§ Amendments made:
§ No. 148, in page 141, line 7, column 3, at end insert `Section 24(3)'.
§ No. 149, in page 141, line 18, column 3, at end insert `Section 59(3)'.
No. 150, in page 142, line 23, column 3, at beginning insert—
'In section 1(3), the word "II.'.
§ No. 151, in page 142, line 43, column 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 44.
§ No. 152, in page 143, line 5, leave out 'and'.1089
§ No. 153, in page 143, line 8, after 'end', insert 'and paragraph (d)'.
No. 154, in page 143, leave out line 31 and insert
'In section 76, the words from "except" to the end.'.
§ No. 155, in page 143, line 34, at end insert "'community bus service";'.—(Mr. Ridley.]
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Ridley
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have reached the end of a long consideration of a Bill which I entirely accept is complex although its purpose is simple. Its purpose is to provide better services for the customer and to achieve better value for money for the ratepayer and the taxpayer. In turn, this will secure a better future for the industry and for those who work in it. The Bill will achieve this by removing the obstacles to enterprise, initiative and efficiency while retaining the essential framework of safety controls and provision for social needs.
It is a radical Bill. I am surprised at the absence of radicals on the Opposition Benches. Radical reform is necessary to free the industry from the stifling effects of restrictive licensing and the debilitating effects of network subsidy which have brought the industry to such a perilous state. They frustrated the industry in making the adjustments necessary to meet the needs of passengers in the 1980s.
We introduced competition into the long-distance coach sector in 1980. We were told then that complete deregulation would lead to all sorts of difficulties and problems. Some even suggested that it would lead to the demise of express coach services altogether. In fact, the result has been better services, lower fares and more passengers. The passengers now using long-distance coaches will all agree that deregulation has benefited them. That is even admitted by those in the industry. A report of an interview with Mr. McLaughlin, the chairman of the independent sector of the Bus and Coach Council, appears in the most recent edition of Coaching. He was asked about long-distance coaching deregulation and he said:No, I was not happy about coach deregulation initially but I have changed my views now. Like anything else, we learnt to live with it and to adapt to change. Am I enthusiastic about the Bus Bill?that is the Bill that we are now consideringYes, I am. That is not just for the independents alone but for the good of the whole country. One part cannot do without the others anyway, so we have got to work together.That is the truth. The 1980 legislation was fought tooth and nail by many of the same Opposition Members who have fought this Bill, yet I have heard no one on Second Reading, in Committee or on Report suggest that we should reintroduce regulation for express coaches. Not even the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has suggested that. Passengers on local services deserve the same benefits. If we fail to act now, bus services will continue to decline. Other forms of transport, more successful in meeting the needs of the customer, will gain an even larger share of the total travel market. Those who would suffer from declining services would be those living in the four out of 10 households who do not have cars as well as the many other groups—for example, housewives, children and the elderly—who rely on the bus to get about.
1090 The Bill will give enterprise and competition the chance to serve the passenger. The Bill does not mean that safety standards will be put at risk. It does not mean that operators will be allowed to run dangerous or unreliable services. It does not mean an end to subsidy for uneconomic services in rural areas or anywhere else. It does not threaten the continuation of concessionary fares schemes, as we proved last night. Indeed, the return of a Labour Government would be the only threat to concessionary fares, and that is an extremely unlikely event.
The Bill has been fought tooth and nail by the vested interests. The Labour party in particular has tried to mislead the public by putting round scare stories. It will have spent vast sums of public money on its propaganda. However, the Bill as introduced contained virtually all the necessary safeguards. We have since introduced a number of further improvements, many of them in response to initiatives by my hon. Friends in Committee. We have, indeed, fashioned a better Bill.
The Opposition's performance in Committee and on Report has been lamentable. It has been predictably defensive and negative as well as incompetent. After 34 sittings in Committee and two days of debate on Report we still do not have an idea of the Opposition's policy towards the industry. Do they believe in a system of franchising like the Select Committee on Transport? They offer it as a policy tentatively and then shy away front it. Even the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich seemed to withdraw from it even further this evening. We must presume from what she said tonight that the Opposition want to retain the present system of restrictive licensing. They have not produced a scrap of evidence to show why a policy which has so patently failed the nation in the past offers any hope for the future. They have held up to us the model of the metropolitan areas where subsidy and Socialist planning are the guiding principles. Subsidy is used to make good the lack of efficiency and responsiveness which is now proved to be the result of a planned and protected system that has produced a financial burden that cannot be sustained by the nation.
