HC Deb 09 April 1984 vol 58 cc90-6
Mr. Simon Hughes

I beg to move amendment No. 21, in page 33, line 24, leave out 'subject to subsection (6) below'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 22, in page 34, line 7, leave out subsection (6).

Mr. Hughes

We here enter on that part of the Bill which deals with the representation of and the participation by the consumer in the affairs of LRT. Although there are provisions, which start at clause 39, about how passengers will be consulted and although there is one definite improvement in that there will be one body, the London Regional Passenger Committee, which in relation to public transport in London will replace the present two bodies, one with a responsibility in relation to British Rail and the other with a responsibility in relation to London Transport, there is a fundamental flaw in the procedure to which the amendment seeks to draw attention and which the amendment, if accepted, would begin to put right.

The fundamental flaw is that if the Bill is unamended there will be no consumer voice at the table where the decisions are made. There will be nominees, and no one but nominees, of the Secretary of State for Transport of the day, all appointed by him, and at his entire discretion. There will be no opportunity for the consumer to participate in the decisions that will affect 7 million residents of London, let alone those from outer London, from outside London and from abroad who use LRT.

The amendment seeks to limit the amount of subject matter that will be taken out of the competence of the consumer body set up under the Bill. By virtue of clause 39(6) there will be an area of discussion in which the consumer body will not be able to participate. Already it does not have a voice at the table, and already it is being told that it will not be able to discuss certain matters, such as the most fundamental fares. The fares structure, and the fundamental questions that affect most consumers regarding how much they will have to pay for the service, will be outside its remit.

We have tabled some amendments, which have been accepted, and for that I am grateful. One has to be grateful for small crumbs from the table. However, the majority of the amendments have been rejected, some of which would give the consumer a better voice. It cannot be right that, by clause 39(6), the consumer will not be allowed to consider the charges to be made for any service or facility or any question relating to

  1. "(a) the discontinuance by London Regional Transport or any subsidary of theirs of all railway passenger services from any station or on any line on their railways; or
  2. (b) the discontinuance or reductions of railway services provided by the Railways Board or any subsidiary of theirs."
That means that when there is a proposal to close a part of the railway network, this body — the strongest consumer body that we will have, and the only counterweight to the Department and its appointees— will not have a say on something as substantial as whether the railway line—a part of public passenger transport provision—continues. If the Government were to make this one concession they would show that they are serious and that they accept that the professional, respectable and experienced consumer bodies are very unhappy.

As part of the briefing that all members of the Committee received, the National Consumer Council wrote to us and asked us to urge upon the Government improvements on behalf of the consumer. The two local consumer bodies for passenger transport in London made the same sort of approach to members of the Committee. They were obviously waiting to hear what the Minister said. It is interesting to observe that, as a result of all her fine words and kind responses, they hit the nail on the head when they said in a subsequent comment: Mrs. Chalker, the Minister of State, is very good at giving the impression that she is giving more away than she actually has … there are some matters which it would clearly be appropriate for us to come back to in the Lords. In a debate on an earlier amendment, the House heard about the disabled and the minority view on the Conservative Benches that, if something is sent to the House of Lords, they might take the matter seriously and say to the Government, "We are not letting you get away with this." There might be a sufficient number of Back Benchers in the House of Lords to say that the case has merit and that the least that can be done, if the consumer is to be excluded from decision-making, is to make sure that the consumer is properly consulted on everything regularly, and not in a cursory and casual way which allows the consumer view to be dismissed by a Secretary of State. The Government might give a token of their good faith by saying, "We accept that point. The provisions that we have laid down do not go anywhere near meeting the all-party Select Committee recommendation that there should be a consumer voice. They fall enormously short of that, and we are prepared to make yet another concession along the road to hearing the consumer's view of what London Transport should be doing."

We are told by the Secretary of State that it is to be a nationalised industry. If nationalised industries are to be anything, they should be at the service of the public. At present, they are unlikely to be that. Indeed, LRT is unlikely to be that, because it will not even be in a position to hear adequately, regularly and consistently what the public want. That is not acceptable, it is disgraceful, and the amendment, if accepted, would allow some redemption of the Government Benches before it is too late.

Mrs. Chalker

I think that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has forgotten everything that I said in Committee. I suggest that he reads it again.

