§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Front Bench spokesman, I must tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
§ 4.6 pm
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I beg to move,That this House condemns the loss of essential services to the public in rural, suburban and urban areas by the failure of the 1985 Transport Act and bus de-regulation; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to repeal the 1985 Act and to replace it with legislation designed to put the social and economic needs of the community and the travelling public in the forefront of public transport policy.I am sure that the House will join me in wishing the Secretary of State a happy birthday. I am only sorry that today's debate will disrupt and spoil his birthday celebrations. Having said that, I wish to comment on the origins of the 1985 Act.
On 12 February 1985 the then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), in moving the Second Reading of the 1985 Transport Bill, set out the purpose of the measure. He said at column 192 of Hansard that the objective of the Bill was competition, providing an incentive for better services and providing better services and lower fares. Later, he anticipated that there would be considerable savings to ratepayers and to the public purse. The Minister of State went further in claiming major savings in Lancashire. I shall return to that in a moment.
In Committee the Minister of State said that another purpose of the Bill was to create new businesses.I do not know how far all the objectives of the Secretary of State have been met. He claimed that the Act would produce more helpful and polite drivers on the buses. I do not know whether that has been achieved, but the helpfulness has been the other way round. In Tyne and Wear, for example, it is not uncommon for passengers to guide the drivers around the routes. The passengers are being helpful to the driver, not the other way round.
As for the other criteria laid down by the Secretary of State, I can tell him that, without a shadow of doubt, the Act has been an abject failure. How could it be otherwise? Twelve months after his Second Reading speech the former Secretary of State told the annual dinner of the Bus and Coach Council:The result of the 1985 Act was that operators were now free to conduct their businesses free from the constraints of a social conscience.Of course, by then, the Act was safely on the statute book. We are entitled to conclude that, on that occasion, the Secretary of State was being less economical with the truth than he was on Second Reading, but we should be grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's candour. He clearly let the cat out of the bag.
The effect of the Act is simple. Those who depend upon public transport—the elderly, those with personal mobility problems, women and children on large housing estates and those who live in rural areas—are being sacrificed in the pursuit of profit. Indeed, all the evidence 278 shows that the position will become worse as the months go by. The Office of Fair Trading has already received 50 complaints of unfair competition, and I understand that a test case is being prepared.
§ Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)
The hon. Gentleman said, "as the months go by". Does he recognise that the Act has been in force only since the end of October? Is it not premature to make such comments until we have received all the evidence?
§ Mr. Hughes
Since the Act was put on the statute book Ministers have said, at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere, that we should wait until 26 October to see what would happen. We now know what has happened. There is no longer a need to predict. I shall deal with exactly what has been happening and allow the Secretary of State to answer the case. Unfortunately, lack of time prevents me from going through every piece of evidence which has been submitted to me. Therefore, I shall have to give a snapshot of what has been happening, but many of my hon. Friends will give more detailed analyses from their areas.
Let us first consider the level of service, about which the evidence is clear. Services in the early morning and in the evening have been drastically cut. On Saturdays and Sundays, services have almost disappeared in many areas. I am told that, in Derbyshire, the villages of Froggatt, Hassop, Pentrich, Twyford, Thulston and Coombs now have no services at all, where they previously had services. There are complaints that hospital visiting has become much more difficult and that visits must be curtailed because of cuts in services and frequency.
In Kettering, a perfectly good bus station has been closed because the county council reduced its subsidy to the National Bus Company subsidiary. The result is that passengers must queue outside in the rain—they will soon have to queue outside in the snow—while a perfectly good station remains empty. Far from being satisfied with the service, the public are dissatisfied. In Lancashire there have been 12,000 telephone calls of complaint and requests for information during the three weeks since bus deregulation day.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for an hon. Member who is leading for the Opposition deliberately to mislead the House when he knows perfectly well——
§ Mr. Hughes
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. There will be ample opportunity for the hon. Lady to answer the case that I shall put and to deny the information that I have given.
Tyne and Wear has received more than 1,000 telephone calls a day—complaints and requests for information. Bus Watch, which is an independent monitoring group and which has among its members the National Union of Townswomen's Guilds and the National Federation of Women's Institutes—bodies which are not subsidiaries 279 of the Labour party, although the Minister might level that charge against some others—has been inundated with letters of complaint. I have some of them with me.
I expect that the Secretary of State will say, "It is all right for the Opposition to concentrate purely on the problems. Why do they not mention some of the success stories?" I have looked very hard for success stories, but I have found none. I wonder whether the Secretary of State can conjure up some success stories. Will he quote Glasgow as a success story? There are plenty of buses plying the streets of Glasgow—so many that they cannot move. The town is chock-a-block because of traffic congestion. The same is true of Newcastle, where the congestion caused by buses at some times of the day and in some parts of the city has been aggravated by a major switch back to the use of private cars.
Perhaps the Secretary of State will argue that, despite the problems, the deleterious effects of deregulation have been offset by fare reductions. Again, the facts reveal a different picture. Bus fares have increased because of direct increases and because of different travel patterns. Many people must take two or three buses to complete a journey for which they previously needed only one bus, so they have to pay twice or three times. A constituent of mine aged 63 wrote to tell me that his three-month season ticket has increased in price from £50 to £78, which is more than a 50 per cent. increase. What is worse, the new City Ride ticket does not cover the same distance as he used to travel. He has to pay again to use a different bus because another company running on that route will not accept his season ticket. When he asked what he could do about it he was told, "That is all right. You need walk only three quarters of a mile from the end of your journey to your place of work."
Many other examples could be quoted. However, perhaps the Secretary of State's last line of defence will be that the loss of services and the fare increases are offset by savings to the ratepayers. On 8 July this year the Minister of State said in press release No. 374, headed "David Mitchell welcomes bus tendering success in Lancashire":As a direct result of the Government's new policy of competitive tendering for local bus services, Lancashire County Council has cut its planned spending from £8.3 million to £2.5 million this year—a 70 per cent. saving for broadly the same level of services.On reading that press report one can almost feel the self-satisfaction oozing from the Minister of State. Unfortunately, he got it wrong. I received a letter from the leader of Lancashire county council, Councillor Louise Ellman——
§ Mr. Hughes
—in which she said:On the financial side, Mr. Mitchell's statement about E5 million savings for Lancashire this year are clearly ridiculous. No such saving is envisaged even on the low tenders received and we will have to add to the current bill to remedy some of the problems already identified. I see that Mr. Mitchell has recently (in an interview on Radio Lancashire) re-worded his assertion to state that we will be saving £5 million next year. This projection is equally wrong.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
If the hon. Gentleman checked the facts, he would know that that is the annualised rate of saving that is envisaged in Lancashire. I entirely accept that 280 between now and the end of the financial year there will not be the full £5 million savings, but they will be of that order during a full year.
§ Mr. Hughes
The bullish demeanour of the Minister of State in the press release is not borne out by what he said elsewhere. At a meeting of transport professionals he said that the apparent savings this year may not be repeated next year. He must make up his mind on where he stands. He may challenge the accuracy of that statement, but I have in my pocket the Department of Transport official minute of the meeting, stating exactly what he said. Consequently, the Minister must make up his mind. Are there savings, this year, next year, or not at all? In reality, he is all at sea, and at sixes and sevens.
There is no evidence anywhere else in the country for cost savings. For example, Fife county council has increased its expenditure by £400,000 a year and has sent the bill to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is in the Chamber, and perhaps he has the cheque for the money in his pocket. Oxfordshire has increased its expenditure from £500,000 to £700,000. Derbyshire expects a 20 per cent. cost increase. Consequently, the Government cannot rebut the facts by claiming savings in other areas. I accept that some savings can be demonstrated, but they are often the result of the creative accounting that the Government allowed for in the legislation.
We know, for example, that many of the loan debts of the previous public transport undertakings were left with the local councils, and so it would appear that some of the new companies are more viable and commercially profitable than they are. Indeed, can the Secretary of State tell us how much of the debt was dealt with in that way? As I have said, the Minister of State has rebutted his own case when it comes to savings. Thus, all the agony faced by passengers, by the 9,000 who have lost their jobs with passenger transport authorities, the 9,000 who have lost their jobs in the NBC, and the agony of those still employed who have had to take wage cuts of up to £20 to £30 a week and who face much worse conditions, has had to be borne for, at best, transitory savings, and, at worst, illusory savings.
I turn briefly to another aspect of the 1985 Act—the privatisation of the NBC. In the interest of time, I shall not give all the quotations that I could give from letters or from Hansard, but I asked the Secretary of State how many of the NBC subsidiaries had been sold, the price that they were sold for, and what their assets were. He replied that he was not prepared to make that information available, and that in due course he would tell us the aggregate amount for the sales.
We exchanged correspondence on that point. The Secretary of State said that while the sales were going on it would be damaging to give the information that I sought, as it would make it more difficult to sell the other companies. That confirms that the Secretary of State has sold off, or given away, those companies just because he is obsessed with the ideology of privatising public assets. There can be no other explanation. If he had obtained a good price for them, he would have been keen to make that known, as it would have helped his negotiations. Worse, he said in his letter to me that he would never tell the 281 House or the public what the individual sale price of any company would be. He said that he would tell us only the aggregate amount from those sales.
If the Secretary of State was the managing director of a private company and told the annual shareholders meeting that he would not tell them what he had obtained individually for all the companies that he had sold, he would be out of his job so fast that his feet would not touch the ground. He has a duty to the House and to the public to come clean about the facts. On previous occasions we have been told to wait and see before going off at half cock about fears and worries. Well, we now know the facts. The Secretary of State also knows them. His reaction to the facts was shown in a speech that he made to the Institution of Civil Engineers on 20 November. That speech was breathtaking in its complacency. The only part of it that I could agree with was when he complimented those who had to do the work of preparing for deregulation. I accept that they have done a tremendous amount of work, in very difficult circumstances.
In his speech the Secretary of State said:the legislation that we have put in place for the change is clearly generally working well.The right hon. Gentleman concluded by telling the people involved that he hopedyou will look back on these times with some pleasure and some sense of achievement".I was too kind when I said that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was breathtaking in its complacency. It showed that his spell in the Treasury did him a lot of harm. There he learnt that two half truths make a whole truth, and that is the basis of his policy.
The evidence shows that the 1985 Act has failed, and that is why our motion calls on the Government to repeal it. There are no practical obstacles to doing so. The Secretary of State has plenty of time, as the Department of Transport's legislative programme is the lightest that I have ever known. The Department's only Bill, the Pilotage Bill, is starting life in the other place. If the Secretary of State will accept the repeal of the 1985 Act, I can promise him the Opposition's co-operation in speeding that repeal through. Furthermore, we offer to draft the Bill for him. We cannot be fairer than that.
The principles of that legislation will be based on service to the customer, provided by directly elected local transport authorities. The local transport authorities will be charged with the responsibility of producing and executing plans for the integration of bus and rail transport. The plans will be concerned with the needs of the customer and will cater for those in society who have special needs. The plans will ensure that the services are provided at reasonable fares that people can afford.
The legislation will ensure the widest possible local consultation on the needs of the locality, and will take account of the social fabric of the society in which we live. The legislation will restore local decision making and local democracy when it comes to transport needs and to determining the socially necessary financial support for maintaining those services.
From my travels up and down the country it is clear that a great deal of local initiative and innovation have been stifled by the 1985 Act. Those concerned desperately wish to be free of the constraints with which they are now saddled. I do not expect that the Government will take up our very generous offer to assist in the repeal of the 1985 Act, but we will repeal it, and we shall restore the concept 282 of public service to our transport undertakings. For the Labour party, a social conscience is not a constraint: it is a stimulus to action. That will be the hallmark of our transport policy in government.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John Moore)
I beg to move, to leave out from 'House' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:'congratulates the Government on its radical measures to arrest the long running decline of the bus industry by abolishing outdated controls and creating the conditions in which competition, innovation and enterprise can flourish and provide better bus services, whilst at the same time enabling local authorities to obtain value for money in subsidising socially necessary services, thereby putting the social and economic needs of the community and of the travelling public in the forefront of public transport policy.'.Before beginning the main thrust of my speech, I should like to respond to one or two of the points made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). My hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond to sonic of the other points at the end of the debate. However, I must say that many of the points made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North were made in his normal measured style.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the National Bus Corporation, and the House has a legitimate interest in accountability for public money. He was right, in that the letter that I sent to him on 31 October says:because it involves the sale of a large number of similar bodies over an extended period.But it might have helped if the hon. Gentleman had continued the quotation. The letter continues:The price of any individual sale, if published now, could in my view, and in the view of the Chairman of the NBC, prejudice negotiations with those who are interested in future purchases.The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North may not be aware that I once had the privilege of serving on the Public Accounts Committee. Although we need to protect confidentiality to ensure that the proper benefits go to the taxpayer, the information must be regularly made available to the National Audit Office, and so to the PAC, which has arrangements for conserving commercial confidentiality. The hon. Gentleman is a fair man, and I know that he would want me to make the House aware of that.
