§ 4.30 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
LORD WINDLESHAM moved Amendment No. 143:
Page 73, line 1, leave out subsection (3).
§ The noble Lord said: Since we are in Committee, I will begin by taking back two statements that I made as recently as moving the last Amendment. I suggested that since Amendments 142 143 and 144 all dealt with hotels, but with different aspects of the provision of hotels, they should be moved separately. But since then we have had a long debate on Amendment 142, on the principles lying behind all three Amendments. So, with the permission of the Committee, it might be convenient if we could deal with Amendments 143 and 144 together. We do not propose to press these Amendments to a vote and will treat them as probing Amendments. Second, the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was quite right in the reference he gave me. The question of railway hotels was discussed in the House of Commons Committee, so I must withdraw what I said earlier.
§ Clause 50(3), on page 73 of the Bill, seeks to give a limited power to the Waterways Board, to the National Bus Company and to the Scottish Transport Group "to provide and manage hotels" 195 in places where people who use their services require them. So this is a power analogous to the power given to the railways in the 1962 Act. It was with some relief that I found, on reading this clause of the Bill, that not all the new Authorities are included. Where is the National Freight Corporation? They do not have this power. So we can at least take some consolation that there are to be no State-owned resthouses for tired truck drivers. I believe that there are two small hotels originally owned by bus companies which will pass to the Scottish Group, so some sort of provision is needed in the Bill. But we must ask whether the Waterways Board really needs a power to run hotels? As the noble Lord, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve, has said, it will of course depend on the use which is made of the powers. But if there is a power in a Bill there is an encouragement for somebody to act in a way in which he might not otherwise act.
The other point I want to put to the Government is the question what is or is not a hotel. This relates to Clause 50(4). Noble Lords who have listened to this debate may have thought that they had a fairly good idea of what a hotel is. But subsection (4) tells us it is not only what we normally understand by a hotel but is
any other form of residential accommodation or facilities, including caravan and camping sites, for travellers or persons on holiday …
Here again, we require information from the Minister as to the reasons for such a wide definition. I beg to move.
§ LORD HUGHES
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for his opening remarks, and for confirming the correctness of the information with which I was provided. I may say that I did not do my own research on the matter.
§ LORD HUGHES
This is a relatively simple matter, I do not think the noble Lord is seriously asking me to attempt to introduce another Amendment on Report to bring in facilities for hotels or transport cafés for N.F.C. drivers. Looking at Amendments 143 and 144, I do not wish to suggest that we are reinterpreting "hotel". A hotel is a hotel, 196 and a caravan site is a caravan site. We are seeking to make it possible for these varied activities, some types of which are more likely to occur than others in particular areas, to be undertaken by the Waterways Board, the National Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group. The reference which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made to the hotels owned by what will be the Scottish Transport Group is correct. I am not aware that there is any similar by-law for the waterways, but having regard to the recreational use which we propose should be made of the waterways, some facilities for caravans or camping sites might be particularly appropriate. Not everybody who wants to use the waterways will necessarily want to spend all his time on them. People might think it reasonable to be on the waterways part of the time, and at other times to camp or to stay in a caravan, or even in a hotel by the waterways if that was the best way to do it. We do not envisage that there will be any great or sudden expansion of these activities. It seems reasonable that all three industries, the Waterways, the Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group, should have the power to provide facilities of these kinds.
I do not accept the argument that when one gives powers of this kind people will rush to use them. These are bodies which in some cases, to put it mildly, have had difficulties in making ends meet. I think they will look with great caution on any new enterprises and will embark on them only when they are well persuaded that they will be of financial advantage to them. I would say to my noble friends who support this proposal with enthusiasm: Do not expect everything to happen overnight, or that there will necessarily be any great mass of activities under this head. All we seek to do is to make it possible for it to be done where it is obviously the correct thing to do. Inevitably, this must be (it is appropriate for me, as a member of the Fabian Society, to say this) a policy of gradualism.
§ VISCOUNT STUART OF FINDHORN
Would the noble Lord consider for "hotel" inserting the word "spital"? It might make the meaning clearer.
§ LORD HUGHES
It would be clear to the noble Viscount and myself; I am 197 not so sure that it would help the Front Bench generally.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Does the noble Lord not now think that it is a good thing that your Lordships have brought the powers conferred in subsection (2) into line with the powers conferred in subsection (3)?
§ LORD HUGHES
If I thought for one moment that it was a good thing, I should feel that I had wasted my time in getting some Conservatives with me, in getting some Cross-Benchers with me, and in getting the Liberals to remain in the sanctuary of their Benches. I do not think I have wasted my time. I just feel that the Front Bench opposite are not prepared to recognise the facts of life.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.40 p.m.
LORD WINDLESHAM moved Amendment No. 145:
Page 73, line 23, leave out ("provide") and insert ("arrange for the provision of")
§ The noble Lord said: In this Amendment we leave the subject of hotels. Clause 50(5) is concerned with the powers of the Waterways Board and has nothing to do with hotels. Subsection (5) authorises the Board to provide, with the consent of the Minister, road transport services for the carriage of goods. This is an additional power. Under the 1962 Act there is already power to provide road transport for the carriage of goods which are intended to be carried by inland waterways for part of their journey, or when there has been a temporary interruption of the inland waterways service.
§ It is difficult to envisage what circumstances this subsection is intended to cover. In practice I suppose it is likely to be confined to the incidental carriage of goods not concerned with the Waterways Board's main business of moving goods through the inland waterway network. If this is the case, rather than set up its own road transport undertaking, we believe that there would be advantages in entering into hire agreements with hauliers or other road transport operators to provide this service as and when it may be needed. Otherwise the chances of an under-utilized fleet of inland waterways-owned road vehicles seems a possible consequence of the clause.198
§ LORD HUGHES
This is not a matter of ideological conflict, and I am sure the noble Lord will be satisfied with what I propose to say. An Amendment similar to this was one of a series discussed in Committee in another place, and after an explanation by my honourable friend the Minister of State, to the effect that there was no intention that the Waterways Board should go into the road haulage business, the Amendment was withdrawn. I would emphasise that there is no question of the Waterways Board desiring to embark on road haulage activities of more than a modest scale. Section 10(3)(c) of the 1962 Act has proved to be unduly restrictive in practice. For example, it has had the effect of preventing the Waterways Board from serving with its own goods vehicles some warehouses which were formerly served by the goods vehicles of the waterways division of the British Transport Commission.
The purpose of Clause 50(5) is to modify these restrictions so as to enable the Waterways Board to carry goods by road in its own vehicles, to or from its own warehouses, harbours, docks or ether waterway facilities, irrespective of whether the goods have been, or are to be, carried by the Board by inland waterways. In some cases the goods may be carried by inland waterway for part of their journey; in others they may not. The new proposed provision will make for flexibility in the Board's commercial operations. This is no more than a rationalisation of the Board's activity in this field and it will be expected to operate on sound commercial principles.
The limitation of the scope of its activities will be determined by the requirements built into Clause 50(5) to the effect that the Board must obtain the Minister's consent before providing road transport services. The Board will have to comply with current road traffic licensing procedures. It is envisaged that the Minister will give his general consent to the limited extension of the Board's facilities which I have already described, to avoid numerous specific but essentially similar requests. There may a so be isolated instances where the Board will wish to provide a particular service beyond the limits of the general consent, and the broad terms in which the subsection is drawn will allow the Minister 199 to consider such cases on their merits. These broad terms will also allow the Minister to consider giving general consent to a somewhat wider exercise of these powers if future circumstances should make this desirable. In view of this, I hope that the noble Lord will find it possible to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
There is no great difference of principle between us here. The only point I should like to press a little further is the question of utilisation. I can see that it might be convenient for the Waterways Board to have its own vehicles for its own purposes. If the 1962 legislation was too restrictive, it makes sense that it should be relaxed. Would the noble Lord look into the utilisation of these vehicles? The Minister has to give his permission, and one would hope he will satisfy himself that there is a real need. This would happen in the railways anyway, because there is a mandatory review of organisation. The McKinsey Company has been called in by the Railways Board, and this is the sort of question they will be looking into. So far as I know, there is no similar obligation on the Waterways Board to undertake any review of this kind.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 50, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 51 [Subsidiaries and joint subsidiaries]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 51 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I have two questions to put on this Clause. The first relates to subsection (2) and deals with the compulsory acquisition of land. Section 15(1) of the Transport Act 1962 says:Subject to this section, the Minister may authorise any Board to purchase compulsorily any land in Great Britain which they require for the purpose of their business.200 This subsection in the Bill authorises wholly owned subsidiaries of the Boards and the new authorities, that is the National Bus Company, the Freight Corporation and the Scottish Transport Group, to purchase land compulsorily for the purposes of their business, subject to the Minister's consent. The Minister may authorise them to do so, too. I do not know what the intention of the subsection is, but it seems extremely undesirable.
§ LORD HUGHES
I was not aware that I was to be asked a question on this subsection. I am now under the disadvantage that I have not heard the first part of the noble Lord's remarks, and I have no clue to what he is talking about.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I was well aware of that, and I was about to try to hide it discreetly. However the noble Lord has exposed the facts. I was dealing with Clause 51(2), in particular with the power to acquire land compulsorily. This subsection says:For the purposes of paragraphs (d), (f), (g) and (h) of section 14(1) of the Act of 1962 … land required for the purposes of the business of a wholly owned subsidiary of such an authority, shall be deemed to be … land required for the purposes of … that authority.It seems that it is undesirable to have a profusion of different bodies throughout the country with powers of acquisition. Where the Minister authorises compulsory purchase of land will that purchase be carried out by the Board or the new authorities and not through a profusion of subsidiaries? I think this will he confusing to the people and, quite frankly, apart from anything else, very unpopular. So I hope the noble Lord will be able to give an assurance on that.
