§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
§ Clause 13 [Contribution from London ratepayers to expenditure on grants under section 12]:
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 19:
Page 12, line 10, leave out ("two-thirds") and insert ("55 per cent.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I understand that to assist the House it is considered desirable to take Amendments 19 and 20 in the same debate.
Amendment No. 20: Page 12. line 21, after ("such") insert ("lower").
§ Both these amendments deal with the maximum levy of two-thirds on the local authorities towards the cost of LRT. A similar amendment to reduce the two-thirds to 55 per cent, was put forward at the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was unable to accept that amendment and he gave some figures to explain why he could not do so. I had avoided giving figures. I think I said there were few people in the Chamber who would understand what I was talking about. That makes it even more difficult to deal with it at this stage.
§ Local authorities are having all authority for the policy of the LRT taken away from them. The view 841 could be held that far from paying two-thirds it is open to question whether they should pay anything at all. I know it is argued that that would put them in a different situation from other parts of the country, but of course that does not apply because other parts of the country have not had transport taken away from local authority control.
§ It is worth setting out the present position. The GLC meets the operating deficit by revenue grants. The Government pay transport supplementary grant on the revenue support accepted in the annual transport policy and programme, and the net cost, after deducting TSG, forms part of a council's net revenue expenditure for that year. London Transport's capital investment is almost wholly funded by capital grants from the Greater London Council. The Government again pay TSG based on the amount accepted in the TPP, and the net cost is met from the council's capital fund. The revenue costs of capital are met through debt charges on the council's transport programme budget.
§ Normally the Council would be entitled to rate support in the form of block grant on the net revenue expenditure after the transport supplementary grant and on debt servicing costs of capital grants. But because of penalties the Greater London Council received no block grant in 1983–84 and I understand they will receive none in 1984–85. A few figures are important. The Minister claimed that the two-thirds levy maximum proposed in the Bill will be lower than the proportion currently paid by ratepayers in London. I am advised that for a number of reasons that is incorrect.
§ First. the Secretary of State used the estimated figure for revenue support in 1983–84, which was £235 million, and not the actual expenditure, which was £183 million. The Minister said that the GLC cannot ignore the £25 million deficit carried over from the previous year. But I must make the point that the figures are being used to justify the actual year's expenditure and revenue support in order to fix on the two-thirds maximum ratepayers' contribution in the Bill.
§ Also the council currently incurs penalties that would not apply under LRT because the Secretary of State will not penalise himself; that is obvious. If allowance is made for all these factors, then the percentage for total support actually met by ratepayers in 1983–84 was 55 per cent. I am advised that if the GLC had provided revenue support in line with the Government's plans for that year, it would have been only 41 per cent. The Secretary of State refers to the position expected in 1983–84 and it is agreed that this could be a two-thirds contribution. But we ought to take 1983–84 as a base year because 1984–85 is a transitional year and the figures are only estimates. Further, the point I made at the Committee stage is that the TSG for 1984–85 has been reduced from 70 per cent. to 55 per cent. and that resulted in a substantial reduction in TSG for the Greater London Council.
§ The Government is changing the procedure on capital investment to a self-financing basis, as I understand it. If, say, a new bus is required, the cost will fall on one year with no spread over a period, as at present, on which the GLC pays interest. I am 842 informed that the GLC officers have met department officials on a number of occasions to discuss the matter. It has been difficult for each to convince the other, but the point must be emphasised that the GLC would have to be wrong on every single point to arrive at the figure of two-thirds, and that cannot be accepted.
§ I would hope that the least the Government can do is to look carefully at 1983–84 as a base, not 1984–85 which is only estimates. They should look at 1983–84, see exactly what took place, and if they cannot accept the suggestion for 55 per cent., they will at least take that as a base year and make their decision accordingly.
§ On the other amendment, No. 20, we are still dealing with the levy on the rating authorities and the amendment refers to subsection (8). I would remind the House that this empowers the Secretary of State to substitute the maximum of two-thirds contribution to ratepayers with any other maximum contribution, as he thinks fit. I did make the point that this can only be a variation upwards, it cannot be downwards because the Bill provides a maximum of two-thirds. The purpose of subsection (8) can only be to give the Secretary of State power to increase the proportion upwards, if he should so desire—in fact, as the Bill says "as he thinks fit".
The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, will I am sure not mind my saying that he came to the Dispatch Box on three occasions, but made no reference to the principle of this amendment except in his final words, which are in column 1528:
I am afraid I have to take a similar line with respect to No. 85 as I do with Amendment No. 84. I do not think it would enhance this Bill at all. We certainly want to keep the option open for my right honourable friend, but as he has made clear in the other place, he hopes very much indeed that he will not have to use it."—
[Official Report, 17/5/84; col. 1528.]
In other words, there is no argument against the principle of the amendment which was trying to ensure that while the Minister has powers he will have power to amend the levy; he should only do it downwards; he should not have any power to limit it upwards.
§ I believe that if there is any suggestion by the Government that they want to go beyond the two-thirds, bearing in mind that the authorities are having no policy control whatsoever over the LRT, there ought to be new primary legislation for that purpose, and it should not be done by means of an order. I do hope the Minister will see that point, because I know there will be emphasis concerning the affirmative procedure. The order has to be accepted or rejected, and in this House, of course, we never reject an order which has gone through the other House. Therefore, the scrutiny by Parliament is extremely limited, and I hope the Minister will be able to take the view I have advanced on the first one.
§ At least, if he cannot accept the amendment he should agree to look at the base 1983–84 again to determine the figure which I think you will find will be below two-thirds. On the question of the lower figure, I hope they will accept the amendment here. If the Minister has the power, if the Government have the power and if the Secretary of State will have the power 843 to alter the figure, it should be downwards; it should never have the power to go beyond two-thirds.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, rising, as I do, to the deafening silence from behind me, may I say that, as I explained to your Lordships during our discussion of an identical amendment at Committee stage, the Government's starting point is that the ratepayer contribution is necessary to ensure that London's ratepayers should not be differently treated from those in the rest of the country. Ratepayers elsewhere will continue to subsidise their local transport and there is no good reason why they should not continue to do so in London.
The Government's objective has always been first to establish a system for the ratepayers' contribution which is simple in principle and easy to understand in practice; second, to set the ratepayers' contribution at a level which recognises that recently London's ratepayers have suffered because the spending policies of the GLC have resulted in there being no central Government grant.
We also wished to set a contribution which recognised the national importance of London's transport system. As I explained in our previous debate, the ratepayer contribution in 1983–84 was about 70 per cent. of the total subsidy to London Transport. This year we expect the ratepayer contribution to be even higher. It was on this basis that we set the maximum ratepayer contribution in this clause at the level of two-thirds. The noble Lord's amendment suggests that the figure should be 55 per cent. This is a figure which I believe emanates from the GLC.
We simply do not agree with the basis of the GLC's calculation. As I explained before, the GLC arrived at a figure of 55 per cent. on the basis of a revenue support figure for 1983–84 which the Government do not accept represents the facts. It also overlooked the fact that the proportion of the Government's transport supplementary grant is provided for expenditure by the boroughs and not the GLC. The Government believe that the two-thirds contribution by the ratepayer is reasonable and fair. Furthermore, the Bill prescribed that this is to be the maximum contribution by ratepayers. In fact, we hope this proportion will come down as LRT is able to bring its costs, and hence its subsidy requirements, under control. Undertakings to this effect have been given repeatedly during the passage of this Bill, both here in your Lordships' House and in the other place.
It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, pointed out, that the Bill does in principle allow this maximum currently set at the two-thirds to be increased, but this could only be done by order, subject to the affirmative resolution in Parliament. I confess that I can see no reason at this particular moment why the Government should want to do this. But circumstances change in ways that we cannot always foresee. It may be, for example, that under some different regime ratepayers in other parts of the country might one day pay a far greater proportion of the costs of their local transport than they do at present. In these circumstances, one might wish to look again at the maximum of two-thirds set in this Bill.
844 I repeat that we cannot envisage such circumstances at the moment, but we should not tie our hands needlessly in this legislation. The more inflexible we are, the more we invite the need for further legislation when circumstances change. I believe that it is better to leave the Bill as it is in this respect, knowing that if ever there were a case for the Government to bring forward proposals to increase the maximum proportion of two-thirds, then it can be done by the will of Parliament.
On the earlier amendment, I have a whole sheaf of figures in front of me which show that what I said earlier about the difficulties of the GLC calculations is the case. But it may be unduly wearying for your Lordships if I read them all out. Nevertheless I hope that I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord that the Government's proposal is the right one and I hope he will see fit not to press his amendments.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, the only thing that the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, has done is to convince me that it is not much good to try to pursue the matter further. With all the hordes outside he would not have heard a single figure that I have quoted and, undoubtedly, if he quoted them we would not hear his figures.
Also there is the fact that if the officials of the GLC and the officials of the department cannot convince each other then I have grave doubt whether the Minister and I can convince one another. However, I am hoping that there will be some common sense in both departments to ascertain agreement on figures because it is desirable that there should be an agreement—even though there may be disagreement about the principle—that this is the right basis of assessment. The GLC says "No" and advances figures and the department advances figures which the GLC contradicts and says are based on the expectations of the forthcoming year and not what happened in the previous year.
