HC Deb 01 April 1985 vol 76 cc909-55

13. In this Order—

It falls to me on these occasions to introduce and explain the motion under discussion. I propose to do so briefly, thereby allowing as much time as possible for those with an abiding interest in the subject to contribute to the debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will, when winding up, respond to the points made and deal with the provisions of the Bill in greater detail than it would be appropriate for me to essay.

The Bill to which this motion seeks to apply a timetable gives effect to the proposals in the White Paper "Buses" which the Government published as a Command Paper in July last year. That White Paper was the subject of an extensive consultation exercise before the legislation was introduced on 31 January. The Bill received its Second Reading on 12 February.

The Transport Bill represents an attempt to break the cycle of rising costs and falling services which have plagued this sector of the transport market for the past 30 years. During that time the bus and coach share of the market has fallen from 43 per cent. to 8 per cent. Meanwhile, fares and subsidies have risen substantially in real terms.

I think that there will be general agreement that that is not a happy situation and that there is considerable room for improvement. The Government believe that that improvement can be achieved by lifting the burden of regulation and monopoly which weighs upon the industry.

Accordingly, the Bill will abolish road service licensing outside London, liberate the taxi and hire car market and provide for the transfer of the National Bus Company's operations to the private sector.

There is clear evidence that that is a prudent approach. The Transport Act 1980 took the first step in that direction by abolishing road service licensing for long distance coach services. The result has been better services, lower fares and more passengers. In this, it is giving effect to the fundamental objective of transport policy, to allow the travelling public to exercise their choice to move about as cheaply and efficiently as possible. The Bill will give an opportunity for those benefits to be extended.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have not received a single letter in support of the Bill and yet I have received literally hundreds of letters from people opposed to it? Is he also aware that tomorrow there will be perhaps one of the largest lobbies that Parliament will have seen in opposition to the Bill? Why does he not recognise those points instead of just reading out a ministerial brief? Perhaps he does not believe in this nonsense of a Bill that is going through Parliament at the moment.

Mr. Biffen

What the hon. Gentleman says about his postbag merely gives testimony to the well-orchestrated activities of the vested interests that are challenged by this legislation.

However, the Bill is not merely an exercise in deregulation. It recognises that bus services have a social as well as an economic role. It is worth bearing in mind that the existing system has signally failed to protect that role. Those who rely on rural services will be aware of the extent of their decline in recent years. Accordingly, the Bill provides for the Secretary of State to make grants to the operators of rural services and introduces competitive tendering to ensure the best possible value for money on subsidised routes which are uneconomic but of social importance.

In addition, many of the Bill's 114 clauses are devoted to ensuring the maintenance of high standards of safety and reliability. Thus the Transport Bill represents a comprehensive approach to easing the problems of an important sector of the transport market. It is a long and detailed piece of legislation and it is in the interests of all those involved in the industry that it should be carefully considered.

The Government are anxious to facilitate that consideration. Indeed, at the request of the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans), the then Chairman of the Select Committee on Transport, the Bill's start in Committee was slightly delayed so that the Select Committee would have time to publish its evidence on the subject. However, careful consideration does not mean interminable argument. Some balance must be struck between a fascination with detail and a desire to make progress, and that balance is not being achieved.

The Bill commenced its proceedings in Standing Committee on 21 February when two and a quarter hours were spent discussing the sittings motion. Since then the Committee has sat a further 18 times and has amassed a total of 94 hours of debate.

As always on such occasions I am filled with admiration for the stamina of Committee members, if not for the conciseness of those on the Opposition Benches. Largely due to their efforts, clause 1 was dissected for 30½ hours. After that matters improved somewhat. The next three clauses and two schedules were completed in only 14¾ hours. One can only assume that the Committee was disturbed by the reckless pace at which it had been travelling. Whatever the reason, it then came to a shuddering halt. Clause 5 was discussed for 24 hours.

I remind the House that the Bill has 114 clauses and seven schedules. After 94 hours of debate the Committee has completed its consideration of only 11 clauses and two schedules.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Too fast.

Mr. Biffen

I shall be glad to have on the record the hon. Gentleman's comment "Too fast". Posterity will be able to judge with what moderation the Government have moved.

At the current rate of progress, we would be well into 1986 before the Committee felt able to report the Bill to the House. Therefore, it is clear that without the imposition of a timetable there would be no prospect of the Bill reaching the statute book in this Session of Parliament.

The period of uncertainty and the steady decline in the service offered to the travelling public would be needlessly prolongued. That uncertainty would inevitably mean that operators would put off investment decisions, and plans to develop new services would be delayed. Even after the legislation is passed, there will be a significant transitional period before the full benefits are realised. Clearly, therefore, it is in the interests of all concerned that sensible progress should be made.

The timetable imposed by the motion is not ungenerous. The Committee will not be required to report the Bill to the House until 7 May. If it continues to sit as at present, that will permit no fewer than 16 further sittings. Given the Committee's evident enthusiasm, that should be ample time for the Bill's remaining provisions to receive the consideration that their importance deserves. After that, two full days will be made available for Report and Third Reading, on the first of which the 10 o'clock rule will be suspended for two hours.

A much needed reform of an important sector of the transport industry is in danger of being delayed. Those seeking that delay maintain that they have the best interests of the industry and of the travelling public at heart. I do not question the sincerity of their beliefs.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his speech is remarkably similar to the one that he read during the debate on the guillotine on a previous Transport Bill in which, we were told, the Government had taken the power to do all the things about transport that the right hon. Gentleman is now referring to? What use did the Government make of the previous Bill?

Mr. Biffen

That is a debate for another occasion. If there is a similarity about debates on timetable motions, it is because they deal with a broadly similar proposition — that the Opposition are using time to frustrate the prospects of the Bill, whereas the Government believe that, by mandate, and by other requirements, they have every reason to secure its ultimate passage, while ensuring the balance of as fair a discussion as possible.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

In fixing the final day of 7 May, did the right hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that the House will not be sitting during the Easter recess?

Mr. Biffen

Yes, indeed.

I was referring to the sincere beliefs of Opposition Members. I have to say that they are misplaced. The system that they espouse has manifestly failed to maintain an efficient service to the large sections of the community who still rely heavily on buses and coaches to meet their transportation needs. The Bill is calculated to benefit the customer and the motion would facilitate its passage. Accordingly, I commend it to the House.

3.53 pm
Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

As the Leader of the House revealingly put it, it fell to him to propose the timetable motion. The right hon. Gentleman followed up that comment by reading at breakneck speed a script which was obviously prepared for him by the Secretary of State for Transport and which lacked all conviction and was a mere propaganda exercise.

I could not make up my mind whether the Leader of the House's principal mood was governed primarily by innocence or boredom. I have a few things to say about the Bill, because it falls to me to reply, but I think that I will say them with more genuine feeling and conviction about the Bill than the right hon. Gentleman managed to mobilise.

These timetable motions appear to recur at all too frequent intervals. Indeed, a very disturbing pattern is now emerging. First, we are presented with highly controversial, complex and ideologically motivated legislation. Secondly, no attempt is made to enlist independent and authoritative opinion on the subject matter. Indeed, consultation and discussion prior to the presentation of the Bill is either avoided or, where that is not possible, wantonly ignored. Thirdly, no concessions are made in Committee prior to the imposition of the guillotine. Fourthly, wherever possible, powers are taken to weaken or destroy local democratic control through local authorities. Finally, most of clauses and schedules have received not even the most perfunctory attention, because they have not been reached. That is the pattern—

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Whose fault is that?

Mr. Shore

It is very much the fault of the Secretary of State for Transport and his colleagues.

The features that I have just described were also the unacceptable features of the Local Government Bill, which was the last subject of the guillotine on 11 February. As I shall show in a moment, the Transport Bill has the same basically ugly features. First, I do not think that even the Leader of the House or the Secretary of State for Transport will dispute the fact that the measure is ideological, controversial and complex. Its central aims and provisions are designed to achieve two things: first, to deregulate passenger transport by abolishing, at a stroke, all the legislative provisions for road service licensing that have existed since the 1930s; secondly, to privatise bus services not merely by denationalising and breaking up the National Bus Corporation but by compelling the passenger transport executives and the municipal authorities to sell off their bus fleets.

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

The right hon. Gentleman obviously has not studied the Bill. First, it is the National Bus Company and not the National Bus Corporation. Secondly, local authorities are invited to make their bus operations into public limited companies, but there are no powers to compel them to sell the shares of those companies.

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that information. Is he now assuring us that, having compelled the local authorities to turn their municipal bus enterprises into public limited companies, he will not require them to privatise them at the next stage of his transport policy?

Mr. Ridley

I am delighted to respond to that point, as it concerns a matter that will be debated when—if we are ever allowed to — we reach the relevant clauses. Without the guillotine, we shall not get there. However, I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that he wants. There are no plans whatever to force privatisation on local authority owned companies.

Mr. Shore

One thing at least has become clear, and it is welcome as far as it goes.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State informed the House: The Bill is about competition."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 192.] His fundamental error is to assume that the increase of competition in passenger transport will lead to an increase in service to the travelling public. It will not do so.

My next charge is that the Bill has no authority, derived from independent and objective opinion. Its main proposals were issued as a White Paper on 12 July 1984. As soon as the House reassembled in the autumn and the Select Committees had been reconvened, the Select Committee on Transport began its examination of the White Paper. Despite the usual Conservative majority on the Select Committee, the Secretary of State rushed ahead with the preparation of his Bill and presented it on 31 January. He arranged its Second Reading on 12 February and began the Committee Stage even before the Select Committee could report.

Mr. Forth

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Shore

No. We have been over this ground several times and I remember the Second Reading debate and the tiny concession made by the Under-Secretary of State in his concluding speech.

The House will well remember the speech made on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), who was a member of the Select Committee and, of course, is a member of the Conservative party. Hon Members will also remember the reasoned amendment that he moved, which said: this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Transport Bill until it has had the oportunity of studying the imminent report of the Transport Committee and what is the most fundamental upheaval in the bus industry for over 50 years."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 207.] As the Select Committee observed when its report was finally published on 28 February, Governments usually present their ideas for major changes in legislation in consultative Green Papers before setting out their proposals in a White Paper. This did not happen in the case of 'Buses'. The Select Committee quoted the Humberside county council as pointing out: There was no consultation on the basic ideas and only the detailed practicalities of implementation are open to comment. This is an unfortunate approach to the most fundamental change to public transport legislation for over half a century. That is a very British understatement from the Humberside county council.

Mr. Forth

This appears to be a new departure. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that any future Labour Government will not legislate until they have gone through all the procedures that he has outlined? For example, will a future Labour Government undertake no legislation until extensive outside consultations have taken place and the appropriate Select Committee has reported?

Mr. Shore

The hon. Gentleman has not studied these matters as carefully as he should have done if he wishes to raise such points. As those who have been Members of the House rather longer than he has may recall, it was a Labour Government who introduced Green Papers in 1965 or 1966. They were very keen to extend the scope of consultation on legislation before Governments invested their pride and prestige in White Papers — in other words, before their follies could be pointed out and they could gracefully withdraw. That is the origin of Green Papers, and they are a very good idea.

Mr. Ridley

I have been a Member of the House rather longer than the right hon. Gentleman. How many consultative documents and Green Papers did the right hon. Gentleman issue before each nationalisation measure by the Labour Government? For example, I do not remember a consultative document on the nationalisation of the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.

Mr. Shore

I do not think that anyone could deny that that Bill was debated in the House far more thoroughly than any Bills have been debated before or since.

As the hon. Member for Wellingborough reminded the House on 12 February, his reasoned amendment had the support not only of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but was supported by no fewer than 11 national organisations, which he recounted. They were the Association of District Councils, the Association of Transport Co-ordinating Officers, the Bus and Coach Council, the Chartered Institute of Transport, Friends of the Earth, the National Association of Local Councils, the Ramblers Association, the Royal Town Planning Institute, Rural Voice, and Transport 2000, all operating under the aegis of Women in the Community — the National Federation of Women's Institutes.

Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should plead guilty to the charge of peremptory and arbitrary legislation and the denial of the opportunity to make serious and informed comments not only to consumer bodies and those who operate the bus services, but even to a Select Committee.

Thirdly, no concessions were made during the Committee stage — [Interruption.] Perhaps I should correct myself. The Government accepted that the traffic commissioners' maximum age should be reduced from 70 to 65 — [Interruption] Do I have that wrong? I do not think I have. That is the only concession. The Government may have inserted a "the" or an "a", but the only substantial concession was on the age of commissioners.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

A major concession was granted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the benefit of concessionary fares for the elderly. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) may shake her head, but a major concession was granted by my right hon. Friend. He promised to bring forward on Report, a clause dealing with concessionary fares for the elderly. He also promised to bring forward a charter and guidance for the disabled. The right hon. Gentleman should know that full well.

Mr. Shore

I am aware that, owing to the ingenuity of my hon. Friends in Committee, there was some discussion about the important matter of concessionary fares. This was during discussion of the early clauses of the Bill. However, the relevant clauses dealing with concessionary fares arise later in the Bill. The Government have not yet made a statement about them—and nor could they until they are reached. I do not know how the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) can claim that major changes and concessions have been made when the relevant clauses have not been reached.