The second point deals with subsection (3), and this relates to Section 27(1) of the 1962 Act. I touched on this point yesterday in the course of the debate. Section 27(1) says:The Minister may, after consultation with any Board, give to that Board directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by the Board of their functions in relation to matters which appear to him to affect the national interest.Clause 51 of the Bill says:This section"—meaning Clause 51—applies to the following authorities, namely, the Boards and the new authorities".201 Then, subsection (3) says:In section 27(1) of the Act of 1962 (which empowers the Minister or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State to give directions of a general character as to the exercise and performance by arty authority to whom this section applies"—that presumably means this clause—of their functions in relation to matters which appear to him to affect the national interest)…",and then it adds further words. Looking through this Bill I have not been able to find any place where Section 27(1) is applied to the new Authorities, and I find this peculiarly confusing. I wonder whether subsection (3) is intended to apply to the new Authorities, and if so, where it is applied. It certainly is not applied in subsection (3).
§ LORD ST. HELENS
May I ask the Minister one short question on this? Where one of the Authorities or one of the subsidiaries wish to acquire land by compulsion, before they apply to the Minister for compulsion do they have to go through the routine of getting planning permission or not?
§ LORD HUGHES
I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, for having gone out when he started to put these questions. It was a misunderstanding on my part. I thought that when I had dealt with Clause 50 I was temporarily "off the leash", but apparently I am concerned with the next ones also.
In reply to the first question—whether it will be the Board or the new Authority and not the subsidiary which the Minister will authorise to do the compulsory purchase—the answer is, "Yes". Unfortunately, it does not take me nearly so long to answer the question as it took the noble Lord to put it, and it takes my friends in the Box longer to write the answers than it takes me to read them. The second one is on the way. Clause 52(3) applies Section 27 of the 1962 Act to the new Authorities. For those of your Lordships who are not accustomed to our way of dealing with these matters, perhaps I may say that I have never felt there was any advantage to your Lordships, when dealing with a Department which is not my own, to pretend that I have everything at my fingertips, because in any event your Lordships would very speedily realise that that was not the 202 case. However, I hope I have provided the noble Lord with the answers he wanted to the questions he asked. I do not have the answer to the question which the noble Lord, Lord St. Helens, asked—whether the Authorities have to have planning permission in advance of an application to the Minister—but perhaps he would permit me to pass the answer on to him in due course.
§ Clause 51 agreed to.
§ Clause 52 agreed to.
§ Clause 53 [Provisions with respect to Holding Company]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 53 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ LORD LINDGREN
I should be glad if my noble friend Lord Hughes could tell us, under Clause 53, what is likely to be the future of Thomas Cook & Son. Having looked at the Bill, it seems to me that practically the only thing that will be left with the Holding Company will be Thomas Cook & Son. Nowhere in the Bill does it appear to be obvious where it is going, or under what sort of conditions it is going to operate. It is a very large organisation, and a very large group of staff is affected. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord could tell us what is their future, if it has reference to this clause.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF PUBLIC BUILDING AND WORKS (LORD WINTERBOTTOM)
Yes, I am able to help my noble friend on this matter. At the moment, the future of Thomas Cook & Son, together with three other elements of the Transport Holding Company, is not yet decided. It is, of course, under discussion. Thomas Cook & Son is a very important unit (the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, mentioned it yesterday) and it does not fit easily into any other aspect of the work of the new bodies we are setting up. For this reason, the future of Thomas Cook & Son is not yet certain, and of course the Transport Holding Company must remain in existence until such time as its future is in fact decided.
§ Clause 53 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 agreed to.203
§ Schedule 4 [Supplementary provisions as to certain transfers of property, rights and liabilities]:
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
This Amendment is in fact self-explanatory. Since the original draft of the Transport Bill the Ministry of Labour has been re-baptised, and now for "Minister of Labour" we must read "Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity". Then, when we come to Amendment No. 147, for "Minister" we need to insert "Secretary of State". These alterations are consequential upon changes in legislative procedures. I beg to move.
Page 208, line 26, leave out (Minister of Labour") and insert ("Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity").—(Lord Winterbottom.)
Page 208, line 27, leave out ("Minister") and insert ("Secretary of State").—(Lord Winterbottom.)
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 4, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I ask a general question? I think that possibly a fairly important matter arises here. Can the noble Lord say on what principle the capital debt will be fixed? Will there be any measure of writing off? Could this be done without special Parliamentary sanction, or will the Minister's choice as to what the amount of capital debt in each case should be in fact be pretty well circumscribed by the valuations placed on the assets? I hope I have made myself clear, but I think it is an important matter of principle that when we start off these new bodies their capital debt should be a realistic reflection of their assets and liabilities.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
I am afraid I am not able to give the noble Lord that information at this moment. With his permission, I will write fully to him on it.
§ Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.204
§ Clause 54 [Railway closures]:
§ 5.0 p.m.
LORD HANKEY moved Amendment No. 147AA:
Page 79, line 18, at end insert ("users of the services in question and any body representing such users, as well as")
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I speak in effect as a commuter. I should like to say that, because of a closure proposal, we almost lost an essential railway line in Kent and Surrey last year. We were only just able to save it. I believe it is essential that, before any proposal for railway closure is approved by the Minister, the users of the railway should be fully consulted. We had some considerable discussion about consultation with users yesterday, and I was sorry that some of the suggestions made were not approved. But in the case of an actual closure it is important that the interest of the users should be properly considered. In this connection it could be argued—and no doubt will he argued by the Government—that the reference in subsection (1) to subsection (8) and (10) of Section 56 of the 1962 Act covers consultation with the users. But as paragraphs (a) and (b) are now drafted it does not appear to the unitiated that the users are given full consideration. Therefore, I should like to suggest that we insert a specific reference to the interest of the users, even though it is not, in a strictly legal context, vitally essential.
§ When I say "users" I should like to say that I am thinking not only of the persons who go to London or Croydon, or any other of our great cities, in order to work and to go home at night, but also of the companies affected, the organisations, the institutions, the schools, the schoolchildren or the parents' associations. And I am thinking of the local and other authorities who are not always considered as they might be and who make extensive use of the railways. In the interests of the users of the railways, I beg to move this Amendment.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
We believe that this Amendment is unnecessary because of the provisions that exist at present in Section 56(8) of the Transport Act 1962, which subsection (1) of the present clause does not repeal but to which it adds further conditions. Section 205 56(8) provides that where any user or body representing users of a service which is proposed to be withdrawn make an objection to the Transport Users Consultative Committee the closure shall not be proceeded with until the Committee has reported to the Minister and the Minister has given his consent. In the past this procedure has ensured ample time for consideration of users' views, first by the Consultative Committees and then by the Minister. There is no need to give them further statutory protection. That is what we believe, and I hope that the noble Lord will accept my assurance that this strengthens rather than weakens the present position.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
May I intervene on this subject? The noble Lord will remember that some time ago, when the Conservative Party were in power, it was proposed to close certain sections of the railway. I can assure the noble Lord that the users, through their M.P.s, made a colossal "song and dance" over any section of railway that was going to be closed down; and the M.P.s (irrespective of on which s de of the House they sat) were not reticent in expressing their views very loudly in the House of Commons on behalf of their constituents.
§ LORD HANKEY
The trouble is that as the Act of 1962 is drafted, the consultative committees can take consideration only of hardship; unless hardship can be proved they cannot recommend that the railway line in question should not be closed. That is a very restrictive interpretation. If the noble Lord can assure me that the reference in Clause 54(1) to "social or economic considerations" does, in fact, broaden the relevant sections in the 1962 Act, I shall be happy not to press this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 147AB:
Page 81, line 15, at end insert—
(" () Section 56(7) of the Act of 1962 be amended by the insertion in the second line of subsection (7) after the words 'passenger services' of the words 'or freight service'.")
§ The noble Earl said: The purpose of this Amendment—and I believe it is a substantial one—is to place upon the Railways Board the same obligations in relation to freight service closure proposals as at present apply in the case of proposals for closure of passenger services —the procedure for which come, as the noble Lord knows, under Section 56 of the 1962 Act. Section 56(7) says that any proposal for the closure of a passenger service must, in the first place, be fully advertised, with details of the proposal and details of alternative services. It sets out when and to whom objections to the proposal should be lodged and requires that copies of the notice be sent to the appropriate Area Committee. The objectors state their grievances and the losses they would suffer through the closure—but they are confined to hardship.
§ But when it comes to closure proposals for freight services no such procedure under the 1962 Act has to be gone through. In fact, the Railways Board at present have complete power to close freight services without any prior notification to either the users or the T.U.C.C. They also have complete power, I believe, to reduce a freight service, again without reference to the T.U.C.C. In this Bill, under Clause 55, for the first time the principle that freight services should be considered by the T.U.C.C. has been accepted by the Government. I am grateful for that; but it confines itself narrowly to the National Freight Corporation and the services that it will operate, and states that in future the quality of service provided for the National Freight Corporation may be considered by the T.U.C.C. This apparently still leaves open, so far as freight services are concerned, the question of the Railways Board's freight services. They are still free to reduce the quality of service, and, indeed, are free to remove that service altogether.
§ The freight services and the freight tonnage on railways since the war have, as the Committee will know, been a very disappointing feature of the railways. In fact, in other countries from 1939 until now freight traffic has increased. In Japan it has increased by 2,500 per cent.; in Switzerland, by 400 per cent.; in France, by 250 per cent., and in Britain by only 2 per cent. In the last two years freight tonnage has decreased approximately by 5 per cent. a year. One of the 207 reasons for this, I suggest, has been the way that private sidings and their use has been neglected. Their numbers have declined dramatically over the past seven years—from approximately 5,900 to 3,700, a drop of some 40 per cent. In other countries, private sidings are used to full advantage. In France alone in the last five years, there has been an increase of 3,200 in the number of private sidings. Three-quarters of the railway freight traffic in France never reaches the streets; 90 per cent. of it generates from these private sidings.
§ Many people, I believe, are not happy about the Railways Board's wagon fleet policy; and I understand that it is intended to reduce it even further. I know many cases where the railways have had to turn away would-be users—fruit growers from Wisbech, a brick-making plant in Peterborough, sugar beet producers from King's Lynn, potato growers in Scotland, a tin mine in Devon—all of which business was turned away by the Railways Board because they did not have sufficient wagons. I believe that when the Board either reduces rail freight facilities or removes them altogether hardship is often caused to existing customers, many of whom may be small businessmen. I believe it would do no harm and only good if such cases of hardship were examined by the T.U.C.C. I am sure that what the users would like to see is not an examination in retrospect, but the consideration of a proposal to reduce a service before that actually happened.
