GLC has managed to put together a lawful budget and could get back to the task that it is meant to be engaged on of providing a sensible transport policy. No one thought that there was anything wrong with the law until the GLC broke it, following the elections last May. The law had not interfered with London's transport policy previously, and there is no reason why it should again.
47 The principal problem of those now carrying on about the Law Lords and the law is not that they are substantially in doubt about the law and the judgment; they know what the law means and they do not like it. They would like it to be changed to enable the GLC to spend ratepayers' money without limit. To get the law changed fundamentally they are continuing to claim that there is great confusion, that no one knows what he is doing and that the present law is causing nonsensical conclusions about the elderly, the disabled and so on.
Under the control of the Labour Party to get the law changed, the GLC insists that it is being driven to take silly decisions by the law, although it is often merely setting up Aunt Sallies. It claims that it has to take certain decisions, although in fact it is not bound to do so by law. For instance, until recently the GLC claimed that the 100 per cent. fares increase—100 per cent. is a scandalous increase—was to make up for inflation and to cover the dreadful losses incurred under seven or eight months of "Fares Fair". It then claimed that the law required it to raise fares this year beyond the 100 per cent. That provoked the Attorney-General's letter to make it clear that the law required no such thing.
Order. We must not have a general discussion. In the words, I believe, of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), the Minister is "getting round" to the amendment.
§ Mr. Clarke
I accept the reproof, Mr. Weatherill.
No one in County Hall should claim that the law requires the GLC to frighten pensioners and disabled people into believing that they might have their concessions withdrawn. That is not the case. If there ever were any doubt about the matter, the Bill will put it beyond doubt. The GLC has, in any case, already budgeted to provide a concessionary scheme.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
The Minister has had his little statutory go at the GLC. If it proposed a scheme of free fares for people suffering the disability of unemployment, would it be legal?
Order. That question is more appropriate for Department of Transport questions than for this debate.
§ Mr. Clarke
I accept your ruling, Mr. Weatherill. I should love to reply but the question is totally outside the scope of the Bill.
We are dealing with concessionary arrangements for the elderly and disabled in London. As I say, the Bill, as it stands, puts the position beyond doubt.
The policy of "Fares Fair", which Opposition Members have been defending, was particularly unjust to pensioners in London. Before the Law Lords judgment, when the cheap fares prevailed and the rates were supporting them, pensioners obtained precious little extra benefit. One quarter of London's heads of household are pensioners. All they derived from the new policy were minor additional concessions on the underground. They pay rates, so the massive rate demands meant that they were 48 paying more to subsidise the fares of the rest of the population. Yet, they were not obtaining the concession. The GLC's policy involved the transfer of money out of the pockets of pensioners into the pockets of younger people travelling on the buses and the underground. Therefore, it is particularly inappropriate for the Opposition to seek to reverse the effect of the Bill.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
Even before "Fares Fair" came into operation, the GLC made considerable additional concessions for pensioners on the underground. I have not received one letter of complaint from a pensioner about the rate increases, but I have received a considerable number from pensioners and disabled people hoping that I will support the GLC's efforts to restore the law to what we all believed it was before the Law Lords decided that it was not. They believe that it is vital for London to have a low fares policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman certainly is not talking on behalf of the pensioners in my constituency.
§ Mr. Clarke
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) will have to address himself to the elderly in his constituency and persuade them that the modest concessions on the underground were worth the drastic increase in the rates bill that they experienced as a result of the GLC's policy. If pensioners tell him now, when there is no doubt about their continued entitlement to free travel, that they wish to see a cheap fares policy, I admire their altruism. They will be saying that they want to pay increased rates to allow the London Labour Party to use their money to subsidise the fares of wage earners, tourists and others from outside London.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North suggested that he had support for his Ten-Minute Bill, and read a letter from the Rickmansworth and Croxley Green Farepayers Association. I am a poor provincial in these matters, and my knowledge of geography in that area is none too good, but I believe that Rickmansworth and Croxley Green are in Hertfordshire, not in the GLC area. The right hon. Gentleman is getting support for his measures and is being asked to change the law so that ratepayers in Battersea are allowed to carry on shelling out a great deal for commuters from Hertfordshire because those in Hertfordshire thought that it was good news to be allowed to travel on the backs of London's ratepayers. That is an odd position for the right hon. Gentleman to take up.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
My hon. and learned Friend said that he was not a London Member, but I am a London Member and I can confirm everything that he said. I have received numerous letters from my pensioner constituents making this very point. Why should they subsidise business men and Japanese visitors to London from their rates in Harrow? My hon. and learned Friend has got it dead right.