On the second amendment the Minister said that we must be ready for any eventuality, but is the situation visualised that the Government with the Secretary of State acting, as the Bill says, "as he thinks fit" can levy a figure of 70, 80 or 90 per cent. (he has the authority) without any local authority input at all, without any local authority control? If the Government were to accept representations to the board from nominations made by the authorities, most probably I should not be arguing this because there would be a certain amount of authority. But the Minister says that there should be more flexibility. I only wish the Government were a little more flexible. It is clear that we shall not see eye to eye on this aspect. I can only withdraw the amendment; but the figures I have given are on the record and so is the Minister's reply.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 21:
("After Clause 13, insert the following new clause:
§ Levies outside Greater London.
.—(1) The Secretary of State may in any year make a levy on rating authorities for rating areas outside Greater London in which there are transport services and facilities provided by London Regional Transport for the purpose of recovering a
contribution from the ratepayers of those areas towards his estimated expenditure under section 12 of this Act to the extent that such expenditure is intended to benefit those areas.
(2) The provisions of subsections (2), (3), (4), (7), (9) and (10) of section 13 shall apply to this section.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this proposes a new clause and it is a principle that has not been debated in the Committee stage. Therefore it is entirely new.
§ The Bill provides that the Secretary of State shall, by order, make a levy on the local authorities up to a contribution of two-thirds as we have already said. The rating authorities as described in the Bill are those in the present administrative area of Greater London. But as noble Lords are only too well aware, London Transport operates services in the Home Counties beyond the boundaries of Greater London. London's Underground services, as well as the bus services, operate outside the area of Greater London. The purpose of the amendment is that the Secretary of State should be empowered to impose a levy on those rating authorities outside Greater London in which London Regional Transport will provide services.
§ The principle of this cannot possibly be wrong. In proposing the amendment, I appreciate that I may not be popular in my area because I am a ratepayer in the area affected. But I can see the common sense principle of what is advocated in this amendment. I reside in the Epping Forest district of the Essex County Council. There are many London Transport bus services in the area. In addition there is the Central London line which has been the subject of controversy for a number of years. It has been difficult to persuade Essex Councy Council to contribute towards the cost under the present voluntary scheme of the Central London line and it has been threatened with closure a number of times at the point where it reaches the Greater London boundary.
§ For the current year the district council stepped in and for "once only" decided to make a grant towards the cost of the Central line. It is essential that the services should continue and it must surely be wrong that Greater London ratepayers are expected to subsidise transport services provided for the out-county residents for whom these transport services are absolutely essential. It would be an impossible situation if the Central London line to Epping was closed down, never mind the difficulty between Epping and ongar which is a subject of controversy.
§ I appreciate that this will be an added justification for the claims made both by my district council and by the Essex County Council. If they are to pay, they ought to have representation or at least be consulted about representation. But that issue was settled by the House: it was rejected. I hope that the Government will see the common sense, the fairness and the justice of what I propose even though as a ratepayer I may be penalised as a result.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I merely want to say that the necessity for this amendment underlines a point that was made by several of us at Second Reading which is that the area being considered is too small. The fact is that London Regional Transport should be part of a metropolitan transport authority which goes outside the present bounds of the Greater London Council. But in the absence of that, and the absence of 846 the Government recognising the fact that Greater London is larger than "Greater London", it seems that this is a matter of equity and I support the amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, my noble friend's arguments are impeccable and his altruism in advocating something from which he would financially suffer is admirable. I wonder whether he also realises how much this has been a bone of contention in recent years between the various administrations in the GLC: those of Sir Reg Goodwin and Sir Horace Cutler, but possibly not that of the noble Lord, Lord Plummer of St. Marylebone—I would yield to his knowledge of it—as well as the present administration.
Every single year when the GLC transport budget comes up for consideration it is pointed out by London Transport Executive that the services outside the Greater London area are being provided on a basis which, if they were provided within the Greater London area, would be supported and subsidised by the ratepayers. There is a constant battle (which is usually in the end won) with the county authorities in the Home Counties, to make some sort of contribution towards the transport facilities in their area provided by London Transport. It is won because in the end the counties recognise that this is the right thing to do. It is recognised that it is necessary to provide those services even when they are not making a profit, and it is right that the ratepayers outside Greater London should be treated on the same basis as the ratepayers inside Greater London. I hope with that practical experience, which comes from 10 years' service on the GLC, that the Government will feel that the amendment of my noble friend ought to be considered seriously.
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, I recall in our earlier debates that noble Lords opposite were strongly opposed to the idea of a levy on rating authorities in Greater London towards the cost of LRT. But they are now asking that we extend the concept to non-London ratepayers as well. Having said that, I understand why this amendment has been tabled. As the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said, it is to ensure that the ratepayers in the Home Counties will pay towards LRT services in their area just as ratepayers will do within Greater London. I hope that the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that we support that view in principle, but we see no need to amend the machinery of the ratepayers' levy to achieve that end.
Regarding the Underground, my honourable friend the Minister of State made the position clear in a Written Answer on 21st December last, replying to a question about how Underground services outside Greater London would be financed under LRT. She said that LRT would be responsible for the whole Underground network both inside and outside Greater London and that her grants to LRT from the beginning of the financial year after enactment would take this into account.
But I am bound to agree that the arrangements for financing the outer sections of the Underground have not worked happily in the past and we believe that it is sensible to treat the network as a whole for the 847 purposes of financial support. Of course, the taxpayer will be meeting at least one-third of the subsidy costs for LRT so that there will be effectively a contribution from ratepayers or, at least, those living outside Greater London. On the buses, the position remains unchanged. Bus services outside Greater London receive out-county support at present and they will continue to do so, so that no change is needed in the Bill.
Noble Lords may feel that the approach which we have taken in this Bill offers fairly rough justice; but it is not always easy to determine precisely where the benefits lie. We must remember that London ratepayers themselves will benefit from services which extend beyond the boundary, so that it would be wrong to think of these purely in local terms. We do not believe that the machinery in Clause 13 for the ratepayer levy could be applied fairly to rating authorities outside Greater London, some of whom are scarcely served by LRT. We believe that we have struck a resonable balance to ensure that, while the main burden will fall, quite rightly, on the ratepayers of Greater London, a contribution will be made by ratepayers elsewhere either directly, in the case of LRT bus services, or indirectly, through the contributions made by the taxpayer.
Your Lordships may be anxious about the possible financial effects of bringing into effect the reserve powers of Part II of the Bill. I should remind your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an assurance in Committee in another place that the percentage of the ratepayer contribution in that event would be adjusted accordingly. There is no intention to impose an additional burden of extra expenditure on the ratepayers if LRT became responsible for the allocation of subsidy to British Rail under Part II of the Bill. I hope that, in the light of these explanations and clarifications, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff. I do not know where he lives but he may have the same porblem as I have. The noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, said that the ratepayers outside will be indirectly assisted by the taxpayer. The ratepayers in Greater London will have the problems of the taxpayers of helping to pay for the one-third as well as of the ratepayers in helping to pay for the two-thirds; so they are being charged both ways. I always find that when I try to move anything, the talk is about rough justice. But when we talk about rough justice, we find that that never operates from the Government side. It is rough justice. We should not, in a Bill of this kind, have rough justice. There ought to be principle, equality, commercialism and fairness about the whole principle.
There is a problem, too, as I know to my cost, living where I do; that once you get over the Greater London boundary the tendency is for the fares to be higher. I quoted previously what is happening to the pensioners. One must remember that the pensioners' area covers only inside the Greater London area. I am fortunate in that I have a British Rail pensioners' card 848 which allows me to travel at child's fare on the London Underground. People who do not have that card and who decide to have a trip out on the London Underground going to Essex, will find that their charges are fairly heavy. It is very, very rough justice.
While I understand that the Government cannot accept my amendment as it is, I hope that they will keep this matter in mind. The trouble is that, once we pass the Bill, it will require other legislation. I hope that there may be a possibility of looking at this before Third Reading, because we should not rely on rough justice; we ought to rely on what is fair to the people outside London and fair to the people inside London—which is not the case at the moment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 15 [Financial duty
§ 8.45 p.m.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 15, line 3, leave out from ("account,") to end of subsection (7) and insert ("any such surplus shall be taken to a reserve to be applied in the following year").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I started to refer to Amendment No. 23 in moving Amendment No. 10; but they are logically separate and it is necessary to make the argument for Amendment No. 23 separately. The House will recall that Amendment No. 10 would have provided (if it had been persisted with and agreed) that a proper price was paid for any property transferred under the powers of Clause 7. Amendment No. 23 does something slightly different. It seeks to ensure that any receipts, whatever they may be (whether they are the kind of proper payment that I should have thought ought to be made or possibly a lesser payment which the Government would be prepared to accept) are for the benefit of London Regional Transport itself and restricted to its capital expenditure. It is important, in view of the argument that has taken place on the possibility of windfall profits and of their being used improperly to reduce revenue expenditure for a short time. to insist that it is only a capital reserve which is being proposed in the amendment and that there is no way in which the money could be used for revenue expenditure in the short term.
