§ '(1) Each franchise agreement shall include such provision as the Franchising Director considers appropriate for the purpose of securing that the franchised services are available at concessionary rates to passengers holding a document obtained from the Board (or such other person as may be specified in the franchise agreement) as a person who—
- (a) has attained the age of 60;
- (b) has not attained the age of 26 or is undergoing full-time education or training;
- (c) is handicapped or disabled; or
- (d) is of such other description as may be specified in the franchise agreement.
§ (3) A franchise agreement shall also include such provision as the Franchising Director considers appropriate for the purpose of enabling persons who wish to be able to travel within the locality where the franchised services are provided using railway and other passenger transport services—
- (a) to travel by the franchised services and other such services on the purchase of a single document; or
- (b) to travel on all those services at a concessionary fare by means of the purchase of a single document entitling them to a concession on designated services.'. —[Sir Keith Speed.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.3.45 pm
§ Sir Keith Speed (Ashford)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
I start be declaring an interest as, for a number of years, I have, through my company, been a consultant to I nterCity.
I add my tribute to our late friend and colleague, Robert Adley, On the morning of 22 April, a couple of days before his fatal illness, we spent several hours in his room in the House thinking about the Bill in the light of the report of the Select Committee and the Bill's Committee stage. If there is any credit to be given for the proposals that I am making, he is entitled to 100 per cent. of it.
The new clause seeks to enshrine in legislation the railcards and discount cards that are available to various groups of our fellow citizens. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the rest of the Bill, there is no question but that this part of it has caused considerable concern. I have received letters from organisations such as Saga Holidays, Age Concern, women's institutes and others who fear that 759 our senior citizens will lose the opportunities offered by their senior citizens railcards, which enable them to travel at reasonable fares all over the country.
Others could express similar concerns: disabled people in particular, young people and those who use the intermodal railcard in London and many other metropolitan cities, which conveniently allows people to travel by rail, bus or tube.
I have had fruitful and positive discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, for which I pay tribute to him. He has made it clear from the outset that our aims are identical: we want to ensure that such cards are preserved. The Bill does not propose that. It is argued that, because such cards are so lucrative, the franchise companies would be stupid to withdraw them. The commercial argument is that those facilities are mainly available at off-peak times and that it is better to get passengers on seats, even if their fare is discounted, because it helps the cash flow and profitability of the railway company or line.
The social advantages, which I have mentioned briefly, are substantial. Britain has much to learn about leisure travel for senior citizens. SNCF in France identified the old-age pension market and has done much to encourage travel around France at discounted rates, to the benefit of its finances. British Rail, in recent years, offered away-days at £1, and the senior citizens' railcard, which entitles pensioners to substantial discounts, and other discount cards are cherished by many hundreds of thousands of older people, disabled people and young people.
§ Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the issue of the needs of pensioners and pensioners railcards, may I ask whether he is aware that less than 10 per cent. of single pensioners who depend mainly on the state pension have a car? If they were deprived of their railcards, that would make it extraordinarily difficult for many of them to visit relations or to travel on trains at all.
§ Sir Keith Speed
My hon. Friend is right. In a few years' time, I shall be a state retirement pensioner. It is very important for us to consider pensioners' quality of life. Travel enables people to visit their grandchildren or children and visit other parts of the country when they have the available time and leisure and can do so at a reasonable price. A rail journey in itself can be a pleasurable activity for many older or disabled people. My colleagues and I therefore believe that it is vital that the safeguard is incorporated in the Bill so that, beyond peradventure, there is no question of people losing their concessions.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister have argued that they will issue directives or instructions to the effect that the cards should remain, but that is not the same as the House expressing a view. If the safeguard is incorporated in legislation, it will mean that, if anyone seeks to withdraw the cards or any concessions, the matter will have to be brought back to the House so that the legislation can be amended; we or future Members of Parliament will then have to vote and be answerable to the electorate.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier —I appreciate the point he makes—that it would be extremely unlikely that any of the franchise operators would withdraw the cards because there would be an 760 outcry if they did. However, if, for example, the franchisee running trains on the line from Exeter to Paddington decided to withdraw the card—perhaps for cash-flow reasons or merely because of hard-nosed management—half a dozen colleagues representing constituencies up and down the line would cause a fuss, furore and storm. However, if British Rail decided overnight to abolish senior citizens railcards, 650 hon. Members would write to my right hon. Friend—not 651, because my right hon. Friend would not write to himself as he would know what the problems were. Therefore, it is vital to enshrine the safeguard in legislation, and this is perhaps the only opportunity that we shall have for a very long time.
If my right hon. Friend accepts the new clause, not only would it be good to have enshrined the proposal in legislation for the future but the Bill would provide something that does not exist at present. Elderly, disabled or young people or even intermodal card users currently have no statutory right to this concession. People will value such a right in the future, and I hope that more young people and old-age pensioners will use the cards and enjoy them even more.
