HC Deb 09 April 1984 vol 58 cc58-69
Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 10, leave out from 'Any' to 'may' in line 13 and insert 'agreement entered into by London Regional Transport by virtue of subsection (2) above for the provision by any other person of any such public passenger transport services shall include such provision as appears to London Regional Transport to be appropriate for securing the proper discharge of their general duty under section 2(1) of this Act; and, without prejudice to the preceding provision, any agreement entered into by London Regional Transport by virtue of subsection (2) above'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment (a) to the proposed amendment, after '2(1)' insert '2(2) and 2(3)'.

Mrs. Chalker

Amendment No. 4 deals with the point which arose, and was extensively debated, in Committee. It seeks to respond to points made by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) and other hon. Members. In Committee, at column 311, I said that I agreed with the purpose of amendment No. 25 and would look for something that we could table on Report, which we are now doing.

The amendment makes it clear that, in entering any agreement with an independent operator to provide a bus or train service for LRT under clause 3(2), London Regional Transport must include an appropriate provision in the agreement to ensure that the independent operator properly discharges his general duty under clause 2(1). In Committee, the hon. Member for Barking introduced two amendments, the intention of which was to strengthen the relationship between the agreement under clause 3(2) and the general duty of LRT under clause 2(1). I accepted the spirit of one of those amendments, and amendment No. 4 fulfils that undertaking completely. It establishes a mandatory link between the general duty to provide public passenger transport services and agreements which deal with the provision of such services.

Amendment (a), in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), seeks to take amendment No. 4 further. I believe that the hon. Gentleman wishes to refer explicitly to clause 2, subsections (2) and (3). I shall deal with those subsections in turn and say why I believe that the hon. Gentleman's amendment is unnecessary, and that amendment No. 4 fulfils everything discussed in Committee which was acceptable on both sides.

The reference in amendment No. 4 to the proper discharge of LRT's general duty under clause 2(1) automatically includes clause 2(2), because clause 2(2) does not itself contain a duty. It merely states how the general duty is to be carried out. It would therefore be wrong to refer to it specifically. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not seek to press the point. As I said to the hon. Member for Barking in Committee, it is not that we do not wish to do what he intends, but that it would be superfluous to write this into the legislation.

The reference to the clause (2)(1) general duty, strictly speaking, includes the relevant parts of subsection (3), because that is also concerned in part with how the general duty in subsection (1) is to be carried out. In entering any clause 3(2) agreement—an agreement by an independent operator to provide services for LRT under contract— LRT will always have to satisfy itself that its action is consistent with the discharge of clause 2(3). However, the answer is not as clear-cut as it was in clause 2(2).

I should like to be helpful to the Member for Newham, South. I shall look again at the drafting of the introduction to clause 3(3), which is the relevant reference, and consider whether it is possible to amend it further in another place to establish a firmer link between clause 3(2) agreements and the duty on LRT in clause 2(3). That may seem a little convoluted, but, with amendment No. 4 in place, which improves the situation, it will be better to see how that works out, and to amend separately the clause 2(3) point in the amended clause 3(3), as it will be, in another place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied that I am seeking to meet his point. I understand why he thinks that it is important.

We have no doubt that any contractor carrying out services on behalf of LRT must behave in exactly the same way as LRT, LT bus or LT underground would in carrying out those similar services. If contractors can provide a service more economically, it must be in the interests of Londoners that that should happen. This must be at a standard no worse than that provided by LT.

I hope that Opposition Members will acknowledge that in amendment No. 4 I am seeking to meet not only the points made in Committee in amendment No. 25, but in part of amendment (a) to amendment No. 4.

Mr. Spearing

This short debate illustrates the value of Report stages. Although the matter was discussed to some extent in Committee, and the Minister has brought forward an amendment to meet the points made in that debate, she rightly says that they do not go far enough from my point of view. Report stage gives an opportunity to press the point further. However, I say straight away that I am grateful for the point that the Minister has made. We shall look forward to the introduction of an amendment in another place. It may be, therefore, that I shall not press amendment (a) to a vote.