The prime example of this is south Yorkshire. I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) is in his place because I am told constantly by him and his hon. Friends that the south Yorkshire public transport system is very popular with those who use it. I am not surprised. At 3p a mile it has to be the best bargain going. But of course it is an illusion. The south Yorkshire public transport system is not cheap. The costs per PTE bus mile are higher than those in any other metropolitan area, let alone the shire counties where costs per bus mile are lower still. But who pays? It is the ratepayer and the taxpayer. Some of the subsidy has, of course, come out of the rates and taxes of people who use the buses. For those people, the cheap fares are just a trick with mirrors. They have to pay far more in rates and taxes than they save on bargain fares. Most of the cost of fares support is paid by those who do not use the buses, but have no choice but to pay for them through their rates and taxes. In south Yorkshire only 23 per cent. of the costs of the public transport system are paid for directly by the users through their fares. The result is that people have lost the link between the services that they enjoy and their cost. That is a system in which the principal beneficiaries are the bus operators whose inefficiencies can be passed on to the ratepayer. This is objectionable in principle; the sums involved are not 1091 trifling. From south Yorkshire county council's inception in 1974 to the end of the financial year 1983–84, the cost of fares support has been £445 million. Let Labour Members laugh at that.
The cost has escalated from £4.8 million in 1974–75 to £79 million in 1984–85. Over the same period, south Yorkshire rates have had to rise from 17.8p to 83.3p in the pound. The taxpayer has pitched in more every year. This is money taken from ordinary taxpayers and ratepayers which could have been spent on improved living standards. It is money taken from businesses and industries in south Yorkshire, which can result only in loss of jobs. Killing industries and destroying jobs to provide cheap travel is a marvellous example of Socialism in action.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is here. In Strathclyde, we find the opposite policy—although these are both Socialist councils—of bus fares being deliberately kept high to protect rail services. The fare in south Yorkshire to travel three miles is lop; the equivalent fare in Strathclyde is 55p. Differences of that order distort the market and prevent the public from making the economic choices which suit them. It is the sort of madness that happens when Socialist planners rule supreme.
The Bill offers a better way forward—one which is sustainable and which the nation can afford. The challenge of competition is a challenge which we are confident that the industry will seize. We reject the negative ideas of those who can only suggest more regulation, more state ownership and more subsidy as a solution to the problems of the industry. There is no point in taking the easy option and tinkering at the margins with a system that has so clearly failed and less point still in the Labour party's policy of sitting on its hands and hoping for the best.
In this Bill, we have put forward a radical, imaginative and well-constructed package of measures to revitalise an ailing industry. The Bill is overwhelmingly in the interests of the travelling public. I confidently commend it to the House.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Let us be clear. Whatever the Bill is about, it is certainly not about improving facilities for the bus passenger. From the tired and rather bored performance that we have just had from the Secretary of State, we have assumed that it is about something much more simple—the prejudices of a Secretary of State who has probably never been on a bus in his life and assumes that to use public money to provide public services is wrong. He thinks that it is not wrong to use public money to provide something like Trident, but that it is wrong to use public money to make sure that anyone who wants to get to school, go shopping or get to work on time uses a bus. That obsession with and deep hatred of the need to provide proper state services are what the Bill is all about.
The Secretary of State has suddenly discovered that, for the past 30 years, public transport, especially bus services, has steadily declined. Between 1951 and 1981 the proportion of passenger miles travelled on the buses decreased from 41 per cent. to a mere 8 per cent. Ever downwards twists the spiral—cuts and public services on offer have forced the fortunate to invest in cars and deprived the unfortunate of any public transport.
1092 Action was long overdue. I suppose that the Government can rightly claim that this destructive trend must be reversed. Today we are debating their grand strategy for rolling back the shrinking frontiers of public transport. We could congratulate the Government on their determination, because they are only about 10 years too late. That is the time that has elapsed since Labour councils began successfully tackling the vital problem of decline. For the past decade, Labour local authorities have combined low fares, high service levels and investment in new technology and integration to free travellers and entice them out of their cars.