I trust that the debate will be brief—because my case is so strong, I hope that my right hon. Friend will accept it. The new clause would give fresh opportunities to young, old and disabled people and would ensure that people travelling into towns and cities across the country can use the intermodal cards which are so effective and useful. I commend the new clause to the House.
§ The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. John MacGregor)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) said, we entirely agree on the objective. That was clear from our discussions. I fully understand the importance of railcards to senior citizens and other groups. Indeed, my hon. Friend has explained their importance so well that I do not need to repeat what he said. I can only add that many thousands of my constituents benefit from the senior citizens railcard, as do members of my family. I do not think that is a declaration of interest but, if it has to be, then it is. I know of people who are very clear about the benefits of railcards, and I have seen those benefits many times. In due course, I shall join my hon. Friend in becoming a senior citizen, so I have absolutely no wish to see cards disappear, as I have made clear throughout the proceedings on the Bill. Indeed, I believe that under our proposals their scope and scale will be enhanced.
The question is how we can best achieve our objectives. My hon. Friend was right to say that British Rail has no statutory obligations at present, nor has it ever had. There is a feeling among many people that British Rail has a statutory obligation, but it does not. I recognise the social benefits of many of the cards, especially the senior citizens card, but they are also—indeed, in some ways, primarily —marketing incentives, to attract more passengers on to the railway during off-peak periods. That means, as it was somewhat inelegantly put during our discussions, "more bums on seats."
That is obviously a clear incentive for British Rail, and I believe that it would be an even greater incentive for franchisees. The basis of our case has been that franchisees will make their returns and, if they are successful, benefit both themselves and their employees more, in two ways: first, by seeking effective cost savings and by running a cost-effective franchise; and, secondly, by increasing 761 revenue. Increased revenue will be achieved by attracting more passengers. So the franchisees will have an even greater incentive than British Rail has ever had to seek to exploit in every possible way, through more extensive and imaginative discount schemes, the possibility of filling up the trains, and that is why—
§ Mr. MacGregor
May I finish my sentence first?
That is why I believe profoundly that under our reforms there will be more use of such schemes.
§ Mr. Martin
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is profitable for British Rail to offer senior citizens and young persons railcards, but that the disabled persons initiative, which under his plan will be enshrined in the legislation, is not profitable?
§ Mr. MacGregor
That is correct, although it is not enshrined in legislation—I shall deal with that later. It is correct to say that in so far as cards attract more passengers there is an obvious revenue benefit. That is why I believe that there is no doubt that franchisees will wish to continue, extend and expand the schemes.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
The Secretary of State is completely ignoring the reality that there is a doubt. He says that there is no doubt in his mind that the franchisees will want to use those facilities, but surely the problem is that, with the break-up of a national rail network and the break-up of InterCity, there is a real doubt. If the Secretary of State is so convinced, why does he oppose legislating to assuage the doubt and to give pensioners and future pensioners confidence that there is no possibility of the cards being withdrawn?
§ Mr. MacGregor
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my case; I shall come to that question at the logical point in my argument.
There is a reason why the British Rail schemes have not been statutory, and that is the danger of inflexibility. As the House will know, British Rail changes the range and types of schemes over time, and wishes to develop them, as I believe that the franchisees will. There is an obvious risk that, if the conditions of any scheme—the people to whom it should apply, and so on—are made statutory, as British Rail or the franchisees wish to develop their schemes they will have to seek primary legislation every time the original conditions are found to be constricting.
There have been good commercial, marketing and—as one of my hon. Friends remarked from a sedentary position—"businesslike" reasons for wishing to operate more and more schemes. That is why we have said that we have every reason to believe that railcards will expand and prosper under the new reforms, on a non-statutory basis, as now, with co-ordination between operators being achieved by joint industry arrangements.
There has been some outside comment on that point, so I must explain that there is no technical difficulty in such arrangements. British Rail currently operates under 19 profit centres, on which, as I made clear yesterday, the franchise units that we expect will be based. The profit centres now within British Rail have to have a clearing 762 house to arrange for the allocation of the relevant parts of the revenue to each centre, so there will be no technical difficulty about such arrangements under our reforms.
I now come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin). We had accepted that the disabled persons railcard was different. It is provided voluntarily by British Rail and it does not make a profit; so there is not so much a marketing advantage or a marketing scheme here as a social benefit. Moreover, it is available for use in peak hours as well as in off-peak hours and is offered in recognition of the special needs of disabled people. We have, therefore, said that the franchising director will require franchisees to provide common discounts for disabled people on broadly similar lines to the present arrangements. We saw no need for that provision to be in the Bill because we had given an undertaking that we would direct the franchising director in his objectives to require such a provision.
