§ 3 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)
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 Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, before the Question is finally put, perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, like all his colleagues, true to the traditions of the Front Bench, always seeks to be of help to your Lordships' House in considering legislation before it. The noble Lord was very helpful on Monday in giving an explanation as to what changes the Government had in mind in regard to Schedule 5. We fully understand the noble Lord's difficulties in having those amendments on the Marshalled List today.
However, later on Monday night, as the noble Lord himself is fully aware, certain information was given to me from as good a source as any as to possible changes that the Government had in mind in regard to the date of deregulation. The date of deregulation is a very crucial factor in our consideration of the Bill and particularly of Clause 6, which we shall be considering immediately after the Question is put. I was given full discretion to consult with my colleagues on this matter, and I have so done; but I hope that the noble Lord will feel that this information ought to be available to the Committee of the House. I wonder whether the noble Lord would care to make a statement.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, although we are not yet at Schedule 5—would that we were!—I quite understand why the noble Lord wants to hear just a word from me about the transitional arrangements, because it is they that all the operators and local authorities are concentrating upon for putting this Bill into effect. I hope that this is an indication that the noble Lord is looking forward to the day when the Bill comes into effect.
My answer to the noble Lord is that it is indeed the case that when the Bill left another place, although no undertaking of any kind had been given by my right honourable friend in another place that there would be any rethinking on the transitional arrangements, comments were made by experts in the field and we therefore thought that there should be some consultation; and that has been going on. The basis of that consultation has been as to whether the transitional period should be brought forward a little from 1st October in order to come into effect before the start of the school term.
But one is in a difficulty here because the start of the school term is not the same in England as in Scotland and there are problems so far as that is concerned. I 193 think that all I ought to add is that I believe we have been acting properly in consulting about the transitional period so that the Government can bring forward amendments to Schedule 5 for your Lordships' House, which after all is a revising Chamber. In order to do that we have been consulting; and it is very much to my regret that we have not yet been able to put the amendments on the Marshalled List. But I give an undertaking to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that they will be on the Marshalled List next week.
Perhaps I ought to say to the noble Lord that I know that our thinking at the moment is that we would almost certainly be putting it to your Lordships that the date of deregulation ought to remain as it is at the moment in Schedule 5; but I think that we must see about that finally when we come to lay those amendments.
§ Lord Shepherd
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the statement and particularly for the latter point which he made, which is certainly different from the one which I understood was made to me on Monday night.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 6 [Registration of local services]:
§ [Amendment No. 39 not moved.]
Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 40:
Page 5, line 25, leave out ("in which there is a stopping place for the service").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 40. I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 42 and 43.
Amendment No. 42: Page 5, line 29, at end insert:
("( ) the traffic commissioner has consulted every local authority in whose area the service is proposed and every chief officer of police in whose area the service is proposed and is satisfied after consideration of the relevant aspects of the service that the proposed service will not give rise to dangerous traffic conditions or severe traffic congestion;").
Amendment No. 43: Page 5, line 33, at end insert—
("( ) In subsection (2) above the reference to relevant aspects of the service is a reference to the route of the service, a terminal point, a point at which a passenger may or may not be taken up or set down, or a place at which, or street by the use of which, vehicles used for the service may turn at a terminal point.").
§ The whole purpose of these amendments is to strengthen the operation of Clause 6 of this Bill. The main purpose of the legislation, as we know, is to relax licensing arrangements for public service vehicles in order to encourage greater competition between operators in the provision of bus services. Sitting on this side, I applaud competition, and I think that the Committee applauds competition, especially when it is innovative and interesting. My amendments are entirely consistent with that view.
§ Amendment No. 40 is concerned with the way in which a traffic commissioner would deal with service registrations and is to ensure that all services passing through any traffic area, whether stopping or not, would be considered. As the Bill stands at the 194 moment, registration is automatic. Only after registration and after having received the relevant information are the police responsible for highway matters, including road safety and traffic control, or the traffic authorities able to make representations. Only then is a traffic commissioner able to receive and consider representations from the police and traffic authorities.
§ The next two amendments I have lifted entirely, on information the Government gave me, from the London Regional Transport Bill last year. Amendment No. 42 would ensure that every local authority and every chief of police affected are consulted and their views considered before registration takes place. In making provision for a traffic commissioner to receive representations, the imposition of any traffic regulation conditions would be limited to matters of road safety or public convenience and may only be received from the authorities named in the amendment. It may be felt by some that a traffic commissioner should have wider powers, but I have deliberately resisted this. In my view that would tend to stifle competition, which I appreciate is contrary to the policy of the present Bill. My amendment seeks to improve the conditions in which competition could take place.
§ Amendment No. 43 requires reference to be made to terminals and stopping places where passengers may be picked up or set down. Such features are an integral part of any route or bus service and thus should be included in registration details.
§ Without these amendments a traffic commissioner can do absolutely nothing to stop the congestion and hazardous conditions which I can foresee, not only because of the private car but, very much more importantly, because the local bus services could be severely hampered. Therefore I hope that my noble friend will give his kind consideration to these three amendments. I commend them to your Lordships. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
On my noble friend's first amendment, Amendment No. 40, looking at the wording I doubt whether a service is provided in any real sense of that word in an area in which the bus does not stop. I wonder whether my noble friend really thinks that a bus is providing a service to a place if it does not actually stop there to put down or to take up people. The provision in this clause, as my noble friend said, follows one in the previous Act under which licences are not required from traffic commissioners in whose areas passengers will neither be taken up nor set down.
I am bound to say that it has caused no difficulty there, and if my noble friend will forgive my saying so I do not think that it is going to cause any difficulty here. Once again, if there is no stopping place for a bus service in a traffic area or in a county, I do not think that the commissioner for that area or the county council should be particularly concerned about it; although perhaps I may say, as I think your Lordships will have noticed from the Notes on Clauses which are available, that when registration takes place we would envisage, subject to the wishes of Parliament, that the regulations will be prescribing for registration the route of a service, the stopping place of a service, the 195 timings of a service and perhaps even some details of vehicle type. People will know a good deal from the registration particulars if we are able to go down that road.
I turn to my noble friend's second pair of amendments. Here, I quite understand the concern of my noble friend to prevent the operation of local bus services which endanger road safety or the reasonably safe flow of traffic. There is absolutely nothing between my noble friend and the Government in that objective. The only difference is that we are endeavouring to do it in Clause 7 of the Bill and my noble friend has focused on a slightly earlier part of the Bill. As to the amendment itself, I genuinely think that it has some fundamental difficulties. First, it bites only on initial registrations, but my noble friend would be the first to say to me that it is difficult to conceive that a variation to a quite innocuous service can turn that service into one which might cause danger or congestion. Secondly, Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 do not give any rights to the operator, and I am rather surprised that my noble friend Lord Teviot, of all your Lordships, should be moving an amendment which does not give any rights to the operator. Under the amendment the traffic commissioner has to consult the local authorities and the police, but there is absolutely nothing about allowing the operator to have his say. The person who wants to run the service surely ought to be given the opportunity to convince the traffic commissioner that the county council or the police are being too apprehensive, or even, in some cases, perhaps, prejudiced. Thirdly, the amendment makes no provision for any appeal; and, fourthly, it seems to be an all-or-nothing provision, but in practice, a service may easily be variable to avoid causing danger or congestion.
If I may come back to the area of agreement, I readily accept that the amendment before us could be changed so as to meet those objections. It would become much more complex, but it would be workable. However, I think that Clause 7 is really the place to do that, because if we do it here we are going to erect a hurdle over which all applications for registration will have to jump—even, for instance, for once-weekly market services in rural areas—while Clause 7 is designed to give protection against dangerous traffic conditions only where there is or is demonstrably likely to be danger or severe congestion.
My noble friend has much more experience of this than I have, but surely there is every reason to hope that voluntary negotiation will take place, or ought to be allowed to take place, just as it does now, between the operator, the traffic authority and the police on routes, on bus stops and, indeed, on termini. I should like to give an assurance that the literature we shall be putting out when this Bill goes on to the statute book will encourage voluntary negotiation. There will always be the potential of traffic regulation conditions in the background, and that will be the incentive to operators to co-operate. Our intention is that we should allow for voluntary negotiation and, with great respect to my noble friend, I really do not think there is much opportunity for that under the second pair of amendments to which my noble friend has referred.
§ Lord Teviot
I am grateful to my noble friend for what he has said, even though I do not agree with every word of it. I shall of course beg leave to withdraw my amendment, but I made my noble friend aware earlier that I had found a pair of amendments which dealt with just that situation in the case of the London Regional Transport Bill. There was something similar in the Greater London Council powers dealing with a specific London question, and it was the Government which finally came up at Third Reading with that pair of amendments. It is very interesting to hear my noble friend's comments, and I shall read carefully what he has said and then make an assessment. I am grateful to him for those parts that he has agreed with, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.15 p.m.
Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 41:
Page 5, line 28, after ("area") insert ("and delivered to every county, regional and islands council within whose area there is a stopping place for this service").
§ The noble Lord said: I think this is really a fairly simple administrative matter: at least, I hope so. The effect of the amendment is that it obliges a bus operator, when registering a new service, a variation or a cancellation of a service with the traffic commissioner, to lodge the details with the county council at the same time. The argument for this really is that it is vital for the county councils to have information quickly in order that they should be able to perform their duties to the public in providing bus services.
§ I think that perhaps the best example to quote would be where a commercial service is cancelled and the county council has to decide, first, whether to provide a subsidised service instead; and then it has to prepare tender documents. After that it has to invite and receive tenders, and one knows that that is a fairly lengthy proceeding. They have in fact 42 days in which to do that, so there is very great anxiety on the part of county councils that absolutely no time should be lost. I think that other avenues and methods of trying to get this information from the traffic commissioners to the county councils have been considered, but they have not found favour. The county councils had really wanted to be the registration authorities, and they felt that it would in future be a pretty passive and non-controversial role. I think they were quite affronted when it was decided that that was not to be the case any more. That issue was raised in another place, and of course there were objections from other quarters to it.
§ I shall not proceed with that argument: but I am merely concentrating on the administrative difficulty involved. The amendment is simply an attempt to give county councils the information they need as quickly as possible. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
This is, as the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, has said, a fairly simple administrative amendment. During the Committee stage in another place the Parliamentary Under-Secretary said that he was prepared to give clear instructions to the traffic commissioners that they must notify districts and counties affected by 197 registration or deregistration. While we accept the word of the Minister in the other place, there is a difficulty in that this kind of detail will in fact be enshrined in regulations, if the Minister's words are to be taken literally. While he can give an assurance that adequate information will be provided, the definition of "adequate", of course, can vary very widely.