Mr. Ridley

I should hate the right hon. Gentleman to be guilty of misleading concessionary fare travellers. I wish to make it absolutely clear that I undertook to introduce either new clauses or amendments on Report to make it clear that all operators will have to take part in local authority concessionary fare schemes, subject to a special appeal procedure which, I think, is technical. The guarantee is there, and the right hon. Gentleman must not traduce what I have said.

Mr. Shore

The right hon. Gentleman is not saying that he has yet accepted any amendments. All that he has said is that during the debates in Committee—because of the ingenuity of my hon. Friends—the matter was discussed ahead of the relevant clauses. He was driven to make certain statements. I shall comment later in my speech on my worries about concessionary fares. If the right hon. Gentleman will contain himself—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Labour Members have repeatedly requested that the same concession be made in the London Regional Transport Bill. On the Second Reading of that Bill, the Secretary of State categorically refused the request of two of his hon. Friends to introduce a clause about concessionary fares. We want old-age pensioners throughout Great Britain to have the same concessions as old-age pensioners in the London area.

Mr. Shore

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who helps to put the matter into its proper perspective.

Whatever minuscule amendments were accepted in Committee, they hardly add up to the basic conclusion of the Select Committee on Transport, which stated, Most of those organisations — it was referring to responsible local authorities, the operators and consumer organisations— believe that the Bill's proposals … are defective or totally unworkable. We believe that the Bill will require considerable amendment if it is to prove acceptable to the wide range of the political spectrum which is at present opposed to parts of it. My fourth challenge is that the Bill makes yet one more attack upon local democracy and upon the powers and duties of elected local councils. The National Bus Company, the enterprises run by the PTEs and those directly provided by local authorities are henceforth to be turned into public limited companies. We know that the first two are to be privatised, and we heard what the Secretary of State said earlier when he assured us that the PLCs formed by local authorities would remain in public ownership. I hope that my hon. Friends will firmly press that point in future discussions.

For more than half a century, and under successive Conservative and Labour Governments, municipal and other local authorities have been entrusted with the operation of passenger transport services. Indeed, the provision of good local bus services has been among the principal activities, and a source of justifiable pride, of local government as a whole. Much of that is now to cease. No attempt is being made even to distinguish the good from the not so good.

This immensely controversial Bill remains substantially undiscussed. Of its 114 clauses, only 11 have been reached. Admittedly clause 1, which abolishes road service licensing, contains one of the two main principles of the Bill, and that was bound to take a long period for discussion, and indeed it did.

Mr. Hayes

Thirty hours.

Mr. Shore

The principle of regulation has lasted for more than 50 years. Clause 1 provides for abolition of the system while the remainder of the Bill is basically about what provisions will be put in its place. Therefore, I am not in the least surprised that discussion of it took that amount of time. Clause 1 is the major clause of the Bill and if that had not been properly debated, the Opposition and Committee would not have done their duty.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Shore

No, I will not give way.

The privatisation proposals have not been discussed at all. I am thinking of the privatisation of NCB and of the passenger transport executives. Nor has there been any discussion of subsidies and tenders, matters of great importance. The clauses relating to travel concessions, about which the Secretary of State and I have had exchanges, remain undiscussed; they have not yet been reached, although my hon. Friends tabled amendments on the subject to earlier clauses.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

My right hon. Friend referred to passenger transport executives. Is he aware that important provisions, as it were, not in the Bill, to safeguard the pension rights of thousands of staff working for the PTEs have not been discussed and that, as matters stand, although their terms and conditions of employment would pass to the new bodies, the protection of pension rights is excluded from those provisions?

Mr. Shore

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, it is a major omission because it concerns thousands of people who are, and have been, employed in the industry and whose legitimate interests have not been discussed and cannot adequately be discussed under the rigorous limitations of the timetable.

Those are our principal charges against the Bill and the increasingly disturbing pattern of peremptory legislation to which I referred at the outset. We seem to be getting not only Government without consultation but Government by guillotine as well. While this reflects the predominant style of the present Government, no Minister has a poorer track record than the principal architect of the Bill, the Secretary of State for Transport. He cheerfully breaks the law and, when rebuked by Her Majesty's judges, arrogantly refuses to reconsider his conduct but relies on the Whips and the Government's majority to change the law to show that he was right in the first place.

What makes the Bill so unacceptable, and the timetable ill judged, is the extraordinary breadth and depth of opposition to it. After all, the voices of the consumers — the passengers — of bus services should be heeded. Those in rural areas, women who do not have the use of their own motor cars, and pensioners who rely heavily on concessionary fares, are strongly opposed to the measure. They rightly fear that the main effect of the Bill will be to reduce the number of unprofitable services by eliminating the present practice of cross-subsidisation and by the relentless financial squeeze on local authorities, whose ability directly to subsidise unprofitable services is bound to be drastically curtailed.

Highly relevant also are the considered comments of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. In its paper of 15 March, which other hon. Members will have received, the society said: the 1985 Transport Bill seriously threatens the continued existence of a competitive bus manufacturing base in the United Kingdom. It pointed out de-regulation and sub-contracting will lead to these authorities concentrating their operations on commercial networks only and other subsidised routes will be put out to tender. This is expected to lead to a reduction in the fleet size by 25 per cent. and, therefore, demand for heavy duty buses will decline. The number of jobs in the United Kingdom bus industry has already fallen by about 44 per cent. since 1981, reflecting the abolition of new bus grants in 1980 and the massive squeeze on local authority expenditures since that date. The total number of annual registrations of new double deck and single deck buses has fallen from 3,148 in 1980 to 1,470 in 1984. On the SMMT's forecast, the number will be down to 800 in 1986.

The future of the bus industry and of bus services as a whole is much at risk. For all those reasons, I invite the House to reject the motion.

4.15 pm
Mr. Matthew Parris (Derbyshire, West)

We make no complaint that we do not see on the Opposition Benches today the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). Though a spokesman on transport, we understand that he is away getting married.

Mr. Hayes

He is on his honeymoon.

Mr. Parris

As ever, I am out of date. In the past five weeks or so the hon. Member for Wigan will not have had much time to see his betrothed. I am glad that he was able to finalise arrangements. Those of us who remain unbetrothed have not had much time to pursue similar objectives. We have spent about 90 hours in Committee.

I listented with interest to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) about the report of the Select Committee, of which I was a member, as was the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who I see in his place. I should remind the House that the major recommendations and conclusions of the Select Committee were argeed only by the casting vote of the Chairman.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Will the hon. gentleman make it clear that the Conservatives on the Select Committee had a majority and that the Chairman cast his vote, in the custom of all Chairmen of such Committees, for this status quo? Will he please not try to imply that by some means, the Chairman, who is a most respected man, misused his position?

Mr. Parris

I made no such imputation. The Chairman is a man of enormous honour and all members of the Committee respect him greatly. By casting his vote in favour of the status quo, he did no more than the Chairman of any Select Committee would have been expected to do. I was simply pointing out that four members of the Select Committee were for the conclusions, that four members were against and that the whole thing was decided, as is customary in such circumstances, by the casting vote of the Chairman.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Would it not be fairer to say that the hon. Gentleman and perhaps one other of his Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee seemed to support most of the provisions of the measure, whereas a number of his Conservative colleagues were opposed to many parts of the Bill? The way in which they voted appears on the record.

Mr. Parris

I agree that some members of the Select Committee had reservations about many parts of the Bill. However, when it came to expressing our overall view, as expressed in the summary and recommendations of the Select Committee's report, the voting was four in favour and four against, so the report was passed on the casting vote of the Chairman.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the hon. Gentleman also make it clear that there were 44 voting and that he is talking about three?

Mr. Parris

Yes, about three votes on the summary and recommendations, which represented the most important part of the report.

My Conservative colleagues on the Select Committee, being honourable people, voted as they believed. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), being the parliamentary adviser to the National Bus Company, scrupulously avoided voting on matters affecting the NBC. Nevertheless, it is true to say that many Committee members had interests in relation to the matters that the Select Committee was studying.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan), was the chairman of the west midlands passenger transport authority. Not unsurprisingly, he was disinclined to believe that things could be done better than they were being done by that transport authority.

Mr. Corbett

Perhaps he was right.

Mr. Parris

I am inclined to believe that the west midlands passenger transport authority, even under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley, is capable of improvement. For all the reasons that I have given, I do not believe that the report and recommendations of the Select Committee can be taken in too simplistic a way.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney said that most of the interests consulted had been opposed to the Bill. That is true. I have been reading the Official Report of debates on all stages of the Transport Act 1952. The Minister of Transport, the then Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd, led for the Government in Committee. That measure deregulated road haulage and denationalised the parts of the industry that were in public hands. There was enormous opposition from every shade of opinion. Safety organisations said that the Bill would make lorries more dangerous as it would enable operators to cut corners. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce was against the move, as was the The Times, The Guardian and many of the motoring organisations. The Labour party was passionately against the Bill. The stage was reached when a guillotine debate took place. The Bill, which became the subject of a timetable motion, eventually was enacted. As far as I am aware, no one has looked back since then. Indeed, no one has suggested that we should reregulate the road haulage industry or renationalise lorry operations.

Mr. Forth

Does my hon. Friend agree that, with a measure such as this, the vested interest groups, which are inevitably Conservative, are ready to defend the status quo and that it has been left to a Conservative Government and Conservative Members to represent the greatest interest of all—the travelling public?

Mr. Parris

My hon. Friend is right.

We have heard a great deal of opposition to the Bill, and it has come from two main groups. First, there are the expert bodies, such as the county councils, the district councils and the National Bus Company. Such organisations generally have a vested interest, one way or the other, in the status quo. That is not wrong. It is every group's responsibility to protect the interests of its members, and we are not surprised or disappointed that they have sought to do so on this occasion. Those vested interests should be taken into account.

The second group which has expressed opposition is formed by organisations representing pensioners, the disabled, consumers and women's organisations. Those groups have been frightened by the vested interests into believing that their members will suffer from the measures contained in the Bill. We are beginning to win the argument in Committee and to persuade those groups that they need not be frightened, and certainly not in the way that the vested interests have suggested they should be.

In many ways, the motion comes as more of a relief to Opposition than to Conservative Members. The speeches of Opposition Members have become something of a nightmare. The motion will rescue them from the problem of opposing a Bill to which they are deeply opposed while failing to use the debates in Committee to try to improve it so that the Bill will be more effective when enacted, given that it will reach the statute book in due course. Opposition Members resort to the making of Second Reading speeches on every clause and amendment. We must have had at least seven Second Reading debates on the principles enshrined in the Bill.

I would not begrudge the 90 hours that we have spent in Committee on the first 13 clauses or so if the result had been the minute scrutiny of every part of the machinery that is to be put in place with a view to making it work more effectively. Unfortunately, we have not been considering the working of the proposed legislation in any detail. Instead, we have been hearing repeated Second Reading debates. The sooner that Opposition Members stop rehearsing Second Reading debates and work according to a sensible and generous timetable, which the motion sets out, the better it will be for the Bill and for the future of public transport generally.

4.24 pm
Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

I do not wish to follow the tracks of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris), who was a member of the Select Committee on Transport. It is pleasing that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who is a member of the Standing Committee, was also a member of the Select Committee.

I have said more than once that I am not in favour of the creation of Select Committees. Before they were established, the attendance in the Chamber during timetable motion debates was always much greater than it is today. This afternoon we are hearing, in the main, only those who are members of the Standing Committee. The Select Committees have done great damage in reducing attendances in the House. However, they exist and it is remiss of the Government if they take no notice of their reports. I am a member of a Select Committee and I am aware of the way in which Members toil prior to and during their meetings. In this instance the Government introduced the Bill before the Select Committee on Transport had produced its report.

It was clear that the Leader of the House was embarrassed in moving the motion. That was plain for us all to see. The right hon. Gentleman kept his head down and read a prepared speech. I suppose that the speech would be about the same whatever Bill was being guillotined. Only the figures would be slightly different.

I am not shouting foul at the introduction of this guillotine motion. I am probably unique in having argued on behalf of my party that the Government should have a guillotine motion. I recognise that guillotine motions have a part to play in our affairs. I volunteered to be a member of the Standing Committee and no man can display greater love for his party than one who gives up a great deal of his life outside this place to sit as a member of a Committee considering a Transport Bill. I participated in the 1968 Transport Bill and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West should read the three volumes that contain the reports of our debates in that Committee. If he does so, he will learn that Transport Bills are usually extremely controversial whether they are introduced by Labour or Conservative Governments. The Bill currently in Committee contains 114 clauses. It is complex and controversial but, above all, the proposals that it sets out are brand new. We have heard about leaps in the dark and acts of faith. The Bill should have been the first one to be considered in the new Session. It should not have been introduced at such a late stage.

Opposition Members of the Committee have been chided for taking so long on the sittings motion and clause 1 which, in effect, is the Bill. If we had not done so, we would not have been doing our job properly. We had a duty to express our point of view on clause 1. Clause 1 having been agreed to stand part of the Bill, it was then the Opposition's job to consider the nuts and bolts of the proposed machinery with a view to trying to make them rather better. Some clauses are, of course, more important than others. Clause 5, for example, is central to the Bill.