In our discussions, my hon. Friends took the force of the point that under our reforms there is a greater incentive for operators to seek to use railcard and discount schemes and that there is a need to retain flexibility. My hon. Friends made two points in response. The first point—which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford especially pressed and which he has also raised this afternoon—is that, under the voluntary arrangements, we could not guarantee that there would be a national network. One could not absolutely guarantee that there would be no gaps. My hon. Friend has made the point that there may be one or two franchisees who do not share my view and who may not—this is hypothetical—operate a scheme. In that particular franchise, there would be a gap not only for those who travel there but for those who travel through that franchise.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford also made the point that he would prefer the provision to be in the Bill to ensure the continuance of these schemes. I made it clear that one possibility was to require, through directions to the franchising director, that he should do the same in the contracts with franchises for senior citizen railcards, for example, as we have instructed him to do for the disabled. My hon. Friend replied that he had no doubt that I would wish to do that for the entire period that I was Secretary of State for Transport. I can assure him that that is the case. However, he pointed out, and I agree, that these reforms will last for a long time; they may last longer than I will be Secretary of State—one cannot be absolutely sure of any future Secretary of State.
My hon. Friends fully accepted the need to maintain flexibility and saw a positive advantage in that. In return, I accept the force of their two points. I take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has said and therefore propose to move as follows. I take on board the points, as we have throughout the course of the Bill. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport listened carefully to all the arguments, and where we believe that the case has been made, provided that they are in line with or further our objectives, we are prepared to make changes. The size of the amendment paper reflects that position and that attitude in Committee.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford that I fear that new clause 12 is defective for a number of reasons, through which I have briefly taken him. However, I accept the force of my hon. Friend's arguments. 763 Therefore, I now give an undertaking to bring forward in another place an amendment to impose a duty on the franchising director to require, through franchise agreements, participation in discount schemes for senior citizens, disabled people and young people. I thank my hon. Friend for the courteous and constructive way in which we have carried out our discussions. He has convinced me that we just needed to go that little bit further to ensure the continuance of such schemes and I gladly confirm that we will do so.
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
My modest experience has taught me one thing. Tory rebellions are a bit like tooth fairies—"Believe in them when you see them". There is little in the statement by the Secretary of State that should dissuade the Tory Members who tabled the new clause from pursuing it to the vote. I shall explain why. First, let us be clear that we are seeking not to create new rights or benefits, but to defend existing ones which are threatened—an unnecessary by-product of this unwanted Bill. The only people responsible for putting them at risk are the Secretary of State and his colleagues.
We are seeking to safeguard benefits that are appreciated and enjoyed by millions of our constituents, especially the young and the old. The outcome of the debate does not matter, because the Government have distinguised themselves by creating confusion and uncertainty about a feature of daily life that is valued by so many people. Why have they created that uncertainty? It is not an end in itself but a facilitator for the ideological aim of fragmenting and privatising railway services. It is another example of the fact that mean-mindedness is the essential handmaiden of right-wing dogma.
§ Mr. Wilson
I shall give way in a moment. I want to deal with the people who will be affected by this and explain to Conservative Members why the Secretary of State's offer is inadequate.
In a sense, I am trying to be helpful. I am dealing with the short-term aim of trying to build genuine safeguards into the legislation. Conservative Members will be affected by the long-term consequences of what is being done, but that is not my responsibility or concern.
§ Mr. Wilson
I shall give way in a moment. Let us consider the number of people involved in the various schemes, including those schemes to which the Secretary of State made no reference this afternoon. There are 700,000 holders of the senior railcard, 700,000 holders of the young person's railcard and 250,000 holders—the Secretary of State did not mention this—of the family railcard.
§ Mr. MacGregor
There is a distinction. The family railcard—obviously this can be discussed—is a clear example of a marketing initiative without the same social connotations as the senior citizens railcard or the young persons railcard. The marketing initiative is frequently changed to meet new marketing conditions. Therefore, there is a distinction.
§ Mr. Wilson
The family railcard is a social device to get people who cannot necessarily afford to travel otherwise out of the cities and into the country during off-peak periods. It may have an economic benefit for the railways, 764 but it also has a social benefit. It falls into exactly the same category because, if it were taken away, it would not be a significant financial loss to the railways, but it would be a massive social loss to those who enjoy its benefits. The Secretary of State will be on his feet a few more times if he responds to each of my points.
§ Mr. Wilson
I shall give way in due course.
There are 740,000 holders of the London travelcard. Specifically on the railways—because the travelcard also covers other forms of transport—there are 300,000 holders of the network card and an additional 300,000 holders who benefit. That is 600,000 people with a network card. There are 55,000 holders of the gold partners card. In total, 2.33 million people benefit from the existing railcard system. All of those people have security in the knowledge that such benefits exist, and will continue to exist, throughout the network. In the legislation, the Government are removing that certainty and replacing it with the lottery that the Secretary of State has been dealing with today.
