HL Deb 09 June 1978 vol 392 cc1556-627

11.18 a.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill which we have before us today and of which we are considering the Second Reading is, as my right honourable friend said in another place, a good and necessary one, but it is also very varied. It deals with matters as diverse as concessionary fares on public transport, pensions in the National Freight Corporation, payment of grants for rolling stock on private sidings, the legality of giving lifts in cars for payment, county public transport plans and bicycle racks.

This seeming motley, however, is only its exterior garb. Its hidden form is as coherent as the White Paper of last year from which so much of it derives, and is as logical as the Government's transport policy which it expresses. I have arranged for detailed notes on the provisions of this necessarily sometimes rather complex Bill to be available to your Lordships in the Printed Paper Office. But the general considerations of the policy are not so evident from that document, and I hope to make both the direction of our policy and the nature of its expression clear as I pass through a description of the provisions of the Bill.

Clauses 1 to 4 of the Bill are concerned with county transport planning. The White Paper on transport policy, which was published last June, reiterated the Government's commitment to public transport, and to rural transport in particular. This commitment means a generous level of support for buses both for regular services and for less conventional arrangements. The White Paper was, as my right honourable friend has said, unashamedly"pro"bus; and our commitment to rural transport calls for some shift in resources towards buses in rural areas.

It is not simply a matter of resources, important as they are. It is a question of how we get best value for money and of how services can be matched most closely to needs at a time when travel patterns are continually changing and more and more people are turning to the private car. This means not only proper planning; it means that someone somewhere has to take decisions. As the White Paper emphasised, this must be done locally, by people who are accountable locally, within a national framework of policy and allocation of resources. The responsibility for promoting an efficient and co-ordinated public transport system in the shires was laid on the county councils in 1972. It is they who have the power to make grants to public transport undertakings and it is they who are responsible for structure planning, for highways, and traffic management. Therefore, the counties have an imposing panoply of authority relating to the transport field.

Some counties exercise these powers constructively, and with a judicious eye, both to local circumstances and to national policy; and Cheshire, Lancashire, Devon, and Clwyd in Wales, have come to our attention in recent months as counties which in their differing ways have taken a constructive stance in public transport planning. There are no doubt others but some counties do neglect public transport, and none of them can afford to relax.

The TSG settlement for 1978–79 ensured that all the shire county support for buses qualified for that grant. And it also gave more for new road schemes and other capital spending—after taking into account all other factors—to those counties whose public transport policies were in line with the White Paper. The way in which counties develop their public transport policies will be monitored and will be taken into account in future TSG settlements. Therefore, without a negative approach, and without any county being penalised, the settlement should encourage counties which may not have done as much as they might to pay more substantial attention to their rural transport.

The Bill seeks not to impose on counties a whole new range of duties and powers, but to clarify and extend the responsibilities which they already have. County public transport plans, which are proposed by the first clauses of this Bill, will provide the opportunity for counties to consider the public transport needs and resources comprehensively and in consultation with the transport industry, with transport users, and in consultation with other local authorities and public interests. This should encourage the counties to adopt a systematic approach to the problems, and will ensure that there is informed local debate about options, so that a clear statement of needs and how they are to be met can be arrived at.

Noble Lords will be aware that such plans will build on the foundation that has already been laid. County councils submit each year a statement of their transport policies and programmes which is taken into account in making the TSG settlement. So in terms of effort it is not going to be a very big step—at least for those counties which already take seriously their responsibilities for public transport—to produce a public transport plan from the material already in a TPP. And in terms of impact on the transport industries and the public, it will be a major step forward to have by statute a published plan for public transport.

The way in which these plans will be prepared will be important. Both management and workers in the passenger transport industries—publicly and privately owned—have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer, and it is hoped that all counties will develop close working relations with operators and district councils so that they can fully contribute to county policy. There are all those who rely on public transport, who must also be consulted in the preparation of plans. Counties will need to provide an opportunity for parishes, trade unions, consumer bodies and others who are especially concerned to express their views on a draft plan.

A well-considered county plan will be a foundation on which transport operators can build in order to maintain an efficient service, but the co-operation between county and operators needs to find expression in firm agreements between them, and these agreements could embrace a whole range of mutual interests—the pattern of services, the fares, the policy and the investment opportunities. But there is one thing which must be covered by agreements, and that is the revenue support which counties decide is necessary in the light of their plans. These agreements will normally extend for three years, and will he so framed as to safeguard operators against changes in county policy which are too rapid to be matched by orderly adjustments in services.

Clause 4 was inserted into the Bill in another place, and this adds a further requirement; namely, that the plans shall contain information about both existing and proposed concessionary fare schemes on public passenger transport services in the county which are financed wholly or partly by local authorities themselves. This provision will bring into relief the policies of both the county and the district councils and will ensure that the subject is fully discussed at local level.

So much for the legislation. But legislation can only provide the outline; it cannot, and it must not, seek to provide detailed answers for every difficulty and irritation that may arise, ft is the cooperation between the counties and the operators which is the key to success. Both will have to give up some measure of freedom in the interests of the public who need public transport. The county councils will have to adopt the discipline of a published plan and agreements for revenue support, and to conquer the temptation to change the level of support with little or no warning. The operators, too, will need to see their services as part of a network prescribed in the county plan, and not simply as something to be varied to suit their own commercial circumstances. This is simply a recognition by both parties of their mutual interest in serving the public.

It is the ordinary user of transport, too, towards whom the provisions of the next clauses in the Bill are directed. Transport will serve us best if it can react to change; and it cannot do this if there is insufficient flexibility in the licensing system. Additional scope must therefore be given for cost-effective local transport which is responsive to community needs. Community buses and social car schemes can be made easier to run; the antiquated restrictions on neighbourly car sharing can be removed; the criteria for granting road service licences can be recast to lay greater emphasis on the interests of the public, and the streamlined procedure for permits can be extended.

Clause 5 of the Bill would exempt community buses, defined as eight to 16-seater minibuses, and their volunteer drivers from public service vehicle licensing, provided that the services are not operated for profit and that the vehicles and drivers meet prescribed safety requirements. Community buses will be able, of course, like any other bus service, to carry the public at large. Accordingly, the clause provides that they will remain subject to the road service licensing control of the traffic commissioners. In practice, we expect that most community bus services will be able to get a permit under the streamlined and simplified procedure, by Section 30 of the 1968 Act, which is extended to cover them by the provisions in Schedule 2.

The community buses already exist. They have been operating for some time in rural areas: in Norfolk, in Clwyd, in East Sussex and elsewhere. They have already proved that they have a valuable contribution to make towards solving the transport problems of rural areas. They are an excellent example of what community self-help can do when there is no other form of public transport available. But at present they are subject to the full system of bus licensing. We must not allow their impetus to be lost, and by removing unnecessary restrictions we shall make it much easier for the new schemes to be set up.

Clause 6 and Schedule 1 revise the complex law which governs the use of small vehicles carrying passengers for hire or reward at separate fares, and which at present prevents the carrying of passengers for payment by drivers of ordinary private cars. The form of the provisions is somewhat technical and, although both clause and Schedule were helpfully recast in another place, it has not been possible to simplify them beyond a certain point, as it is important in this difficult field to retain wording which has been tried and tested in the courts.

The substance of these proposals is two-fold. First, they will remove the historical anomaly which forbids regular informal car sharing and makes it, for example, illegal for one's neighbour to accept a cup of coffee for taking one to the station twice a week. Noble Lords will be aware that regular lifts are often given for payment. The law is impossible to enforce, and is frankly an archaism. The provisions of the Bill in this respect are only intended to legitimise common activities which we are unwilling and, indeed, almost powerless to prevent. At the same time the proposals will retain the necessary safeguards for commercial services—both buses and the licensed taxi or hire-car which is hired as a whole—which are subject to licensing systems that, in their different ways, afford protection to their passengers. Finally, these provisions will allow social car schemes, run perhaps in rural areas by organisations like the Women's Royal Voluntary Service who seek to improve the mobility of the old or disabled, to be publicly advertised and to receive financial support from the local authorities.

Clause 7, taken with Schedule 2, revises the criteria in the Road Traffic Act 1960 to which traffic commissioners must have regard in exercising their road licensing functions. The most important change here is that traffic commissioners are now to be required to have regard to the counties' policies and plans for local transport, including the new public transport plans dealt with by Clauses 1 to 4. As a result of debates on the Bill in another place, they are also to have regard to the convenience of persons who are disabled. I am sure that this is a new feature which your Lordships will welcome.

On a more technical note, again as a result of the proceedings in another place, the traffic commissioners will be able to leave out of account certain of the particular criteria in considering licensing applications for what are known as extended tours—broadly these are coach tours involving an overnight stay and no part of the ordinary network of bus services. We are also widening the scope of the streamlined licensing procedure under Section 30 of the Transport Act 1968 and giving the traffic commissioners a power to issue short-term licences. Both of these measures will make it easier for new experimental services to he started without having to go through full road service licensing procedure.

Greater flexibility in licensing will be an important contribution to the welfare of the bus passenger. But in the field of transport people are not confined to one role. A passenger in the morning may be a pedestrian in the afternoon, and go home to a house on a lorry route in the evening. As far ahead as we can see, lorries are likely to remain the most important means of moving goods about this country and it is essential that we do all we can to temper the impact they have on people's lives, and in particular to reduce the dangers that they can cause. Overloaded and badly maintained lorries can be a serious hazard to other road users; and it is important that we have an effective system of enforcement to ensure that the standards that we set are maintained. Clause 8 and Schedule 3 of the Bill are designed to widen and strengthen our present controls. They do so mainly by extending the catchment areas in which lorries can be diverted at the expense of their owners to testing stations and weighbridges, but also by providing that a lorry that has been prohibited may be required to be re-examined at a testing station or reweighed before it is put back on the road. Our purpose is to strengthen existing procedures so that present resources can be better deployed and the risks of detection for those who run overloaded or badly maintained lorries are increased.

Better maintenance, of course, does not just prevent accidents. It also reduces breakdowns and improves the efficiency of the transport flow. But, equally, many millions of pounds are wasted each year through traffic congestion. This is the background to Clause 9, which is concerned with the control of off-street parking. As the White Paper pointed out, in some towns local authorities' traffic management policies may be frustrated because much of the public off-street parking is privately owned and outside local authority control. Authorities need to have an adequate range of powers to manage and control the traffic in the interests of their areas. My right honourable friend has not sought at this stage to legislate on private non-residential parking; these provisions are solely to control privately operated public car parks. Clause 9 provides for the extension of the GLC's existing powers to license such car parks to all county councils in England and Wales, and to regional or islands councils in Scotland.

Parliament gave these powers to the GLC in the Transport (London) Act 1969. They were extensively debated then, and we do not propose to alter them. The clause therefore provides for their extension almost without amendment. County councils will be enabled to designate controlled areas within which all POPP car parks must be licensed by the district local authority; a licence would specify such matters as hours of opening, numbers of spaces, and charges. Regulations proposed under these provisions must he copied to my right honourable friend together with any objections. He then has the option to call in the regulations, or to require them to be modified, and he may order a public inquiry to be held if appropriate. An operator could appeal to him against a refusal to grant a licence or against the conditions attached to a licence. Compensation would be payable in respect of any car park adversely affected by the licensing provisions, and a later clause, Clause 19, would make any such compensation eligible for transport supplementary grant.

The powers will be entirely discretionary, and county councils will be free to decide for themselves whether their use is appropriate in their areas. We in Westminster and Whitehall are not the fount of all wisdom and I think that, as with the public transport planning, so with traffic management, it is important that the local authorities responsible to their own electors should have available what powers they may need to carry out their duties to the satisfaction of their own local communities.

The final clause in the early part of the Bill, Clause 10, which was added in another place, makes it plain that the powers of local authorities under the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1967 to provide parking places extend to the provision of cycle racks. The importance of cycling was emphasised in the White Paper last summer, and it is hoped that local authorities will find this minor but significant clarification of their powers also to be constructive and helpful for them, and that their use of the power will encourage the development of cycling.

I now turn to the realm of transport as an industry. Clause I1 translates into substance the Government's commitment to continue, by revenue support, to enable a national railway to be run. The public service obligation, as it is known, obliges British Railways Board to maintain a railway whose costs are greater than its revenues. This is a policy, as noble Lords will he aware, which is not peculiar to Britain. The full social cost of the German national railway in 1977 probably exceeded £4,000 million. In France, Government support for the railways in the same year is estimated at£1,750 million. Yet in recent years British Rail have managed to contain and even reduce in real terms their call upon public funds: in 1977 total Government grants to British Rail were of the order of£475 million. The funds we are now providing in this Bill are essential to enable the railways to continue to run the passenger service we expect and require. The sums needed each year are voted by Parliament in the normal way—the figure in this clause is an aggregate limit, which will initially stand at £1,750 million, but can be raised later to £3,000 million.

The funds we are proposing will begin to be spent at the start of 1979 and will undoubtedly last for some years. Their precise duration will of course depend on the continued good management by the Board and on continued success in the struggle against inflation. But their provision is an absolute prerequisite for the passenger railways in this country.

Clause 13, if noble Lords will permit me to take it out of its strict order, is fundamentally a technical matter. It is designed to remove doubts which have been expressed about the powers under which the Secretary of State pays grant to the cost of rolling stock, as part of the scheme to encourage private rail sidings for environmental reasons. This scheme is making a very worthwhile contribution, and already grants have been committed which will secure more than 8 million tons of freight to rail, which would otherwise have gone by road; so it is clearly sensible that technical doubts about the law should not be allowed to stand in the way.

Clauses 14–18 of the Bill deal with the reconstruction of the National Freight Corporation. I shall also deal at this point with Clause 12, which transfers the Freightliners to British Railways, since this is essentially a part of the NFC reconstruction. These issues are technical and complex. Difficult matters of judgment are also involved. But the Bill puts forward the most practical and effective solution that the Government have been able to devise. We have been gratified by the constructive consideration that has been given to our proposals in another place, and I think it is fair to say that the broad elements of this package received considerable support across the Parties.