§ I am sure that the Government accept the principle of my Amendment. As I have said, they have gone a few yards in the right direction by the provisions in Clause 55. I suggest, therefore, that it is not illogical that the Railways Board also should come within the examination of the T.U.C.C., as the National Freight Corporation will have to.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ LORD WAKEFIELD OF KENDAL
I wish to raise a rather different point from that raised by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. I support the policy of British Rail of closing branch lines, as they have done and are doing. It seems to me wrong that there should be these heavy losses because of the inadequate use of assets. We all know that a great deal 208 of heat is generated, and emotions raised, when a branch line is closed. Some of this emotion might be removed, and perhaps less heat generated, if what appears to me to be a defect in present legislation were removed. I refer to the procedure now in operation in connection with the closure of branch lines. It seems to me that the discussion on this Amendment provides a suitable opportunity for me to say what I wish to say.
In certain cases—not, of course, in all —I should like to see the operation over short distances of a miniature railway, instead of a full gauge line. Obviously, this could not be done by British Rail because their organisation and set-up is not suitable. Quite a number of branch lines, extending perhaps, up to 12 or 15 miles, could be operated successfully by local interests, perhaps supported by a preservation society. This would be possible because of lower capital costs of equipment and far lower operational costs. If you compare the operation of a heavy vehicle with a mini-car or a motor-cycle you get a reasonable sort of comparison. If a motor-cycle or a mini-motor car can do what has been done by a heavy vehicle, there is no point in running a heavy vehicle. At present, anyone who wishes to run a miniature railway cannot do so until the branch line has been closed. The difficulty is that when British Rail say, "We wish to close this line", there are, naturally, objections. Then there is a big inquiry procedure, and the whole affair may be drawn out, perhaps for two or three years.
I speak from personal experience in this matter. I have wanted to approach British Rail to say: "You are about to close a line. Will you allow me, in collaboration with others, to operate a miniature railway on the line, either by leasing or selling the line to us?". I understand that British Rail have no such powers until they have been through all the inquiry procedure, and then there are certain legal requirements to be complied with. This is not a case of living in "Cloud Cuckoo-land". I happen to be the director of the Ravenglass and Eskdale Miniature Railway. I and others, with a preservation society, took this railway over a few years ago when it was up for sale, and we now operate it at a profit. Last year we carried 209 170,000 people; this year we shall carry 200,000. Until recently we carried quite a lot of freight from certain quarries, but these have now closed.
This miniature railway, operating on a gauge of 15-inches, carries people in comfort and at some 20 miles an hour. A trainload would consist of perhaps 200 people. It is a very satisfactory service, run for ordinary purposes up the Eskdale Valley; and, of course, many people who go to the area for fun and games thoroughly enjoy riding on the miniature railway. I am asking whether it is possible to make provision somewhere in this Bill for people who so desire to run a miniature railway on a branch line which British Rail may want to close because it is too expensive for them to run. Would it not be possible to make it easy for such individuals to approach British Rail and say: "We want to run a miniature railway on this line which you are going to close. Can we enter into negotiations?"? At present such people cannot do that because all this procedure has to be gone through but if it could be done, I think that a good many of the present difficulties, emotions and anxieties over the closing of branch lines would be removed and it would be possible for local interests to run a very satisfactory and efficient public service along such lines to the great advantage of everybody concerned. So I hope that somewhere in the Bill, if it is not covered by this Amendment, it will be possible to alter the present arrangement which makes it so difficult for local interests to run a miniature line, should they wish to do so, and keep a public service going profitably instead of at great cost to the taxpayer.
§ LORD SOMERS
With due respect I wish to differ slightly from my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal. When a branch line is closed the permanent way already exists. If you are going to have a narrow-gauge railway you would have to lay an entirely new line, and this would raise the cost enormously. There is the other question of the transport of goods. A branch line would presumably be connected to the main line, and therefore a goods wagon could be run from the branch line on to the main line. This could not be done from a narrow-gauge line. I suggest, therefore, that the 210 wisest course would be to retain the present gauge.
I would press the Government t o make it possible for independent bodies to buy these "cast-off" branches. My noble friend talked about emotions being raised, but it is more than emotion. There is very hard feeling and resentment when one's transport is cut off. In thinly built-up areas there are bound to be branch lines that do not pay very well. The great thing is for the rest of the railways to be sufficiently well-off to be able to carry these branch lines; but where they are being closed I suggest that they should be offered to anyone—not merely to the local authority—and sold at a reasonable price.
I have been in communication with a Mr. O. H. Prosser, of Bristol, who is an authority on railways, and he tells me regarding the Clevedon branch, which was closed down recently, thatIt was not possible to make progress with the Clevedon scheme because, first, the price quoted was some £37.000, an outrageous one for 3¾ miles and, secondly, the Ministry were unsympathetic as they wanted to avoid building a bridge to take the projected M.5 Motorway over the line".If one is going to throw something away in any event, one does not ask an outrageous price if somebody wants to buy it. If I am going to throw away an old chair and someone comes along and wants to buy it, I do not say, "Yes, you can have it for £5,500." That seems to me an obstructive attitude on the part of the Government and I hope that if necessary they will allow these lines to be purchased by individual bodies.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
If the noble Lords, Lord Wakefield of Kendal and Lord Somers, will permit me, I should prefer to answer the interesting points they have raised in conjunction with the next Amendment, which covers these points, and perhaps that will save the Committee's time. In answer to the noble Earl, we believe that the Amendment as at present drafted would place an intolerable and unjustifiable extra burden on the Board's management flexibility. Then I should like to say something, which doubtless I shall repeat this afternoon. A new period is opening in front of the British railway system. It is intended that it should become economically profitable and fully competitive, 211 operating under normal commercial conditions. It will no longer be asked to provide our society as a whole with certain social services free. If the Board are asked to do certain jobs which they know are unprofitable, they will have the right to demand to be paid for those services. So we are hoping that this Bill, when it is completed and all arrangements have been worked out, will give us a fully competitive railway system, capable of working economically in competition with other forms of transport.
After listening to the noble Earl, I believe that that is what he too wishes. He is a friend to the railways and hopes to see them working successfully and profitably. Unfortunately, the carriage of freight from, say, a remote tin mine in Cornwall, as the noble Earl mentioned, or to a sugar beet factory in Peterborough, a case I know well, does not necessarily justify the continued existence of a branch line that is used only at irregular intervals or for limited parts of the year. For this reason we believe that the railways, particularly in the field of freight, must be fully competitive, fitting the rail network to the current need. Their main competitor, road haulage, is not to be subject to these new procedures suggested by the noble Earl. I think that we would all agree that the railways, struggling as they are to make themselves viable, should not carry handicaps which the road transport industry does not carry. We believe that the imposition of these duties and additional considerations before a freight service is closed down would impede the Railways Board's future competitive capability and would not serve any real social purpose.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am grateful for the noble Lord's reply, although naturally I am disappointed. I do not wish to press this Amendment but I think that I should say this. I am sorry that the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Stonham, are not here, because in 1962 they took a very different view from the one expressed by the noble Lord now. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL moved Amendment No. 147AC:212
Page 81, line 15, at end insert—
(" () When the Minister has given consent to the withdrawal of any railway passenger or freight service under the provisions of Section 56 of the 1962 Act (as amended) the Board shall not, without the previous written consent of the Minister first being had and obtained
() (a) In the event of the Minister's written consent having been given as set out in clause 51(6) of this Act, the Board shall, before giving effect to such consent be required to give first refusal of the sale of such works or assets to any person or body corporate who is willing to provide an adequate public rail service over the line of route of the service in question, the price to be charged for the sale of such assets and other terms of sale to be a matter of negotiation between such person or body corporate and the Board;
(b) in the event of such person or body corporate wishing to operate a service being dissatisfied with the terms offered by the Board for the sale of such works or assets, the Board shall be obliged to notify the Minister of such dispute and the Minister shall then refer the dispute to arbitration in the manner prescribed by the Arbitration Act 1950, and the matter shall be decided by a single arbitrator appointed by the Minister under this section, who will then proceed in the manner as laid down by that Act;
(c) the provisions of Sections 51(6) and (7) of this Act shall mutatis mutandis apply to any proposals for discontinuing navigation by the Waterways Board, whether for commercial carrying or for cruising, on any canal or waterway in accordance with the provisions of Section 123 to 128 of this Act.")
§ The noble Earl said: The purpose of this Amendment has largely been discussed already by the noble Lords, Lord Wakefield of Kendal and Lord Somers, to whom I am very grateful. It is to lay down more specifically the duty of the Railways Board in regard to the future disposal of track, equipment and formations following the closure of a particular line. The Committee, I am sure, will recall that in the youthful days of this Government there was a certain amount of indecision about what would happen to disused railway lines. Mr. Fraser, the first Minister, announced that no track or equipment could be taken up without his specific consent. Later Mrs. Castle, his successor, announced that the equipment and track could be sold without reference to her but the Ministry's consent would be required for any sale 213 of railway lard or formation. I think that I am correct in saying that that is the present position regarding this matter. The Railways Board's policy, when they come to selling disused railway land or tracks, is to give first refusal to the local authorities through whose area the railway line goes. This procedure has prevented a number of independent groups who had planned to take a line over and run it for the benefit of the travelling public from doing so, because a vital piece of the land had already been sold to a local authority.
§ The noble Lord will have noted that under paragraph (a) the Amendment sets out that, where a local group or local authority wish to take over a railway service, such a group may be given by the Railways Board first option for the land. In the event of disagreement over the value of the land, the matter would be referred to arbitration. I think that this is important. I know myself of cases, one in Wales, where considerable had feeling was caused by the Board's deliberately—or apparently deliberately —offering a line at a ridculous price. It may be argued that the Amendment is not practical. It could be asked, "Who on earth would want to purchase and take over a non-viable asset from the railways?" That is best answered by quoting the case of the Southampton—Le Havre ferry service, which the Railways Board closed down in 1963 because they said they could never make this service pay. I believe that over the years prior to that their losses were over £1 million. This ferry was taken over by the Norwegian company Thorensen, which in 18 months is making a profit and the service has proved so successful that it has been expanded. I think that this example emphasises the importance of the assets of the railways being disposed of and used properly. I beg to move.