It seems to me that the county councils are going to need the full details on registration for three purposes. The first is to know precisely where the gaps are that might be covered by subsidised services and for which tenders must be formulated and put out. The second is to be able to deal with any matters to do with traffic regulation conditions, such as bus stops, turning circles, suitability of roads, terminal places and so on. The third purpose is very important from the public's point of view; that is, to be able to compile and publish timetables so that the public will have some sort of collective timetable instead of having timetables from all the different organisations and trying to fit them together. It seems to me to be a fairly simple requirement to ask the operator to send copies of his registration with these details to the councils and the counties. This is a fairly simple technical amendment which I hope the Minister will be able to accept in principle, at least.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I was at a meeting with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and they made a number of points about the Bill. They were very strong on this point. They pointed out that so far as they are concerned the administrative arrangements are dependent on speed and on achieving as good an understanding as they can get as quickly as possible. For a number of reasons, all of which I think the noble Lord opposite has just enunciated, it seems to me there is a strong point here, and if the Government could look at this again it would be extremely helpful to local authorities. Those authorities are anxious about playing their full part in the implementation of the Bill.
§ Lord Belstead
I have a lot of sympathy with what my noble friend has said in moving this amendment. I agree it is important that county councils should have very early warning of an operator's intentions to start, vary or discontinue services. County councils, and regional and island councils in Scotland, have very important functions under the Bill for the subsidising of non-commercial services, for seeking traffic regulation conditions where necessary and for promoting the availability of bus services other than subsidised services, and the convenience of the public in using them.
I think it was helpful to the case for the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, weighed in and made the three major points—as he saw them—for the amendment. Hitherto, the Government's proposal on this matter has been that registration should go to the traffic commissioner and that the traffic area office should send the information on very quickly to the county councils. I admit that, however efficient traffic area offices are, there will be some slight delay in this progress. My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton is of course putting forward another proposal which would avoid that delay but which would have some 198 disadvantages. The solution proposed by my noble friend is that the operator registering, varying, or cancelling a service must send a copy to the county council at the same time; otherwise registration will not take place.
The difficulty with that proposal is that if a registration is not to be valid unless the necessary notifications have been made, there will have to be further contact between the traffic area office and the county council making an operator send copies of documents to at least two, and perhaps even several, bodies instead of just one, which will also add to the burdens of the operator and could lead to possible confusion and delay. I wonder, for instance, what would happen if an operator whose service is mainly in one county but who has one stopping place in another inadvertently failed to notify the other county council.
Nonetheless, although there are those disadvantages, I have listened carefully. It is interesting that this particular point—although it has been put forward in a very modest way by my noble friend—was the subject of enormously long debate in another place which lasted, if I remember rightly, for several pages of the report of the Standing Committee. Nonetheless, my noble friend Long Monk Bretton has cut through the subject in a very clear and brief speech. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has supported him with the three major points which he has put forward; and my noble friend Lady Carnegy has told me that in Scotland they feel the same about this. Therefore, I should like to give an undertaking to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton in response to this amendment. We shall require operators to copy registrations to the county council—which is what my noble friend is asking for—at the same time as they send them to the traffic commissioner during the transitional period. If this arrangement proves to have the advantages that my noble friend is claiming, then we would be able to continue this process by regulations under paragraph (k) of subsection (8) of this clause.
I realise that the undertaking I am giving to my noble friend does not quite go so far as accepting his amendment; but, without invalidating registration, if an operator does not comply, the solution I am offering will enable us to see whether the idea of my noble friend has the desired effect of keeping county councils informed immediately of registrations. I hope that that assurance will commend itself to my noble friend and that if it does he will consider withdrawing the amendment.
§ Lord Tordoff
I think that people on all sides of the Chamber will be reassured by that offer from the Minister. At the end of the day I wonder who will decide whether it has been successful or not. Is it going to be the traffic commissioner; or the county council?
§ Lord Belstead
I think that will be a matter for consultation. I would not be at all surprised if some of your Lordships will be asking in the normal way in your Lordships' House as to what the Government think at the same time.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
Can the noble Lord tell us how that would operate in the PTE areas where they are going from one district council to another. If they 199 have co-ordination of traffic, would they be informing each district council in the same way as they would be informing the county council?
§ Lord Belstead
There will be notification to the district councils. Indeed, we shall be touching on this in a subsequent amendment of my noble friend Lady Vickers. But the thrust of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton is that the county councils, and the islands and regional councils in Scotland, should have simultaneous notification by having copies sent to them at the same time as they are sent by the operator to the traffic commissioner, because it is those councils which are the highway authorities. It is on that point that I am replying on this amendment.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
I am most grateful that my noble friend the Minister has recognised the very real dangers of the suspension of bus services as a result of lack of time and the trouble that that could cause. I certainly welcome his assurances that at least this may be tried out for a trial period. I think we must all consider that and the results thereof. I should also like very much to thank the Members of the Committee who have supported me over this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 42 not moved.]
Lord Ennals moved Amendment No. 42A:
Page 5, line 29, at end insert—
("( ) the registered particulars of the service include a description of any facilities, special or otherwise, that will make the service convenient for the use of disabled or elderly passengers;")
§ The noble Lord said: It is my pleasure to move Amendment No. 42A, and to speak to Amendment No. 42B, which for the convenience of the Committee are being taken together and are clearly linked.
Amendment No. 42B: Page 5 line 33, at end insert—
( ) the services make appropriate provision for the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled.")
I had originally hoped that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), would have moved this but it is her birthday today and she has a child-like excitement that is lovely to see. Therefore, she asked me if I would do so instead and it is with great pleasure that I do so.
§ Before going into the detail of what I believe are two very important and linked amendments, I hope that the Committee will permit me to refer to a very happy event and also a sad one. The happy event occurred yesterday at the Festival Hall when Dial-a-Ride—which we debated extensively during the passage of the London Regional Transport Bill—celebrated the fact that it now covers the whole of the Greater London area. It was a source of great celebration for disabled people and a very large number of them were there to celebrate. I was honoured to be one of the group doing so.
§ This is a great service that is 95 per cent. financed by the GLC. There is a working party which is looking at how the task can be effectively financed when the funds run out after the GLC goes out of existence. There is a working party which includes the Department of the Environment, the London 200 boroughs, Dial-a-Ride itself and the London Regional Transport Authority. I mention this because had we not waged a great and, I believe a very significant battle in this House, to ensure that the London Regional Transport Authority had a statutory obligation to be concerned with, and have regard to, the needs of disabled people, there is no reason to believe that they would have been part of this essential working party. That is the link with the purpose of the amendment.
§ I have to say that it was also a sad occasion because it was the day following the midnight decision of another place that the GLC and the metropolitan authorities should go. I found it very sad, bearing in mind the many weeks of your Lordships' time that were taken, the fact that the debate started with the guillotine, and that to a large extent the very careful considerations that had been given in your Lordships' House were brushed aside with, I thought, some disdain. I hope that we shall never again see another place treating with such disrespect the consequences of debates that have taken place in this Chamber.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Let me come to the two amendments. These are the first of a number of amendments which have been tabled and which are designed to meet the real transport needs of the elderly and the disabled. We know, particularly in the case of the disabled, that the proportion of elderly people in our society is steadily growing, and in each piece of legislation that we pass we make provision for services for what will be an increasing proportion of our population.
§ The amendments follow discussions with the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled, which represents practically every organisation concerned with almost every type of physical disablement—over 30 of them in all, including such major organisations as the British Legion, RADAR, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, the British Association of Occupational Therapists and the British Limbless Ex-Servicemen's Association. Many of your Lordships will have had, as I have had, a mass of letters of representation to ensure that we succeed in something like the amendments that I am proposing today on behalf of so many other noble Lords across parties.
§ Clause 6(2) describes certain conditions under which a service must operate. The first amendment, No. 42A, would ensure that the registered particulars of the service include a description of facilities being provided for disabled people, so that those who have the responsibility of licensing would know what was on offer and so that there was not just a bunch of old second-hand buses that would not be able to meet the needs of elderly and disabled people. The second amendment would ensure that a service was not provided unless it could make appropriate provision for elderly or disabled people.
§ If accepted, these amendments would ensure that operators took account of the needs of the elderly and disabled at a very early stage in the provision of transport services. Thus the first amendment calls for information on the provision that a service makes for people who are elderly and disabled. We who move this amendment believe that councils and passenger transport authorities need to have this information in order that they may effectively plan transport in their 201 areas and in order to decide, fairly and properly, what additional services may be required. So we argue that this is essential information.
The second amendment calls for
appropriate provision for the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled",
to be made on all services in an area and not merely on services which would not otherwise be available. This is a matter to which we shall come on Clauses 57 and 61. We believe that this amendment is crucial to ensure that people who are elderly or disabled are brought into the mainstream of public transport whenever and wherever possible, and your Lordships have the opportunity of doing that in this Bill.
Perhaps I may quote a sentence from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Writing to me on 1st July, they said:
We believe that the Government's aim could be best met by a duty on operators to provide for the needs of disabled and elderly people. We will also welcome clarification of the extent to which public authorities will be required to make proper provision for such needs.
One has had many letters in this vein.
§ It may be argued that operators will not know how to make provision for elderly and disabled passengers, nor whom to approach to find out. This is not a problem. There is an enormous amount of information which has been collected together, and I have before me an excellent article headed, "Public Transport for Disabled People: the Role of the British Department of Transport", which shows in detail just how adjustments can be made. Also, a great deal of work is being done at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory in Crowthorne.
§ The aim must be to increase the accessibility and convenience of all ordinary buses—and I am not talking about specialised vehicles for the moment—so that in future the ordinary bus services will cater for the majority of would-be travellers. This is especially important for the elderly in our population. At present ordinary buses cater for, at most, 74 per cent. of would-be travellers. Buses such as we are proposing—for example, the Ogle bus with its very sophisticated design—will make ordinary buses suitable for 95 per cent. of would-be travellers.
§ I want to make it perfectly clear that in this and later amendments we are not suggesting that all buses must immediately be transferred, in order that they can cater for all the elderly and disabled, with forklifts and all the rest. We want to lay a plan for the future which will be an improvement of service rather than what could well be a deterioration of service. Making ordinary buses cater for 95 per cent. of travellers or more will ensure that the services are as profitable as possible. This is a very important factor. One has to realise that roughly 25 per cent. of the population cannot use our buses at present. This is denying to transport companies which will be affected by this Bill the resources available, quite apart from denying the opportunities to disabled people.
§ It may conceivably be argued by the Minister that the Government's promise to amend the construction and use regulations to include features that would make all buses more suitable for a larger proportion of would-be travellers is all that is required. I want to say that those who move these amendments do not agree. 202 In the long term, the amendment of the construction and use regulations will indeed help to make all buses more suitable for people who are elderly or disabled. But as the sole means of securing future improvements the construction and use regulations are not satisfactory, and for the purposes of the Transport Bill the regulations can only cover buses in general.