As the White Paper made clear, the NFC's financial difficulties derive from the problems of its former railway businesses, National Carriers, and, to a lesser extent, Freightliners. The remaining subsidiaries, taken as a group, have always traded profitably, and, under the proposals in the Bill, will continue to operate within their existing capital structure, but their position will be strengthened in that they will not be required to cross-subsidise National Carriers.

The effects of the proposal are, therefore, confined to Freightliners and National Carriers. As was announced on 21st November, it has been decided that NFC's 51 per cent. controlling interest in Freightliners should be transferred to British Railways and Freightliners would, therefore, become a wholly-owned British Rail subsidiary. This was not an easy decision. The NFC have done much to put that company on a sound financial footing, but the conclusion was reached that Freightliners' best long-term interests would be served by transfer to British Rail. The rail haul is the essence of Freightliners' operation and, as part of British Rail, their services could be planned and marketed alongside British Rail's other freight activities. The Government have aimed to secure that Freightliners should not be impeded by lack of powers from carrying out the operations which they undertake at present and for this reason power is to be given to British Railways Board to enable Freightliners to continue the type of road operation currently undertaken.

British Rail, who have successfully eliminated their own freight deficit, will pay careful attention to the company's financial performance and the Chairman of British Rail has already said that he intends to build on Freightliners' strengths and maintain the company as an independent profit centre within British Rail. It is Clause 12 of the Bill which provides for the transfer and makes the consequential provisions, including protecting the position of the staff who are to be transferred.

The financial reconstruction proposals are in Clauses 14 to 18 of the Bill and they would rid the National Freight Corporation of any financial liabilities relating to Freight liners. But its main purpose is to deal with the financial problems of National Carriers, who are the National Freight Corporation's main problem area. As well as paying interest on debt to finance past losses, the company has to make a substantial extraordinary pension provision in addition to employers' normal contributions—liabilities which derive from the same source as those of British Rail, whose own historic pension liabilities are now being funded by the Government. At trading level, the company also has to make annual payments to British Rail and London Transport in respect of travel concessions enjoyed by NCL's former British Rail employees. The combined effect of these charges is to worsen NCL's position by some £8-£10 million a year.

It is clear from the detailed reviews of NCL's prospects which have been carried out over the last two years that the company will not be in a position to meet these charges in the foreseeable future. Under the reconstruction proposals. NFC's debt attributable to National Carriers will be written down to£5 million. National Carriers' liability to make historic pension deficiency and travel concessionary payments will remain, but from now on these will be reimbursed by the Government.

These measures will relieve National Carriers of the burdens of the past. But the company's future viability depends on its ability to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of trading profit, and in order to do this National Carriers will need to carry out capital expenditure which, for the next three to four years, it will not be able to meet from internally generated resources, and the reconstruction proposals therefore include a provision for a tapering grant specifically for this purpose, subject to a maximum limit of £15 million. The grant will last only until the end of 1981, and from then on National Carriers will be expected to manage on their own.

The reconstruction will be effected by means of the Bill as follows. Clause 14 would reduce the National Freight Corporation's capital debt to the Secretary of State to £100 million, a reduction which relates entirely to debt attributable to National Carriers and Freightliners. Clause 15 will empower the Secretary of State to make grants not exceeding £15 million in respect of capital expenditure by National Carriers for the period from 1st July 1978 to 31st December 1981. Clauses 16 and 17 will set up arrangements for meeting National Carriers' and Freightliners' historic pension liabilities to National Freight Corporation's pension funds.

The arrangements are complex, but it may help the House to know that they are broadly similar to the arrangements for funding British Rail's historic pension liabilities under the Railways Act 1974, with one important exception. Following the comments of the Public Accounts Committee, the Government are currently reviewing the arrangements for funding nationalised industry pension schemes. Until final decisions have been reached, the only payments will be payments of interest on outstanding capital debts to the Fund. The redemption of the debts themselves would require specific approval of the House of Commons in the form of the Affirmative Resolution. Both National Carriers and Freightliners also have liabilities to British Rail funds, but it is the intention that these should be reimbursed under the Railways Act 1974, so no specific provision is required in this Bill. Clause 18 provides for National Carriers' and the National Freight Corporation's payments to British Rail and the London Transport Executive in respect of the travel concessions to former railway staff, which is now to be reimbursed by the Government.

These proposals alone cannot guarantee the future viability of the Corporation. That will also depend on the ability of the National Freight Corporation and their subsidiaries to earn an adequate level of profit, hut these measures will ensure that the National Freight Corporation is not held hack by burdens attributable to National Carriers and Freightliners. The NFC are going to he left in a position to pay their own way and the recent substantial improvement in their trading performance shows that they have both the ability and the determination to succeed.

Lastly, we come to Clauses 20 to 22 and Schedule 4. These, of course, are technical clauses which complete the pattern of this Bill: a Bill which is closely woven and harmonious. Its various strands will be applied to different problems of our transport system, but the overall effect will be one of substantial enhancement over a very broad area. It will resolve difficulties for drivers and for cyclists, for operators and for passengers, for those whose task it is to watch over the networks, and for our nationalised transport industries. It is an important Bill and a good one and I ask noble Lords to give it their support and to add the agreement of this House to the approval which this Bill has received in another place.

I apologise to the House for the length of time that I have taken in explaining the provisions of these clauses. We have a number of speakers and I thought that if I explained the provisions simply perhaps noble Lords would need to take a little shorter time in the debate which follows, although I have no reason to wish to stifle that at all. With those few words, I hope that the Bill will now be read a second time. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Stedman.)


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out that, whatever is the position of the State railways in Britain, France and Germany regarding their charge on public funds, I have always understood that in America the railways are no charge on public funds; that they are run by private companies and they show very good profits. I often feel it is a pity we could not imitate them over here.

11.54 a.m.


My Lords, I hope I may thank the noble Baroness for the way in which, in her usual friendly and efficient manner, she has described the provisions of this complex Bill. To her it is a closely woven and harmonious piece of legislation, which reveals the inner logic of the Government's views on transport. I am sure that her noble colleagues on the Government side of the House agree with her, although it seems to be a subject that arouses so little attention there that only the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, have put their names down to speak.

But, looking at it from the Opposition side of the House, I cannot admit to having detected this hidden logic or this closely woven, interlocked structure that she herself has found. It seems to me to be more of a miscellaneous provisions Bill and a ragbag of not closely connected legislative proposals. That does not necessarily mean that the individual parts of the Bill are themselves any the less worthy because they may add up in all their different aspects to something which is worth examining. But I would submit to the noble Baroness that a Bill of this nature, with a very varied subject matter contained within it, is not one that we should start debating at 12 o'clock on a Friday because every Peer is an expert on transport, every Member of this House has something to contribute on a subject like this, and I hope that the noble Baroness will he able to tell us that, in the interests of common understanding across the Floor of the House, we will not be subjected to this kind of treatment as the Committee stage of the Bill proceeds.

The noble Baroness explained in considerable detail, for which we are grateful, some of the major provisions contained within the Bill. But I think it is equally important for your Lordships and for those outside to reflect for a moment on what has been left out. We know that the Government, or some members of it would have preferred other subjects such as the Blennerhassett Report to have been implemented in the Bill. This is one of the reasons why one is forced to conclude that this Bill is not as full of meat which would command support in all quarters of the House as it might have been.

Taking note of omissions which we may regret, there are other omissions for which we must be profoundly grateful. We must indeed be delighted that a number of promises in the most recent Labour Manifesto have not been implemented in this Bill. The extended public ownership of road transport has not found its way into this piece of legislation. Can the noble Baroness say whether this happy state of affairs will continue? It is something for which we must be glad as long as it lasts. The White Paper, when mentioning road transport, did not make explicit what in the long run the policy of Her Majesty's Government is to be so far as the extension of the public ownership of road transport is concerned.

There has been much talk over the years of detailed direction of traffic to the railways and a national plan to integrate our transport services. These themselves have found some reflection in the White Paper but not in the Bill. Can we be sure that the policy of the Bill will remain the policy of the Government?

There is also the topic of the nationalisation of the ports which is another longstanding commitment of the Labour Party. Will that remain buried in the files and not find its way on to the Statute Book? These are items on which we need reassurance so that we can be assured that the Miscellaneous Provisions Bill connected with transport contains all that this Labour Government wishes to sec enacted in the field of transport at the moment.

I shall not try to compete with the noble Baroness in the comprehensiveness with which she dealt with most of the clauses of the Bill. At this time of the week it would be something which your Lordships would not welcome. The noble Baroness has indicated to the House the burden of the main provisions of the Bill. But I should like to dwell for a moment on some aspects of the Bill because I think that it is necessary to pick out one or two particular directions in which this Bill is going. I would like to acknowledge that there are some provisions of the Bill which, even if they may need further development, strengthening or amplification—and I hope we may return to this at the Committee stage—are welcomed. I think there is a great deal to be said for the clause which deals with the community bus services, even if it needs further attention at a later stage. But what worries me is that, when it is linked with Clause 6, which follows and which deals with car-sharing and the like, I am slightly anxious in case we may have the balance of an approach to these particular transport problems out of kilter. I am not sure that the confidence with which the noble Baroness expressed her views on the insurance provisions for car-sharing is widely reflected outside Parliament. This again is a subject that we shall need to look at in greater detail in Committee and I am delighted that the noble Lords, Lord Davies of Leek and Lord Wigg, will be taking part at that stage.

There are other aspects of transport provision by which one can try to cope with this particular problem at which the Government are looking in Clauses 5 and 6. I believe that we should examine in greater detail the viability of commercial minibuses and shared minivans going to and returning from work. At the moment I feel that the provision is not as wide-reaching as it should be.

However, without wanting to go into full detail, I am not happy, and I hope I can speak for my noble friends, about what the Government claim they will achieve with their county transport plans. I accept that they have analysed the problems, but I do not think that they have come to a wholly satisfactory conclusion. The method by which they propose to deal with what they analyse as the problem does not have enough teeth. The-relationship with the Transport Commissioners is not explicit, is not plain. It is nor clear how the plans will be paid for. It is not clear how continuity will be assured when there are changes of Government at the local level and at the national level, and when there are changes of county council at the local level. I think that if this elaborate piece of machinery is to be set up—and my noble friend, Lord Sandys, may have further points to add on this topic—it is no use for the responsibility to appear to have been placed somewhere and not to ensure that that responsibility can be properly discharged. I think we shall need to look at this again in Committee because there is a danger that, by creating too much officialdom and paperwork, an appearance will he given without reality. I do not think as much power has been devolved in this respect as appears to be the case.

This brings me to another point, and I hope that at the Committee stage we shall be dealing not only with some of the more objectionable items that appear in the Bill but also examining the more positive ideas that we feel have been omitted. I do not think that the Government have yet fully resolved for themselves what they see as the future role of the traffic commissioners. As I have already mentioned, they have made some steps towards giving the counties greater authority in the field of the planning of transport. But they have not linked this up with any development in the role of the traffic commissioners. The traffic commissioners have been in existence since 1930. This, in itself, is no criticism, especially from a member of your Lordships' House. Historic continuity is not something of which one should be ashamed. Nevertheless, one must be aware that traffic needs have developed since that time and we should look again at whether the traffic commissioners can still discharge all the roles that they have been asked to carry out over the years, especially since local government itself has developed.

I think that we on this side can see a continuing role for the traffic commissioners in the field of the oversight of safety and all the precautions that are necessary to ensure that the travelling public is protected. But if Her Majesty's Government believe, as they say they do, that local authorities should have more power and authority to develop transport services within the regions and areas for which they are responsible, is there not something to be said for seeing whether the boundary between what the traffic commissioners do and what the local authorities do is in the right place today? I believe that we must be prepared to look again at the role of the traffic commissioners to see whether we have given local councils enough power to develop new services, to allow experiments and to respond to demands that may arise within one locality or another.

I could go through every clause of the Bill and make similar comments. I will restrain myself and reserve my views for the Committee stage. However, there are just two points on which I feel I must develop a few more thoughts before sitting down, leaving your Lordships to pursue your own comments. One is Clause 9—the control of off-street parking. The noble Baroness knows me well enough, and I am sure she will not misinterpret me when I say that I felt that her explanation of Clause 9 might have been verging on the disingenuous. It is impossible to implement the controls that the Government want for public off-street parking without, in the long term, moving towards private non-residential car-parking. I do not see how the two can be separated.

The noble Baroness was talking about the "inherent logic" of the Government's transport policy. It is the inherent logic of Clause 9 that, if one starts with what is proposed in the Bill, this will lead inevitably into the sort of control that they have put off for the moment. I may be misquoting the noble Baroness and I hope that she will correct me if I am wrong, but she was careful to say something on the lines that they were not moving towards control of private non-residential parking for the moment—or, at least, it was not planned. I see what is planned as the first stage.

I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government have thought through the consequences of what they propose in as thorough a way as this problem deserves. The dangers of what they are doing are these. If their proposals are implemented one will find that there is increasing difficulty for those who are employers within the centre of cities. The Government profess to he interested in inner cities. We must not make difficulties for employment within inner cities and inner urban areas, because this will be frustrating the policy, which to a very large extent is bipartisan, of ensuring that those who live and work within inner cities are not driven away. I think we shall have to look at this very seriously indeed during Committee, because I find the content of this clause rather reprehensible.

Moving on to Clauses 11 to 13, this is a subject on which I find it extremely difficult to express a view which could command any sort of authority, because the sums are so large and the problems are so vast that any noble Lord who has not great expertise in the field is hound only to be scribbling in the margin. But I think we need to examine the logic of what it is that the Government propose. We need to look very carefully at this transfer of Freightliners. The noble Baroness herself said that difficult matters of judgment were involved.