§ LORD ROBERTSON OF OAKRIDGE
I am sufficiently acquainted with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to know that he is a pretty good authority on railway matters, and therefore I will try to be careful in speaking to his suggested Amendment. I think that, before this Amendment is accepted, it should be shown that the Railways Board are not going to be subjected to a series of delays in disposing of assets which they 214 regard as non-viable. Incidentally, I suggest that the example of the passenger packet services from Southampton to Le Havre is hardly applicable to branch lines.
In the case of these branch lines there is a serious consideration once it has been decided to discontinue the service, because attaching to them are always a great many maintenance expenses which can be very costly. For example, on many of them there are bridges; across roads which may be a hundred years old or more, which are already too narrow, and which the railway would like to get rid of as quickly as it can. There are also level crossings which have perhaps become a source of danger to the public, and something should be done about them at once. If the procedure is to be made so laborious that the British Railways Board are going to be prevented from dealing with these things, then I think that is a serious matter.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
I shall now reply to the noble Earl's Amendment and the points made by tae two noble Lords who have spoken on the last Amendment. I can only agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Oakridge, speaking as he does with great experience of operating railways. The whole essence of the problem is that we do not want to inflict on the Railways Board further delays beyond those which are already imposed upon them. If consent is given to the closure of a rail service and the Minister agrees that the route formation can be disposed of, the Railways Board are required to give first refusal to the appropriate local authority. It would not be appropriate, after the Minister has examined the need for a service in great detail, after receiving the advice of the Transport Users' Consultative Committee, to compel the Railways Board to offer the route to some other body who might or might not eventually be prepared to provide a rail service. Such matters must remain within the commercial management responsibility of the Board.
But I should hasten to make the following point, which is a reply to the noble Lords, Lord Wakefield and Lord Somers. The Railways Board are free, after the line has been closed, to dispose 215 of the route to a miniature railway society after first offering it to the local authority; that is to say, this Bill does not preclude this course of action from taking place. But the miniature railway society has to convince the Railways Board of the economic viability of its offer, and the Railways Board must be permitted to judge the issues in terms of its own commercial interests. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has pointed out, these commercial interests might lead to its being forced to rebuild certain bridges which are completely obsolete and perhaps dangerous. This is, I think, the answer to the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Somers.
If the Railways Board say, "Yes; we will sell you three miles of track at a very high figure", this really means it is a protective device for them. If somebody is willing to pay a foolish price for the piece of track, they are covered against all risks of future expenditure arising out of this sale. So it may be a blocking response, but one cannot deny the Railways Board the right to make such a blocking response. That is really the reason why we are opposed to the proposals. The Board are under ministerial control in this matter. I think it is absolutely correct that the local authority, which is also, presumably, the planning authority, should have the right to the first refusal of the facilities which will be thrown up by the closing of a length of railway; and when that is all over, if a miniature railway society or anyone else wishes to purchase that length of line, and if they can convince the Railways Board, and offer the proper price, then they can buy it and there is nothing to stop them. That is the reason why we are resisting this particular Amendment.
I might say that paragraph (c) of the Amendment moved by the noble Earl might be more properly dealt with under Part VII of the Bill rather than here, because that Part deals comprehensively with the operations of the waterways. Perhaps a discussion later on this point might be more valuable.
§ LORD WAKEFIELD OF KENDAL
I am fully knowledgeable of the difficulties which the noble Lord has quite correctly described, and to which the noble Lord, 216 Lord Robertson, referred, about liabilities for bridges, railway crossings, fences and all such matters. But I think the noble Lord has it wrong. What I am proposing is not further delay, but to try to speed matters up. What I should like to see is that as soon as a full gauge railway ceases, a miniature railway line is put in operation. When the Railways Board are contemplating a closure, I want them to let it be known, and if any responsible body of people, with adequate finances and full knowledge of the liabilities of the particular line available to it, is willing to run a miniature railway, to make it known that they would gladly negotiate with it for sale, leasing, or whatever is most appropriate in the public interest.
Therefore, I am not suggesting delay but a speeding up of matters. I think the noble Lord must have misunderstood me. The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, has pointed out the delays that take place; and I entirely agree that the delays which take place in closing a branch line are quite intolerable. But what I want to see is a speeding up in this procedure. If only British Rail, when they are considering closing a line, could let it be known that they are willing to negotiate at once with a responsible body of people, I believe there would be a speed up in getting a miniature railway into operation on a line, and there would be no need to close it. I hope that this question will be looked at again by the Government. Perhaps I did not make myself wholly clear before, but I hope that with this further explanation I have done so now.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken, and for the noble Lord's reply, and particularly for the kind remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson. My knowledge of the subject is not at all extensive. This was mainly a probing Amendment, but I suggest to the Government that a good reason for the Amendment is the question of amenity grounds and land use, because if you have a railway line already there, and its break up is in question, possibly houses could be put on part of it and farmers could take over other parts. There is a serious problem with disused railway stations—many of them litter 217 the countryside and are proving unsightly —and it is one that the Railways Board will have to face. I do not wish to press this Amendment, and therefore beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 54 agreed to.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL, OF KINNOULL moved Amendment ND. 147AD:
Insert the following new Clause—
("Where the National interest and/or important National regional or local interests require it or where the Minister is satisfied that replacement omnibus services are not adequately dealing with hardship arising out of a previous consent to discontinue all railway passenger services from any station or from any line or are contributing substantially to road congestion in a particular area or are otherwise not satisfactorily dealing with a particular problem the Minister may, provided that the line or portion of line referred to and in any consent having previously been given under sections 56(7) and 56(11) of the Act of 1962 (as amended) are still in existence
§ The noble Earl said: The purpose of this Amendment is to give the Minister power to reopen railway lines which, owing to a change in the economic and social conditions of any one particular area, become of more benefit to users than they were in the past. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, is 218 not present because he has a special knowledge of this. In 1964, before the General Election, the Labour Party made some useful political propaganda about what they would do with all the closures and the closure proposals that were made following the Beeching Report. As I understood it, the gist was that no further closures would take place until a proper integrated survey had been made.
Within a few months of taking office the Government, I think rightly, were asked why they were not keeping faith with their undertaking and why further closures were taking place. The Minister's reply at that stage was:
I am advised I have no power under the Transport Act 1962 to withdraw consent given or to insist on the restoration of a service already withdrawn.
Later, the Prime Minister was asked a similar question on the subject of a specific line closure and he expressed regret at the lack of powers. He said:
When this Government took over the decision taken by the then Minister under the terms of the 1962 Act we could not halt the closure which had already been decided.
In order to assist the Government in their dilemma a Private Members' Bill was introduced in another place, and in fact in this House as well, in 1965, which would have simply given the Minister powers to reopen lines. The Bill was rejected by the Government, who then stated—and here I quote the noble Lord, Lord Lindgren, who at that time was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport:
that is, the power to reopen—
is not there by Act of Parliament, but not everything is done by Act of Parliament. My right honourable friend is fully satisfied that, if it became necessary to reopen a line, when in fact a consent had already been given, he could negotiate with the Railways Board for it to be re-opened—always provided that the Railways Board were satisfied that they would get their return on it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27/5/65, c. 995.]
So the Minister was satisfied that they could reopen a railway line, so long as the Railways Board agreed and that it was profitable.
§ But what about the socially necessary lines? Under this Bill we have a different concept. It is understood that the needs of transport are changing almost yearly and that there is a need to ease 219 traffic congestion. In my opinion, the policy of closure has never reduced the deficit—in fact it has simply cut away the feeder lines of the main system, so reducing its viability. To give the Minister power under this Amendment to reconsider closures would simply be to acknowledge the changing needs of our transport system and to add more flexibility to the hands of the Minister. I beg to move.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
I would ask my noble friend to give very serious consideration to this Amendment. Although it may not be couched in exactly the right terms, I hope he will not completely dismiss the idea from his mind but will consult with his Ministerial colleagues to see whether something can be done to meet the wishes of the noble Earl. Several branch lines have been closed down from time to time. In some cases the rails are still there, because when the branch lines were closed there was the possibility of new thinking taking place. I have in mind particularly certain East Coast resorts such as Bridlington, Hornsea and Withernsea, and the possibility of people in the West Riding being able to go and enjoy the facilities of those seaside resorts.
Some of these branch lines have been closed completely, others are under sentence of death, and only the other weekend one of the lines in the Bridlington area carried traffic amounting to the value of something like £19,000. That line is under sentence of death and has to close down before long. The York-Malton-Whitby line going through Goathland has been closed. The railway lines are still there and there has been tremendous pressure to have the line reopened, particularly from the children living in the Goathland area who have to attend school in Whitby. They are pressing for special trains, particularly in snowy and inclement weather.
This is the type of case where the Minister has from time to time indicated that there is a case for some reconsideration of the decision to close these branch lines. But in the past the Government have always said that they have no authority to overrule a previous Ministerial decision. Now we are seeing the 220 tremendous growth of traffic that has taken place in many of these coastal resorts. Motor cars and coaches are finding it impossible to find parking space anywhere. One has to drive round and round searching for a place to park. The general public feel extremely dissatisfied when, in trying to take the opportunity of getting a breath of sea air into their lungs during their industrial life, they find they are prevented from going by rail because of the inadequate services.
We know that, strictly speaking, from an accountability point of view, the Railways Board can put up a case for their action. Very often the financial provisions on which the Railways Board have assessed their position has been subjected to severe criticism by certain outside authorities. I am not in a position to judge who is right and who is wrong. I know that when the Railways Board investigate these matters they do so most meticulously and carefully, but I think probably they are giving undue weight to the amount of repairs and maintenance needed to keep open some of these lines. Under this Bill, the Government could accept an obligation for certain financial responsibilities in regard to those sections of line which are required for social purposes or for purposes in connection with a development area. In such a case they agree that they will accept the implications involved and reimburse the Railways Board financially. Where the branch lines have already been closed the Minister cannot honour that obligation at all, because of the decision of his predecessor.
