HC Deb 25 June 1984 vol 62 cc710-5

Lords amendment: No. 2 in page 3, line 10, leave out from beginning to "any" in line 16 and insert— (3) The duty of London Regional Transport and the Railways Board under section 2(3) of this Act to co-operate for the purpose mentioned in paragraph (a) of that subsection shall extend to any public passenger transport services provided by any person other than a subsidiary of London Regional Transport under an agreement entered into by London Regional Transport by virtue of subsection (2) above; and any such agreement shall include such provision as appears to London Regional Transport to be appropriate—

  1. (a) for securing the proper discharge of their general duty under subsection (1) of that section; and
  2. (b) for the purposes of the co-operation with the Railways Board required of them by subsection (3)(a) of that section.
(3A) Without prejudice to subsection (3) above,

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The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords Amendment No. 8.

Mr. Ridley

I shall ask the House to agree also to Lords Amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 2 arises out of an undertaking that I gave on Report to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to consider whether a stronger link could be made between LRT's duties under clause 2 and its power under clause 3(2) to make arrangements for others who provide services on its behalf.

Amendment No. 2, although not necessary because the legislation makes the position clear, will ensure that link. On balance I thought it desirable to add the provision to the Bill. The amendment stresses the continuing nature of LRT's duties under clause 2, regardless of whether services are provided by LRT, its subsidiaries or by other operators under clause 3(2) agreements.

We agreed in another place, after representations, that there was merit in amending clause 34 to place LRT under a specific requirement to show in its annual report what action it had taken in co-ordinating its services with British Rail services. I take the matter seriously and I shall take a personal interest in what happens. I thought it right that LRT should be asked to report. Amendment No. 8 provides for that.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The Minister may consider this to be a belt and braces amendment. We note that it extends the duty of LRT significantly to the "other persons" to whom reference is made. The object of the Bill is to enable London Transport, in some cases at the Minister's direction, to bring in private enterprise and create subsidiaries of LRT to run certain services. As it is some time since we discussed those matters, the Minister may care to remind us of the position.

I presume that the subsidiaries will remain companies wholly owned, or be over 50 per cent. owned, by LRT, that the "other persons" will be persons in the sense of other companies, or perhaps individuals or contractors, and that we shall have, as it were, three levels of administration—four, taking the Minister into account—including 55 The Broadway in its new guise; the subsidiaries, which, no doubt, will be partially book or accounting subsidiaries, with their head offices at that address, as they were prior to 1912; and the "other persons" referred to in the amendment.

New subsection (3) places a duty on LRT to co-operate with these other persons. We assume that these persons would not have been selected to run services if they did not comply with conditions laid down by LRT or the Minister. I want to make sure that the recently introduced, and now successful, travelcard receives proper consideration. Will the Minister confirm that co-operation—if it is not included in the conditions of service of the "other persons" mentioned in the amendment—will include cooperation about facilities such as the travelcard?

The travelcard in London enables people, according to what they have paid for in terms of zones, to use underground or bus services at any time as frequently as they wish. It is an extremely useful card. As one does not have to worry about paying additional fares, people use the services more. That is advantageous because the expense of running the services is not increased but the extent to which Londoners use the services is increased. I hope that co-operation with the "other persons" will include cooperating on matters of that kind.

The Minister has powers of direction over LRT. New subsection (3) says: any such agreement shall include such provision as appears to London Regional Transport to be appropriate". I am sure that LRT will do its best, but the Minister will always be behind it. I was interested to note that in answer to a written question from me on Friday the Minister replied at column 271 that he intended to recruit a further 24 staff at the Department of Transport to look after LRT and that that would cost about £580,000 per year.

The Minister mentioned the railways. I hope that he will ensure that the co-operation that is to take place with other people will include steps already taken by the GLC which the London travelling public have found convenient and helpful. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will assure us that there will be full co-operation with whoever else may be involved in these services.

While I suspect that those services will mainly concern the buses, I hope that there will be no reduction in the ingenious means by which London Transport and the GLC have helped the travelling public at no extra expense.

The annual report will tell us the extent of the cooperation. It will also tell us, in a negative sort of way, what requests for co-operation have not been taken into account. I welcome the amendment because it will provide a somewhat greater safeguard than existed before, although it is clear to my hon. Friends and to me that the prospective disintegration of London transport will not be to the benefit of the travelling public.