Difficult matters of judgment are involved in Clauses 11 to 13, and I think that we in your Lordships' House have an opportunity to look at these difficult matters in a calmer and perhaps more deliberate atmosphere than sometimes occurs in Standing Committee in the middle of the night, to see whether this difficult matter of judgment has been decided the right way. There are other parts of Clauses 11 to 13 which give one considerable concern. We are talking about huge sums of money. We are talking about £3,000 million. Without in any way wishing to criticise the achievements of British Rail in recent years or their efforts to improve their services—I would not dare to do so as I travel on a high-speed train regularly—we must have some alarm about the amount of accountability which exists. How long will this money be given to be spent? How will it be accounted for? What sort of time limit? What does an aggregate limit really mean?

In Committee stage these will be the questions that we shall need to examine. Subsidies always need close scrutiny, and blanket subsidies need even closer scrutiny; and, while we on this side fully support British Rail in its efforts to maintain and to improve, its standards of service, I believe that we need to go into considerable detail to be sure that all the necessary safeguards, particularly as regards accountability, have been built into the Bill.

Before I conclude I should like to make one plea to the noble Baroness. I hope that she will not allow her colleagues on the Front Bench opposite to buffet her into treating the Bill as an unimportant dustbin measure, because we need some good days of the week so far as timing is concerned. I am talking about getting some reasonable days for Committee. We need to have some reasonable days for Committee to examine what it is that we have started off examining on a Friday. We cannot spend the second half of August on Fridays looking at this Bill and do our job satisfactorily. For her own sake as well as ours, I hope that the noble Baroness, will press this point upon those in charge of these matters.

My Lords, I have spoken for long enough. I believe that this Bill is a mass of important, sometimes apparently unconnected but nevertheless important, details. There is no obvious threat to all its provisions. Because that is true, and despite the length of time which the House of Commons spent in looking at the Bill, I believe that we need to do our duty, in the complementary way that we in this House should try to achieve, in examining what it provides. In particular, we must be sure that it does not clash with any aspect of the Scotland Bill or the Wales Bill. We should look at it as thoroughly as we can. After food, transport is still the biggest item in many family budgets. This is a Bill which will affect the lives of the vast majority of the people of this country, and although we may regret some of the directions in which it goes and be glad at some of the omissions, I think that we can do a useful job in scrutinising what it contains.

Your Lordships may remember Dr. Johnson's definition of a net. Dr. Johnson said that a net was anything made with interstitial vacuities, or—in modern language—a series of linked holes.


My Lords, it could be a spider's web!


My Lords, I think the Bill does at least contain a series of interesting linked holes. Some of them are welcome holes and some of them are not so welcome. During Committee we must make serious efforts to re-examine the shape of the net and to fill some of the interstitial vacuities.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I have listened to his most interesting speech but may I ask him why he included that very ungallant request to my noble friend Lady Stedman? He knows perfectly well why we have this accumulation of legislation at this time.


My Lords, I wish I could speak on behalf of those who are responsible for the Government programme. I believe that all the Bills which we are discussing are Government measures and, as long as the Government continue to produce measures, we in this House must examine them thoroughly. I think that I shall do best by sitting down and allowing the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, to speak on behalf of his Party.

12.11 p.m.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, the House is indeed indebted to the noble Baroness for her very clear and comprehensive explanation of this Bill. I must confess that, like the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, I have failed to discover the thread running through it which identifies it as the mainstream of Government policy. To me the Bill still appears to embody a number of more or less disconnected components. However, I am happy to tell your Lordships that I do not think that there are any of these proposals to which we on these Benches have strong objection in principle. There are many points of detail which we may need to discuss when we come to the Committee stage.

In these circumstances a Second Reading speech can and, I hope, will be reasonably short and I shall detain your Lordships for as short a time as I can. We warmly welcome the provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 which remind the non-metropolitan county councils—I believe that we are allowed to call them shire councils as a sort of shorthand—of their responsibilities in regard to passenger transport; and, indeed, widen those responsibilities and make them more specific. The existing law lays upon the county councils the duty to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport. I think that that is a very woolly concept and I am not altogether surprised that in many cases little has been done to translate these admirable sentiments into effective action. The Bill, by requiring the shire councils to prepare and submit five-year plans and to update them annually, ensures, as it seems to me, that they take their responsibilities in this field seriously and, if they do not, that they are seen not to be so doing.

I am also very glad that it is provided that consultations must take place with the district councils in the preparation of these plans. Personally, I should have liked to have seen the consultation go further down into the grass roots. It is small, scattered, isolated villages which are worst hit by inadequate transport services. If a solution is to be found—and I do not believe that it can be a complete solution because it is a very difficult problem—to these problems of rural transport services, it seems to me essential that the problems be looked at through the villager's eyes. I would remind your Lordships that, as a result of the last reconstruction of local government, the district councils are in many cases quite large; and, because the district councils include in many cases three or four sizeable towns, there is a real danger that they may acquire an urban rather than a rural outlook. This is one of the great pities of the reconstruction. The old rural district councils were purely rural and expressed the rural view. Because of the inclusion of the towns, although they are not over-represented because they are more populous, they have an undue influence in the working of the district councils, which may tend to become urban-orientated.

I appreciate that it would be impracticable to suggest that the shire counties should have a duty to consult parish councils, or community councils in Wales. This would be an impossible task. But I do hope that we may be able to find some means by which the views of these bodies which are closer to the people can really be heard and taken into account before the plans are prepared. I know that, under Clause 2(4), after a draft plan is prepared, it is to be open to comment by the parish councils. However, I think we all recognise that, by the time a lot of work has been done in producing a draft plan, it is very difficult to get it altered except in very small particulars. I hope that we may be able to think of some way in which parish councils, and community councils in Wales, can really have some influence on the framing of the five-year plans.

The proposals in the Bill to simplify the procedure and expand the systems of community buses and car-sharing, if they become effective, will certainly be very helpful to the outlying villages. I hope that they will, in fact, prove effective, although, as the noble Baroness admitted, the details are somewhat complicated. When we come to Committee, we may wish to examine rather carefully the constraints under which they are expected to work. In particular, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, that we must have a good look at the insurance provision, because there are real dangers, unless we are careful, that things will be developed and then somebody will suddenly discover that his insurance is invalid and that the passenger whom he is carrying has no standing.

The arrangement, if that is the right word, in Clause 4, to encourage travel concession schemes is expressed in rather an unusual way. I suppose the idea is that publicity in relation to concession schemes, whether they exist or not, will somehow shame the non-providers into doing something about it. That must be the logic behind that particular clause because otherwise it does not seem to have very much effect: within the area itself people will know whether there are concessionary fares.

I want to make only one comment about concessionary fares: concessionary schemes are of no value where there are no bus services. I am not sure that senior citizens—to use the current phrase —in isolated villages will greet very enthusiastically the idea that their friends in the neighbouring town will get free rides while they are not getting a ride at all. They may well begin to think that the money might be better spent in providing them with something instead of giving their friends something for nothing.

Turning for a moment to the question of lorries, I agree that it is a very desirable thing that we should improve the existing powers of inspection and control of these vehicles. I welcome the provisions in Clause 8. I am rather less happy, as indeed was the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, about Clause 9 and public off-street parking. For one thing, I think that there is a trap in this clause. It says it applies to urban areas; but, of course, when one looks at subsection 4(c), one discovers that the definition of urban areas is, in effect. anywhere where there is a 30 mph speed limit. That goes into a large number of villages and all sorts of places.

Quite apart from that particular point, it seems to me that, if it is necessary to introduce some kind of regulation—and I am not at all convinced that it is—it would be better for that regulation to come further down the line and be exercised by district councils or even by parish councils. They are much more concerned with what one does in car parks, I should have thought, than the county council sitting some 50 to 100 miles away.

If I may go back for a minute, I had intended to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan said about the traffic commissioners. It is quite clear to me that if we increase as we are increasing the responsibility of the shire counties for transport matters there must be some change in the relationship between the shire counties and the traffic commissioners. Some people suggest that the traffic commissioners have reached the end of the road and that there is no further purpose for them. That I would disagree with, because, apart from their special functions in regard to safety and so on, one must remember that counties are not, in fact, self-contained units even so far as local services are concerned, and the traffic commissioners may well have a role to play in co-ordinating local services that cross from one county into another.

I turn very briefly to Clauses 11 to 17. These deal with very important financial and organisational matters on which one is really not fully qualified to express a view without knowing much more than I do about the working arrangements of the several nationalised undertakings in the freight transport sphere. On the ' face of it, I agree that it looks logical to transfer Freightliners to British Rail. But this and other related matters could, it seems to me, best be decided upon by the boards concerned. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, when she winds up, will tell us whether the boards of the various concerns agreed to these proposals. If the reorganisation is being carried out over someone's dead body, figuratively speaking, it is a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of dead bodies, during the past week or two I have been trying to pick up some old trends and I had a look at the Transport Act 1968, and was reminded that in that Act, Parliament established a body called the Freight Integration Council. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether that body is still alive? One never hears about it. Perhaps it was still-born. I am not sure. But if it is alive it seems to me that that is just the body that ought to be recommending to the Government on issues of this kind.

I think I differ slightly from the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in doubting very much—and I have expressed this view before—whether Parliament is the right place to deal with issues of this kind, which really call for people to sit round a table with a great many figures and facts in front of them. Whether Parliamentary debates can produce the right answer to this sort of problem I am not sure.

In conclusion, may I take a short ride on one of my hobby-horses. It seems to me that an issue such as transport is, broadly speaking, one on which it should be possible to achieve a general all-Party agreement as to what line we should pursue. Of course, if the noble Lords opposite decide that they want to nationalise the freight transport industry, that is a political issue and they will find opposition both from these Benches and from the Benches behind the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan. But, apart from that, most of these issues are ones which sensible people could sit down and agree upon, and we could avoid a great deal of the quarrelling that goes on about such subjects. If it is not impolite to say so, I was rather disappointed when I read the debates in another place to find the extent to which party political points were being thrown backwards and forwards, and front side to side, on issues which are not party political at all. I think that there are many other areas in which we could with advantage get a non-Party agreement, but transport seems to be a very simple one, apart from the one question that I have mentioned. I hope that perhaps in the years to come we may in this country be able to achieve the possibility of advancing general policies of this kind on a broad basis that will be followed whichever Governent is in power.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, will he answer a question? By saying that transport should not be a Party political issue, does the noble Lord mean that no important issue should be a Party political one?

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, I do not think that I said so. I did not mean that. It is not because it is important, it is because intelligent people can sit together round a table and can forget which Party they belong to and reach a consensus on the right way to deal with minibuses, and so on.

12.26 p.m.


My Lords, looking round the Chamber, there are some 13 or 14 noble Lords whose assiduity nobody would doubt on a beautiful June Friday morning, yearning to get out of the Chamber. Nevertheless, fortified by their belief in their duty to the House and this Bill, they sit hoping that the next speaker to stand up will be brief. Having spent many hours studying this problem, I shall try to reduce my speech to seven minutes. That should get at least a smile from some of the irascible Lords on both sides of the House.

May I thank the noble Baroness on the Front Bench for having provided Members with a mass of information and complete notes on all the clauses. Noble Lords will see that I have marked this very carefully. Regretfully, however, but nevertheless in a most comradely spirit, I shall throw it aside and wait until the Committee stage to bring up some of my points when noble Lords are urging that A, B, C and D should have been in this Bill. Most of us are old-timers. We know the game. Almost all the speeches could have been brought forward when the relevant points were reached in Committee.

What are we talking about? If I say, "I enjoyed the noble Lord's introductory speech from the other side", there is no malevolence in my remark. But what are we trying to do? This Bill is to provide for the planning and development of public passenger transport in the counties of England and Wales, and to make provision for public service vehicle licensing, the regulation of goods vehicles and parking, to make amendments affecting rail transport—I am paraphrasing—Freightliners Limited, the finances of the National Freight Corporation, and other transport bodies. It is a tall order and important—perhaps too important for a Friday morning. Nevertheless, I congratulate my noble friend who managed to get through a mass of detail coherently.

I want to pick out three clauses on which to pass brief remarks with general reference to transport. Clause 9 relates to street parking, and Clause 6 deals with car-sharing for social and other purposes. Let me pick that one up, as it has been mentioned both by the Front Bench speakers for the Liberal Party and from the Opposition Benches. Many of us have no doubt had a note from the AA, and I think the public should be made aware of this. When we talk of car-sharing we should note the important point brought up on insurance. All of us have picked up people. When I leave the Chamber I shall do almost a 160-mile run, some of which I make purposely through country districts. Three times out of ten I pick up someone. I do not ask for any payment. But the AA, and many of us, here and outside, are concerned about car insurance cover which may, without our realising it, be invalid even under this Bill, if a vehicle is used to participate in regular car-sharing involving payment arrangements.

In my own constituency of Leek, which covers nearly 1,000 sq. miles, one could drive for 16 miles across it. There are 3,000 farms, 1,400 of them consisting of less than 30 acres. We do not have many millionaires in my area. A lot of picking up goes on. The Buxton Hospital, the North Staffs Royal Infirmary could be 20 or 30 miles away in many cases, and out of good neighbourliness, whether they are Christian, Mohammedan or of any other eclectic religion one likes to pick up, they carry the people willingly. Sometimes they may ask for a donation. If they give more than the price of the petrol, the insurance could be invalid. If one takes more than the price of the petrol from a passenger, the insurance could be made invalid. There is no allowance for wear and tear, nor for oil; only for petrol.

I do not know how the Government can change that, but there should be discussions with actuaries in insurance companies if we want to civilise the transport system in remote country areas about which the noble Viscount Lord Simon, spoke, picking up the people and giving them lifts. They price of petrol, wear and tear and garage repairs being what they are today, there should be some clearance for the man who with neighbourliness carries a person to his destination or gives him a lift. That is the end of it. I could reiterate, pad and colour and make a beautifully broad canvas of it, but the point has been made, which everyone in this House understands. The question is, can we do anything vis-à-vis the insurance companies to change it?