Another interesting point is that in addition to dealing with the question of the seaside resorts and the lovely trips by rail which run along some of the Dales, there is the position with regard to the development areas, because when it is wished to extend the scope of industrial areas certain difficulties arise so far as transport needs are concerned. In the Bridlington-Whitby area there is a certain amount of industrial development and at the present time the industrial traffic has to travel on roads which are not suited to it. If we seek to disperse our industries and not just concentrate them on given trading estates, possibly putting them out into the villages where a branch line has been running 221 in the past, there is the possibility that traffic could be best moved by rail. Where a case can be made out the Minister ought to have power to look again at what has taken place in the past, in the light of new evidence that may be submitted to him.
It may be that this particular Amendment is not ideally worded in that particular direction, but I sincerely trust that my noble friend, instead of turning this down completely, will give it some consideration with a view to discussing the matter again with the Ministries concerned to find out whether it is not possible at the Report stage to make certain suggestions that might meet the needs of all concerned.
LORD WINTER BOTTOM
I think the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has made a valid distinction between the answer given by my noble friend Lord Lindgren and the point that he himself has made. Lord Lindgren made the point that the Board can act if the reopening of a line seems to be profitable, and I am certain that this would he the position to-day. The noble Earl goes on to ask about the situation where there is a change of mind by the regional planning authority and a line is now considered socially necessary. There is an objection to the actual proposal to give the Minister of Transport the proposed powers and to define them in the very clear manner of the noble Earl's Amendment. The trouble is that the introduction of this clause, we believe, would create public uncertainty and might lead to pressure for an impracticable and unrewarding exhumation of hundreds of past decisions at a time when the British Railways Board and the Minister have just stabilised the network and are looking to the future. We believe this might open the door a lot of argument and would cause delay and uncertainty in the planning of the rail network. But in fact Ministers have already assured another place, and I can repeat the assurance to-day, that whenever it becomes clear that passenger services on closed lines are needed, the Minister will ensure that they are provided. This assurance was given in reply to a question by Mr. Henig on August 10. 1966, the year of the noble Earl's own Bill.
There is another factor here to be borne in mind. The Minister's policy for re- 222 quiring preservation of the route for formation whenever there is a real likelihood of future need, and for specific grants, makes it even less likely that services could not in practice be restored if there were a good case for it. But this good case presumably would have to be dealt with by a regional planning authority and not by a group of individuals motivated by limited interests. Finally, on paragraph (e) of the noble Earl's Amendment —the question of passenger services which would be reopened but b known to be unremunerative—the Board would in any event be entitled to apply for a social grant under Clause 39 of the Bill. On that point the noble Earl's Amendment is trying to achieve a situation which already exists in the Bill. We are only rather afraid that to spell it out so clearly might cause unnecessary pressure on the Railways Board to reverse certain past decisions when in point of fact the present position is that there is no real risk of a route with a future potential being closed permanently.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I am grateful for, but again disappointed with, the noble Lord's reply. The purpose of the Amendment really was to give the Minister what I would call reserve power. It was not a question of pressure on the Railways Board or delay, but simply a reserve power if it should ever be required. There was the case the other day on the Hope Valley line from Sheffield to Chinley which had been closed previously, and now I am advised by the July, 1968, issue of Modern Railways that the decision was rescinded because it was found it would cost more to subsidise a bus service than to keep the trains going. However, the noble Lord did give an assurance, which admittedly had been given in 1966, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 55 [Amendments as to Transport Consultative Committees]:
§ 5.55 p.m.
LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE moved Amendment 147A:
Page 81, line 37, leave out r provided by the Waterways Board or".
§ The noble Lord said: If I have the permission of the Committee I should like to discuss this small group of 223 Amendments together. I think their importance will become clearer if I do so. The object of this group of Amendments is a simple one and I hope not very controversial. Their intention is to bring the consumer back to a position of some influence, and the method they are trying to use is to strengthen and put a little bit of go into the Transport Users' Consultative Committees. With all the controversy which has surrounded this enormous Bill, it must not be forgotten that finally its purpose is to help the people whom the transport serves, and if it fails to do this it does nothing. We have looked at it from this point of view in the Consumer Council. That is our business, and these few modest Amendments are put forward in the belief that this will help the Bill to carry out its true function, which is to provide an efficient service for people.
§ At the moment there are various omissions regarding what we think the Consultative Committees should have in their scope. In the first place, this Bill cuts out completely any reference to the Waterways Board; it cuts out any reference to the National Bus Company; it cuts out any reference in Scotland of the road passenger users. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, pointed out that it gave back something taken away; it allowed the Consultative Committees to be concerned with the National Freight Corporation. But, from the ordinary consumers' point of view, that is not nearly as big a concession as the exclusion of the bus companies. Secondly, the Consultative Committees have been limited since 1962, and this Bill does nothing to put their powers back, and they have been prevented from considering the only things which are really of primary interest to users of transport; that is, charges and the discontinuance or reduction of services.
§ I would say, at the risk of taking a minute of your Lordships' time, that it is worth looking at what happened to these Committees. They were set up under the 1947 Act to consider, and where necessary make representations in regard to, any matter, including charges, affecting services and facilities provided by the then British Transport Commission which was the subject of representations made by users or which appeared to them to be a matter to which consideration ought to 224 be given or which was referred to them for consideration by the Minister or the Commission; and those services and facilities provided by the Commission, included the nationalised main-line railways, London Transport, much of the road transport, docks, inland waterways and ancillary undertakings. We have no complaint about their position under the 1947 Act. But under the 1962 Act their powers were very considerably curtailed, and they were limited to the consideration of matters affecting the services and facilities of the four newly created Transport Boards, the British Railways Board, the London Transport Board, the Docks Board and the British Waterways Board. And they were excluded from consideration of those matters affecting the services and facilities of the subsidiaries of those Boards, and the services and facilities of the newly created Transport Holding Company, under which latter were placed nearly all nationalised road transport, both passenger and freight, and ancillary undertakings. They were excluded altogether from considering charges made for any services or facilities and any question relating to the discontinuance or reduction of railway services except in respect of the hardship angle of closures.
§ Your Lordships will see that this left them with very much less to do than they had before. So we think the time has come to ask that something should be done to put these powers back. I do not know what picture your Lordships have in your minds of Transport Users' Consultative Committees. Before I became involved in this clause I thought of them as groups of respected local citizens who used the various forms of transport of their area for themselves, their families and friends, and their businesses, and to whom any local citizen could appeal if he felt aggrieved about overcharging or the sudden cessation of services—or indeed anything else, but those were to be the main things.
§ This is not in fact the position. If we consider somebody who, to take an example, lives at Steeple Clayton, in my own area, and goes into Buckingham every morning by bus to get there by 9 o'clock, if for some reason best known to the authorities this bus service is curtailed he may go to the Transport Users' Consultative Committee and say to the secretary that this has occurred. The 225 secretary may say, "Well, sir, I am afraid the consideration of bus services is excluded from our particular province, and even if it had not been we could not have considered in any way the discontinuance or reduction of your services. I think probably the best thing you could do would be to write to Mr. Aubrey Jones. He has just done a very exhaustive study of transport charges and services and in a few years he will be asked to do another one; and though the local T.U.C.C.s will not be able to help you, it will be intellectually extremely satisfying—and really this is the only thing we can offer you." This is not giving the consumer any right to ask anybody about anything.
§ I think we must seriously ask the Government to consider whether or not the Transport Users' Consultative Committees should have restored to them the powers they possessed in 1947, and whether they should not be allowed to look at all forms of transport in their area, and whether they should not be supported in this way through the Amendments which I propose to move. The first Amendment is 147A, which deals with the question of the Waterways Board and prevents the exclusion of the Waterways Board. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT ADDISON
I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his admirable group of Amendments. It seems to me that the Transport Users' Consultative Committees have always lacked teeth and were not very useful bodies to which to appeal, since they had lost most of the powers given to them under the 1962 Act. If these powers could be restored it would certainly be a move in the right direction. It occurs to me particularly on the subject of the railways, where one's complaints have always been ruled out of court owing to the fact that they were not due to hardship, which is a very narrow term of reference. I feel that the Government, in introducing this Bill, have had much more enlightened views on the social use of services and also the connecting of bus and rail services. The Consultative Committees should be empowered to consider a much wider range of questions than has hitherto been possible under the existing powers. So I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, on his group of Amendments, though my speech 226 is perhaps an inappropriate one, because it is related to an Amendment concerning waterways. However, he spoke on the general group, and I should like to offer him my support.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
I support the Amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I should like to speak about the whole range of them, the point being that this is an opportunity which will not occur again to put into this very important Bill one aspect of the services; namely, that the consumer of those services should have a voice in the way in which the services are run. Lord Donaldson has said, quite rightly, that originally the Consultative Committees were meant to be stronger than they are to-day, and they have been progressively ignored, if I may say so, by those people who are running these great Corporations and these different services for the public. Since the British public is very long,suffering—it does not protest unless driven to absolute distraction—it is extremely easy to treat the public with less than the respect it should have.
When we were debating that point on another clause, I think the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, said how difficult it was to define the consumers, since everybody was a consumer. That is perfectly true. We are all consumers of something. But as regards this particular Bill we are users of the transport system in it widest sense, and I should like to see all the organisations of transport equipped with proper consultative committees and, on those committees, people who know they have the right and the reason to bring their complaints before the Boards.
I should particularly like to support the proposal which Lord Donaldson puts forward in Amendment 147F, that consideration of the charges ma de for any service or facility, and any question relating to the discontinuance or reduction of services provided by any of the bodies named in paragraph (b), shall be included. We are all subject to alterations in cost, whether we go by railway ticket, bus ticket, or any other kind of ticket. We never really know why; and nobody explains to us, except rather vaguely, why these changes have happened. I think it is only right that when the nationalised industries decide these matters they should have the advice of people who represent the buyers of these 227 tickets and the consumers of these services, who can give their views to them and not feel apologetic about doing so or feel that they have no right to do so. I hope the Government will consider this matter sympathetically. It is not a Party political matter, as is obvious from the discussion, and I hope very much that the noble Lord will see his way to accept these Amendments and put them into the Bill, because if we missed this chance I should feel very sad.