Clause 39(6) in the Bill as published excludes certain questions of responsibility from LRPC so that its remit is comparable to that of the CTCC and the area transport users consultative committees—the TUCCs. Since the Bill was published, we have made two moves in the direction of these amendments. I have said that we accept that there is a role for the consumer bodies in relation to the structure and relativities of fares, and that the Government intend to deal with the matter if and when a suitable legislative opportunity arises. However, the hon. Gentleman accepted in Committee that it could not be done for London alone, and that it needed to be done for the whole country. That is why it does not arise on this Bill. Meanwhile, in advance of such legislation, British Rail will consult the CTCC and the London Regional Passengers committee about fares and charges on an informal basis. I am sure that LRT will do the same in relation to the LRPC. I cannot commit it because it has not yet been appointed, but I have every intention of asking it to do so. I see no reason why it should not do what BR already intends to do.

An amendment to the clause was agreed in Committee which would enable the LRPC to consider reductions in services provided by LRT or its subsidiaries. In the case of BR services, informal consultation has always taken place, and will continue to do so. In the case of proposals by LRT or BR to withdraw rail passenger services, the role of the LRPC will be exactly the same as the role that the area transport users consultative committee now has in relation to proposals affecting British Rail's passenger services. I can see no justification for making the position in the London area different from that elsewhere in the country.

I have already said that we shall move on this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that he is pushing at an open door in this respect. It is a question of doing it in the most orderly and sensible way to achieve a reasonable balance in the amount of discussion, deliberation and progress that needs to be made in the provision of transport for people in London. I hope that he will not press the amendment.

Mr. Snape

I shall be very brief. If the LRPC is to be largely as concerned as LRT with such matters as the level of the provision of services, fare increases, and so on, it would seem to be common sense to give the committee as wide a remit as possible. To prevent it from discussing such issues as railway closures — whether they are proposed by BR or LRT — is unduly restrictive and makes one wonder why the Government are so terrified.

The Minister talks about things being orderly. I did not think that she approved of countries where people went around saying that society must be orderly. However, railway closures frequently lead to people being somewhat disorderly. If the amendment were accepted, there would at least be an opportunity for such important matters to be debated before the committee. We are obviously grateful to the Minister for having widened the scope of the debate, but the amendment does not ask a great deal of her. Her refusal to accept it seems unduly restrictive and somewhat illogical.

9 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes

The one hope that we had was that the promise of jam tomorrow would be converted by the Minister into, "We shall do something." However, she has said only what the Secretary of State and the Minister said in Committee—that one day the Government will do something about the situation. For the consumer, one day is not soon enough. I do not wish to detain the House, but I feel strongly enough to press the amendment to a Division on behalf of the consumer, because he will otherwise be excluded. He will feel deserted by us if we do not make that noise on his behalf tonight. I hope that the Government will respond in the other place by doing something about it sooner rather than later.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 145, Noes 235.