I have looked up Clause 9 and the Schedules. It can be vague. Is it really necessary? In country areas, especially since the reorganisation of local government, a great city may lose some of its powers to the county councils or vice versa. I know places in the country where they have a donkey fair with little donkey races, and perhaps 1,000 people turn up with their cars near the farmland. The farmer says: "All right, I will open up my field for you to put the cars in." But this Bill talks of private car parking and regulations. Some bureaucratic official of the county could come along to one of the noble Lord's farms—the noble Lord's offices are full of the Christian spirit; we are not sure about this side, but we do know about that. What happens? People open up their fields and along comes a bureaucrat from the county—he might even be the local mayor—who is feeling a bit rough because the cider was not very good that day. He can make a charge. You think I am joking, but it is a fact. The reality is that this needs clarification. That point is made and everyone understands it; there is no need to pad it or expand it.

A question was asked about the Freight Corporation. This is the right place to pay a tribute to the National Freight Corporation. I hope that noble Lords will study the 1977 report. Britain is expert at denigrating itself. I sit in chi-chi hotels in London and listen to a British business-man talking. He does not know who I am. I am only 18 inches away from him. In ponderous financial language he is discussing the lack of ability of the British workers. Everything in England is wrong. A German talks to him and says he does not understand it because he had one of the loveliest holidays in Scotland only three weeks ago. The Scots had not played in Agentina at that time. He enjoyed the holiday. He said he found England, Scotland—even Wales he mentioned en passant—cheerful places to be.

I must say that so far as our lorry drivers are concerned—they have put in private lorry drivers and those under the National Freight Corporation—I have driven in many places, like most noble Lords, in various parts of the world. I still find them to be among the most courteous and considerate lorry drivers in the world. Instead of denigrating continually, it is time we paid a little tribute to some of this public ownership. Whichever Government wins, public ownership has now become a part of world life. America, Germany and everywhere find that public money has to go into essential commodities.

Having said that, and having promised to speak for seven minutes and spoken for nine, it is time I sat down so that other noble Lords may speak. I assure my noble friend that we do need to look carefully at this Bill. I want to repeat the appeal of noble Lords on both sides of the House, that we hold our Committee stage on days that are suitable and not in the middle of August when the sun is shining or the cricket balls are being hashed all round Lords.

12.35 p.m.


My Lords, it seems that I am joining a steady chorus, first, in my appreciation of the dexterity with which, in her introductory speech the noble Baroness crammed a very clear quart into a pint pot, and also with others in feeling that she perhaps rather overstated her view of the importance of this measure, which, at this stage of the game, at any rate, must regard as rather modest in relation to the problems of the transport field to which it really does not make a very significant contribution, even as it stands, in the terms of which I am speaking. I thought the noble Baroness was perhaps a little more guilty of describing the glories of the mountain rather than the mouse to which it had given birth.

I shall not spend one moment on what might or ought to have been in the Bill, because one could spend a very long time doing that. Certainly, this is not the moment to do so. I should like, however, to hazard three brief reasons why so many of the these things are not in the Bill. Quite frankly, one would not want to "stir it" at this stage, when it is generally thought that an election might be in the offing. That is one very good reason, but if you did want to "stir it", the present rather hilarious state of the Parliamentary timetable will not permit you to do so. There could he a third reason: that is lack of real policy to put in a Transport Bill at this time.

For very many years we have heard extolled from the Benches opposite the virtues of an integrated transport policy. For years, despite repeated questions from myself and others, what that might mean has remained unspecified and unexplained. We have heard a great deal about this. We have heard today from the noble Baroness about the inherent logic; again I appear to be joining a chorus in saying to all of us it is not quite so obvious as the noble Baroness might have thought. We have had White Papers and debates, particularly the White Paper on transport policy last year. We have had at the same time a number of cuts in the road construction programme. We have had high level theorising of every kind, even from the noble Baroness herself today. If all that adds up to a policy, then the Government's idea of a transport policy is very different from my idea of it.

There are just three points I want quickly to make. So that neither the noble Baroness nor anyone else thinks there is any ill-feeling, I should like straightaway to welcome and applaud the measures towards relaxation on the bus front, particularly in the rural areas. There is no need to explain; a good case has been made for that. I think that what is proposed is a useful and acceptable measure. I would only join with my noble friend Lord O'Hagan in saying that it would be well worth looking at between now and the Committee stage in the hope that perhaps it could be even more widely liberalised.

I want to turn to Clause 9 and the control of car parking. I think I am probably right to do a rather unusual thing; namely, to declare a non-interest. I have heard many noble Lords declare their interest when speaking on a subject, but I think that I should declare a non-interest because some people may know that I have been a director of National Car Parks and associated with that company. I am no longer and have not been for a clear period of time. I speak for myself alone; neither have I any financial interest of any kind. I thought it as well to make that clear, but I would claim that the experience gained there gives me something of a background from which to speak now.

It seems to me—and nothing said by the noble Baroness in her original explanation did anything to divert my thoughts in any other direction—that this is a measure which can only be described as doctrinaire. I have no doubt that it probably embodies some good Socialist principle, but it also has to me the inherent likelihood in the embodiment of such principles that we get a system of control which is not necessary or desired by the people on whom the control is imposed, neither operator nor customer, and for which one must create a large and expensive inspectorate if one hopes to enforce it. I believe that must be the reason because there seems to be no other.

The noble Baroness did nothing to advance any reason apart from a theoretical and, to me, doctrinaire one today that control was a good thing. These powers have existed in London since 1969. Existed, yes; been used, no; presumably because they were not required and would have served no useful purpose. Therefore, I would ask if they have not been needed —and no evidence has been presented about precisely why this should be a good thing —why they should be needed now? Or if they were imposed, whether they would be effective? I would go so far as to say that what evidence is available points in the opposite direction because, having had in the early stages of its organisation quite a lot to do with the Nottingham zone and collar scheme, I think that is now moving into the category of expensive disasters. If these powers are granted—and I hope they will not be—and widely used, I should have thought that the estimate of £2 million to £4 million in the Bill to be given in compensation, would be quite an underestimate. I can understand that £3,000 million to the railways is probably a generous figure, but I think that this £2 million to £4 million would prove in fact to be a fairish underestimate.

If we are to make progress in this organisation of traffic and traffic management, the mentality of restriction, hoping that it will work, must be replaced by intelligent construction. After all, we live in a motorised society and we might as well get used to that fact. If there is anything in the lip-service being currently widely paid to urban renewal, plans to accommodate the wishes and needs of a motorised society must be constructively devised, otherwise the towns and the cities will not be able to service their social, industrial and commercial needs and will not be able to maintain their health.

A rather similar thought applies to the financial provisions for the railways and that same £3,000 million that I just mentioned. I quite understand—and if I had not understood the explanation of the noble Baroness would have made it crystal clear—exactly why this money is required; and how it is to be spent. I understand the EEC implications of it; and that the railways would get into a thorough financial mess if this money were not provided. All well and good, but the question that I want to ask is this: How much real contribution to transport efficiency of the country will this make? I do not mind very much whether they accept running the railways as a social burden. Perhaps we should do this. I do not mind whether they do in Germany, France, or anywhere, or cannot work their railways better without. All I want answered properly is the question—and £3,000 million is quite a lot of taxpayers' money—whether what we are doing is what we ought to be doing. Are we proposing to spend all this money on propping up something that, on the noble Baronesse's own admission, is becoming less and less desired by the population as a whole?

I agree that many hundreds of thousands or millions do use the railways, usually in a concentrated manner. I am referring to the commuter traffic which is the main passenger traffic of the railways. I have always thought that there is a great part to be played in freight, but that it is not being played right, because I think that the industrial contribution of the railways is questionable in its efficiency and is a contribution which could be improved, although again I doubt if this could be done by compulsion. My Lords, there is of course no question of resisting the Bill at this stage. I would not be a party to doing so, and would not wish to do so. Even if it is with enthusiasm slightly more lukewarm than that of the noble Baroness, go on it must. But it will require close scrutiny and attention in Committee, particularly with regard to Clause 9.

12.48 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that this is a disappointing Bill: it merely tinkers with a number of problems. I appreciate that there were certain matters which needed legislation, but these seem to have been used as an excuse to introduce a number of other basically cosmetic alterations of doubtful value. I shall confine my remarks entirely towards the clauses which deal with passenger road transport. First, there are the provisions in Clauses 1 to 4 concerning county transport planning. Since powers of transport co-ordination were given to shire counties by the Local Government Act 1972, these counties other than those the noble Baroness mentioned, have mostly dragged their heels and put the blame on the traffic commissioners, whose jurisdiction they covet. It is a pity that they have not been firmly told to get on and make the system work—as it can—rather than create their own problems and use these as an excuse to seek to supplant the traffic commissioners.

The way in which many counties exercise their power is a matter for concern; they do not even use the money provided by central Government for securing the best possible level of bus services. Far from giving shire counties greater licence, they need the constraint of a little discipline. If there were a right of appeal by those adversely affected by country transport plans—the long-suffering public, experienced bus operators and district councils—it would concentrate county policies on practical realities in a way which in too many cases has been lacking up to the present.

I am conscious that the Secretary of State has voiced his reluctance to superimpose his views over those of locally-elected representatives who should have a closer knowledge of local requirements. Yet, in considering appeal, he would, in fact, be bringing his technical knowledge to bear in an objective way in considering the merits of arguments which, on both sides, would have the benefit of local knowledge. It is the objectivity which is important and I believe the omission of an appeals clause from the Bill is a defect.

Next I should like to mention the clauses on public service vehicles licensing. I am concerned that these clauses anticipate the results of the Passenger Vehicles Experimental Areas Act 1977. When the Government introduced this Act, they obtained ready support from all quarters for experiments in unconventional forms of public transport, or, rather, less conventional forms. It was agreed that such experiments were right, only because they might provide new alternatives to improve the transport system; but also that they would eliminate ideas which seemed good in theory but which did not work in practice.

It is funny that everyone thinks they can run transport better than professionals. Like football and the weather, it is a subject which as the noble Baroness said, everyone is an expert in transport, which is the precise reason why we should exercise caution lest rash and unfortunate decisions might be made. To introduce the experimental schemes through the general law will, in many cases, damage the existing network of services to the disadvantage rather than the benefit of the public. This is why experiments were right, why it is regrettable that the Government should be introducing permanent relaxations to the licensing system which have not been properly considered.

I accept that there is room for a wider examination of licences for public transport and that is why I feel that the propose changes should have been dealt with in the framework of a full and proper review and with the benefit of practical experience under the Experimental Areas Act. I should now like to say something about a clause—I realise that this is something of a hot potato—a clause that was introduced into the Bill in another place during the Committee stage and then removed on consideration at Report. I refer to the excess fares clause, which would have permitted a special fare to be charged where a passenger was deliberately over-riding.

This particular form of cheating, for want of a better word, costs bus operators an estimated £20 million every year and it is the taxpayer, through the transport supplementary grant, and the honest passenger who is paying for these people. This clause was carefully designed to protect the innocent and, with this in mind, was limited to those who had purchased a ticket for a shorter journey than they intended to take, because it was recognised that it is easier for a passenger accidentally to fail to buy a ticket at all than accidentally to buy a ticket to a destination far short of that intended.

Here, I should like to make an odd note. Where there is a bus with a conductor, it is much less likely for this to happen because I know from personal experience that there were plenty of people around who wanted to do this sort of thing but you got to know, particularly when you had a full bus. You only had to find somebody who was doing it and just make a few polite remarks and say, "Get off here or you pay extra" and the whole matter was settled. But this problem has mainly come from areas where there have been one-man operators, particularly where there are machines where you pay. You can pay your 7p ticket and, unless the inspector comes along, you can just get away with it, which is absurd.

Some suggested collection of excess fares should have been limited with inspectors, though there are reasons why this should have been impractical. Also, from personal experience again, I wonder whether a full force of inspectors would have been found working its way through the crush of passengers at the difficult periods of peak travel. It seems, however, that the opponents of the clause have scruples regarding this deterrent to be dishonest. They made exaggerated criticisms of the scheme, particularly claiming it created a precedent. Yet, others said just the same concerning the introduction of parking tickets for traffic offences. We accept that, despite its imperfections. This form of fixed penalty is not a great inconvenience to the motorist who does not have to give up his time to go to the court when he knows he is guilty and, above all, to the courts themselves both in reducing the congestion of cases before them and their courts in administering the law. I hope it will not be long before this sensible concept of excess fares takes its proper place in British law.

Finally, after being somewhat critical of a Bill that was introduced so convincingly by the noble Baroness in glowing, cheerful and enthusiastic terms, I sincerely agree that there are good parts in it—like the community bus service which, I am sure, will benefit many and is already doing so. Here, I should like to say that not one single existing community bus service has not been promoted by the professional bus operators, in particular the National Bus Company. One hopes that this service will be further developed, but it will not jeopardise the existing stage bus services which, although they have been eroded for one reason or another over the years, nevertheless have a record of which the nation can be justly proud.

12.57 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to compliment the noble Baroness on the charm and efficiency with which she moved the Second Reading of the Bill. There are those who criticise it because they think that it is bits and pieces, and so on and so forth, and that it in no way reflects the Labour Party's approach to an integrated economy. But those critics seem to me to overlook the fact—and it is a point that I am almost tired of making—that one of the first principles of effective democratic politics is to be able to distinguish between the things you want and the things you can get. This Bill of course is a very careful assessment of what the Government and the Secretary of State think is politically possible at the tail end of a Parliament—not necessary what he wants; it is what he thinks he can get.