Since 1975, the south Yorkshire authority, which is so much the object of scorn of the Secretary of State, who has about as much commitment to transport as this desk has to intelligent conversation, has frozen fares and produced a real fall of 55 per cent. in the cost of public transport. The right hon. Gentleman never mentions that. The result has been a 10 per cent. increase in passenger journeys at a time when national bus patronage has declined by 23 per cent.
Tyne and Wear, which understands what integration is about, has invested a considerable amount of money in joining bus and rail in an effective system, producing a 10 per cent. increase in patronage when national patronage has declined by 11 per cent. Mersey county council has increased patronage by 20 per cent. following its 1981 12 per cent. fares cut. Today 75 per cent. of Liverpool city centre shoppers are using the public transport network to do their shopping. In west Yorkshire, the bus and rail fare structures have yielded benefits six times the cost of the changes. West Midlands PTE has combined integration and Travelcard schemes to hold up bus patronage by between 7 per cent. and 13 per cent. The GLC's Travelcard and low fares policies have increased demand for public transport by 16 per cent. while reducing car commuting by 10 per cent.
Anyone who thought that Conservatism was about learning from the lessons of the past and other people's experiences would be forgiven for assuming that the Government's master plan for reviving public transport would expand the benefits of Labour's success to the rest of the country. It is clear from looking at the White Paper on buses and at the Transport Bill that the Government have a very different idea of Conservatism and a different plan for the revival of public transport.
Of course, it is always possible to improve on the enormous success of Labour councils. It is even possible that this success can be improved on by a completely different method and approach, because that is supposedly what we are offered in the Bill. However, if there is to be a radically different approach to the decline, the Government have a responsibility to think carefully about the problems and alternatives.
Emergency action is all very well in a crisis, but when there is a clearly successful solution to the problem of decline, it is inexcusable to destroy policies without carefully considering how the alternatives will work. Yet that is exactly what is happening in this disastrous Bill. The Government threw out the normal procedure of consultation before publication of plans in a White Paper. When they did consult, the time allowed was often as short as two months, and those were the late summer months when staff shortages made it unlikely that either the local authorities or the transport undertakings — let alone 1093 individual travellers — would be able to give proper responses. Nevertheless, the responses poured in—more than 7,000 of them, and virtually all of them were hostile.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The Secretary of State must think the whole world is as blind, deaf and uncaring as him. Hon. Members who merely read their correspondence know what the responses were and that the right hon. Gentleman is utterly uninterested. It is of course possible that 7,000 people and innumerable organisations are wrong and that only the Secretary of State is right. He has argued throughout that everybody who opposes the Bill must be part of a vested interest. His definition of a vested interest was interesting and included the women's institutes, people in rural areas, local authorities, people who use buses to get their children to school, groups of women and people who work in the bus industry. My goodness, all these vested interests, all these appalling people who dare to need some form of public transport. That did not worry the Government. They ploughed ahead without any thought for anyone under any circumstances.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
And the all-party Select Committee on Transport, the majority of which opposed the substance of the Bill.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Another vested interest, as the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) says—a vested interest where Conservative Members are in the majority, people who dare to learn something about transport. Even worse, they dare to take information and evidence from people in the country who were appalled by the Bill. Of course we can dismiss the Select Committee. If we cannot dismiss the Select Committee's evidence, we can always rubbish the Chairman on the basis that he exercised the Chairman's right to ensure that the report was printed in the proper way.
The Government were not concerned about the general public or anybody interested in the Bill. They nevertheless had some difficulties, and publication was delayed. During the three months in Committee that followed, it became clear that the Government had not bothered to consider any of their theories in detail. It was not until the Committee's 32nd sitting that the Government realised the glaring holes in their plans for concessionary fares. It was not until Report that the Government decided that they must ban co-operation between British Rail and Strathclyde passenger transport executive. The Bill is so ill considered that, after the consideration of 125 amendments in Committee, of which 122 were tabled by the Government, they had to introduce 136 amendments and new clauses on Report just to shore up the more glaring inconsistencies and drafting errors.
Far worse than that, however, the Government have not accepted one amendment which would improve local authorities' ability to pay for concessionary fares. Nor have they accepted one amendment today which would give people who have worked, or who currently work, in the bus industry any guarantee about their pension entitlement. It is a good job that there are controls on parliamentary language, or I should call that an outright fraud.