Of course, the Bill is not about buses, better bus services or lower fares. It reflects the Secretary of State's dogma and the grand master plan that emerged from his pen some time ago. This is clear as we consider the Bill and listen to ministerial replies. The Government said when we first met in Committee that they had an open mind and that if the Opposition advanced good arguments their amendments would be accepted. Instead, there has been confusion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) was not quite correct when he suggested that an amendment was accepted that would reduce the retiring age of commissioners from 70 years to 65. The issue was rather more complex than that. In fact, the Government rejected that amendment. We are leaving alone those commissioners who are already in place, but, in future, we might call for them to retire at 65. I think that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight was more surprised than the rest of the Committee when one of his amendments was accepted. The Government's actions left him speechless.

There was great confusion because the Bill was not properly thought through. Differing and confusing responses were given to each clause and amendment. There was a little pantomime when I asked about the traffic commissioner for Nottinghamshire, one hon. Member saying that he would be in Peterborough and the Secretary of State saying that he would be in Nottingham. Hon. Members conducted a tête-à-tête and it was discovered — lo and behold — that the Secretary of State was wrong. The commissioner will be in Peterborough, rather than in Nottingham.

At the last Committee sitting the Opposition moved an important amendment concerning local government authority. We were told that we should not worry about the amendment, because local councils would make the regulations dealing with taxi services. We accepted that point. Shortly afterwards, during consideration of the motion that the clause stand part of the Bill, there was a sudden change of mind. We discovered that local authorities would be able to put forward only those regulations that the Secretary of State agreed. If the Secretary of State disagreed, he would write to the authorities to put them wise.

Many assumptions have been made. It is said that if only the profitable areas and routes are taken over by bus services subsidies might need to come from local authorities, as though one can assume that the local authorities will pick up the bits and pieces and keep the bus services going. I am not sure that the local authorities will take on that responsiblity or that they will have the necessary finance to do so, once the the Government have done with them.

I object to the motion because the Bill is lengthy, complex and has not been completely thought through. The Bill needs a good going over so that we can sort out these aspects. I believe that Bills of this nature should be considered early in the Session. This Bill has never had a chance; the Committee has never had a chance. It was obvious from the word go that the Bill was not being considered properly. Hon. Members who have sat on Committees know that there is a set way of conducting the business. We have often discussed the fact that there was something rather odd about this Committee. The Bill went into Committee with hon. Members knowing full well that there was not a cat in hell's chance that it would be scrutinised properly for the correct period.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

Leaving aside the right hon. Gentleman's point that there was something rather odd about the Committee, does he accept that it was odd — I have heard Opposition Members saying this in the Corridor—that Conservative Members participated in this Committee more than had been the practice in the past with similar Committees?

Mr. Concannon

That is just one aspect that I am trying to point out. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from your great experience as Committee Chairman, that the Opposition are supposed to make the running in Committee. They are told to make the running and are allowed to do so. The only time that Conservative Members participated in Committee discussions while they were in opposition was when the guillotine motion had been passed. It did not matter what happened then. They could take their turn and turn about. The Leader of the House would not have been keen to move this motion if it had been pointed out that 45 of the 90 hours were taken by Government Ministers. It is standard procedure in such Committees that the Opposition should make the running.

It is well known that the Bill was introduced late in the Session, that it never stood a chance and that it would be guillotined sooner rather than later. The Bill was considered for two sittings and then we were on to the night shift, simply to get the hours in so that the Leader of the House could legitimately move a timetable motion. The Leader of the House bears some responsibility for this. He should have had words with the people in the right place and, in February or March, when the Bill was not in Committee, he should have said, "It is too late to give the Bill a fair run. Let us leave it until the following Session." In that case, the Bill could have been scrutinised properly. It certainly will not be given the scrutiny it deserves.

We have been told that only 11 clauses have been considered, but clause 1 was, in effect, about the Bill and two other clauses were of great importance. Two days are left for Report and Third Reading. Not only the Opposition but many activists in the Conservative party oppose various parts of the Bill. I am sure that the other place will go over the Bill better than this House has been allowed to do.

Tomorrow, a substantial lobby will meet hon. Members. It might comprise vested interests, but what the heck is wrong with that? If lobbies do not look out for their own interests, we should do so or we would be failing in our duty. I was telephoned at the weekend and asked whether I would receive a petition from Nottingham city. It is not often that Nottingham looks for my help, but I shall receive that petition.

Many people in industry and trade are worried about what will happen to their pensions and pension schemes, and the Minister should make a point of making a statement on this matter today.

If the Government had conducted their business properly and ensured that consideration started early in the Session, we need not have had the guillotine motion. We could have given the Bill the scrutiny that it deserves.

4.39 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

I wish principally to express my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for introducing a timetable motion to put this matter on an appropriate and correct footing. I work on the assumption—as a new Member I say this only tentatively—that the basis of legislation is that we debate the principle of a measure on Second Reading and presume that when we have done that the principle is established, and that the job of the Standing Committee is to scrutinise the legislation clause by clause and to improve it. When I arrived in Committee I still held that view, but I have learnt since then.

By my calculations, the Committee has sat for about 96 hours. That is long enough for us to have had two births and one marriage. I hope that the timetable motion will allow us to avoid the remainder of the trilogy before we go much further. I should like to congratulate both my hon. Friends who have become fathers and the Opposition Member who got married on Saturday. We wish them all extremely well. That gives some idea of the length of the proceedings that we have had to endure.

I want to give the House a few statistics that I have developed while considering the Committee's proceedings to put into context some of the things that have been said, in particular, by the shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), who refused to allow interventions. It took one third of the Committee's deliberations to get beyond clause 1. We were told that that was because clause 1 deals with the principle of the Bill. I thought, as I have said, that the Bill's principle was dealt with on Second Reading. The House said what it wanted to say then and passed the Bill to Committee on the assumption that the principle had been established. Given that, I should have thought that we could have saved ourselves a great deal of time by not repeating the exercise on clause 1, which dealt with the principles of regulation and deregulation. About 30 hours were spent debating clause 1 and the principles all over again.

The Committee reached schedule 2 about halfway through its deliberations. By the time the Committee had completed the 96 hours—it seemed a great deal longer—it had covered only 12 clauses—in other words, about 10 per cent. of the clauses. For that reason the timetable measure has been brought before us.

Matters get worse, because on examining the details some interesting facts emerge. If we run a slide rule over the Committee's proceedings, we find that the Opposition consist of about 40 per cent. of the Committee's membership, but they have occupied 80 per cent. of the Committee's speaking time. That is why when the shadow Leader of the House complained about the time we had taken to get to the present stage, I interrupted him — from, I confess, a sedentary position because he would not accept any interventions—to ask whose fault that was.

The blame for the Committee having taken an excessive amount of time to go the short distance that it has lies at the Opposition's door.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)


Mr. Forth

Opposition Members have spent about 80 per cent. of the Committee's time despite the fact that they represent only 40 per cent. of the membership. I shall gladly give way to the hon. Gentleman who claimed, I suspect with some pride, to have occupied most of that 80 per cent.

Dr. Marek

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. We made short and succinct speeches. Is not the explanation for the fact that we took up 80 per cent. of the time that we have read the Bill and have the country's interests at heart, whereas every time that I see the hon. Gentleman in Committee he seems to be licking envelopes?

Mr. Forth

The problem is that the Committee is charged with the detail of the Bill. The difficulty is that many Conservative Members have been waiting anxiously to reach some of the provisions in which they have a great and abiding interest. We have been unable to reach that business because some of the speeches in the early stages of the Committee were two or three hours long. That cannot be interpreted as a proper and detailed scrutiny of the Bill's provisions. It can be interpreted only as the classical but wrongheaded approach taken by the Opposition of filibustering and time wasting. That is why the Government are forced to propose a timetable motion. If we agreed with the Opposition's approach, as my right hon. Friend said, we would prevent the measure from getting to the statute book, which is the Opposition's objective. The measure might also be made worse.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

When the hon. Gentleman measured the column inches of speeches, did he take into account the inordinate number of interventions by the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen)? Furthermore, has the hon. Gentleman taken into account the fact that, when the Government Chief Whip determined the Tory composition of the Committee, he was extremely astute, because although there were an enormous number of constituents of Tory Members and Tory dissidents who were up in arms about the Bill, he decided to have in Committee nothing more than lobby fodder which would keep quiet and say nothing?

Mr. Hayes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman said that it was the Government Chief Whip who determined who was on the Committee. It is the Committee of Selection that chooses the members of the Committee. It is completely non-partisan.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he has pointed out the mischievous nature of what was said. It gives me the opportunity to reply to something that the hon. Member of Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) said about the composition of the Committee. If you were to look at the composition of the Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would find that the geographical representation from the Conservative Benches is comprehensive. We have Members from up and down the country — from Scotland, the North, urban areas, the midlands and the south-west. All the travelling public is therefore represented. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of Opposition Members. In a sense, I have to forgive them, because that reflects the completely unrepresentative nature of the Labour party today. It has been able to muster Members from what can only be described by the more impolite amongst us as the Celtic fringes, although I would not be so rude. Vast areas of the United Kingdom are unrepresented by Opposition Members. From that point of view, the selection is odd.

Most Conservative members of the Committee were volunteers. I speak not only for myself but for many others. Conservative Members were queueing at the door of the room of the Chairman of the Committee of Selection asking for the honour to serve on the Committee, and we have been delighted to do so. We have occasionally intervened in the speeches of Opposition Members. We went to the Committee with the presumption that the principle of the Bill was supported and that we need not therefore speak excessively or at length on every clause but could stand quietly behind the Minister when he explained the clauses. If we heard nonsense spoken by the Opposition, we felt it our duty to intervene to correct or question further the verbose nonsense that we were hearing.

Mr. Concannon

If Conservative Members were all volunteers keenly and actively involved in transport matters, why did we so often have to wait because they could not keep a quorum?

Mr. Forth

I had hoped that that sort of mischievous nonsense would not be brought to the House today, because my hon. Friends and I know full well that the proceedings of the Committee have never been interrupted for the lack of a quorum — [Interruption.] — unless Opposition Members, having noticed hon. Members going out for calls of nature or other reasons, took the opportunity to disrupt the proceedings by asking whether there was a quorum. In yet another way, Opposition Members were obstructive and negative in prolonging and disrupting the proceedings of the Committee.

For all those reasons, I am relieved that the Leader of the House has moved a timetable motion which will have the objective of bringing to as end the negative and destructive tactics which have been pursued by Opposition Members from the outset. It will enable us to proceed with a proper scrutiny of the Bill, with participation from all hon. Members, so that it may come out of Committee in better shape than it went in. It is to the motion that we look for that opportunity, for regrettably the Opposition have not provided it up to now.

4.41 pm
0Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

April 1 is an appropriate date on which to discuss the Transport Bill, as the debate so far has borne out. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) referred to the two births and the marriage which have taken place since the Committee started. That is one example of an immaculate conception, for the proceedings so far have covered only five weeks since 21 February.

I have some respect for the Leader of the House and I am sorry that he is not present in the Chamber. I feel that he cannot be happy about what he is doing with the Transport Bill and the several other Bills that have been guillotined by the Government. It is a daft way to legislate. The sooner we have a timetable for Bills as they go into Committee, the better. That has been said frequently from the Liberal Benches, but no progress has been made in that direction.

So far the Government have made only one and a half concessions and two commitments in Committee. One of them was made to me in regard to the fees charged to people wishing to see the decisions of traffic commissioners. I am glad that the Minister allowed me that concession. In addition, there have been two statements of intent that we have yet to see proven. Apart from that, the Government have conceded nothing.

Clause 1 is the crucial clause. Although some complaint may be made about the time taken to debate it, the total abolition of road service licensing is a big step to take. Many of us feel that it is too big a step and that there should be some regulation of licensing. Ultimately, I think that it will be necessary to return to a system of regulation. I do not think that there is any advantage to be gained by following the example of Chile in that respect.

Clause 5 relates to the registration of local services, and the Government have listened to what we said about that. We spoke on advice given to us by the Government's own supporters in the Association of County Councils and by the chairman of the very committee that was involved in the Hereford experiment. Everything that I have heard in the debate on clause 5 convinces me that registration should remain with the transport authorities and not be passed to the traffic commissioners. I hope that some common sense will prevail in Government circles and that our amendments on this position will be restored.

Mr. Parris

If the county councils had shown a more positive attitude towards the Bill in general and many of them had not shown themselves to be totally hostile to everything that the Bill seeks to achieve, does the hon. Gentleman think that they might have stood a better chance of being selected as the registration authorities?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is usually right with his facts, but on this occasion I think that he is wrong. I think that he is quoting the Association of District Councils, which has shown opposition. The ACC made statements in support of the Bill.

Mr. Parris

I do not mean the Association of County Councils. I refer to the many individual county councils which are spending millions of pounds frightening pensioners in their areas in regard to the loss of bus facilities.

Mr. Ross

We have not done that in my constituency. We have just been accused of putting the rates up by 31 per cent. as opposed to the average of Conservative county councils. They happen to be Labour, not Liberal, county councils. On the other hand, I believe that many people living in rural areas have reason for concern. While I agree that it is important to paint the true picture, the fact is that the ACC has supported the Bill. I think that it was far too craven towards the Government and it has not obtained what it would like to have obtained. It was right to ask for the registration role, but it came in far too late with its request. The ACC went on bended knee to the Government. I am delighted that county councils, which do not follow the attitude of the ACC, have formed their own group. I have been a delegate to meetings of the ACC, but I might just as well have been a representative of the CBI, judging by some of its members' comments.