This apparently complex matter concerns the conditions that London Transport shall lay on any of its subsidiaries, contractors or those who are carrying services for it and, indeed, the London public under the auspices of the Bill. Amendment (a) would to some extent tighten up the degree to which those subsidiaries and contractors must abide by the duties of LRT. The reference in amendment (a) to clause 2, subsections (2) and (3), relates to the duties of LRT. It is to those duties that I wish to refer. The question of how the duties of the new statutory body are performed is important. If any legal proceeding takes place as to whether they are performed or whether they are subsidiaries or contractors, I have no doubt that this part of the Bill will be important.

The duties laid upon LRT are contained in two parts in the Bill. Clause 2(1) lays down a general duty, and subsection states: In carrying out that duty London Regional Transport shall have due regard to—

  1. (a) the transport needs for the time being of Greater London; and
  2. (b) efficiency, economy and safety of operation."
It is clear that, although the general duties may have to be performed in that way, the transport needs of Greater London for the time being and the efficiency, economy and safety of operation do not come within the statutorily defined general duties of LRT. Earlier, the Minister kindly gave us some information about a change, but by a very good sleight of hand she managed to slide over this point. However, amendment No. 4 refers to such provision as appears to London Regional Transport to be appropriate for securing the proper discharge of their general duty under section (2)(1) of this Act". Thus, it is the general duty that will determine how the subsidiaries operate. Although they must carry out those duties in a particular way, it is the definition of general duties that counts.

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In 1933, the London Passenger Transport Bill was enacted. Under that Act, the board's general duty was much more specific and particular than that before us today. Section 3(1) of that Act states: It shall be the general duty of the Board so to exercise their powers under this Act as to secure the provision of an adequate and properly co-ordinated system of passenger transport for the London Passenger Transport Area (as hereinafter in this Act defined), and for that purpose, while avoiding the provision of unnecessary and wasteful competitive services, to take from time to time such steps as they consider necessary for extending and improving the facilities for passenger transport in that area in such a manner as to provide most efficiently and conveniently for the needs thereof. That is an excellent general duty, and, as the House may have realised, there are several directions there that are not contained in the Bill.

The Act contains the phrase an adequate and properly co-ordinated system". Those words to not appear in the general duties before us.

The Act also mentions avoiding the provision of unnecessary and wasteful competition. I should have thought that that would have greatly appealed to this Government, yet it does not appear in the general duties now before us. Indeed, the important phrase for extending and improving the facilities for passenger transport in that area does not appear either. Thus, quite apart from the competition point, two major general duties, which are absent from the provisions before us, were placed on the old London Passenger Transport Board by the House more

It is the split between the definition of general duty and the manner in which it shall be carried out that gives us some cause for concern. In the Transport (London) Act 1969 similar general duties appear. The Act states: Subject always to the requirements of section 7(3) of this Act, it shall be the general duty of the Executive to exercise and to perform their functions in accordance with principles from time to time laid down or approved by the Council, in such manner as, in conjunction with the Railways Board and the Bus Company"— that is Green Line or London Country— and with due regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation, to provide or secure the provision of such public passenger transport services as best meet the needs for the time being of Greater London. Meeting the need

for the time being of Greater London was placed fairly and squarely in section 5 of the Transport (London) Act 1969, yet that does not appear in the general duties in the Bill.

I believe that in Committee there was a good deal of discussion on the point, including the obligation of integration. That word has been very much on the lips of both the Minister and the Secretary of State and has supposedly been on their minds, yet it is markedly absent from the legislation. That is what led me to table the amendment. I am glad that these points were raised in Committee to some extent by my hon. Friends, and I thank the Minister for tabling amendment No. 4 and for going a little further in accepting half of my amendment (a). However, I would have been much happier if there had been a completely new general duty, because the duty contained in the Bill is not adequate for the needs of Greater London.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I rise briefly to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). We had a long debate in Committee about the duties involved. I then expressed great unhappiness about the fact that there was a double inadequacy. The first inadequacy was that the duties were not broad or deep enough, and the second was that there was no way of enforcing them. After all, under clause 2(6) no member of the public can go to court and say that the LRT is not doing its job.

Amendment (a) at least allows a broader and more detailed definition of duty, which is more like the duty on the present board and its predecessors. That is important if we are not to lose sight of the fact that primarily London Transport has been, is, and will be a social service. All its duties should be described in a way that makes that clear. That is why clause 2(2) and clause 3, which refer to the co-ordination and integration of all the services, contain fundamental objectives that should be the objectives of all the component parts of LRT, of the main board, and—until they are integrated—of the British Railways Board in the region comprising London and the south-east. The Government may be willing to go halfway down that road, but I hope that they are willing to go even further before the matter is finally dealt with.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

The House will be grateful to the Minister for the way in which she opened this short debate, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for tabling amendment (a).