§ LORD BURTON
I also should like to add my voice in support of the noble Lords opposite and of the noble Baroness. I am particularly pleased that the Amendments should have come from the other side. I only hope that we shall not have an entente cordiale between the two Front Benches, because this is something which I know has always been resisted in the past by the Establishment which happened to be in power at the time. I should particularly like to support the right of the Transport Users' Consultative Committees to discuss fares, for when it comes to closing a line on the grounds that it is uneconomic it is obviously difficult to discuss the matter fairly when the Transport Users' Consultative Committees are not allowed to mention fares. Regarding the general discussion, may I add that there appears to be no provision concerning airways. If waterways are being added, would it be possible to add B.E.A.'? There seems to be no means of making complaints with regard to airways.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I should like to add my support to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and perhaps to make my brief comments on my Amendment, which really comes to the same proposal. Perhaps my own Amendment is more ambitious, but probably it is badly drafted. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has of course explained why all of us are worried about the T.U.C.C.s and their hearings, and how many of them have grown into disrepute. I am sure that anyone who has attended a T.U.C.C. hearing would agree that it is rather unsatisfactory when complainants or objectors sometimes instruct counsel to prepare their case and then are very often told that all their evidence cannot be taken into account because it is out- 228 side the scope of the Committee. In addition, the Railways Board can come along with their figures and, most disconcerting of all, the Railways Board are apparently allowed to produce a set of figures to the T.U.C.C. hearing and then produce a different set of figures to the Minister later. I find this very hard to understand. The result of this is, of course, unsatisfactory, and people just do not feel that their cases are being properly heard.
A second weakness of the T.U.C.C. at the present time concerns quality of service. As the Committee will know, objections may be heard in cases of any reductions of service which are related to the quality of service. But the weakness of this procedure, as I understand it, is that a hearing will arise only after the service has been cut, when the damage has been done and when it is difficult to put that damage right. I am sure that what many people would like to see, when a reduction of service is going to take place, is the proposal and not the end result, discussed in the T.U.C.C.
The present Bill does little to restore, or to correct, if I may put it that way, the present weakness of the T.U.C.C. procedure. In fact, all it does is make the Ministry responsible for the expenses of the T.U.C.C.s and the National Freight Corporation subject to the quality of service procedure. I am aware that the proper and right powers of the T.U.C.C. is a matter of delicate balance between, on the one hand, not preventing or delaying progress of management and, on the other, making sure that the views of the users are taken into account. I believe that the users are the lifeblood of the railway, and that their views should be taken into account.
It will not surprise the noble Lord to learn, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has pointed out, that there are many people and societies outside this House who strongly support the idea that the T.U.C.C.s should receive increased powers under this Bill. I know of 200 local authorities who have passed resolutions to this effect. There is the Consumer Council, as the noble Lord has already said, and there are countless users. There are many of the noble Lord's noble friends opposite, among, 229 them the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who I believe in 1962 supported the principle behind this; and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, certainly did.
Then, of course, there is the most interesting view of the T.U.C.C.s themselves who say in their Report of January 31, 1967, in paragraph 15:The limitation of reporting only on the aspect of hardship likely to take place following a railway closure had, it was thought, considerably reduced the usefulness of the T.U.C.C.s.They went on to say, under paragraph 19:In collaboration with the area T.U.C.C.s the central committee drew up a list of suggested amendments to the 1962 Act, including examples given above, and this was submitted to you in January, 1967"—this was to the Minister. Perhaps the noble Lord could advise us what has happened to these Amendments?
I should like to add one brief word in support of the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and his plea to "put a little go into the T.U.C.C.s", to quote his actual words. Surely it cannot be denied that at the present time there is general dissatisfaction with the state of the T.U.C.C.s? When I say that, I do not imply that it is the fault of any one Government, because it is not; the fault is spread much wider than that. I should have thought that the present situation not only was indefensible to-day but had been indefensible for a little time. I hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, comes to reply he will not be speaking from the same brief as the Department supplied to the noble Lord, Lord Champion, when he replied to the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Kinnoull in 1966. I have Hansard with me here, and I shall check and see what he says. If in fact he just repeats to the Committee the arguments which were then put forward, with great sincerity, but which at the end were really not convincing, then we shall know what to do with the later Amendments.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I think that the noble Lord cannot fail to be impressed by what has been said from all sides of the Committee on this matter. Perhaps I should say that the Amendment stand- 230 ing in my name, Amendment No. 147J, covers the same point as the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, Amendment No. 147H. Therefore, perhaps I may speak to that at the same time. But I think the general point has to he made, first of all, that we aught to be discussing the powers of the T.U.C.C.s not in the light of their present functions and the present functions of the railways, but in the new atmosphere and in the light of the new powers, and new organisations that are being set up under this Bill.
It is important to make this point at the start, because it will be of no use for the noble Lord to say, "Oh, but the previous Government did so-and-so", because the previous Government did not do these things in the light of the organisations that are being set up For example, if I may take the Scottish point first, we have a number of different bus companies and they have been gradually coming together to form the Scottish Bus Group, and now they become the Scottish Transport Group. This Group, together with MacBrayne's, is going to cover virtually the whole country. This means that there is a quite different set of circumstances from that which exist at the present time.
The circumstances after the passage of this Bill will be quite different. We shall have to get the means of getting public opinion, the opinion of the users, to bear upon this vast organisation in a different way, to match the new circumstances. I think that is what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is after and it is most important that we should be doing this. The same applies to the National Bus Company in England. Then, with the change in railway policy, the particular limitations on the powers that were placed in the light of what one might c111 the Beeching era are no longer applicable now, with this new change of policy that is coming about.
So I commend this series of Amendments to the noble Lord. I think it was my noble friend Lord Kinnoull who spoke of an unholy alliance between the Front Benches. I have to be particularly careful of that in these circumstances, and I think it would be reasonable to point out, or at any rate to observe in passing, that there are special considerations and circumstances that arise when we are talking about charges. After all, we are 231 placing an obligation on these bodies to make ends meet; and if there were criticisms of particular charges, suggestions that charges in a particular area for a particular service should be brought down, it would inevitably mean that it would be necessary to put up the charges somewhere else to make ends meet. So I think one would have to do something along the lines of what is done in the circumstances of the Electricity Consultative Councils. There, it is a question not so much of particular charges, but of a charge structure that could perhaps be criticised by the Area Councils. But I think that in these new circumstances it is essential that we should re-think the functions and duties of consultative committees.
On the question of my particular Amendment (which is similar to that of Lord Donaldson) for the Bus Company in England, I think it would be strange if there were to be no consultative arrangements for one important passenger transport organisation. It would be hard to justify that there should be no such facilities for road passenger transport when they are there for rail passenger transport. I do not think that one can refer back to the traffic commissioners who, after all, were set up in totally different circumstances nearly 40 years ago. I do not think you can say, "Well, we can rest on the traffic commissioners. If you have a complaint send it to the traffic commissioners." What are the traffic commissioners going to do about it anyway? Are they going to take away the licences of the Bus Company and the Scottish Transport Group? I should not have thought so. Clearly there is a very strong case for giving careful consideration to Amendments along these lines even if the noble Lord cannot accept these.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
We have had really a Second Reading debate on Clause 55, and I must say that the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Burton, that there was an unholy alliance between the two Front Benches—which does on occasion, but very rarely, exist—has been put at rest by the speech of his noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, who I think in the main supported the contentions of speakers from both sides of the House. 232 He has, however, put his finger on a point on which I think both Front Benches agree; that is, on the financial element of Amendment No. 147F, because this differs from the other Amendments.
As I have said before and will say again, we have charged the railways to operate their services within a strict commercial framework, and their prices and wages structures are subject to investigation by the Prices and Incomes Board. It would be an impossible situation—because the prices structure of the railway system is an extremely complex one—for a group of people who in economic terms are amateurs to enter into an argument with the Railways Board about fares structures. This must be left to the far more expert Prices and Incomes Board. However, I should not have thought it beyond the bounds of possibility for the consultative T.U.C.C.s to give evidence to the Prices and Incomes Board. I cannot see in the Bill any inhibition against this taking place; and this, I think, would meet the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that a general approach on the subject might be made, rather than a narrow approach on, shall we say, the fare between London and Blackpool. But we must resist the injection of the right to be consulted on charges from among the Amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.
If we turn to the other points again we have difficulties. There is no doubt that the strength of feeling in the debate today is that these particular committees should be strengthened and better used than they are at present, and there is again the feeling, which has been expressed at earlier stages in the debate, that the consumer—the traveller—and his interests are not considered sufficiently.
Perhaps I may now turn for a moment to the question of bus services—and I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will find that what I am saying has been said before—
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
—but perhaps he will tell me if what was true two years ago is still true to-day. It is the belief of the Government that the Bill, as it stands, will not and cannot bring the road passenger transport services of the 233 National Bus Company and Scottish Transport Group within the scope of the consultative committees. We believe that the traffic commissioners, admittedly set up some long time ago, as a statutory body have proved very effective at considering representations from users. They have much expertise and experience in this field, while the consultative committees have none.
Perhaps the noble Lord will say that consultative committees should have the possibility of gathering some experience in this field—and I should have thought this a not unreasonable request. I do not know what mechanism we could use to enable complaints to be made both to the traffic commissioners and to the consultative committees, but perhaps this is not beyond the wit of man. If this is possible, and I will put it to my right honourable friend, I will see whether I can give a favourable answer at a later stage in the Bill. I cannot make any promises, but I will try.
