HL Deb 22 May 1984 vol 452 cc145-53

3.9 p.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Corn mittee.—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clauses 45, 46 and 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Grants by Greater London Council for year including appointed day]:

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 149: Page 45, line 31, at end insert— ("( ) It shall be the duty of London Regional Transport at the end of the initial accounting year from the period of the appointed day to calculate any excess payment by the Greater London Council of the amount required by London Regional Transport to carry out their financial duty under section 15 of this Act and if there is any excess payment the Secretary of State shall direct London Regional Transport to pay the said amount to the Greater London Council.").

The noble Lord said: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if with this amendment I speak to Amendment No. 150. I understand that that meets the view of the Minister. Amendment No. 150: Page 46, line 11, leave out subsection (6) and insert— ("(6) It shall be the duty of London Regional Transport to ascertain the use to which the Greater London Council had intended to put any sums received by virtue of this section and to apply such sums received to those uses.").

The amendments deal with Clause 48 which relates to the grants payable by the Greater London Council for the initial year of the formation of London Regional Transport. It empowers the Secretary of State to direct the GLC to pay revenue and capital grants to LRT for the remainder of the year in which London Transport becomes LRT. The Secretary of State has said that he would wish that the appointed day be as soon as possible after Royal Assent. The Bill provides that these grants shall not exceed the revenue grants determined for 1984-85 and the sum of £170 million, less of course any sums paid prior to the appointed day. Should the money for items for which the GLC had budgeted not have been used for 1984–85, what is to happen to any surplus that there may be at the year end?

On 15th March in the other place the Secretary of State (at column 1114) said: The GLC having determined both the revenue and capital amount, we shall expect it to pay us that amount for the full year.

He went on to say that he hoped that the matter could be agreed sensibly and that we must be careful that the Government did not demand too much from the GLC nor the GLC give too little to LRT. Later he reaffirmed that if there was an operating surplus it would be left in the business and made available to reduce the subsidy in the following year. If my memory is correct, a similar statement was made by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, when he was dealing with an amendment concerning any surplus in any year.

We are dealing in Amendment No. 149, and in this clause, with grants payable in the initial year. It is not clear whether the surplus in the initial year would be retained to offset charges next year—if that is the position, both the Government and the ratepayers would benefit—or whether, on the other hand, any surplus will be used only to reduce the contribution from ratepayers in the following year. The amendment would ensure that any surplus will be returned to the GLC which originally paid the grants for the remainder of the first year. There is no guarantee that the grants provided by the GLC will be used by LRT for the items for which the GLC intended the payments.

That leads me to the second amendment, Amendment No. 150, which relates to subsection (6) of this clause, which states: The Secretary of State may by notice in writing to London Regional Transport make the application by London Regional Transport of any sums received by them by virtue of this section subject to such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State thinks fit

In other words, the GLC having decided and approved its budget and decided what it wishes the money to be used for in the initial year, the Secretary of State nevertheless has complete freedom to tell LRT to use the money as he thinks fit. The point of the second amendment is that LRT shall ascertain the use to which the GLC had intended its money to be used for the first year. I do not know whether one can use the word "morality" when dealing with this Bill, but that appears to be a good sound moral argument.

The Secretary of State has said that the appointed day will be as soon as possible after Royal Assent. He has also said that he wants LRT to start at once to effect changes. If the LRT service is to be varied by the Secretary of State giving instructions, without his having any obligation to take account of changes in the budget for 1984–85 which was approved by the GLC, including the items on which it wanted the money spent. that seems to be totally wrong.

In Committee in the other place the Secretary of State opposed an amendment such as this one on the grounds that, although the Government will take over LRT in the summer—that is what he is hoping—in effect, if the amendment was carried, the GLC would continue to control LRT until 1st April 1985. But all that the amendment is seeking is that LRT should ascertain proposals and the purposes for which the GLC allocated the money in a budget which it approved for the current year, before LRT was under consideration. The GLC has always regarded its approval of capital and the budgets for LTE as a contractual obligation on the executive to deliver a service in accordance with those decisions. The amendment wishes to ensure that LRT will continue to do that for the current year. I beg to move.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

The clause as presently drafted provides arrangements analogous to the present GLC/London Transport arrangements. At present the GLC makes a revenue grant determination and approves a capital programme. It cannot under the Transport Act 1983 make a revised determination. so any surplus or deficit would normally be carried over by London Transport and taken into account in the following year's grant determination. For example, in 1982–83 a deficit of £25 million was carried over into 1983–84. The same principles are proposed for LRT in 1984–85. Obviously it is impossible to forecast correctly to the nearest pound the grant requirement for a year. Any surplus would be rolled forward and used to reduce the subsidy requirement in 1985–86, and ratepayers would benefit through a reduced ratepayer contribution.