Again, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North was very fair in drawing my attention to remarks made by my predecessor. I thank him for his courtesy and for his reference to my birthday, although perhaps one does not really want to spend one's birthday standing at the Dispatch Box. However, he drew my attention to two of my predecessor's speeches, and said that he would mention them. On 11 February 1986, my predecessor spoke to the Bus and Coach Council. He referred to operators having the freedom to manage their businesses without the constraints of a social conscience. That was fairly quoted by the hon. Gentleman, but he neglected to turn over the page. My predecessor referred not simply to the role of management, but to decisions about social needs by local authorities. That was the other side—the legitimate side—of the problem.
The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the Second Reading of the Transport Bill when my predecessor mentioned the things that he thought competition would provide—an incentive to be efficient and offering 283 passengers a better quality of service. The hon. Gentleman neglected to quote my predecessor fully. The precise phrase used by my predecessor was:The customers may want greater efficiency, lower fares, smaller buses going into residential estates, greater comfort or a more polite and helpful driver."—[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 192.]I am simply making it clear that that reference was made in relation to the legitimate desire of the customers. I wished to put the whole quotation on the record.
I shall try not be be extensive in my remarks because this will obviously be an interesting debate, because clearly it will illuminate the fundamental differences between the parties. I fully accept that fact. I will not accept the offer made on behalf of the Opposition by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North to assist in the repeal of the legislation. The debate will show again that Labour is trapped in its past. Labour Members are incapable of meeting modern problems. They have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Under Labour—should the party obtain office—bus users, like everyone else, will not be allowed to decide what they need and want. The planners and bureaucrats will decide for them.
The Labour party sees no future for the bus industry other than ever-increasing subsidies and ever-declining services. We must contrast that Labour defeatism with the bold measures that we have taken. We have made the most radical changes in the bus industry for 50 years. We have removed the out-dated controls that were crippling the industry, and instead we have sought to create the maximum possible potential for innovation and efficiency. At the same time, we have sought to safeguard the provision of socially worthwhile, but commercially unprofitable, routes.
After hearing the hon. Gentleman's speech, we must ask why it was necessary to be so radical. First, the bus industry has been in decline for 30 years whichever party was in office. Secondly, bus usage has halved since 1955—that is a fact. Thirdly, the bus share of the travel market has also dropped from 38 per cent. to a mere 8 per cent. in the same period. Fourthly, in the past 10 years, bus fares have risen 24 per cent. in real terms, and risen 19 per cent. more than motoring costs. Fifthly, within the same 10 years, local services declined by 15 per cent. and employment dropped by 22 per cent.
Those are the facts of an industry trapped in a spiral of decline. I recognise that that decline was not due to a lack of support from taxpayers and ratepayers. Quite the contrary. Subsidies to support the industry's losses grew in real terms from £20 million in 1970 to over £½ billion in 1985. There were increasing subsidies, decreasing services, a declining industry. Clearly, we had to act. We attacked the root cause of the problem. Bus services did not ebb away through lack of demand for them. The market was still there.
Thirty-nine per cent. of the nation do not have access to a car. Many people who do would much rather use a bus if there were a service that met their needs. We recognise that thousands of people want good bus services—the commuters, the elderly, young people, and the less well off. Under the old system, these people's pleas mostly went unanswered, except in areas where larger and larger amounts of public money were spent to lesser and lesser effect. Under the old system, the market mechanism to 284 meet their needs did not exist. It is on behalf of these people that we have been trying to restore to the bus industry the ability to respond to its customers' demands. We have deregulated the industry—despite what some hon. Gentlemen have said—not because of the ideological dogma that is so familiar on the Labour Benches, but because we wanted to give the industry back to its consumers. The existence of a large group of consumers who wanted better bus services gave us the confidence to think that it was possible to check the industry's decline. It was obvious that here was the market by which the industry could, and ultimately must, live.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
How has the Minister passed the bus service back to the consumer? On Merseyside, on days one and two, cleaners, who start their work at 5.30 in the morning, waited three-quarters of an hour for a bus for the first time in their lives. To my personal knowledge, that week, the first system changed on at least three occasions. Unlike the Secretary of State, I am a public transport user; I do not own a car. Therefore, I travel by public transport. All that the Government have done, as far as Merseyside is concerned, is to create absolute chaos and impose avoidable hardships on people on the outskirts of Liverpool. In many cases, fares increased four times.
§ Mr. Moore
Before deregulation day, 26 October 1986, I said, as did my hon. Friend the Minister of State, that the changes would create initial difficulties and disruption. Anybody who seeks to make changes of the radical kind that we are talking about, after 50 years of long-term decline, must expect initial difficulties.
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
Will the Secretary of State quickly refute the allegation that the Government are motivated purely by dogma by quite properly claiming that the Government nationalised London Transport, took it out of the hands of the GLC politicians and put it back into the hands of professional transport operators? Since then, there has been a marked increase in the number of passengers, a tremendous improvement in the service and a reduction in the necessary subsidy.
§ Mr. Moore
My hon. Friend is a little ahead of Monday's Question Time when, obviously, the great success of London Regional Transport are to be discussed.
The fainthearted—obviously there are some in the House—could have been forgiven for thinking that the bus industry's future was bleak. But the Government were not fainthearted. We realised that buses could have a future. We tested that belief. It is interesting to hear some remarks one month after deregulation day. We tested that belief in 1980 when we deregulated long distance coaches. Do hon. Members remember what Labour said then? Mr. Albert Booth said that that Actwould pose a serious threat of damage, possibly irreparable, to bus services in many parts of the country.He added that he believedthat an expansion of bus services based on competition between private operators exists only in a Tory dream world.The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), whom I believe is still with us, said that that Bill wasan ideological concept, which will reduce the mobility of those who are most needy and disadvantaged in our society."—[Official Report, 27 November 1979; Vol 974, c. 1133 and 1235.]What have we heard since? We have heard nothing. Opposition Members were wrong. The 1980 Transport 285 Act led to the starting up of 700 new services and a sharp fall in coach fares. That was the reality of the "Tory dream world"—better services at lower prices. The Opposition might be disappointed by the success of the 1980 Act, but the travelling public are not. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North is not disappointed in it. He was not trapped in some of the remarks that I can quote. The travelling public is receiving good, fast, efficient coach services at the right price.
Understandably, with the success of long distance coach deregulation behind us, the Government turned to local services. The system that we replaced was embodied in the Road Traffic Act 1930. It may have been the right one for the 1930s, but by the 1980s it had, for many years, restricted the bus industry's ability to compete with the private car. The industry was unable to compete with the car because the Act limited the number of bus operators. Operators needed a licence for each route they ran, but once they had the licence their lives were comfortable. If another operator applied for a licence to run on the same route, they were allowed to object, and their objections were often upheld. Once the operator had his licence, there was little chance that he would have a competitor to keep him on his toes, to keep him alert to his customers' needs, to keep his fares down or to encourage him to run on time. This lack of competition accelerated the painful decline of the bus industry. No competition meant that the consumer had no effective way of telling the bus industry what he wanted. All that was said in 1980. How wrong the Opposition were. When the bus industry did not supply what the consumer wanted, he went away.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as the Opposition were wrong about long distance buses, they have also been wrong about local buses? I am not sure what sort of world they live in. If Opposition Members come to Banbury, they will discover that where previously there was only one bus every half hour to a council estate there is now a bus every 15 minutes. There used to be only four buses an hour to the most populous housing estate, but now there are at least 10 buses an hour and on some parts of the route 16 an hour. Opposition Members are welcome to come to Banbury as my guests to see exactly what is happening there.
§ Mr. Moore
I thank my hon. Friend for that. Many of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Minister of State, will make similar detailed points and illustrate the success stories that abound throughout the country. I am trying to deal with the main frame of the policy, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North suggested I should do.
§ Mrs. Kellett-Bowman
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) read out some figures for Lancashire. There were 11,000 queries, but few of them were complaints. The cameras went round the first day when the buses were deregulated and there was, indeed, something of a problem. [Laughter.] A photograph was taken of a gentleman who was dissatisfied on that first day. The next day I bumped into him when I was shopping and asked him how the service was now. He said, "Perfectly all right. The only thing was that on the first day we couldn't get used to the new numbers. Now everbody has got used to them." That is extremely interesting. Another elderly chap said, "Although I'd been using the old service for years, I soon got used to the new one."
§ Mr. Moore
My hon. Friend with her knowledge has made her point. I shall proceed because this is a short debate.
Protecting existing operators from competition was justified, and is about to be justified again by Opposition Front Bench spokesmen, on the ground of cross-subsidy. Operators who ran loss-making routes were allowed to make up for them by charging unnecessarily high fares on their profitable routes, so the one type of route subsidised the other. That might appear reasonable, but it was not—not at all—because charging high fares on profitable routes drove custom away to such an extent that some of those routes became unprofitable and needed the support of the remaining profitable routes to be maintained. So the downward spiral continued. Cross-subsidy by its very nature made services worse, not better.
Protection from competition to shield cross-subsidy is both unjust and ineffective. I should have thought Opposition Members understood that. It is unjust because cross-subsidy for unprofitable routes comes not from the general public purse, but from other bus users. Bus users have a generally lower income than average, so cross-subsidy means that the less well off are made to subsidise themselves. To make the poor subsidise the poor as not part of Conservative philosophy. The changes that we have made to the bus industry rest on the principle that the consumer comes first because we know that putting consumers first is not only good for them, but vital to the well-being of the bus industry and its employees. It is only by serving customers well that an industry grows and prospers.
A clear-sighted look at the bus industry immediately identifies two kinds of bus service: that which is commercially viable on its own and that which is socially necessary but cannot be operated without a subsidy. Who identifies which is which? We say that the free market must do this. Only the free market can determine which routes are profitable, and only the free market can properly match buses and bus routes to the needs of the passenger.
Under the new Act any licensed operator can run a bus route so long as it meets safety standards, so there is now no cosy protection for those who run routes. Competition is ever present and it is having a remarkable effect on the efficiency of bus operators. It is encouraging them to think——
§ Mr. Moore
Overall, the free market found that about 75 per cent. of bus services were profitable—that was 287 the amount registered. But—I stress this—we recognise that there are socially worthwhile services which cannot run without subsidy.
I know that our desire to maintain subsidised services was a great disappointment to the Opposition parties. On many occasions they made up for that disappointment by giving the impression to people that we were going to do away with subsidised services. I hope people now realise with what cynical contempt they were being treated by the Opposition. Local authorities have stepped in with subsidy as they were always intended to and the free market has played its part in providing better services at a better price. Local authorities have not been able to throw public money about with the gay abandon some did before. Local authorities do not decide how much subsidy a route needs; the market decides. Local authorities now put the route out to open tender and, thus, discover who can run it most efficiently and give the best value for money.
We have removed the restrictions on the quantity of bus services under the 1930 Act, but not the parts of it which related to safety. There is no compromise on safety under deregulation.
§ Mr. Moore
Indeed, we have increased the number of staff engaged on safety checks by 24 per cent.
The broad maintenance of service levels does not mean that every bus which was previously running still is. For local authorities one of the great benefits of the Transport Act 1985 is the financial transparency in the organisation of bus services. Under the old system many councils simply did not know where their money was going. Now they have the information to judge expenditure properly. Some services have been revealed as bad value for money while others have turned out to be less expensive than was thought. This means that local authorities can focus their limited funds on services that really benefit the people of their area.
The greatest achievement of the Transport Act is not that service levels have been maintained or even that enormous savings have been made, but that the bus industry now has a structure which will allow it to serve its customers better for years to come. It now is, and will remain, open to new ideas and innovation so that it can meet the real needs of its consumers. Before, buses were unable to adapt to a changing market, but now all that is changing.
The results of the new freedom are visible already.
§ Mr. Moore
I have already given way many times because I am endeavouring to allow hon. Members who wish to speak to intervene. Normally I give way to every intervention. I am endeavouring politely to respond to the 288 usual pattern of sedentary interruptions, but they will only prevent Back Bench Members from speaking in the debate.
Bus operators started operating mini-bus services even before official deregulation. Now there are many more. By the end of the year the old NBC companies plan to have 3,000 mini-buses. In Lincoln the presence of a fleet of NBC mini-buses has encouraged the formerly municipal-owned transport company to run taxis as a bus service in competition. That is a good demonstration of how competition spurs innovation and benefits the passenger.
The Transport Act ensures that the bus industry will continue to be invigorated by competition and guided by the needs of its customers. It is an excellent example of Conservative philosophy in action—it is practical, rational and gives people what they want. The contrast with Socialism could not be more stark. The motion shows with frightening clarity how the Opposition are locked in the straitjacket of outdated, ineffective, autocratic ideas—the kind of ideas that sent the bus industry into a nearly terminal decline. I urge the House to reject it and to endorse instead the measures that will put the industry back on its feet and ensure its robust health for years to come.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
I shall first say a word about my predecessor, Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk, who, during his time in the House, represented the problems of many constituents, on occasions very successfully. He also served with some distinction on the important issue of penal reform. That is still an important issue.