For any Government to treat people in the bus industry as the Secretary of State is treating them in regard to their 1094 pension entitlement is a disgrace of which any civilised Government should be ashamed. Still the Secretary of State is not prepared to accept the genuine worries of current pensioners, those who will have to make the system work after the National Bus Company disappears or those who will have to find a decent pension entitlement.
A policy which ignores proven success in transport management and is not even considered in detail is highly unlikely to succeed. It is always conceivable that the Government have come up with a general theory so powerful and persuasive that, despite all its flaws, it will slot into the system and produce the enormous success about which we have heard so much throughout the Committee stage. If that is true, the Government have a responsibility to tell us why the policy is not to be applied to the capital city. Few people realise that we have a Secretary of State who on the one hand says, "The only way that we shall have an effective transport system ts to produce open competition, to remove subsidies, to act on the basis of wholly inadequate schemes, such as the Hereford trial area, and to proceed on the basis that open competition is the answer.", and on the other says, "The capital city will be excluded from all the advantages that are inherent in the Bill." What hypocrisy!
If this is such a good transport measure, why will the people of London not get the same advantages as the people in my rural area? Why will the people of London not be deprived, as we shall be? Why will they not be subjected to the same pressure? In case it is believed that somewhere along the line there must have been a great demonstration, it should be known that none of the experiments carried out under the 1980 transport legislation was conducted in Scotland. It is interesting that the Scottish Consumer Council, in its comments on the White Paper, observed that while itnormally sees great merit in increasing competitionthere is no practical experience in Scotland of the deregulation being proposed.
According to the Scottish Consumer Council,to move from a position of total regulation to total deregulation … The risks are high, and the consequences of failure could be costly.No wonder my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) probed the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in Committee about the Strathclyde predicament after deregulation. His ministerial colleague went off the track when he answered the question about the future of the Blackpool trams. It is hardly surprising that he left us in considerable doubt about whether the Government understand what will happen, even in their areas.
There is considerable doubt whether the proposals for the Strathclyde buses and the financial safeguards for Glasgow's underground system will be adequate. There are unsatisfactorily answered queries about the three municipal bus services in Scotland—Lothian, Grampian and Tayside. The Government even managed to miss out concessions on the ferries, which is of some importance in Scotland, although they promised us that somewhere along the line they would do something about it.
§ Mr. Ancram
If the hon. Lady had read the amendments tabled tonight and passed by the House, she would have found that we had done something for the ferries and the airways to the islands.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I am glad that on Report the Minister has suddenly discovered that he has ferries and islands other than those which he knew of in Committee. Only when my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill raised the Bill's implications did the Minister realise that there were difficulties about concessionary fares. We are glad that even now, at the last minute, the Minister has got round to doing something about that.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Will my hon. Friend make the point to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that he has wholly failed to persuade the Conservative administration in Lothian of the merits of the measure, and that the chairman of the transport committee and the leader of the council remain opposed to the measure, which will do immense damage to the bus service in Edinburgh?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Lothian is not unusual in that. The Bill is not being greeted with wild acclaim by Conservatives, especially not by those in the country who know something about the provision of transport. They recognise the basic fallacy. According to the Government, the decline in the number of bus passengers is due entirely to regulation, not to the rise in car ownership, nor to other problems. They believe that regulation is the great difficulty. In the 1985—
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I knew that I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman. Had he paid more attention to our proceedings, he would have known what the Bill was about.
With the Transport Bill 1985, the Government have boldly set out to conquer regulation once and for all. However, they will create even more anomalies. While buses are deregulated, British Rail routes will be converted to regulated bus routes. The most glaring inconsistency is that London Regional Transport—which the Secretary of State believes represents everything that is bad in public transport—is exempted from the immediate effects of the Bill. The Government believe that the transport system that most urgently requires attention could not survive the surgeon's knife of deregulation. It is an extraordinary theory, and it makes nonsense of everything that we have been told during the passage of the Bill.
It is important for hon. Members to understand how the Government have managed, where so many others have failed, to understand that the problems of bus services are not unacceptably high fares, the fact that in many areas buses do not arrive at the correct time, or the lack of timetabling or integration to link buses and trains; the only appalling problem is the evil of regulation.