As has been said, the amendments refer to clause 3, which allows LRT to enter into agreements with private operators for the provision of transport in the LRT area. A few moments ago, the Minister said that if private operators could provide a service economically, it was presumably in the interests of Londoners to provide it. No Opposition Member has ever doubted that such a service could be provided by private operators. Indeed, in Committee that point was discussed extensively. The main burden of our argument was that we appreciated that such a service could be widely and economically—to use the Minister's words—provided. That is not the argument. We know that any operator could operate a service along, for example, Oxford street. Private operators would be primarily interested in such locations, but they would not be interested in running all-night buses in the outer London suburbs.

Our concern, as illustrated by amendment (a), is that the very high standards of public safety offered by the present London Transport Board and, we hope, by LRT — if that body must be inflicted on us — should be equalled and maintained by any private operator that LRT is unwise enough to allow to provide a service in its area.

One of the purposes behind the amendment is integration. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) will be as aware as I am that the purpose behind the Bill is almost entirely contrary to that.

Mrs. Chalker

That is not so.

Mr. Snape

The Minister should take care of her voice during this debate. I say that in a kindly sense. There will be no integrated service if we countenance private operators of the sort which have caused us to express concern in Committee and on the Floor of the House. Integration is not the name of their game. Inevitably, their interest is profitability. If they provide a service that has played a large part in the aims of the transport system over the years, their primary purpose will be to make money. I do not blame them for that. They would be less than human if that was not their main purpose. However, standards of maintenance and the provision of services to which London Transport has long been dedicated must be insisted upon in the operations of private operators. The Minister has made some sympathetic noises about that principle. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South will not feel it necessary to cause the House to divide on his amendment. I assure him that the amendment makes eminent sense, and I hope that the Government will recognise that when the Bill is discussed in another place.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend's advice is sound and I intend to take it. He will be aware that London Transport has a central training school for drivers and we all know that it has a worldwide reputation for the safety of its operations. Would it be right to insist that all operators engage drivers who have been subject to that training and have met the standards set by London Transport at the Chiswick driving school? That is an example of the way in which we could maintain safety standards, even under the Bill.

Mr. Snape

I bored the Committee for a considerable time with stories of how I once drove a Metro bus around the streets of Birmingham. I hesitate to repeat those stories.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Why not?

Mr. Snape

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) has the advantage, because, if I repeated my stories, they would be new to him, but I should be trying the patience of those who served on the Committee.

Many private operators operate their services quite safely, but they often use part-time drivers, who inevitably do not have the same high standards as the full-time public service vehicle driver. I hope that the Government will recognise the sense of the amendment and will write it into the Bill in their own form in another place.

Mrs. Chalker

This has been a short debate but there are some comments that I wish to make in response to the hon. Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who have formed an interesting liaison. I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Newham, South when he refers to the 1933 Act, but I think that he will find on further study —I am not being critical—that many of the things for which he is asking under general duties are contained in other clauses and in slightly different ways. That has helped us to introduce an up-to-date Bill that is in line with other more recent pieces of legislation.

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As I have said, I will consider amendment (a) to amendment No. 4 with a view to writing into the changed clause 3(3) something that is suitable to take account of clause 2(3). That might be done in another place if the House so decides.

It would be easy to be sidetracked by the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). He may have bored us many times, but I assure him that he will never bore me by talking about improved safety standards—a subject to which I am entirely committed. The hon. Gentleman must stop putting about the bogy that an operator who provides a service under a clause 3(1) agreement with London Regional Transport will provide a less safe service than London Transport's bus or underground division. The general duties are overriding and, as I said in Committee, the standards should be no less in the private sector. All the drivers employed by a private operator will be required to have public service vehicle licences. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East left me with the impression, no doubt inadvertently, that they might not have PSV licences.