I am sorry to say also that the amendment is in any event technically deficient. I believe that it fails to achieve what its proposers intend. It is not clear how grant payments could exceed the amount required by the Clause 15 duty when this merely requires LRT not to make a loss. Furthermore, the proposed amendment would change these well-precedented arrangements with little advantage to anyone, least of all London ratepayers.

I turn now to Amendment No. 150, the second of the two amendments to which the noble Lord spoke. Broadly speaking. the effect of this amendment would be to make LRT carry out the plans and policies for 1984–85 approved by the GLC for London Transport prior to the establishment of LRT. I am afraid that the amendment would in fact tie the Government's hands in a quite unacceptable way and would be tantamount to postponing the take-over of London Transport until 1st April 1985.

What I think we can agree on is that the money provided by the GLC to provide and support an efficient and cost-effective public transport system should be used to do just that. But where we may well part company is on the best way to achieve these broad objectives and on the exact balance to be struck between long-term and short-term considerations and among the interests of travellers, taxpayers (both local and national) and those providing public transport. In short, we cannot be shackled to supporting every single facet of the GLC approved plan for London Transport. no matter how ill-advised it might prove to be in the light of circumstances then prevailing.

Under the provisions of the Bill London ratepayers will continue to contribute towards the costs of public transport support in London. This clause simply provides a convenient mechanism for the transitional year before the levy arrangements come into operation. There is no reason in principle therefore to constrain LRT in the way proposed for the remainder of 1984–85.

In addition there would be great difficulties of interpretation if the plans approved by the GLC for London Transport proved incompatible with the financing proposed by the GLC, for example, because of some unexpected event like an extremely bad winter or some major setback at the end of the accounting year. I hope that in the light of these considerations the noble Lord will not wish to press his amendments

Lord Underhill

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. He has explained the Government's position quite clearly. It shows, in one or two facets, the difference between the Government and those of us who are critical of the formation, the establishment, of LRT.

The noble Lord referred to present legislation. But we are talking about legislation that is now being put through Parliament, or which it is hoped to put through Parliament, to establish an entirely new organisation. Therefore, Parliament has every right to decide what shall be done with grants paid for the initial year.

The Minister said that the first amendment is technically difficult because he could not see how there could be a revenue surplus. The GLC is going to be compelled—as is made clear, and the Secretary of State has reaffirmed this—to pay the balance of its grants for the remainder of 1984–85. Once this Bill has passed and has received Royal Assent, the Secretary of State is going to give instructions as to how that money shall be used, as he thinks fit, which is what subsection (6) says. Obviously, should there be any curtailment of services there could be a surplus. It is that surplus about which we are talking in the first amendment.

It seems absolutely wrong that the GLC should sit down, work out its plans. make its budget, decide on revenue support on that budget, be compelled to pay the balance for the current year to the LRT and it be used for things for which the GLC in its budget did not intend that it should be used. Hence the amendment. The Minister has said just that the money will be used to establish an efficient system. Noble Lords will recall the debates we had as to what should be the system of transport for Greater London. We wanted to ensure that at least in the first year there was justice done. The Government want to have their own way and ignore the GLC plans, for which money has been subscribed. I will read carefully what the Minister has said but, in the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 150 not moved.]

Clause 48 agreed to.

Clause 49 [Travel concessions on journeys in and around Greater London]:

3.23 p.m.

Lord Underhill moved Amendment No. 151: Page 46, line 39, leave out ("subsection (4)") and insert ("subsections (4) and (4A)")

The noble Lord said: Clause 49 provides for a voluntary scheme by which the local authorities of London, acting separately or jointly, may make arrangements with London Regional Transport for concessionary travel schemes. It is generally recognised that this is not likely to work and the Government have introduced—and this is outlined in Clauses 50 to 52—a fall-back reserve scheme. The amendment arises because the reserve scheme is nowhere near as good as the present scheme. I would remind noble Lords that since 1973 free travel has been established on London Transport and London country buses within Greater London. At first, this was during the off-peak periods 9.30 to 4.30, and then after 6.30. In March 1983 it was extended to all times after 9.30 and unrestricted at week-ends.