In recent weeks Knowsley, North has received the full thrust and glare of national publicity. Unfortunately, much of that publicity did not really focus on the devastating problems that confront many of my constituents. This issue is one of them. It is a matter of grave concern that unemployment in Knowsley, North is officially 23 per cent. and unofficially, as we know, probably much higher. That is nothing short of a scandal. Many skilled and enthusiastic people in the constituency have little or no prospect of a job. Especially heartbreaking is the plight of young people, many of whom do not believe that they will ever have the opportunity of employment or the dignity of being able to support themselves and any family they may have. Unfortunately, their cynicism and scepticism are borne out by the fact that in 1984 only 6 per cent. of school leavers in the borough of Knowsley ended up in employment.
The consequences of excluding so many people from economic life are invariably depressing and debilitating. Two examples sum that up very well. In 1978, 30 per cent. of schoolchildren were receiving free school meals in the borough of Knowsley. That is bad enough, but the current figure is about 45 per cent. A poem was written by one of my constituents during the election campaign. She asked me to draw it to the attention of Conservative Members. The poem says:To you we're known as them up there.Mum, why do I get free dinners when a few kids have to pay?That's the question asked by my young son the other day.That is a real comment from a real person suffering from those problems.
Of particular relevance in this debate is the fact that in my constituency 67 per cent. of households do not have 289 access to a motor car. Perhaps it is interesting to note that in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who introduced the measures, only 23 per cent. do not have access to a motor car. That sharpens the divide between north and south yet again. It is clear that, as most of my constituents do not have access to a car, many of them depend exclusively on public transport for their means of travel.
Deregulation has had many effects, all of them for the worse, on those who live in my constituency. My constituents were not given any clear information about route changes or timetables, and that resulted in absolute and utter chaos on the day that the measures were introduced. There are examples of fares doubling and, in some cases, trebling, which, in a poor area—it is a poor area—is devastating. It prevents people from being able to make necessary journeys, and that means that people cannot visit families and cannot go shopping comfortably. In some cases, it makes it difficult to seek employment. Moreover, the lack of buses is beginning to have a deleterious effect on the local economy.
A good example of that is a local employer, Mysons, a manufacturing company on the Knowsley, North industrial estate. I should say a word of thanks to the former Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). During his time as the Minister responsible for Merseyside, in addition to his other responsibilities, he and the local authority identified that industrial estate for special attention and additional resources. We applaud the local authority and Conservative Members for co-operating in that. The sad fact is that the management of Mysons has said that, in spite of that and the fact that £5 million has been poured into the industrial estate in the past few years, the company is now suffering from lost production, which will lead to lost orders, because there is no reliable public transport system for the workers to travel to work on. A total of 35 per cent. of the work force depend on public transport. What the Government and the local authority are doing to build up the local economy is being undone by the lack of public transport.
Earlier, I referred to a poem by one of my constituents. A few lines of that poem sum up how I and many of my constituents feel. I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentleman will listen to and take heed of what is being said. The poem says:Somebody's got to help us, it really isn't fair, Because we're penalised for looking, For jobs that just aren't there. I want to shout and make a fuss, It's our kids suffering more than us.I pledge on behalf of the woman who wrote that poem, and other constituents, that I shall shout and make a fuss. I hope that Conservative Members will listen, because we need their support.
§ Mr. John Mark Taylor (Solihull)
It is a pleasure for me to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). It was thoughtful, forceful and lucid. He told us about his constituency and the anxieties of the people whom he represents. I thought that in all the circumstances he mentioned his predecessor very gracefully. Many of us thought that his seat was well represented before, but it is certainly well represented now. It was an excellent maiden speech and we shall listen most carefully to his future contributions.
290 My remarks must be set in the context of my experience in the midlands with the West Midlands passenger transport operation, and, in particular, the experience of the borough of Solihull, part of which I represent: and where I live. As in so many things in human affairs, while our best hopes may not yet have been realised, it is true that the worst fears have not come to pass. That is in sharp contrast to the cynical and unscrupulous way in which some of the Government's opponents sought, in the period leading up to reorganisation and deregulation, to arouse the anxieties of our constituents who are dependent on public transport, especially the old-age pensioners. The worst deed of those opponents was the propaganda that old-age pensioners would lose their concessionary bus passes. That was never true, and they must have known that it was not true. I regret having to say that the Local Labour party in my constituency in particular must stand condemned for worrying old people in that way quite unnecessarily.
It would be a bold man who would predict the final outcome of the changes until some time after 27 January 1987. There has been a great deal of change, and many of the changes have had to bed down and settle and people have to become accustomed to them. Certainly in Solihull every route in the borough has changed to some extent. A total of 115 bus routes have been registered, 63 as commercial routes and 52 as routes subsidised by the West Midlands passenger transport executive. It has to be said as a word of caution that in the west midlands there is not as much competition as might have been hoped for. There are historic reasons for that.
Of the 115 bus routes in Solihull, 75 are run by West Midlands Travel, which is the commercial entity spawned by the former public monopolist. West Midlands Travel is in a dominant position, but, despite that, changes of attitudes are to be noticed. Competition has motivated people, and that is welcome and worth while. However, we do not have buses going down the same street fighting for passengers. That was a phantom paraded before our eyes, but it has not been observed in practice.
§ Mr. Taylor
I shall give way only once, as this is a short debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues will bear that in mind.
§ Mr. Clelland
In reply to a question that I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment only the other day, he told me that, instead of people queuing for buses, buses were queuing for people. Surely the hon. Gentleman has it wrong.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to develop his points in his own speech.
We do not have the phenomenon of buses racing down streets in masses. The development has been much more ordered. The overall level of services, certainly in my part of the midlands, is almost exactly the same as previously. With keen tendering, of which there is evidence, we have every reason to hope for savings in public expenditure.
Although the overall volume of provision is the same, the service is different. West Midlands Travel has purchased a substantial fleet of "mini-buzzes"—they are spelt like that. To start with, they were mechanically rather unreliable, but those problems seem to have been overcome. The only criticisms about these small "buzzes" 291 relate to lack of individual passenger space and the occasional incidents when school "buzzes", and certainly those for Solihull school, have found more passengers at the bus stop than can get on. The first of these problems is a design challenge, which can probably be met. The second is a good problem for the operator. He should, and will, respond by putting on more buses.
It is important that the operator should buy a British vehicle whenever possible. Even if it is not a Land Rover, it can be a Sherpa, made by Freight Rover. It remains as true in this as in volume car making that if the British people want a home-based vehicle industry they must be prepared to support it as purchasers and buy the product. The political shouting in my part of the world has died out and other forms of competition are asserting themselves, although there is a high level of administrative wait and see. One thing is clear: there is a bus stop outside my house, and there was not one there before.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)
It so happens that I shall be quoting from a letter from a constituent of the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor). I hope that he will wait to hear what his constituent says.
I add my praise to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) who made a confident maiden speech. I wish that I could make such competent speeches after 12 years in the House. He spoke from the heart, and knows his constituency and its transport problems. I know that from the short visit that I made to Knowsley.
I do not propose to rehearse the arguments that were made about bus deregulation when the Bill was debated in the House. My concern is to review what has happened since then, acknowledge the benefits, such as they are, that have been secured, and draw the Minister's attention to the mistakes and weaknesses that he should try to remove. I shall deal first with the improvements.
There is no doubt that, in anticipation of competition, many bus companies, and particularly the National Bus Company, sharpened their operations considerably. Management had grown complacent and become used to a cycle of declining services and higher fares. We have heard the frightening statistics about subsidies growing over the years 1970 to 1982. The unions had become more concerned to protect the outdated working practices of the existing, and shrinking, work force than to look for an expansion of jobs.
In the best cases, such as the Exeter city services, operated by Devon General, there has been an explosion of new, innovative minibus services, with frequencies in many places of five minutes and the operating day extending to midnight. Ridership on some routes has tripled and employment opportunities have increased. Up to 300 more people are now working for Devon General. As the Secretary of State said, all this was accomplished before privatisation, in anticipation of the market becoming contestable.
That success is a tribute to the managerial team which, I am pleased to say, was successful in buying the company. It is also a tribute to a city council and a county council, neither of which is under Conservative control, which have tried to make the new arrangements work. The situation in the neighbouring county of Somerset is also encouraging, with an increase in the work force and a 292 positive response by the county's transportation committee to the views of the users, who were fully consulted on routes required before tenders were invited.
I am glad that other companies have been bought out by management, and particularly pleased where these buyouts are to be extended to cover all grades of staff, as in the case of Badgerline. In particular, I mention Southern Vectis—no doubt, Ministers were expecting that. I was privileged to break a bottle of champagne over the wheel of a double decker bus in celebration of the fact that it had been bought out by its management. I am grateful to the Minister of State for his help in pulling off that transaction. As he knows, there was opposition and people were frightened that an operator from Yorkshire, using German buses, would get the company. However this is one concern that the island has bought for itself, and we mean to hang on to it. All the vehicles operated by Southern Vectis are British built. Regrettably, that is not so elsewhere. It is not so in London Transport, and those of us in Norman Shaw, North look out on Mercedes minibuses operating to Kensington.
I urge the Minister to reach speedy decisions on the disposal of the remainder of the former NBC companies. I hope that he will continue to look with favour on management and management-staff buy-outs. I am sure that these professional busmen, who have spent a lifetime in the industry and are strongly imbued with the tradition of public service, will rise to the challenge that has been set. Many are risking their homes and life savings in taking over their businesses, which have few tangible assets. I, for one, wish them success, and hope that the Minister will quickly end their uncertainty about the future.
It is interesting to contrast the reaction of alliance-led councils in the west of England, which are trying to make deregulation and privatisation work, with the attitude of some bus undertakings in the former metropolitan areas. I understand that in Manchester the bus company has cut back services, declined to innovate, and apparently hopes, in vain, that a Labour Government will be returned to save it from competition and from the effort needed to revitalise services along the lines successfully developed in Exeter. In contrast, we believe in innovation, which brings better services and more jobs.
Having said that, I must acknowledge that there are undoubtedly many problems and a great deal of dissatisfaction in various parts of the country, much of which was confidently predicted in Committee. It would have been avoided if the Government had not been so hell-bent on total deregulation of the industry, leaving it to market forces and a free-for-all. Here I quote Mr. C. J. Noble of Solihull, from 16 Willow Drive, Cheswick Green, Solihull.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon and accept the correction.
Mr. Noble said:Until the 26th October 1986, the West Midlands had an integrated travel network similar to that of London Transport but without the underground. Now, as a result of deregulation of local public transport, West Midland commuters are at the mercy of a financial lottery which determines their daily journey. Rival operators will not co-operate in providing common travel cards, timetables, or tickets—even when they share the same route.293The annual cost of my daily journey, twelve miles across Birmingham via three different operators, has risen from £200 to £460. This increase is largely due to the non co-operation between different operators, the number of which has increased significantly—a direct consequence of deregulation. The equivalent journey in London using a London Transport two zone travel card would cost only £224 per year. Unless a reasonably priced common travel card is introduced in the near future I intend to travel to work by car.What incentive is there for the unemployed to obtain work or for people in low paid jobs to continue working if a large percentage of their income is spent in reaching work. A person earning £6,000 per year would need a 6.2 per cent pay rise to finance a fare increase of £260.The transport act of 1985 has removed the power of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive to compel all operators in the area to accept a common travel card. The act must be amended to restore this power. The arguments that exempted London from the act apply equally to the West Midlands and other metropolitan areas. A journey from home to work in a large urban conurbation is likely to involve more than one connection; co-operation not competition is required to provide an efficient, cost-effective transport system. Public transport is a service not a commodity.That story can be repeated in many large conurbations in the country, and certainly in Knowsley, North, as I discovered.
§ Mr. Iain Mills
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that flatter, because I have been outside in the Lobby and unable to raise it myself. I assure the hon. Gentleman that his correspondent has been to see me and that he has had my full attention. Some weeks ago I referred the matter to the Minister for his consideration, with the strong recommendation that we find some way to make common travel cards acceptable throughout the country.
§ Mr. Ross
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has responded to his constituent's complaint. He was right to do so, and I hope that he has some effect. I now have to buy two tickets to come to London every day because Sealink will not accept through booking from certain stations on British Rail. In that respect, we have gone back 50 years.
Last week the Pre-school Playgroups Association held its birthday celebration in this House, and many hon. Members attended. One of the ladies present told me about a young mother in south Herefordshire who attempted suicide because she could no longer get her three children to their playgroup. In that part of the world there is now only one bus per week, in contrast to the former daily service. I was almost attacked by pensioners when I was in Newbury recently, as they have been similarly affected. There is now only one bus on two days, Thursday and Friday, whereas there used to be a regular daily service. The bus now only goes into town for two hours. I am also told that there is no longer a direct bus service from Newbury to Oxford, and one has to go via Reading.
Services in north Northumberland have disappeared altogether, which has cut off Newcastle from many villages in that part of the world. Drivers employed by the Provincial Bus Company covering Gosport and Fareham recently staged a three-day strike—probably their first in living memory. They are faced with losing £25 per week, or more, from their weekly pay packets following the introduction of a fleet of new minibuses, whose schedules they claim were far too tight and left many customers standing at the bus stops. I believe that there have also been stoppages in nearby Portsmouth.