§ Mr. Cormack
The hon. Gentleman is making the speech that perhaps he should have made if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had been intransigent. He is paying no regard whatever to the fact that there is no statutory safeguard at present—he is simply spreading unease and anxiety among people throughout the country when he should know better.
§ Mr. Wilson
The hon. Gentleman may think that he is off the hook with those remarks, but he is not. Frankly, the question whether he accepts what has been said or listens to the facts is a matter between him and his conscience, and his constituents. One of the facts is that many hundreds of thousands of people who hold railcards at present were not covered by the Secretary of State's announcement. We will refer to other deficiencies in the statement later.
I see that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) is trying to get to his feet. He was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. He voted for every dot and comma of it and against every effort by Labour Members to build in safeguards. The idea that he has turned up now to express concern is not a runner.
§ Mr. Raymond Robertson (Aberdeen, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman take the time to tell the House what guarantees present railcard holders have that British Rail will not withdraw them tomorrow?
§ Mr. Wilson
That is an idiotic question. They have the same guarantees as they had yesterday that British Rail would not guarantee them today. But a secure system is in place, based on the social as well as the economic remit of British Rail. It introduced railcards and it has not withdrawn them for years. Why? That is precisely the point that I am coming to.
The fallacy on which many comments made by Conservative Members are based is that railcards are an economically profitable spec for British Rail. They are not. That is made clear in a document that is crucial to the debate. If Conservative Members have not read the document, they should have. It is a discussion document on network benefits drawn up by the Secretary of State's 765 Department. The document contains the figures on the disabled persons railcard, which I shall deal with in a moment, and on other railcards.
The document states that, while those railcards are profitable overall, they are not moneyspinners. In 1991–92, the senior citizens railcard went into deficit, and the discount rate had to be changed to restore profitability the following year. So the senior citizens railcard is not profitable; it exists because of British Rail's decision to have it as a social benefit. That is the reality. That is why there is a distinction between British Rail operating the benefits and a plethora of private operators with different motivations being asked to operate them.
Let us examine some of the other conclusions of the document:Private operators, whose profitability will depend on filling seats, can be expected to exploit modern yield management techniques fully. We believe it would be wrong to tie their hands by requiring the perpetuation of the current range of Railcards.That is the basis on which the Secretary of State has hitherto proceeded.
Of course, the Secretary of State has climbed down today by bringing the young persons railcard and the senior citizens railcard into the same category as the disabled persons railcard. But it is instructive to examine why the disabled persons railcard was provided for in the first place. Again, shamefully, it has nothing to do with social concern. It has nothing to do with the idea that disabled people have rights and that it is a good social ethos that they should be given reduced cost travel to liberate them and enhance their lives.
In one of the most cynical sections of the document, the case of disabled persons railcards was discussed:There would undoubtedly be strong criticism of a policy of allowing the market to decide the future of Railcards. This would be particularly intense in the case of the Disabled Persons Railcard…Ministers will want to consider whether there is a case for making an exception for this Card. Financially, the Card is not very significant one way or the other—around 40,000 Cards were sold in 1991–92 with a revenue of around £0.5 million from Card sales, and £2.5 million from fares…Many operators might decide"—I hope that Conservative Members will listen to this, because it is a lesson for the future—that the public relations benefits of continuing to offer discounts to disabled people are well worth any small cost. But this is by no means certain and would be an insufficient counter to those who would seek to argue that the Government was being callous in not guaranteeing the continuation of these Cards. On the other hand, a decision to offer such a guarantee would be unwelcome to operators; it would amount to direct intervention in their decisions about ticket pricing and would limit their commercial freedom.So there we have the reality. Private operators will not want to operate the railcards and it is acknowledged that they would not even accept the disabled persons railcard if it was not imposed on them. The Government recognise that, for public relations benefits, they must maintain an obligation to operate the disabled persons railcard. Therefore, it is presented as a virtue in the Bill.
On exactly the same basis, they have decided that the public relations benefits of including the senior citizens railcard and young persons railcard in the same category is overwhelming. That is the decision which has been taken now. But exactly the same doubts exist that pressures will come to bear on the franchising director not to impose 766 those conditions because of the economic consequences and because the operators do not want them in the first place.
By not writing into the Bill the continuation of these schemes, the Government are putting them, in any recognisable form, in jeopardy. If any Government Member wishes to support the view expressed in this document as to the only reason why it was necessary to continue the disabled persons rail scheme, this is the time to do so. That is the logic of it.
Of course, what is announced today is an advance, a step forward; at least these two other cards have been brought into the same category. It is a step forward that was bitterly resisted throughout Committee, not by the Secretary of State, because he was not present, but by the Minister and all the little echoes behind him, who voted quite specifically on the instructions of the Whips to deny any further concessions on railcards.