§ The amendment is therefore much more restrictive than anything which was moved in Committee. But it does not, I believe, fall foul of the arguments used by the Government at the Committee stage amendment. I do not believe that it has the same technical defect as was pointed out by the Government at that stage. I hope that the Government will feel that this is something in accordance with the long-term interests as well as the shot-term interests of London Regional Transport: that capital receipts should be ploughed back into the business over such a period of time as may be appropriate; that this is in accordance with good business principles as applied whether in the private sector or the public sector; and that it is appropriate to signify some measure of assent at least with the objectives of the amendment in order that we may perhaps find agreement about it by the next stage of the Bill.849
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, although I understand the noble Lord's point in moving this amendment, I am afraid that the amendment is founded on a misconception. The assumption is that there will be gross charges to the capital account which will be offset by the proceeds of any disposal of assets to contractors. I have to remind your Lordships that LRT themselves will not have a conventional capital structure. There will be no shares in LRT, they will not have any commencing capital debt which generates an interest charge and their only capital costs will arise where they borrow for a profitable investment. But in such circumstances the investment should pay for itself and should not benefit from a cross-subsidy from the sales of other assets. Therefore, there are no gross charges to capital account to be offset. Indeed, there will be no capital account in the usual commercial sense of the term. I should also like to return to the point which I made when we discussed Amendment No. 10 on Clause 3. We do not envisage that they will normally wish to sell assets to private operators in connection with Clause 3(2) agreements.
We just do not share the opposite forecast of a rush to dispose of LRT's assets but if LRT do sell or lease any assets (whether to contractors or to anyone else) the proceeds will be available to fund further investments, provided of course that there is further and justifiable investment needed. This amendment would prevent that. It would require the proceeds of asset sales or leases or rents to be used to reduce these non-existent gross charges to the capital account. I hope therefore that, in the light of the difficulties I have described, the noble Lord will not wish to proceed with his amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I acknowledge immediately that the Minister has identified a defect in the drafting of my amendment. I accept that I have misinterpreted the capital structure of London Regional Transport and that the use of the phrase "gross charges" is inappropriate for the purposes of the amendment. Therefore I shall have no alternative in due course but to withdraw the amendment.
However, in doing so, I must say that I think the Minister is significantly over-confident if he thinks there is likely to be no rush to dispose of assets. The experience of other nationalised industries—that is what London Regional Transport will in effect become—and the experience in particular of British Rail is that they do seek very much to dispose of capital assets and they go to the extent even of arousing considerable controversy, for example, among the users of Marylebone Station. In that case, British Rail seek to dispose of a capital asset such as Marylebone Station even at the expense of the interests of the commuters using those lines. I am not saying that that argument applies entirely to London Regional Transport, because I appreciate that the Clause 3 provision for the transfer of property is designed for agreements about the continued services to be provided by London Transport in conjunction with other companies or persons. I may misunderstand some things but I think I understand that reasonably well.
I do think that the Minister is being somewhat sanguine in his assumption that there will not be a 850 temptation to dispose of capital assets. But, in view of the undoubted defects which the Minister has kindly pointed out, I do not think I have any alternative but to withdraw the amendment in its present form.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 16 [Control by Secretary of State of objectives.]:
§ [Amendment No. 24 not moved.]
§ Clause 23 [Accounts.]:
Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 20, line 31, at end insert ("subject to their accounts being no less informative than they would be if the Companies Acts applied to London Regional Transport or than in the former accounts of the Executive.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 25, I would seek also to speak to Amendments Nos. 26 and 27.
Amendment No. 26: Page 20, line 35, at end insert—>
("( ) Without prejudice to the provisions of subsections (1) to (4) above, the appointed auditor or auditors appointed under subsection (5) above shall each year conduct an extended audit of London Regional Transport dealing with such matters as the Secretary of State shall from time to time determine but including—
Amendment No. 27: Page 21, line 19, at end insert—
("(9) At each audit by an auditor under this Part of this Act any persons interested may inspect the accounts to be audited and all books, deeds contracts, bills, vouchers and receipts relating to them and make copies of all or any part of the accounts and those other documents subject only to protecting the commercial interests of London Regional Transport.
(10) At the request of a local government elector in Greater London, the auditor shall give the elector, or any representative of his, an opportunity to question the auditor about the accounts.
(11) Subject to subsection (12) below, any local government elector in the Greater London area, or any representative of his, may attend before the auditor and make objections on any matter relating to the activities of London Regional Transport which come within the auditors' remit to report.
(12) No objection may be made under subsection (11) above by or on behalf of a local government elector unless the auditor has previously received written notice of the proposed objection and of the grounds on which it is to be made.")
§ Amendment No. 27 is really the most important of the three amendments. The only reason for reinstating in the Marshalled List for Report Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 in their original form from Committee is because they lead up to, and provide for, Amendment No. 27. I still think that Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 are correct, and I think in particular that the detailed setting out of the requirements for an annual report by the auditors, which is in Amendment No. 26, is a very useful and necessary safeguard not only for London Regional Transport itself but for the Government and the general public. I confess that I still do not 851 understand the arguments that were used in Committee against the inclusion in the statute of provisions which the Government themselves agreed were not irrelevant or unsuitable conditions. The only disagreement was that it was considered not appropriate for them to be included in the Bill.
§ I am bound to say that the arguments used by the Government against what was then Amendment No. 97 and is now Amendment No. 27 struck me as quite peculiarly weak. Here we have a business enterprise which it is commonly recognised will not make real profits. It may have an excess of income over expenditure after grant in a given year, but it will be a substantial draw on the resources of the taxpayer and, above all, on the ratepayers of Greater London.
§ In all other circumstances where it is envisaged right from the outset that an enterprise will not make profits and will draw on the taxpayer and the ratepayer—I talk in particular of local government services because they, after all, have income and expenditure but have inevitably an excess of expenditure over income—it has been universally agreed that there should be a proper audit procedure and that that audit procedure should be open to the public. Indeed, the objections to the office of district auditor have come more often from my side of the political spectrum than from that of the Government. It has been the Government who have defended the position of the district auditor: the right of the district auditor to ask detailed questions about local authority expenditure, and the right of individual ratepayers to raise matters with the district auditor and to have a detailed answer and access through the district auditor to the books of the local authority. If that is right for one part of public sector activity which is paid for in part by the ratepayer and by the taxpayer, why should it not be right for London Regional Transport?
§ There is here no possibility of the efficiency of London Regional Transport being diminished. There is no threat to the confidence which the Government say they wish to place in the business acumen of the board of London Regional Transport; it will presumabley still do its business best to run an effective undertaking. But, surely, under these circumstances the people who are paying for it—the taxpayers and the ratepayers of Greater London—have the right to inspect the books through the auditor. It must be so that the auditor sees that the books are available and that persons interested may inspect the accounts to be audited and may question the auditor about the accounts, as is provided for in subsection (10) of the proposed amendment.
§ This amendment has not been as adequately argued as it should have been. I do not believe that the Committee stage discussion of it was as good as it should have been, partly because I myself, in moving the amendment en bloc with other amendments, did not appreciate its full significance. I take responsibility for that myself, but I believe that on this particular point the House deserves a better answer than it received at Committee stage. I believe that the principle of open access to audit ought to be more fully recognised, and I beg to move.852
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, we discussed identical amendments at Committee stage. Before I turn to the substance of the amendments, it may be helpful if I repeat briefly the description which I gave of the arrangements for auditing LRT's accounts in the future. The basic system is set out in the early part of this clause. LRT's auditors will undertake annually an audit of LRT's books. This audit will follow standard and up-to-date accounting practice. The auditors will examine samples of LRT's records, look at the accuracy of their documents and investigate LRT's cost and cash control system, to see how far they secure value for money. We, like any commercial sponsors, place great weight on these procedures, and I should like to emphasise them to your Lordships. Modern accountancy is much more than just a matter of adding up figures. These days, it goes a long way to embrace the type of special audit that the GLC have just commissioned.
Noble Lords opposite have said how essential it is to make sure that LRT publish as much information as possible; and that this would enable Parliament to carry out as effective a scrutiny of LRT as the GLC did of London Transport. We on the Government side have a lot of sympathy with that point of view. It is in the Government's own interests, since they must account to Parliament for LRT's grant, to see that they are kept fully in the picture about LRT's management practices. But we do not wish to be tied to the detailed terms of the special efficiency audit set out in these amendments. While we agree with the idea of greater information being published, we want to reserve the right to choose to ask the auditors to look at different issues from those chosen by the GLC, to employ different auditors and. if necessary, to set a different pattern for audit examinations if the annual cycle required by the GLC means wasteful re-examination of issues such as investment appraisal techniques, which will probably not alter at all from, one year to another.
Generally, there should be no reduction in the amount of information available, but what is published may well be different from what is available now. I can assure your Lordships, however, that it will certainly be relevant to their task of watching over LRT and calling it to account for its public expenditure.
I agree with noble Lords opposite that we are not very far apart over the substance here. As I explained at the Committee stage, it is a question of how we achieve our aims. Noble Lords have presssed for the continuation of the present right of challenge that ratepayers can exercise in relation to the LTE's accounts. That has been urged in the name of accountability, but it is important to be clear that in future LRT will be accountable, through the Secretary of State, to Parliament. It will no longer have anything to do with local government finance. The machinery of accountability must therefore reflect parliamentary standards, and indeed there will be many new opportunities for investigating LRT's finances. For example, there will be an annual debate on the ratepayer levy order. The National Audit Office will be able to investigate the Secretary of State's payment of grant to the LRT, and the Monopolies and Mergers 853 Commission will continue to be able to look at LRT's efficiency. Obviously, there will be the full range of normal parliamentary occasions, such as Questions, debates and Statements. In fact the machinery for ensuring accountability will be more comprehensive than it is now. But LRT cannot serve two masters, and the present arrangements for ratepayer challenge cannot therefore be part of the new system. I hope, in the light of these considerations, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am not constitutionally very much in favour of moving the same amendments on Report as I moved in Committee and I have, on the whole, tried to avoid it. But one does so in the hope that the Government, in the light of a debate in Committee, might move some small way towards a closer identity of view with those of us who move amendments: that is what we are here to do.