§ Mr. Michael Hancock (Portsmouth, South)
Is it not strange that in Portsmouth the bus operators have had to be subjected to strikes by the work force to try to bring to the attention of the public and their employers the problems that they had in trying to provide a bus service which they felt was wholly inadequate and also unsafe because of the very tight schedules?
Will the hon. Gentleman congratulate the "4 What It's Worth" programme, which has been virtually the only television programme to have taken up the issue? It has received objections to what has happened from over 200 different constituencies. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows only too well that an area of old Portsmouth has been completely isolated. Nobody has come forward to replace the bus service which was previously provided as a social service by the local authority.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Gentleman has made his point, and I understand it. The whole exercise has been a failure because only about 200 new operators have entered the field—an average of four per county. Only about. 50 taxi operators have registered. I believe that to be the correct figure, but no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong. The Minister must take some important steps if he wishes to encourage the development of better bus services. I say that in all honesty, because it is our country and it affects the people whom we represent.
First, insufficient money is available to maintain even a basic level of service in some areas, mainly in those of a rural and semi-rural nature. Competitive tendering will reduce costs, but local authorities need to have enough money to maintain essential services to more remote places. In too many cases bus services have been reduced to a level where people no longer find it possible to work a normal day. I have cited such examples. There is a need to review funding. Vast sums are not involved, but something more is needed.
Secondly, it is the Government's duty to secure fair competition. The regulations relating to the roadworthiness of vehicles and drivers' rest must be applied equally and forcefully. In the past, vehicle examiners have set higher standards for companies in the public sector than for the smaller private operator. We know that the facilities of the public companies are generally very good. Many of the smaller operators do not have such facilities, and I can cite an example of that in my area. In a competitive market that sort of subjective discrimination must stop and all operators must meet the same high standards.
Many smaller operators, some undertaking school contract work, have used drivers who have worked a full week driving lorries or performing other activities. I have drawn the attention of the traffic commissioner at Eastbourne to a particular service in my area which worried me. We discovered just in time that an operator who was to take school children on double-decker buses was going to use off-duty Southern Vectis men. That was stopped, but such matters must be investigated. Some drivers are working far too many hours. Operating buses is not an occupation for cowboys. The possession of an operator's licence or a public service vehicle licence should be restricted to those willing to observe professional standards, and those who flout the rules should be cleared out of the industry.
If competition is to be fair, there must be one set of rules for all, and they must be firmly enforced. For that to 295 happen there must be an adequate force of inspectors, and I look for a Government assurance that, in the freer market that has been created, the Minister is planning to provide an adequate inspectorate. I know that he announced that there would be an extra 24 inspectors, but that is not enough to meet present demand.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as this is a short debate. Does he agree that the situation that he has described is not new? It was technically possible even before the Transport Act.
§ Mr. Ross
It is far more prevalent now. We shall in any case get our answer at the end of the debate.
Thirdly, in a competitive market, it is essential that a publicly owned operator—for example, a local authority bus company—does not force a privately owned operator off the road by predatory action, that is, using ratepayers' money to subsidise the fares or service frequency of the local authority service to win a larger share of the market. That happened in Cardiff a few years ago, when a private operator tried to enter the market.
Fourthly, we are concerned about the future of railway services in the conurbations in which the amount of money available for supporting public transport has been reduced. What is to happen to the railway services or the Metro services in Tyne and Wear—this issue was raised continually in the debates on the Bill—if the local authorities decide to concentrate their remaining financial resources on the bus services? Those local authorities employ the bus staff, but, except in Tyneside, they do not employ the railwaymen. They may decide that, from an industrial relations viewpoint, it is easier to reduce train services than bus services.
Has the Minister any plans to protect the level of rail services and to protect the bus/rail interchanges which have been so painstakingly built up over the past decade? The most appalling thing about the Act is that it puts at risk the integrated transport system—such as it is—in this country. The Minister should not tell us that the market will resolve those problems.
The method by which railway services are funded—section 20 payments through the passenger transport authorities—might well encourage the reduction of rail services because the extra congestion that would be caused in city centres if passengers were transferred from trains to buses does not appear in anyone's balance sheet. It just causes misery for all. In the absence of any credible system of road pricing, and bearing in mind that the buses pay next to nothing for the use of road space, there is a real danger of many more buses and fewer trains, which will lead to much more congestion, pollution and delay for everybody.
That has already happened in London, where there are vast numbers of coaches and double-decker sightseeing buses. Often, when I am waiting for a bus, about 16 sightseeing buses pass before a No. 159 appears. Those sightseeing buses come in many hues and can be seen parked all over town in places such as Oxford street and the Haymarket, causing terrible congestion.
Bus deregulation has only just begun and it is too early to draw firm conclusions. At this stage, my hon. Friends and I believe that some good may come of it, and I stated that at the beginning of my speech. That is more likely to 296 happen if the Minister will take account of the constructive points that I have tried to make. The Exeter experience suggests that services improve when the operators realise that in future the market will be contestable. That seems to be far more important than to have open unregulated competition on the streets. The final madness was clearly demonstrated in Glasgow, where a national bus subsidiary is chasing the municipal buses, costing the country God knows how much and blocking the streets.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) has just said, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said at the start of the debate, that the debate is being held far too soon. It is indicative of the Opposition's general Luddite attitude towards any form of innovation that they are prepared to cry "stinking fish" before the new services are up and running. It is a pity that the Opposition were not prepared to look closely at some of the areas where experiments were carried out and where deregulation has been in force for a long time.
It is also a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) is not present this afternoon. He is in his constituency promoting yet more new industry. He has won wide acclaim on the Conservative Benches for the manner in which he has presented the facts of the Hereford success instead of the fiction perpetrated by the opportunists of the Hereford Liberal party. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight was candid about some of the successes and it is a great shame that some of his colleagues have not been as generous in their comments on the Hereford experiment. There and elsewhere where experiments have been carried out, and where a system has been in play for a reasonable time, the travelling public are receiving better value for money, better services at lower cost to the ratepayer.
§ Mr. Stephen Ross
As a member of the Select Committee on Transport, I visited Hereford, and the experiment there cannot be described as a success. If only the Government had taken rather more notice of what the Hereford and Worcester council wanted in the way of regulation, there might have been a better outturn.
§ Mr. Gale
My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford anticipated some such comment and provided me with a copy of the Wye Valley Review, which is not known for its specific support of my hon. Friend. It says:The new Transport Act should make little difference to local bus travellers as many companies have anticipated it and introduced revised services, says the Gloucestershire County Council. The Council has let 56 contracts for otherwise uprofitable routes.That gainsays what the hon. Gentleman has just said.
It is inevitable that the gloom-mongers should seize on every defect in the new timetables and present them as a complete failure of what will prove nationally, as has been the case in trial areas, to be an excellent system.
I want to refer briefly to one difficulty that we face locally. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight referred to his support for management buy-outs. At least we can agree on something. The East Kent bus company is due for privatisation shortly. My hon. Friend will know that when the Maidstone company was floated recently a French company, Galleon, put in a bid. I am happy to say that the Maidstone bus company was sold to the management and is now being run successfully.
297 The Galleon company is determined to establish a foothold at the English end of the Channel tunnel. I have no reason to believe that Galleon is not a good company, but I question whether its interests are in the best interests of the travellers of east Kent.
The management of the East Kent bus company would not thank me for suggesting that it is afraid of competition. It is an excellent management and is certainly not. But the management and we need to know that any bidder for the company will guarantee the service to the public. It will also need to know that any competition to which it is subjected will be on equal terms.
I understand that in order to operate a bus service in France a green card is necessary. In order to acquire a green card it is necessary to prove that a different market from any that currently exists can be developed, and that can take years. I also understand that in relation to longer routes in France objections are taken from railways and others and are always upheld.
The French bus and coach service is almost completely regulated and the French could not achieve in France what they would be given on a plate if they were allowed to purchase the East Kent bus company. I also understand that the protection given to West German coaches is even stronger than that afforded in France to the French.
I appreciate that the decision is one for Mr. Rodney Lund and the National Bus Company, not for the Government. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will remind the NBC that we look to it to protect customers and the interests of the United Kingdom within the terms of the treaty of Rome.
It will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that in east Kent there is considerable suspicion that the Channel tunnel is likely to become a French benefit. That is partly because of French money poured into Nord Pas de Calais. However, it would be taken amiss if the French were permitted to succeed in a predatory bid for an English company that would not be permitted in France.
§ Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)
The Secretary of State said that the Government were instituting the new organisation of buses on a number of criteria. One was that there was a fall-off in passengers and another that there was a reduction in services. He listed, them all. However, he chose not to tell the House about a survey that was put in train by the Department of Transport some years ago. The Committee reports deal with the survey that was instituted in south Yorkshire where transport has developed differently since the middle 1970s. That report clearly showed that, using the resources of the United Kingdom effectively, that type of transport model was by far the most economic, and was socially and environmentally desirable. The Committee chose to ignore that. Indeed, to some extent it has been ignored today as well.
No Act has devasted south Yorkshire more than this Act. I shall try to explain the Government's political vindictiveness towards south Yorkshire and its people. We are now being asked to run our transport system on £59.3 million in the current year, of which some £7.5 million is a one-off payment for the massive redundancies that have taken place. So we are talking about £51.8 million. In south Yorkshire this year that has meant fare increases of 225 per cent. The service has been reduced by 10 per cent., 298 there has been a drop in passengers of between 25 and 30 per cent., and more than 2,000 transport workers have been made redundant.
Over the next two years expenditure will drop from £51.8 million to £45.7 million—a reduction of 23 per cent. Under the Act we are obliged to make projections over three years and to organise the transport for three years. In 1988–89 expenditure will drop to £41.1 million. Between this year and 1989 there will be a reduction of some 40 per cent.
Under section 59 of the Transport Act and the scheme to transfer the assets and liabilities from the PTEs to the operating companies, the instruction—that is what it is—from the Department of Transport will cost the local authority £5.6 million. That is about 12 per cent. of the expenditure within which the Department of Transport has said that south Yorkshire must operate.
When the Secretary of State spoke to the local authorities some months ago, he said that he would meet any local authority that sought a redetermination. My local authority had a meeting last week with the Minister, but it got very little out of him.
South Yorkshire has had to go to law to extract the calculation of expenditure levels for its transport policy. Therefore, one wonders whether this Government are hammering south Yorkshire far beyond their hammering of the other ex-metropolitan counties. South Yorkshire seems to have been singled out for a reduction in expenditure levels of 23 per cent., whereas the remainder of the metropolitan counties have suffered a reduction of only 12 per cent.
The difference between expenditure levels and the grant-related expenditure assessment for south Yorkshire for 1986–87 has resulted in the authority receiving no block grant. The cost of transport is having to be borne, therefore, by the ratepayers. South Yorkshire has one of the best transport systems in the country. Tens of thousands of people use south Yorkshire's transport system. The Minister will probably say that grannies have been writing to him to thank him for the improved transport services in rural areas, but the major conurbations are losing out.
§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
Ought not the Minister also remember that, although accommodation that has been provided for elderly people by local authorities was formerly on bus routes, those services are no longer being provided? It is no use having a shiny, new bus pass if there are no buses. My hon. Friend knows that the village of Cawthorne has no medical services. It is dependent upon the medical services that are available in the next village. However, there is no bus service to take the villagers of Cawthorne to the next village.
§ Mr. Caborn
Yes, and that example can be repeated many times all over the country. Many of the examples that were given in Standing Committee were bad, and they will get worse.
It is no use Conservative Members saying that the system has been operating for only a few weeks. In January there will be a further decline in services. The inevitable result of the projected expenditure levels and the grant-related expenditure assessment will be a cut in services. In 1987–88, concessionary fares in south Yorkshire will have to be increased by 75 per cent. if the 299 load is to be spread. As for local rail fares—we have tried to create an integrated transport system—they will have to be increased by 10 per cent. The tendering for mileage will also have to be reduced by 5 per cent. The Government say that local authorities will be able to support unprofitable services, but they will have no money with which to support those services. There will be an inevitable decline, therefore, in transport services.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 people are now using saver cards. However, the attitude of certain private operators has led to their discontinuance. They will not accept saver cards. We had brought public transport within the reach of poor people, but the loss of the saver card means that they will be deprived of that form of transport.
The Minister would not even discuss meaningfully projected expenditure levels with the representatives of my local authority. If the burden is to be spread, concessionary fares will have to be doubled in 1988–89. Rail fares will again have to be increased by 10 per cent. The projected expenditure levels could mean that tendering for mileage will have to be halved for those contractors who want to take over the mileage.
In south Yorkshire, 80 per cent. of the population have no exclusive access to private transport. The area faces major unemployment problems. Last week I spoke in a debate in which the depth of the unemployment crisis was fully revealed. My constituency has one of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the country. Nevertheless, access to transport is being curtailed by this Government's policies. The social cohesion and well-being of the community have been considerably affected.
Traffic congestion in major city centres, particularly at peak hours, has to be seen to be believed. Loss of wages occurs because people are late getting to work. That leads to loss of production, about which employers complain. A fresh look will need to be taken at road planning in south Yorkshire if this Act remains on the statute book.