We now have these concessions, but they still leave out many categories, and must still be seen against the background of the operators not wanting them and working from day one, if these operators ever come into being, to get rid of them; and of the political decision not lying with the Government, but resting at arm's length with the franchising director, who will be able to interpret how these matters should be applied.
That, I am afraid, is the message. It is an advance; it is better than what was there before; at least some lip service is paid to the idea that there will be senior citizens and young persons railcards, although the network benefits in the south-east for families are apparently to be cast aside. But these are not guarantees, and they will not be seen as guarantees.
The only way to safeguard the benefits of the network is to safeguard the network itself. The fragmentation of and the risks to those benefits are an inevitable consequence of the fundamental decision to break up the railways.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
I am a signatory to this new clause and I fully endorse everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) has said. Like him, I welcome very much indeed the concessions, the announcement, the statement, the assurance, given by our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) will concede that I am not one of those Back-Bench Tory Members who are easily bought off. Certainly, I do not have a history of that, and for as long as I am in the House I do not intend to establish a history of being easily bought off.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also concede that those of us who expressed grave concern about the omissions from the initial legislation were particularly concerned about the position of the elderly, the retired, the old-age pensioners. We were also particularly concerned about young people and, of course, as the Government showed that they were in the legislation, about the disabled.
Certainly I, and I believe my hon. Friends, wanted to see written into the Bill assurances that travelcards in respect of the elderly, the young and the disabled would be included in the legislation.
767 I have been in the House for a few years, and. I believe that the assurance that has been given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is as close as anyone can get to having what we want written on to the face of the Bill. My right hon. Friend has stated that he will be giving a very clear directive to the franchising director that, in considering allocating and awarding the franchises, these railcards must be included. That assurance is good enough for me.
I represent an area in which railways are particularly important and in which the elderly and the young frequently use railways, both local services and inter-city, to go north and south, from Macclesfield to Manchester, from Macclesfield south to Congleton, and through to Stoke. I have had numerous letters from constituents asking me to ensure, as far as is possible, that in this legislation we get a commitment from the Government that the position of the elderly, the young and the disabled will be taken fully into account.
I say again to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North, who spoke with some passion from the Opposition Front Bench, that Conservative Members have obtained sufficient assurance not to push the new clause to a Division, but to accept in the spirit that it has been given the very firm assurance by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I hope that the Opposition accept the distance which the Government have gone in seeking to meet the concerns that have rightly been expressed by the elderly and the young. I give credit to the Government, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State that the disabled had already been taken into account. I believe that the directive is the assurance that the elderly and the young wanted, and I am happy to accept it.
§ Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East)
I would not say that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is easily fobbed off, but I urge him not to accept at face value everything his right hon. Friend has said.
The Secretary of State has moved some way, and obviously we are delighted, although the cynics amongst us would say it takes an impending defeat for such a gush of social concern to flow from the Government Front Bench. The right hon. Gentleman has not yet said specifically that all franchisees will accept a national scheme for all cards. If he has said that, that is fine and we have made some progress, but he did not cover every scheme. One card that has not been mentioned so far in the debate is of great benefit to one of the few flourishing industries we have left—there are not many after 14 years of Tory government.
We sell tourism by promising people the use of a BritRail card which enables incoming tourists to use the entire British Rail network. Given that this barmy piece of legislation envisages some 20 franchisees, I wonder whether the Secretary of State has considered the BritRail card. I hope he will think carefully about it and give us some assurances.
I urge the hon. Member for Macclesfield and his hon. Friends to look closely at any legislation that the Government introduce on the lines of the Secretary of State's speech this afternoon.
The argument is continually waged that railcards are non-statutory. They were first introduced by the then much-maligned British Rail. Senior citizens railcards were 768 issued on a national basis during the stewardship of Sir Peter Parker and the Conservative Administration took the first opportunity not to reappoint him.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) pointed out, since they were first introduced there have been misgivings amongst successor administrations of British Rail about their efficacy and their profitability. However, to withdraw them would have caused an enormous row and we have been reminded today that 650 hon. Members have written to the Secretary of State in protest.
The other myth is that it is in the commercial interests of operators to accept them. It is no such thing. One of the early batch of franchises is to be the former London-Tilbury-Southend line, a self-contained stretch of railway from Fenchurch Street to Southend shortly to have its own self-contained signalling system, at public expense, of course. It would not be in the commercial interests of any franchisee of the London-Tilbury-Southend line to accept travelcards. Future franchisees would want to keep their revenue to themselves. I shall explain in a moment why it is not in their commercial interests to do so.
I do not know whether Conservative Members are aware of the way in which revenues are allocated to different commercial concerns through the use of cards. In the bus industry, they are allocated on the basis of an annual census in which a percentage figure is arrived at and allocated to different bus operators in an area. I think I see the Minister for Transport in London nodding in assent to that. Many larger operators in various parts of the country are desperate to get out of the schemes because they feel that their revenues are being diluted unfairly by their participation in them.