§ Without a general requirement, such as that provided in the second amendment, the regulations cannot secure the provision of any special vehicle that in future may be thought appropriate for meeting the needs of disabled or elderly people. For example, the regulations could not provide for wheelchair accessible buses for a route such as Manchester Airport to Manchester Central Station, nor could they provide for wheelchair accessible buses such as those being tried out in London on ordinary routes, unless there was a statutory requirement to use these special vehicles. So we are trying to set the pattern for the future and at the same time to avoid what some of us fear is a kind of cowboy approach of turning up with a service which does not meet the needs of our population.
§ The regulations will probably not cover a variety of features that would help to make buses better for disabled or elderly people: for example, the colour of handrails and the size, positioning and layout of signs and other details such as that. Furthermore, the regulations are unlikely to be changed very frequently. Without other provisions in the Bill, there would therefore be a considerable delay in securing any improvements in bus services following advances in bus design. At present we do not know—but we hope that the Minister will tell us—how the Government intend to amend the construction and use regulations, nor have we any means of ensuring that future Governments will carry on where this Government leave off in relation to the regulations.
§ I want to emphasise that bus operators must be reminded they should have an obligation—that is the purpose of the amendment—to think about and make provision for would-be travellers who are elderly or disabled. This reminder should be in the Bill, as I have reminded the Committee is the case with London Regional Transport. I hope that the lessons we learned in that debate, which I believe were an absolute breakthrough of tremendous significance achieved in your Lordships' House—they did not come from another place; they were decisions taken here—will mean that we do not have to have as much pressure on the Government to do what is right in this Bill relating to buses as we did in relation to London Regional Transport.
§ I sincerely hope that the Minister will feel that the case is overwhelmingly proven. Our own—I was going to say "wheelchair brigade", but we are very privileged to have in our Chamber, as they do not have in another place, people who actually know the problems. So many of your Lordships know what are the problems of public transport unless some provision is made. It is from your Lordships' House that the public will expect planning for the future. It is in that mood of planning for the future, for a society which will include an increasing proportion of elderly people—I hope not of disabled people, but certainly of elderly people—that we should write into the Bill at 203 this stage the provisions that are set out in the two amendments which it is my privilege to move.
§ Baroness Phillips
Before any further debate takes place I should like to ask my noble friend whether he will define "elderly". I have raised this point before, and I shall continue to raise it. By Act of Parliament it is defined as those over 80. When I was in Government I had the privilege of introducing an Act covering the pensions of elderly persons. I would remind your Lordships that if you are over 80 you get 25 pence a week extra on your pension, so it is worth hanging on for if you think about it. But it does not mean that a cheap bus pass, or in some cases, of course, a completely free bus pass, is given only to those who are over 80. It is given to women at 60 and to men at 65.
When we are framing Acts of Parliament we have to be a little more specific. What are we talking about? Are we talking about the very old, or are we talking about the people who may have retired but are certainly not in need of some of the aids which my noble friend has just mentioned? I think it is important to have this very much more clearly defined. We can all recognise the disabled, and we know and understand the problems. I am very much in favour of the amendment, but I think it is a pity that my noble friend is not a little more definite in what he wants.
§ Lord Ennals
I am assuming that the intervention of the noble Baroness was "before the noble Lord sits down". Perhaps I may therefore reply to the point before I sit down. The question of who is aged is not dependent upon the age but is dependent upon the need. The majority of your Lordships are not aged. You may receive a pension (it may even include the extra 25 pence a week, god bless you, which will make a whole difference to your lifestyle!) but it is need with which we are concerned. At a later stage we shall be concerned with concessions in terms of fares, but we are concerned here with the needs of people who are elderly. There are certain Members of your Lordships' Committee who may have reached the statutory retirement age and who are as fit as a fiddle. They may be 80, they may be 85, they may be 100. Whatever their age, the question is: do we make provision for those whose advancing years have lessened their ability to climb on to a bus without difficulty? With respect to the noble Baroness, who I always respect and whose wisdom is known to the Committee, if we had sought to include a provision which defined who was "elderly" that would have been the best way of dividing this Committee, because one is as old as one feels. The noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is the best example of being as old as one feels. That applies to all of us.
We are concerned with the quality of provision and the needs of people regardless of what is their actual age. The noble Baroness says that you can see someone is disabled: but you cannot always, of course. Some of us are disabled and it is not always apparent physically. With regard to the elderly, this amendment is concerned with people whose very age makes it more difficult for them to travel and more necessary for their needs to be considered both by those companies which wish to be licensed and by the 204 licensing authorities. I hope that I have answered the noble Baroness.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
I shall not say "before the noble Lord sits down" because we are at Committee stage and I believe that the noble Lord can get up more than once if he wants to. I have a lot of sympathy with this amendment. I agree with the noble Lord that we are very fortunate in having a number of very distinguished people in wheelchairs who, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree, are friends of ours on whichever side of the Committee we are sitting. My problem with this amendment—perhaps someone can explain it to me as we go along—is the phrase, "a description of any facilities". Which facilities? I am not disabled, and so I am not too sure; but it does not seem to be clear what is being asked. Perhaps someone can enlighten me as we go along in the debate.
§ Lord Somers
I should like to support this amendment, but before I go any further I should like to join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on a very happy occasion—and may there be many more!
§ Lord Somers
I think I can safely cast myself in the first category of elderly people. I remember not too long ago trying to get on to a bus in London. The conductor kindly stretched out his hand and said, "Come on, grandpa". I think I am really in that category. Very little need be done in some cases. I am not in the least denying that constructional improvements to buses, and so on, are very necessary: but I have often felt that, when one is waiting for either a bus or a taxi, then somewhere to sit, be it just an ordinary bench, would be an absolute godsend to those who really do find standing for a long time very tiring. A great deal might be done in that way. I entirely agree that improvements to buses for those who find even greater difficulty are absolutely essential.
§ Lord Beloff
I do not think that any of us would wish to deny the importance of making provision for the elderly and the disabled, but there must be a question as to whether this is the appropriate point in a Bill of this kind at which to introduce these provisions. I say that because we are dealing now with the registration of services, and we are endeavouring to meet this problem by making it, as it were, a condition for the approval of a service by the traffic commissioners.
The difficulty there seems to be that we are not starting from scratch. Let us consider who is going to apply for the right to run services. According to the Bill, there will be the various portions of the National Bus Company, which will have been divided up; there will be the present municipal buses under new companies; but basically—very largely, at any rate—they will be exactly the same vehicles as at present go along the bus routes. All of us know—I am not talking about London—that few of them have extensive provision for the disabled, let alone the elderly. The bus route which I normally take passes a major hospital of the St. Dunstan's organisation. But 205 I would not recommend any blind person who lives there to try to cross the road and get on to a bus of this kind unless he has a fairly stout and fully-sighted companion with him.
Those provisions are not at present made. It is desirable that they should be and it is certainly a point which, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, will no doubt be dealt with when we come to the provisions made for the future construction of vehicles. With our present knowledge of what can be done to make vehicles more accessible for the elderly and disabled, new vehicles can obviously be made part of the law and part of the regulations made under the law.
The other point to which the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Somers, drew attention, is that in some cases the important factor is not the way in which the bus is constructed but the way in which drivers or conductors—if there are conductors—behave towards passengers of the kind in question. As someone who is on the verge of being elderly, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I find that in competing with a horde of French schoolchildren who get on my bus, my age is a little bit of a handicap. I can see the difficulty for people who have reached the really elderly stage, unless it is regarded by the bus driver or the bus conductor as a part of his duty to see to it that persons who are handicapped have access to the vehicle. They may see to it, for example, that the vehicle does not start with a jolt until disabled passengers have found a seat, and so on.
This, again, is desirable but it does not seem to me that it affects the point of registration of services which for the most part, and for some time to come, must be services which use the present vehicles and the present staff. However, looking to the future, it will no doubt be possible in the licensing of drivers and so on to try to introduce if not regulations then at least a suggestion that the training of crew should include the ability to recognise the needs of the disabled.
Although I hope that the Minister will show himself very favourably disposed towards the cause which has been put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I should myself be surprised if my noble friend found that this was the point in the Bill at which he wished to insert an amendment of the kind now proposed.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
I should like, despite my increased age, to say a few words in support of this amendment. I must first thank the noble Lord, Lord Somers, for his good wishes.
The amendments have been ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who has covered a very great deal of the ground. I shall try not to repeat his arguments. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, there is a very strong feeling that there is a need to write into the Bill a clear duty on operators of mainstream public bus services to make provision for elderly and disabled people. Possibly the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has a point, and this is not the right place to insert such an amendment. Perhaps we can find a better place, and maybe the noble Lord the Minister can even assist us to find it. The point is that such a provision must relate to mainstream ordinary transport services and not to the subsidised services.
I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, that we are not in the main talking about expensive 206 provisions. We are talking mainly about such features as colour contrasts, brightly-painted handrails or thicker handrails, tactile symbols for the blind, and other improvements of that kind. When it comes to building new buses, even more can be done. In fact, I believe that the Government are proposing to amend Clauses 57 and 61 to ensure that the needs of the elderly and disabled are mentioned there. While this is very welcome, it applies only to services which would not otherwise be available and not to the ordinary transport services.
This amendment is essential, at whatever point we insert it into the Bill, to ensure that the elderly and the disabled are catered for by ordinary buses and are not made dependent upon special and subsidised services or do not become the responsibility of social service departments. We have discussed this issue many times lately, mainly in relation to Dial-a-Ride.
I agree that there will always be a need for some special transport because even a totally accessible public transport service could never hope to provide the door-to-door service which some people will need because they cannot walk or wheel from their home to the bus. However, this should not remove the obligation to provide wherever possible public transport which will, over the years, become increasingly accessible to elderly and disabled people.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, said, such provision makes economic sense. If operators provide only for the fittest members of the community, the cost of the subsidised services will be increased unnecessarily. As he said also, we are talking about quite a large number of people. At present, only 74 per cent. of would-be bus travellers can use public buses. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, also mentioned the wealth of information that is available about what provisions exist. When the Secretary of State, Mr. Nicholas Ridley, was kind enough to meet us a week or two ago, he talked about issuing a code of practice. A code of practice could be very helpful and I wonder whether the Minister can say anything about that aspect later.
It is very important not to draw lines and not to set limits; not to say which categories of people we can cater for and which we cannot. I therefore approve very much of the word "appropriate" in the amendment because it ensures flexibility. It is not asking for anything more than is reasonable and practicable at a particular moment. Financial climates change, attitudes and expectations change, and technology changes. A combination of those and other factors determines what is appropriate. I rather think that this amendment does not indicate who would judge what was appropriate. It may be that we would need to specify who it is, but I am sure that that point can be tidied up. I may be wrong. I hope that the Minister will look kindly upon this amendment. Perhaps he can tell the Committee where it should be inserted, if he feels that its proposed place of insertion is not right. I certainly hope very much that he will agree with the basic philosophy behind this amendment.