The effect on the voluntary services has been dramatic. Those who work for the voluntary organisations now say that they cannot help more than once a week, whereas previously they were probably helping three or four times a week. The dramatic increase in bus fares has also had a dramatic effect on employment patterns. It has affected in particular part-time workers in hospitals. They cannot afford now to travel across the city and carry on with that type of employment.
§ Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)
Hon. Members who represent Liverpool have received this week a letter from the Sir Robert Jones Workshops for the Disabled. It points out that handicapped people in full-time employment are now paying more than £2 extra a week to get to work. Is this not a disgrace? Should not the Government take on board, therefore, the protests about deregulation?
§ Mr. Caborn
Yes. That point was made in Standing Committee.
In south Yorkshire the pressure on working people will increase. A family in Sheffield will pay on average between £10 and £12 more each week on fares. Their wages are their only source of income. The workers will put pressure on their employers, and wage increases will be reflected in the price of the products that they sell. Production costs will inevitably rise. However, it is very difficult to get this point 300 through to a Government who are following the dogma of the so-called free market. They do not have the sense to look at independent reports.
I am a member of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry which recently returned from a visit to the continent. We visited the Peugeot and Renault factories and examined the car components industry. I was asked how stupid can the Government be, with the Department of Transport deregulating while the Department of Trade and Industry cannot help the industry to deliver the new minibuses that the Government want the bus operators to use. Most of the minibuses, as happened with coach deregulation, are not British built. Most of them come from the continent.
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) referred to the devastation in Solihull caused by the Government's policies. He referred to the fact that the motor manufacturing industry is having great difficulty in coping with the problems caused by their policies and said that there had been lay-offs. It is absolutely stupid that deregulation has led to the massive import of minibuses from the continent. It is costing Britain jobs.
This is one of the worst Acts to reach the statute book. It is the result of party political dogma and shows no regard for the people whom it is supposed to be serving. I hope that the many examples that have been given by Opposition Members will result in people voting for a Labour Government at the next general election. The Labour party is committed to repealing the Act and to returning to a sensible, integrated transport system for the people of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Martin M. Brandon-Bravo (Nottingham, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) said it all in an intervention when he remarked that one month after D-day is far too soon for this debate, because no one can make an objective comment on bus deregulation after about four weeks of operation. No hon. Member has argued that the change has made the system as good or as bad, depending on one's point of view, as the system that operated before. It depends on what existed before. If one lived in an area where there was already a variety of operators, the change was relatively smooth and a real element of competition and innovation came in. Where there was a single provider supported by a massive subsidy, clearly the change was more difficult, took longer and caused some of the problems about which the hon. Member for Sheffield. Central (Mr. Caborn) spoke.
I do not see why people living in south Yorkshire have a right to demand the kind of public subsidy which went into their transport undertaking and which was at the expense of my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members. That public money had to come from somewhere, and it is quite wrong for people to vote themselves a service that will be paid for by somebody else. That also applies to people in Tyne and Wear.
§ Mr. Wareing
Ipso facto, does the hon. Gentleman agree that those of us who reside in urban areas might object to the massive subsidies given to farmers over the years?
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
I am tempted to ask the hon. Gentleman to translate "ipso facto", but I shall not. I come 301 from an urban area and I am aware of the problem that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but we are not here to debate whether public money should be spent on farming, on defence or on anything else. We are debating public transport, so let us stick to the subject.
Opposition Members talk as if complaints about public transport began on 26 October. Any hon. Member who says that there were no complaints about public transport before that date is treating other hon. Members as a bunch of fools. Of course people wrote to their Members of Parliament and to councillors complaining that local authority undertakings did not adhere to timetables. In the three or four years prior to deregulation responsible local authority undertakings experimenting with alternative services were constantly changing their timetables, and, no matter how hard they tried with free publicity, some constituents always rang up to complain that they did not know that a certain number bus was not running any more.
That process of change, a sensible process, was taking place before 26 October and there was nothing unusual about it. Opposition Members spoke about the absence of a timetable on 26 October. At best that was commercial incompetence, or at worst it was a deliberate act of political vandalism. The city of Nottingham serves a conurbation which is perhaps small by the standards of some hon. Members. It has between 500,000 and 600,000 people and our city transport undertaking has registered 97 per cent. of its routes. That is to say, 97 per cent. of the routes are commercially viable on the basis of a worthy accountant's report and were recommended by the then transport committee which is now the board of directors of the new undertaking.
I would not seek to mislead the House and I acknowledge that I am speaking about 97 per cent. of all the routes. I agree that route frequencies have changed and that we are currently dealing with some mid-evening gaps which are not commercially viable. The Bill makes it clear that those are precisely the areas which it is right for local authorities to examine and that, if necessary, they should put them out to tender so that a service can be provided.
In the county of Nottinghamshire, more than 400 routes were not registered and there was a predictable outcry from the controlling Labour group at county hall which said that that was the first problem about the new Bill—that over 400 socially desirable routes, especially in the rural areas, would no longer be serviced. But the Labour group put the routes out to tender and every one of those socially desirable routes has now been successfully taken up and our county council has made a reduction in what used to be its blanket subsidy of over £500,000.
That may not seem a lot of money, but the council has a choice. It can use the money to reduce the rate burden in the coining year or it can look further at routes that did not even exist before 26 October. In some parts of Nottinghamshire there are no bus services and that £500,000 can be properly used to service such routes in the same way as mid-evening gaps can be filled.
I am gravely suspicious of the noises made by hon. Members from Merseyside because where a local authority—and it is likely to be Labour controlled—has a vested interest in the failure of this Bill it will do everything possible to frustrate the Bill's purpose and will seek to make it fail. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish."] An Opposition Member says that it is rubbish, but I know that it is true.
§ Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the situation in greater Manchester is exactly the same as the one that he has spoken about, because on its own admission the transport executive has over 5 million miles of unused bus routes that have still to he given out? Does he agree that that is a shocking indictment of the executive's managerial competence, and that it is also a shocking indictment that the executive has produced no proper timetables for my constituents? Is it not also disgraceful that the public transport executive in greater Manchester has not even provided bus drivers on routes north of Manchester but has moved people from the south? Does he agree that this is political chicanery and bad management?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not invite me to intervene, although I should love to.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) is right and his intervention clearly illustrates the great dangers about which Government Members were conscious. If a local authority puts political dogma before its duty to its ratepayers, there will he trouble. I give credit to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), who at least had the courtesy to admit that in some areas local authorities are making an effort even though they are unsympathetic to the Government. I congratulate those authorities on making that effort.
I am worried about the role of the directors of the new companies, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on this during his winding-up speech. One of the problems that I think he will find is that prior to 26 October the officers of the municipal undertakings were still employees of the councils and still subject to the pressures that could be put upon them by politically motivated city, county and metropolitan councillors. For that reason, those officers had to play things very quietly. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is wrong because those officers had a duty to the population to plan for 26 October and some of them were not allowed to do so. Now that those officers are executive directors with a commerical decision-making power, and given that the elected councillors cannot use their political clout to lean on them, I am sure that things will change.
Nottingham was the largest municipal undertaking in the country. We had a chairman of the transport committee with a vested interest in the failure of the legislation. He spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money doing all the things referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor), such as concessionary fares and so on. He spent £30,000 seeking to destroy the possibility of the Act becoming a success. Words almost fail me. That councillor is now the chairman of the board of directors which is running that bus company. Surely in commercial law no one ought to be able to serve on a board of directors if he does not have the interest of the company at heart and when everything he does seeks to destroy the very purpose of the Act. I hope that we can address ourselves to that matter.
303 I must refer to rural transport, because the nicest letter that members of the Standing Committee received came from the organisation Women in the Community. They wrote on behalf of rural areas that have no bus services, and said that the Bill would be a disaster. I had to reply, "If you have no buses, what harm can the Bill do?" The reality is that in those areas where there were no buses this Act had to be an improvement, however small. I believe that in many areas it will be a great boon, and I support the Government.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
The Secretary of State's remarks are indicative of the lack of understanding among Conservative Members about the far-reaching effects of deregulation on the lives of ordinary people. That view has been confirmed by the other contributions that we have heard from Conservative Members.
I do not want to be parochial, but the Government should understand that we have the responsibility of relating what is really happening on Merseyside and in other areas. Far from being parochial, we want the Minister to understand the problems that have ensued as a result of deregulation. They are real and are causing hardship, chaos and confusion in an undertaking which only a week before deregulation was reasonably well controlled and supplied a service.
For the life of me I cannot understand how Conservative Members can argue that deregulation has brought order which did not exist previously and has provided a better service to the people using public transport. On the contrary, the opposite is the case.
The constituency that I represent is nine miles from the city centre of Liverpool. In it are pockets of unemployment of 50 per cent., 60 per cent., and in some cases 70 per cent. or more. The people who moved there as a result of both post-war and pre-war housing developments are now virtually incapable of leaving their homes because fares have trebled and even quadrupled in the brief period since deregulation. That would not be so bad were it not for the fact that previous services have been severely cut. In other words, as a result of deregulation, they are getting a much worse service at a much higher price.
If that is the philosophy of the Conservative party, the Government should immediately repeal the Act, because the problem will not go away. The Act has caused concern because of its immediate impact—perhaps even more concern than any other piece of legislation introduced by the Government, most of which had been obnoxious in the eyes of the working class.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) spoke about the Sir Robert Jones Workshops. That organisation cares for a section of the community over which the Conservative party weeps tears—the disabled and people employed in sheltered workshops who must travel to their place of work. The director of the Sir Robert Jones Workshops states in a letter:It has been brought to my attention by the workforce that the people who are using public transport have as a whole had to pay £80 to come to work above what they were paying before deregulation. This works out at an average of £2 per worker304 in order to use public transport post-deregulation which has been imposed by the Government. People working part-time in an industry of that kind will have to decide whether it is worthwhile travelling to work, given the impositions that the Government have placed on them.
The Government ought to think carefully about the wider ramifications of what the Act has done to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. There is, for example, the difficulty of parents accompanying their children to school, and many other problems have arisen. These problems do not affect only the constituency of Garston. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) will be similarly affected, as will the constituencies of other Liverpool Members, except possibly those who represent the city centre. People travelling to the outer estates to work will be affected. The Government have failed to understand the problems. In the past, it has been said that the Labour party is dogmatic, doctrinaire and so inflexible that it gives no consideration to issues that fall outside that dogma. However, if ever a piece of legislation smacked of dogma, it is this Act. Apparently no thought at all was given by the former Secretary of State to the effect of the Act on the travelling public.
In areas such as Merseyside, Yorkshire and the midlands many people still depend solely on public transport. I declare an interest as one such person. I do not own a car and travel by public transport. In the first week of deregulation, I wanted to go into town on a Sunday morning. I waited for one-and-three-quarter hours for a bus, and when it arrived I discovered that my fare had risen from 30p to 60p. On the following day, the fare was 50p.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
So that I can understand the position properly, is the hon. Gentleman saying that he waited all that time as a result of a new timetable, or was it merely that he did not receive a new timetable and waited for the bus according to the old timetable?
§ Mr. Loyden
The bus drivers did not know what the frequency of service was supposed to be, nor did they know what the fares should be.
§ Mr. Loyden
It was the Government's fault. With great haste they imposed the Act on the transport authorities without giving them the necessary time to ensure that the travelling public were not adversely affected.
As anyone with any common sense understands, bus drivers who receive their schedules on Saturday morning ready for Sunday will find it impossible to absorb them and translate the information about fares to passengers. During one week I paid three different fares, and the majority of drivers were unaware of the correct fares.
I place the responsibility for that at the Government's door. Before the Bill became law, they should have given local authorities time to sort out the problems that would face the travelling public. Meetings are taking place in every part of the country because people are now aware of the full implications of the legislation. They are waiting for a further disturbance in services in January and, in all probability, further disruption later.
§ Mr. Wareing
My hon. Friend will be aware that in the first few weeks of deregulation on Merseyside there were more than 1,000 complaints. I have scrutinised some of 305 them. Is my hon. Friend aware that an enormous proportion of the complaints were about the lack of school bus services? For example, at the Maricourt school on the fringes of Melling and Maghull—an area not noted for selecting Labour Members of Parliament—children leaving school at 3.30 pm did not arrive home until after 5.30 pm. They gave up hope of getting the school bus and had to walk through dark pathways and lonely fields to get home—and this is at a time when we have cause for concern about children being attacked.
§ Mr. Loyden
I take my hon. Friend's point, although he took a long time to make it. He raised an important point about children. Indeed, the Government have made us aware of the muggings and other things that go on in the estates on the outer edges of cities. Because of the high bus fares, many women feel forced to walk through dangerous areas.