§ Mr. Clarke
I agree, and I have no doubt that pensioners throughout London will be in writing to hon. Members, on both sides complaining about the next increase in rates planned by the GLC, even when its power to waste money on transport subsidies has been curbed to some extent. Pensioners in London were the main beneficiaries of the Law Lords judgment. They are the only beneficiaries of the Bill drafted and presented by the 49 Government. The new clause is an obscure and unnecessary addition. It is merely an attempt to keep alive an irresponsible campaign that suggests that there might be some doubt about the position of the elderly or the disabled in the future.
§ Mr. Booth
It is one of the less attractive tactics of the Under-Secretary of State that he says that he will not take drafting points as criticism of the Opposition and then proceeds to do precisely that, and in doing so he suggests that he could make many more criticisms of their drafting skills if he chose to do so.
The Committee will understand that one cannot answer criticisms that the hon. and learned Gentleman chooses not to make; I can only answer those that he has chosen to make. The two drafting criticisms of the Opposition's new clause are addressed to words that came from existing legislation. That, I think, he accepts. However, if the Government believe that it is not appropriate that those words in existing legislation should stand as the means of determining such statutory rights as there are to provide for concessionary services, it is for the Government to remove them from the legislation by their own proposals, and not for the Opposition to do so.
My hon. Friends have expressed worries as to whether new clause 2 is safe against further decisions of the Law Lords. I do not claim to have such drafting wisdom as would enable me to draft any new clause or amendment with the certainty that it would be judge-proof or court-proof. I can only urge my hon. Friends to read Kipling's "If' and to reinterpret it to mean, "If you can bear to see the words that you have drafted twisted by Lords to make a trap for the GLC, or any other Labour authority, then you will certainly be a man, my son."
There are serious problems, as my hon. Friend the member for York (Mr. Lyon) has said. However, ostensibly the Bill is intended to give the GLC the same powers as any other metropolitan authority to provide concessionary fares. The nature of the Bill is such that we cannot move a new clause or amendment that would impinge upon all other metropolitan authorities. We are dealing here with London. However, we can realise that in so far as London will be treated the same as other metropolitan authorities if the new clause is not passed, London fares are as much at risk from the Lords' decision as are those of the other metropolitan authorities.
Therefore, if we believe that the judgment of Lord Scarman that I quoted makes it clear that a fiduciary duty test can be applied against concessionary fares, we must try to protect the position of the GLC. The only new words that the new clause will add to the law, if it is passed, are those words which say thatit shall be the general duty of the Greater London Councilto promote the provision of services that deal with the needs of the elderly and the disabled. That goes further than the 1968 Act in relation to the rest of the metropolitan authorities.