Clauses 9 to 14 deal with taxis and hire cars. The Committee was dealing with them at its last sitting. I think that Conservative Members must accept that what we have been told about taxis is nonsense. I do not believe that the Government can have thought through the clauses properly. I saw a delegation of taxi drivers in my constituency on Saturday morning. They are frightened to death at the prospect of what is to happen to them. We have not had sensible answers to the points that we have put to the Government, and we have been right to pursue them. It is wrong that the Bill should be swept ahead and go into the other place with those clauses remaining as they are. I do not believe that the Government have thought seriously about the effect of those clauses on taxi services.

It is not true, as has been said in the debate, that there have not been innovations following the 1980 and 1981 Acts. There have been experiments and competition throughout the country, not simply in the trial areas, bringing in mini-buses, and so on. Those experiments should have been allowed to continue.

We shall now have very limited time in which to discuss community bus services and the important question of tendering. Does the Secretary of State think that there will be sufficient money for the county councils to be able to subsidise the various groups of services? Some 33 routes in all have been subsidised by Hereford and Worcester. Does he think that an extra £20 million will be enough to cover all the routes? We want to discuss that question and to have some assurances that he will go back to the Treasury and get the necessary money to give the system a chance to work.

We have not discussed safety regulations, suspension of licences, the privatisation of the National Bus Company, under clause 45, and the important question of pensions, on which I have received representations. We have not discussed fuel duty rebates or bus substitution for withdrawn rail services. I should like to discuss those matters for a considerable time, together with the role of the Development Commission in regard to rural grants. Why not give the grants directly to the county councils? They are the bodies which will have to make the subsidies. Why have another body operating in that area? It does not make much sense. I am a great supporter of the Development Commission — it was an idea that Lloyd-George introduced — but I do not understand why it should be involved in bus grants.

The Bill does not reflect the majority view of the Select Committee on Transport, whatever the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) may say. The Select Committee's report is based on the evidence that we took and what we saw for ourselves when we went to Hereford. The majority of the Committee were opposed to total deregulation. We felt that registration and co-ordination should be a matter for the transport authorities—largely the shire counties. We suggested that there should be a much wider inquiry before delicensing taxi services.

One has become used to the speeches of the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire and others for whom planning is now a dirty word. For them, anything to do with local government seems to be totally unacceptable.

The present system of legislating is appalling and it must be changed. Unfortunately, we have to say the same thing every time complicated Bills are guillotined in this House. I am sorry that the Leader of the House — for whom, as I said earlier, I have much regard — is not present. Perhaps he is absent because of his disgust at what we are having to do. Perhaps at long last the public will appreciate exactly how we go about legislating in this place. It is a disgraceful system. Perhaps the public will at last take the necessary action to put an end to it and sweep the perpetrators aside.

4.58 pm
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I welcome the motion moved by the Leader of the House. Like the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), I feel that the way that we have been dealing with the Bill is appalling, but the responsibility for the appalling behaviour lies at the door of the Opposition. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) said, we have had 96 hours of debate in Committee, of which 80 per cent. has been taken up by Opposition Members, half of it on clause 1. We heard the same old arguments that we heard on Second Reading.

I add my congratulations to the hon. Member who has been married since the Committee began its deliberations, and to my two hon. Friends whose spouses gave birth. Although those colleagues have been productive, I doubt whether, in view of the long hours that we have been sitting, there will have been many conceptions since the Bill started in Committee.

I learned a good deal as a relatively new member of a Standing Committee. When the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Malek) intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, he said that the Opposition talked at great length because hon. Members were concerned with the detail of the Bill. That is absolutely true. I would not dream of casting any aspersions on that.

I only regret that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) is not here. I believe that he has suffered a back injury, and I commiserate with him. I regret that he is not here to enliven our proceedings. Perhaps he could have explained to us why, in the two and a half hours we spent discussing the sittings motion, that self-same Opposition, who are terribly concerned about the detailed workings of the Bill, talked for ages and ages about how one should gather mistletoe in Wales. I am just a country lad, and I learned a lot about how to gather mistletoe in Wales.

The same hon. Member and others in Committee were obsessed with employment—it is quite right that with 3 million unemployed we should be obsessed with employment. However, the Opposition were not obsessed with normal employment and unemployment. The hon. Member for Rhondda accused Conservative Members of being barristers, solicitors, accountants, second-hand car dealers and other tax crooks. Such comments are made all the time. The last time the hon. Gentleman said it to me, I confess that, not being one of those involved, I did not have a clue as to what he was talking about. That betrays the obsession of Opposition Members with the professions of Conservative Members rather than with the detailed workings of the Bill.

You will be pleased to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we did not spend long on this. There was a superb intervention by an Opposition Member who accused one of my hon. Friends of being nothing more than a ladies' underwear salesman. We did not spend too long discussing the merits of whether it was high-class ladies' underwear, and quickly moved on. Perhaps that was the problem when one of the Opposition Members was reading from briefs.

It is possibly some time since you served on a Standing Committee, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but things probably have not changed since your day. The Opposition began in their customary style by doing all the talking and making all the gibes at Conservative Members, calling them mere dummies and Lobby fodder, wheeled into Committee just to sit behind the Minister, say the occasional "Hear, hear" and then vote, and not say anything else. Then things began to go wrong for the Opposition. Conservative Members began to do the unthinkable. When we heard again and again the same old Second Reading argument from Opposition Members and the same old arguments rehearsed ad nauseam, we began to challenge some of the rubbish that we were hearing from the Opposition. Then things went from bad to worse for them. We began to table amendments. Not only did we table amendments but we began to talk to them.

Eventually, horror of horrors, we actually forced a Division. The Opposition were most annoyed about that, and in that Division, what did we find? Some Conservative Members were opposed to the amendment and others voted for it. We had dissension in the ranks. Initially, the Opposition ridiculed us for daring to have dissension in the ranks because they thought that we were all whipped in, in a tight little mass. It began to dawn on them that it was not politically sensible to accuse us of being free spirits and having individual minds, in tabling amendments and forcing them on Ministers. Then it emerged what the real grouse was. Just as the Opposition like to think that they have the exclusive use of clichés such as "compassion over the unemployed", they believe that they have an exclusive right to the new cliché in Committee, which is, "to fashion a better Bill in Committee". When we in the Conservative party took up the invitation and began to fashion a better Bill in Committee, the Opposition did not like it.

Mr. Bob Clay (Sunderland, North)

The hon. Gentleman referred to amendments actually being tabled by Conservative Members. Other than one abstention by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and one by the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), did any Conservative Member manage to vote for his amendment?

Mr. Maclean

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has picked the wrong person to ask. The answer is, "Myself." I tabled an amendment on the age of traffic commissioners — [Interruption.] Opposition Members may laugh but, horror of horrors, it was the evil Tories who reduced the retirement age of traffic commissioners from 70 to 65. We did it, horror of horrors, so it is to be rubbished.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)


Mr. Maclean

It is not only disgraceful; it is outrageous and shocking.

If other Conservative Members tabled amendments and did not support them because the Minister agreed that he would accept the principle and bring forward detailed amendments on Report, it is right for them to withdraw their amendments and not vote on them. If other Conservative Members did not vote on their amendments, it is up to them to justify that. If any of them are in the Chamber, they can explain to Opposition Members. Because Opposition Members have failed to get any of their nonsensical wrecking amendments accepted, which were not designed to fashion a better Bill, but were deliberately designed to frustrate the intention of the Bill, which was given a massive majority on Second Reading, they should not complain because my amendment was accepted.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am very impressed by the size of the hon. Gentleman's lungs, because he never seems to take breath. How many of his hon. Friends voted against amendments that they themselves tabled? Which of his hon. Friends who was absent from the vote and therefore did not vote against his own amendment then went on regional television and said that he had got the most fantastic concession out of Ministers?

Mr. Maclean

I have no idea who those colleagues are. They can answer for themselves. All that I know is that on my amendment three or four of my hon. Friends did not vote for it or were opposed to it. I accept that. The fact that cannot be denied is that a Conservative Member tabled an amendment to the Bill; we forced the Minister's arm and got a majority, and the amendment was accepted. Opposition Members did not like that particular fact because it destroyed the illusion and shattered the myth. As the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), whom I respect greatly, said earlier, the Committee was an odd lot from the start. I do not readily accept that terminology, but if "an odd lot" means that we spoke up and said to the Minister, "We shall fashion a better Bill in Committee on this side as well," and did not accept some of the normal conventions in a Standing Committee that on the Government side one keeps one's mouth shut to get the Bill through and lets the Opposition do all the running—

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)


Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman says "Oh", but we heard that in the Corridor from his hon. Friends, who were complaining that "this lot" did not keep their mouths shut and were breaking all the normal conventions for Conservative Members in Committee. To use the phrase that will soon become as popular as the word "infrastructure" as seen in the Chamber in 1985, "We were only attempting to fashion a better Bill in Committee."

There were some more interruptions from Opposition Members. For example, some sexist arguments crept in occasionally. Almost every time an hon. Member made a remark such as, "He"—the traffic commissioner—"may wish to intervene", the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) popped up and said, "Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the traffic commissioner may be a woman? How dare the hon. Gentleman refer to the traffic commissioner as 'he'." We took up a few seconds of the Committee's time apologising that when we said "he" we meant "she" as well. When I trained in law, I was told that when the term "he" is used the male will always be held to embrace the female. We should all adopt that approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire has already said that we had difficulty in maintaining a quorum. There was no difficulty. No time was lost on the Bill because not sufficient Government Members were there. The only time lost—

Mr. Dixon

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is deliberately misleading the House if he says that no time was lost—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will rephrase what he said. He must not use unparliamentary language.

Mr. Dixon

The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) has just said that the Committee was never delayed because there was no quorum because of a lack of hon. Members on the Government side. That is untrue. The record shows that on eight occasions the sitting had to be suspended because the Government could not keep 50 per cent. of their hon. Members in the Committee on this important Bill.

Mr. Maclean

If I have said something that the record proves to be untrue, I unreservedly withdraw it. I hope that I shall always do so while I am a Member of this House.

I attended every sitting of the Standing Committee bar one, and I cannot recall any occasion on which delay was caused because an insufficient number of Conservative Members were present. However, if the record proves otherwise, I shall unreservedly withdraw what I have said.

Mr. Forth

Do not Opposition Members also have a duty, as members of the Committee, to contribute to the deliberations of the Committee? If a quorum was ever momentarily lacking because hon. Members had had to leave for a call of nature or some other reason, is not the responsibilitiy shared by all the members of the Committee?

Mr. Maclean

I could not count on the fingers on both hands the numerous occasions when a little game started. If 14 hon. Members were present on the Conservative side, and one of them left to answer the call of nature or because he had been given an urgent message, signs would be made to Opposition Members to withdraw and they would all begin to leave through the back door. Then their Whip—or the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich—would ask the Chairman whether there was a quorum. The Chairman would then have to say, "Order. I am the Chairman of this Committee. I can count whether there is a quorum. I will decide whether we are inquorate."

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend talks about the little game that was played. He may remember the grin that spread, like that of the Cheshire cat, across the face of the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). Perhaps it was the hon. Member for Jarrow who was orchestrating the little game. Perhaps he was telling his hon. Friends to disappear.

Mr. Maclean

I know that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) would like to tell many of his hon. Friends to disappear. However, he has not been entirely successful in that regard.

We all understand the charade that takes place on Standing Committee. If, momentarily, the Government side do not constitute a quorum, the Opposition withdraw, in the hope that the whole sitting will degenerate into a shambles.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire has said, both sides of the Committee have a responsibility to maintain the quorum. If the Opposition waste time by withdrawing Members every few minutes in the hope that the quorum will be lost, they are not showing that concern for the detail of the Bill that the hon. Member for Wrexham said that the Opposition wished to display.

The Opposition's arguments — apart from the usual rehashes of Second Reading speeches — were characterised by sheer terror that local politicians, especially local Labour party politicians, would lose control over transport. Labour Members never said that openly. One would not have expected them to. However, there was a series of contradictory assertions. At one moment—or, to be more accurate, for 15 hours—they would say that there would be no buses at all. For the next 15 hours, we would hear that if this awful Bill were passed there would be so many buses that the environment would be damaged. However, we know from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) whether damage has been done in Hereford, whether chaos reigns there and whether pollution and destruction of the environment has resulted from the introduction of nine extra buses in his city.

The Opposition would then spend another few hours telling us about the greedy capitalists and privateers. They would turn from nautical terminology — pirates and privateers — to the terminology of the wild west. They would tell us how the cowboys would be fighting to grab as many passengers as possible, so as to maximise their profits; but the next few hours would be spent in a tirade about how the capitalists would publish no timetables, set up no bus stops, and grant no concessionary fares. The drivers would drive dangerously, behave recklessly and in general behave in a manner calculated to scare away as many passengers as they could.

That is the sort of nonsense that the Standing Committee had to put up with, and that is one good reason why we need a timetable motion.

Mr. Wareing

I hope that the hon. Gentleman intends to tell the House about the headline in the newspaper of a village in the constituency of the Secretary of State for Transport. The village was up in arms about what the Secretary of State had in store for his own constituents in terms of the, decimation of the bus service.

Mr. Maclean

I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with that point in his reply. I do not have the pleasure of reading the newspapers for my right hon. Friend's constituency, which is 250 miles away from my own, but on Second Reading I quoted from views expressed in a newspaper in my own constituency, which realised that the Bill was a good one and could work if not sabotaged by Labour councils. However, I do not intend to rehash my Second Reading speech.