Many of the problems that have arisen were ignored by the Secretary of State when he designed this atrocious piece of legislation. I take some comfort at least from the declaration by the Labour party that it will place this legislation in the dustbin of history and give back to the public a decent transport system based on Labour ideology. I accept that there are ideological differences between the parties, but in the Labour party we agree that transport is a service which should not be based solely on profitability.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is a brief debate and the Chair is anxious that Members representing all areas of the country should have the opportunity to address the House. I appeal for brevity. The first Front-Bench speaker hopes to catch my eye at 6.30 pm
§ 6.4 pm
§ Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)
I wish to ask the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) one question. When he goes to bed tonight, will he kneel beside his bed and ask himself the following question? Is his local authority—despite the fact that it is of a different political persuasion from the Government—making an honest attempt on behalf of the people it represents to make the most of the legislation passed by this democratically elected Parliament, notwithstanding that it may not like it, but bearing in mind that it is its duty to serve the people of Liverpool? Is the hon. Gentleman slightly concerned that the council, which until yesterday had Mr. Derek Hatton as its vice-chairman——
§ Mr. Adley
This is relevant. The council is more concerned with making party political points at every opportunity, regardless of the effect of so doing on the people of Liverpool, whom it is supposed to serve.
Having said that, the House will know that I have not been an uncritical supporter of this legislation. It is foolish of either side of the House to paint this legislation as a panacea for all public transport ills, on the one hand, or the sole cause of every public transport problem that the country has ever known, on the other. It is not really a choice between euphoria and doom, and these are both poor guides for the debate tonight. The Government's main motivation has been customer satisfaction. That does not seem to me to be a matter of dogma. That is a perfectly proper thing for an elected body to seek to 306 undertake on behalf of those whom it is trying to represent. The question that we should ask is whether the customer is actually receiving satisfaction, or likely to receive satisfaction, as a result of this legislation.
I plead with Opposition Members, if they can bring themselves for a moment to consider public transport aspects of the matter, to recognise that all was not well with public transport and the bus industry. It is conceivable that there will be some benefits flowing from the legislation. I believe that it is perfectly conceivable that problems will also flow from the legislation. I hope therefore that we can regard the debate—and I hope that the Government will also regard it thus—as the first but by no means the last word on a subject that is of great concern to all of us, not simply those who, like myself, use public transport, but all who are concerned about the standard of life in the great towns and cities in this country.
Comments have been made about timetables not being prepared in time. I speak without any rancour. It is not just those local authorities which might be construed as having a grudge against the Government's politics which have fallen down on the preparation of timetables. Surrey county council, having taken it on itself to produce a timetable for one section of the Green Line bus routes, was unable to produce its timetables as far in advance as is normal when new timetables are introduced by public transport operators. Having said that, I would no more chastise Surrey than anyone else. My point is that it is fairly early days.
One of the problems, about which I have written to my hon. Friend, relates to the routes on which services are run commercially during some parts of the day and week, and which are tendered during other parts. The point is that the same routes are running the same services—for example, let us say that it is route No. 222 while it is commercially operated, but it becomes route No. 333 when tendered. That may be a logical position for an accountant sitting in his office, but it is very confusing for someone waiting to catch a bus. Surely, however, we cannot condemn the legislation already simply because of such teething problems.
In my intervention in the Secretary of State's speech I referred to London, which of course has not been fully deregulated. It lies ill in the mouths of Labour Members to accuse the Government of party political dogma when the present Government have nationalised London Transport. That is what has happened. Let us not be mealy-mouthed about it. We have nationalised London Transport and it is a publicly owned service. The Government have put the running of London's transport back into the hands of professional transport operators. The service has improved, the number of passengers is increasing and the amount of public subsidy required is falling. Surely that is an end earnestly to be desired by everyone in the House.
I want to mention some of the real problems that are arising about coach deregulation. I do not believe at the moment that the position is really satisfactory, especially in London and one or two other cities. Local authorities do not have the powers that they need to try to prevent coach operators from abusing their position by using roads and streets that are unsuitable for the size of coaches, by parking, very often illegally, in places that cause considerable inconvenience to other road users and cause considerable problems for the police.
307 The latest evil, which is a problem particularly in London, is the polluting system being employed by the commuter coaches, of leaving their engines running, sometimes for two hours at a time, in an unattended vehicle, to keep the atmosphere inside the coach comfortable for the passengers. Those are some of the aspects of deregulation that should be raised in the debate, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will look at them.
I refer penultimately to the effect of deregulation on other competitors, particularly British Rail. One of the reasons why I was less than wholeheartedly enthusiastic about deregulation was that I thought it might provide additional unfair competition for British Rail. We all know that at the moment there is no such thing as fair competition between a public service vehicle on the road and a public service vehicle on the rails, the latter having to pay all its own track costs and the former having them almost entirely funded by the taxpayer.
I was in Manchester yesterday, making a few inquiries of British Rail. I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg)—I am sure that he knows it, being an assiduous Member—that bus deregulation in certain parts of Greater Manchester has not yet been a total success, nor is it an unmitigated disaster. Already, however, one of the main beneficiaries is British Rail, which tells me that on some of its commuter routes into the middle of Manchester it is now picking up more passengers than it has had for a long time, and that on the Bury to Manchester route it is now running longer trains than for 20 years. So, as a supporter of British Rail, I am delighted that my qualms about the effect of the Act on British Rail have been proved wrong and that as a result of bus deregulation British Rail is improving its services and picking up more customers, although I suspect that that was not one of the Government's original objectives when they drafted the Bill. Nevertheless, it is welcome to me.
My final point is this. In this country we have always acted in haste with our transport policy. I do not believe that political dogma and public transport policy necessarily make happy bedfellows; nor do I believe that some of the decisions that we have taken in the past 40 or 50 years in our cities have resulted in improved public transport. I deeply regret the way in which we swept away the tram, whem most other European cities have been rapidly developing their tram services, which are pollution free, and, provided that they can be operated on separated tracks, as they are in many European cities now, are excellent forms of urban transport which we should encourage. The same goes for the trolley bus.
My plea to Opposition Members is: let us give this Act of Parliament a chance. In a year's time, let us see whether all their predictions of doom and gloom have been proved wrong or right. I say also to my hon. Friends: let us be a little less euphoric about what is happening now and let us have another look in a year's time and see how we are getting on.
Listening to the Labour party today, we could almost forget that we are talking about the public transport requirements of human beings—people wanting to travel around many of our towns and cities. That is what we should be talking about. The policy advocated by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) from the 308 Labour Front Bench can be encapsulated, like so many other Labour policies, in the words, "I am looking backwards for Christmas." I say to the Labour party: please do not do it. Give the Act a chance.
§ Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)
In the light of your request to make our speeches shorter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall endeavour to throw away a great part of the speech that I proposed to make about the chaos that has occurred and its effects on certain sections of our community. Let me mention one.
A month ago I was at a school, and at 4 o'clock the deputy head came to see the head teacher, full of consternation that the buses had not turned up for the children. I thought that it was an isolated incident. Later in the week I discovered in the local press that such incidents occurred in all the schools in the area. Last night my worst fears were nearly realised—I am glad to say that they were not completely realised. The Manchester Evening News stated that a little girl aged 11 had missed her bus and it had taken her four hours to get home. One can imagine the consternation of her family, who told the police, and the police thought the worst.
Is there anything that the Minister can do to ensure that schools have their proper allocation of school buses? This is the most vulnerable section of our community.
I shall not deal with old-age pensioners, nurses or the effect on trade in Manchester, but I shall go to the heart of the matter. The issues raised by the Greater Manchester transport authority with the Department of Transport on the re-determination of its expenditure level for 1987–88 are vital for the provision of a reasonable public transport service in Greater Manchester. There is no doubt that unless the Minister significantly increases the expenditure level announced earlier this year for 1987–88, which was £74.1 million, when the passenger transport executive and the passenger transport authority consider that expenditure requirements in that year will be about £87 million, further reductions in existing or planned levels will be inevitable. To prove that that will be so, we need only to look at the case in detail.
While all the new joint boards created by the Local Government Act 1985 are for the first three years precept limited, in the case of the PTA the Minister is empowered to determine an expenditure level that he considers appropriate for the PTA to discharge its functions. The expenditure level is used to calculate, first, the amount of block grant that the PTA receives for spending at that level and, secondly, the amount raised by the precept to make up the balance of expenditure. The precept, thus determined, becomes a statutory upper limit on the amount that the authority may raise in local taxes. It therefore becomes impossible for the authority to spend more money than the expenditure level as expenditure cannot exceed income.
In July the Secretary of State announced an expenditure level for the PTA of £74.1 million, which compares with £83.5 million in 1986–87, but the PTA has several statutory responsibilities relating to the provision of public transport in the area. I give concessionary fares for the elderly, children, the disabled and so on as an example.
The PTA inherited some debt capital projects from the former county council. So the PTA is developing the provision of special needs transport, for example, dial-a-ride community transport groups, all of which need 309 money. The PTA must also administer the system, and that costs money. It is also responsible for the increased pensions contribution for retired employees—a large item over which it has no control whatsoever.
The PTA and the PTE have had to incur substantial costs in the past year arising from the formation of Greater Manchester Buses Ltd. The bus company will need £19 million to cover the costs of redundancy and, in addition, the PTA has to give the bus company the assets that it needs to form a viable operation. That includes a cash injection of £11.9 million to meet the criteria laid down by the Department of Transport. The top cash requirements of the company are £30 million, of which the PTA can give only £2 million. Therefore, it has to borrow.
I know that the Minister has made it a little easier for the PTA to borrow over a longer period, but it still has to pay. If support for public transport in the metropolitan areas is reduced to the level proposed by the Secretary of State for Transport, the new PTA will be forced to withdraw support from the tendered services on a large scale. Concessionary fares schemes will be pruned and even greater hardships will be caused to the most vulnerable members of the population. The issue must be tackled in the current round of negotiations.
I wrote to the Minister on those matters on 4 November 1986. In the reply that I received on 20 November, the Minister said that he would give careful consideration to the case for extra money for the Greater Manchester transport authority, and that he hoped to announce his decision before the Christmas recess. I hope that his decision is such that the poor in our society will not be likening him to the ghost of Scrooge this Christmas.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
Bus services all over the country are in chaos, but the situation on Tyneside is comparatively worse due to the abolition of the county council, which created and developed one of the finest integrated public transport systems in the world. The system was built by a Labour-controlled council but it was ultimately supported by political parties and Governments of all persuasions. The Tyne and Wear metro with its integrated bus services was a vision for the future and a pointer to the way forward in developing efficient modern public transport in the conurbations. Contrary to what the Minister said earlier, the Labour party is far from being trapped in the past. In Tyne and Wear it created a futuristic and efficient public transport system—as people with greater experience and expertise than the Minister acknowledge, fully supported by the people of Tyne and Wear.
The House may be wondering why I refer to the Tyne and Wear transport system in the past tense. The answer is deregulation. Since 26 October, as Labour authorities on Tyneside predicted, deregulation has destroyed integration and our once envied and enviable transport system would have been reduced to near shambles but for the public transport authorities and the local councils. Utter confusion has been created by the Government's Transport Act and their blind, dogmatic adherence to the belief that the market will improve services and cut costs.
The passenger transport authority and executive tell us that the single major problem for bus passengers in Tyne and Wear has been the failure of operators to run to timetable, due to a number of factors such as drivers and passengers being unsure as to details of journeys. 310 Yesterday's local morning newspaper showed a picture of a damaged bus with the headlines "Bus wedged under bridge" and "Wrong turning causes crash". That kind of thing is still happening 30 days after deregulation. The number of staff is inadequate to operate the registered services when sickness and other absences are taken into account and there has been a significant increase in congestion in all town centres and river crossing points. The same newspaper states:The statistics speak for themselves. Before deregulation, 28 buses crossed the Tyne Bridge and 20 went over the Redheugh Bridge every hour. The respective totals are now 112 and 46".That is a 400 per cent. increase for Tyne Bridge alone. The AA blames much of the congestion onthe spin-off from deregulation—motorists deserting the buses for their carsand an AA spokesman is quoted as saying:People have lost faith in bus schedules, and are now using their cars to get to work… The resulting increase in traffic means the rush hours, especially in the evening, have become a darn sight longer. And it's only going to get worse between now and Christmas.The passenger transport authority states that bus crews are working in more difficult conditions with tighter timetables, lower wages and longer hours. The newspaper article states:The new boys are having to work to stay in the market place".One of them is quoted as saying:We're working all sort of hours, but that's a sacrifice you have to make".No doubt Conservative Members regard that as commendable and I am sure that the new boys are indeed working hard, but the danger to the travelling public is too often overlooked. Lest Tory Members think that we are exaggerating to discredit the Government, I will give two further examples of the effects of deregulation. The first illustrates just one of the many grim side effects of Tory transport policy.
The local newspaper of 11 November states thatirregular bus services on Sunday night may have been a factor in the street disturbance in which a mob of 200 men pushed police resources to the limit.Five policemen were attacked during the fighting in Grainger Street and reinforcements had to be called in.The subdivisional commander of police in Newcastle said:The de-regulation of buses may have exacerbated the problem. People find they can't get the buses in the night. There just seems to be a dearth of public transport".To show that all the criticism is not from the Labour party, I will quote the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant) during his "poverty for publicity" week on the dole. The local newspaper states:After only two days he claimed local bus services are in a shocking state—unreliable and irregularand that hesaid he was only now aware of the problems facing passengers.I shall be interested to see how the hon. Gentleman votes today. People may well be confused about his attitude as on 7 November 1984, when the deregulation proposals were being discussed in the House, the same newspaper stated:They were warmly welcomed by Newcastle Central Tory M.P. Mr. Piers Merchant, who claimed they would increase the flexibility of Tyne Wear's transport network, cut costs and boost efficiency.The hon. Gentleman was then quoted as saying:The Government's proposals will obviously be painful for the bus bureaucrats who run the PTE, but for the ordinary traveller they will be good news.311 I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support our amendment today.