Mr. Maples

I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to make sure that the duty to co-ordinate services between British Rail and LRT shall extend not only to services which they or their subsidiaries provide, but to services which LRT might contract out under clause 3(2).

The amendment appears to go somewhat further than that, and, in addition, imposes a duty on the contractor to discuss co-ordination, and I want to be sure that that is not the case. I want the co-ordinating to be done between LRT and the railways board and not between a person who becomes a contractor under clause 3(2) and the board.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)

Why not?

Mr. Maples

I should have thought that the answer was clear. Many of us regard clause 3(2) as containing one of the most important provisions in the Bill, for it gives great scope for LRT to provide better, more efficient and cheaper services. Anything which imposed an open-ended duty on a contractor under that subsection would make such agreements unattractive to potential subcontractors. I hope that my right hon. Friend will confirm that it does not also extend to the actions of the contractor.

Mr. Simon Hughes

guess that what we have just heard from the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) was a plea for privatisation to be allowed to go on as little hampered as possible.

I welcome, in particular, amendment No. 8 because, as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) said, we on the Opposition Benches are in no doubt that as soon as the Bill receives the Royal Assent and the Secretary of State announces the date on which it is to be enacted—which is likely to be the day after it receives the Royal Assent—there will be massive fares increases, the first of which will be announced within a matter of days—increases which were to have been announced recently had the Secretary of State not been cautioned not to make an announcement before the Bill had completed its passage through the House.

The hon. Member for Newham, South was right to say that the annual report will at least let us see the state of play. It will show us whether integrated London transport is happening—whether it is integrated between public and private provision, or whether it is becoming less integrated and is increasingly disintegrating as a public service. The duty to present an annual report is a good. step forward, because if the Secretary of State persists along the road down which he appears to be determined to take us we shall at least see, sooner rather than later, whether the chickens are coming home to roost.

Mr. Prescott

We are continuing the Committee discussion about whether this is co-operation rather than integration, and perhaps the Secretary of State is realising that we should be thinking more about co-operation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was right to say that the Bill will lead more to disintegration than to co-operation. At least we welcome the announcement in a news release today that the Secretary of State has turned down the AMOS appeal. The alternative would have been particularly disintegrating for London's transport requirements.

We have not been prepared statutorily to impose duties, and that leads us back to the "due regard" aspects of the discussion in Committee. Our fear is that people will have licence to do exactly what they wish. The amendment tightens the provision a little, and perhaps the arguments that my hon. Friends and I have adduced are beginning to sink in and the right hon. Gentleman is realising that the scheme as originally planned would not have turned out as well as he had thought.

In the argument on whether bus services can be properly integrated, I draw to the Secretary of State's attention the fact that in these agreements to be drawn up between LRT and some transport company, such as a bus company, it may be that the bus passes and travelcards, perhaps even old-age pensioner passes, will not apply on every service that is maintained. There is an example of this in the local authority bus service maintained by Hillingdon council, which is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks), who again has missed the bus, or has perhaps just missed the debate, which affects his constituency.

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In Hillingdon, an arrangement has been arrived at between the local authority and London Transport, and I have before me the revised timetable of the 128 bus service, which makes it clear that bus passes and travelcards are not acceptable. I am glad that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has joined us, as I am referring to a bus service in his constituency. Perhaps he has been delayed because it was late. I point out for his benefit that on that service, bus passes and travelcards, which are an important factor in integration, do not apply. As I understand it, the London Transport Passengers' Committee cannot get information on this service, as the local authority refuses to provide it. If that is happening in the system that we have now, given that many more of these individually negotiated contracts are to take place, it will not be surprising if this happens at the expense of the integrated service that has prevailed in London under London Transport.

I welcome the fact that there will be greater coordination between the rail and bus services, although the amendment merely expresses the desire to see further coordination. We shall now have the opportunity to assess what is happening if the steps that have been taken in previous years are recorded regularly in the annual reports. We hope that sufficient time will be given in the House to debate success or failure of those moves.

Mr. Ridley

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) asked about the staff in my Department. Yes, 24 staff will be required to administer LRT, but many of them are already doing it, and others will be diverted from other activities, from which they will be released, so it does not mean that there will be a net increase of that size. The main subsidiaries of the bus and the underground are almost certain, for as far ahead as one can see, to remain 100 per cent. owned by LRT.