Noble Lords will have heard accounts of people, particularly pensioners, before that change was made, waiting at bus stops just a few minutes before the hour for when the concessionary travel would not be possible, apprehensive that the bus may come a few minutes late and they would not have their concessionary fare. Since March 1983 that has not been a possibility.

The present scheme also allows permit holders half-price off-peak journeys on the British Rail network in Greater London. Noble Lords will be aware that about a million people in all have benefited from London's concessionary scheme. Poll after poll has shown how much it is appreciated, not just by the recipients of the concessionary scheme but by other people throughout Greater London.

The fall-back reserve scheme, which we are pleased that the Government eventually introduced, has a number of deficiencies. I will briefly mention them. The scheme restricts the use for journeys starting in the early evening between 4.30 and 6.30. The clause provides that the off-peak periods may be altered by LRT. There is no necessity for the Secretary of State's approval should it decide to alter those periods. It does not cover Green Line services within London.

The reserve scheme provides that boroughs will be allowed to charge for the passes and to make conditions. Admittedly, these are subject to approval by the Secretary of State, but the power is there. If there are different charges in different boroughs, different conditions in different boroughs, then it is pretty certain there will be varying issuing offices in the different boroughs with different schemes. The present practice of universal use of post offices in London could then no longer operate.

In moving these amendments, I must ask: why have the Government decided on these changes to a successful scheme, well received throughout the Greater London area? As noble Lords will be aware. there are a number of amendments on the separate points, but I hope the Government will accept the amendment to the effect that the new scheme should he the same as the scheme operating at the moment, before LRT is formed. I hope that the Government will see the justice of that scheme and will accept the amendment. Then any consequential amendments that may be required can be dealt with at the next stage and the individual improvements need not be moved.

The Earl of Avon

The purpose of these amendments. which the noble Lord has moved so eloquently, is very similar to Amendment No. 81 which we debated during our consideration of Clause 12. I do not want to detain the Committee too long, and I hope I shall not go over the same arguments again. On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, drew attention to the current GLC scheme, which places no restriction on evening peak travel as well as providing half price off-peak travel on British Rail services within London. Nobody is denying the right of local authorities to provide additional facilities of this kind if that is what they wish to do. But it is another thing entirely to require, in statute, that this sort of scheme should exist.

During the Report stage of the Bill in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear that the reserve scheme had been geared deliberately to off-peak travel. I think the point is that it would be wrong to force local authorities in London to finance the most generous possible scheme. Financing concessionary travel at peak periods of the day costs some £10 million in London. We believe that the right approach is to provide in the reserve powers—and they are reserve powers—for a reasonable uniform scheme, but at the same time to allow the individual local authorities, if they wish, to top up the scheme by buying additional benefits from LRT or from British Rail. The scheme, as the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in a way, has been saying, changes all the time. To say that a scheme is now right. I do not believe is necessarily satisfactory. To provide a reserve scheme, as we have done, that covers the best of the present scheme, I honestly believe is the right way forward. This is the approach that the Bill adopts. I recommend it very much to the Committee and hope that the Government will be supported.

Lord Tordoff

We recognise that schemes change from time to time. What this amendment says is that they should be no less favourable, not that they should not change.

Baroness Lane-Fox

I am conscious that some of us have already asked quite a lot, to put it mildly, of the Government on matters of fundamental importance—on Dial-a-Ride, special taxis and representation on passenger committees—in this Bill. I do not now feel that it is reasonable to press this point. It is surely much more an economic point than a travelling or mobility one. My wish is to see LRT made eminently workable. If we ask a lot at every stage, I feel that we may lose our credibility and jeopardise the chances for those other vital matters that, above all, require LRT to be viable and efficient. That is why I cannot support the amendment.

The Earl of Avon

I should like to reply briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, who spoke, I think, about less favourable schemes, although I missed his actual remark when he was speaking. I can perhaps answer that. At the moment, some things are still experimental. We do not know, even if the GLC continued. whether they would be kept or not. The second point is that new ideas are continually being introduced. We do not therefore know in this Committee what will be less favourable when the Bill is enacted.

Lord Underhill

I am very disappointed with the Government's answer. I know that the noble Earl is a compassionate individual; otherwise I would say that the Government were displaying a hard-hearted attitude. That is not, however, my personal view of the Minister. The noble Earl referred to the possibility of boroughs making changes. That is one of the things that we want to avoid. We do not want to find that, instead of the composite scheme that now affects all London, we have bits and pieces of schemes in different parts of London. The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, has answered his criticism. We do not want schemes for all time. The GLC was considering even extensions of its own scheme.