That is just a sketch of what is happening on Tyneside. If time permitted, I could cite many more examples of the inadequacies of the private transport system. The five local authorities on Tyneside are struggling to maintain a reasonable level of service, but as three out of the five as well as the transport authority itself are rate capped it is a desperate struggle. The Government, blinded by dogma, continue relentlessly with their policy. They now propose to cut transport services in the county by £7 million, with all the threats implied by that for subsidies and concessionary fares. This week, the transport authority has argued the case for maintaining at least the current level of expenditure. I hope that the Minister will see the sense and justice of that case, especially in view of his remarks today about the subsidy functions of local authorities.
The Government said that privatisation would mean more choice, but bus mileage in Tyne and Wear is down 7 per cent. We were told that it would mean cheaper fares, but the rejection of the through ticket system by private operators means that many passengers now have to make more changes and pay each time. In Sunderland, some child fares have increased by 300 per cent. We were told that there would be healthy competition for routes—the Minister repeated that today—but 80 per cent. of the service routes in Tyne and Wear attracted only one tender and the public authority's negotiation skill saved £1 million on the private contractors' original demands, 30 per cent. of which were described as grossly overpriced. We were also promised improved services, but 60 per cent. of metro-related integration has been lost as a direct result of deregulation.
When Ministers say that these are just teething problems, they really mean that after a while the public will forget the old system and get used to the new, and to that end Conservative Members will troop into the Lobby to ensure the continuation of this discredited deregulation. But people will not forget, because this is just one more example of the Government's systematic destruction of public services, whether they be health, welfare, education or transport services. When the general election comes, people will remember—and they will realise that only the Labour party appreciates the true worth of public services and can restore them to their essential position in contributing to a secure and civilised society.
§ Mr. Tony Speller (Devon, North)
I have listened with great interest and enjoyment as colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken almost entirely about the metropolitan areas. Without knowing the detail, I understand their problems and complaints. From the rural areas, the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), though rather against the legislation, said that it seemed to be working. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) made a speech without mentioning steam trains, which must be unique, and spoke of the excellence that he trusts that the future will bring.
I come from north Devon, in the west country. The transport system there works very well. I have no dogma on the system. As a youngster I travelled with the Devon General which became the Red Bus Company. It is now 312 the little Red Bus Company. It has many small buses zooming around. A private organisation also exists called the Country Bus Service. My hon. Friend the Minister travelled on the first journey of that bus company. The timetable went rather backwards as there were many sheep on the roads. None the less, a year ago, the Country Bus Service had one bus. Now it has five. It serves villages in the west country which never had a bus service—although that is not quite true. The villages had a bus service 25 years ago, but over the years I have watched it decline.
The train service has declined in quality because there is no competition. Frankly, the first great step forward was the competition between coach and long distance bus services. Now, praise be, we have a service that suits the consumer as opposed to the timetabler. I understand the problems of the timetabler, but my constituents and I have no doubt that there is now a bus service in some villages where there was no chance of one a few years ago. I do not know how that compares with the metropolitan areas, but in the rural areas—I can travel for 65 miles without crossing my constituency boundary—it is a most welcome improvement.
I have only two points to make because time always presses. It is unfair to say that if one accepted a privatised enterprise bus service one would accept errors and faults. Private enterprise makes no pretence at being perfect. It makes no pretence at being dogmatic. It just says, "Let us give it a try. If it does not work, let us amend it. Let us keep amending it until it works." That, frankly, is precisely the problem with public transport: it has been run for the convenience of the operator, the driver and the staff, not for the convenience of the public. That has now changed. If an operator does not suit the public, it does not receive fares. Private enterprise offers profit, but it also accepts loss. That is the vast difference.
I welcome the working of the deregulated system so far. As many of my hon. Friends have said, how can something be condemned after one month of operation? If the best use to which two or three hours of debating time can be put is to argue about legislation which is one month old, it is a rather sad case.
The little Red Bus service in north Devon has caused a political furore in the hothouse of Devonian politics. The prospective Labour candidate objected to an advertisement calling the little red buses "Rosie" on the ground that it was sexist—[Laughter.] I am not joking. The suggestion to "Take a ride with Rosie" apparently angered the Devonshire Labour party. That is the level of complaint against the privatised service. The service is working well. It is working for the public. It will get even better as time passes.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I begin by referring to a quotation that was made by the Secretary of State when he responded to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). He used the example of inter-city coaching as an example of a service where deregulation has worked. I say to the Secretary of State that one cannot compare inter-city coaching with stage carriage bus services. They are not comparable. Coach services used to pass through many cities, but that is no longer the case. Inter-city coaches now travel from London, up or down the motorway, to Manchester, Birmingham or Bristol. That cuts out many cities which 313 used to have the use of those inter-city coaches. The Secretary of State cannot use inter-city coaching as an example of good deregulation.
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumherg) is not here, because he made some rather tendentious remarks a little earlier. I must tell him and other hon. Members that the bus companies now have an arm's length relationship between themselves and the passenger transport executives and the passenger transport authorities. It is not the responsibility of those bodies to roster bus crews. It is not their problem, but that of the bus companies. If the former Secretary of State had taken our advice in Committee and introduced deregulation more slowly, all the problems over bus timetables might not have occurred. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), who sat through these debates, knows that only too well.
During this short debate on the effects of bus deregulation, many Labour Members have told the Secretary of State of the extent of the chaos in their constituencies since deregulation was introduced, and none more so than my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) who, in his maiden speech displayed a depth of understanding of the real problems of his constituency. He also showed that he has the compassion and the determination to represent the people of Knowsley, North in their fight for a better future for themselves and their families. I congratulate him on his maiden speech. I am sure that for many years to come the entire House will wish to hear him speak.
In a recent speech on deregulation to the Institution of Civil Engineers the Secretary of State said:I think that overall the timetable has proved manageable, and the system is in place. I congratulate those in local authorities, and the professionals running the bus services and their advisers, who have made what is after all a fairly momentous change with so few significant examples of difficulty.To put it in the modern vernacular, the Secretary of State was being extremely economical with the truth. The plain fact is that, overall, deregulation has been a disaster. It has not just been a disaster because it has been running for only one month. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South.167" who sat in Committee with me night after night, knows that Hansard is littered with our predictions about how the legislation would cause devastation in our public transport systems. He knows better than most that what we predicted would happen has happened. Opposition Members take no pride or pleasure in having to say that. The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), was the author of this piece of lunacy.
§ Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)
Although it is early to judge the legislation, may I say that the position will get worse, because many of the services which have been registered as viable, or which have been won on tender, will prove not to be viable on the basis on which they are being run at present.
§ Mr. Stott
That could be right, and the answer to my hon. Friend is that the Minister of State has acknowledged that point.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North said that he had a minute of the evidence of what the Minister had said, the Minister acknowledged that 314 fact. More routes have been registered as profitable, and come the early part of January, these routes will be considered seriously.
In a press release on deregulation, the Secretary of State said:This change is necessary because for far too long the bus industry has been in decline. Bus travel is down by half in 30 years, fares are up faster than inflation and, ominously, faster than motoring costs.The Secretary of State is falling into the same trap as the former Secretary of State when he talks about the bus industry being in decline. He is right when he says that it is in decline in areas which were controlled by Conservative county councils.
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who was here a little earlier, told us how bus services had suddenly improved. The bus services in Oxfordshire were so lousy because Oxfordshire county council had one of the worst records on public transport before deregulation. Therefore, there was great room for improvement. To say en passant that bus services had been in decline is palpably untrue. The Secretary of State should recognise that.
In the metropolitan areas, bus services have increased during the past 11 years. Tremendous strides have been made by all those involved in introducing new buses, buses especially designed for the disabled, bus passes for old-age pensioners, through ticketing and other aspects of marketing. In addition, market research has been carried out with passengers to try to discover where bus stops should be located, the frequencies of buses, timetables and other matters.
I disagree entirely with the statement that bus services in the metropolitan areas had been declining during the past 11 years. If anything, they were increasing. My area, south Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear and the west Midlands had a record in public transport of which they could be proud, but since the Government introduced this wretched legislation the people who used to have good bus services are having to suffer all these problems.
Hon. Members have commented on what is happening in their areas. At my surgery last Saturday, a lady said to me, "Mr. Stott, what are you going to do about the bus services?" It is rather ironic for someone to ask me what I can do about the bus services, since night after night, and day after day, I and my hon. Friends fought against the Bill. Recently, I was asked to speak at a public meeting in Kettering. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North mentioned this problem in his opening remarks. In Kettering, there is a fairly new bus station. The subsidiary of the National Bus Company used to operate out of that bus station, but because the Conservative-controlled county council will not give the new bus company enough money, it has closed the bus station in the centre of the town. The people of Kettering are having to queue for their buses in lay-bys, in the pouring rain. This is supposed to be progress. This is supposed to be the great panacea that will flow from the legislation.
This morning I received a letter from a pensioners organisation in Manchester. It states:Unless there is a radical change in the present operation of the Transport Act, this coming winter will deprive many of them"—old-age pensioners—of the means to travel as comfortably and as frequently as they have done in the past. For some it will mean being confined to their homes for long periods, with all the social and physical problems that can accrue. The cost of 315 concessionary fares has now doubled for those who use cross-city buses, and with the waiting time for connections, so has the journey time. Pensioners are understandably seething with anger with the undermining of what was a reasonable and good public Transport System.Had my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) caught your eye a little earlier, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he would have told the House that Mrs. Louise Ellman, the leader of Lancashire county council, said this in a recent press statement:There is mounting evidence that Lancashire schoolchildren and students are suffering from bus deregulation. Complaints are pouring in from right across the county, including Blackpool, St. Annes, Lancaster, Poulton, Blackburn, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and West Lancashire. Some people are unable to make formal complaints because the telephone lines are so overloaded. Problems range from youngsters being turned off buses after their passes had been rejected, to buses simply not turning up and schoolchildren left standing out in the pouring rain.One of my hon. Friends made a serious point about schoolchildren missing buses and being left out in the rain. Now that winter is coming on and the dark nights are here, we shall have to do something about it. The Secretary of State and the Minister of State will be held responsible if the provision of school services is not maintained at the levels that existed before deregulation. It is essential that children who go to school on buses are provided with buses on time and regularly. If they are not, it will be the direct responsibility of the Government.
Some of my hon. Friends have told the Secretary of State that their local authorities had approached him regarding external financing limits, grant-related expenditure assessment and the amount of block grant that they would get. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities estimates a shortfall of £50 million in all the metropolitan areas. If the Secretary of State is not persuaded by the arguments of the metropolitan authorities and this shortfall continues, the only way in which the money can be made up is by attacking concessionary fares.
That point was made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). The Minister of State accused me repeatedly of scaring old people about concessionary fares, and he said, "The local authorities will have the money to do it." Now he must put his money where his mouth is, because if the authorities do not receive that money, concessionary fares will be threatened. The Minister will have to come up with the goods.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North told the House what the Labour party will do when it returns to office. I repeat that now, because public transport will be at the heart of our social policy. We shall put public transport back where it belongs—with the people of the country, through their elected representatives in the city and town halls. They will have a proper say in how public transport should be run. No one has taken out of context the comment of the previous Secretary of State for Transport, who said:Gentlemen, you are now free to run your services without the constraints of a social conscience.Oh boy, are they doing that now. When the Labour party returns to power, it will have a social conscience and it will put public transport back on the map.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. David Mitchell)
This has been a difficult debate for the 316 Opposition since they had to choose their timing carefully. A year ago, too many people in the Labour party were doing their irresponsible best to frighten people by suggesting that there would be major cuts in services. The Opposition were set back a bit when they discovered that three quarters of all existing services were registered as commercial, but it did not stop them. They went round saying that local authorities would be unable to afford to buy-in the remaining one quarter of services with the aid of subsidy. Again, the Opposition were trying to frighten people, especially the old and the less well-off—the most vulnerable members of society who depend upon buses. Again, they were proved wrong.
By 26 October, the commercial services registered in the spring had generally been overlaid and the gaps filled by a network of subsidised services. Despite it being the biggest shake-up in bus services for 50 years, in most parts of the country D-day passed off perfectly well because operators and local authorities did their jobs properly. Of course, one knows of places where many cases were reported, especially where the local newspaper paid £2 a letter for each case that came to its attention. Even Labour local authorities—I say this plainly—mostly behaved responsibly and efficiently and ensured that buses were there for those who needed them. Of course, in a minority of places there were initial problems, especially when deregulation day coincided with traffic management arrangements being revised, as in central Newcastle, or with road works, as in central Glasgow, together with traffic light failures and a major procession. There was a new pedestrian scheme in Leicester. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) may laugh about Glasgow, but where are the 11 Labour Members of Parliament representing Glasgow today? Are they leading the attack on the Government? Of course, they are not.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I will give way only to an hon. Member who represents Glasgow.
