HL Deb 23 July 1975 vol 363 cc421-6

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

Viscount BRIDGEMAN moved the Amendment:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

Grants to subsidiary companies of national bus company. .—(1) If in the case of any subsidiary company of a national bus company, the Secretary of State is satisfied—

  1. (a) that the transport services provided by the subsidiary company are unremuneralive, and
  2. (b) that it is desirable for social reasons that the transport services should be maintained,
then the Secretary of State may with the consent of the Treasury make grants to the subsidiary company in respect of the maintenance of those services. (2) The Secretary of State may attach to such grants such conditions as he thinks fit.

The noble Viscount said: I am in some difficulty, because I thought that my noble friend Lord Amory would be here to move this new clause, which does not appear to be on the Marshalled List. Am I in order in proceeding, therefore? I understand that my noble friend Lord Amory gave notice of this Amendment last night.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Douglas of Barloch)

The proposed new clause is in print.


I will explain briefly why my noble friend and I thought this new clause should be considered. With economies being made all round, we are reaching the point where grants paid by the Government to bus services are being reduced rapidly, and certainly I know that it is the opinion of the Association of County Councils that by the end of 1975–76 the position could become desperate with services being reduced on a large scale. I understand that the Government have made it clear that no more such grants will be available and that they will, in fact, be reduced. This grant is, I think, spent mainly on the larger bus companies, but those are not the ones whose fortunes I have in mind. Naturally, those bus companies which make the biggest losses will be the first to go under. But, equally, those which make the biggest losses are likely to be the ones on the rural routes, and with small populations from which to collect passengers it is those rural routes which are so important to the welfare of the countryside. The withdrawal of those services would have a serious effect on the provision of transport for children going to and from school.

Strangely enough, this resembles a problem about which I was speaking a few days ago, when I last addressed this House on the subject of colleges for adult education. There one finds the same position. One has economics which in themselves sound excellent and necessary, but when one looks into the matter one finds that their effects stultify Government policy in another direction. If this position goes on, as the county councils think it will, a great deal of damage will be done to rural transport and to the countryside which that rural transport serves, and once these buses go out of action I am certain they will not be replaced. It is to be hoped that the Government will see the problem in this light and will not adopt the usual practice, so common in Whitehall, of waiting for evidence that the horse has been stolen before they agree to do anything about locking the door.

This new clause has been drafted, because it is thought that at present grants can be made only to nationalised industries and not to bus services run by private enterprise, so that there is no power for the Government to make a direct payment to private enterprise bus operators. That is why my noble friend tabled this Amendment. I wish that he had been here to move it, because he would have done so much better than I, and I should have preferred to be here supporting him. But in his absence, I beg to move.


I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Gowrie, who would have been in his place to speak on this Amendment had he not been called away on urgent business. But he has asked me to comment on the subject. The proposed new clause seems eminently sensible and I have the same knowledge of country buses as my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, and particularly of the problems in Scotland. We appreciate that any Government have problems in these times when economies must he made, but I hope the Government will pay close attention to this Amendment, and will always wish to ensure that questions of cost are equated with those of social use. We all wish to prevent rural depopulation and the destruction of rural communities, and not everyone in the country districts has a car or means of automotive transport. We are to a great extent dependent on bus transport by the National Bus Company and possibly other select private operators. In the main, it is the National Bus Company which is concerned and that is why I support this Amendment.


Having been pummelled by noble Lords opposite in a most devastating way for, as they have claimed, feeding inflation, I find it surprising that, wearing my other hat, I am accused of being a savage deflationary who is ruining the countryside and especially the rural areas which rely on bus transport. I fear that I must resist the Amendment, the effect of which is to undermine the new system of transport grants which was first introduced in the 1972 Local Government Act, by the Conservative Government, and, secondly, in the 1974 Act, which originated as a Tory measure but which we, for once, have taken over, and which Conservative noble Lords now want to destroy.