The Government cannot have come to that conclusion by considering the systems in other countries. The only place where anything like this system has been tried is Santiago, in Chile. Even there it took seven years to achieve its objectives, not one year as the Bill proposes. Furthermore, in Santiago, every operator is obliged to continue providing the service that he initiated as long as even one passenger asks for the route to be retained. I regret that neither I nor the Government can tell the House 1096 whether the scheme is popular, because the Chilean Government have methods of ensuring public acceptance of their schemes which even this Government have not yet managed to implement.
We must understand that the deregulation of coach services, which is what the Government have proposed throughout the passage of the Bill, is not the panacea that has been suggested. As the Select Committee on Transport said, allowing coaches to compete with the rail service deprived British Rail of £7.5 million a year—money that had to be found from transport support. In addition, the NBC was planning a major expansion of coach services before deregulation was proposed.
We always hear about the trial areas, and the Government's attitude to them is interesting. The Transport and Road Research Laboratory concluded that in Norfolk the changes were due to financial restriction, and that in Devon the results of the exercise were disappointing. Only in Hereford do the Government see any evidence in support of deregulation. However, the chaos and panic in Hereford were an example of what happens when a transport system is changed without proper regard for the things that matter.
The Bill will be a disaster for the transport industry. It is not based on careful thought, and it will not improve the lot of the bus passenger. It was not conceived by a Government who care about those who use buses. It is something much simpler. The system was evolved because the Government had one aim in mind—the desire to destroy the entire bus service and to save money. That was the point at which they began. First, they asked themselves, "How can we cut the bus subsidy?" They discovered that the easiest way was to deprive the country of buses; the easiest way to do that was to deregulate and to say, "Competition will provide a good, planned transport system, and we need not give subsidies to local authorities or to other operators."
Within a short time the House and the country will see the real effects of the plans that the Secretary of State has in mind. It is not surprising that so little support can be found in the country. It is not surprising that the effects of the Bill have been felt even before it has reached the statute book. It played a major part in the results of the shire county elections, and Conservative Members know it. They have become exceedingly edgy. The longer the Committee went on and the more that the absolute disasters of the Bill became clear to Back-Bench Conservative Members, the greater was the loss of support.
Not even the Secretary of State can pretend that he has any friends in the House of Commons. However, what frightens us is something much more important. In destroying the bus system, he will discover that he has no friends in the country. As always, the cost will be borne not by him and his friends, but by the people. His name will be remembered as probably the most destructive Secretary of State for Transport that we have ever had.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Before I call Back-Bench Members, I should say that, unfortunately, there are only 15 minutes left for Back-Bench speeches, so I ask for brief contributions.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
As I said on Second Reading, some competition is desirable in the bus industry because all is not well, and I accept that. However, this measure is far too drastic. Some regulation is still vital. Unfortunately, co-ordination, planning and integration are all left out of the Bill.
Possibly the greatest mistake is that registration has gone to the commissioners, not to the county councils. I believe that that will prove to be an error. Undoubtedly the Secretary of State had representations from Hereford and Worcester county council that registration should have been with the council. After all, that case has been quoted to us time after time, but it was decided to give registration to the commissioners. That will lead to all sorts of problems.
Despite what the Under-Secretary said on amendment No. 87, moved by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), I still believe that comprehensive competitive tendering is preferable to a total free-for-all. Unfortunately, due to the guillotine, we have not even debated the taxi clauses. They are nightmarish and not properly thought through. They will mean many more problems for local authorities, let alone the police, who will be called in to prevent the fights and fisticuffs on many taxi stands in the months and years ahead.
My hon. Friends and I are not dogmatically opposed to privatisation, but the units into which the National Bus Company is likely to be split must be large enough. It is wrong for the Secretary of State not to give us adequate assurances on pensions, which should have been written into the Bill. He has a direct responsibility, and he knows full well that not just those presently employed in the industry but the retired busmen and their widows are affected, and those are the people who are coming to see us at our surgeries on Saturday mornings. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman follow the example of the water authorities? When the National Water Council was wound up, I believe that the Yorkshire water authority took over responsibility for the pensions of those employed in the water industry. I cannot understand why that cannot be done. The pension scheme should be maintained in its entirety.