Many larger operators in the bus industry are not promoting regional schemes—I appreciate that we do not have a national bus scheme—available on every company's buses in a region but are promoting heavily their own schemes which are available on only their own services. I advise the hon. Member for Macclesfield and others to look carefully at any assurances given by the Secretary of State not only on pensioners railcards—although I appreciate that that is the main concern of the hon. Member for Macclesfield—but on the other railcards to which I referred to ensure that a genuinely national scheme is forced on franchisees, because forced on them it will have to be.
I remind the Secretary of State, who has been dragged kicking and screaming into the Chamber to make this afternoon's concession, that when some municipal bus undertakings were privatised it was a condition of their privatisation that they accepted regional bus passes. It was widely felt among the managements that such acceptance would dilute their revenues.
I hope that Conservative Members who have indicated their voting intentions will go further and ensure that we are talking about a national scheme for pensioners and others and will not allow any doubt to creep in. Nor should they leave franchise directors with any leeway to decide, depending on the profitability of views of individual franchisees, that only a local or regional scheme will be acceptable.
I urge Conservative Members not to listen to the Secretary of State but to examine what is happening. The hon. Member for Macclesfield referred to what is taking place in his part of the country, and I am not exactly a 769 stranger to his constituency. I spent the early part of 1971 trying to ensure that he never made it to Parliament. Alas, I was unsuccessful and he has been here ever since.
If the hon. Gentleman catches the train north to Manchester, he will find in place the Manchester metrolink service. It is in place only because of the insistence of the passenger transport executive that through travel ticketing arrangements be accepted. Manchester metrolink was extremely reluctant to accept that. It wanted to run its own self-contained strategy of a modern tramway and did not want its revenues diluted by a regional scheme—regional in that case, but national in the context of our debate.
I hope that the hon. Member for Ashford (Sir. K. Speed), among others, will press the matter to a Division and will clearly show the Secretary of State that there is no scope for wriggling on the issue. Let us insist on a national scheme.
§ Mr. Cormack
The House will be delighted that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) failed in 1971 to prevent my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) from being elected. Think what we would have been deprived of had he succeeded. It was interesting to hear the speech of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East. I had hoped that he would be making it from the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Cormack
Not too many for some of us. I hope that he makes many more from the Opposition Front Bench. After all, the hon. Gentleman who spoke from that position, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), was, to put it mildly, rather churlish. He had obviously carefully prepared a speech and arrived here thinking that the Secretary of State would not meet us on the issue.
§ Mr. Wilson
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do live in the real world. I read the newspapers, and I came here today knowing that a deal would have been stitched up, that the rebels could go quietly away and that there would be a major climbdown, as there has been. I appreciate that, but I reserve the right to point out to Conservative Members the inadequacies of the climbdown.
§ Mr. Cormack
The tone of that intervention was better for the hon. Gentleman's blood pressure than was his speech. I was afraid that he might do himself an injury while he was fulminating at the Dispatch Box.
This afternoon has been a classic example of a well orchestrated campaign, to which our listening Secretary of State has responded. I promised our friend, the late Robert Adley, that I would support any new clause along the lines of this one; indeed, I talked to him about it just a day or two before his heart attack. I renewed that promise to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed), to whom I pay tribute for his organisation of the campaign and the forceful moderation with which he has pursued it.
We were concerned about two categories of people. The disabled had already been catered for, but we were worried about the elderly and the young. Perhaps, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I should declare an interest: I have a mother who is 83 today, who enjoys using 770 her railcard from time to time. I have a son who has the good sense to be at university in Scotland and who regularly uses his railcard. Both of them were apprehensive at the suggestion that the facility might not continue.
We all have a number of duties in this place. One of them is to speak up for those least able to articulate for themselves. Another is not to spread alarm and despondency when there is no need to do so. Until my right hon. Friend's speech there was a degree of anxiety throughout the country that, in the wake of sweeping changes—do not welcome all of them—certain facilities which were not statutorily guaranteed but which were much valued would be withdrawn.
Because of this, the late Robert Adley and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford decided, on the eve of these momentous changes to our rail system, that we must include this provision in the legislation. My right hon. Friend has always, in every post, had the reputation of being a listening Minister. I know from school teachers in my constituency that he was much appreciated as Secretary of State for Education and Science. He has listened carefully and he has conceded that we have a real point. He has promised that in another place the legislation will be suitably amended.
In so doing, my right hon. Friend has not only met the widespread apprehension and responded sensibly to Members on both sides of the House; he has also, in the process, shot the fox of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North. I do think that the hon. Gentleman should be a little more welcoming, a little less churlish. We should all be united in our concern for the elderly, the disabled and the young, and in our desire to achieve as good a rail system as we can for the 21st century.