Bus transport is not good for elderly and disabled people at present and we have here a great opportunity to improve it and to ensure that such people are catered for in the mainstream transport system and 207 not hived off onto the special and subsidised services. The elderly and the disabled are part of the public and yet it appears that more than 25 per cent. of the potential bus-going public cannot use the transport provided. I believe we shall make a bad mistake if we fail to remedy that situation by not writing into the Bill a duty to make appropriate provisions for such people.
Let us remember that easier access also benefits the very young, the pregnant, people with young children and pushchairs, and those carrying parcels and heavy shopping. Let us remember also that the more people who can be catered for on the open market, the less needs to be spent on subsidised services. I hope very much that your Lordships will support this amendment.
§ Lord Shepherd
I personally welcome this amendment, although like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I can see some difficulty in the Government's accepting it. There is a great deal that could be done for the disabled without a great deal of money having to be spent by the company. I appointed Mrs. Claudia Flanders, who had unique experience in the whole field of the disabled. The disabled are not only those who, like our noble friends, have to sit in a wheelchair. The disabled are also the blind and the deaf.
A great deal can be done for such people. Some of it may be done at considerable expense. In one experiment in the south-west, we introduced a talking bus stop. It allowed a person who was blind to plug in and hear what was the next vehicle due, where it was going, and what was its schedule. Of course that is an expensive facility but it is something which, in a good society, we should seek to achieve. Later I shall be talking about cross-subsidy. In a sense all this can only be achieved by a degree of cross-subsidy within an operator's performance.
Things are moving and I believe there is a great deal of understanding among bus drivers and inspectors as to the needs of the disabled. A bus driver is of course in some difficulty if he is running a one-man operation. He cannot then get out from behind his steering wheel, and leave his money unguarded, while he assists a disabled person. There are all these various difficulties but my experience of drivers, particularly in the country, is that there is a great community feeling and great respect for those who are in need, whatever the causes may be.
The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, spoke about the design of vehicles and the regulations concerning them. Of course, the modern fleet—the Leyland National and the Leyland Olympian—all have wide entrances. That is an essential factor for the disabled. They also have low steps, or as low as can be achieved. In fact, at one stage there was a "kneeling" Leyland National; in other words, the bottom step of the Leyland National could be dropped in order that the first step from the pavement into the vehicle was much lower than normal. Of course, that is an extra expense.
Where the traditional bus companies will have these vehicles, if we take the Hereford situation merely as a lesson I suspect that the newcomers into the competitive scene will, by the very force of 208 circumstances, be buying coaches. The ordinary style coach is a very different animal from a stage carriage bus designed for a specific purpose. Therefore, I believe that if there is a legislative duty placed upon a bus operator for the provision of the disabled, this will create major difficulties for a newcomer into the bus scene; unless he is willing to provide or Parliament insists that he should provide, that type of vehicle. Generally the coach vehicle, which is often used in the less well paying areas of the country, is a vehicle which is unlikely ever to be suitable for the persons we are considering in this amendment. I welcome the thought that is behind it. It has my complete support. Certainly it will take time to bring about, but it is helpful to have such a measure in legislation, though with the recognition that it cannot be implemented immediately; although it can be accomplished with good will and understanding by operators over a period of time.
§ Lord Belstead
It might help if I said a few words on the amendment at this stage. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for moving it. It is an important amendment. I am glad that it coincides with the birthday of the noble Baroness; Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and I hope that both the noble Baroness and I, and others in your Lordships' Committee, will be able to celebrate at the end of it.
As this is the first occasion on which this subject is being debated in this Committee stage, I should like to say a few words on behalf of the Government and remind your Lordships that in Committee in another place my right honourable friend made it clear that he intended to take three specific initiatives in this area; and they have been mentioned. The first is that he will consult on using the results of research already produced in his department, and by others, about the kind of adaptations and improvements to bus design that can make travel easier for elderly and disabled people as a basis for deciding about specific amendments to be made to the construction and use regulations. These would apply to new vehicles, I know, but, nonetheless, that is the first point.
The second initiative is that in view of the need to encourage operators to make similar adjustments and adaptations to vehicles already in service, my right honourable friend intends to draw up a code of practice which will provide guidance for operators on the kind of action they can also take in this way, whether or not they have a new bus. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), asked me to say something about that but, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, the code of practice will need to be drafted when it becomes clear what the changes in the construction and use regulations will be.
The third initiative that my right honourable friend is determined to take, in consultation, is to bring forward changes in the regulations on the conduct of drivers to achieve the sort of improvements on which my noble friend Lord Beloff put his finger when he said how important this is for people who are uncertain—often in a crowd and with a bus starting to move—about travelling on public transport at all. They would gain additional confidence from knowing that the drivers' regulations lay down stricter rules on how the elderly and disabled are to be treated.
209 In another place the Government also agreed that it would be appropriate to consult on amendments designed to ensure that proper consideration is given to the needs of elderly and disabled passengers. A consultation letter was sent out and the proposal we put forward is that there should be amendments to Clauses 57 and 61, dealing with the powers and duties of non-metropolitan county and district councils in England and Wales and regional and island councils in Scotland, and also the powers of the PTAs and PTEs. Our intention is to include the requirements of disabled people among the requirements which authorities have a duty to meet under the provisions for securing subsidised services designed to meet the transport needs of their areas.
If we go ahead along that route—and it is a route which has already been criticised in the exchanges—authorities would be under a clear obligation to consider what steps they can take to provide additional assistance and support for disabled people when drawing up their policies for the support of public transport services. For example, local authorities will, under amendments of this kind, be able to stipulate what vehicles are used on subsidised services and how they should be adapted, if necessary, in order to make boarding or seating arrangements more convenient. Authorities may also wish to require more comprehensive adaptations in the case of some particular services; for example, on a route serving a hospital or an old people's home.
It is also our intention to include specific reference to the needs of disabled people in the powers which authorities will have under these clauses to promote the availability of all services—commercial as well as subsidized—and the convenience of the public in using them. Such powers would, for example, make it possible for authorities to encourage the operators of all kinds of services to make the kind of changes and modifications—often small changes, which the noble Baroness spoke about—in vehicles and working practices which can make travel so much easier not only for the disabled but generally for elderly and less mobile people. The changes might involve modifications in matters such as handrails or the use of tactile symbols. The noble Baroness has rightly drawn attention to these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, spoke of the duty which is placed on London Regional Transport in the London Regional Transport Act. I suggest to your Lordships that the duties for authorities and PTAs which I have just attempted to sketch out would correspond to the duties of London Regional Transport under its own Act. That Act requires LRT to have due regard to the transport needs of Greater London and makes clear that this includes the needs of disabled people. Of course, LRT, unlike the authorities covered by Clauses 57 and 61, is itself an operator of bus services and, therefore, provides a precedent for placing duties directly on operators themselves rather than on the local authorities, which is what these amendments would do.
However, I put it to your Lordships that LRT is in a very different position from other bus operators. Under the London Regional Transport Act LRT has overall responsibility for transport in London, which makes it in many respects more closely analogous to a 210 PTE than to an individual operator of services. It is in that role that the Government believe that the precedent of LRT should be interpreted. We believe, therefore, that it is right and necessary for these duties and responsibilities to be placed on the local authorities and the PTEs rather than the individual operator.
There is another reason for being worried about placing the responsibility absolutely directly on the shoulders of the individual operator, and that is that there are no criteria laid down in these two amendments; there is no standard set for the sort of details the operator will be required to provide. It is not clear from these amendments where one draws the line between features of particular relevance to the elderly and the disabled and those which naturally promote the convenience of all passengers. No doubt the larger operators will have no difficulty in producing comprehensive and detailed statements, but the smaller operator, who is often working in close contact with his public and providing equal or even better support for the less robust passengers, may find it much more difficult to complete such a return. Certainly he will if there are no criteria to guide him about what he has in fact to produce.
I was interested to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, under whose chairmanship the NBC has done so much thinking about this particular problem, and who gave us the benefit of his views on the subject, nonetheless delivered a few words of warning about some of the dangers here. I will simply say on behalf of the Government that I think that, if these particular amendments were to go through, potential operators could be intimidated by a requirement along these lines, because these amendments are linked to a statement that one would not be allowed to run a bus service unless one had provided facilities which are unspecified. The result would be a loss of operators who had a real and worthwhile contribution to make to the expansion of public transport, which, after all, is the objective of us all. On this point may I just say that it is not clear, not only what has to be judged but who will make the judgment.
I was interested in the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, about who exactly are the elderly—not the noble Baroness, I am certain, from all that I know of her—and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was quite right: it is a question of need. But if you are moving an amendment to prevent a bus service from operating at all until it provides for people's needs, then I think that the Committee can reasonably expect that some criteria and some standards should be set out in the amendment which is demanding that.
Having said that, we are dealing with an enormously important point, of course, and one about which many of your Lordships are speaking not only with first-hand experience but with great experience. I shall therefore add only one word more. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, suggested that I might rise and say that changing the construction and use regulations would be all that was required. I hope the Committee will take the view that I have gone a great deal further than that. I have said that we are going to consult. In other words, I have repeated my right 211 honourable friend's undertaking on the construction and use regulations.
I have made it absolutely clear that we realise it is only for new buses, and that one has to do something about the whole broad spread of the bus services, so a code of practice will be necessary. I have reminded your Lordships that we have also given an undertaking about consulting on improvements to the drivers' regulations. In addition to that, I have gone into some detail about our proposal for promoting the convenience of the public and the availability of public transport by laying a responsibility on county councils and PTEs to have proper regard to the needs of elderly or disabled people, and I have tried to explain what I think we can achieve through that proposal.
Having said that, I know I shall be told that there is a difference of view on this question, and perhaps I may just add this last word. We really are as open-minded as we can be about this important subject. About a fortnight ago we had a meeting to which my right honourable friend came with representatives of the disabled, with the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, in the chair, and we listened very carefully. I have looked at the Marshalled List and I see that there are some interesting amendments to come, not the least one on a statutory advisory committee for travel for the disabled and the elderly, in the names of my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox, the noble Lord, Lord Zouche, and my noble friend Lord Renton, on which I think we shall probably have an interesting and, I hope, fruitful debate.
But in the light of what we are genuinely trying to do, and considering the difficulties that there are in reaching judgments on these particular amendments, I ask those who have their names down to them not to press them today. I cannot promise that, at the very end of the day, when this Bill finally becomes law, we shall have a complete meeting of minds, but I do promise that as the Bill goes through we shall try to do our best.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Shepherd
I should like to put this question to the noble Lord. There is a very considerable difference between the capital costs of the types of vehicle that we are talking about; namely, vehicles suitable for dealing with the disabled. If my memory is right they cost in the region of some £35,000 to £40,000 apiece. There may be an operator who is providing those services and doing his best with a vehicle that is suitable to a certain degree for those who are handicapped, and then a new competitor comes along—as he will be able to under this Bill—with some coaches which he may have bought for £1,000 each. That is about the price of those vehicles.