I have to say that the degree to which the Government have moved towards the intention behind these amendments, despite the Minister's protestations of almost identity of view, is very small indeed—so small as to be virtually unnoticeable. I am disappointed by the Minister's reply. I think he misunderstood the amendment and I do not think he clearly saw that the amendment says that the extended audit should deal withsuch matters as the Secretary of State shall from time to time determine".I do not think that his point about wishing to have the freedom to introduce new matters into the extended audit would have been made if he had fully appreciated that aspect of the wording. I accept that the wording does include the possibility of having different auditors for an extended audit, but that is really a very minor point and could have been put right if the Government had really had a greater identity of view.
Above all, I do not think that the Minister in his reply has made any significant move towards the principle, which is proposed in the amendment, of having a wider degree of inspection of the books. I certainly do not think that the kind of parliamentary scrutiny which he proposes is going to be anything like as effective as the scrutiny by the ratepayers and the taxpayers who do indeed exercise that scrutiny now over London Transport, as ratepayers do over local government expenditure, where necessary through the district auditor. As I said, these amendments were intended to see whether we could make any progress. Clearly, the degree to which we have made progress is extremely limited and I have no option in the circumstances but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved
§ 9.5 p.m.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 28:
Page 24, line 6, at end insert—
("(2A) Without prejudice to section 46 of this Act and subject to subsection (2B) below, a transfer scheme may provide that any
functions of the transferor under any statutory provision shall be transferred with the property, rights and liabilities affected by the scheme, if and so far as that statutory provision—
(2B) Subsection (2A) above does not apply to any function of London Regional Transport, or of London Regional Transport or any subsidiary of theirs, under any provision of this Act or any other statutory provision specifically amended by any provision of this Act.
(2C) A transfer scheme may define any functions of the transferor to be transferred by the scheme in accordance with subsection (2A) above—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, may I first apologise to your Lordships because my explanation is rather long; but your Lordships will note that the amendment itself is rather long. This is a technical amendment and it applies to the transfer schemes under which property can be transferred from London Regional Transport to any subsidiary or from one subsidiary to another. It would make it possible to transfer with property certain very limited powers and duties which LRT have under statute. The powers and the duties which can be transferred are those which relate to the part of the transferror's undertaking or to property transferred or which authorise the carrying out of works designed to be used in connection with the part of the undertaking transferred. The types of statutory powers and duties which can be transferred are limited by the important qualification contained in subsection (2)(b), and I shall return to that in a moment.
§ The reason for the amendment is to put beyond doubt that any subsidiary of LRT can take over any necessary statutory powers and duties which LRT have. This is particularly important in the case of the Underground. I believe it is true to say that the power has been obtained in the past under a local Act when every part of the Underground was built. So there are in fact a very large number of local Acts and they range, for example, from the Metropolitan Railway Act of 1873 to the London Docklands Railway Act of 1984.
§ These Acts between them have authorised the contruction and working of the Underground, and they form the statutory basis on which it is now operated. This statutory basis may still be important in that it gives protection from legal actions for nuisance, which might otherwise be brought merely because the railways run.
§ It may also be important in that the local Acts, under which the Underground was constructed, imposed on the railway company certain obligations, some of which—for example, the obligation to fence railways—may still be important today. The second half of the amendment would enable a subsidiary—in practice, the Underground subsidiary—to take over 855 any works powers which have been taken by LRT under any local Act and to complete the works themselves. I hope your Lordships will readily agree that the amendment is sensible. If property is transferred from LRT to any subsidiary, it makes sense for the subsidiary to have the statutory powers and duties which go with the property.
§ I think that this is the right point to draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (2B). This specifies that functions of LRT or of LRT and any of their subsidiaries under the Bill itself, or any statutory provision specifically amended by the Bill, cannot be transferred under a scheme. As an important example, the general duty of LRT under Clause 2 of the Bill cannot be transferred.
§ Your Lordships will see that Schedules 4 and 6 contain a very large number of Acts which have been specifically amended so as to refer either to London Regional Transport alone or to London Regional Transport and any subsidiary of theirs. None of the powers and duties conferred by these Acts can be transferred by a scheme. In fact, it will almost certainly only be powers and duties under local Acts which can be transferred.
§ This is a detailed amendment and I felt that it was important to describe the details as accurately as I could. If I may suggest it to your Lordships, it is a sensible tidying-up of the powers which will govern the structural relationship between LRT and their subsidiaries. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, one can only express gratitude to the noble Lord for his lucid explanation of what is undoubtedly a complicated business. But if the necessity for such an amendment is so obvious now—and I can see that it must be—it makes one wonder whether the Government were as far-sighted, as has been claimed earlier in this debate, in their intention to have London Regional Transport purely as a holding company, with all the effective administration being carried out by the subsidiaries: in particular, the bus and Underground subsidiaries. Surely, if that had really been the intention from the outset, somebody in Government would have thought about the implications for the various Acts under which the Underground system, in particular, was constructed.
But that does not, of course, affect the necessity for the amendment. It is simply a lack of judgment by the Government to leave it to this very late stage to produce it. I only express a slight regret, in that my rapid perusal of Schedules 4 and 6 did not reveal any reference to my favourite among these Acts—the Military Tramways Act 1887. I am sure that some excuse could have been found to introduce it into the amendment.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 28 [Provision of extra transport services and facilities]:
§ 9.12 p.m.
Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 29:
Page 24, line 43, at end insert ("but this power shall not be exercised until consideration has been given to any representations received from the Passengers' Committee.'').
The noble Lord said: My Lords. I am slightly ambivalent as to whether this amendment should be applied to subsections (1) or (2), but if the Government are in agreement perhaps we can consider at a later stage precisely where it should go. On balance, I think that it should be where I put it. Under Clause 28, agreements can be made between local authorities and London Regional Transport for the provision and financing of services and facilities,
which would not be available apart from any such agreement".
§ When we look at Clause 40, which is the clause dealing with the passengers' committee, we see that these special services are not covered by that clause, since it refers only to the services and facilities provided either by London Regional Transport or any subsidiary, or by any other person in pursuance of an agreement under Section 3(2) or by the Railways Board or their subsidiary. But it does not cover the special cases of agreements with local authorities under Clause 28. Therefore, there is no obligation on local authorities to consider the views of the passengers' committee at any stage.
There has been some correspondence between the current London Passenger Transport Committee and the London Borough of Hillingdon, on a specific instance of a service where the London Passenger Transport Committee sought to make representations. They were given a very firm brush-off and were told by the chairman of the works committee:
We have no other purpose than to satisfy the user's need within the obvious budgetary constraints which exist. I would hope that we would be responsive to suggestions for improvements to the service but do not consider that meetings could take place within the statutory framework of your constitution".
This was subsequently taken up with the honourable lady the Minister of State. In a letter to the secretary of the London Transport Passengers' Committee, she said she hoped that, however much it might be argued that there is less need for their involvement in the service financed by local authorities, authorities would be receptive to constructive suggestions made in the spirit which accepts that it is for the authority to decide how to spend its money.
§ It seems to me that that is not good enough and that local authority agreements operating under Clause 28 should be brought within the remit of the passengers' committee. However, rather than put it into Clause 40, it seems to me to be appropriate to put it into Clause 28. It is with that in mind that I beg to move the amendment.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for his explanation of the amendment. He referred in particular to the London Transport Passengers' Committee having been in correspendence with my honourable friend the Minister of State on the matter in connection with the discussions they were seeking on the No. 128 bus route, which is supported by the London Borough of Hillingdon.
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, referred to my honourable friend's response. I hope he does not think that that response was any kind of a brush-off. Indeed, I cannot think that he would. My honourable friend made quite clear the Government's position. There is no existing statutory requirement for such discussions, 857 nor does the LRT Bill include such a provision. It is important to recognise that entering into agreements with LRT under Clause 28 would mirror the arrangements under which the service now in question is being financed by Hillingdon. However, under Clause 28 local authorities will be providing services which would not be available, apart from any such agreement.
In deciding to make resources available to buy in the extra services from London Regional Transport, a local authority will be making a judgment about the special needs of travellers in its area for which it is clearly answerable. We do not believe it would be appropriate to place local authorities under a new obligation to consult the consumer body on services which they themselves have elected to provide and which do not form part of LRT's general provision.
It is also true that any service provided by LRT, their subsidiaries or other operators under Clause 3(2) agreements, however financed, will fall to be considered by the passengers' committee under Clause 40. This can then be the subject of recommendations to LRT, either at the committee's discretion or following representations. There is no reason why the committee should not make their views known at the same time to a local authority, where that is appropriate. So it would be wrong to suggest that the passengers' committee will be unable to offer their views on such matters.