I did not know this, but your Lordships will, I am sure, know that the Government make a block grant, known as the transport supplementary grant, to local authorities to support their expenditure underlying transport policies and programmes. The Amendment will run directly contrary to the whole philosophy of local responsibility for local transport—matters which at least go back to the 1968 Transport Act and which were reinforced in the 1972 and 1974 legislation. It is clearly local, not central Government, which is in a position to take sensible decisions in regard to retaining loss—making local services in the light of circumstances. The Amendment would run contrary to the policy declared in Attack on Inflation of reducing subsidies, which was, I think, one of the most fervent themes of the right honourable lady in another place. Therefore, I hope that I shall carry the Committee with me when I ask the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, to withdraw the Amendment.


I do not wish to detain the Committee for long at this late hour, but I think that the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, has had a briefing which rather oversimplifies the position, and I cannot allow him to get away with everything he said. In the first place, of course it can be argued that everything that it is proposed to spend is against the policy on inflation. Noble Lords on this side of the Committee would, think, argue that although extra spending will, in theory, lead to more inflation, in practice it can be set off by not spending a lot of money which we on this side of the Committee think ought not to be spent, and the account will be squared and will go into the blue.

One cannot sit here and be told that it is an alteration in procedure and is contrary to policy; it is no such thing. I should have thought that the policy was to keep the buses on the roads where they are needed for the population. The question of grants is a matter not of policy but of procedure. Having said that and having got it on the record, and the hour being what it is, I shall accept the noble Lord's suggestion and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Remaining clauses and Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without Amendment: Report received.


7.55 p.m.

Lord JACQUES rose to move, That the draft Regional Employment Premium (Continuation of Payment) (Winsford) (Amendment) Order 1975, laid before the House on 14th July, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This draft Order amends a 1974 Order with a similar title, which I introduced to the House on 17th July last year. I then explained that Winsford was eligible for development area benefits from 1966, contingent upon its taking two thirds of its extended population from Merseyside. From 1967 Regional Employment Premiums were paid and were included in the benefits to which Winsford was entitled. In 1972 Winsford was found not to be taking enough people from Merseyside, and it was decided that it should no longer enjoy the benefits of a development area, but only those of an intermediate area, which do not include Regional Employment Premiums.

However, firms which had established themselves by 1972 in the area in expectation of these benefits were allowed to continue to receive Regional Employment Premiums. These premiums were due to expire last year, but my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced legislation to continue them in being, and in July last doubled the rates. The Order which I introduced last year provided for the continuation of payments in respect of firms in Winsford in 1972 for a period of 12 months, expiring in September 1975. We thought it right to introduce a further Order permitting these payments to me made for a further 12 months' period, but this is without prejudice to any decision we may take on whether they should continue to be made for the future, or for the duration of the whole of this 12 months' period. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Regional Employment Premium (Continuation of Payment) (Winsford) (Amendment) Order 1975, laid before the House on 14th July, be approved.—(Lord Jacques.)


My Lords, we on this side of the House wish to welcome the statement and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, for the very lucid and full way in which he presented this Order. We are very gratified to see that the Regional Employment Premium is being continued and that the Government feel that the firms which moved in expectation of Winsford carrying out its supposed obligation of taking two-thirds of its increasing population from Merseyside—and thereby gaining full development area status—are able to take advantage of the Regional Employment Premium and development area status. We are also glad that the Government are keen to continue to support these firms and to allow them to take advantage of these incentives which the firms thought they were to receive at the time that they moved to Winsford.

There are two small questions which the noble Lord might be able to answer for us. First, can he give us the latest available figure for the cost of continuing the Regional Employment Premium in the Winsford area? I do not know whether this is a very substantial figure, but it would be interesting and illuminating to know it. Secondly, can the noble Lord give us any information as to the number of firms or concerns which are to be affected by the Order? These are relatively trivial points, but I should be very grateful if the noble Lord could give us some information on them. This is a praiseworthy gesture by the Government, to continue to keep their word so that firms may continue to manufacture and carry on their business in Winsford, in the light of developments which the firms saw before 1972 when they moved to Winsford.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the reception given to the Order. The cost is £800,000 a year. I regret that I am unable to state the number of firms involved, but I shall ensure that a letter is sent to the noble Lord giving that information.