The Under-Secretary talked about the No. 11 bus, and how long he has to wait, if he ever gets on it, and said that three or four would come together. He suggested that if London were blessed with the benefits of the Bill, the operators of those buses would be fined if they did not run to time. I wonder whether the Secretary of State has looked up Whitehall or down Millbank in the past three days. It has been totally jammed. At times one can count up to 40 coaches, if not more, and buses galore. How on earth can there be any freedom of bus services in London if he does nothing to deal with congestion?
The greatest gift that the Secretary of State could bestow on the nation, apart from leaving office, would be to tackle the congestion in our towns and cities. That is the real problem, and the Government should have tackled it when they first came to power. There will now be even greater delays. Any criticism of south Yorkshire pales into insignificance compared with the cost in time and money of the hours spent waiting to get through Earls Court or Wandsworth and similar areas in other cities. Until the 1098 Government tackle that problem they will never get their system to work. That is what is wrong with the Bill—the Secretary of State has got his priorities all wrong.
§ Mr. Fry
The Select Committee report was being decided when the Bill when into Standing Committee, and it has made a significant contribution to the debates. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) shouted, "Vested interests" when the Select Committee was mentioned earlier, and I have no doubt that she was getting at me. If she and others would read the report and study the voting in the Divisions, they would know that only twice did a Conservative Member vote with the Opposition. On one occasion the Conservative Member was myself and on the other it was my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan). In one Division after another, several Conservative Members agreed with the majority view. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster would also discover that at no time did I vote on any clause in connection with the NBC. Moreover, I consistently voted in support of the local authority role, although the NBC did not approve of it. I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on that.
Briefly, because I put my name to the Select Committee report and because I believe in that report, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not be surprised to hear that I cannot support him in the Lobby today. I said on Second Reading that if the Bill were sufficiently amended I would consider voting for it in its later stages but that otherwise I would have to vote against it. Because I put my name to the Select Committee report, because I am concerned about pensions, about tendering and about the role of local authorities, I hope that I am wrong and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right, but as I believe that the Bill is based too much on theory and not enough on practice I have great fears on that score and I regret to have to tell my right hon. Friend that I shall be voting against Third Reading.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It may be for the convenience of the House if I repeat that the Under-Secretary of State will seek to rise at 9.50 pm. Perhaps hon. Members will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
Unlike those who considered the Transport Act 1980, members of the Standing Committee on this Bill had the benefit of hindsight. In 1980 we could only predict but the record of those debates shows that all that has happened in the succeeding five years was predicted in detail at that time. In the 34 sittings of the Standing Committee on this Bill, my hon. Friends had the benefit of being able to refer to the Hereford and Worcester trial areas and to other experiences such as the case of Yeowarts in west Cumbria, the way in which the Minister overruled the traffic commissioner and the two appeals to the divisional court and the higher court to try to remove Yeowarts from the streets of Whitehaven.
In considering the Bill we should also consider the consistency shown by political parties on these matters. For the past three months, there has been a clear deception going on in British politics. We know where the Tories stand. They stand firmly for deregulation and they have 1099 advocated it at every stage of the Bill. We know where Labour Members stand. We are wholeheartedly against the principle of deregulation and my hon. Friends drew attention to that throughout the 34 sittings of the Standing Committee.
There remains another force in British politics—the Liberal party. It has been involved in a cruel deception. If one looks at the record of the Liberal party on deregulation—one finds it in the amendments and new clauses tabled on the Transport Bill 1980 when we discussed trial areas and the principle of deregulation—one sees that on every occasion the Liberal party voted with the Government in support of deregulation. I have here the new clauses and the amendments that were moved on that occasion.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman would do well to refer to the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. Penhaligon) who said about trial areas and deregulation on that occasion that, on the whole, the proposals outlined by the Government were reasonable and would do no harm, although only time would tell what good they would do.
The Liberals have supported deregulation. They voted against new clause 6 in the 1980 Act: carriage services competing with operators holding road service licences. The new clause would have prevented contract carriage services from starting up on revenue-supported routes without the approval of the traffic commissioners and the revenue-support-paying local authorities. During the proceedings in 1980 on the Transport Bill the Liberal spokesman advocated and voted for—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
On that occasion, the Liberals voted in the clause stand part debate in favour of a measure to set up trial areas and deregulation. Every hon. Member knows that it was because of the Government's experience in the trial areas that a national deregulation policy is to be introduced. The position of the Liberal party must be closely identified with that of the Government. When these matters are examined up and down the country, people would do well to stick to the facts and recognise that it is only in the form of parliamentary debates—
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
The hon. Gentleman has spoken repeatedly tonight and he features repeatedly in the record of the Committee proceedings.