The Committee had to listen to a litany of the disasters that the Opposition believe will follow deregulation. To hear the Opposition one would have imagined that the present bus policy was a raging success. We all know, however, that that policy has failed and needs to be radically changed before there are no buses left for my constituents. The Bill is long overdue. We need the Bill on the statute book soon, not only to give private operators a chance to improve services, but to prevent Labour councillors from inflicting more damage on bus services.

Cumbria has a Labour council with a small majority, which knows full well that it will lose the local elections in May. It is therefore seeking drastic political action, with no regard for the consequences or the damage that may be done to the public. The council had consistently—and, in its mind, for valid reasons — increased the bus subsidy, but one year before the buses were to be privatised and one year before private operators were to be allowed in the council deliberately cut the subsidy in half and agreed drastic route cuts with the NBC. The council then had the effrontery to blame the Government. According to a press release sent to me last week, The County Council regrets that these service reductions and withdrawals have been made necessary following reductions in the Government money available for Council services. In truth, Cumbria has fared better than many Conservative-controlled councils in the allocation of grants. In 1981–82, it received £88 million. For 1984–85, it can receive £94 million. The council has also acquired extra resources from continually increasing the rates. There is no doubt that it has adequate resources to continue the present funding until the Bill becomes law.

By the same post I also received a press release from the NBC. It blamed the cuts in services on me, for voting for a Bill that will not take effect until next year. En addition, however, it inadvertently revealed the true situation. The Cumberland Motor Services press release states: money from central government towards bus revenue support has been thrown into the general pot of rate support grant. So bus services now have to compete for priority with all the other local government services. That is the true state of affairs. It is not that, as the council's press release claims, the council does not have the money. As the NBC press release points out, the Socialists on the county council do not give buses a high enough priority in comparison with their other profligate spending desires.

For political reasons, the Socialists on the council dislike deregulation. For political reasons, they hate privatisation. They know that the Bill will become law later in the year, and that the public will enjoy the benefits of deregulation next year. When that happens, the council's mismanagement and the inefficiencies of the NBC will be exposed. The electorate will not think well of a Labour party that has conned it and connived at the demise of bus services. The Socialists had to do something desperate. From their own political standpoint, what could be better than to wreck rural services just a month before the elections, and attempt to blame that situation on the Government for bringing in a Bill that will not take effect until next year, or on me for supporting it? That is rank hypocrisy, but it is so transparent that it will fool no one.

The Bill is required urgently. We must get it through its Committee stage as soon as possible. Cumbria county council has committed in this instance an act of commercial sabotage out of political malice. My constituents need bus services, we need private operators, and we need them now.

5.20 pm
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

I shall not take up the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). We have heard the same silly arguments from him many times in Committee.

At the outset of my remarks I should like to return to my earlier point of order and put the record straight. During the Committee's 18th sitting on Thursday 28 March, the Chairman, who is one of the senior members of the Chairmen's Panel, had to suspend the sitting. He had pointed out on numerous occasions that Conservative Members were interrupting the proceedings to raise bogus points of order. On this specific occasion he said: This is no point of order. The conduct of the hon. Member for South Hams is intolerable. I suspend the sitting till 11.44 am." — [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28 March 1985; c. 966.] That arose out of the silly interventions that Tory Members had been making.

On resuming the sitting, the Chairman's attention was called to the fact that 15 hon. Members were not present, so he was again obliged to suspend the proceedings. That was the ninth occasion on which the Government had been unable to maintain a quorum They have 26 hon. Members on the Committee, and they are required to keep only 13 of them to have a quorum. The quorum is 14 hon. Members, plus the Chairman.

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman talks about suspending the sittings. I am sure that he will agree that earlier in the Committee's proceedings the same Chairman suspended the sitting because of misdemeanours by one of his hon. Friends. Is not the blame shared?

Mr. Dixon

That was in the middle of the night when tempers were frayed. However, we are now talking about procedure and the Chairman of the Committee.

It is the Government's duty on a controversial and major Bill to keep a quorum. All that they are required to do is to keep half their members in the Committee. On nine occasions they have failed to do so.

I want to take up a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). He said that he was a new Member and that he believed that the House should decide the principle of legislation on Second Reading and then let the Standing Committee consider the details. However, the hon. Gentleman should not be lecturing Opposition Members about that. He should lecture those of his colleagues who are members of the Committee considering the Civil Aviation Bill. The House decided on the principle of that Bill, but the Tory Members of the Standing Committee would not even give the Minister a sittings motion. It is not Opposition Members who require lectures from the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire; it is his own colleagues.

During business questions last week I suggested that one of the reasons why the Government wanted this guillotine motion was that their failure to have half their members present during the Committee stage was an embarrassment to them.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was right when he said that the Bill should have been in Committee before Christmas, but that it was such a mess that the Government had to rush and cobble up the present Bill following numerous objections made by many sections of the transport industry.

Mr. Parris

What is the Opposition's position? Is it that the Bill should have been in Committee before Christmas, or that the Government should have delayed the Committee stage until the Select Committee had reported? They cannot hold both positions at the same time.

Mr. Dixon

My point is that the Bill was in such a mess before Christmas that the Government dared not introduce it and that they have cobbled up the present Bill. That was why the Select Committee inspected the Bill. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) is a member of the Select Committee. He and his colleagues interviewed people from all parts of the transport industry, and I am told that the only person in favour of the Bill was its author. None of the witnesses interviewed by the Select Committee was in favour of the Bill.

Speaking at a bus and coach dinner, the Secretary of State for Transport said that he wished to fashion a better Bill in Committee. He was speaking about the present Bill, which had just received a Second Reading. I am told that his speech went down like a lead balloon. In fact, had it not been such a cold evening and had there not been a fault in the central heating, there would have been no applause for the Secretary of State at the end of his speech.

I see the Secretary of State smiling at that. Obviously he does not want me to tell the story about the person whom he met in the Committee Corridor who asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he recognised him. The Secretary of State replied, "I am sorry, I do not recognise you. Why should I?" The chap said to him, "I was at the bus and coach dinner last week when you spoke." The right hon. Gentleman said, "There were hundreds of people there. Why should I recognise you now?" The chap's answer was, "Well, I was the one who clapped."

If the Secretary of State was genuine about wanting to fashion a better Bill in Committee, he would have accepted some of the amendments tabled by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) spoke about amendments dealing with concessionary fares. When concessionary fares were discussed in Committee, the Secretary of State said that if private bus companies did not pick up old-age pensioners who might prevent fare-paying passengers getting on their buses, perhaps a ghost service should run alongside to pick up the old-age pensioners. That is the kind of nonsense that we have heard from the Minister when we have discussed important issues such as concessionary fares. What is more, when we talked about taxi-drivers' hours last week, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary compared them with the hours worked by Members of Parliament. That is typical of the response that we have had in the Standing Committee.

Mr. Wareing

One of the reasons for the Government's embarrassment and their desire to get shot of the Bill quickly may be that the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who caused the suspension of the Committee's sitting on the occasion to which my hon. Friend referred, said that Conservatives wanted to see the healthy people in the community catered for by bus services and that only when services were commercially viable and profitable would they consider the needs of — [Interruption.] Hon. Members protest because they know that I have hit the nail on the head. The hon. Member for South Hams suggested that only then would the Conservative party consider the disadvantaged, the disabled and the old.

Mr. Dixon

My hon. Friend is right, The hon. Member for South Hams also said that he was the only qualified social worker serving on the Committee. He felt that, before bus operators could deal with concessions for the disabled, their services had to be profitable — [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] We asked whether that was the voice of the Tory party—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is on the record. Hon. Members should realise that what they say in the Standing Committee appears on the record and that they cannot deny their remarks when we come to the Floor of the House.

On numerous occasions during the Committee's proceedings, it became fairly obvious that Government supporters intended to procrastinate. That was clear from the start of the Committee stage. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd), for example, made a long intervention.

Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

That is a most extraordinary accusation. Has not the Hereford trial area been quoted extensively and misquoted and misinterpreted — sometimes deliberately and at other times accidentally? In such circumstances, is not it essential for me as the hon. Member for Hereford to do all that I can, whenever I can, to correct the misunderstandings, deliberate or otherwise, that have been purveyed? To say that the hon. Member for Hereford has procrastinated when he has done no more than correct misunderstandings is almost a parliamentary insult.

Mr. Dixon

The hon. Gentleman has certainly procrastinated. As I have said, he made a speech of an hour or more at the beginning of the Committee. Moreover, his comments about the trial were not borne out by the objective recommendations made by the Select Committee after interviewing a wide range of people.

The Bill will have fundamental repercussions throughout the transport industry. That is why we want plenty of time to discuss it. The guillotine is unnecessary. Each of the 114 clauses is important, but the Government are trying to curtail discussion. Deregulation will mean that in many rural areas there will be no bus services in the evening or at weekends because the one-bus entrepreneurs repairing their buses in motorway laybys will not run such services.

Pensioners are worried about concessionary fares. The Secretary of State could easily have set their minds at rest by writing into the Bill the provision that he was eventually persuaded to put into the London Regional Transport Bill. Conservative Members involved in that legislation had rather more backbone than those in the Committee on this Bill, and they forced the Secretary of State to make that concession.

On this Bill, we have had no satisfaction from the Government despite our many questions about provision for disabled people. The same applies to our questions about staff implications. The Government have given no figures at all. The National Bus Company is to be broken up and privatised. We have asked what size the sections will be, but no information has been forthcoming. Cross-subsidy is to be made illegal, but we have not been told what will happen to rural services as a result.

Mr. Forth

Is it correct, proper or fair for the hon. Gentleman to raise matters relating to clauses in the Bill beyond those that we have reached? Many Conservative Members are anxious to reach those clauses, but the Opposition have delayed and prevented us.

Mr. Dixon

If Conservative Members are so anxious to reach those clauses, they should have the decency to oblige their Whip by turning up so that the Committee has a quorum and can make progress. On nine occasions the 26 Conservative volunteers could not muster 14 to support the Minister.

With regard to Tyne and Wear, the Government have given no satisfactory answers to the points raised many times by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and others.

The Government are seeking to curtail debate on a very important Bill with fundamental repercussions for the transport industry throughout the country — not lust the people employed in it but the passengers, whom the Conservatives, like us, regard as most important. The Government also need the guillotine to get them out of an embarrassing position, because they cannot even persuade half their volunteer supporters to attend the Committee.

5.34 pm
Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

I am one of those who volunteered to serve on the Committee, not because I have fair, curly hair and a beard or because I am numb of mind, but because, like my colleagues, I believe that this is a radical, liberating Bill. It will liberate many old-age pensioners and disabled and housebound people from the imprisonment imposed by their disabilities.

The guillotine will be liberating for the Opposition, because they have run out of arguments. They debated clause 1, the principle of the Bill, for more than 30 hours. I can understand the absence of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) who leads for the Opposition—heaven help them—in Committee. She has no doubt left her place because the hon. Member who assists her most in Committee, the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), has gone off and got married and is now on his honeymoon. I am sure that the whole House wishes the hon. Gentleman and his wife all the very best.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) to say that the Conservatives could not keep a quorum in the Committee, but it was the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition who orchestrated that little campaign of schoolboy tricks. [Interruption.] I should not go so far as to call them public schoolboy tricks, except in the case of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay). That campaign was orchestrated by the very people who claim to be fighting for the elderly, the disabled and the underprivileged. They have wasted so much time when we might have reached the nitty gritty of this measure and made it a better Bill.

Which side of the Committee has genuinely tried to help the disadvantaged and the disabled? It has been the Conservatives. The hon. Member for Jarrow knows the record better than most. The greatest number of amendments to help the disabled and the elderly were tabled by Conservatives. Indeed, which side of the Committee obtained the major concession from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on concessionary fares? Again, it was the Conservatives. The Opposition, in their cynicism and manipulation of the fears of the elderly and infirm, deliberately forced the matter to a Division.

Mr. Wareing

The hon. Gentleman talks about the concession made by the Secretary of State. Does he even remember what it was?

Mr. Hayes

I can assist the House there. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the Government would introduce a new clause on Report to provide for an opting-out system on concessionary fares rather than the opting-in system currently provided for in the Bill. Indeed, my right hon. Friend went further. He said that the Government would introduce a code of conduct to assist private operators to help the disabled. He also said that the Government would bring in new construction and use regulations to assure safety and to prevent bunching, congestion and the kind of catastrophes predicted by the Opposition. That was a major concession, but the opposition had spent such a large amount of ratepayers' money for political reasons, in view of the county council elections to be held in the next few weeks, that they were horrified to find the Conservative party and the Government actually helping the disabled and the infirm.

Mr. Clay

We have heard a great deal from Conservative Members about the so-called concession that they believe they got from the Secretary of State about concessionary travel. Will the hon. Gentleman answer yes or no to this question? Does he believe that when the new clause that will introduce the concession is tabled the concessionay travel schemes will remain as beneficial as they are at the moment?

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful to the hon. Member for asking that question. We public schoolboys have to stick together. I shall be only too happy to listen with care to what my right hon. Friend the Secretay of State has to say on the new clause when he introduces it on Report. My right hon. Friend is bound by what he said in Committee. That is a matter of record, and I do not believe that my right hon. Friend will get away from what he said. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich may laugh, as she has done often in Committee, but my right hon. Friend has said that he will stick to the spirit of amendment No. 205, about which I was talking in particular.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North told us at great length about the wonders of the Tyne and Wear service, but he also told us how much it would cost the ratepayers. It was clear to the Committee that in precepting terms it would cost the ratepayers 54p in the pound to keep the Tyne and Wear transport system in operation. That is an enormous sum of money.