Division No. 237] [9 pm
Abse, Leo Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)
Alton, David Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)
Ashdown, Paddy Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Buchan, Norman
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Campbell, Ian
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Campbell-Savours, Dale
Barron, Kevin Canavan, Dennis
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Carter-Jones, Lewis
Bell, Stuart Clarke, Thomas
Benn, Tony Clay, Robert
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh) Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)
Bermingham, Gerald Cohen, Harry
Bidwell, Sydney Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Cook, Frank (Stockton North)
Boyes, Roland Corbett, Robin
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cowans, Harry
Craigen, J. M. McWilliam, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Marek, Dr John
Dalyell, Tam Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Martin, Michael
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Maxton, John
Deakins, Eric Maynard, Miss Joan
Dewar, Donald Michie, William
Dixon, Donald Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Dobson, Frank Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dubs, Alfred Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Duffy, A. E. P. Nellist, David
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Eastham, Ken O'Brien, William
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) O'Neill, Martin
Ellis, Raymond Parry, Robert
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Patchett, Terry
Ewing, Harry Pavitt, Laurie
Fatchett, Derek Pendry, Tom
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Penhaligon, David
Fisher, Mark Pike, Peter
Flannery, Martin Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Prescott, John
Foster, Derek Randall, Stuart
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Richardson, Ms Jo
Garrett, W. E. Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
George, Bruce Robertson, George
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Godman, Dr Norman Robinson, P. (Belfast E)
Golding, John Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)
Gould, Bryan Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Sedgemore, Brian
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Haynes, Frank Skinner, Dennis
Heffer, Eric S. Snape, Peter
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Spearing, Nigel
Howells, Geraint Steel, Rt Hon David
Hoyle, Douglas Stott, Roger
Hughes, Roy (Newport East) Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Thomas, Dr R, (Carmarthen)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Thorne, Stan (Preston)
John, Brynmor Tinn, James
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Torney, Tom
Kennedy, Charles Wainwright, R.
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Kirkwood, Archibald Wareing, Robert
Leadbitter, Ted Weetch, Ken
Leighton, Ronald White, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Wigley, Dafydd
Lewis, Terence (Worsley) Winnick, David
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Woodall, Alec
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Wrigglesworth, Ian
McGuire, Michael
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Tellers for the Ayes:
McKelvey, William Mr. A. J. Beith and
McNamara, Kevin Mr. Michael Meadowcroft.
McTaggart, Robert
Aitken, Jonathan Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)
Alexander, Richard Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Amess, David Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Ancram, Michael Braine, Sir Bernard
Arnold, Tom Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Ashby, David Bright, Graham
Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H. Brinton, Tim
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Brittan, Rt Hon Leon
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Brooke, Hon Peter
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y) Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Bruinvels, Peter
Baldry, Anthony Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Budgen, Nick
Batiste, Spencer Bulmer, Esmond
Bellingham, Henry Butcher, John
Bendall, Vivian Butterfill, John
Benyon, William Carlisle, John (N Luton)
Berry, Sir Anthony Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Carttiss, Michael
Boscawen, Hon Robert Chalker, Mrs Lynda
Chapman, Sydney Malone, Gerald
Churchill, W. S. Maples, John
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Marland, Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Marlow, Antony
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Cockeram, Eric Mather, Carol
Colvin, Michael Maude, Hon Francis
Conway, Derek Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Coombs, Simon Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Cope, John Mellor, David
Couchman, James Merchant, Piers
Crouch, David Meyer, Sir Anthony
Dicks, Terry Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Dorrell, Stephen Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Miscampbell, Norman
Dover, Den Moate, Roger
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dunn, Robert Monro, Sir Hector
Durant, Tony Montgomery, Fergus
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Moore, John
Evennett, David Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)
Eyre, Sir Reginald Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Fallon, Michael Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Farr, John Moynihan, Hon C.
Fookes, Miss Janet Newton, Tony
Forman, Nigel Nicholls, Patrick
Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim) Nicholson, J.
Fox, Marcus Onslow, Cranley
Franks, Cecil Oppenheim, Philip
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Ottaway, Richard
Fry, Peter Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Glyn, Dr Alan Parris, Matthew
Goodlad, Alastair Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Gower, Sir Raymond Pawsey, James
Gregory, Conal Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds) Powell, William (Corby)
Grist, Ian Powley, John
Grylls, Michael Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Gummer, John Selwyn Price, Sir David
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) Proctor, K. Harvey
Hanley, Jeremy Raffan, Keith
Hawkins, C. (High Peak) Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Hayes, J. Rathbone, Tim
Hayward, Robert Renton, Tim
Henderson, Barry Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Rifkind, Malcolm
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
Hirst, Michael Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Roe, Mrs Marion
Holt, Richard Rossi, Sir Hugh
Howard, Michael Rost, Peter
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Rowe, Andrew
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford) Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Hunt, David (Wirral) Ryder, Richard
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Jackson, Robert Sayeed, Jonathan
Key, Robert Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
King, Rt Hon Tom Shelton, William (Streatham)
Lamont, Norman Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lang, Ian Shersby, Michael
Latham, Michael Silvester, Fred
Lawler, Geoffrey Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lester, Jim Soames, Hon Nicholas
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd) Speed, Keith
Lightbown, David Spencer, Derek
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Squire, Robin
Lord, Michael Stanbrook, Ivor
Luce, Richard Stanley, John
Lyell, Nicholas Stern, Michael
McCrindle, Robert Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Macfarlane, Neil Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
MacGregor, John Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Maclean, David John Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Stokes, John
McQuarrie, Albert Stradling Thomas, J.
Madel, David Sumberg, David
Major, John Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Malins, Humfrey Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Temple-Morris, Peter Watts, John
Terlezki, Stefan Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wells, John (Maidstone)
Thompson, Donald (Calder V) Wheeler, John
Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N) Whitfield, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford S) Whitney, Raymond
Thornton, Malcolm Wiggin, Jerry
Thurnham, Peter Winterton, Mrs Ann
Townend, John (Bridlington) Winterton, Nicholas
Tracey, Richard Wolfson, Mark
Twinn, Dr Ian Wood, Timothy
van Straubenzee, Sir W. Woodcock, Michael
Waddington, David Yeo, Tim
Wakeham, Rt Hon John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Waldegrave, Hon William
Walden, George Tellers for the Noes:
Waller, Gary Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Wardle, C. (Bexhill) Mr. Michael Neubert.
Watson, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may be for the convenience of the House if I put together the remaining Government amendments.

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