I believe that the Labour party is entitled to set the record straight. The people of this country need to know the truth. The truth is that the Liberals support deregulation. They stand with the Tories. They supported trial areas. They supported the measures contained in the 1980 Act, which will lead to this monstrous piece of legislation being carried tonight by the Government.
§ Mr. Colin Shepherd
It is not often that I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), but I have to remark on the 1100 duplicitous attitude of the Liberal party towards the Bill. I have lived for four years with the trial area in Hereford. The people of Herefordshire like what they have been living with for the past four years. [Interruption.] That is exactly the response I expected to get from Liberal Members. It may interest them to know that through the officers of the city council they have tried their damnedest to torpedo the trial area but not one Liberal councillor—and it is a Liberal-controlled city council— has gone into print and said that he disapproves of it. The Liberals dare not do so because they know that the people of Hereford like it.
May I also take to task the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). She has spoken about this being an election issue. It was not an election issue. During the county council elections this issue was not raised.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I know that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) came to Hereford and did his best for his party, but it did not do it much good. This issue was not raised on the doorsteps a great deal. It was not given the prominence that we had expected and that would have been justified by the amount of money spent by the Labour party in Lancashire. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich must recognise that the £130,000 of ratepayers' money that was spent in Lancashire counted for not one jot or tittle when it came to counting the votes. They lost control.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there were two principal issues in Hereford and Worcester in the election — education and transport? There are far too many empty buses in the city, while in the rural areas of the border counties of England and Wales there are almost no buses. The officers of the city and all the parties are opposed to the proposals.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. He might have heard what he wanted to hear, but I was listening with my ears out on stalks. The people of Hereford are determined that competition will continue in their streets. They have even sent me petitions to that effect. The buses are running in rural areas and more people are being served every bit as well as they have been served previously, on balance. That was shown in the report by the School of Advanced Urban Studies at Bristol university, but that dispassionate advice has been disregarded by the Opposition.
The country can take confidence from the lessons that have been learnt in Hereford. We are not seeking to duplicate precisely what happened there. My hon. Friends can take comfort from the fact that what we have learnt we have incorporated in the Bill. A new challenge is facing the industry—it is a constructive challenge; a reversal of trends. We will see more and more innovations as time goes on, which can only be to the benefit of the travelling public.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
Almost the only matter upon which the House has agreed during our lengthy debates on the Bill has been the vital importance for many of our 1101 fellow citizens of the bus services of this country, particularly for the pensioners, the students and the lower-paid travelling to and from work.
The debates have taken place against the background of an industry in a state of chronic decline. Thirty years ago 42 per cent. of all journeys were by bus. Today the figure is only 8 per cent. During the past 10 years there has been a 28 per cent. fall in the number of people travelling by bus. At the same time there has been a loss of jobs in the industry, which I should have thought would have worried Opposition Members; it certainly worries Conservative Members.
The National Bus Company alone lost 10,000 jobs between 1969 and 1972, another 500 by 1975, another 6,000 by 1978, another 11,000 by 1981 and another 2,000 by 1983. The industry is in chronic decline; the number of jobs in it is reducing. The Labour party's answer is simply to go on increasing subsidies — subsidies that have risen in 10 years from £10 million to no less than £522 million of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money. It is against that background that any Government who failed to take action would rightly incur the wrath of the country as the bus industry became a sunset industry.
The cause of the decline had been local monopoly and easy subsidy.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I shall give the hon. Lady an example of just how easy some of that subsidy is. I shall quote a bus operator, who said:I know an operator in the Fens who runs a daily village service which may carry one passenger per week. He is keeping quiet, running his vehicle and drawing his subsidy. I, as part of a larger subsidised service, had an early morning run which never carried a single passenger.That is an example of easy subsidy.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
The hon. Gentleman has spent almost the entire Committee stage producing bits of gossip with no names and no evidence. No one will believe him. If he cannot do better than that, he had better start again.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I am delighted to give the hon. Lady the reference—the magazine Coachmart of 12 April 1985. Monopolies protect operators from the normal business pressures to keep down costs, to become efficient and to attract the customers. Because there is no alternative service to which one can go, a monopoly automatically has those effects. Indeed, if one looks at the pecking order of inefficiency, one goes from the PTEs to the National Bus Company and, the most efficient of all, the private sector.