We have heard from Labour Members, and the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) in particular, that a delegation will come to lobby us tomorrow about clause 50, which concerns arrangements for pensioners. I shall be only too delighted to speak to those people, and I should love to be able to tell them what we have said in Committee about clause 50. However, I shall not be able to do so.

Mr. Forth

Would my hon. Friend care to extend that offer to any visitors who might come from Mid-Worcestershire, as I shall be in my constituency tomorrow?

Mr. Hayes

Of course I shall. If any of my hon. Friend's constituents come to the House and do not find him here, they will know that he is working hard in the constituency on their behalf, as he always does. However, if any come tomorrow, they will want to know — indeed, they should demand to know — what has been said in Committee about clause 50. The answer is that nothing has been said, because of the procrastination and time-wasting tactics of the Opposition. That is why I commend the guillotine motion to the House.

5.43 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

This motion is absolutely outrageous, because it is an attempt to stifle democratic debate on some of the most potentially destructive legislation ever to have been introduced in this Parliament. Only 11 out of 114 clauses have been subjected to the scrutiny of the Committee, and if the motion is passed the opportunities for my hon. Friends on the Committee to scrutinise the legislation will be further hampered.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Canavan

I shall not give way, because the debate lasts for only three hours, as the guillotine motion itself has been guillotined. The hon. Gentleman has had a chance to make his own speech.

The motives behind this legislation and behind the motion are based on sheer doctrinaire hatred of public ownership and public enterprise. Even the Government did not realise how much public antipathy there would be to this Bill. It was mentioned in the Queen's Speech in November, but it was not published and introduced into the House until after the Christmas recess. The complaints from all those concerned about public transport, whether users, owners or the trade unions representing the workers in the industry, are genuine complaints about the lack of pre-legislative consultation. Now, as the legislation is going through the House, the Government should be making every effort to mend their ways and should give hon. Members a fair crack of the whip in putting their views to the Committee. Unfortunately, the motion will deprive them of that opportunity.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on 20 July 1976 the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) laid five guillotine motions before the House in one day? Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on that?

Mr. Canavan

That has nothing to do with this motion. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) never came forward with such a nonsense of a Bill as this, which had inadequate consultation even before it was published. I am unable to find, apart from Conservative Members and a few of their friends who want to take advantage of privatisation and deregulation, anybody in favour of the legislation, whether in the industry, potential passengers or workers. Perhaps the Secretary of State will tell us about that.

The Bill will have a devastating effect on passengers and workers. For passengers, privatisation or deregulation will not mean an improvement in the service. Inevitably, entrepreneurs will be interested only in the most lucrative routes. Therefore, people who live in outlying housing schemes or towns and villages will be put at a distinct disadvantage because their transport system will be reduced to next to nothing. The entrepreneurs will bid only for the lucrative intra-city services within urban areas and inter-city routes.

Fears have been expressed about environmental and safety factors and about some private cowboy operators racing each other in ramshackle vehicles to a decreasing number of bus stops.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Canavan

I shall not give way because I want some of my hon. Friends to get in, and I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to filibuster the debate.

Transport service workers are employed as drivers, maintenance engineers and so on in the bus garages, whether for the National Bus Company or the Scottish bus group north of the Border. There are also those who build the buses. In my constituency there is a firm of coachbuilders called Walter Alexanders. Without boasting, I can say that the workers in that factory are capable of building the best double decker buses in the world and their export achievements support that contention.

However, it is no use thinking simply in terms of exporting buses, whether to Hong Kong or Singapore, if, at the same time, the domestic market is suffering a recession as a direct result of Government economic policies. The recession in the domestic market will be made worse by the Bill. It will mean a decrease in employment opportunities for the workers in that factory, which is one of the biggest manufacturing units left in my constituency, where unemployment is already far too high. To give some idea of the deterioration that has occurred since the Government came to power, there has been a 50 per cent. reduction in the work force. It has dropped from over 1,000 to about 500.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Canavan

The management and the workers there speak with one voice on the Bill. They hear Ministers in Committee conjuring up visions of people running around in minibuses, microbuses and taxis. If people cannot afford a taxi, they will have to stay at home or walk. That might be all right for Ministers with their chauffeur-driven cars, which are run at the taxpayers' expense, but what about pensioners and the disabled, who are dependent upon a decent public transport system? What use is a concessionary fare ticket through a local authority if there is no public transport system left worth talking about?

Mention has been made of tomorrow's transport lobby when, possibly, thousands of transport workers, and others who are concerned about the effects of the Bill, will converge on Parliament from all over Britain. It is an insult for the Government to be introducing a guillotine motion on the eve of one of the biggest lobbies of this Parliament. If ever there were a case for listening to the workers whose jobs are involved, this is it. Surely the Government should at least delay introducing a timetable motion until they have listened to the case that will be put by the workers tomorrow.

I am forced to the conclusion that the Government have introduced the timetable motion because they find it impossible to defend their legislation. Most Ministers are incompetent but even the most competent of the Ministers would find it impossible to defend the indefensible.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Canavan

No, I shall not give way.

Therefore, because Ministers cannot defend the indefensible it is their intention to try to cut democratic debate to a minimum and to bulldoze the timetable motion through on a three-line whip. They are making a mockery of parliamentary democracy. If is further proof, if proof were needed, that the Government often adopt tactics that have more in common with the jackboot tactics of Fascism than genuine participatory democracy.

5.52 pm
Mr. Colin Shepherd (Hereford)

I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I have been provoked, if that is the right word, into so doing by some of the remarks that have been made.

My overall feeling today is one of disappointment. When we started consideration of the Bill I had hoped that we would be able to get through without having to come to the House with a guillotine motion, but my best hopes were dashed early on in the consideration of the Bill when it became apparent that the Opposition's arguments were thin and would be deployed time and again with no apparent recognition of the proper and correct refutations that were being steadily put forward.

The Opposition in their rhetoric have certainly said that they want to improve the Bill, but I can find nothing in their speeches or amendments that leads me to believe that they want to do anything other than wreck the Bill. Their rhetoric does not match their objectives. It is important that that is understood. The Opposition have not sought to "fashion a better Bill." Instead, the Committee has been led by Conservative Back Benchers who have sought to be of assistance in bringing forward arguments which could lead to a better Bill. I have heard little during most of the sittings that I have attended that has led me to believe that there has been much constructive thought among Opposition Members. Indeed, there has been much destructive thought.

It was apparent after a short time that the Bill could not be dealt with in Committee without a guillotine motion. The fact that the Committee spent 30 hours on clause 1 showed clearly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) said, that the principle of deregulation had been granted by the House. Therefore, tactically speaking, it was wrong for the Opposition to seek to destroy the Bill and to bring about the circumstances which would drive the Government to introduce a guillotine motion.

Tactically, the Opposition would have done better to accept that the will of the House was to move towards a deregulated transport system and then to seek to achieve all the various points about which there is genuine concern in the country—the real, not the rhetorical, points. The Opposition have now damaged that opportunity. If the Bill does not emerge from Committee as fully discussed as I would like it to be, I can look myself in the eye in the mirror and my colleagues in the face and say that it was not because of the actions of Conservative Members but because of the Opposition's ill-judged tactics. The Opposition have served their interests ill in the way that they have tackled this measure.

The Opposition showed great commitment to the principle of opposing the Bill clause by clause, line by line. Yet, as we have seen, they were content to be manipulated out of the Committee so as to try to destroy the quorum. They were content to be the Lobby fodder or the lackeys of the Opposition Whip in his tactical mismanipulation of the Bill. No one is served well by such an approach.

Mr. Forth

I know that my hon. Friend is by nature a modest and unassuming man, but will he take this opportunity to refute the disgraceful claim by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) earlier that he had made a long intervention in Committee? It was the wish and desire of the Committee to hear at first hand of the experience in Hereford from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) in order to lay to rest all the misquotations and distortions that were coming from the Opposition about the experiment. Does my hon. Friend accept that that was the fact?

Mr. Shepherd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing out that significant and important point.

Today, we heard the same old prophecies of doom from the hon. Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). They are confident that there will be no buses at all.

I have some further news for the House tonight. The Herefordshire Federation of Women's Institutes has, with the assistance of the local rural community council, conducted an arm's-length survey of all the 123 branches of the women's institutes within Herefordshire. Some interesting figures emerged. The responses were returned on a 9: 2 ratio between those who are inside and those who are outside the trial area. The figures relate to rural buses, about which the fear of God has been put into so many pensioners and others stuck out in the countryside.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Quite rightly.

Mr. Shepherd

If the hon. Gentleman knows where the countryside is, he might like to listen.

Of those within the trial area, 35 per cent. felt that the frequency of services was worse, but 41 per cent. thought that it was the same and 23 per cent. thought that it was better. That means a substantial majority in terms of better services.

On punctuality, 5 per cent. thought that services were worse, 61 per cent. thought that they were the same and 32 per cent. thought that they were better. Appropriate timing is an important factor, and in that category 27 per cent. thought that services were worse, 52 per cent. thought that they were the same and 20 per cent. thought that they were better.

Much has been said about reliability. The survey shows that 2 per cent. found that the reliability of services was worse, 73 per cent. said that it was the same and 25 per cent. reported that it was better. The figures show that 4 per cent. found drivers' attitudes worse, 59 per cent. found them the same and 37 per cent. thought that they were better. On bus fares, 35 per cent. found them worse, 40 per cent. said that they were the same and 26 per cent. said that they were better.

Those figures reveal substantial confidence. Let me give just two more sets of statistics. The women's institutes were asked how they would describe the bus services in their areas and responses were sought from those inside the trial areas and from those outside. The figures showed that 40 per cent. of those inside the trial areas, but only 9 per cent. of those outside, found services "reasonably adequate for needs." Another category was Not good but all that can be expected. The survey showed that 32 per cent. of those inside the trial area took that view of their services, compared with 36 per cent. outside. Another category was Though basic services are adequate, there are needs not met which cause serious problems. Within the trial areas, 28 per cent. agreed with that description of their services, but the figure outside the trial area was 45 per cent. In the category "Completely inadequate for needs," the figures were about the same: 10 per cent. inside the area and 9 per cent. outside the area agreed with that description.

All those figures show that the bus services inside the trial area are infinitely better than the services outside. They give the lie to the prophecies of doom that we hear from the Opposition.

Mr. Maclean

Those figures are devastating proof of the success of the Hereford trial area. Those of us from other parts of the country want to share in that success by having deregulation in our areas. Will my hon. Friend circulate those figures to his hon. Friends and bring them up in Committee so that we can have proof of how well the experiment in Hereford has worked?

Mr. Shepherd

I shall circulate the figures. They are hot off the press. The rural community council wanted to make sure that the outside world understood the grass roots views of those who live in Herefordshire and use public transport. I shall bring out the figures in Committee, because they are important.

The figures underline the need for people in the countryside to lobby candidates in the forthcoming county council elections to ensure that they are committed to transport in the rural areas. That is vital. With deregulation it will be easier to reverse the trend of decline in public transport. That will enable those living in rural areas to achieve a better standard of transport than if we allow the present decline to continue, at enormous cost. The message is clear.

I am disappointed that, because of the attitude of Opposition Members, we have not had the opportunity to discuss some important matters. I shall try to continue to spell out the lessons of the Hereford trial as the Bill proceeds through Committee.

6.4 pm

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

The reason for the lengthy discussions in Committee is that this is an ill-considered Bill. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) has demonstrated the problems that the Government face in justifying the Bill.

The massive opposition to the Bill comes from a wide spectrum. I will deal later with the view of the women's institutes, but the Association of District Councils, chambers of commerce and many other organisations have lobbied members of the Committee to put across their point of view because they thought that the Secretary of State was serious when he said that the Government would try to "fashion a better Bill". It has been clearly shown that that is not the case.

We must also take into account the report of the Select Committee on Transport, which was highly critical of the Bill and said that the timetable laid down in it was too speedy in view of the massive changes that would be necessary.

It is interesting to compare the experiences of Hereford and South Yorkshire. They are opposites in the provision of public transport. The hon. Member for Hereford told the Committee about the Hereford experiment in some detail. I think that the women's institute figures were fairly selective, but the hon. Gentleman said: I spent a lot of time talking to people riding the buses—the customers. I carried out my survey with a number of chums on a structured basis over a period, using buses early in the morning, at peak times and on Saturdays on all the services in Hereford. We asked people". — [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28 February 1985; c. 93.] The hon. Gentleman listed a series of questions and answers. His constituents came out positively in favour of the Hereford scheme. However, he did not tell us how that scheme was funded. Later in the Committee proceedings we discovered why the results in Hereford were so significant. Massive cross-subsidy was used to achieve the results. The hon. Member put the argument about Midland Red. He said: If MIdland Red (West) had not had, in effect, a funnel of resources coming in from the other end of its operations, it would not be able to sustain the level of buses that it is now sustaining in Hereford. The level of bus services that it is now sustaining in Hereford means 10 buses more than it felt were needed to provide a proper and profitable service when the experiment was set up. That reservoir of support from outside would not be available to Midland Red it it had to look in all directions at the same time."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 19 March 1985; c. 632–3.] We see that Hereford, which was held up as a classic example of free enterprise and deregulation, was actually an area in which Midland Red used massive cross-subsidies which, I have no doubt, had a major bearing on the figures that the hon. Member for Hereford has just given the House.