The Minister is quite right if what is in these amendments would mean that the new operator would probably not be able to get on the road; but in fair competition, when an operator is using vehicles which cost £35,000 to £40,000 each against an operator whose capital cost is only £1,000 for each vehicle, is there not a risk that, because of the capital cost, the operator who has the suitable vehicle may have no other choice but to withdraw that type of vehicle and to seek to use a vehicle which is similar in 212 order to be able to compete. I put this point to the noble Lord not in order to make his problem any greater but because, in relation to what is being asked for in this amendment, it does not strike at the philosophy behind the Bill but it has to be recognised that what we should like to see come from this Bill may not be able to be provided, and where it is now provided it may well be lost.
§ Lord Belstead
I wonder whether I may answer that, because it is a very shrewd point, such as I would expect from the noble Lord. I think there are three things which I should say. One, which I think is of importance, is that we have said that there will be a code of practice. Very well: we shall have to see what effect the code of practice will have. In some cases codes can have effect so far as courts of law are concerned. We have not got as far as that yet, but I think that is one leg of the three-legged answer I shall give to the noble Lord.
The second leg is this. Do not let us forget that under the proposals that I am putting forward in answer to the amendment it would be quite clear that the operator who has a vehicle which has not in any way been made suitable for elderly or disabled people would almost certainly find that he would be unable to tender for subsidised services—almost certainly. Thirdly, if it is the case, as I accept that it is, that some 25 per cent. of the travelling public are either elderly or disabled people—
§ Lord Belstead
More than that, yes—then it is really almost inconceivable that an operator who has any ambition to serve the public, and indeed his own interests as well, will not be led along to improving his fleet of vehicles whenever he can.
§ Lord Zouche of Haryngworth
I support my noble friend the Minister. He assured the Committee that he will impose a requirement on local authorities. Although I do not believe that that is exactly what has been asked for, it will go a long way down the road to achieve the end desired. As I outlined in my maiden speech, I feel very strongly indeed about the disabled, but I want to support the Minister in this because I think that at the end of the day the disabled will get a good deal after his assurances. I believe what he said has put us a lot further down the road.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
I should like to thank the Minister for what he said. I think that he was right to speak when he did. He shortened the debate as he answered a number of questions which had been posed and some which had not. I think that we are greatly in his debt. As far as I understand it, he is agreeing to general duties being imposed roughly in the terms of Amendment No. 42B, but on the authorities and not on the operators.
§ Lord Henderson of Brompton
Very much the same general duties were imposed on London Regional 213 Transport in, I think, the Bill of last Session. We all attached the highest importance to the amendment to that Bill, and the amendments are very much the same. If we can have an assurance that an equivalent amendment will go into this Bill but that the duty will be placed on the authorities and not the operators, I think that that would go a long way to satisfy a number of us.
The Minister promised amendments to Clauses 57 and 61. When are we likely to receive those? It would have been of great assistance to the Committee had we had them early in the Committee stage. If that is not possible, shall we have them by the time Clauses 57 and 61 are reached at this stage or shall we have to wait until Report? I think that that is a fair question.
The Minister was helpful about what he proposed to put in that area of the Bill. It seems to me that as drafted those clauses do not cover all services within an area; they cover only services which would not otherwise be available. Somewhere in his speech I think that he said that the amendments which he was proposing would cover all services. I should very much like an assurance that that will be so. Again I think that would meet the general wishes of those who are concerned about the disabled.
The question of drafting was raised not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. She said that it was impossible to define "the elderly". I agree, but I would say that it is also impossible to define "the disabled". There are so many invisible disabilities. There are a number of the disabled who are not elderly and a number of the elderly who are not disabled. I think that it is perfectly possible to use those expressions in a statute without definition. I take the point that the noble Lord the Minister made, however. There are other expressions in these two amendments which are perhaps too vague to go into a statute.
On a very minor point, one wants to clear up the question of the description of the disabled and the elderly—which comes first? In Amendment No. 42A the disabled come first and in Amendment No. 42B the elderly come first. That is only a minor point, and I think in the other amendments on the subject there are slightly different expressions. I think that perhaps the time has come for the draftsman's attention to be drawn to that. I hope that we shall be able to get it right now and for the future.
Those are the only points that I should like to bring to the Minister's attention at this stage. I thank him once again for the comprehensive and sympathetic statement that he made.
§ Baroness Faithfull
I shall make one brief comment. We have talked about the disabled. May I make a plea for the staff of the buses—the conductors and drivers? When there are adequate facilities for the disabled and the elderly their task is made much easier. For instance, if there is a long strip so that people may touch it for the bus to stop, that saves trouble for the drivers and conductors. While we are talking about the disabled, let us think also about the ease of running the buses and giving the best service possible; and those facilities will help the staff of the buses.
§ Lord Shinwell
In the debate various terms have been used. I have been trying to follow their meaning. 214 What is required before we come to any decision at all is a definition of the terms that are in use in our discussions. For example, what is meant by "disabled"? I ask the question not because I seek to advise; I seek information. Quite frankly, there are periods when I find myself completely disabled. For example, I go to bed at night; most people do. The purpose is to engage in sleep. I wish that that could be achieved on every occasion. Sometimes it is a complete failure, and so I indulge in reading. I occupy much of my time with literature which members of your Lordships' Committee would wonder about—copies of Hansard and not Private Eye, Time and Tide or other periodicals of that character! I gather a great deal of information from reading Written Questions and following what happens in the other place as well as in your Lordships' House.
There are occasions during the night when I fail to sleep and when I suffer severe pain—pains which are excruciating and for which I obtain remedies from my medical adviser or advisers. One goes from one to another and one is supposed to do this or asked to do that. I obtain what are called painkillers. The pain continues and becomes even more intense. I live by myself in my humble flat with very little help. I do not want to go into that matter at all. It is personal. In the course of the night if I fail to sleep and am tired of reading, I get up and dance about. I shake my limbs and indulge in what is called exercise. If the cameras were working and I gave an example now it would be one of the best shows people ever saw, but it would not be to my credit or even in the long run to my advantage.
If this sort of thing happens to me—and I have a fairly strong and tough constitution—heaven knows what happens to people who are in an inferior state of mind or physical condition. I am sorry for them. Indeed, many times I have had to force myself to come to your Lordships' House. I have to get transport as I can never use public transport I should be unable to use some of these vehicles that my noble friend Lord Shepherd talked about. They do not cost a lot of money. They are vehicles which would be provided, but for whom? They are for disabled people. Does that mean partially disabled, or may be disabled? It means disabled in what? It may be failure of eyesight, failure of hearing—that kind of disability.
Let me put the matter in a blunt, simple fashion. I know more about every item in the British medical pharmacopoeia than any Member of your Lordships' Committee. I read every item that I can get hold of in the hope that I shall gain some relief. I suffer in that way. I am not exaggerating—far from it. In fact, it is the first time that I have talked about it in a personal way because I do not like to complain. I would explain, but I do not like complaining. Anyway, nobody listens to one when one complains. It is like a couple of old ladies discussing their operations: it is a form of conversation, it is a kind of hobby. I do not want to follow that line of country at all.
When one is discussing this, consider what one is talking about. What does "disabled" mean? Disabled in what respect? Is it hearing, is it mental, is it physical, is it partially physical and partially mental? I shall not 215 use the term "intellectual" because that would be out of the question entirely. Let us deal with the matter as it should be dealt with. I have not the least doubt that Members of the Government who are taking part in this debate are as anxious as anybody else to provide every possible means of relief for those who are suffering from one form of disablement or another. Of course they are. I shall give them every credit for that. That would be a characteristic of every Member of your Lordships' Committee. What is left to us is a measure of compassion. What else have we to boast about, anyhow?
As we go down the scale, year after year, from one century and possibly to another, or part of a century, then we become very troubled, worried about what is going to happen. One must not be too frightened about it. I myself am not frightened. I only wonder what your Lordships are going to do when I am not here. These contributions that one wants to make will no longer be available. I shall not be able to get on the telephone. Nobody will be able to telephone me, and I shall not be able to hear them, anyhow.
When one talks about disablement one has to consider every aspect of it. Thus, if I may say so in this debate, I would suggest that the Minister should consider what has been said this afternoon and find some means of dealing with the subject of disablement in general and, at the same time, in its various aspects. Perhaps he can see whether it is possible to do so, either by an adequate pension, which the country can afford, or by the provision of adequate transport and a means of moving from one place to another—of communication, not mental but physical. Physical communications are of the utmost importance.
I suggest that the Government give these matters consideration. Perhaps before Christmas or before we go into recess, or not long after it, the Minister will come forward on behalf of the Government, a compassionate and understanding Government, leaving politics aside—politics do not matter when it comes to civilised behaviour—and provide something which I believe every Member of your Lordships' Committee desires and is very anxious to achieve. Without that, I am afraid that much of this discussion will be of little value.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
We in East Sussex are not quite as senior as the noble Lord who has just spoken, but our average age is frighteningly high. The number of people over 65 is, I believe, the highest percentage of any county. It is because of this that we have specialist vehicles, dual purpose vehicles, which can take the infirm. They have a lift at the back especially to do that. They are owned by the county council, or at least I think the county council leases them from the manufacturers and then leases them on. It does that really so that it has control of the vehicles and they are not actually in the hands of the operators.
I think that under the Bill it cannot go on owning these vehicles because it is a little too near to running a service. I am not quite sure what will happen. It will have to make some other arrangement for this. I hope my noble friend the Minister will keep his eye on what happens to those vehicles, and maybe what provision 216 there will be for such vehicles in other places in the future.
§ The Earl of Perth
I have listened to much of this debate. In particular, I listened to the noble Lord when he spoke and gave us a good deal of encouragement. As far as I can make out, nowhere in this Bill at the present time do the words "elderly" or "disabled" appear.
I gathered that the noble Lord felt that it might well be appropriate to put something in Clause 61 about the need for the councils to secure the public transport requirements. Perhaps it could include, in addition, something about those who are elderly or disabled. I recognise the difficulty of definition, as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has pointed out.
I, for one, would be very much happier if, in some way or another, the particular needs of the elderly and disabled were in fact mentioned in the Bill and not merely in a code of practice, or something like that. As to what is the right place in the Bill for it, I am not quite clear. I should have thought that it could well be done in Clause 61. I think that, anyhow, somewhere should be found for those words.