In addition, under subsection (9) of Clause 40, London Regional Transport will be obliged to let the committee know about the decisions they have reached on any representations made to them. As I have already said, however, the passengers' committee must recognise that under Clause 28 LRT will be providing extra services at the request of the local authority and in order to meet a specific request from them. These services will not be part of LRT's normal services provided in fulfilment of their general duty under Clause 2. Clearly the sphere of influence of the passengers' committee must be rather different in those circumstances. We do not believe that they should be given a special function in relation to Clause 28, as the amendment suggests. I apologise to all noble Lords for that rather lengthy response which I hope will enable the noble Lord not to pursue his amendment.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I accept what he said about it being a different case from the Clause 40 case. That is why I sought to move the amendment in relation to Clause 28 specifically. The Minister might like to think at some later moment about what this amendment actually says—that the power,
shall not be exercised until consideration has been given to any representations received".The Hillingdon case is perhaps a slight distraction—I merely raised it to show the tone of the relationship at the moment. But it seems to me that there are matters concerning the interface between the special cases of local authority services under Clause 28 and the generality of London Transport services, where the Passengers' Committee might wish to make a comment in the initial stages. The amendment only suggests that the powers to make the agreement should 858 not be exercised until such considerations, if any, have been given. If such representations have not been received, then the question does not arise.
I was interested by the point which the noble Lord made regarding Clause 40(9), which does go some way to offering a reassurance. I should like to consider what the noble Lord has said, and I am most grateful for his full answer. I hope that the Government will look at what could be a point of friction between the passengers' committee, London Regional Transport and the local authorities in future and will themselves consider whether the clause should not go a little deeper than has been suggested. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 30 not moved.]
§ Clause 29 [Annual business plans]:
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 31:
Page 25, line 8, leave out from ("proposals") to end of line 16 and insert ("for the next three years (hereinafter referred to in this section as "the relevant period") with respect to:—
(2) The proposals shall be such as to enable the Executive to discharge their duty under section 2 above in the relevant period; and the plan shall contain particulars of the Executive's financial position and their financial prospects for that period together with an estimate of what would be their annual revenue and expenditure if the proposals were implemented.")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I believe it might be convenient if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 32 and 33.
Amendment No. 32: Page 25, line 19, leave out from ("plan") to end of subsection (3).
Amendment No. 33: Page 25, line 20, at end insert—
("(4) The plan shall be accompanied by estimates of—
(5) Where the Secretary of State gives London Regional Transport any guidance under subsection (3) above he shall cause any such advice to be published in such a manner as appears to him to be appropriate for informing persons appearing to him to be likely to be concerned.
(6) London Regional Transport shall, in preparation of a plan under section 29(1) above, consult with the local authorities concerned and with persons or bodies appearing to them to be representative of industrial and commercial ratepayers in Greater London on the contents of that plan.
(7) For the purposes of subsection (6) above, the local authorities concerned are—
§ These amendments all relate to Clause 29, which requires LRT to prepare an annual business plan. Noble Lords will recall that this clause was inserted on 859 Report in another place because it was appreciated that the strategy statement was not a regular business plan. At Committee stage, I brought forward four related amendments, but in the light of consideration they were withdrawn. Your Lordships are asked to consider the limited amendments now before you as Amendments Nos. 31, 32, and 33.
The main criticism of this whole clause as drafted is its vagueness as to the contents of the annual business plan. Reference to the clause will show what I mean. It refers to
a plan containing their proposals with respect to the conduct of their undertaking",
and to the fact that,
the plan shall give such information relevant to their proposals, and deal with such other matters, as London Regional Transport consider appropriate".
It states also:
In preparing the plan London Regional Transport shall have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State".
Amendment No. 31 sets out that the proposals should cover a period of the next three years. I would remind your Lordships that that was exactly the period determined in the Transport Act 1983—which, I will also remind your Lordships, we spent a considerable number of hours in debating that it should cover a period of three years. Paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the amendment list the subjects which must be dealt with in such a plan. These are highly desirable subjects for consideration and amplify the position and what is required far more than do the limited and vague provisions of Clause 29.
Amendment No. 33 seeks to provide that the plan shall be accompanied by estimates of:
The actual words of Amendment No. 33 are, word for word, those set out in the 1983 Act for the annual plan, which was considered so essential. Therefore, I hope the Minister will accept that those requirements should be included in the annual business plan for LRT.
Another important point is that it is proposed in subsections (6) and (7) of these amendments that in preparation of a plan LRT shall consult,
the local authorities concerned and the bodies representative of industrial and commercial ratepayers".
In Committee the main objection of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, to that point was that it would be implanting provisions of the 1983 Act where really they do not work in the context of a nationalised industry. What I hope the Government will appreciate (but they do not seem to from that comment) is that we are not dealing with a normal nationalised industry. We are dealing with a nationalised industry in which the Government will levy up to two-thirds on the ratepayers without their authorities having any consideration whatever in the policy of LRT. That is why it is so essential that in the annual business plan the local authorities and commercial and industrial representative bodies should be brought into consultation.
§ It will be seen that in the light of consideration in Committee we have considerably changed the scope, size and length of the amendments. I hope this is taken by the Government as being helpful and that they will at least accept the general principle of the points advanced in these amendments. I beg to move.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords. I am obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for his explanation of this series of amendments and I am also grateful to him for taking them together. I explained at some length in Committee why we do not think it appropriate to superimpose on London Regional Transport the planning process laid down in the Transport Act 1983. The noble Lord was good enough to acknowledge that. From what he said I do not think it is necessary to go over that ground again except perhaps to remind your Lordships that the 1983 Act dealt with very different circumstances in which the Secretary of State was obliged to assess the subsidy needs of London Transport alongside those of the passenger transport executives. It was clearly necessary in those circumstances to provide for a rather more elaborate system to ensure that they could be examined on a common basis.
I have noted—and again I am grateful—that the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments have shortened them by removing in particular the provisions dealing with the Secretary of State's function of approving the plan and determining the level of grant. Of course, LRT will have to submit corporate plans to the Secretary of State just as the other nationalised industries do. He will determine their grant largely on the basis of that plan: but it is not customary for such plans to be published or available publicly. Whichever way the noble Lord cares to describe LRT—as a nationalised industry or as a different or particular nationalised industry—that fact still applies.
There are three main aspects which are the focus of the amendments. The first, in Amendment No. 31, requires the annual plan to cover a three-year period. It introduces a specific list of matters which shall be contained. I said in Committee—and I can only repeat it—that we can see no merit at all in fixing a period to be covered by the plan. I would imagine the plan will normally concentrate on the year ahead, but it certainly is intended that LRT shall present its proposals. Subsection (2) provides for that in the context of their past and present performance and that of their subsidiaries. Equally, I have no doubt that there will be aspects on which LRT may wish to look much further ahead—in some cases more than three years.
I simply do not believe that it would be helpful to introduce a rigid period into the Bill: nor indeed—and we have talked before on related matters—of specifying those matters which should be referred to in the report, because it implies almost automatically the exclusion of others. We certainly want the annual plan to include as much as is relevant to the business.
Both Amendments Nos. 31 and 33 would prescribe a good deal of detail. As I have suggested, I think that it is probably a matter of judgment. If one spells various details out at length, one implies the absence of others. I think that LRT can be relied upon to interpret 861 the spirit of Clause 29 and produce the plan which, as we have said all along, will provide a regular up-dating on the progress that it is making towards its long-term objectives. I am sure that your Lordships will recall that the Secretary of State has powers to give guidance on the form and content of the plan, and indeed the period to be covered, if that is needed. I do not believe that that is necessary in this case.
Lastly, we come to the question of consultation. I made it clear when we discussed this last time that we have sought to provide in the Bill for consultation with the local authorities where we think it is appropriate. I am afraid that I must refer again to Clause 7 on the strategy statement and Clause 43 on the variation of bus services. Consultation with local authorities on LRT's annual plans would be very difficult to fit in in the very tight timetable which LRT will have for its annual planning processes. I recall that I spelt that out the last time that we debated the matter. We have to strike a balance between the need for LRT to plan and manage the business as it thinks best, and, on the other hand, the requirements for consultation. We believe that the Bill provides the right balance. We do not believe that it would be right to add a requirement for consultation in Clause 29.
That is a very full explanation. The way we felt when we last discussed the matter has not changed materially. I hope that it has helped the noble Lord to understand the reasons why I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I agree that the Government have not changed the reasoning that they put forward at Committee stage. We on this side of the House are the ones who listened to the reasoning and greatly changed the scope of the amendments we submitted.
The noble Lord referred to the supply of information. I wonder whether our amendment has been read carefully. It states that:the Secretary of State…shall cause any such advice to be published in such a manner as appears to him to be appropriate for informing persons appearing to him to be likely to be concerned".Therefore, he will decide for whom he is publishing the information. It is not suggested that it should be published and issued to all and sundry. The power is with him. It would appear that the Government have not appreciated that point in subsection (5) in the amendment.
The noble Lord has suggested that there is no merit in fixing a period for the plan. I can only repeat what I said last time, and I think that other noble Lords supported this view. It was good enough for London Transport and the metropolitan county areas to have a period of three years laid down for their plans. That was insisted on and debated in the House. The Ministers were emphatic, and we spent time on it. LRT covers the same area as London Transport, yet it is now not considered helpful to bring in a rigid period. It appears that the Government want to be flexible whenever they feel like it and that we wasted our time in debating the 1983 Act in that way.
It is suggested that there should be no provision for consultation. This is an annual business plan and it 862 will cover the points which I read out in the two subsections of Clause 29.