I see a slight look of puzzlement on the face of the Under-Secretary so I shall refer him to section 138 of the 1968 Act, which is the appropriate provision. Nothing in that section says that there is a duty to promote or encourage provision of those services. To that extent it is different. I do not guarantee that our new clause is judge-proof or Lords-proof but it lays down a duty that the House should lay upon the GLC when it has the opportunity to do so, and which could serve it well in meeting the needs 50 of those who require special provision on London Transport as a result of their disablement or because of their special needs as elderly people.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 125, Noes 155.51
|Division No. 79]||[5.35 pm|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)|
|Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)||Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson|
|Bidwell, Sydney||McCartney, Hugh|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||McCusker, H.|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||McGuire, Michael(Ince)|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'yS)||McKelvey, William|
|Buchan, Norman||McMahon, Andrew|
|Callaghan, Rt Hon J.||Mason, Rt Hon Roy|
|Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P)||Maynard, Miss Joan|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Mikardo, Ian|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Coleman, Donald||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)|
|Cook, Robin F.||Morton, George|
|Cowans, Harry||Moyle, Rt Hon Roland|
|Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)||Newens, Stanley|
|Cryer, Bob||O'Neill, Martin|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Cunningham, G.(lslingtonS)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Davis, Clinton (HackneyC)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Davis, Terry (B 'ham, Stechf'd)||Pendry, Tom|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Penhaligon, David|
|Dixon, Donald||Pitt, William Henry|
|Dobson, Frank||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Dormand, Jack||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Race, Reg|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Radice, Giles|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Richardson, Jo|
|Eastham, Ken||Robertson, George|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'nSE)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Rooker, J. W.|
|English, Michael||Sever, John|
|Evans, loan (Aberdare)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)|
|Field, Frank||Silverman, Julius|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Ford, Ben||Soley, Clive|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th.N'w'd)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Freud, Clement||Stallard, A.W.|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|George, Bruce||Stoddart, David|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Stott, Roger|
|Grimond, Rt Hon J.||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Tilley, John|
|Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)||Tinn, James|
|Hardy, Peter||Wainwright, E. (DearneV)|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Wainwright, R. (ColneV)|
|Haynes, Frank||Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Watkins, David|
|Homewood, William||Welsh, Michael|
|Howells, Geraint||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Whitlock, William|
|John, Brynmor||Williams, Rt Hon A (S'sea W)|
|Johnson, James (Hull West)||Wilson, William (C'trySE)|
|Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)||Winnick, David|
|Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Woolmer, Kenneth|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Wright, Sheila|
|Kerr, Russell||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Litherland, Robert||Dr. Edmund Marshall and|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Mr. Allen McKay.|
|Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Adley, Robert||Bendall, Vivian|
|Alexander, Richard||BenyonThomas (A'don)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Benyon, W. (Buckingham)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (S'thorne)||Berry, Hon Anthony|
|Best, Keith||Mates, Michael|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Mather, Carol|
|Biggs-Davison, SirJohn||Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus|
|Blackburn, John||Mawby, Ray|
|Boscawen, HonRobert||Mayhew, Patrick|
|Boyson, DrRhodes||Mellor, David|
|Braine, SirBernard||Meyer, SirAnthony|
|Bright, Graham||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Brinton, Tim||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Brooke, HonPeter||Moate, Roger|
|Bruce-Gardyne, John||Murphy, Christopher|
|Budgen, Nick||Myles, David|
|Burden, SirFrederick||Neale, Gerrard|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Needham, Richard|
|Cadbury, Jocelyn||Nelson, Anthony|
|Carlisle, John (Luton West)||Neubert, Michael|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Newton, Tony|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n)||Normanton, Tom|
|Chalker, Mrs.Lynda||Onslow, Cranley|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Osbom, John|
|Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Page, John (Harrow, West)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Page, Richard (SW Herts)|
|Cope, John||Parris, Matthew|
|Costain, SirAlbert||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Dean, Paul (North Somerset)||Percival, Sir Ian|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Peyton, Rt Hon John|
|Douglas-Hamilton, LordJ.||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Dover, Denshore||Rathbone, Tim|
|Dunn, Robert (Dartford)||Renton, Tim|
|Durant, Tony||RhysWilliams, SirBrandon|
|Elliott, SirWilliam||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Faith, MrsSheila||Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)|
|Fell, SirAnthony||Rossi, Hugh|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Rost, Peter|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Royle, SirAnthony|
|Fisher, SirNigel||Sainsbury, HonTimothy|
|Fletcher-Cooke, SirCharles||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Fookes, MissJanet||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Shersby, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||Silvester, Fred|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Sims, Roger|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Gow, Ian||Speed, Keith|
|Greenway, Harry||Speller, Tony|
|Griffiths, Peter Portsm'thN)||Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)|
|Hamilton, Hon A.||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Squire, Robin|
|Hannam, John||Stainton, Keith|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hawkins, Paul||Stanley, John|
|Hawksley, Warren||StradlingThomas, J.|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Heddle, John||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Higgins, Rt Hon TerenceL.||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Hordern, Peter||Thompson, Donald|
|Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)||Thorne, Neil (IlfordSouth)|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Townend John (Bridlington)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||van Straubenzee, SirW.|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Vaughan, DrGerard|
|Jessel, Toby||Viggers, Peter|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Waddington, David|
|Kilfedder, JamesA.||Wakeham, John|
|Knight, MrsJill||Waldegrave, HonWilliam|
|Langford-Holt, SirJohn||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Warren, Kenneth|
|Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Wheeler, John|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Whitney, Raymond|
|Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)||Wickenden, Keith|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Wilkinson, John|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Wolfson, Mark|
|MacGregor, John||Tellers for the Noes|
|McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)||Mr. Selwyn Gummer and|
|Major, John||Mr. Ian Lang.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Bill reported, without amendment52
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time—[Mr. Kenneth Clarke.]5.49 pm
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Westhoughton)
I shall not detain the House for too long. The Minister referred earlier to a number of points on which I should like to comment, but before I do so it is essential to reinforce on record what has been said by my hon. Friends—that in Committee only one Minister, one Conservative Whip and one Conservative PPS were present. That says a lot about the concern of Conservative Members for London fares.