London Regional Transport will enter into a clause 3(2) agreement with Snapey Transport Ltd., for example, when that operator can provide a more cost-effective service than that which London Transport can provide. I believe — and I understand that my belief is shared by the Board of London Transport — that greater efficiency could be achieved. Perhaps the spur to that greater efficiency is the provision of a service by a private operator under a clause 3(2) agreement for London Regional Transport. I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 4 and allow me to consider again amendment (a).

Mr. Spearing

Does the Minister agree that while it would be incumbent upon Snapey Transport Ltd. or any other transport undertaking——

Mr. Snape

Such as Chalkey Coaches Ltd.

Mr. Spearing

—to employ drivers with public service vehicle licences, the important features of London Transport's training school include a system of supervision and spot checks — a psychological network which extends throughout its services? Surely the Minister will agree that that system should be found comprehensively within all operators, whether they be subsidiaries or contractors.

Mrs. Chalker

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the assumed psychological effect of there being one named company and one standard of operation would be marvellous if it were true in reality. The hon. Gentleman knows from his many long years of questioning the operations of London Transport's bus division that this philosophy does not always apply within the organisation. However, I agree that that philosophy should be extended and required of a clause 3(2) operator who is under contract to LRT to provide a service. The most important thing is to provide a better standard of service to the passenger in London. I am convinced that clause 3(2) agreements will put that need in the forefront of the provider's mind. I hope that the House will accept amendment No. 4 and that the hon. Member for Newham, South will not press amendment (a) to a Division.

Amendment agreed to.

Mrs. Chalker

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 3, line 23, leave out from 'fares' to 'other' in line 25 and insert 'in respect of any such services and their routes and frequency of operation and over charges in respect of any'.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 8 and 9.

Mrs. Chalker

These amendments deal with two related points, both of which result from Opposition amendments in Committee. If the House so wishes, I shall discuss them in detail, but I do not think that there is much to add to what I said in Committee. Therefore, I shall wait to hear the Opposition's comments.

Mr. Prescott

I do not wish to detain the House. The amendment is an amended version of an Opposition amendment moved in Committee, which the Minister was generous enough to accept in principle. Perhaps she will tell us why she is amending something that in Committee she found satisfactory. I accept that she said in Committee that she was not wholly satisfied with the wording of the amendment, and that may be why she has tabled these amendments.

I notice that the reference to location of routes has been deleted. I am not sure about the difference between "location of routes" and "structure of routes". Lawyers make a great deal about different words. I assume that "location" means route 77 or route 88, and that there is no holding to a particular location. Why has the Minister deleted the word "location", which is quite important in the generality of words used about structure?

In Committee we pressed the Minister to say whether she had reached a firm decision on whether the agreements should be properly monitored. An agreement can be arrived at between LRT and another body. Such agreements may not necessarily be public, although some people may wish to monitor them to ensure that they are being fully carried out. Has the Minister given any further thought to what she said about that in Committee? It is an important point when there is general concern that such agreements may lead to cuts in services and routes. Such agreements should be publicly available for examination.

Mr. Spearing

Once again, the efficiency and necessity of Report stage comes to the fore. I understand that there was considerable discussion in the upstairs club about this matter——

Mrs. Chalker


Mr. Spearing

After many days and nights of debate, those acquainted with the Bill and the discussions about it are in a good position to speak on Report.

The amendments are important, and may not go far enough. Since the founding of the London General Omnibus company and its money-making activities, adjustment to routes—in location, extent and frequency of service—has been the key to successful operation. A London bus manager said to me, "I have made London Transport million of pounds by looking at the arithmetic." If, under the Bill, an area is allocated to a subsidiary or a contractor, it is for the operator to decide where the routes should run, the frequency of the service, the times of the first early morning bus and the last bus at night, how many buses should run on a Sunday, and so on. That is crucial because a few changes in services could mean the difference between profit and loss and the difference between a subsidy and no subsidy.

If an operator was told to run a quarter-hourly service on Sunday from 9 am to 9 pm, the economic requirements of that route would be different from where there was no Sunday service. Similarly, the late evening services and the degree to which a service is run clockface or every 15 minutes or less are fundamental features of bus operation.