§ Lord Belstead
Before the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, speaks to this amendment finally, I think I owe the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, a reply to what he said. I must apologise that the amendments which I said that the Government were proposing to bring forward are not yet down on the Marshalled List. Of course, we shall be having an eye on this particular debate as well, but, nonetheless, the amendments we are proposing to bring forward are not yet down on the Marshalled List. If it is possible to bring them forward during this Committee stage and not for Report, I certainly shall do my very best to do that. If we have to wait until Report stage, I today give an undertaking to do my best to keep Members of the Committee who are taking part in this debate fully informed as to what are the Government's intentions.
The other thing I should say is this. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, will not think that I am in any way by-passing what he said, but I should just like to say something in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Perth. When the noble Earl says that it is his desire to see the words "elderly" and "disabled" upon the face of the Bill, of course this would be the effect of putting down amendments to Clauses 57 and 61. I simply confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that his understanding of what I said about our intentions for those amendments is absolutely correct.
§ Viscount Ingleby
I should merely like to say that I welcome what the Minister has said. I would point out that the amendment of the construction and use regulations will be a long-term process. Not only will it obviously take some time to work out the proper wording, but then there will also be a delay while the bus manufacturing companies are given sufficient time to adapt their models.
The noble Lord made some helpful suggestions about amending Clauses 57 and 61. However, I believe these would apply only to subsidised services. We are anxious that anyone providing a public bus service should be under a duty to consider what is 217 appropriate for disabled and elderly people. We are not telling them what they must do at all. What the other amendment says is, "We would like you to tell us what you are prepared to do to make travelling easier for elderly and disabled people".
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
Perhaps I, too, may ask the Minister something. First, I hope that he did not think I was criticising the plans to amend Clauses 57 and 61. I think I said that they were very welcome. However, as my noble friend has just said, I think we need to have amendments directly to encourage mainstream operators as well. Not being as quick as my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton to grasp what is on offer, which is very difficult to know without seeing amendments to Clauses 57 and 61, may I ask the Minister whether he is saying that the Government amendments will give direct and firm encouragement to mainstream public transport operators to provide appropriate provision as well? Is he saying that?
§ Lord Belstead
I am glad of the opportunity to clarify the point. When I said to the noble, Lord Henderson, that he was correct, I should have added a little extra information and I can now do so. I am making two points on behalf of the Government to the noble Baroness and to the Committee. It is our intention—and our difficulty has been that we have been consulting—to include the requirements of disabled people and the elderly among the requirements which authorities have a duty to meet under the provisions for securing subsidised services designed to meet the transport needs of their areas. Therefore, authorities would be under a clear obligation to consider what steps they could take to provide additional assistance and support for disabled people when drawing up their policies for support for public transport services. It means, in effect, that an authority under this limb would be able to say to those who are tendering for its subsidised services, "We are going to stipulate certain things for those particular services". Therefore the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, is absolutely justified in saying that that only applies to subsidised services.
However, the second limb of what I was seeking to say on behalf of the Government is that it is also our intention to include specific reference to the needs of disabled people and the elderly in the powers which authorities will have under these clauses to promote the availability of all services—commercial as well as subsidised—and the convenience of the public in using them. That is precisely the answer which I give to the noble Baroness. Such powers would, for example, make it possible for authorities to encourage operators of all kinds of services to make the type of changes and modifications which my noble friend Lady Faithfull sketched out in her brief intervention in this particular debate.
§ Lord Ennals
I am most grateful to all those who have taken part in what has been a most useful debate. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Zouche, made his maiden speech on the question of disability and I am certain that we all echo his wish that by the end of the day a good deal will have been achieved for the elderly and the disabled. One of the good points is that 218 the end of the day has not yet come, because we have this stage, the Report stage and we also have t bird Reading.
I should also like to welcome very much the support of the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Somers, and the very wise contribution from my noble friend Lord Shinwell. Whether we shall be able to provide bus services which will suit my noble friend's needs is perhaps doubtful, but we have a great reflection on how he spends his nights, and I have often wondered!
I come back to the point which was made by the noble Earl, Lord Perth—namely, that within the Bill there should be clearly written the responsibilities both of the operators and of the licensing authorities to have due regard—to use the words of the London Regional Transport Act—"for disabled people".
I greatly welcome the mood of the Minister's approach. He referred to the three initiatives which had been mentioned by his noble friend. One of those initiatives was to consult about research into adaptations, which in my view is extremely important. We know of many—and there has been some reference to this by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth)—excellent initiatives which have been taken. We know of some of the fine steps which have been taken by local authorities themselves in a very imaginative way. Many of us conceive that, while we shall not get every bus converted so that—to use any easy term—a forklift is available for wheelchairs, we should like to see many bus services in future providing, perhaps at specified times of the day, a service which it is known can be used by those who are disabled. I am not suggesting that every bus be adapted in that manner. It may concern only one bus in eight or whatever may be the arrangement. The important point is that it is known to be available. However, that will take some time. I think that the noble Lord the Minister will accept that we welcome the promise of consultation, but we do not know what will be its outcome.
The second point concerns the code of practice, which is also important. A number of points about definition—such as the matter put to me by my noble friend Lady Phillips—will probably be dealt with within the code of practice. However, we have not seen the code of practice either, and I do not suppose that we shall see it or be consulted about it until the Bill has departed from your Lordships' House. If I am wrong, then of course the Minister will intervene. However, I assume that we shall not have a chance of seeing it before the Bill is passed.
Thirdly, amendments have been promised to Clauses 57 and 61, and those in themselves are very welcome. However, the Minister very clearly indicated in his last intervention that they would only deal with subsidised services and that they would not deal with mainstream services. It is most important that they should deal with mainstream bus services as well.
Therefore, although I warmly welcome the mood of the Minister's response and the promises which he gave to us, which I totally accept, I do not think that any of them provide reasons why these two amendments should not at this stage be put into the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, quite rightly said 219 that maybe this is not the best place to insert amendments in the Bill. One of the great advantages of your Lordships' procedures is that if we discover that we have put amendments into the Bill in the wrong place or that the words are wrong, then at the Report stage the noble Minister, bearing in mind the commitments which he made, can come forward with amendments in the right place and in what he considers to be the right form of words.
However, at this stage, no damage would be done if we registered here and now in the Bill that there should be a responsibility on both operators and licensing authorities for caring for the elderly and the disabled. I am certain that all of those who have put their names to, and have spoken in favour of, these amendments will be only too willing at the next stage to see the Government come forward with amendments which would, if they were satisfactory, replace the amendments which we are now proposing to insert at this stage. Therefore, I feel it right that we should take action now. We can always put the situation right if we have got it wrong. Indeed, if we have got it wrong, then all of us would want to put it right. My anxiety is, and I have always felt—
§ Lord Ennals
Perhaps I may just finish my sentence and then I shall give way. I have always felt that you should get what you want when you can, and if what you have is not exactly right, then you should take the opportunity to get it right. If you have put it in the wrong place, then you can take a later opportunity to put it in the right place. If the wording is not the best, then you can take the advice of those who are wiser and those who have been advised on the ministerial Front Bench, and get the wording right.
§ Lord Mottistone
Bearing in mind what my noble friend the Minister has said and also the gist—if I have understood it correctly—of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I question whether the noble Lord is being entirely wise in being about to suggest to the Committee that we should insert the amendments in the Bill now? In view of what my noble friend has said, a great many of us thought that he had gone quite as far as could be expected at this stage. Therefore, it is highly likely that these amendments will be defeated and that surely would not be in the best interests of the elderly and the disabled. It would create the impression that what my noble friend is saying as regards the amendments which he will bring forward later and which will reflect the view of the House is somehow denigrated in advance by the defeat of these amendments. I should have thought that it would be most unwise to put these amendments to the Committee at this stage.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
This is a very important point. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave a satisfactory answer and commitment—certainly one which has my sympathies. I shall be unhappy if the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, takes this to a Division and puts many of us in the position of voting against something which in principle we want to see conceded. I most sincerely hope that he will not feel that it is necessary to do that.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I have not spoken in this debate because I thought it was going in the way that it should go. It would be to be seen to be voting for something which would say that there would be no bus in remote areas in Scotland because the bus operator was not able to say that he was going to do these things and to provide them, which would be something which very few disabled people would want.
A great deal that has been said has been going in the way that disabled people want in my experience. My heart sank when I heard the noble Lord suggesting that he was going to ask us to vote at this stage on this matter, because, although it might work in the cities, in the remoter areas it is the wrong approach, and I think that disabled people would be worried by it.
§ Lord Shepherd
On a point of order, I think that my noble friend gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, when he intervened in the course of my noble friend's speech. If we are going to have a series of interjections from other Members in the course of my noble friend's speech we shall get ourselves into grave difficulties. Pleas have been made to my noble friend. I hope he will set the minds of noble Lords at rest.
§ Lord Ennals
I am grateful to my noble friend. If the noble Lord wishes, I shall of course give way. Well, let me say that I do not intend to divide the Committee. One of the great advantages of having the privilege of winding up is that one can count on so much wisdom from those who support the cause here. If the Minister has to argue the case with his right honourable friend the strength of the case is immensely increased by the fact that we have decided not to put this to the vote. The interventions of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and others who have said, "Do not put it to a Division", add to the strength of the case.
We have recorded our strong feelings. The Minister has replied in a warm and receptive way. At the next stage of this Bill, or at a later clause of the Bill when he puts down his amendments to Clauses 57 and 61, we shall look carefully at what he says. I personally shall not be satisfied, and I do not think that my noble friends who have tabled these amendments will be satisfied, with amendments to Clauses 57 and 61 which do not deal with mainstream services.
In a sense, this is putting the noble Lord on notice. I feel that it is the wish and the mood of the Committee that this is not the time to divide. I think it is the wish and the mood of the Committee that the noble Lord shall come forward at the appropriate stage with some clear amendments which we shall then have the privilege, if we feel we need to, of seeking to amend. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 42B not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 not moved.]
Lord Shepherd moved Amendment No. 45:
Page 6, line 1, after ("accepted") insert ("(a)").
The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 45 and speak to Amendments Nos. 46 and 47, all
three being paving amendments to the substantive Amendment No. 61.
Amendment No. 46: Page 6, line 5, at end insert—
(b) subject to the provisions of section (acceptance of applications under section 6).").
Amendment No. 47: Page 6, line 9, at beginning insert ("Subject to the provisions of section (Acceptance of applications under section 6)").
Amendment No. 61: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Acceptance of applications under section 6.
§ .—(1) Where an application is made to register a service or to vary a registration of a service under section 6 of this Act that application shall only be accepted if and to the extent that the traffic commissioner is satisfied that its acceptance would not be against the public interest.
§ (2) In considering whether an application would be against the public interest under subsection (1) above the traffic commissioner shall have regard to:
- (a) the interests of those who are or are likely to be users of the service;
- (b) the interests of the users of other local services in the area;
- (c) the desirability of encouraging innovation;
- (d) the implications of the acceptance for operators of other local services in the area; and
- (e) any representations made to him in the prescribed manner which he considers relevant.