One would have thought that it would be helpful for them to consult these bodies. Some of the bodies are paying two-thirds of the cost. They would like to have some idea of what proposals are going into the annual business plan which the noble Lord says could cover a period even beyond three years. I do not accept that a great business institution could not find it possible to fit into a timetable consultation of this kind. I just cannot accept it. Where there is a will, it could be done. We have endeavoured to be flexible, but the Government have not moved. I can only beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 not moved.]
§ Clause 30 [Information and publicity with respect to plans as to services and fares]:
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 34:
Page 25, line 27, after ("Act") insert (", and the general structure of routes of those services").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am more than delighted to come to the Dispatch Box particularly at this time of the evening to demonstrate to noble Lords opposite that they have not been wasting their time in debate, and that indeed we are flexible. This amendment meets an undertaking I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, when we discussed the clause in Committee. The amendment would add to the matters about which LRT must provide information to local authorities and the London Regional Passengers' Committee each year.
§ At present, the requirement applies to LRT's current plans for the general level and structure of fares and charges. The effect of the amendment is that LRT will be required to give information on the general structure of routes as well as on the general level of services. I should make clear that the amendment applies to routes to be provided for London Regional Transport by private operators as well as those to be provided by their own subsidiaries.
§ I am more than grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for pointing out this gap in the Bill. The amendment fills the gap. I am sure that the local authorities and the passengers' committee will find the clause all the more helpful as a result of his debating and arguing powers, which have led to the amendment that I move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 34 [Annual report]:
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 35:
Page 28, line 39, at end insert—
("( ) include a statement of any action taken during that year by London Regional Transport and any subsidiaries of theirs for the purpose of co-ordinating the public passenger transport services provided by, or by any subsidiary of, the Railways Board and those provided by London Regional Transport, any subsidiary of London Regional Transport, or any other person under an agreement entered into by London Regional Transport by virtue of section 3(2) of this Act;").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall not preface my remarks quite as lengthily on this amendment, but again it meets an undertaking that I gave to my noble friend Lord Teviot at Committee stage. I am pleased to move it. Noble Lords on all sides have agreed with the importance that the Government attach to cooperation and co-ordination between LRT and British Rail. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will, as I have said before, be establishing liaison arrangements between them as soon as LRT are operational.
§ Once the institutional barriers to full co-operation and co-ordination are removed, LRT and British Rail are under the same policy and financial direction and we shall be able to make progress towards service and fares co-ordination. We have, as I think I have made clear, a strong preference to rely mainly on non-statutory efforts, at least to start with. I am sure that there will be a great commitment on all sides to make the most of the new opportunities.
§ The Bill contains a small number of vital general provisions to underpin the liaison arrangements. The main one is contained in Clause 2(3) which refers to co-operation and co-ordination. Our amendment relates directly back to that key subsection. I mentioned in Committee that an amendment is not strictly necessary because LRT would in any case be required by the more general wording in Clause 34(1) to report on their co-operation and co-ordination with British Rail. However, I think that the whole Committee was impressed with the welcome that my noble friend's amendment received at that stage from noble Lords opposite, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Underhill and Lord Tordoff. It is right therefore that we should underline the importance that we attach to this duty by referring to it specifically in Clause 34, which this amendment does. I beg to move.
§ Lord Teviot
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for moving this amendment. I thought that the amendment I produced at Committee stage was very good, but his is much superior because it takes in not only British Rail but all the other people, including the National Bus Company, who might come into this situation. The amendment is particularly important to give teeth to the Bill. One could look at it as a sort of individual in the annual report, but it proves accountability. I am very pleased that my noble friend thought fit to amend this part of the Bill and I am quite sure the amendment will be useful. I am very grateful and I should like to thank my noble friend.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 36 not moved.]
§ Clause 40 [The London Regional Passengers' Committee]:
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 37:
Page 34, line 25, at end insert—
(d) by any other person operating a London Bus service as defined by section 43(6) of this Act under a road service licence granted under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, as amended by section 44 of this Act.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we are now dealing with Clause 40, which deals with the establishment of the passengers' committee. Subsection (4) of this clause details the services and facilities which it is the duty of the committee to consider and on which it will make representations. These are given as any representations made by LRT or any of its subsidiaries, other persons with whom LRT have made agreements, and the Railways Board or any of its subsidiaries.
§ Other operators providing a bus service will be neither a subsidiary of LRT nor operating under agreement with LRT. These are the operators to whom the traffic commissioners may have granted road service licences. The amendment seeks to add these services to those which the passengers' committee is empowered to consider under the Bill.
§ When a similar amendment was before a Committee of your Lordships' House the noble Earl, Lord Avon, said that the consumer council system was not intended to apply to private sector operators who supplied services independently of LRT. He said it would be open to the passengers' committee to make objections or other representations to the traffic commissioners about any application for a road service licence to operate in competition with LRT's bus services. The noble Earl said he would look into the detailed arguments and would let me have a note on the matter. In view of that kind offer I withdrew the amendment.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for the very detailed letter he sent subsequently, but I must say that in no way does this justify the refusal to accept that particular amendment, which is now resubmitted this evening. If I may, I should like to quote one part of the noble Earl's letter. It said:
If operators, whether large or small, are willing to take the risks involved in running bus services in competition with those of LRT they will be subject to the disciplines of market forces. They will not, like LRT, be providing services in fulfilment of a statutory duty but rather in response to what they believe the public want and are willing to pay for. To the extent that public transport services are operating in a fully competitive market the public have a genuine choice and there is no need to provide for user representation through a consumer body.
§ That assumes, and the debate assumed, that independent operators would be private sector operators and therefore not properly within the realm of consideration by a consumer council. But experience is that this is not the case. Half the commuter coach services are provided by National Bus Company subsidiaries and there is no reason why a similar trend should not emerge within London.
§ Why should not the passengers' committee consider complaints about all the transport services being provided in the area? It is not a question of these independent operators being subject to the discipline of market forces. Are the services adequate? Are they failing to provide a satisfactory service in a particular area? These are matters at which the passengers' committee should be entitled to look. They will not be in a position to look into representations about London's public transport service if these operators are to be excluded.
§ In no way am I asking that the passengers' committee should become involved in what some may 865 feel are political issues. The committee must, however, be empowered to give consideration to all services by whoever they may be provided, and not exclude one section which, if certain provisions of the Bill are carried into effect, could be an increasing section. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, we did of course discuss an amendment on these lines at the Committee stage, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has said. I think that the noble Lord managed to read out the letter which I sent to him, which I thought was extraordinarily dry, in a manner which I found more interesting.
It will certainly be open to the passengers' committee to make objections or recommendations to the Traffic Commissioners on any application by a private operator for a road service licence to operate in competition with LRT, in accordance with Clause 43 (not with Clause 42 as, I think, the amendment has it). At a more general level, the passengers' committee will be entirely free to comment on the effect of competing services on LRT's own operations. They can do so in the annual report which they will make to the Secretary of State. Or they can comment on such matters if they arise in connection with more specific matters being considered by them.
But we do not believe that the passengers' committee should be given a statutory remit to examine and make recommendations on bus services provided independently of LRT's own operations. The consumer council system is designed to provide a consumer voice in relation to services provided by public sector industries, often in something of a monopoly position. In most cases LRT's passengers will not have a genuine choice. And it is right in those circumstances for them to be able to air their grievances and make representations to the passengers' committee. We do not believe that it is appropriate to carry this over to the private sector, where the full force of the commercial market operates. I hope that the noble Lord took my point that they can make recommendations on bus services provided independently, if they so wish.
Finally, we must not forget that the role of the passengers' committee is essentially to represent the views of users of LRT's services. I am sure we should be wrong to encourage them to stray beyond this to the point where they begin to offer judgments to the Secretary of State on what are basically political matters. I believe that they do have enough freedom. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will agree that they have enough freedom to comment where they so wish.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I am very disappointed in the noble Earl's reply. As I have already mentioned, he did carry out his promise and wrote me a letter which I still do not think meets the arguments put forward in Committee. I agree that representations can be made—as the noble Earl rightly said—to the commissioners if an application is made for a licence. But that is not what we are asking for: we are asking that the passengers' committee should have the right to consider the operations of any transport services within the LRT area whether they are supplied by 866 LRT: supplied in agreement with LRT, or supplied by the independent operators.
As the noble Earl says, it is the users with whom we are concerned. If the users think that there is an unsatisfactory service, then the passengers' committee ought to have the right to consider it. The Government are apparently inflexible. I will read carefully what the noble Earl has said, but it would appear that we are completely at cross-purposes as regards what should be the voice of the consumers as expressed by the body of the passengers' committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 38 not moved.]
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 35, line I, leave out subsection (6).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is the pooling together of a group of amendments that were moved on the last day of the Committee stage. It suggests the removal of the whole of the subsection which takes away the powers of the London Regional Passengers' Committee to look at fares, and services as regards the railways. The Minister in his replies last time admitted that it was rather important that there should be at some future date a role for the consumer bodies. In fact the noble Earl quoted his honourable friend the Minister of State in another place by saying that she accepted that there was a role for the consumer bodies in relation to the structure and relativities of fares, and that the Government intended to deal with the matter for the country as a whole when a suitable legislative opportunity permitted.
§ I think we are entitled to ask whether there is any idea when a suitable opportunity is likely to arise. But in the meantime while dealing with this Bill for London—and it was said in the earlier part of the discussions on the Bill that London is a special case—why not at least attempt to get some way of allowing the consumer to have a voice in both the fares and the level of services generally in the London area as perhaps a pilot scheme for the rest of the country?