The Minister claimed that the Bill was necessary because of the GLC's scaremongering about its legal ability to be able to fund concessionary fares. He sought to pray in aid a decision made by the Attorney-General to assure the GLC that the budget it had formulated for the forthcoming year was legal. Like my hon. Friends, I contend that the GLC did not find it possible to proceed with a concessionary fares policy because of the consequences of the Law Lords' decision. It was advised by counsel that there might be some dubiety about whether it was able to proceed as a direct consequence of what the Law Lords said.
In Committee, the Minister said that the Government had introduced the Bill to put beyond doubt the possibility that the GLC may find itself in legal difficulty. If there was no doubt, as we believe there may have been, there would have been no need for this legislation. Consequently, there must have been a doubt. Therefore, the Minister and the Secretary of State felt it right to come before the House to clarify the matter. As a result, we have made the case that such a doubt existed.
The Minister also said that a fiduciary duty was a non-statutory duty placed upon local authorities. That may well be the case, but anyone who does not exercise that fiduciary duty in the future could well be challenged in the courts. Therefore, while it may not be a statutory duty, it is quickly becoming a legal duty upon local authorities.
The local authorities do not only perform a fiduciary duty. They must also perform on business principles as well. As a consequence, London Transport is in great difficulty. The consequences of those two decisions mean that fares will double on 21 March.
In Committee, the Under-Secretary said that pensioners would be the greatest beneficiaries of the Law Lords judgment, but pensioners as well as everyone else in London will suffer considerably as a consequence of what has happened. Not only will fares be increased—I grant that pensioners will not have to pay them—but the Minister will recall that on Second Reading I outlined the withdrawal of services that will take place as a consequence of this decision. Some tube stations will be closed, there will be a cut in bus mileages, and less periodicity between buses. The pensioners will suffer just as much as the able-bodied and those in work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said in Committee that we cannot draft judge-proof legislation. We ought to rise to that challenge and at least attempt to draft legislation that is "Denning-proof". I hope that in future we shall be able to do precisely that.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the effect on old people and those who enjoy concessionary fares or travel free in the off-peak period, off-peak period services are most likely to be drastically cut?
§ Mr. Stott
I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend says. He is as aware as I am of the paper, recently published by the GLC, which sets out in detail its view about the cuts in service miles and tube station closures, which will be dramatic. The entire travelling public in London will suffer as a consequence.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
I hope that my hon. Friend is successful in his attempt to draft some "Denning-proof' legislation. Before doing so, perhaps he should read Lord Denning's Dimbleby lecture, where he made it absolutely clear that in certain circumstances the judges had the right to overrule legislation passed by this House if they felt that it infringed what they considered to be the unwritten constitution of Britain.
§ Mr. Stott
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. I fundamentally disagree with what the learned judge said. The House of Commons, not the judges makes the law. In that regard, the incoming Labour Government will do everything they can to make legislation "Denning-proof' at the very least.