§ (3) In considering whether an application would be against the public interest the traffic commissioner may hold a public sitting and shall do so if he has received (within the prescribed period) a request for such a sitting from:
- (a) any local authority in whose area the service to which the application relates is or is to be operated; or
- (b) any operator of a local service in the area.
§ (4) This section shall have effect from the ending of the initial period, provided that after not less than two years from that date the Secretary of State shall review the working of the section and may, if he thinks fit, make an order repealing it.
(5) In this section—
local authority" means any county council or district council in England or Wales or any regional or islands council in Scotland;
initial period" has the meaning given by paragraph 6 of Schedule 5 of this Act; and
local service" means a service registered under section 6 of this Act.").
§ I had this amendment drafted to seek to achieve an orderly transitional period between the passing of the Bill and deregulation. In the light of what the noble Lord said at the beginning when he moved that the House should go into Committee, I do not think I need to say anything further about the various difficulties that the various authorities will have in dealing with the requirements in the Bill. Therefore, I shall just concentrate on the reasons why I had the amendment drafted in this way.
§ I should like to say a few words in regard to cross-subsidy. There is nothing evil about it. It means that from where you have lucrative and profitable routes or services you give support to other services which may be socially desirable but uneconomic. Certainly so far as the National Bus Company was concerned you had a statutory duty to consult, and to co-operate with, the shire counties. Therefore cross-subsidy was an important factor.
§ Cross-subsidy means also the funding of early morning services and late night services, and certainly the funding of Sunday services in many parts of the country. There is nothing in itself evil in cross-subsidy at all, but we must recognise that some are paying more for their service in order that there shall be cross-subsidy.222
§ The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy—who unfortunately is not in her seat—drew the Committee's attention to some words that I used in a chairman's statement, I think in 1983, when I expressed a considerable concern at the size of the cross-subsidy bill. Cross-subsidy has gone up just as have all other subsidies within the last some 10 years, for basically the same reason.
§ If the noble Baroness had gone on she would then have told your Lordships that, while I was expressing concern about the size, I was advocating change, but a pragmatic approach to it; a move to the reduction of cross-subsidy because of its effect upon the services and the ridership of even the very good routes. I have advocated change, but I expressed great caution that one should proceed pragmatically and cautiously because of the sheer size of what is involved.
§ Solely within the National Bus Company—and it is, I think, in the main the shire areas where the hulk of the cross-subsidy that we have in mind is to be found—we have done various exercises. At Second Reading I gave a rather conservative figure of some £30 million, being the order of cross-subsidy. It could be more. Certain studies might lead one to believe that it could be more, but I took a conservative approach.
§ On deregulation what will happen is that competition will come upon those very services which in fact make cross-subsidy possible. An operator who is already there will have no option therefore but to reduce the fares immediately and also make curtailments in service, or maybe even an increase in services in order to deal with competition. But the element of cross-subsidy will broadly disappear on deregulation, and even if competition did not arise there are what are known as contestable markets. That is the view that markets, routes or services are open to competition and therefore one withdraws one's fares and makes the necessary adjustments to meet competition, were it to arise.
§ 5 p.m.
§ I do not think the Government would disagree that there will be a considerable difference in the amount of cross-subsidy that will be available in the shire county areas. The Minister has said that this can be made up by savings and increased efficiency. He has quoted certain figures for Norfolk which, as I suggested on Monday, are open to considerable question as to whether one is comparing like with like.
§ In Hereford the improvement of productivity is even more questionable from the Government's point of view because the Midland Red company unfortunately because of the shortage of labour in the 1950s and 1960s, was forced to pay drivers, conductors and the whole workforce what was the going market rate in the Midlands. There is no doubt at all that the wages and terms and conditions in Midland Red companies were well beyond the similar terms of the other companies within the National Bus group. The change made had nothing to do with the trial area, because the problems that confronted the Midland Red company in the trial area were also being found outside the trial area in places such as Worcester and other parts of the territory.
§ The point I am trying to make is that while there was a dramatic improvement in productivity in Midland 223 Red (West), it would be wrong to believe that productivity improvements could be achieved in other parts of the country unless the Government have in mind a complete debasement of the pay rates of the drivers and engineers in the bus industry. I am quite sure that that is not in their minds. But without it the sort of figures which the noble Lord is relying upon to meet the cross-subsidy factor will not be there. There will be improvements, but the shortfall, which I give on conservative estimates, between the subsidy that is now available under Section 1 grants (which is £65 million plus the £20 million which the Government have given for four years to see this transitional period through) will be of the order of £110 million. That shortfall of £110 million will be siphoned out of the system in comparison with the Section 1 grants of £65 million which the counties provide for today's services.
§ Your Lordships can see the enormity of the problem, but when one considers that this will not be taken out gradually over a period of adjustment—it can happen more or less over-night on the day deregulation comes into being—one asks: how will the authorities be able to adjust even if they have the resources available?
§ I can understand the Government's anxiety that they would like to move ahead as fast as possible towards deregulation, but if one takes into account the enormity of the funds to be found within the industry for socially desirable services which are in themselves uneconomic and which the counties are today unable to support, one sees that there is a serious position. I have to say firmly that I do not think the effect will be quite as harsh and severe in the urban towns or the great metropolitan cities. Their problems will be of a different nature. What I have been talking about will have a direct effect on the shire areas which are sparsely populated but which also have persons who have a greater need for public transport than perhaps those in other parts of our country.
§ I do not put this amendment forward in any way as a wrecking amendment, but as a means by which the Government could achieve their end over a longer period. It would avoid all the worst of the dangers and hardships that I believe would be created if we proceeded on the timescale and in the manner laid down in the Bill. I beg to move.
§ Lord Teviot
I fully support this important amendment, which is one of the most important amendments we have. It was interestingly and fairly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. However, it is rather a pity that the attendance in the Committee is rather thin at the moment. This is a worthwhile compromise which will smooth the transition to deregulation. It does not make the mistake of looking at tendered services in isolation, which would be quite easy to do. It also does not wreck the Bill by stopping deregulation; rather it forms a bridge between the final phase of deregulation and the final adjustment to a free market. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has agreed that when there is so much uncharted territory ahead it is prudent to make the first reconnaissance and then to allow a 224 period for assessment and replanning before making the final drive into the unknown.
It is to be expected that bus operators and potential operators will be planning their strategies before the introduction of notification, registration and tendering, so that by the start of the transitional period there will already be a considerable upheaval in the pattern of bus services in this country. Clearly there will be a continuing need for adjustment of the market and this should rather be a time for tuning the new arrangements the better to meet public need. Unless there is stability at this time, chaos could result.
These amendments allow for such tuning; they allow a period of two years for stabilising the market in the new competitive environment and therefore they positively promote the objectives of this Bill in securing the smoothest possible transition to final deregulation.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has already explained the way in which traffic commissioners will serve the public interest during this two-year period and I can only endorse the good sense of the procedures as he has advocated them. I believe that this is a significant and valuable improvement to the Bill and I strongly urge your Lordships to accept it in the interests of the people whom we in Parliament represent.
§ Lord Nugent of Guildford
I have listened with great attention to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and recognise his authority in the matter. He has the advantage of speaking with a large measure of experience, and that carries great weight. His first figure of what is the existing cross-subsidy in the NBC is obviously correct, and it is a formidable figure. I should like to say this about the whole principle of cross-subsidisation. Like the noble Lord, I have seen it working for many years, and, as I said on Second Reading, I think that it worked fairly well in the past, in the days when bus operations on the whole were profitable and solvent. However, I believe that, come the day when they became unprofitable and they depended upon public subsidy in order to survive, and with a gradually increasing public subsidy, the psychology of the cross-subsidy changed, inevitably. In the days when the bus operators knew that where they had cross-subsidies they still had to make ends meet, they had the proper incentives of commerce to ensure that the business was just as efficient as could be.
This is the whole basis on which commerce and industry work in this country and in most countries in the world. I believe that it is an absolutely vital element. That has gone; every year the element of subsidy has become bigger and, inevitably, even with a well-managed business like the National Bus Company, the incentive to efficiency and innovation is bound to shrink when there is the cushion of public funds coming in to cover the deficit. This is deficit financing.
We have seen it again and again. It is always, at the end of the day, the high road to inefficiency and unproductivity. Therefore, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, despite the great cogency of his speech, is not making sufficient allowance for this factor. The Government believe firmly that if the 225 whole scene of bus transport is open to free competition with the subsidy available to cover mainly the essential rural services, which will not be profitable to the private operator to promote, there will be the advantage of complete competition. This, we believe, will give the bus traveller the advantage of services which it is generally agreed are going to have cheaper fares in the urban areas, and where there are going to be, we think, competitive fares in the rural areas.
Throughout the whole scene, we shall get an element of efficiency, of enterprise, of operators (many of them small ones in rural areas particularly) who will use their ingenuity and their enterprise to lay on services in their localities, in their villages, which will suit the local people, will be flexible enough for the operator to get a partial living out of it perhaps by combining with it some other activity. This scene overall, by introducing the major factor of full competition, will bring benefits to the bus traveller.
The noble Lord's element carves out a very large part from that. There is no question about it. It really would take away from the Government's intention a very large element of the major factor which we think the bus-travelling public ought to have. Therefore, I say to the noble Lord and to the Committee that I believe that this experiment should go ahead—the experiment, yes; this major change—because we see a scene with these very large elements of public subsidy working on this cross-subsidy situation even in the urban areas, with fares going up excessively and much faster than inflation. Even in the urban areas which are bearing the burden of cross-subsidy, they are subsidising the rural areas at the expense of the urban services so that the urban bus traveller is being deterred from using the bus service as much as he might if it was fully competitive and charging a fully competitive commercial rate; so we are getting a double disadvantage here.
I recognise the major element of uncertainty here and these are big sums; but I believe that the Government have made out their case that this will confer overall major benefits. Although I know that the noble Lord has not moved this amendment in any sense as a wrecking amendment, it really would knock the bottom out of this Bill. I hope that the Committee will not accept it.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
I take an amendment of this kind, moved by the noble Lord with all his experience, very seriously indeed. But I also take very seriously the intervention from my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford who has occupied a very distinguished place in Goverment so far as transport is concerned and who (if I may put not too fine a point on it) knows what he is talking about. The noble Lords are not agreeing on this. One has to see where the truth lies. Perhaps the more modest and prudent thing for me to say is that almost certainly these things are a matter of judgment and that quite likely the truth is going to lie somewhere in between.