Whether a bus continues for only an additional 200 yd, or whether two routes are merged for economy of operation — that is why so many London bus routes appear to wander everywhere — is fundamental to the service provided for the public. It appears that the detailed discussions on these matters will no longer take place at 55 Broadway, but — the Minister may wish to correct any misapprehension—will be at the discretion of the operator. If that is not so, why does the amendment refer the general structure of routes of such services"? The word "general" is, ironically, included as a qualification. The amendment also uses the phrase general level of provision to be made with respect to their frequency". Not only is the general level important; the particular level is also.

When the Minister replies, perhaps she will tell us the degree to which there will be an option or discretion available to the subsidiary or contractor for changing the routes and frequency. How much co-operation will there be between the contractors and local government? As any London Member knows, where the buses go is a matter for discussion between the local London borough council, the London Transport passenger committee, the informal committees that have operated over many years and, sometimes, the residents' associations and the owners of municipal and private facilities.

Until now, the structure has been clear. There has been consultation with borough councils and with 55 Broadway. If there are to be subsidiaries and contractors, they should be bound by similar procedures. I hope that the amendments do not illustrate any loosening of those arrangements. They do not always work perfectly, but at least we know who is responsible. If the future structure is not as tight as it should be, I hope that the other place will examine this important matter.

People who cannot easily get around — those to whom even the location of a bus stop or the withdrawal of a route is important to their daily life — will be dependent upon the legal interpretation of these amendments and clauses. There must be no lesser obligation on public service operators than there is currently on London Transport.

Mrs. Chalker

I wish to say a few appropriate words in response to the debate. In Committee I said that I agreed with the intention of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) in amendment No. 60. I said: LRT will need to adopt some strategic control over service levels and routes and there is some advantage in giving it that control as a statutory duty … I shall be happy to make that amendment on Report.—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 7 February 1984; c. 313.] In amendment No. 5 we have rearranged the wording of clause 3(3)(c), but not to change its substance. Clause 3(3) describes the various matters that may be provided for in agreements between LRT and another bus operator under clause 3(2). The wording in clause 3(3)(c) incorporated the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, which added references to service frequencies and location of routes.

This is a drafting amendment which counsel believes will improve the present wording. A route must have a location as that is the definition of a route. I see no need to repeat that. The amendment does not change the substance of the clause or the meaning intended by the hon. Gentleman.

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Amendment No. 8 adds to clause 8 a requirement on LRT to determine the general structure of routes and level of frequency for the whole range of services, whether operated by LRT, its subsidiaries or independent operators, as allowed under clause 3(2) agreements. To some extent, that measure complements at a general level amendment No. 5. As I said before, I agreed that LRT should have a statutory duty to determine such matters in addition to the general level and structure of fares and charges for which clause 8 already provides.

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked me about monitoring. The LRT, in ensuring that the contract between LRT and an independent operator under a clause 3(2) agreement was fulfilled, would need to monitor it. Undoubtedly, matters of commercial interest are involved in monitoring the contract, but I see no reason why we cannot devise some measures so that at least the provisions of the contract are made known publicly. I shall look into that matter.

LRT will make decisions on routes under the clause 3(2) agreements. Clause 29 provides for discussions with the London boroughs. I realise that there are problems, as the hon. Member for Newham, South said, in deciding where a bus stop is sited—for instance, further up a hill because elderly people live at the top of that hill. Occasionally, it is important that extra distances are added to routes for passengers' benefit. The clause 3(2) agreement aims to provide a better service for passengers. The purpose of the amendment is simply to tidy up the wording and bring it into line with the general wording of the Bill. The measure does not go against anything that we decided in Committee. The hon. Gentleman need have no fears. I hope that the House will accept each of the three amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 5, line 13 leave out subsection (4).

I do not propose to push the amendment to a vote, but it raises an issue that we discussed in Committee. I believe that the Minister appreciates the amendment's objective. Subsection (4) provides for some guidance about the formation of companies, in pursuance of clause 4, to provide bus or underground rail transport services in London. If the Bill is passed, London Regional Transport will be set up as the overall authority. It will have the power to set up a bus and then an underground rail operation. Under subsection (3), those bodies will be public companies under the Companies Act 1948.

The disadvantage of subsection (4), which the amendment seeks to delete, is the problem of the definition of "objects". Under the Companies Act, the objectives of companies can be enormously wide and general. The definition under subsection (4) is that the objects shall be such as appear to London Regional Transport to be necessary or appropriate in view of the purpose for which that company is established". I hope the Department will accept that we need a statement of a company's objectives in meeting the duties that the Bill and its predecessors set on that company.