§ The noble Earl said the last time he spoke that it would not be helpful in this particular Bill whose scope is limited to London. But London is such a big place, and transport is so vital, important and all pervading in London, that it would be a perfect place to have a pilot scheme. There is no possibility that the Regional Passengers' Committee, whether officially or unofficially, will not discuss any changes in fares in London. It is too vital a part of the make-up of London transport and of the economy of most of the people who use London Transport. Although the fares may not relatively be much different from the rest of the country, because of the much larger distances on average that people in London travel, fares are a much bigger item than in most other parts of the country.
§ Therefore, it is inconceivable that the Regional Passengers' Committee will not, officially or unofficially, deal with, or discuss, fares. As the noble Earl said, the chairman of British Rail had agreed that his board would consult both the Central Transport Consultative Committee and the London Regional Passengers' Committee about fares. Why not make it 867 official? The Consumers' Council are quite anxious about it. They believe that the fares and charges for all public transport services and British Rail services should be discussed and should be included in the remit of the Passengers' Committees.
The Minister may be aware of the fact that the Department of Trade's paper, The Nationalised Industry Consumer Councils, in an article called "A Strategory for Reform" identified the main functions of the nationalised industry consumer councils as,
monitoring the industries' standards of service and pressing for improvements; providing a consumer input in decisions on costs and prices; and pursuing individual consumers' complaints which have not been satisfactorily resolved by the industries themselves.
§ These are the minimum demands that the travelling public would expect of a consumer or passenger committee.
§ I hope that the Minister will give it serious thought and tell us whether there is any possibility in the fairly near future of getting legislation countrywide. If that were the case, it would perhaps be all right to withdraw this amendment. If it were not the case and it was going to be a long time, then I suggest that it would be sensible to look on London as a test area to see how the legislation could ultimately be framed.
§ If it was going to be a couple of years or more before a slot for legislation could be found, or the draftsmen could be found for it, perhaps it would be a good idea to take this out in London and let the London Regional Passengers' Committee be given their head and see how it works, so that when the time comes to prepare the countrywide legislation there would be some background, some knowledge, and some experience of how the consumers could be represented. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, we discussed at Committee stage the question whether the passengers' committtee should be able to consider fares and charges, and at that time I was trying to satisfy the noble Lord when I said that the Government intend to deal with this matter for the country as a whole when a suitable legislative opportunity permits. The noble Lord has tried to tempt me out of this by saying, "Why can we not have a period with London, if it is going to take a long time?" I wish I could tell him when it was going to start, but I am afraid I cannot because that is one of the things that is not in my remit; and, anyway, I have made a lot of promises about things starting which I have had to chase up and which never seem to happen.
We are reluctant to disturb the present statutory position and put the new passengers' committee for the London area out of step with the consultative committees for the rest of the country; but we have obtained the agreement of the chairman of British Rail that his board will for the time being consult both the Central Transport Consultative Committee and the London Regional Passengers' Committee about fares and charges on an informal basis.
While I am on my feet I should also like to say that the question was asked why the passengers' committee should be prevented from considering the discontinuance of LRT or British Rail service. Here, 868 the answer is that they are not prevented, but since the Bill applies the separate statutory porcedure on rail closures by virtue of Clause 41, it is necessary to avoid a confusing duplication of powers in Clause 40. As the noble Lord will see, subsection (6) of Clause 40 is said to be without prejudice to Clause 41; and if I may direct the attention of the House to subsection (2)(c) of Clause 41 it will be seen that the passengers' committee are to be treated as an area transport users' consultative committee for the purpose of the rail closure provisions in Section 56 of the Transport Act 1962. Clause 42 makes a number of detailed consequential changes, and I can assure the House that the new committee will have the same powers as the present London TUCC to consider railway closures, whether by LRT or by British Rail.
I think I might explain before I sit down why the committee are not able to deal with reductions in British Rail Services. I accept that we have a slight untidiness here, because the present London Transport passengers' committee are able to consider reductions in London Transport services, whereas the London TUCC are not able to consider reductions in British Rail services. Again, in order not to put the new committee out of step with the other TUCCs we have concluded that it would be better for the moment simply to perpetuate the existing difference and put the matter right in the national legislation. I am sure this will not make the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, much happier, as he would like us to act now; but I hope that with this rather lengthy response he will at least realise why we should like to wait a little while now.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I have listened with interest, and I am grateful for part of the statement by the Minister, particularly when he quite correctly pointed out the reference to Clause 41 of the Bill. However, I do feel that he has perhaps missed a great opportunity to gain some experience. Obviously he is not going to grasp the opportunity, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 35, line 22, leave out ("under subsection (7) above") and insert ("from the Passengers' Committee")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I should like to explain that under the existing legislation in Section 14 of the London Transport Act 1969 the GLC may give directions to London Transport with respect to matters dealt with in any recommendations received from the London Passengers' Transport Committee. The recommendations which the passengers' committee can make to the GLC can cover any matter falling within their remit which, firstly, has been the subject of representations to the committee by or on behalf of users; or, secondly, has been referred to the committee by the GLC or London Transport; or, thirdly, appears to the committee to be a matter to which consideration ought to be given. It is this third category which I would emphasise in this amendment.
§ Under Clause 40(7) and (8) of the London Regional Transport Bill the Secretary of State, who replaces the 869 GLC as the political authority responsible for public transport in London, may give directions to London Regional Transport or British Rail concerning recommendations of the passengers' committee only if the matters dealt with in the recommendations were referred to the committee by the Secretary of State in the first place, which seems to be a strange little complication. In other words the passengers' committee cannot request the Secretary of State to issue directions on matters which have been the subject of representations from users or matters which the passengers' committee itself considers to be important. They can only act in this way if the Secretary of State has initiated the matter by referring it to them. This would mean a considerable weakening in the positon of the passengers' committee compared with its present position. It also creates an anomaly in the powers of the passengers' committee in relation to London Regional transport compared with its powers in relation to British Rail.
§ Clause 56 of the Transport Act 1962 sets out the framework under which the Central Transport Consultative Committee and the areas transport users' consultative committees, which represent British Rail's passengers, operate. Under this clause the Central Transport Consultative Committee may request the Secretary of State to give direction to British Rail on any matter which falls within its remit and it is open for the area transport users consultative committee to make representations to the Central Transport Consultative Committee.
§ So while existing legislation allows both the London Transport Passengers' Committee and the transport users consultative committee for London to seek directions on any matter within their remits, this new LRT Bill only provides this power for a new passengers committee in relation to British Rail's services, not in relation to the Regional Transport Authority.
§ This reduction in the powers of the passengers' committee is not, in my opinion, acceptable. The London Transport Passengers' Committee has found this power useful in the past in discussions with London Transport. A recent example is the success it had in persuading LT to restore the peak hour Bakerloo Line service north of Stonebridge to Harrow and Wealdstone which was to have been withdrawn late in 1982. This was the instance where the passengers' committee was convinced that this part of the Bakerloo Line was dealing with a large number of passengers and was an essential to retain. But LT was convinced that the British Rail services covered the area and there was no need for the LT services to continue.
§ When the threat, not the actual giving of the direction, but the warning or the pressure put on by it saying it would seek a direction in this matter spurred LT into action to institute research immediately, that proved what the passengers' committee had said was quite right. As a result it was not necessary to seek a direction, but simply to use this as a warning and in that way it produced the desired effect.
§ The amendment I am proposing is simply designed to restore the status quo. I hope that the Government will be persuaded to accept the amendment. During the passage of this Bill through the House of 870 Commons the Minister introduced an amendment to Clause 40(6) to correct an error in drafting to ensure that the new passengers' committee had no lesser powers than the two existing committees. I hope that that point will be taken into consideration by the Minister when he replies. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the remarks of my noble friend in moving her amendment, and I know that the London Transport Passengers' Committee has written to my honourable friend the Minister of State on the matter. I am sure that my noble friend will be aware that the clause has been deliberately drafted in a way which requires the passengers' committee to send copies of its minutes, conclusions and recommendations to the operators, that is LRT and British Rail as appropriate.
An exception is made, in subsection (7)(c), where they are responding to the Secretary of State on a matter which he has himself referred to them for advice. This follows common practice on the nationalised industry consumer councils. Our firm view is that the consumer bodies should normally deal direct with the industry concerned on the range of matters which they consider. It would not be appropriate for the Secretary of State to become involved in the wide range of detailed management and operational matters which the consumer councils consider. It would be inconsistent with the relationship which all Ministers try to maintain with the industries which they sponsor, and of which I know my noble friend would be well aware.
Naturally, it is appropriate for the committee to send him directly any conclusions and recommendations on matters on which he has specifically sought their advice—which, of course, he can do. But that exception is already provided for in subsection (7)(c) of Clause 40. Equally it is appropriate for him, when he receives any such recommendations, to be able to direct LRT in respect of these matters, if after consultation with them he believes it to be right to do so. But I must stress that we regard that power as very much a reserve power; and it is likely to be used only rarely.