The Bill has already been improved in some particulars; I hope that it will be further improved in others. Without seeking to disguise the fact, we should all be thankful to the Secretary of State for listening and responding so positively. I am delighted that he has done so.
§ Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon)
I warmly welcome the Government's announcement—all the more so because of the length of time that it has taken to come. We remember the vociferous way in which the Government have resisted anything of this sort hitherto, so it is all the more remarkable that they have conceded it now.
Powerful and elegant though the speeches by the hon. Members for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) were, nothing that they said today was new or had not been said on Second Reading, in an Opposition supply day debate, in Committee—frequently—and again in these debates.
I suspect that at some point in their private discussions they must have said something even more powerful, if slightly less elegant, to the Secretary of State. I think that this says something about the benefits to the House of the Government having a small majority. It may have been the anticipation of a slightly smaller majority in the future that brought pensioners to the forefront of Government thinking.
I echo the points made about other types of network card that have not been referred to, particularly the London card. Yesterday's announcement about the Government's future intentions in terms of franchises suggests that the commuter services around London—which are currently all operated by one operator, Network SouthEast—may in future be operated by seven or eight 771 franchisees. Bus deregulation is coming to London and I do not think it is unduly fanciful to expect that the London underground network may be run on a line-by-line basis at some point in the future. We are looking at a multiplicity of operators in the area of Greater London, instead of the two or three that we have at the moment.
Although it is fair and right for the Government to say that none of these operators currently has a statutory obligation to participate in the London travelcard scheme, consumer groups and others seeking to persuade the operators of the benefits of the scheme currently have to persuade only two or three operators; in future they may have to persuade 12, 15, 20—goodness knows how many—to participate in a scheme of this sort.
It is worth noting that the new clause does not try to set particular percentages of reductions that should be given, or set in stone the character of any card or benefit that should be available. It simply seeks to enshrine the principle that operators should participate in some network benefit. I think that the argument should continue that the other benefits—not only in London, but the BritRail card and others—are worth including in the legislation. I think that future operators should be required to participate in a network scheme, without trying to set in stone what the benefits or characteristics of such network arrangements should be.
§ Sir Keith Speed
My right hon. Friend has given a very positive reply and I am sure that it includes the inter-modal card. I see that my right hon. Friend wishes to intervene, so I will give way.
§ Mr. MacGregor
May I say something? It will take a little time, but it is important that I say it because my hon. Friend and others have raised it in the debate. May I make another intervention, by leave of the House?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
I do not think that the Secretary of State needs the leave of the House to intervene; but, by tradition, interventions are short and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will comply with that principle as far as possible.
§ Mr. MacGregor
I will try to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, my hon. Friend wanted me to comment on the travelcard and I would like to explain the position because it is important that everyone understands where we are.
Travelcard is rightly popular and has brought the benefits of simplicity and value for money to the public. It has been highly beneficial to the operators because it is a powerful marketing tool that has increased patronage. It is in the interests of both passengers and the new railway operators that it should continue.
There is a problem, however. Subsection (3) of the new clause was intended to cover that problem. I mentioned that the clause was defective: it is defective in this case, for example. It would not be possible for the Railways Bill to impose any requirement on the providers of other kinds of public transport service to accept multi-modal ticketing arrangements. The powers of the franchising director relate only to the provision of railway services.
Under the Bill as already drafted, the franchising director will have the power to require franchisees to participate in the travelcard scheme. I propose to give guidance on the exercise of that power. Franchisees will then be required to participate in accordance with their 772 franchise agreement. I think that the same mechanism could be used to secure participation in the travelcard-type systems that exist outside London, but that would have to be done in conjunction with the passenger transport executives.
§ Sir Keith Speed
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, which reinforces my desire to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion.
§ Mr. Wilson
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that Conservative Members will not regard it as churlish, but we have just had a fresh announcement in the form of an intervention in a speech about withdrawing the new clause. I do not think that one has to be a devotee of "Erskine May" to regard that as an odd way to proceed. I would have hoped that it would have been possible to have further clarification from the Minister on his statement on the London travelcard, which was thrown in as an intervention.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. It is simple. Any hon. Member may disagree with the proposal that the motion be withdrawn. Then we proceed with the debate.
§ Mr. Wilson
I wish to object to the motion being withdrawn until we have had a modest discussion on the London travelcard and the implication of the Secretary of State's announcement.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) has helped to clarify the position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that under the Bill'he will meet what my hon. Friend has asked for. It seems unreasonable to prolong the debate by asking my right hon. Friend to say that what cannot go in the Bill should be covered by it.
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
I apologise for not agreeing with the hon. Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) that we should make progress. The Government have moved on the point and perhaps we should make progress, but I want to make one point.