Finally, there is the question of service reductions, which of course brings in the element of hardship. The consultative committees can consider the level of train service after a reduction has taken place, but to enable them to have advance information and to advise on future timetable alterations would hinder management on detailed issues and lead to delay in effecting either economies or improvements. Flexibility and vigorous management is essential, we believe, to the widest interests of the industry as a whole, and for that reason we are not willing to agree that consumers shall be consulted in advance. But when decisions have been reached the impact of those decision could well be considered.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
Before the noble Lord sits down, could he refer to the Waterways Board which, I think, is the subject of the first Amendment.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
I beg the noble Lord's pardon. There is, in fact, an opportunity for issues arising on this front to be considered elsewhere. The Board's services are already covered in respect of the amenity or recreational use of both the cruising and the commercial waterways by the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, which is a new body to be set up formally under 234 Clause 108 of this Bill. Of course, commercial users will also have recourse to the courts if there is any serious failure on the Board's part to fulfil their maintenance obligations in respect of commercial waterways. Perhaps we might go into the position of the consultative committees in relation to the waterways on Clause 108.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
Before the noble Lord sits down, did I understand him to say that the consultative committees will be consulted only after decisions have been taken? I mean, was this on the matter of charges or on the matter of general policies? I cannot see the point of setting up consultative committees, which admittedly are an additional committee, if, in fact, they are simply to be told that the decision about X Y Z has been taken before they have a chance of looking at it. The whole object of setting up consultative committees is to seek their advice. You need not take it, if you do not want to, but it is perfectly useless to set them up if they are going to deal with a matter only after the decision has been taken. I may be wrong but I thought I heard the noble Lord say that.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
The noble Baroness did, in fact, hear me fairly clearly. What I said was that the consultative committees can consider the reductions of services—that is to say, not cancelled services but those reduced in frequency—but only after the reduction has taken place. Now I am certain that the noble Baroness considers this a gross injustice—indeed, she has already said so. But that is how these committees work. We believe that there cannot be a long debate on the subject, not of cancelling a service but of reducing it, before the reduction has actually occurred. The Railways Board or the statutory operator must be able to reach certain decisions; and if the consumer, or the consultative committee approached by the consumer, finds that this is causing real hardship, then of course the issue could well he reconsidered. But commercially one has often got to act fast.
We are trying to get the Railways Board out of the net of all the inhibitions that were placed on them in the past when they had, in fact, a virtual monopoly in transport. They have now to be 235 freed to act commercially, and one of the first freedoms in acting commercially is that they should be able to plan their frequencies of service in the form which they believe commercially suits them best. If, after the Board have reached this decision, a consultative committee persuades them that they are doing something which is damaging to the public, and commercially unwise, then they may change their mind; but they must have the freedom to act with the normal speed of reaction of a private company.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
I do not think the noble Lord in his reply referred to my specific question about the annual report of the T.U.C.C. for 1967, in which they said that they thought the usefulness of the T.U.C.C.s had been considerably reduced in their present scope. They went on to say that they had submitted Amendments to the Government. Could the noble Lord say whether the Government understand that the T.U.C.C.s are satisfied in regard to this matter and with the present scope of the Bill?
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Earl whether or not they are satisfied. Consultations and conversations have taken place. The T.U.C.C.s themselves suggested Amendments to the Government, and their proposals were carefully considered by the Minister and by a previous Joint Parliamentary Secretary, my honourable friend Mr. John Morris, who explained to them the Minister's attitude in a meeting with the Central Transport Consultative Committee. The Government explained formally to the T.U.C.C.s why their proposals could not be accepted. I imagine that this was not altogether satisfactory to them, but we had to try to meet the points they had put to us.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
I hope that the Government will look again at this matter. To set up a large number of committees, and then take all the decisions, and come back and say to the committees, "If you don't like them, you can now protest", seems to be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, or putting the cart before the horse, or any other of the familiar clichés we so often hear. This is a most 236 fantastic proposition. I can understand that you do not want to consult the public at all. All right; do not have any committees at all. But when you set them up, for goodness sake use them! I hope that the noble Lord will say to his right honourable friend, who I am sure is a highly intelligent gentleman, "This is not the way this Bill or any other Bill will appeal to the public." It just is not "on".
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I think the noble Lord's attention ought to be drawn to Section 56 of the 1962 Act, which saysSubject to the following provisions of this section, it shall be the duty of the Central Committee and of each Area Committee to consider and, where it appears to them to be desirable, make recommendations with respect to any matter affecting the services and facilities provided by any of the Boards which has been the subject of representations…which has been referred to the committee by the Minister or by a Board, or which appears to the committee to be a matter to which consideration ought to be given…I thought the noble Lord was inclined to "talk down" the functions of the committees very much lower than they are even at present. What we were trying to do was to say that they should be greater than they are at present. Therefore, what the noble Lord said was, to say the least, most discouraging.
I hope that he will look again at this matter, in concert with his right honourable friend, before the next stage. There is a general feeling that there is no point in having consultation unless it has a reality, unless notice is going to be taken of the advice tendered—and it can only be advice before action is taken—or, alternatively, if representations are passed on, before action is taken or with a view to action being taken. Surely this is the purpose of a consultative committee. Admittedly there are certain circumstances where special considerations apply, but apart from that I should have thought that the various Boards and the new authorities ought to be very glad to have a body to whom they can refer, a body which will grow in experience. It is not always easy for Boards to keep in touch with public opinion, yet their success depends on their doing so. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will look at this matter again.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
There is a French saying that "The tone makes the music". If I put on a disinheriting countenance, it was because I was replying to my noble friend Lord Donaldson as to why a number of his proposals were not acceptable to the Government. I tried to make some encouraging remarks. There is no doubt that the feeling of the debate is running strongly in favour of the consultative committees. I have undertaken to consult my right honourable friend to see if we can say anything more helpful.
One thing which the Bill does is to move the consultative committees out of the clutches of the organisations which they are supposed to advise and to set them up in new premises provided by the Minister and not, shall we say, by the Railways Board. We believe that this may get them into a new atmosphere, take them from under the wing of the Board, and perhaps, as a result, give them greater psychological freedom to express their feelings strongly in relation to the body which they will advise.
Turning to the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, the Transport Act 1962 was pretty tough. If one turns to the appropriate section of the Act one sees these words:Nothing in the last foregoing subsection shall entitle any committee to consider the charges made for any service or facility, or to consider any question relating to the discontinuance or reduction of railway services except as provided in the following provisions of this section.This was also a rather disinheriting section. I will do my best to see whether my right honourable friend can move in any direction to meet the wishes of this Committee. I cannot be very helpful, but in one or two minor points some improvement may be made.
§ LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY
I hope that the noble Lord will take up with his right honourable friend this question about consultation early on in regard to changes of timetable. Timetables take a long time to work out, and I do not think it is the object of anybody that a long argument should be gone into at an early stage. All we are saying is that the present system, in which users are consulted at a stage when so many people are bound up in the decision that it is almost impossible to 238 go back on it, is wrong, and that at some early stage of the cutting down, or even the change of service—such as in the forthcoming shuffle which is probably going to take place in the South-East—the public should be allowed to know, before final decisions are taken, what is going on and to make comment. We are not asking for long public inquiries. We are asking that the public should be allowed to express their views at an early stage.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
I am grateful to my noble friend for his very full reply. I am also grateful to noble Lords and Ladies in all parts of the House who have supported this group of Amendments. I am glad that the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches got in just in time. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for avoiding a maiden over in that direction.
I will make one or two brief comments. I had a note, which I did not use, to refer to Hilaire Belloc and the collusion between Front Benches. This has been rather taken away from me, but there was just sufficient between the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, and my noble friend over charging to make it worth referring to this point. One can carry the whole idea of charges a little too far. The idea that if you reduce a fare in Norfolk, you have to put it up in Devonshire is not true. That is not the way it works. Surely there is room for a little local dealing. There was just a sniff of Hilaire Bellocry there worth referring to. We squeezed a little blood out of the noble Lord's stone.
The suggestion that the T.U.C.C.s should be allowed to make submissions to the Prices and Incomes Board was one I had down to ask for if I could not get anything else. It was given to us in lieu of anything else. As for the traffic commissioners, they are not consumer supporters. They are in a judicial category between the provider of transport and the consumer. Although they are very fair, we want somebody who is, frankly, partisan. I do not accept that the traffic commissioners are an adequate substitute. However, the noble Lord's suggestion that complaints could, perhaps, be made to the T.U.C.C.s at the same time as to the traffic commissioners 239 to educate them in the kind of trouble that is going on is very helpful. In view of the noble Lord's promise to use what influence he has with his right honourable friend, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 55 shall stand part of the Bill?
The noble Lord, Lord Winterbottom, referred to the debate on the Amendments as a Second Reading debate and that it went very wide. In consequence, I will try not to repeat all that has been said, but I have one or two brief points that I should like to make about the clause. First, although the Minister said he would try to be our advocate concerning a few minor points, his reply was disappointing, in view of the strength of feeling on all sides. If I may say so without wishing to give offence, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, made more of the brief when he spoke to us on this same subject two years ago.
I hope that the Railways Board will not think that this debate is being conducted in any spirit of criticism against them. I think that the Board are doing extremely well in their efforts to maintain services in my part of the country during these days of annual purgatory. Having said that, however, I should again like to say that the Government have missed a chance in the clause of doing something really worthwhile in the Bill, and something that would cost very little money. In different parts of the Bill a great many expensive and heavy burdens are being placed upon the backs of the people. Here was a chance to do something which would be popular and cost very little, either by putting the T.U.C.C.s back on a really effective basis or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, suggested, by doing away with them altogether—because in their present weak and neglected state it is difficult to justify their existence.
Admittedly, the T.U.C.C.s did not have a very good start, and in the 1962 Act the then Government made them even less effective. After the speech which we have just heard from the Minister I wonder whether anybody will want to 240 continue to serve on them. Their work seems to be unrewarding and their influence limited. I do not know whether many noble Lords present have ever had personal experience of correspondence with a T.U.C.C. Some of us, particularly those who represented constituencies in another place, will probably have had considerable experience. Generally, however, it takes weeks to get an answer, and as often as not one is sent a small explanation which has been supplied by British Railways, and only very rarely an opinion by the consultative committee itself.