Indeed, such is the case at present. The fact is that, at present, the arrangements for London Transport differ from those for British Rail. The GLC have had a wider power to give directions to London Transport following a recommendation of the London Transport consumer body than the Secretary of State has had in relation to British Rail following a recommendation of the London TUCC. Indeed, the Secretary of State can only become involved in following up a recommendation about British Rail if the Central Transport Consultative Committee were to take up a matter on behalf of the TUCC and use their right of access to the Secretary of State to make a recommendation to him on the subject. This would indeed be a tortuous process and I doubt whether it is likely to be appropriate to use this process in practice. But even where London Transport are concerned, I understand that only on very few occasions have the London Transport Passengers' Committee sought the GLC's agreement to direct the London Transport Executive on matters dealt with as a recommendation of that Committee.
871 And on no occasion have the GLC ever issued such a direction to London Transport.
I have no doubt that both LRT and British Rail will continue to discuss willingly and constructively with the new passengers' committee. If for any reason they consider that they are not getting the satisfactory service they feel entitled to expect, I have no doubt that they will draw this to the Secretary of State's attention in their annual report. That report must of course be laid before Parliament in accordance with subsection (10) of this clause.
We are amalgamating two consumer councils which have had slightly different functions. Our aim has been, as far as possible, to create a consumer body on the lines of the other nationalised industry consumer councils without diminishing its powers. I am confident that the new passengers' committee will have enhanced powers compared with those of the consumer councils which they will replace. Apart from the power to make an annual report to the Secretary of State, which will be laid before Parliament, the passengers' committee will be involved in consultation on LRT's strategy statements under Clause 7. in the annual provision of information under Clause 30 and, if a later amendment is accepted, in considering the withdrawal of LRT bus services. We take pride in the strengthening of the consumer arrangements which are provided for in the Bill, and we are confident that the passengers' committee will have sufficient status to make their representations forcefully and persuasively to LRT and British Rail.
I shall read the details of what my noble friend has said and perhaps she will do me the same courtesy. If we feel at the end of that that there is something we can do, by all means I hope that we can get together about it.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply and would confirm that in the 131/2 years of existence of the London Transport Passengers' Committee they have only 10 times sought a direction from the GLC and the GLC, I might add, have never acceded to that request. So it is rather a case of having a big stick to wave rather than actually being able to beat anyone with it. Nevertheless, I think it is worth considering and I am very grateful to the Minister for saying that he will read this matter later and consider it in great detail.
I think the passengers' committee would be very pleased to feel that their powers were enhanced and would be very sorry to see them weakened. That was the reason for my putting down this amendment. If, when the Minister has read all this, he finds that there is something in what I am saying, I should be very grateful if he could look into it and see what could be done about this at a later stage. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.872
§ Clause 43 [Exemption of London bus services under control of London Regional Transport from requirement of road service licence]:
§ 10.10 p.m.
Lord Lucas of Chilworth moved Amendment No. 41:
Page 39, line 33, at end insert—
("( ) Where—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, perhaps I should explain that it may not immediately be obvious from the text that this Government amendment to Clause 43 seeks to honour an undertaking which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, when we discussed Clause 30 in Committee. The noble Lord moved an amendment on that occasion which would have required LRT to consult local authorities before major variations of routes or withdrawals of public passenger transport services. I explained to your Lordships on that occasion that it derived from a direction by the Greater London Council to London Transport. I did point out some difficulties in the amendment but undertook to see what we could do to meet the spirit of it.
§ I will not dwell on the previous amendment because I do not think there is really any difference on this topic between the Government and the noble Lord opposite. What we have done is to consider what requirements proposed in the previous amendment are in practice absent from the Bill. The only point which the Bill did not cover was consultation over withdrawals of bus services. That is what we now seek to deal with by this amendment.
§ The amendment builds on the existing arrangements in Clause 43, which already provide that LRT must consult local authorities, including the GLC, about proposals to provide new bus services in Greater London and about proposals to vary the route of an existing bus service. The requirement applies whether LRT operate the service directly or do so under a Clause 3(2) agreement with a private operator. The amendment provides that, where a bus service controlled by LRT Greater London is proposed to be withdrawn, LRT must consult the GLC and any of the London boroughs in whose areas the route runs. Once again, this requirement will apply whether LRT propose to discontinue a route which they have been operating themselves, or whether the service to be discontinued is one which has been provided by a private operator under a Clause 3(2) agreement.873
§ In one important respect our amendment goes further than the proposal that was discussed at the Committee stage.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
Perhaps it may be helpful if I speak a little more slowly, my Lords. In one important respect this amendment goes a little further than the proposal which was discussed at Committee stage. Under our amendment, LRT will be required to consult the passengers' committee as well as the local authorities about withdrawals of bus services. This will be a further enhancement of the committee's powers as a result of the Bill. The amendment does not provide for any period of notice but in this respect it follows the arrangements already in Clause 43. In practice, withdrawals of services are not proposed at short notice or in isolation, and any withdrawal will normally he part of a package of proposals. By their very nature, changes of this sort do require some months of detailed preparation and they will in addition be foreshadowed in general terms in the information to be provided under Clause 30.
With that explanation, which, as I say, is a further enhancement of the committee's powers, I invite your Lordships to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for putting down this amendment. I must apologise to him for my slight inattention. Even lowland people like myself are occasionally momentarily swept into the current of the normal channels of communication in this place. There was a slight distraction. I will, however, read with great care the very full explanation the Minister gave. In the meantime I thank him very much for having given attention to the amendment which I moved on an earlier occasion.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 44 [Application of Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 in relation to services in Greater London]:
Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 42:
Page 40, line 24, at end insert—
(" ( ) In subsection (2) of section 31 (grant of road service licences) the following sub-paragraph shall be added before paragraph (a):
(aa) shall, in respect of any application for a licence to operate a London bus service as defined by section 43(6) of the London Regional Transport Act 1984, send copies of that application and supporting information to the London Regional Passengers' Committee;
( ) In subsection (3) of section 31 (grant of road service licences) the following sub-paragraph shall be added after paragraph (c): "and
(d) in respect of any application for a licence to operate a London bus service any representations made by the London Regional Passengers' Committee." ")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a completely new amendment which has not been before the House previously. It relates to the application to the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 in relation to services in Greater London. It might be to the advantage of the House if I say that this amendment has the support of the National Consumer Council. They hold the view that the passengers' committee should be able to 874 represent the interests of all public transport users in London. We debated the previous amendment, which I moved, which urged that the passengers' committee should consider all transport operations, including those of independent operators who were functioning under road service licences.
§ As we have heard, the passengers' committee is precluded from considering bus services licensed by Traffic Commissioners. The consumers' council were in support of the previous amendment, but the Government did not accept that. At the very least the consumers' council take the view—and we on these Benches support it—that the passengers' committee should have a statutory right to be consulted by the Traffic Commissioners when applications to provide stage carriage services are being considered. That is the purpose of the two subsections in this new clause. They propose amendments to the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 to ensure that the passengers' committee will be consulted by the Traffic Commissioners when they are receiving applications. This seems to be a very good channel for the use of the passengers' committee. I beg to move.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has explained, this amendment really would give preferential treatment to the passengers' committee in respect of applications made to the Traffic Commissioners by independent operators for road service licences to operate London bus services. The amendment would require copies of the application to be sent to the passengers' committee, and it would require the Traffic Commissioners to have regard in particular to representations received from the passengers' committee.
I think it was made clear to the noble Lord when we responded to Amendment No. 37, and also in a letter which my noble friend wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, following discussions in Committee, that we saw no grounds for giving the passengers' committee a particular role in relation to independent operators. The committee's role is to represent the interests of the users of services provided by a nationalised industry. It is not meant as a national consumer watchdog to comment on passenger transport provision at large.
I explained that the committee will be free to make objections or representations to the Traffic Commissioners in the normal way. They can, like local authorities or any other interested bodies, subscribe to the publication, Notices and Proceedings. This is the standard means of publicising applications received by the Traffic Commissioners.
We believe it would be quite wrong to put the committee in a special or privileged position, both in terms of receiving copies of applications and of requiring the Traffic Commissioners to have particular regard to any representations which they may make. The Traffic Commissioners are required under Section 31 of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 to have regard to any objections or representations made in the prescribed manner which in their opinion are relevant. So if the passengers' committee representations are considered to be relevant, regard must be had to them. We do not believe that there is any case 875 for requiring more than that. I hope that the noble Lord will agree and will withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I think that when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made that suggestion he realised that it was rather optimistic. I will withdraw the amendment because of the lateness of the hour, but not for the reasons which the noble Lord has advanced. I ask your Lordships to bear in mind that this is not just the view of the Opposition; it is the view fully accepted and advanced by the National Consumer Council, which is a very important body acting on behalf of consumers.
The noble Lord said that they can make representations in the normal way. If the passengers' committee are to represent—as we all know they will—the users of public transport, they are not being put in a privileged position. They will have information from the Traffic Commissioners, so that they can see whether or not the applications are ones on which they on behalf of the users, should pass views. We shall be in the situation that, if the proposals in the Bill are carried to their logical conclusion, then, as the years go by, with more independent operators coming into being and being given road service licences, the passengers' committee will find themselves in a weaker position to represent the users. 876 This is a new approach which has not been before the Committee, and therefore what I shall do is to read very carefully the report of what the noble Lord the Minister has said. I will seek further advice on this, but I shall not be surprised if on Third Reading we come back in some form with this very important principle, which is in the interests of transport users. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]
§ Lord Trefgarne
My Lords. I understand it has been agreed that we should go no further this evening. Accordingly, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.