I want to go perhaps a little wider, as one is permitted on the Second Reading of a Bill, than the contents of the Bill itself, although in general may I say right away that it has my support. The issue is not one, I would suggest, of an integrated transport system, but the extent to which the British people as a whole have accepted the concept of a mixed economy, not as a formula for words but the applications of the principle. The conflict in the world, in the Western World and the Eastern bloc, in my judgment is a conflict between the consuming society of the West, which finds its impetus through consumption and through the exercise of the free market, whereas in the Eastern bloc it is based on conservation and upon restriction through a system of central planning.

Our two societies being what, in fact, they are, a free society in the sense that is seen in practice in the West—from the Industrial Revolution down to the present day—is not capable of application in the Eastern bloc and, conversely, with a society such as we have in the West a system of rigid planning imposed from the top is also not practical. Yet the demands of the society of the world as a whole require that, in fact, whether or not we like it, we have to combine the applications of the two principles to live with them and to be intelligent about them.

The spokesman for the Liberal Party, as he glanced heaven-ward at every full stop, seemed to think that the problem could be solved by an all-Party conference where what he regarded as intelligent men, presumably all Liberals, would forget all their principles and sit round a table; and if they sat there long enough they would then find common agreement. The difference between the Liberal Party and myself is to be found in the words of the late Harry Tawney. For me, the politics of free discussion based upon differences is the price of progress. It is a virtue to be practised, not a vice to be avoided.

For the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, with his attachment to held differences, honestly held differences must be not submerged. They need to be brought out into the open and looked at. I will therefore ask your Lordship to bear with me for a minute or two; after all, we have plenty of time. Others have spoken for a quarter of an hour so there is no reason why I should not have my ration, particularly as the only speaker on this side also spoke for just about the same time.

Let us look at the events of the last 100 years. The progress of the West has been inextricably mixed up with the development of transport. Prosperity—the great burst forward of human progress in the realms of material gain—came with the steam engine, the steamship, the railway engine, the building of the railroads and, when it began to peter out, Britain began to lose her lead. We were in the forefront hut, by 1870, our pre-eminence in the world had come to an end. The United States had passed us by the end of the century.

I have said this to your Lordship many times before and I shall say it many times again: by the end of the century we had not only been passed by America but also by Germany. The consciousness of the weakness which stemmed from that fact was present at the turn of the century in the Entente Cordiale. Then we caught the wind again through the coming of the motor car, but that first impact of the motor car had begun to work its way out before the First World War, and indeed it may have been a major cause of the First World War that there was emerging the most acute unemployment problem which was beginning to he expressed in all countries in violence.

After the war there was a period of reconstruction and an abortive attempt by the Conservative Party in this country to return to the status quo ante, to return to the gold standard, and so on and so forth. It did not work, and we ran into slump, and permanent slump, and, again, the emergence of unemployment on the most massive scale because the motor car too was no longer providing the necessary impetus.

The late Lord David Lloyd George produced his Yellow Book on the concept of reconstructing and getting the economy going again through doing what the Germans had done—the building of a massive road programme. It was turned down by the Tory Government of the day and the world did not catch the wind again until there was a great rearmament programme. This inevitably resulted in war, because the one thing one cannot do with bayonets is sit on them; if there are enough armaments, some day somebody will use them.

Then the war came, so the economies of the world flourished again. After the war, we once more ran into a period of reconstruction and then the thought was that going to the Moon would save us. We have gone to the Moon and it has not saved us. Now the West is in permanent slump because it has failed to solve its transport problems in terms which wi II both solve them and put transport on a viable basis.

I was greatly amused to hear an interruption this morning at the end of the noble Baroness's speech from a Conservative spokesman who was anxious to make an entirely non-political point. It is interesting how these non-political points emerge. The point had been made as to what happened in Germany and France in terms of loss on rail transport. He said that in America they run transport without subsidies; it is run by private enterprise. I was in America a week ago today. I went to Seattle and I wanted to to to British Columbia. So how did I go? I went on the "Princess Marguerite" the second version—the first was sunk by a German submarine off Crete during the war—up the Puget Sound, from Seattle to Victoria. I then went by bus up to Cape Swartz, another hour or so, and then across from Cape Swartz to Soissons, taking an hour and 40 minutes, and then I went by bus again from there into Victoria. I wanted to come back by train. "Train!" they said, "There is only one train a day from Vancouver to Seattle ". One train a day, at six o'clock in the morning. I spent some time when I went to British Columbia going into the question of transport because it is vital to the communities there, both on the Canadian and on the American side. The only thing that keeps Seattle going is the Boeing, which is kept going by public money spent on defence. The truth is that the American transport system is bankrupt and there are no services. I saw traffic blocks there miles long. These are apparently normal, and the truth of it is that the foremost country in the world which maintains a curious failure to take up all the implications of a mixed economy is Great Britain. The reason for it is the kind of thinking implicit in the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who has not the faintest idea of anything he says having any relevance to the world in which he lives.

The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, in his speech gave some signs—only signs but complete signs—that he may still see the light. He sees the importance. He is speaking from the brief prepared by the Tory Civil Service which is made up in substance of much the same people as serve the Minister. There is not much between them, and on this occasion I must congratulate the Civil Service. They gave the noble Baroness a much better brief today than the one they gave her the last time she and I crossed swords. This time it seems to be reasonably right. It is on the whole a carefully prepared brief and it deals with the facts of the situation in so far as the Minister is allowed to. It comes out in my judgment in Clause 9 in the question of handing over or of enforcing right across the United Kingdom the same powers as are possessed by the GLC. If there is an example not to be followed, it is the example of the GLC. I have had three recent experiences as a ratepayer in Westminster, a wholly Conservative area, certainly the richest in this country, certainly the richest in the world. Let us see how it works out in practice, as opposed to in the headlines of the Daily Mail or the Daily Telegraph or whichever Conservative organ—and I must include The Times—wants to make the point.

I use a garage—I shall not mention which one because I do not want more people to go there, which would mean that the service would become more difficult. It is a garage in an area which, over the years, has run down. The properties are owned by the Church Commissioners and they have quite rightly sold them because they are concerned about income. The properties have been handed over to another Government body, the Crown Estates, the chairman of which is a member of this House. They are to re-plan and the last garage in Westminster is about to close down, so all those Members of this House and another place who, over the years, have gone to that garage for service will not be able to get any service. At the same time, Westminster City Council is continuing to pull down properties right, left and centre, pouring more and more people into flats and granting more and more people parking permits. But there is nowhere to park. At one time, one used to be able to park in the daytime. Now one cannot park either by day or by night.

I go to the chief executive of Westminster pro bono publico, or as a second-rate edition of that mythical character, and say to Mr. Witty, "Come and look. You must be interested, as a chief executive, in Westminster, not only about the provisions for Members of Parliament but for all the other citizens who are coming crowding into Westminster who have no garage services ". He said, "Yes, I have made protests. What do you think you can do? "So I said. "Right, I will go to the Church Commissioners".

So I go to the Church Commissioners and they hand me on to Lord Thomson's office for all the good that is, and then they come back again and say that they are going to do something. "We are going to provide alternative accommodation in Maida Vale ". So I say: what the hell is the good of providing garage services in Maida Vale for the people of Westminster? Because if anyone's car breaks down now within a mile of the House of Commons, who is going to tow it away? Garage after garage has been closed down without the local authority making any provision at all.

I then come to parking arrangements. This week I have had a conflict with the Westminster Council on the basis of the application of the regulations, and again I go to Mr. Witty. He says that he agrees with me, if you could do something: but this is the GLC, and a more insensitive and a more incompetent body I do not know, unless it is the Home Office. The Home Office must always he candidates when it comes to administrative inefficiency. I would put it and the GLC as just about a deat heat. I believe that the Government proposals are about right. The principle behind them is one that I should have thought—if the Tory Party were true to its Toryism, and of course the old time high Tory would agree with me, but the Tory Party has been infiltrated by the Simons of this world—a soppy, sloppy, canting, humbugging Liberalism.


My Lords, not on behalf of the Liberal Party but of the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, might I ask the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, to moderate his language?


Moderate my language? All I have said is that I take the view that I am taking Lord Simon as the spokesman for the Liberal Party, and if he comes down here and makes a speech on behalf of the Liberal Party, I am entitled to comment in the terms I wish, and I am going to do so. Moderate my language? All I am saying is that the things in which he believes have permeated the Tory Party. He may regard it as elevating but I regard it as enervating. That is all the difference between us. If that is attacking it, heaven forbid that I should ever really strike form.

I am saying that the principle of the Bill is right, but subject to control. It is the public good which must prevail. Lord Simon is saying that we should sit round the table and subordinate the principles. I do not believe that. I believe that you should stand by your principles, and my principle, my Socialism, is based upon the concept of the public good, but I do not want to masquerade, using the public good, as a means whereby there is a cloak over administrative inefficiency, either because it has not been thought out or because it has been ineptly applied. I think the Minister is right on Clause 9—and this has been raised by more than one speaker—but subject to one condition; and on the Committee stage I shall endeavour to put this right. The principle should be that the Minister can call in planning permission and that there can be an appeal, but there must be the right of appeal by the aggrieved party. That is to say that, whatever the private organisation may be that has made a submission to the Minister and which has not received consideration—if noble Lords think that that should be interpreted more specifically, they have not got the answer that they think they ought to have—it should have a mandatory right here to hold a public inquiry. That is what I believe. The principle I am applying here is the principle of the public good, and that is the principle that must apply, and in so far as this Bill stands fast to the principle of public good it will have my support.

The Bill does not contain all that I would like it to contain. It is not as wide and sweeping as I would wish, but I realise the limitations which are imposed upon the Minister by the facts of the political situation with which he has got to live, whether he likes it or not. But I completely reject—and I must be very careful in what I now say—Lord Simon's approach, that one should take all this and sit round the table and imagine that if you sit there long enough, which may be from now to 1,000 years, you will ever find an answer.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? I do not want to be aggressive as a human being, but I am frankly confused. I have not heard Lord Simon's speech, but the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, started by talking about his travels from Seattle to Vancouver, went on to unemployment, then finished by talking about a garage in Westminster. I do not see any relation between the three main points that I grasped in his speech, and I would be grateful if he would come to the point and say what he is objecting to and what he wants to happen.


My Lords, let us deal with them in this order. I dealt with unemployment because, to my mind, unemployment and the malaise of Western economy stem from the fact that they have failed to solve their transport problems. They are being choked with the motor car, which at one stage provided a dynamic, and now does not. I was dealing with Lord Simon because Lord Simon's approach to this problem was to nit pick in the Bill and then to make the point that the way it should be solved is by intelligent people sitting round the table and finding a solution. I made the point that intelligent people, according to Lord Simon, were presumably all Liberals. T reject the Liberal approach, whether it finds expression through an adulterated form as expressed by Lord Simon or, if I may say so, when it comes in a more adulterated form from the Front Bench opposite, or indeed the Back Benches for that matter. I am saying that the limitations on the Bill, its incompleteness, is inherent not in the Government's thinking, but in the political situation in which they have to live. This is the maximum amount that they can get through.

I then go on to say that, so far as the Bill is concerned, accepting the limitation imposed by the political straitjacket, it is as much as one can expect. It has my support subject to one condition, that it serves the public interest, and that in Clause 9—a point that has been raised on a number of occasions—it seems to me that to do what the Government wish, which is to take the powers which the GLC possess and make those same powers available all over the United Kingdom, is all right up to a point, but I object to the GLC as such because of the point that Lord Chesham has made about the GLC. He said that these powers have never been used by them, and if they had been used by the GLC they would have been used very badly.

I gave two or three personal examples which I could enlarge on, and in each case I have gone to the Chief Executive of Westminster and pointed out what the consequences are, because there are problems being left at the ground level, and problems which will not go away and which will get worse. Therefore, I want to see the Bill debated, and so far as I am concerned, it can be debated any day or night or at any time- -I am getting used to it with the Wales Bill and Scotland Bill—and into August and September if they so wish. That is because it is important, and when it is debated, so far as I am concerned I shall seek to amend it. Certainly I shall seek to amend Clause 9, and I shall also seek to support the Government in the retention of Clause 9. In my view there needs to he an amalgam between the public and private interst, but the public interest must dominate always provided that the private interests are given a chance here to express themselves. Therefore I would make it mandatory upon the Minister to hold a public inquiry, so that these interests, if they are to survive, must also he able to survive on grounds which enable them to be viable; because if they are not viable they have to be subsidised, and I do not want private enterprise to be subsidised by the public. I want private enterprise, when it operates, to operate standing on its own feet, viable, operating through the pricing system, which is a safeguard for efficiency. But the dominant factor, which, as I say, as a Socialist I believe in—and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, also believes in as a high Tory—is that the public interest must prevail.

Viscount SIMON

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and as he mentioned my name several times, I wonder whether I may be permitted to put one point to him. In the first place, I think he was a little unfair—unwittingly—in attacking the Liberal Party. At the end of the particular part of my speech to which he referred I did say that for a few minutes I would ride a hobbyhorse of my own. Perhaps I ought to have stepped round into the Bench behind, but I did not. The noble Lord perhaps also misunderstood the point that I was making. I was not suggesting that anybody should abandon their principles. There are, of course, matters of principle on which we shall disagree and about which, I hope, we shall argue sensibly with each other. I was saying that there are issues, like the issues of transport, which can in fact be settled on a more non-political basis, because the aims of everybody in this field of transport are basically the same.


My Lords, I entirely accept that, except that I do not understand the term "non-political ". I am a political animal, and I believe that I am a virtuous animal to the extent to which I am political. I believe firmly that political principles are virtues to be practised, not vices to he avoided.