LRT has a duty, as we have already said, under clause 2 to meet certain objectives to ensure that, for the time being, London's transport needs are met. Within that overall framework, I contend that the two companies to be set up should aim to meet those objectives. Those objectives should be incorporated in the statute that set them up, not left entirely to LRT's discretion.

Subsections (3) and (4), by creating companies under the Companies Act for the bus and underground rail operations in London, clearly admit the possibility that one day shares in those companies could be sold. That option will become available. Of course, the Minister will say, "That is not our intention," but she must accept that that is a possibility. A company under the Companies Act, limited by shares and registered under the 1948 Act, can be sold if the Government decide to do so. If the shareholder—the Government—decides to get rid of its shares, the company will be put on the market. It is, therefore, vital to provide against that eventuality and prevent the opportunity of any privatisation of the bus and underground companies as they exist on the date of handover. Their objects should be written into statute and not just be left to be decided from time to time by LRT.

I believe that the Department understands the amendment's objective. I should be grateful if the Minister would reveal whether the amendment is acceptable and whether later there will be an accommodation of the aim of incorporating the objects of the two companies in their articles of association.

Mrs. Chalker

I thought that I had made it clear when we discussed our amendment in Standing Committee about subsidiaries of companies under the Companies Act that, in creating separate bus and underground subsidiaries within LRT, we would have exactly what the hon. Gentleman has been seeking — companies properly performing duties such as those we are requiring of LRT. By seeking to remove subsection (4), the hon. Gentleman will not achieve a specific change. I know that his amendment is a probing one, and that is why it is on the Amendment Paper.

I do not find any measure in subsection (4) especially offensive. It provides for LRT to determine the appropriate objectives for its subsidiaries. I have already given an undertaking, which I repeat, that LRT will determine appropriate objectives for the subsidiaries which are in line with its objectives. It is not, therefore, necessary to write that measure into the Bill. The objectives of a company, which are written out in its memorandum and articles, under the Companies Act, give the company powers. We cannot put duties into those objectives written into the memorandum and articles, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman understands that point.

This measure covers the two companies—LRT bus and LRT underground — which are to be LRT's subsidiaries. They cannot be anything but under the control of LRT, so the first part of subsection (4) is a reasonable requirement and the second part is simply a matter of sensible administration.

The hon. Gentleman is anxious that we should include words in the clause to ensure that the two separate companies act responsibly in line with the duty imposed on LRT. I see no need for any additional words to be written into the clause, because the hon. Gentleman's aim is the understanding on which we have been working and it is the way in which subsidiary companies would be required to work. The objectives under the memorandum and articles of association would simply give them the power to operate in that way.

I made the matter clear to the hon. Gentleman in Committee. However, if he was not satisfied with what I told him in that long debate, I am not sure that these few remarks will make the matter clear. But we are not at odds. The Bill covers the point that he is making and I see no need for further amendments. If the hon. Gentleman can explain to me why he thinks that there should be an amendment I will look at the matter again, but I do not see from what he has said tonight or previously that the creation of separate subsidiaries, with separately identifiable costs and revenues, is anything but good commercial practice and a reflection of what LT has already done in treating the bus and tube services as separate businesses. All that LT has not done is to make them into Companies Act companies.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the potential for selling off. It is a very, very, very remote possibility that that would happen, but I have to agree that, although it may be unlikely, it is possible. However, as long as the companies remain subsidiaries of LRT, which is what the Bill provides, they will be well provided for. If there is a change, it will involve the memorandum and articles of the company and conditions could be imposed on the sale. However, I cannot see that happening and I do not think that there is any need to write an amendment into the Bill. In any case, the amendment does not achieve the objective sought by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I said earlier that I did not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I listened carefully to the Minister and I hope that the "very, very, very remote possibility" becomes an impossibility and that privatisation will be ruled out.

The two operations — bus and underground —obviously need to be run separately. There is no objection to that. However, it is always safer — perhaps, as a relatively new hon. Member, I am naturally sceptical—to have things written down so that we know what will happen in future, rather than to sign a blank cheque for the Government. That was the objective behind the amendment. The Minister has said that she will listen to further arguments, and perhaps I can take up that offer without detaining the House tonight.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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