Let us contrast the position in Hereford with what happens in South Yorkshire, which has stood up to every scrutiny by every outside body that has examined the system, not over only two and a half years, but over the past 10 or 12 years. South Yorkshire has a population of 1.3 million and 350 million journeys are made every year. [Interruption.] The criteria for using national resources should be their effectiveness and not the amount of profit that can be made or the degree of exploitation that can be carried out. But every study that has been made into the use of national resources has supported that mode of transport. Indeed, even the Conservative Members of the European Parliament came to that conclusion after carrying out some investigations. Every experiment in Europe has followed that path. Britain will be the only country in Western Europe to go back to the position that existed 50 or 60 years ago.

The South Yorkshire scheme has stood the test of time. It has genuinely tried to serve the people efficiently and cost-effectively. If this legislation is imposed on counties such as South Yorkshire, they will have to increase their bus fares by something in excess of 300 per cent. in a period of six months just to keep 10 to 15 per cent. of routes within the passenger transport authorities. As a result of legislation pushed through by this Government, the metropolitan counties will be dismantled. In addition, rate capping is being imposed on Sheffield. Even the chamber of commerce has realised the devastation that will take place. It is extremely concerned that, as a result of the legislation, there could be pay increases of £10 a week just to provide the sort of transport system that the Government wish to impose.

The Bill is extremely important. Despite what Conservative Members say, we have not been filibustering. We have been trying to express the concern felt by industry and by our constituents. They want a more co-ordinated transport system that will use the United Kingdom's resources much more effectively and efficiently. However, we have been barred from voicing those concerns. In framing this "better" Bill the Government have merely conceded that the age of traffic commissioners should fall from 70 to 65. That is an insult to the people of the United Kingdom, as will be amply demonstrated tomorrow, when there will be a massive lobby of Parliament. It will consist not only of transport workers but of the many people who are concerned about the United Kingdom's transport system. This Bill seeks to destroy that system.

6.12 pm
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

The system for the control and regulation of buses has been in existence for some 50 years. Many of us have not even lived that long. During the past 10 years subsidies have increased from £10 million to £520 million, a 52-fold increase. During the past 10 years the cost of running buses has increased by 15 to 30 per cent., while fares have increased by about 30 per cent. In the past 30 years the use of buses, as a proportion of transport, has fallen from 42 per cent. to 8 per cent. That is hardly a successful formula and the situation should hardly remain unconsidered or unchanged.

The Bill is vital, and it should have proper discussion. Like all major Bills, it has been considered upstairs in Committee. Of course, no hon. Member ever filibusters, but hon. Members do their damnedest to do so. The sooner we get on with the timetable motion, the sooner we shall—as with previous Bills—have better and more sensible debate.

We are moving from regulation to competition. We are moving from planners and local authorities knowing best to people and consumers being able to decide and choose. We are moving towards a system that will be better for the consumer, the taxpayer and those who work in the industry. The sooner we get on with it, and give it proper consideration, the better.

6.14 Pm

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

It is an outrage that the Government should at this stage of such an important Bill demand a guillotine. It is important that the House should understand why. One reason is that there is growing unease in the country about the contents of the Bill. Although we have had one or two prima donna performances today, I must put the reality of the situation on record.

The Bill is not wanted by anyone. It is not demanded by bus passengers. The bus companies have not been lobbying the House for years for this Bill. It is not a Bill that the women's institutes have run to their Conservative Members of Parliament and demanded. This is a Bill about the Secretary of State and his obsessions. The sooner that that is made clear to people, the better they will understand what is happening in Committee.

It is extraordinary that a major Bill can be introduced without any real consultation. We have heard about a White Paper—not a Green Paper—that was presented to the House. It formed the basis of the Bill, but, despite the thousands of objections that the Secretary of State received, there was hardly one amendment to the legislation that he laid before the House.

When we accused Ministers of not having consulted anyone, the Under-Secretary of State did a little run around the country. I say "run around" deliberately, because he barely stopped to meet any elected person and he certainly did not listen to anything said to him. If he had done so, he would have heard exactly what rural dwellers and those who use the buses think about this extraordinary legislation.

In Committee, it became clear that no one had really thought about the Bill. As we have gone on, the Secretary of State has developed a new and somewhat extraordinary game called moving the goalposts. First, he calls Hereford in aid as often as possible, and the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) supports him with a long, if not pompous, speech. Then, as it becomes clear that the independent operators are going out of business in Hereford and that the difficulties are there for all to see, we are suddenly told that Hereford is only a small experiment. We are told that we do not need to worry about that, and that we should concern ourselves with other areas.

We have witnessed an interesting evolutionary process. The Conservative members of the Committee were picked with great care by the Committee of Selection, but they all have several things in common. Most of them are new Members of Parliament, and only one or two of them know anything about transport. Indeed, it would have been very embarrassing if they had undersood what they were being asked to support. The Conservative Members who were picked, despite being members of the Select Committee, were those who could be relied upon to say exactly what their masters wanted. But the rest of them went through a process of evolution. Originally, they intervened here or there. Then they began to make speeches, and by the end of last week they were actually asking awkward questions.

Perhaps that is why those who intervened most in Committee have not sought to take part in this debate. Where, for example, is our dear friend the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who made an entire career out of interventions? Where is the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo) or the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed), who arrived and then left? They are hiding from the fact that the House would be very dispirited if it knew with what ruthlessness the Bill was being pushed through.

No Conservative Member can seriously suggest that the Bill is about transport. If we were talking about how to improve the bus or taxi industries some of the amendments would have been accepted. But something different happened. Conservative Members tabled an amendment which, they said, concerned concessionary fares. Labour Members actually care about concessionary fares. We think that those who use the buses — the young, those without cars and the elderly — are important, but the Government have left them out right down the line.

Mr. Forth


Mrs. Dunwoody

Conservative Members tabled an amendment. They made great play of the fact that they were so concerned about concessionary fares that they wanted to obtain a very strong commitment from the Secretary of State. What happened? The Secretary of State made several vague comments. He did not say that he would accept the amendment, or that it was badly drafted, but that he would table another, equivalent one. He said that he accepted not the content but the spirit of the amendment.

Mr. Forth


Mrs. Dunwoody

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman made his speech and I have little time available to me.

There was an even more interesting phenomenon. If Conservative Members were serious about protecting concessionary fares, as they were during the passage of the London Regional Transport Bill, why did they not vote for their amendments? Why did so many of them vote against their own amendments? Why did one hon. Member, who obviously could not be trusted to vote against an idea in which he sincerely believed, absent himself from the vote and then appear on regional television telling everyone that they had no need to worry because concessionary fares were to be protected for all time?

This is a very bad Bill. It concerns not only the safety of bus passengers but, in future, the safety of those who travel by taxi. In theory, the Bill opens up all sorts of new areas to the entrepreneur who, we are told, will rush forward with special schemes and provide transport throughout the country. The reality is very different. The first clause on deregulation destroys machinery that has been in operation since the late 1920s. That machinery was brought into place because it was known that the open anarchy and chaos that existed on the roads was not in the interests of passengers or anyone running a bus company. Indeed, in the final analysis it had to be changed, and there was an all-party decision to change the legislation.

All these years later, the Secretary of State says that all he is doing is changing the position to give greater freedom to passengers. In support of that idea, he always quotes costs. Why is he so obsessed? That is the only aspect of the bus industry that he is prepared to take seriously. He never talks about what will actually happen on concessionary fares for the disabled and the elderly. He never explains that, if timetabling and through-ticketing are wiped out, we will not improve the services but will deprive those most desperately in need of support. That has been the basis of the discussion on this legislation.

It is startling how often, when specific amendments are put forward, the Secretary of State merely says, "The hon. Lady does not understand" or, "The hon. Gentlemen are not aware of the implications of their amendments." What he really means is that we are only too aware. The reason why Conservative Members frequently try to decry the proceedings in Committee is that they cannot afford to have the electorate understand what they have in mind. They need privacy and quietness. They do not want the county or district councils or the women's institutes or any other group to ensure that the electorate know what is happening to their bus services; that might be too inconvenient.

The people of a village in the Secretary of State's constituency are worried about the only bus service in the morning. What will happen when they realise that the right hon. Gentleman's legislation is likely to put that service at risk? What will happen if that is repeated throughout the country? Conservative Members might receive increasing numbers of letters.

Table 3.6 of the White Paper on the Government's expenditure plans shows the real attitude of the Secretary of State to the provision of subsidies for any sort of public transport. Revenue support for public transport will go down from £559 million in 1984–85 to £247 million in 1985–86. That is the basis of this legislation. He is not genuinely concerned whether people in the villages can get their children to school or their grandmothers to the doctor. He is not even faintly concerned whether people can get to work in the towns or whether whole areas in cities will be deprived of their services late at night and on Sundays. He is not concerned with producing a Bill that will be a better Bill after it leaves Committee.

The right hon. Gentleman's reason for imposing a guillotine now is clear—because we have just finished discussing part I. He knows that there are many vital matters still to be discussed. For example, we need to know why, if deregulation is such a brilliant idea, it is not being applied to London. We want to know what will happen to the 55,000 staff who the Secretary of State said with great aplomb would go into the private sector. We want to know what will happen to their pensions and why they have not been underwritten in the Bill. We want to know what will happen to the existing National Bus Company companies. Although the right hon. Gentleman said that he wants them broken up, he has given no sign of how to achieve that. He is not even prepared to discuss their financial viability.

We especially want to know what will happen about the local passenger transport services. Unless we know what will happen to the PTEs, we will not know whether the Secretary of State will pursue his obsession to the extent of wholly wrecking the transport system in this country. Above all, we want to know what will happen about concessionary travel schemes and about rural area grants, about which he has been extraordinarily sanguine and quiet. He has not dared to match the amount of money that he has mentioned with the need in the rural areas that will arise because of this legislation.

It would be pleasant if we were to hear exactly what will happen about the rail replacement bus services. What will happen to British Rail if this Bill becomes law? Many people do not yet realise the extent of the damage that will be caused to their rail services and how many of them will be destroyed by this ill-thought-out, incompetent and absurd piece of machinery.

We want to know whether the Secretary of State has one coherent reason for foisting on the people of this country legislation that in three years will lead to chaos and dismay for many people, especially those who desperately need bus services to get to work and to enjoy a reasonable standard of life.

We want to say just one more thing to the right hon. Gentleman. If he has managed to dispirit and worry so many of the clones on his Back Benches, does it not occur to him that the electorate as a whole will soon cotton on to what this is all about? This is the most outrageous confidence trick and it is a shame that the Secretary of State should dare to come here and try to offload it on to Parliament.

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

When my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced the guillotine motion last Thursday, there was no protest. The Leader of the Opposition said that today was not a convenient day for the motion because of the large bus lobby tomorrow. He did not say that the motion should not be put forward, simply that it was not convenient for discussion on Monday.

Will there be a massive disruption of services tomorrow as a result of bus crews coming to London? Is that the way that they will take out their views on their customers? If there is to be no disruption of services, it is further proof that the industry must be very overmanned if so many people can come to London.

Last Thursday the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that he did not like the Bill, as did the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). However, the hon. Members for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) and for Wigan (Mr. Stott) did not say a word. The truth is that the Opposition are so bored with their delaying tactics that they even forgot to make the ritual noises when the guillotine was announced.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) rightly said, nobody in the House is more keen to see the motion adopted than the Opposition. Labour Members are bored with their Second Reading arguments, which they have rehearsed time and again, and today, as my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) said, they totally failed to get down to the detail of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich and several of her hon. Friends said that masses of important issues remained to be discussed and that everybody wanted to get on with discussing them. So do I and my hon. Friends, and if we had not wasted 94 hours in Committee we should have discussed them by now. Therefore, let us get on with the Bill.

Any dispassionate analysis of the facts will support the view that the Opposition have not used the time in Committee wisely. They wasted virtually a whole sitting debating the sittings motion. They moved an amendment to that motion seeking to delay the start of the Committee stage until 12 March. Had they succeeded in that, the Committee would have had even less time in which to consider the Bill.

Up to the close of play last Thursday, the Committee had dealt with the first 13 pages of the Bill and consumed recklessly more than 94 hours of debate, a rate of more than seven hours of debate per page. There remain a further 128 pages of the Bill, which, at that rate, would mean nearly another 900 hours of debate to complete the Committee stage. That is what the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich now calls driving the Bill through ruthlessly. I have never heard so much rubbish in my life. No Government, Conservative or Labour, faced with those facts would allow a major Bill in their programme to continue to make such slow progress.

The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) claimed that we had not made more progress because on frequent occasions the Committee was without a quorum. I have had the Hansard record checked. That check shows that we wasted two minutes out of over 94 hours through the lack of a quorum.

The hon. Member for Jarrow also referred to the Bus and Coach Council dinner. I agree that the applause at the end of my excellent speech was not rapturous. I was not surprised. I was delighted, however, by an experience that he did not have. As I was leaving, a young Scottish married couple told me, "We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have given us the chance to start our own business in the bus industry, something that we have always wanted to do. Get your Bill through as quickly as you can."