1.22 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness will no doubt he delighted to note that we have got half way round the course, so we are entering the second half. I will try to be as quick as I can. I am sorry that share the view of other noble Lords in their general description of this Bill as being a sack of holes or an odd collection of bits and pieces. In fact, about the only thing on which I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, was when he said that transport was so vitally important, and if this Bill should represent the sum total of Her Majesty's Government's thinking on transport by mid-1978, I think that it is an extraordinarily sad thing. The noble Baroness shakes her head, and I can understand that too, because at this particular stage of our proceedings, as summer approaches, it will be very difficult to put too much into the Bill. It seems to be a "miscellaneous provisions" Bill, as my noble friend Lord O'Hagan said, with one or two other odd things thrown in, and I want to come to one or two of those in a moment.

It is disappointing, in an area of transport, that the noble Baroness has, with the exception of her noble friend Lord Wigg, no support behind her, or indeed alongside her. I think your Lordships would share with me the regret that we shall not have the benefit of the late Lord Popplewell to help our debates. He and I so often had disagreements about the relative merits of road and rail. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that all of his experience was extremely valuable to us. I would not suggest that I can make up for his absence.

I look first at the explanatory memorandum which says towards the end that financial implications for Clause 9 might come to £2–4 million; in terms of manpower, perhaps 20 posts. Other measures may include additional manpower of a minimal nature. That really is rather like saying "how long is a piece of string? "It is so absolutely and totally unrealistic as to be not worth bothering about any further.

I am so sad that in an important measure such as transport there are two notable exceptions. One is any kind of support for the Blennerhassett Report. This debate, coming as it does immediately after the publication of a report in the Which? magazine which suggests that the drink-and-drive laws are being blatantly disregarded, and also on top of a report which was published, I think, also yesterday by the Christian Economic and Social Research Foundation, which points out that the number of drinking offences in the past three years has fallen, seems to suggest that we are not making quite the strides we ought to in overcoming this problem. We may perhaps wish to return to this in some form and try to get something included, or perhaps even only air the matter a little more widely when we get to the Committee stage. This might be helpful after next week's debate on road safety.

The other exclusion which I am sorry to note is that of introducing transport into one of the planning special categories. I shall return to this when I get to Clause 9. Other noble Lords have dealt specifically with the first series of clauses, Clauses 1 to. All I want to say here is that I am disappointed that so far concessionary fares seem to bear some inqualities up and down the country. It is particularly distasteful that so many concessionary fares with regard to the movement of schoolchildren have been dropped in recent years. Nevertheless, as the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, pointed out, at least the provisions contained in these clauses will highlight an authority's reluctance to do anything about this.

So far as Clauses 5, 6 and 7 are concerned, I am not entirely happy here. The noble Baroness referred to these clauses, at least in part, as removing some of the antiquated restrictions, and my noble friend Lord O'Hagan and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, referred to the insurance implications. First, I am always cautious about anything that has to do with licensing and permits. What appears to be a very good thing in removing what has stood a certain test of time reasonably well and replacing it with something else is to me highly suspicious. I have no doubt that we shall want to look at some of those changes with a good deal of care. So far as insurance is concerned, I do not wish to advance any great arguments this afternoon. But, certainly, as there are so many areas in which the buyers of insurance are misled, any claification that we can obtain as to the insured's rights in at least the large print of the policy, if not perhaps the small print, will be welcomed.

It will not be any surprise to your Lordships if I turn now to Clause 8. I do not know quite where to start. Heavy lorries are always an emotive subject, and I have little doubt that this clause is by popular demand. It gives Her Majesty's Government the right to pick up a good beating stick to beat, by popular demand, the heavy goods lorry. The noble Baroness has advanced no proof whatsoever—and we shall debate this at much greater length during the Committee stage—that these provisions are necessary. Desirable they might be; necessary—No. In fact, the provisions are an enormous sledgehammer to crack the wee-est nut.

I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not get it exactly right, but she said that at least this provision would enlarge the catchment area of the offenders. I think that suggests that that is just about all that it will do. It will enlarge the catchment area, but it will do nothing else. Indeed, when we come to talk about figures, as to who will get caught and who will not get caught, my suspicion is that those people who are not committing an offence are far more likely to be caught than more of those committing an offence.

The list of problems which will be involved with this is enormous: drivers' hours, factory fixed-time deliveries, product deterioration and so on and so forth, which we could go into at greater length. I shall, however, if we are to stick with this clause, attempt to move an Amendment at least to draw into the net of responsibility the shipper: I am not talking about a shipping company, but the loading company or one who is shipping the goods, because the majority of the infringements, particularly in container work and loose goods, occur in this direction. So much then for Clause 8: a sledgehammer to crack a wee nut.

I turn to Clause 9 briefly to support all the noble Lords who have found objection to the Bill. I noticed in the notes which the noble Baroness was kind enough to provide for us that in the comment it said: The broad objective of this clause is to give the authorities powers to manage traffic and transport.". In fact, of course, Clause 9 does nothing of the kind. Clause 9 is a completely negative attitude: indeed, so much of the Bill is negative. There is very little positive; very little to encourage the use of the roads and motor vehicles: there is more in it to discourage. For example, it goes on, This will enable the local authority to control the volume entering central areas.". This provision does not control any volume entering central areas: it provides a deterrent for them, the user—a totally different kind of argument.

Indeed, when I think of how much I have to pay to get my daughter to school in the mornings—48 pence for a five mile journey and a 15-minute walk; 48 pence back for a 15-minute walk and five-mile journey—I am not surprised that many of the residents in Chandler's Ford send three or four motor cars laden with children to join the morning peak-hour queue of traffic into Southampton.

"To limit peak hours commuting ": this is absolutely negative as well, because, of course, the control of private off-street parking will not do that at all. Then the last thing is, "to encourage the use of space by short-term parkers "; it is not an achievable objective. The noble Lord, Lord Wigg—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—said that a pricing policy is a safeguard for efficiency: nothing is further from the truth. Sheer competition encourages efficiency, not local authority—


My Lords, what I said was that the free exercise of the pricing system would control efficiency.


Exactly, my Lords, it is the same thing, and I disagree with him, because a pricing policy—he said "the free exercise ".—


My Lords, I said that the free exercise—that is to say, the functioning of the pricing system—is a safeguard for efficiency.


My Lords, I suggest that a pricing policy by local authorities is not necessarily a recipe for efficiency. Within this context of parking, I want to draw attention to the report of a working party on lorry parking which reported in October 1971. It seems to me that the Bill would have been far more useful if it had contained some provision, and indeed some measure, for the promotion of lorry parking, as distinct from off-street private car parking. We have gone seven years now and have not advanced one bit in the provision of lorry parking.

Indeed, when the regional working party in Hampshire dealt with this matter it came up with only two sites. One was at Tipner, Portsmouth: local inhabitants complained very vigorously and that scheme was abandoned and Fratton railway goods yard was substituted instead, which means that all haulage has to go through the centre of Portsmouth to Fratton goods yard. The other was at Nursling and I happen to know, although I assure your Lordships that I am not in the least connected, that commercial undertakings have looked at the Nursling site but planning restrictions are so onerous that that looks like being a non-starter.

If heavy goods lorries are so emotive, I think that Her Majesty's Government should direct some of their energies to putting this emotive product somewhere. Lastly, if I may just have a moment on the transfer of Freightliners to British Railways. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, drew attention to the National Freight Corporation's achievements and to the report. I noticed that in their report on page 10, it says: The Corporation (that is the NFC) has felt obliged to state its categorical opposition to the proposed transfer.". This is of Freightlines to British Rail. I wonder whether that is still their attitude. Certainly I think that the Railfreight Speedlink Services is a huge improvement and I know that it is used a great deal by the private haulage industry. I am not so sure that the decision to make this transfer is necessarily the best one. Again, my noble friend on the Front Bench drew attention to this.

These are some of the areas which I and undoubtedly some of my noble friends will wish to probe further at the Committee stage and possibly offer Amendments for consideration. Perhaps, on a slightly humorous note, one might be reminded of the rhyme that deals with children which begins with "Monday's child who is fair of face ", and come straight to "Friday's child who works hard for a living ". I fear that this Bill is a Friday's child. It will have to work very hard to live with some semblance of sensibility.

1.38 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to confine my remarks strictly to the dark side of the Bill, namely the financial provisions. The most important of these is Clause 11, which provides for £3,000 million of Government expenditure. This, I suggest, is more important than the regulation of off-street car parking; and, indeed, perhaps more important than the provision of bicycle parks. The £3,000 million will in the end have to be paid by somebody and that somebody is the taxpayers of this country. I think that in these circumstances we are entitled to probe this figure rather carefully.

The money is expected to be necessary to enable the Secretary of State to make grants to British Rail to meet what is described as its public service obligation. "Public service obligation" is the current euphemism for losses made by British Rail on passenger services. It seems to me to be an interesting use of the English language to describe losses made by a nationalised industry as a public service but this is nevertheless the position. If one is talking about public expenditure, it is very important to draw a distinction between public expenditure on goods and services on the one hand and public expenditure on subsidies to meet losses on the other hand. If public expenditure on goods and services is reduced, the goods and services we buy are reduced. But, if we improve the efficiency of a service and thereby reduce the losses it makes, public expenditure is reduced without any sacrifice of the service. It is from this point of view that we ought to look in detail at the £3,000 million expenditure for which the Bill provides.

The first point which needs to be made is that the public service obligation grant is a blanket subsidy covering the whole of the passenger services of British Rail. This comes out clearly from British Rail's own report. From the figures set out on pages 11 and 12 of the report, it is perfectly clear that what British Rail do is to add up their total revenues, add up their total costs, deduct one from the other, and come up with a figure. They then come along to the Government and ask for that figure as a public service obligation grant. It is interesting that there is no attempt made anywhere to segregate the profitable services which presumably require no grant from the unprofitable services on which a grant may be necessary.

It is also of considerable interest that if one goes back to the order made by the Secretary of State under the 1974 Act, we find that it is under that Act that the obligation actually arose, not under EEC regulations. If we go back to that order, there is no requirement even to run the services efficiently, let alone to see whether they are required; that is, whether anybody wants them. I have no doubt that both the Secretary of State and British Rail keep these matters very much in mind. But I wonder whether they are matters which ought to be left to the unfettered discretion of the Minister and British Rail. Nor is there faith and hope that these matters will be dealt with properly to provide a basis on which a grant of £3,000 million of public money can be justified.

If we turn to the accounts of British Rail, these show that the actual public service grant for 1977 was £363 million. That is the figure that it turned out at. The original estimate was higher than that. The figure estimated for the current year is £403 million. Now British Rail themselves admit that there are wide-ranging —these are their words, not mine—opportunities for cost reduction. In their response to the Consultative Document on which this Bill was ultimately based, British Rail estimated that a manpower reduction, in the railway business only, of 40,000 by the end of 1981, was possible. The Select Committee on page 45 of its report, says in Roman italics, that in fields that it actually specifies: somewhat greater reduction should be attainable —not "could be ", or "might be ", but "should be attainable ".

In another place the Government have shown a considerable coyness in translating these figures into terms of actual cash. In order to be helpful to the noble Baroness I will give her some figures of my own which are readily calculable from British Rail's report of 1977. If we take British Rail's own figure and allow for the reductions in manpower which have already occurred, the reductions that they say are attainable by 1981 would represent £175 million. I do not suggest that the whole of this would emerge as a cost reduction. There will no doubt be restrictive practices that have to be bought out. There may have to be payments for productivity deals and so on. Nevertheless, if we look at the actual current public service obligation grant, which last year turned out at £363 million, the extent of the admitted overmanning accounts for nearly half of that total figure.

We all realise how difficult it is, after a period in which fares have been going up drastically, and in the face of public reaction, to put up fares further. We know, too, that in many directions the service could be improved, and there has been public pressure that this should be done. But none of these are true reasons for a bottomless subsidy. They reinforce the argument that what is essential is an improvement in the efficiency of the operation of the organisation, an improvement which is admitted to be possible and one which I think we should all want to give British Rail the utmost encouragement to achieve.

The 1974 Act provided for grants totalling £1,500 million. This has lasted British Rail, or will last them, four years; that is, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978. The present Bill makes available a further £3,000 million which comes in two tranches; namely, £1,750 million which is available unconditionally, and £1,250 million which is available subject to Order in Council. Without allowing for the improvement in efficiency, which again British Rail accept is possible, and without allowing for inflation, the original tranche of £1,750 million should last four to five years. There is a factor moving in one direction and a factor moving in the other. But taking both into account, the indication is that the sum should last for another four or five years.

If we take the conditional tranche into account as well, this would extend the period to seven or eight years. I know that my noble friend Lord O'Hagan was asking for this figure and the Government were relutcant to give it in another place. But on the face of it, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume that the figure provided in the Bill would last in the aggregate for something like seven, or possibly, eight years.

The question I really want to ask, however, is this: At a time when the need to control public expenditure is much more widely recognised than it was in 1974—and I am not trying to make a Party political point about this, because I think we are all much more aware of the need to control public expenditure than we were in 1974 and of the need to improve efficiency and productivity—why, in these circumstances, does the Bill provide double the amount of money that the 1974 Act did, and potentially a sum of money which would last double the period? I suggest that we must accept that long-term the viability of British Rail depends on their ability to run their services with the maximum degree of efficiency. The description of a subsidy to meet losses as a public service obligation does not in any way alter the fact that, at the end of the day, by way of taxes, the taxpayers have to provide the money to meet those losses. And people will simply not be prepared to go on indefinitely paying taxes if they believe that these taxes are being used to meet unnecessary or unjustified losses.

There is therefore a heavy onus on British Rail and they must accept that they will always remain subject to searching public scrutiny. One wonders, therefore, whether it is right or acceptable that this Bill should give the Secretary of State and British Rail seven or eight years of rope before they are brought up short. We must ask whether there ought to be provided in the Bill itself a closer and more effective means of control than the Bill at present provides.