The main point of the debate, which has been raised by most hon. Members who have spoken, concerns the position of routes that are contracted out under clause 3(2) to private operators. LRT may find that it can get tenders for running certain routes cheaper than it is able to run them itself, in which case I am sure that the House would agree that LRT should be encouraged to accept such tenders. The conditions that it may care to place on the invitation to bid will include the acceptance of travelcards and bus passes and any arrangements that might be necessary for liaison with British Rail.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) I point out that it might be that the timetable of one of these services should fit with the timetable of trains departing from a BR station, in which case, no doubt, LRT will make it clear in the invitation to bid that that is one of the conditions of the tender. The same will apply to travelcards, bus passes and so on, I would point out to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).

The liaison with British Rail, however, will be done by LRT. LRT, having made the best liaison arrangements possible on a whole range of matters in which LRT and BR overlap, will put into its specification any requirements to make sure that that happens.

Mr. Prescott

What effect will what the right hon. Gentleman has said have on the Hillingdon service, to which I referred? Does that mean that that service, if agreed with LRT, will have to carry the condition of recognising the travelcard and those provisions laid down by LRT?

Mr. Ridley

I do not know about the service to which the hon. Gentleman refers, because I have only just heard about it, but it is possible that there can be licensed private operators in competition with LRT, in which case the conditions under which they operate will be laid down by the traffic commissioners. Secondly, it is possible that LRT will invite private operators to run some of its routes under clause 3(2), in which case it has the power to impose the conditions that bus passes and travelcards be accepted. It would be crazy if it did not impose those conditions, because such cards and passes are the main form of fare-paying currencies for a large number of passengers. To exclude those passengers, or ask them to pay cash as well as possessing a travelcard, would not be in the best interests of anybody. I should be surprised if, in any of these services, LRT did not impose that condition.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

The problem is that the bus service to which the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) referred is run and paid for by the local authority. If it has to fund the free bus passes which are then used on the bus service, one wonders where the money would actually come from. However, to tie up with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the bus service is not in competition with an LT bus service, but is run over routes on which LT does not run.

Mr. Ridley

That is an example of a service that is not run by LT, and of a local authority that has made its own arrangements. It is a case of local discretion, and local authorities are free to make any arrangements that they wish, and decide on the conditions under which they should be operating. There is no doubt about that, and it is the same in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East. I am sure that he would find plenty of similar bus routes.

The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers. It is a bad Liberal habit to assume that what is in newspapers is true. What he can believe, if he would like to take it from me, is that last week the board of LT voted to accept a contract for £100,000 for political advertising for the GLC for the three months of September, October and November. That means that the buses will continue to be plastered with "Keep GLC Working for London" long after LT will have ceased to exist. Rates can be saved by not spending money on such political advertising.

I have many more ways to save rates. The first thing that the House will hear about in our plans for LRT will be news of the great reduction in the cost of running it that it is possible to make without cutting out any large numbers of routes or closing down stations. All such claims from the Opposition are rubbish. Also, I repeat that there will be no increase in fares significantly above the rate of inflation. I have said that so often, that perhaps I might be believed.

Mr. Simon Hughes

If the Secretary of State were to say now that there will be no increase in fares this year, we would accept that as a categoric assurance. We would be grateful for a specific undertaking of that sort. In the absence of a specific undertaking we have sometimes to turn to the newspapers.

Mr. Ridley

I should prefer to announce my plans for the future of LRT when the House has given its assent to the Bill and when it has received Royal Assent. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the calendar year and not the financial year, I can tell him that I do not believe that there will be any increase in fares during the calendar year. I hope that that is of some comfort to him.

The hon. Gentleman might care to ponder on what would be reasonable. If there is an increase in fares in due course equivalent to the inflation that has taken place since the Labour party took over at county hall it would have to be a 22 per cent. increase. That would be rather a heavy increase and I would not like that. If there is an increase that is commensurate with the inflation that has taken place since fares were last increased, which was May 1983, there would have to be a 7 per cent. increase. The hon. Gentleman can take his pick of what he thinks would be reasonable between those two percentages.

Question put and agreed to.

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