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney spoke about the bus manufacturing industry. There has been an enormous decline in that industry in the past three years, due largely to the fact that the last Labour Government withdrew bus grants, and partly it has been a reflection of the general decline of the bus industry. It is, therefore, a bit hard, when there has been that mammoth decline—we are seeking to put that right by the Bill—to lay the blame at the door of the Bill.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Ridley

I cannot give way because time is short.

The opportunities that the Bill will give to the bus industry are great. It will lead to new orders for new types of buses. Just as the deregulation of the long distance coaching industry led to a surge of orders for modern luxury vehicles for coaching, so the Bill will in due course create its own demand.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) said, throughout the Committee stage the Opposition tried to wreck rather than improve the Bill. We had the absurd argument—my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border recalled it—when debating one amendment that there would be no buses left on the roads once the Bill was on the statute book, and we were told when debating another amendment that the congestion would be so serious that our towns and cities would be blocked with competing buses. Opposition Members must make up their minds which it is to be.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney was, even for him, unusually badly briefed. He said that there had been no consultation. Was he not aware that seven consultative documents had been put out about the Bill following the publication of the White Paper and that more than 7,000 replies had been received? The Bill was introduced a little late because we were considering those replies.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that the Government had not made any concessions in Committee. As we have been allowed to deal with only 11 clauses, it is not surprising that only three concessions have been offered by the Government. The first I do not make much of—the concession on the age of traffic commissioners — but I reiterate the enormous importance of the undertaking that I gave to protect the position of concessionary fares by insisting that all operators will have to opt into the concessionary fares scheme unless, through some appeal mechanism, good reason is given why they should not.

Mr. Shore

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny what was said in the quotation I gave from the Select Committee report about Humberside county council saying that consultation had been about the modalities of the Bill and that at no stage had the council been consulted about the underlying and fundamental principles and philosophy?

Mr. Ridley

That is rich coming from a right hon. Member who pushed through nationalisation and socialisation measures. I do not recall ever being consulted about whether we wanted to nationalise the bus industry in the first place. We do not consult on the main measures in our manifesto, any more than the Labour party ever did.

Next, I offered a major improvement for the elderly and disabled by improving the construction and use regulations—a legal instrument not in the Bill—by which buses can be designed and manufactured to standards more helpful to elderly and disabled people.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Ridley

If the hon. Lady did not hear those matters being dealt with, she will find them, if she looks for them, in the Official Report.

The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney was surprised that vested interests in the industry had come forward so loudly. I do not know why he should have been surprised about that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West rightly pointed out, in 1952, when the road haulage industry was deregulated and denationalised — in the same way as we are dealing with the buses now—there was almost total opposition. In 1980, when the present Secretary of State for Social Services deregulated long distance coaches, the Opposition behaved in the same way as they have behaved towards this measure. It is no surprise to me that in 1985, when we deal with the next stage — the deregulation of stage buses — they should behave, as before, with the same excited over-exaggeration.

The answer, of course, is that Opposition Members cannot disentangle themselves from the interests of the operators and the trade unions in any industry. They can never see that what really matters is the passenger. They are prepared to ignore and neglect the passengers and pick up the stereotyped briefs that come from the industry to the denial of the truth for the passengers.

Many hon. Members questioned me about the position of the pensions of those in the PTEs. I wish that we had already reached the clauses in the Bill under which that issue could be discussed. As, no doubt, it will be said that there is nothing on the subject in the Bill, perhaps I should comment on it. We are seeking to facilitate the option of employees in the PTE undertakings and municipal undertakings to remain with the local government superannuation scheme, to which they currently belong. We are discussing with local government representatives how to achieve that.

That will not necessarily involve any additions to the Bill, as there are existing powers under the Superannuation Act 1972. Thus, a successful conclusion to the negotiations would probably not require anything being added to the Bill. If this cannot be achieved, we shall inform the Committee of the position. We hope to produce a satisfactory answer in good time.

Several hon. Members have referred to the Select Committee on Transport and its report. It is a curious thought that the convention is that Governments do not comment upon or make reference to reports of Select Committees until the formal response has been made. As this has been the subject of endless debate by Members on both sides of the House, it is not exactly easy to adhere to that position. Instead of seeking to go deeply into the report in the few minutes that remain available to me, I shall merely say that in a short time we shall bring forward the Government's reply to the Select Committee's report. That will be a particularly quick response. We shall do so in such a way as to ensure that the Committee has the benefit of our reply to the report.

The use that has been made of the Select Committee on Transport by Labour Members—this has not been done by members of the Select Committee — has been designed to defeat the Bill or the policy that lies behind it. That is not the true purpose for which Select Committees were established. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Cowans) even started to anticipate in the Chamber the results of his inquiries into the bus industry before the Committee had come to its consideration of the report. I had occasion to point that out to him. I hope that the House will not use Select Committees as a means of trying to provide opposition to Government legislation—

Mr. Canavan

Why not?

Mr. Ridley

—as opposed to inquiring into what is right and what is wrong. The Opposition, however, characterise themselves by what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) described as a cynical manipulation of the fears of the elderly and the disabled. They have sought throughout to stir up groundless fears. Every time I try to put those fears to bed, the Opposition throw doubt upon the veracity of what I have to say.

The Committee has sat for 94 hours and during this period the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has had to announce his retirement at the end of this Parliament. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol, East and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) have both become proud fathers. I congratulate them both. The hon. Member for Wigan has decided to abandon us to pursue the joys of matrimony; we wish him well. It is clear from the facts and from the adventures of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) into the season when mistletoe buds should he planted that the Committee has had enough of the time wasting and long-winded nonsense to which it has had to listen for 94 hours. It is time to get on with the Bill, to end uncertainty—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER proceeded to put the Question necessary to dispose of them, pursuant to Standing Order No. 46 (Allocation of time to Bills).

Question put accordingly:

The House divided: Ayes 277, Noes 189.

Division No. 174] [6.43 pm
Adley, Robert Greenway, Harry
Aitken, Jonathan Gregory, Conal
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Griffiths, E. (B'y St Edm'ds)
Ancram, Michael Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Ashby, David Grist, Ian
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Ground, Patrick
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Grylls, Michael
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gummer, John Selwyn
Best, Keith Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Hampson, Dr Keith
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Hanley, Jeremy
Body, Richard Hannam, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Hargreaves, Kenneth
Boscawen, Hon Robert Harris, David
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Harvey, Robert
Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n) Haselhurst, Alan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bright, Graham Hawkins, C. (High Peak)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Hawksley, Warren
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A. Hayhoe, Barney
Buck, Sir Antony Hayward, Robert
Budgen, Nick Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Burt, Alistair Heathcoat-Amory, David
Butcher, John Henderson, Barry
Butler, Hon Adam Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carlisle, John (N Luton) Hickmet, Richard
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S) Hicks, Robert
Cash, William Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hirst, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chope, Christopher Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n) Holt, Richard
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hordern, Peter
Clegg, Sir Walter Howard, Michael
Cockeram, Eric Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)
Colvin, Michael Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Coombs, Simon Hunt, David (Wirral)
Cope, John Hunter, Andrew
Corrie, John Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Couchman, James Jessel, Toby
Crouch, David Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dorrell, Stephen Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Jones, Robert (W Herts)
Dover, Den Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
du Cann, Rt Hon Sir Edward Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Durant, Tony Key, Robert
Dykes, Hugh King, Roger (B'ham N'field)
Emery, Sir Peter King, Rt Hon Tom
Eyre, Sir Reginald Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)
Favell, Anthony Knowles, Michael
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Knox, David
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Lamont, Norman
Fookes, Miss Janet Lang, Ian
Forman, Nigel Latham, Michael
Forth, Eric Lawler, Geoffrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lawrence, Ivan
Fox, Marcus Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Franks, Cecil Lee, John (Pendle)
Freeman, Roger Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Gale, Roger Lester, Jim
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)
Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde) Lightbown, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Lilley, Peter
Glyn, Dr Alan Lloyd, Ian (Havant)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)
Gorst, John Lord, Michael
Gow, Ian Lyell, Nicholas
Gower, Sir Raymond McCrindle, Robert
Grant, Sir Anthony Macfarlane, Neil
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Sayeed, Jonathan
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Maclean, David John Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Shelton, William (Streatham)
McQuarrie, Albert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Madel, David Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Major, John Shersby, Michael
Malins, Humfrey Silvester, Fred
Malone, Gerald Sims, Roger
Marlow, Antony Skeet, T. H. H.
Mather, Carol Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maude, Hon Francis Soames, Hon Nicholas
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Speller, Tony
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Spencer, Derek
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Mellor, David Squire, Robin
Merchant, Piers Stanbrook, Ivor
Meyer, Sir Anthony Stanley, John
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Steen, Anthony
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon) Stern, Michael
Miscampbell, Norman Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Mitchell, David (NW Hants) Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Moate, Roger Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Monro, Sir Hector Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Morris, M. (N'hampton, S) Stokes, John
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Stradling Thomas, J.
Moynihan, Hon C. Sumberg, David
Murphy, Christopher Taylor, John (Solihull)
Neale, Gerrard Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Needham, Richard Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Michael Terlezki, Stefan
Newton, Tony Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Nicholls, Patrick Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Onslow, Cranley Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Oppenheim, Phillip Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Thornton, Malcolm
Osborn, Sir John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Ottaway, Richard Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Page, Richard (Herts SW) Tracey, Richard
Parris, Matthew Twinn, Dr Ian
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn) van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Pattie, Geoffrey Viggers, Peter
Pawsey, James Waddington, David
Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Portillo, Michael Waldegrave, Hon William
Powell, William (Corby) Walden, George
Powley, John Walker, Bill (T'side N)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Waller, Gary
Prior, Rt Hon James Walters, Dennis
Proctor, K. Harvey Ward, John
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Warren, Kenneth
Rathbone, Tim Watson, John
Rees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover) Watts, John
Renton, Tim Wells, Bowen (Hertford)
Rhodes James, Robert Wheeler, John
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Whitney, Raymond
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wiggin, Jerry
Rifkind, Malcolm Wilkinson, John
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wolfson, Mark
Roe, Mrs Marion Wood, Timothy
Rossi, Sir Hugh Yeo, Tim
Rost, Peter Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rowe, Andrew Younger, Rt Hon George
Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Ryder, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Sackville, Hon Thomas Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Mr. Archie Hamilton.
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Abse, Leo Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Barnett, Guy
Alton, David Barron, Kevin
Anderson, Donald Beckett, Mrs Margaret
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bell, Stuart
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Benn, Tony
Ashton, Joe Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)
Bermingham, Gerald Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Bidwell, Sydney Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E) Janner, Hon Greville
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N) John, Brynmor
Bruce, Malcolm Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Buchan, Norman Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Caborn, Richard Kennedy, Charles
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Campbell-Savours, Dale Kirkwood, Archy
Canavan, Dennis Lambie, David
Carter-Jones, Lewis Leadbitter, Ted
Cartwright, John Leighton, Ronald
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Clarke, Thomas Litherland, Robert
Clay, Robert McCartney, Hugh
Clwyd, Mrs Ann McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Cohen, Harry McKelvey, William
Coleman, Donald Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Maclennan, Robert
Conlan, Bernard McNamara, Kevin
Cook, Frank (Stockton North) McTaggart, Robert
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston) McWilliam, John
Corbett, Robin Madden, Max
Corbyn, Jeremy Marek, Dr John
Cowans, Harry Martin, Michael
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Craigen, J. M. Maxton, John
Crowther, Stan Maynard, Miss Joan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Meacher, Michael
Cunningham, Dr John Michie, William
Dalyell, Tam Mikardo, Ian
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly) Miller, Dr M.S. (E Kilbride)
Davis, Terry (B ham, H'ge H'l) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Deakins, Eric Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Dewar, Donald Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Dobson, Frank Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Dormand, Jack Nicholson, J.
Dubs, Alfred Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. O'Brien, William
Eadie, Alex O'Neill, Martin
Eastham, Ken Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Evans, John (St. Helens N) Park, George
Ewing, Harry Pavitt, Laurie
Fatchett, Derek Pendry, Tom
Faulds, Andrew Pike, Peter
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Fisher, Mark Prescott, John
Flannery, Martin Randall, Stuart
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Redmond, M.
Forrester, John Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)
Foster, Derek Richardson, Ms Jo
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Freud, Clement Robertson, George
Garrett, W. E. Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
George, Bruce Rooker, J. W.
Godman, Dr Norman Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Gould, Bryan Ross, Wm. (Londonderry)
Gourlay, Harry Ryman, John
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Sedgemore, Brian
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Sheerman, Barry
Hardy, Peter Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Harman, Ms Harriet Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Silkin, Rt Hon J.
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Skinner, Dennis
Haynes, Frank Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'kl'ds E)
Heffer, Eric S. Snape, Peter
Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall) Spearing, Nigel
Home Robertson, John Steel, Rt Hon David
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Strang, Gavin
Hoyle, Douglas Straw, Jack
Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Thompson, J. (Wansbeck) Williams, Rt Hon A.
Thorne, Stan (Preston) Winnick, David
Tinn, James Woodall, Alec
Torney, Tom Wrigglesworth, Ian
Wainwright, R. Young, David (Bolton SE)
Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)
Wallace, James Tellers for the Noes:
Wardell, Gareth (Gower) Mr. Norman Hogg and
Wareing, Robert Mr. Don Dixon.
Wigley, Dafydd

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the following provisions shall apply to the remaining proceedings on the Bill:—

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