I had intended to talk about the National Freight Corporation at some length, but I shall refrain from doing so. All that I should like to say is that this is a somewhat unhappy story. As the noble Baroness will know, the National Freight Corporation received grants of £52 million in 1976 and 1977, so the public support is more than the £53 plus £15 plus £30 million, plus another unspecified figure for the travel concessions, which this Bill provides. In fact, the degree of public support in the Bill made available in the last two years is £150 million-plus.

If this corporation is to be kept within the public sector, it is, of course, imperative that it should be put on a sound financial basis and then subjected to proper financial discipline. Unless it is put on a sound financial basis, there will simply be endless argument in the future as to whether or not it is doing well or badly, whether or not its figures can be believed, whether it is dealt with unfairly vis-à-vis the private sector or is unnecessarily subsidised vis-à-vis the private sector. But reading through these provisions, I am left with an uneasy feeling—let me put it no higher than that—that this is a series of ad hoc decisions, or even compromises; there is a bit off here, a bit off there, something given somewhere else.

I should have thought that this was pre-eminently the sort of corporation where, if you were looking at it as a private concern and wanted to reconstruct it, you would start by valuing its assets and liabilities and then capitalising it accordingly. All I want to ask is this. Does the figure that emerges from the Bill represent a proper commercial capitalisation of this corporation? If it does, this is fine, we know where we stand. If it does not, suggest that serious consideration ought to be given to clarifying the situation.

I only want to say in conclusion this one thing. The noble Baroness described this as "a good and necessary Bill "—

Several noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, necessary it most certainly is, because without the Bill two public corporations would find themselves in serious difficulties. Whether it is a good one is a very different matter indeed. So far as its financial provisions are concerned—and I quite deliberately confine my remarks to the financial provisions—I, frankly, would describe it as an unhappy Bill.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, and after listening to his sour and rather old-fashioned attack on the Bill, may I ask him whether all his criticism simply adds up to a great increase in unemployment?


No, it does not.

1.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make a brief contribution on one of my hobby-horses; the subject of bicycling. I am a member of the all-Party Friends of Cycling group, as well as being a frequent cyclist myself. I am not sure how grateful we should be for the single sentence which makes up Clause 10, which simply enables authorities to provide parking for bicycles.

This clause is the only direct reference to bicycling and it was accepted by the Government at Report stage in another place from a number of clauses introduced by what might be called the bicycling lobby. I realise the difficulty of making a Second Reading speech on a subject so lightly touched upon the Bill, but I should like to make some general comments on the Government's policy and attitude towards cycling.

May I congratulate the Government on another small step, besides Clause 10, which I understand they have taken: that is, the appointment within the Department of Transport of an official with full-time responsibility for cycling. I accept that, compared with some of the subjects that have already been mentioned in this debate today, the claims of cycling may appear to be small and that the great financial and economic decisions on transport are not centred around cycling. But cycling, for all its small scale and cost, affects large numbers of people and much can be done for relatively small expenditure, combined with intelligent planning.

What I would hope is that the Government could develop, at little present cost, a serious long-term strategy for the active encouragement of cycling and do this in such a way that it is not just a response to passing pressures of fashion, as with skate-boarding. My main point is this. One of the chief difficulties in fitting cycling into our urban transport system now is that our towns were not, in the past, planned with the potential of cycling in mind. Are we now planning our towns any better for the future, so that cycling facilities can readily be added when they are required and when we can afford them?

I am really just saying that a little thought now for a future with increased cycling would cost us very little. For example, in planning for new shopping centres, municipal centres and even offices, could not some convenient space be required to be set aside for the parking and access of bicycles, even if now, at present, we cannot afford to provide proper cycle racks and security?

One simple, practical problem for many people who own bicycles is simply where, in their homes, to keep this large piece of machinery safely and conveniently. I have no answer to that and I am not expecting that the Government should provide one, but that is the sort of consideration that long-term thinking about bicycles should include.

In the White Paper on transport paragraphs 128 and 129 make encouraging noises about bicycling, but Clause 10 of the Bill seems a rather minimal result. I realise that some useful, individual experiments have been taking place and that the response of cyclists to facilities offered to them is far from predictable. The role of the cyclist, historically and legally, seems to have been one of an afterthought, to be fashioned into transport systems after other users have been taken care of. The law on bicycling has developed almost by accident rather than by design and is to be found in over 10 major pieces of legislation. Including bicycles in the same category as motor vehicles often leads to anomalies. For example, I believe I am a law-breaker if I padlock my bicycle to a lamp post or if I wheel my machine on the pavement the wrong way up a one-way street.

Also, bicycle planning law suffers from being an apparent appendage of the planning of highways for motor vehicles. I understand that there is still doubt in the minds of some local authorities as to their legal entitlement to construct cycle-ways separately from roads, and I say this despite what has been already said in another place. I hope that that particular point can be made clearer in the technical note on this subject which the Department of Transport is meant to be sending to local authorities: I say "meant to be sending" because I understand that this technical note is in its eleventh draft and has been floating around for almost two years. May I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to urge her Department to get this valuable document into official circulation before her Leader decides to call an election?

Finally, having tried to show the disarray of bicycle law, I do not think it is being merely rhetorical to say, as I do, that what is really required eventually is a separate Bicycle Bill. More realistically, I address that suggestion to the next Government, together with my hopes that they will take a serious long-term view of the role of the bicycle in transport.

2 p.m.


My Lords, as usual I have to declare an interest in that I own and drive my own farm lorry. At least, I do so when I more or less keep within the many regulations produced by the 101 various bodies which have the power to control me and my lorry. It will therefore come as no surprise to your Lordships if I complain about Clause 8 of this Bill. In principle, I should like to complain about the whole Bill, but I am told that I must allow our legislators to legislate, otherwise they might get up to worse mischief. Indeed, after listening to the description of the Bill by the noble Baroness, I must say my strength has been somewhat weakened, but I hope that this brief and sad weakening of spirit will soon go away. If there is a weakening of spirits, it is entirely due to the charm of the noble Baroness in putting across this Bill. So I will concentrate my few words on Clause 8 and Schedule 3, which has a particularly harmful effect on lorries operating in the agricultural sphere, particularly in the more remote areas. Until my noble friend Lord Lucas spoke, I thought I might be a little lonely in criticising this clause, but I am flattered to be in such expert company.

I will not bore your Lordships at this stage, though I will at Committee stage, with the exact details of the damage and problems that Clause 8 and Schedule 3 will cause to hauliers, particularly agricultural hauliers in remote districts. Suffice it to say that the clause allows an innocent and guiltless driver to be diverted five miles, and indeed more if the Secretary of State feels that way inclined, without compensation. Although there is a well-established myth that farmers have all the time in the world to hang over gates and philosophise with their animals, I need not tell your Lordships that this is not entirely true, particularly at harvest and seed time. We are as much under pressure as anyone else, if not more so. These regulations will make it that much more onerous at such times, and as the load carried is nearly always perishable, and alive occasionally, and therefore subject to being perished, any delay caused by unnecessary inspection —and I consider this clause of the Bill to cause that—can, to say the least, be expensive, wasteful and even cruel.

The noble Baroness said in her speech that lorries will remain the main source and backbone of moving goods in this country. So be it. Let us try to help them to move goods more efficiently and quickly. I cannot understand how this will be achieved by giving inspectors extra powers to divert further and hold in custody for longer innocent and guiltless lorries, their loads and their drivers.

I will, however, bore your Lordships now with a repeat plea that the Government should be consistent. Most people now realise that our greatest single problem is to increase productivity and reduce unemployment. To achieve this, many if not most now agree that help should be given to new and small businesses to thrive and to start, particularly in the less developed areas of the United Kingdom. Like it or not, the provisions in Clause 8 and Schedule 3 will add yet another nail in the coffin of small businesses, farmers and hauliers in those areas and add, if I may say so, another strawberry leaf to the coronet of that ogre, unemployment. This provision might be possible in our industrial areas—personally, I think not—but it will cause real hardship in our less-favoured remote areas, and I hope when the Bill goes into the Committee that the Government may spare a little thought for those who live in such areas as Devon, Cornwall, Scotland and, last but not least, Wales, and look with favour on the odd Amendment to return this load from the haulier to where it should he, on the instigators and composers of this Bill.

2.5 p.m.


My Lords, I begin by begging to differ from my noble friend Lord Lucas. The lines of the poem he quotes, so far as I can remember, run: Friday's child is loving and giving; Saturday's child works hard for its living". What effect that will have on the Bill I leave to your Lordships' opinion. I certainly wish to support all those, beginning with the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, who spoke about the community services, particularly where those in rural districts are concerned. I have seen it myself. In bygone years I remember the vital part played by the small and private bus company, usually operated by one or two men, who provided a bus service from the rural village into the nearest town taking both passengers and mail, going out in the morning and coming back in the evening with the incoming passengers and mail and then being prepared to take either lorries or private cars out even to the most remote farms. Circumstances have hit a lot of these people and the result is that some of these outlying farms have been abandoned because of the difficulties caused by lack of transport. I certainly hope that this Bill will help put back some of these missing aids to the countryside.

My main contribution in this debate is merely to ask the noble Baroness a question. I should appreciate it if she can give the answer in her summing up, which I hope will be in a few minutes' time as I know she has a train to catch. It is rather a hobby-horse of mine regarding Customs clearance. The noble Baroness will remember that on 26th January I asked a Question in this connection about the interest shown by the German Transport Minister, Herr Gscheidle, and the noble Baroness gave a very encouraging reply on which I was able to tender my congratulations. I had also put down a Question, which was to have been asked on the last day before the recent Recess, about the success of the talks with the Transport Minister, and everything had been arranged for him to come over here and discuss matters with Her Majesty's Government. But then the distinguished statesman did not turn up, so I was prevented from throwing any more verbal bouquets at the noble Baroness. I would be particularly grateful if she would let me know, either today or at some convenient time, how much this Bill can help clearance of Customs freight, particularly now that there are complaints that rail transport has been held up while motor transport has seemed to have the priority. Now new regulations have been brought out about which it seems that even the motor transport is getting a little worried.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness has been shown a copy of the magazine Freighting World, of 26th April 1976, in which there was a headline "Port of Dover in diabolical straits", showing how the new entry into the port had been causing delays. Apparently the new system involves computers. I do not know much about computers except that if they are fed the right sort of information they can be very efficient, but if the wrong data go in or if a document has been lost or misfiled or in some way misdirected by some simple human error, it can cause a tremendous tangle to get it all sorted out. The result has been, I believe, an unfortunate loss of confidence by foreign traders in the use of Dover as a port. Therefore, I would ask the noble Baroness if this Bill can assist in the speeding up of Customs clearance, if there can be any clarification; and if she can give any encouraging replies I am sure they will be very gratefully received by anybody who reads an account of this debate in Hansard.

2.10 p.m.


My Lords, having listened to all the speeches up to date with the greatest interest, with one notable exception, I have come to the conclusion that it would be in the interests of the substantial remainder of business and also in the interests of the noble Baroness's train to keep my remarks to the minimum. I believe that the Bill which we have examined in some detail this morning is far from the description so glowingly quoted by the noble Baroness. I wish to deal especially with the earlier part of the Bill. I think the noble Baronesss said —I quote her words—that the Bill does not seek to impose new obligations; it should encourage the counties to submit proposals. I believe that the first part of the Bill, contained in the first four clauses, is very far from that description.

The Government have claimed that they wish to devolve transport planning powers, but in reality the effect of the first three clauses is to lay heavy new responsibilities and obligations upon counties. We believe that the effect of these is two-fold, first to erode the freedom of county councils to determine local priorities within the pattern of expenditure on public transport, and secondly, to involve county councils in the straitjacket of a five-year public transport plan which really has no guarantee whatever of financial stability.

Since its introduction in another place the Bill has been amended so that district councils are statutorily drawn into the consultations; this we must welcome. But this is only one small step in the right direction, and your Lordships must remember that in the background are the traffic commissioners who have retained their full powers of veto. Is this consultation, so agreeably applauded, genuine? Is the combination necessary of the five-year public transport plan to be updated annually with a deadline of 31st March and combined with the existing obligation to produce a transport policy proposal with a deadline of 31st July?

These are two extremely complicated proposals run in a double harness. I believe there is an inner conflict which has not totally been grasped either perhaps in the speech we listened to by the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, or in certain remarks made by other noble Lords. I believe there is a very great obligation cast upon planning staff. We heard from the noble Baroness that there were four county councils who had followed satisfactorily the procedure up to date, but I cast a doubt on the possibility of all county councils in England and Wales being able to run this duo system—duo system it certainly is—with a degree of accuracy and encouragement. The noble Baroness —.I do not wish to labour the point—said that it should not be too difficult to submit proposals. I believe there is the inner contradiction here that if one knows, as county councils must know, that there is no financial stability to the plan, how can they submit their five-year rolling programme with any degree of confidence? Will there not be an inclination on the part of some county councils to say it is unlikely to be promoted and will they really have to examine the whole thing and expend a great deal of skilled time and effort, or shall they re-submit last year's plan in a new jacket?

We believe, moreover, that there is a particular problem here, because the word "consult" bears further reflection. I think most of us would agree that it means a joint discussion with persons who have a mutual interest, but to the Government, from the drafting of this Bill, it must have a somewhat different connotation. It appears to mean the process of announcement or pronouncement without a degree of willingness to listen, which one would like to see. "Consult" has many meanings; perhaps one of the shrewdest ever written was of that great civil servant and administrator, Samuel Pepys. In his diary of 19th May 1665 he wrote: Not to do anything suddenly but to consult my pillow". I believe there are many occasions when all Governments should consult their pillows before proceeding with a plan so ill-advised as to impose a double harness of proposals in Clauses 1 to 3.

Turning aside from that aspect, I should like to look at the known concept of the Bill. Here one must applaud the proposals to improverural transport. One of the main aims is to encourage this, but unfortunately commercial minibus services are specifically debarred. Greater use of the school bus and further developing postal bus services have been set aside. Alas, although there is an opportunity here, it has not been fully grasped in the terms in which the Bill is at present drafted.