There are so many weaknesses and deficiencies in the Government's reserve scheme that the amendment is absolutely essential if we are to do justice to the vast number of pensioners—we are not dealing here with the mobility of the disabled to which the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, seemed to be referring —affected by the Bill. I believe that many Members of your Lordships' House derive benefit from the scheme and are happy to use it. They will be affected if the Government's reserve scheme goes through.

At the end of the day, it is the ratepayers of London who will pay for the scheme—not the Government. I hope that we shall have a reserve scheme that is a good scheme and that we shall not find that the Government's reserve scheme, with all its deficiencies, is carried through. There is a big principle here. We must not go backwards in London under LRT. I hope therefore that the Committee will declare its view on the issue in a Division.

3.34 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 151) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 82; Not-Contents, 121.

Amherst, E. Bottomley, L.
Ardwick, L. Brockway, L.
Attlee, E. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Aylestone, L. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Banks, L. Collison, L.
Birk, B. Darling of Hillsborough, L.
Blyton. L. David, B. [Teller.]
Boston of Faversham, L. Dean of Beswick, L.
Diamond, L. Mishcon, L.
Donnet of Balgay, L. Nicol, B.
Ennals, L. Oram, L.
Evans of Claughton, L. Peart, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Perry of Walton, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Gaitskell, B.
Gallacher, L. Rathcreedan, L.
George-Brown, L. Rhodes, L.
Gladwyn, L. Rochester, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Ross of Marnock, L.
Gregson, L. Sainsbury, L.
Grey, E. Serota, B.
Hale, L. Simon, V.
Hampton, L. Stallard, L.
Hanworth, V. Stedman, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Irving of Dartford, L. Stone, L.
Jacobson, L. Strabolgi, L.
Jacques, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L,
John-Mackie, L. Tordoff. L,
Kagan, L. Underhill, L.
Kilbracken, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Wedderbum of Charlton. L.
Leatherland, L, Wells-Pestell, L.
Listowel, E. White, B.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
McCarthy, L.
Mcintosh of Haringey, L. Winstanley, L.
Mayhew, L. Wootton of Abinger. B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gray of Contin. L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gridley, L.
Ampthill L. Hailsham of Saint
Annan, L. Marylebone, L.
Auckland, L. Halsbury, E.
Avon, E. Hanson, L.
Bellwin, L. Hawke, L.
Beloff, L. Hayter, L.
Belstead, L. Henley, L.
Berkeley, B. Hives, L.
Bessborough, E. Holdemess, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Home of the Hirsel, L.
Brookes, L. Hood, V.
Broxbourne, L. Hunter of Newington, L.
Buccleuch and Queensberry, D. Hylton-Foster, B.
Ingrow, L.
Caithness, E. Ironside, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Kinnaird, L.
Chelmer, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Clitheroe, L. Lauderdale, E.
Cockfield, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Coleraine, L. Long, V. [Teller.]
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Loudoun, C.
Cork and Orrery, E. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cottesloe, L. McAlpine of Moffat, L.
Cox, B. McAlpine of West Green, L.
Craigavon, V. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Mancroft, L.
Davidson, V. Mar, C.
De Freyne, L. Marley, L.
Dilhorne, V. Maude of Stratford-upon-
Donoughmore, E. Avon, L.
Duncan-Sandys, L. Merrivale, L.
Ebbisham, L. Mersey, V.
Eccles, V. Milverton, L.
Effingham, E. Molson, L.
Ellenborough, L. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Elton, L. Morris, L.
Faithfull, B. Mostyn, L.
Fortescue, E. Mottistone, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Gainford, L. Murton of Lindisfame, L.
Gisborough, L. Northchurch, B.
Glanusk, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Glenarthur, L. Onslow, E.
Orkney, E. Spens, L.
PlummerofSt. Maryiebone,T Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
L.Polwarth, L. Strathspey, L.
Porritt, L. Suffield, L.
Portland, D. Swansea, L.
Renton, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Renwick, L. Terrington, L.
Richardson, L. Teviot, L.
Rochdale, V. Todd, L.
Rodney, L. Trefgarne, L.
Rugby, L. Trumpington, B.
St. Davids, V. Vaizey, L.
Sandford, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Sandys, L. Vickers, B.
Skelmersdale, L. Westbury, L.
Somers, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.