The problems are beginning to fade. That is why the Opposition had to rush in this debate immediately the House reassembled and within a month of deregulation coming into effect. They have a fading asset. The debate takes place against that background. It also takes place against the background of less efficient operators being shown up and an opportunity for the public to see where local bus management is good. It has sorted out the men from the boys and it has inevitably shown where local management is bad. If local management is bad, it will act as a magnet for new operators. I wonder whether it is chance that a new operator is lining up 200 minibuses to bring into the south Manchester area.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North raised several points which, to be fair, I should like to cover. He said that we had hoped that many new operators would come forward. He is right, in that not as many new operators have come forward as we might have wished. But quite a number have stepped forward, and he was right to say that the 50 taxibus operators represent one form of innovation. He was also right to say that, as yet, the enterprise culture 317 has not led to as many new operators as we might have liked. However, I should be very surprised if the new year does not bring with it more operators.
The Department has recently sent out a leaflet for prospective new operators, explaining how to start in business—[Interruption.] The creation of new jobs and new business is something that we are not ashamed of. As a result of advertising, more than 1,000 applications have been received for copies of that leaflet. That bodes well for the long-term future.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Will the Minister look into the problems that face bus passengers in Bradford over Christmas and the new year as services are likely to be suspended? The west Yorkshire passenger transport authority has sought sponsorship from the brewers so that bus services can be run over the holiday. However, it seems unlikely that they will fund new services. Will the Minister look into the matter as soon as possible, and see what can be done to provide a minimum bus service in Bradford over Christmas and the new year?
§ Mr. Mitchell
I always like to respond as quickly as possible to hon. Members' requests. Accordingly, I shall go to Bradford tomorrow morning and will look into the situation that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North pointed out that we had said, during the Bill's passage, that we thought that drivers would become more helpful. He then quipped that it was the passengers who were having to become more helpful, because they were showing the drivers the routes.
The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) cited the example of a bus that had got stuck under a bridge because the driver did not know the route. He and other hon. Members blamed the Government and the legislation for such mistakes. But they are, rather, the result of rank bad management, because companies did not train their drivers properly before sending them out on new routes. That is a matter not for the Government but for local management.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North referred to the months going by. So far, only one month has gone by and it is already clear that many of the problems that prompted the Opposition to table their motion are fading rapidly away—[Interruption.]—as local management tackles the problems. I shall come in a moment to some of the Opposition Back Benchers who are making such a cacophony.
The question of Glasgow was also raised. When we saw the photographs and television film of the traffic jams involving huge numbers of vehicles and buses in the centre of Glasgow on that Sunday, we did not see the traffic light failures, the processions or the other changes that made the congestion far worse than it might otherwise have been. An independent traffic commissioner has been approached by the highways authority and has been asked immediately to introduce changes. He has considered the situation, but the traffic has now returned to a sufficiently reasonable level for him to say that he does not consider it a matter for urgent decision, and so he will take it through the normal processes. That is a sign that things are not as bad as has been claimed.
I am glad that we then came to the subject of Lancashire, because I can deal with relish with what has been said about it. Lancashire county councillor Louise 318 Ellman has been crying stinking fish ever since she campaigned in the local elections. Perhaps I can put the quotation that was given in context. I said that several services have been registered as commercial which the operators may find, come January, are not commercial, and so they will seek to de-register them. It was reasonable of the county council to keep a little money back against that eventuality. However, there are several points to be made. Those services are only marginally unprofitable, as otherwise they would not have been registered by the operator as profitable. Consequently, the cost of buying them in will be very small.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
The quotation that I used did not refer specifically to Lancashire. It was the Minister's advice to all county councils, and not just to Lancashire.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I accept that, but I have applied it to Lancashire. As the hon. Gentleman quoted that case, I shall take the Lancashire figures a shade further. The new cost of providing services in Lancashire will be £2,480,000. The old cost was £8,367,000. I am using pages five and six of a document from the clerk of Lancashire county council to all members of the county council's transport subcommittee. I should be happy to give the relevant information to the hon. Gentleman if he wants it.
The net saving was £5,887,000, as postulated in that internal document from Lancashire county council. As I have said umpteen times, Lancashire will save £5 million or more of ratepayers' money. It has £5,887,000, and so there is £887,000 to play with, and we shall still be on the credit side of my assurance. Consequently, I say to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, with the greatest respect, that he has got things wrong.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I shall not give way, as time is pressing.
I welcomed the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). He spoke like an experienced parliamentarian. He also spoke with compassion about his constituents' problems, and was given a sympathetic hearing by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He may be surprised to discover the extent to which the whole House shares his concern for the problems of Merseyside. Hon. Members certainly look forward to hearing him speak again. He mentioned a lack of timetables on Merseyside, and I hope that he will make his views known to the passenger transport executive.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) gave a very fair account of the success of deregulation in many parts of the country. I thank him for his support for the sale of the Vectis bus company on the Isle of Wight to its own management. However, although he wanted to adopt the typical Liberal attitude of sitting on the fence, he felt that he had to mount some attack. The best that he could do was o pass on complaints from other parts of the country. He raised the question of operators' licences. I assure him that the licence system will continue along with all the checks involved and, moreover, we have increased the number of roadside inspectors by 22 per cent., which should be sufficient at the moment.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) drew attention to the 225 per cent. increase in fares in south Yorkshire since the Act came into force—from a base of 10p for three miles. The rest of the country would consider it to be almost unbelievable that that fare level 319 had operated. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that south Yorkshire had cheap fares. Yes, fares were cheap for bus users, but they were damned expensive for ratepayers, for people whose businesses have moved from that area and for people who do not have jobs because of the high rates there. If people in that area knew that £60 per man, woman and child per year went into the provision of bus services, they might consider whether they would rather have the money in their own pockets to spend as they choose.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the expenditure limit and the consideration of the redetermination. We are giving it careful consideration. I cannot discuss it further today.
Leeds is another place in which there was chaos, but that was because timetables were not sent out on time. The PTE sought to blame everybody within sight, including the Post Office, until a contract was produced. That contract showed that the PTE had not asked for delivery of the timetables until after D-day. It is scarcely surprising that some people waited for buses that did not run. Some people used their cars and consequently there was chaos throughout Leeds.
A month after the biggest bus shake-up for 50 years, some things are becoming apparent. Broadly, the same network is being operated, with a temporary hiatus during which much depends on the competence of local management. In the past, a great deal of innovation was held down by the dead hand of regulation. Now, new minibus and taxibus systems are opening to provide better services for customers than has existed in many parts of the country. As the months go by, that improvement will spread to the areas from which the complaints have come.
§ Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 264.322
|Division No. 9]||[7 pm|
|Alton, David||Clelland, David Gordon|
|Anderson, Donald||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cohen, Harry|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Coleman, Donald|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Conlan, Bernard|
|Barnett, Guy||Cook, Frank (Stockton North)|
|Barron, Kevin||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Corbett, Robin|
|Beith, A. J.||Cox, Thomas (Tooting)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Craigen, J. M.|
|Blair, Anthony||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Dalyell, Tam|
|Boyes, Roland||Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||Deakins, Eric|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Dewar, Donald|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Dixon, Donald|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Dobson, Frank|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Dormand, Jack|
|Buchan, Norman||Dubs, Alfred|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Campbell, Ian||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Eastham, Ken|
|Canavan, Dennis||Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Fatchett, Derek|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Cartwright, John||Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Fisher, Mark|
|Clarke, Thomas||Flannery, Martin|
|Clay, Robert||Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Forrester, John||Nellist, David|
|Foster, Derek||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Foulkes, George||O'Brien, William|
|Fraser, J. (Norwood)||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Freud, Clement||Park, George|
|Garrett, W. E.||Parry, Robert|
|Godman, Dr Norman||Patchett, Terry|
|Golding, Mrs Llin||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Gould, Bryan||Pendry, Tom|
|Gourlay, Harry||Penhaligon, David|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Pike, Peter|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Hancock, Michael||Prescott, John|
|Hardy, Peter||Radice, Giles|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Randall, Stuart|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Raynsford, Nick|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Redmond, Martin|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Richardson, Ms Jo|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Home Robertson, John||Robertson, George|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley, N)||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Howells, Geraint||Rogers, Allan|
|Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport East)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Sheerman, Barry|
|John, Brynmor||Sheldon, Rt Hon R.|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Shields, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)|
|Lambie, David||Silkin, Rt Hon J.|
|Lamond, James||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Leighton, Ronald||Smith, Rt Hon J. (M'ds E)|
|Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Lewis, Terence (Worsley)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Litherland, Robert||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|Livsey, Richard||Stott, Roger|
|Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)||Straw, Jack|
|Loyden, Edward||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|McCartney, Hugh||Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)|
|McGuire, Michael||Thorne, Stan (Preston)|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Tinn, James|
|McKelvey, William||Torney, Tom|
|MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor||Wainwright, R.|
|Maclennan, Robert||Wallace, James|
|McNamara, Kevin||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|McTaggart, Robert||Wareing, Robert|
|McWilliam, John||Weetch, Ken|
|Madden, Max||Welsh, Michael|
|Marek, Dr John||White, James|
|Martin, Michael||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Maxton, John||Wilson, Gordon|
|Maynard, Miss Joan||Winnick, David|
|Meacher, Michael||Woodall, Alec|
|Meadowcroft, Michael||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Michie, William||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Millan, Rt Hon Bruce||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Mr. Allen Adams and|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)||Mr. Sean Hughes|
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Adley, Robert||Batiste, Spencer|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Beaumont-Dark, Anthony|
|Alexander, Richard||Bellingham, Henry|
|Amess, David||Bendall, Vivian|
|Ancram, Michael||Benyon, William|
|Arnold, Tom||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Ashby, David||Blackburn, John|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Body, Sir Richard|
|Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Vall'y)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Bottomley, Peter|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Harris, David|
|Bright, Graham||Hawksley, Warren|
|Brinton, Tim||Hayes, J.|
|Brittan, Rt Hon Leon||Hayward, Robert|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Heddle, John|
|Browne, John||Henderson, Barry|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Hicks, Robert|
|Burt, Alistair||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Butcher, John||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butler, Rt Hon Sir Adam||Hirst, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Holt, Richard|
|Cash, William||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N)|
|Chope, Christopher||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Irving, Charles|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Cockeram, Eric||Jessel, Toby|
|Colvin, Michael||Jones, Robert (Herts W)|
|Conway, Derek||Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine|
|Coombs, Simon||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Cope, John||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)|
|Corrie, John||Knowles, Michael|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Knox, David|
|Critchley, Julian||Lang, Ian|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Latham, Michael|
|Dicks, Terry||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Dunn, Robert||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Durant, Tony||Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lightbown, David|
|Eggar, Tim||Lilley, Peter|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Evennett, David||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||Lord, Michael|
|Fallon, Michael||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Farr, Sir John||McCrindle, Robert|
|Favell, Anthony||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Fenner, Dame Peggy||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Maclean, David John|
|Forman, Nigel||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)|
|Forth, Eric||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Madel, David|
|Freeman, Roger||Major, John|
|Gale, Roger||Malins, Humfrey|
|Galley, Roy||Maples, John|
|Gardner, Sir Edward (Fylde)||Marland, Paul|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Marlow, Antony|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Mather, Carol|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Mellor, David|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Merchant, Piers|
|Gow, Ian||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Gower, Sir Raymond||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Greenway, Harry||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Gregory, Conal||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Moate, Roger|
|Grist, Ian||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Grylls, Michael||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John S||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton S)||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Mudd, David||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Neale, Gerrard||Speller, Tony|
|Needham, Richard||Spencer, Derek|
|Nelson, Anthony||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Neubert, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Squire, Robin|
|Norris, Steven||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Onslow, Cranley||Stanley, Rt Hon John|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Steen, Anthony|
|Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Osborn, Sir John||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil||Sumberg, David|
|Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Pawsey, James||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Pollock, Alexander||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Portillo, Michael||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Powley, John||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Thurnham, Peter|
|Price, Sir David||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Pym, Rt Hon Francis||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Raffan, Keith||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Viggers, Peter|
|Rathbone, Tim||Waddington, David|
|Renton, Tim||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wall, Sir Patrick|
|Ridsdale, Sir Julian||Waller, Gary|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Walters, Dennis|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Ward, John|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Wheeler, John|
|Rowe, Andrew||Whitfield, John|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Whitney, Raymond|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wilkinson, John|
|Scott, Nicholas||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Wolfson, Mark|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wood, Timothy|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Shersby, Michael||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Silvester, Fred||Mr. Francis Maude and|
|Sims, Roger||Mr. Gerald Malone.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Question, That the proposed words he there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.
§ MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House congratulates the Government on its radical measures to arrest the long running decline of the bus industry by abolishing outdated controls and creating the conditions in which competition, innovation and enterprise can flourish and provide better bus services, whilst at the same time enabling local authorities to obtain value for money in subsidising socially necessary services, thereby putting the social and economic needs of the community and of the travelling public in the forefront of public transport policy.