We are glad that the Private Member's Bill which became an Act at the end of last Session—that is, the Minibus Act promoted by the Conservative Member, Mr. David Hunt—is such a success. This is firm ground on which to build, but we believe that the Government could have made greater use of that. We must welcome from this side of the House, as my noble friend Lord O'Hagan has done, the removal of unnecessary licensing restrictions. Nevertheless, there are still some inhibitions on licensing. I have referred already to the situation regarding minibuses, but there is a specific point; that is, that on no account must drivers be paid professionals; they must be volunteers. Evidently, the Government thought there were some useful possibilities in promoting the concept of the minibus, but we believe that a dead authoritarian hand has clamped down on any really fruitful articulation and extension of this scheme.

I will not refer at any great length to other speeches, despite the fact that I enjoyed them, especially those of my noble friends. References to Clause 8 and the road transport situation made by my noble friends Lord Lucas of Chilworth and Lord Stanley of Alderley will promote Amendments in due course. My noble friend Lord Chesham speaks with great experience in regard to the whole field of transport, but especially in his more recent experience as Director of National Car Parks.

We believe that one of the core clauses in the Bill is the supply clause, Clause 11. I was very interested therefore in the whole speech and remarks of my noble friend Lord Cockfield in this regard. I cannot understand how the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, could so chide him after making such interesting and relevant remarks as he did and referring to the fact that there is no requirement to run the services efficiently; that is, the railways.

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend spoke with realism when he recognised that there are restrictive practices which may have to be bought out, and when he quoted a particular remark—and it does bear repetition—that what is really important is an improvement in the efficiency of the organisation. We shall seek to ensure that that efficiency may perhaps be promoted by Amendments to this Bill, and we shall discuss the matter together.

After speaking for 10 minutes, I must content myself with the reflection that your Lordships have considered this matter now for two hours and 20 minutes, at considerable length; and many of your Lordships have shown a high degree of restraint which alas! was missing from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigg.

2.21 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, may I first express my thanks to those of you who have come in on a Friday in order to attend the Second Reading of this Bill. May I at the outset assure the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, and other noble Lords who have referred to it, that so far as I am concerned I have no intention whatsoever of spending my August sitting on these Benches dealing with various stages of the Transport Bill, and will certainly do what I can to see that we deal with it at what noble Lords have referred to as a more reasonable time, and that we have adequate time to discuss all the things that have been raised this morning.

I recognise that the Bill does not contain provisions which make all noble Lords happy. At this time of the day, with a long programme in front of the House still, it would be neither right nor proper for me to reply in any very great detail to the many points that have been raised; merely to say that we look forward to an extremely interesting and possibly long Committee stage, with the various hints that have been thrown out this morning. But I hope that I can deal with one or two of the more specific and recurrent points that have come forward.

The noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, apart from referring to the timetable and making a plea for no more Friday sittings on this Bill, I felt gave a muted welcome at least to parts of the Bill, and did ask why we had not included other major measures, such as action on Blennerhassett. I can say only that this is a short Bill; that we had to be aware of the pressures on Parliamentary time. But it is still our policy, in a future Session of the Government, to introduce a rather more major Transport Bill which will take care of things like drinking/driving, seatbelts and many other perhaps much more contentious items than we have in this Bill. May I also assure the noble Lord that it is the Government's policy to encourage as much traffic as possible off the road and on to the rail, where this is possible and practical. But it is not always so in every case.

So far as the insurance point is concerned, I appreciate the many noble Lord's concern. There was a considerable amount of debate on this when the Bill was going through the Committee stage in another place. My right honourable friend pointed out from the Government side that the law is at least clear, that anyone who uses a vehicle on the road must have a policy, covering that use, in respect of liability for death or bodily injury to third parties, including passengers; and the onus of ensuring that there is proper cover lies with the motorist.

A Press Notice was issued by the insurers in 1975—and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary referred to it—to the effect that receipt of contributions from passengers towards the cost of petrol only would not infringe our normal domestic policies, but that motorists who wished to accept contributions to other costs ought to check with their insurers, and this covered the normal situation where motorists accepted money for lifts. My right honourable friend explained in discussions that the insurers had had with our officials that he was pressing them to go further in bringing the facts to the attention of the individual motorists, and he undertook to probe this further at a meeting that he was to have with them.

I can now bring that story up to date and say that that meeting took place only three days ago. It was most useful in helping to clear a way towards dealing with the kind of problems that have been referred to here and in the earlier debates in another place. The insurers' representatives have now gone away to consult with their colleagues generally on the matters that were discussed, and they will be reporting back to the Minister on the outcome. I expect to be able to make a much more detailed statement by the time we come to the Committee stage. I hope that perhaps that will meet some of the fears that noble Lords have expressed today.

The question of parking was also raised by most speakers. It is quite obvious that we shall have to devote a lot of time to that section of the Bill—the privately-owned public car parks. But this is only a permissive clause. I think it was my noble friend Lord Wigg who said that the GLC have had the powers but they have not used them. Perhaps none of the other counties will use them, but we feel that, in order for them to have adequate means for traffic management, this is the sort of permissive power that ought to be given to them. However, I cannot see any widespread rush from counties to use it, except where it is necessary for them to carry out proper traffic management.

On the question as to what proposals and effect this Bill would have on devolution, or the effect of devolution Bills on this Bill, which again I think was raised by the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, mention has already been made in the course of the passage of the Scotland Bill through this House that some Amendments might have to be made. Indeed, this Bill contains provisions that affect some of the matters that are being devolved under the terms of the Scotland Bill and the Wales Bill, and Amendments will have to be made to deal with these. For technical reasons—because all Bills are still in the process of passage through the House —they will have to be made at a later stage, either to this Bill or to the relevant constitutional Bill. But in any case, taking the Transport Bill on board in the context of devolution does not really involve any changes of substance to the devolution provisions, and the necessary alterations that we shall have to make in due course will really be only consequential on the progress of this Bill and how it eventually emerges.

The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, also gave the Bill a modified welcome, and expressed regret about the concessionary fares and the problems of people who live in countries who may have a concessionary fares scheme but who have not got a bus service on which they can use it. This is one of the hopes arising from the introduction of this Bill which provides for the relaxation of some of the licensing restrictions and the introduction of some of the experimental traffic systems which we are evolving, and that we hope might lead to some considerable improvement in rural transport.

So far as the concessionary fares are concerned, the counties will now have to show them in their reports to the Secretary of State. While I would not go so far as the noble Lord and say that they might shame the other counties into doing better, they might at least be aware of the fact that if they are not doing as well as perhaps the Secretary of State thinks they ought on concessionary fares, this would influence the size of their transport supplementary giant. Those counties which do most to help rural transport are the ones which are likely to get the biggest share of the cake.

The noble Lord also asked me a question about the Freight Integration Council. I understand that that had its last meeting formally on 30th June 1971; that its second and final report was made in July 1973, and in that report it stated that there were no outstanding references to it and it saw no need for any continuous investigations. Since then the Council has been in abeyance, but it has not gone out of existence altogether.

My noble friend Lord Davies and others referred to this rather knotty question of the privately operated car parks and the fact that we are extending the GLC powers to the other counties. The details have to be sent to the Secretary of State and, as I said in my opening speech, there is the right of appeal to the Secretary of State, who may order a public inquiry. We are not, in this Bill, getting at the generous farmers alleged to be sitting opposite me who open their fields as car parks on various occasions, and I am sure that we shall get very much more clarification of this clause and shall all understand much more after the Committee stage. But I should like to endorse the tribute that my noble friend made to the performance of the National Freight Corporation. Our aim, through this Bill, is to secure the best possible financial future for the Corporation.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, referred to the lack of real policy. Our last White Paper really was generously received, and if we come to the situation, after this Session, that we have the Parliamentary time, that we have conquered inflation so that more resources are available, then we will perhaps be able to present a much bigger Bill, one with much more bite in it, and can finish the job. But the real knowledge which the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, has of the organisation and the running of the car parks I am sure will turn out to be of very great use to all of us when we reach the Committee stage. He asked how much the grants will improve transport efficiency. I should have thought that, if they are freed of the burdens that have been placed on them, then British Rail and the National Freight Corporation would be in a much better position to improve their services; and, certainly, British Rail have made very great efforts over the last two or three years.

The noble Lord, Lord Teviot, took up again the point of the excess fares. The clause was put in by his honourable friends in another place and was taken out by his honourable friends when it got back on to the Floor of the House. The arguments were well rehearsed in that place, and I am sure that he is as aware as any of us of the problems and the furore that were raised at the thought of bus conductors having to collect the extra fares.


My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way, but although it might have been done by my honourable friends in another place, it was agreed by the Minister in another place and it was only because of pressures from outside that the clause was again taken out.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, there were very great problems. A considerable furore was aroused about it and I think, perhaps, at this stage we are right to have left it out, but no doubt the noble Lord will return to it if he thinks we ought to put it back now that the Bill is in this House.

My noble friend Lord Wigg, in a very long speech, demonstrated how wide one can go in Second Reading; he was setting the Bill in a very much wider context than most of us had thought of doing today. But I was delighted to have his general Second Reading support for the Bill, and I look forward to having some support from him when we get to the Committee stage. He also, of course, was very concerned about the question of public parking.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I seem to meet regularly on transport points, and I have no doubt we shall be spending a lot of time together over the next few weeks on this Bill. Clause 8 and Schedule 3 were designed to improve the enforcement controls over badly-maintained and overloaded lorries. The need for stricter enforcement was indicated, we feel, by the fact that one in four of the 25,000 vehicles diverted by the Department's examiners to weighbridges are found to be overloaded; one in five of the 7,000 vehicles diverted by our examiners to testing stations are found to be badly maintained, and one in six in another 63,000 vehicles stopped at the roadside are found to be badly maintained.

Heavy lorries have a great responsibility in moving our goods about the place, in moving them safely, and they must have some regard to good maintenance and to road safety. While the noble Lord referred to a very heavy nutcracker to crack a very small nut, I think it is essential that we build up these aspects of road safety and things that are going to help with it. The present one-mile limit around the weighbridges and the testing stations severely limits our choice of sites for checkpoints; they can readily become well-known and avoided, and the extension of the distance to five miles will widen the choice of sites and will enable more of the lorry routes to be policed more effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, has asked for information on the financial aspects. I am sure at this stage of play he would not expect me to go into all the details of that today; no doubt we shall come back to them. But the reconstruction measures are a coherent package. The capital write-down is no larger because it is only for National Carriers and Freightliners. The other companies can be viable within their existing capital structure, so the provisions of the Bill in this respect are not ad hoc or opportunist. A great deal of deliberation went into the final conclusions, and no doubt we shall be going into much more detail when we come to the Committee stage.

The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, referred to the needs of cyclists which I could not endorse more. I was delighted at his reference to the perhaps very small but, I think, significant increase in staff at the Department of Transport with special responsibility to look after cyclists. The Under-Secretary in the Department is himself a keen cyclist, which may have some effect. I used to be until my lungs and legs gave out, and I am now a motor cyclist; but we do want to see cycles coming back much more into use, although perhaps it is easier for me to say that, who lives in the flat Fen country, than for people in hilly country. Many of our new towns are showing the way by planning cycle-ways and older towns provide special cycle routes through their streets. I have noted all his comments about the proposed technical note, and I will certainly make inquiries in the Department and see whether it be resurfaced fairly quickly. The Government really do want to encourage more people to use cycles and to use them safely.

The noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, referred to the problems of farmers with agricultural lorries in the remote districts, and again, raised his objections to the diversion for testing. Again, I can only add at this point that it is a question of road safety and that we need sound mechanical vehicles. But I will check in Hansard all the points he made, and if I can help to assuage his fears by writing to him between now and Committee stage, then I will certainly do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Gainford, referred to rural transport and also to his hardy question on Customs clearance on rail transport. Here, while I cannot admit that the Bill is going to help particularly in regard to that problem, I can at least give him one bit of good news that we learned only this morning, that Herr Ghsceidle is visiting us on 26th June, and perhaps after that we may have something more to offer him.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, referred to the fact that we are now encouraging the counties to submit these proposals. It should not really be too difficult for them to work out the proposals in the form we now want them. They have their TPPs, and if they have been doing their job properly, as most of them have, in submitting those, they should be able to abstract the information and send in their plans.

The traffic commissioners? Yes, certainly, they still have a veto, but they are now bound to take account of the counties' plans. They do not necessarily have to accept them, but at least they have to know the way in which the counties are working; and, certainly, we hope the five-year plan will give some stability to the transport provisions that we are asking the counties to make, particularly in the rural areas.

I hesitate to take any longer in replying to points that have been raised in the debate. I know I have not dealt with all the difficulties that noble Lords have raised, and I know that even the ones I have referred to are going to be raised again, in more detail perhaps, at Committee stage. But it is the early clauses that deal in one way or another with the concrete effect of transport at local level. We think it is going to help the local authorities to identify the problem areas of public transport, to tackle the difficulties and to improve their traffic management. It is going to assist the bus operators to plan ahead. It is going to make a contribution to community transport and help us to try out new solutions.

We hope that this Bill will, in a sense, nourish the world of transport in both its realms: that of operations, of the movement of passengers and goods with the least waste, the least danger and the least disturbance that can be contrived; and that of the structure, of the conduct of the public corporations with the greatest efficiency, the greatest harmony and the greatest social concern that can be achieved. I think these are meritorious goals to aim at and I hope, and am reaonably confident, that noble Lords will give the Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I point out that she has not given the customary undertaking that she would write to noble Lords whose points she has not answered verbally. Is she going to do so, particularly to my noble friend Lord Cockfield?

Baroness STEDMAN

I hoped, my Lords, that that was taken for granted, and I will certainly do so.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.