No doubt the Secretary of State's guarantee will be as good as his word and he will ensure that appropriate amendments are made in another place. However, it is possible that the cards will become disused by attrition. For example, a high joining fee might be sought; instead of the normal £10 or £15, perhaps £35 will have to be paid. If so, many pensioners could not put that amount up in front to have the benefits of a card.
Alternatively, the percentage discount might come down. Because of the impoverished state of British Rail, discounts have come down recently. The half-price discount might be reduced to 33 per cent. It is not inconceivable that a franchisee who was not enamoured by having to obey the legislation would give discounts of only 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. and thereby make the cards unattractive to pensioners. I hope that there is no unwritten agenda and that travelcards will be protected by the legislation and will generally cost the same and give the same benefits as at present.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
May I add my endorsement of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) in moving the amendment and 773 make an addendum to what he said? In my hon. Friend's speech and in the speeches of other hon. Members on both sides of the House the accent has been on the pleasure aspect of concessionary travelcards, in other words, their use by old people to go on holiday or by young people to travel wherever they wish.
There is a need imperative. In my constituency old people use trains to go to the nearest town to do their weekly shopping. That is important. Students use trains to get to where they are studying. There is more to the point than the pleasure motive and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary" of State has responded to the pressure.
I join other hon. Members in asking for further clarification about the London travelcard. That, too, is important to my constituents. The principle is important to people in constituencies near large metropolitan areas. Like the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), I would welcome more elucidation from the Secretary of State. What he announced briefly is a step in the right direction, as was his reaction to other amendments. I welcome that and thank him for it.
§ Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
While I, too, would welcome further clarification of the Secretary of State's announcement about the London travelcard, may I say to the hon. Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed) and his hon. Friends that the concerns for the elderly, the young and the disabled which were so eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) were equally eloquently expressed in Committee by Opposition Members? On that occasion those concerns, which still remain, fell on deaf ears.
I hope that hon. Members will not consider it churlish on my part to say that what has occasioned the Secretary of State's change of heart is a response not to the cries of his hon. Friends or, indeed, the travel needs of the elderly, the young and the disabled, but possibly to the report from the Save Our Railways campaign in which a poll of more than 5,500 Conservative voters in 58 Tory marginal seats showed that if the Bill went through Parliament unaltered at least 38 Tory Members might lose their seats.
§ Mr. Wilson
With the leave of the House, Madam Speaker. It is essential to place on record our astonishment at the way in which the Government continue to handle the Bill. We have had months of debate. We had 36 sittings in Committee, many of them devoted to issues of network benefit. Railcards and travelcards were raised repeatedly and discussed at great length. With the exception of the railcard for disabled persons, the Government said repeatedly that nothing would be done. Specifically on the London travelcard, the answer was the same.
We were waiting today for a clear-cut statement of intent. We got something for pensioners and young people and we welcome it unreservedly, but even then the Minister could not make a clear statement on what would be done about travelcards. We had a shambolic announcement in the form of an intervention which still does not tell us whether the London travelcard will live or die, because not only the franchising director but someone else will have to be consulted.
774 If the campaign to save the London travelcard has been successful, it will be a tremendous victory which will be widely appreciated in London. If we have forced that out of the Government at this late stage, it is a great success, but what a humiliation for Tory Members who served on the Standing Committee and who did not even ask for it, far less receive it. By the same token, what a humiliation it is for Tory Members who accepted meekly in Committee that there was to be no movement on railcards for senior citizens or young people. Now apparently the threat of rebellion by a dozen Tories has achieved what the 14 on the Standing Committee did not dare ask for.
Let us have, perhaps at another time and in better order, a detailed statement from the Secretary of State on the prospects of the London travelcard so that they can be studied and discussed. While railcards for senior citizens and young people have been hard fought for by my hon. Friends, by some Tory Members and by the public, today's announcement will not end all the uncertainty. It covers only 700,000 of the 2.3 million people who have railcards.
§ Mr. MacGregor
The reason why I made the remarks about the travelcard was that my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Sir K. Speed), perhaps sensing the mood of the House better than I had, wanted to bring the debate to a close. I had requests for a statement on the position of the travelcard. That is why I intervened.
Since the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) did not allow the debate to finish, let me point out to him that there was nothing strange about my statement. I am beginning to think that the hon. Gentleman would wax indignant about what he had for breakfast. He seems to go over the top on every occasion.
With regard to travelcards, the position is very simple and has been stated very clearly. It is not possible to go beyond the Bill's provisions and require the franchising director to impose conditions in respect of transport other than railways. Such a provision cannot be included in the Railways Bill and that is why I have suggested another way forward. It is the right way to proceed, as I hope my statement has made quite clear.
§ Sir Keith Speed
As I am totally content with my right hon. Friend's statement, I wish, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the motion.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I am afraid that that is impossible. An hon. Member may not ask twice for the same thing. I shall therefore put the new clause to the House—a procedure which will not necessarily force a Division.
§ Question put and negatived.