I should like the Minister to tell us what is meant by "quality of service", which we now hear about. Representations were made to me a short time ago by people in the neighbourhood about the new second-class rolling stock that is being introduced on the Western route main line between Glasgow and London. For those of your Lordships who have not yet sampled those carriages, I can give the assurance that they are extremely uncomfortable. I think the real reason they have been so designed is that by adopting this pattern more passengers can be crammed on each pair of four-wheel bogies. The seats are very narrow and hard and one is crammed behind small tables.
I asked the T.U.C.C. what representations they had made. This was the reply which I received from the Secretary:Such matters as replacing the present pattern of second-class main-line rolling stock with open coaches…are matters of policy to be determined by the British Railways Board, and their design would take in many factors quite outside the knowledge of an area committee.I should have thought that the members of an area committee would be more likely to travel second-class than members of the Railways Board, and were therefore much more likely to appreciate what one hoped to get in return for the ever-rising second-class fare. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will say something about "quality of service". This is not simply a personal view which many of us have expressed. We all know from contact with people in our areas what feeling there is on this subject.
I was interested to hear the Minister's reply. I was sorry that he qualified what 241 he said to a few minor points. I am sure that most noble Lords look forward, not to a few minor points of improvement, but to something substantial. We have plenty of lime to do something substantial and worthwhile. We have the Report stage ahead of us. It is much the best, in these circumstances, that the Government should take the initiative. If, however, they do not, I am sure that there are many noble Lords who are not prepared to leave things as they are.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I would like to say a word or two, not to add to the eloquence of my noble friend, but to deal with two or three particular points. First, will the noble Lord confirm that among the services to be dealt with by the consultative committees are the shipping services? There are, for example, Associated Humber Lines and the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, in England and the Caledonian Steam Packet and MacBrayne's in Scotland. MacBrayne's also have a freight service, and a passenger service which often carries freight as well in the remote areas.
The noble Lord has referred to subsections (3) and (4) concerning the power which is given to the Minister toprovide, or make arrangements…for providing, that committee with such officers and servants, and such office accommodation, as appear to the Minister, after consultation with the committee, to be requisite for the proper discharge of the committee's functions and shall defray any expenditure incurred by the committee with the Minister's approval in the discharge of those functions".For my part, I should very much welcome this, in the sense that it has never seemed to me to be a good thing that consultative committees should be dominated by the bodies to whom they are supposed to tender advice. I recognise, of course, that there are advantages in such an arrangement, and that from some points of view it can be a matter of considerable convenience. The fact remains, however, that the habit of putting a member of the Board on to a consultative committee and having, inevitably, a secretary who is an official of the Board, lends to curtail the independence of the consultative committee. I think that the new arrangement is a definite improvement.
242 The snag, however, is that it is not mandatory. The next subsection goes on to say that:The Minister may…instead of himself providing the officers and servants or office accommodation aforesaid, arrange wilt any of the Boards other than the Waterways Board or with the Freight Corporation for those officers and servants or that accommodation to be provided by that Board or Corporation in return for such payments by the Minister to the Board or Corporation as may be agreed between them.Therefore, the only outcome of this may be to shift the cost of the advice and the committee from the Board to the Minister. That could easily be the only outcome.
Apart from that, it could be all "eyewash". I hope that it is not so and that we shall have an even firmer declaration from the noble Lord than he has given already that it is genuinely the intention of the Government to detach these bodies from the Boards which they are to advise, so that their independence may be assured.
LORD WINTER BOTTOM
Perhaps my noble friend Lord Champion was more sympathetic because he himself was a railwayman, and perhaps his heart is rather closer to the Railways Board than mine is. I do not say that I hoped to satisfy the noble Lord in my speech, but I hope that at least I made myself plain, which is the best one can hope to do on art occasion like this. I should like to give my noble friend one reassurance on the point of quality of service. Any matter relating to the services and facilities of the Boards, except charges and proposed reductions of service, can be referred to the Consultative Committees. They are fully entitled to consider representations and to make representations to the Board or the Minister on changes in, for example, a type of carriage used by the Board if the travelling public find unsatisfactory. So if the noble Lord wants to protest he knows where to do so, and I hope it is not too late in the day for something to be done as a result.
May I turn to the two points made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn? I can assure him that the shipping services, which will come under the National Freight Corporation and the British Railways Board, will in fact be covered by the Consultative Committees. It is part of their remit.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I ask the noble Lord whether that applies to the shipping services in Scotland? Do they come under the Area Committee there?
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
If I may, I should like to give the noble Lord that reassurance in writing, or at a later stage in the Bill, because I cannot answer his question now. I should think it is highly probable, but I should like to give an answer which I know is correct.
Turning now to subsections (3) and (4), subsection (3) reads:In the case of each of the Consultative Committees…the Minister shall provide, or make arrangements…for providingthe services for them. Subsection (4) reads:The Minister may, in the case of any such committee,…do a deal with any of the Boards or with the Freight Corporation. I think the most important thing is that the man who pays the piper calls the tune. It is very much better that the Minister pays than that the Board does. This arrangement is purely an administrative one. It is just possible that it would be more practical, and indeed more convenient to the Consultative Committees, to continue to hold the meetings in the places where they have been held until now—that is to say, in part of the office accommodation provided by the Boards—or in accommodation which might be provided in the future by the Freight Corporation.
But I would have said that this is a step which would be taken only with the agreement of the Consultative Committee concerned. I cannot see, under this Bill, that if a Consultative Committee said, "Look here, we do not want to meet here; we want to meet somewhere else. We want to get away from the direct pressures and supervision of the Board. We want to meet on outside premises", the Minister could in fact refuse. I would feel that the position of the Consultative Committee was very strong. Subsection (3) is the intention; subsection (4) is only the administrative detail, which I suspect would operate only if the Consultative Committee agreed.
§ LORD HUGHES
I wonder whether I might save my noble friend a little work by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Drum- 244 albyn, that the answer in relation to the Scottish Transport group is also, Yes.
§ Clause 55 agreed to.
§ Clause 56 [Assistance by Minister or local authority towards capital expenditure on public transport facilities]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 56 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I ask one question on this clause? It relates to subsection (3), which says:No grant under subsection (1)…and no payment under subsection (2)…shall be made for the purposes of the provision, improvement or development of an airfield, a harbour, or"—and this is the point—(except when used or to be used for the purposes of a ferry service) a dock, pier or jetty".I am not quite certain that that is not a little too restrictive. There are many docks, piers and jetties which are used for many other purposes than the main purpose of transport. I wondered what the intention was here. There is a question of recreational facilities and there is a question of fisheries. I wondered whether that was not expressed in rather too restrictive a manner.
§ LORD WINTERBOTTOM
Grants by the Minister of Transport and the Secretary of State for docks and harbours are provided for in other legislation, but a terminal for a local passenger ferry service would be eligible under this clause. A ferry service is defined in Clause 149 as:a transport service by water (including such a service by means of a hover vehicle) which carries passengers and operates regularly between two or more points both or all of which are in Great Britain".As originally drafted, this subsection would have made grants under this clause mutually exclusive with grants under highways legislation. There may, however, be some types of project which, though intended to help public transport, could be grant-aided from the roads Vote. An example would be a road reserved for buses built as a special road under Highway Act powers but which might more appropriately be financed from moneys voted under this clause. It will make for easy administration if in 245 such special cases there is no awkwardness through a lack of overlap in the powers available, so that the individual project can be built and aided under whatever arrangements are most appropriate to the circumstances. Parts of the original draft of this subsection were therefore deleted in another place by a Government Amendment.
§ Clause 56 agreed to.
§ Clause 57 agreed to.
§ Clause 58 [Assistance by local authorities in Scotland for railway passenger services]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 58 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, a question on this clause? The noble Lord will remember that I raised this point on Second Reading of the Bill, when he told me that this was a power which already exists for local authorities in England and Wales—that is, the power to afford financial assistance towards the provision of railway passenger services. Is the noble Lord able to tell me whether that power has been used in England and Wales; and, secondly, whether it has been asked for in Scotland?
§ LORD HUGHES
I cannot answer the first part of the question, as to whether it has been used in England or Wales. What I can say is that the application of this power to Scotland has been welcomed by the Scottish local authority associations. The noble Lord asked whether it had been asked for before. I do not think it would be correct to say that the Scottish local authorities asked for it, but having become aware of the Government's intention to do this, they welcomed the opportunity to have this power.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I also ask where the cost of this will fall? This will presumably fall on the rates. Is there any limitation so far as rate poundage is concerned on the amount that can be spent in this way by local authorities? Secondly, is any of the cost eligible for grant assistance in any form, including resources grant?
§ LORD HUGHES
In the first instance, the powers, as in England and Wales, are permissive, and any expenditure which the authorities propose to undertake would require the consent of the Secretary of State. The power is not intended as a substitute for the power of the Minister of Transport to assist the British Railways Board's unremunerative services under Clause 39, about which I think the noble Lord had some apprehensions, but it would in fact be complementary to such a power. There may be cases where the Minister is not satisfied that there are sufficient social or economic reasons for an Exchequer grant towards the unremunerative service under Clause 39, but in which the local authorities concerned would be perfectly willing to meet the deficit from the rates for the general benefit of the local community; and we think it would be wrong to deny that opportunity to the local authorities in Scotland when it is already available in England and Wales.
These local authority contributions to railway services will not be eligible for a specific Exchequer grant in the same way as contributions to rural bus and ferry services under Clause 34. The circumstances are entirely different, partly because of the provision for Exchequer grants to railway services under Clause 39, and partly because of the special case accepted by the Standing Committee in another place for rural bus and ferry grants. Any contributions made to railway services by local authorities on both sides of the Border will, however, rank for rate support grant in the normal way.
§ LORD ILFORD
Am I right in thinking that contributions made in these circumstances would be relevant to expenditure for the purpose of assessing the rate support grant?
§ LORD HUGHES
That was what I said in my last few words. I will repeat them: "Any contributions made to railway services by local authorities on both sides of the Border will, however, rank for rate support grant in the normal way".
§ Clause 58 agreed to.
§ Clause 59 agreed to.
§ House resumed.