There is at present much misunderstanding about the law. There is also much confusion, not only in London Transport but among metropolitan counties. If any further successful legal actions take place, the incoming Labour Government will seek to amend this legislation and the 1968 Act so that there is no dubiety whatever and so that local authorities can use their judgment about the best provision of public money to obtain and pursue an integrated transport system.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
I shall briefly respond to what was said by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). It was a pity that he began by criticising the absence of Conservative Members throughout our earlier debate on the new clause. I remind him that on Second Reading, apart from Front Bench speakers, 10 Conservative Back Benchers and six Labour Back Benchers took part. The fact is that the Bill as drafted places the position of the elderly and the disabled in London beyond doubt.
The fanciful debate that we have just had on the new clause was aimed more at the petitioning and the campaign outside than anything else. My hon. Friends did not pay the same close attention to that as they did to Second Reading.
I shall not get drawn into what has been said about lawyers and the law. I hope that the official Opposition, flushed with the campaign that is now taking place in London, will not be lead into some of the more irresponsible remarks about the rule of law and the role of the judges. When interpreting statutes, judges apply the law as it stands. They take the law to mean what it says in statute. They do not take it to mean what politicians say it ought to mean, did mean or wish it to have meant had they got it right. One should not change the rules of statutory interpretation in a hurry.
Although I know that at times we were joking during the earlier debate, we cannot permit the rule of law to proceed on the basis that we think good judges are those who find in favour of one's political allies and bad judges those who find against them. Where law is required, the House of Commons must make it clear.
The fiduciary duty applies to all local authorities. I trust that the Opposition will not sweep that aside. The 54 fiduciary duty to ratepayers, which is a common law duty on all local authorities, makes it clear that just because one has been elected to take control of a local council, one has not been given a licence to print money. Whatever policies are implemented, they must be within the law and the statutory powers of the council, and they must have some regard to the interest of the ratepayers from whom the money is being raised. Whether they are legal or not, I fear that too many Labour councils are forgetting the position of the less well-off ratepayers in the policies that they are now pursuing.
Now that we have legislated this year, we can return—this applies even more to county hall than it does here—to the real task of providing a sensible transport system for London. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has made it clear that if there are long-term difficulties he is happy to discuss them with Kenneth Livingstone, with any other member of the London Labour Party, or with Sir Peter Masefield. We shall seek to resolve long-term difficulties. However, at the moment there is too much campaigning and political rhetoric, too many stickers all over the walls, and too many petitions. Far too much attention is paid to the joys of political campaigning and too little to the problems of administration and the needs of the passengers. People have come to power:in county hall who are better at campaigning than at administration and cannot cope with the serious tasks of a major transport undertaking.
§ Mr. Bidwell
One aspect of parliamentary life under the Government has been the increase in Select Committee work. A recent report on heavy goods vehicle testing by the Select Committee is not an abstraction; it is very pertinent to the value put upon this kind of parliamentary activity. What faith is there now in the Select Committee's long examination of London traffic problems and the ultimate report that is pending? What faith can the public have in the Government paying heed to such all-party work in the House?
§ Mr. Clarke
I assure the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) that the Government will give serious consideration to the considered views of the Select Committee on transport in London. The Government will discuss the matter with anyone who wishes to give considered thought to the long-term position and will decide whether we have ideal transport arrangements in London.
As of now, the law has been clarified. The position concerning concessionary fares has been put beyond doubt. It has been possible to have a legal budget. It should be possible to run a sensible transport system. It was always possible under previous administrations of al colours until the changes that took place in May of last year.
The short-term emergency problems are substantial. The GLC had to double the fares—which we deplored—because it incurred such enormous losses during the period in which it ran an irresponsible low-fares policy. It is having to reduce the services, but when it came to power it increased the services, providing services for which there was no apparent demand. The right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) referred to a collapse of services. That is a grotesque exaggeration. The amount of taxpayers' money going to London transport at the moment is equivalent to £170, 000 from every 55 constituency. The streets of London are full of empty buses between peak hours, and services are being provided with no regard to the true level of demand. A modest cutback would be more cost-effective and efficient. All of that is part of the main aim of putting behind us the nightmare experience of the first nine months of Labour rule before the Law Lords stepped in, making it possible to return to the sensible, cost-effective system that we want.
The Government will listen to all sensible and considered views about the long-term future of London Transport. It is a pity that the whole subject is now clouded by people who continually insist that the law is in doubt or are spending even more ratepayers' money on daft campaigning or expensive newspaper advertising.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.