It is not without importance that we have learnt during the passage of the Bill of the 25 per cent. improvement in productivity that the Midland Red Bus Company achieved when it was faced with competition. It is not without significance that we learnt that in Norfolk it was possible to obtain for £150,000 the services which had previously cost £500,000. That is the scale of savings that can be achieved when competition is introduced.
One is not surprised that an industry in this form, trapped and cocooned in monopoly and subsidy, has had a 30 per cent. increase in its fares above the rate of inflation in the last 10 years. Those 10 years have seen the move from two-man operation to one-man operation in the bus industry and should have seen a reduction in costs; yet the fares have increased 30 per cent. more than the rise in the cost of living. For those reasons, it is right that the 1102 Government should seek to tackle the problem by bringing the monopolies to an end and introducing competition. That is the main purpose of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich asked again why this did not apply to London. I reassure her that Londoners will soon enjoy the advantages of the Bill, as will the rest of the country. The hon. Lady, carrying on her campaign of distortion, said that the Bill provided a free-for-all. That is another distortion because she knows perfectly well that the Bill is based upon a considerable number of requirements to comply with regulations, such as those relating to registration. I will quote from the nicely named "Hitchhiker's guide to the Transport Bill" produced by the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive. It calls itself "Benny's Buses", and it states:We run when it suits us.That is another example of the scare-a-day and the distortion to which the Bill has been subjected.
A failure to run a registered service when it is registered will result in penalties falling upon the operators. We have been told of these endless scares and of the cowboy operators and unsafe vehicles, yet every operator will need an operator's licence and must have servicing facilities available for his vehicles. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman says that I have never been on a bus. Not only have I been on buses, but I have been on buses in Hereford. [Interruption.] I found that the people of Hereford would not go back to a monopoly.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Predictably the debate has illustrated the fundamental division in our political life between those who believe in regulation, state planning and public sector monopoly and those on the Government Benches who believe in the benefits of competition and putting the customer first. It is the customer, the bus passenger, who will benefit from the Bill. I invite the House to give it a Third Reading.
§ Dr. Marek
The Minister said that he had been on a bus in Hereford. I am pleased that he had, because the opportunity of doing that will not be available to him—[Interruption.] — for much longer. The Hereford experiment has not been a success. There is no competition in Hereford any longer, except on one route, no new routes have been established—
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
I missed the point that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd)— -It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the order [1 April] and the resolution yesterday, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair. 1103 Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 246, Noes 170.
|Division No. 221]||[10 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Hayhoe, Barney|
|Alexander, Richard||Hayward, Robert|
|Amess, David||Henderson, Barry|
|Ancram, Michael||Hickmet, Richard|
|Arnold, Tom||Hicks, Robert|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Hind, Kenneth|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Hirst, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Benyon, William||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Best, Keith||Holt, Richard|
|Body, Richard||Hordern, Peter|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Irving, Charles|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Jackson, Robert|
|Burt, Alistair||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Butcher, John||Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (Wton S)||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Cash, William||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Chope, Christopher||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Key, Robert|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Coombs, Simon||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Cope, John||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Crouch, David||Knowles, Michael|
|Dicks, Terry||Knox, David|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lamont, Norman|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lang, Ian|
|Dunn, Robert||Latham, Michael|
|Durant, Tony||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Fallon, Michael||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Farr, Sir John||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Favell, Anthony||Lester, Jim|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Lightbown, David|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Lilley, Peter|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Forth, Eric||Lord, Michael|
|Fox, Marcus||Luce, Richard|
|Franks, Cecil||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Freeman, Roger||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Gale, Roger||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Maclean, David John|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Madel, David|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Malins, Humfrey|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Malone, Gerald|
|Gow, Ian||Maples, John|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Marland, Paul|
|Greenway, Harry||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Gregory, Conal||Mather, Carol|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Grist, Ian||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Grylls, Michael||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Mellor, David|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Hannam, John||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Harris, David||Mills, lain (Mariden)|
|Harvey, Robert||Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael||Moate, Roger|
|Hawksley, Warren||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Hayes, J.||Monro, Sir Hector|
§ Question accordingly agreed to. Bill read the Third time, and passed.