But I gently say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that I am surprised that the noble Lord was as trenchant as he was in pointing to what he believed would be very substantial losses, particularly in rural 226 areas, so far as the removal of cross-subsidy is concerned when this Bill comes into effect. I have asked about this of course in the Department of Transport, and those who have talked to me have always prudently said that these things must be a matter of judgment. However, it has been pointed out to me again and again that where there is a situation—as sadly there is these days, as all my noble friends know so well—where in rural areas very often none of the routes is a money spinner, cross-subsidy has become far less significant of late.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, more than anybody else will remember the evidence of Mr. Meredith, an NBC manager, to the Committee on Welsh Affairs which was given on 14th November last year, about the support which was given to Crosville for its Welsh operations. I understand that the figures were that in 1983 Crosville received a total of very nearly £3 million support for services in four Welsh counties while the cross-subsidy amounted to only half a million pounds. The noble Lord says to the Committee that that is all very well but nonetheless the loss of cross-subsidy is simply not going to be made up by what the Government keep on saying is going to be the other side of the coin—namely, reductions in cost.
The noble Lord is habitually fair, and we are benefiting very much in this Committee stage from the advice that he is giving even though it does not always make life easy for me. I am sure that the noble Lord would concede that one really has to take into account that first of all not all cross-subsidy is going to disappear. A good deal will continue for commercial reasons—and there is absolutely no question about that—and there is nothing to stop that in the Bill. There is no question about it, there will be substantial cost savings. We believe that the evidence suggests that there is scope for improvements by up to about 30 per cent. although I realise that this is open to debate. Further, the increase in patronage which undoubtedly is going to come from lower fares and better services will mean an increase in the revenue which operators receive through the fare box making them less dependent on revenue support.
In case some of my noble friends may feel that I am just simply saying these things because they are on a piece of paper in front of me, there is hard evidence which has come in from various areas. I understand that the Department of Transport assessed from the transport plans of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire that the costs in those two counties of local independent operators in receipt of revenue support appear to be 30 per cent. less than those of public sector operators. This of course is self-evident from the Bill which is going to give opportunity to the independent operator for the first time not to have to fight his way through all the labyrinthine and enormously expensive processes of the traffic commissioners' hearing.
There was—and it came very near to my noble friend Lord Nugent—the study conducted by Surrey County Council into services in the Guildford Cranleigh area which again showed that the average difference in unit costs between the independent operators and the NBC companies was of the order of 20 per cent. That has nothing to do with earnings but it is because of the major underlying factor of the numbers of staff needed per vehicle, comparing 227 independent operators with other operators. Then of course there was the evidence of Midland Red (West), but I will not add to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has himself said on that particular matter.
I realise that we can go on arguing this backwards and forwards across the Chamber, and perhaps the most constructive suggestion I can make in finishing my response is that we should look at the actual effect of the amendment. Perhaps it is a very nice amendment and one which, despite the arguments which I am not accepting, we ought to grab with both hands. But, my goodness, I would ask your Lordships to take a look at the amendment and see what actually it is asking us to do. Apparently the noble Lord would allow unfettered registration during the transitional period—that is, next year up to 1st October when deregulation would start, because I cannot see any parallel amendment to Schedule 5. Then there would be a period of restriction, during which registrations could be objected to by this paraphernalia of appearing before traffic commissioners, which is set out in Amendment No. 61, followed after two years by derestriction again if the Secretary of State were to make the necessary order.
That oscillation seems to me to be designed to cause the maximum uncertainty to the bus industry, to its passengers and to local authorities. I suppose it might benefit some larger operators who could adjust their services during the transitional period without let or hindrance, and then be given at least partial protection from competition. But, with respect to the noble Lord, I really do not think it could benefit anyone else. So, again with respect to the noble Lord—and I mean that genuinely—I must say that I do not much like the look of this amendment.
In addition to that, it does something which I absolutely dig in against, completely and utterly: it asks the Committee to reverse the agreement we have already reached in respect of Clause 1. In considering Clause 1 on Monday we agreed that we would not have any more a system of regulation, including the labyrinth of inquiries, evidence and presumably legal representation, and all the other difficulties involved for the small operator. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is in fact now saying, "Be blowed to that; we will bring regulation back by a side wind" The Government are not going to have that.
Earl De La Warr
I have listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said, and to what has been said by my noble friend the Minister and also by my noble friend Lord Nugent. My noble colleague Lord Shepherd, so far as I could tell, was pointing out to us more than anything else the dangers of the gaps that would emerge immediately because of the withdrawal of cross-subsidy, and possibly because of other reasons, when the networks that his bus companies have operated were forced to cut down their mileage by up to 30 per cent. My noble friend Lord Nugent has countered that and said, "There is no danger, because I believe"—and I daresay it is almost a mystic belief—"that this void will be filled by the operation of this noble word 'competition' ".
He and the Minister between them have talked about the importance of the increased productivity 228 which will come. I daresay it will come, and in some cases perhaps it will be 20 per cent. But can your Lordships actually relate that increase in productivity to the risk that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, pointed out, of certain major gaps not being filled. These are quite separate things. There may well be increased productivity on the main routes that are facing competition but are still in the network. That has nothing to do with how to fill the gaps that are created by the Government's change of subsidy policy.
This brings me back to what I said on Second Reading and again yesterday: we do not know how big the gap is going to be and we do not know how much money is going to be available to subsidise these abandoned services, so that the bus at least will still be there. I would again refer your Lordships to something which I mentioned on Second Reading—that is, the last two lines of the conclusion in the White Paper, where we were told there would be better services for less expenditure by the taxpayer and the ratepayer. Now we are really down to cases. We have agreed, I think, that there will be gaps created; but still we have no knowledge of how they are going to be filled or whether they are going to be filled.
It can easily be that county councils taken together, with the best will in the world, will come to the conclusion that with the limited sum of money they have available to them (and it will now be all in a block grant and not in a transport support grant) they will have to pay more attention to keeping concessionary fares going and to maintaining the highways. We do not know, and neither do they—and it is worrying them like anything—how much money they are going to have available to fill these gaps to which, among other things, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, referred.
If the money is not there the gaps simply will not be filled, and in my humble submission the statement made by the Government in the conclusion to the White Paper that there will be better services for less money is, by definition, popycock. Of course there is a chance that these services which disappear overnight will be filled overnight, because new entrants will suddenly find that the services they really want to run are those services which have just been abandoned by the networks. They may; but if I were an entrepeneur coming in I do not think I would be competing for things which were not good enough for the companies in the National Bus Company. I think I would go somewhere else.
So let us be quite clear that one of the things that arises out of what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has drawn attention to, so rightly, is the enormous uncertainty that comes with the sudden appearance of great gaping gaps in the network of services. I simply cannot accept that my noble friend Lord Nugent is anywhere but in cloud-cuckoo-land in thinking that by some mysterious means the new devices which are offered to the Government, important as they may be in the long run, are going to give everybody the bus that was there the day before.
We cannot be certain. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said: let us have a period when we move into the totality and then we shall find these things out and nobody will suffer. That surely must be sensible. I am not asking the Government to accept the wording 229 of this amendment. I am asking them to accept the force of the arguments that have been put. I have put only one part of the argument; and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will wish to add to this, but it is an immensely important subject which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has raised, during the course of his admirable speech on his amendment.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
I should like to endorse what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has just said, that there are genuine worries that the Government saying, "Come in, the water is lovely", is not sufficient to give confidence to either consumers or operators. There seems to be an act of faith needed in accepting the Government's point of view.
In relation to what the noble Lord, the Minister, said in his winding-up remarks, may I say to the Government that it is not good enough when we get to Committee stage of Bills—whether it be this or the previous one—to try to burn off amendments by saying, "Well, it was really all decided at Clause I". If that were the case then we should all go home and start the Recess rather earlier than we shall; and I am sure that we should all enjoy that more than sitting around here for several more weeks.
The danger is not that it cannot be put right in the end. It almost certainly can. But by that time, if we have made mistakes—and I say "we" collectively—there would be no possibility of running bus services in those areas from which they have disappeared. Once the market has gone, and once people have made other arrangements, then the chances of having an orderly network of bus services in some of these places will have gone forever. I am sure that is not something that anybody on any side of this Chamber wishes; or at least I hope not. I hope that the object of this whole exercise is not to get rid of bus services.
Let us come back to the question of cross-subsidy. It seems to me that that is all part of this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has dealt with that in much greater detail and from much greater knowledge than I can. It seems to me that the problem of cross-subsidy at the moment is that it is opaque. We need to get to a situation where if cross-subsidies need to exist—and they may need to exist—they should be transparent. If we can achieve that, we can start making decisions about which cross-subsidies should be returned and which should not.
The argument that cross-subsidies somehow hit the poor, which has been suggested by the Government on a number of occasions, does not seem necessarily to be true. Those who have read the publication from the Institute of Transport Studies of the University of Leeds will understand that the whole business of cross-subsidy is not as simple as perhaps people from the Government side have tried to make out. There is certainly a worry that some of the savings which are being talked about by the Government will be on the basis of wage cuts in what is already a fairly low-paid industry. I think that we need considerably more time and investigation before we can be anything like sure that the kind of savings which the Government are predicting are achievable.
230 I come back to what the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said in his speech, that this is being put forward as an act of faith. Of course people on the Government side may have that faith. But I suspect that a number of them, as we go further on in this Bill, will have their faith somewhat undermined when they get into the detail of what is a complex industry. I do not believe that we can jump off the river bank into the river on the basis, as I said before, that the Government say, "Come in, the water is lovely". The Government are, after all, still standing on the bank.
I hope that this amendment which gives a degree of flexibility to the introduction of the Government scheme will be seriously considered on all sides and not merely rejected on a purely dogmatic basis. I support this amendment.
§ Lord Mottistone
The noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, as I said earlier—I think it was at Second Reading—surprises me by his rigid adherence to the importance of regulation, and control, and making sure that everybody is told what to do and prevented from getting on to new things. That is so strange, speaking from the Bench that he does. I think that the rather vaguely "damning with faint praise" approach is irrelevant to this particular Bill.
I shall not say much because my noble friend Lord Nugent of Guildford said all that was important, as did my noble friend the Minister. But there are two points which stick out for me. One is the point made by my noble friend the Minister. The noble Lord. Lord Shepherd, and my noble friends Lord Teviot and Lord De La Warr, and the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff—all of whom are a team together—do not seem to have taken into account Schedule 5 because a lot of their talk was about gaps. If one does not know anything about it one has not read the Notes on Clauses which are available to us all; and they are very clear on the subject. There is no doubt that this great worry about gaps will not itself be the sort of problem that noble Lords have indicated because we have a transitional phase which is taken care of in the Bill. That is the first point.
The second point is that saying that this is not a wrecking amendment—that is, an amendment which is preserving means by which the old order can be carried on—is absolute nonsense. When one looks at subsection (2) of the new clause in Amendment No. 61 one sees that all the people who want to keep the old order going will be able to put in their pennyworth to stop new registration taking place. It seems to me that to pretend that that will not give every opportunity to people who do not want the new experiment—if we call it an experiment; I would call it the new way of life—is trying to press the facts of the case too much in the wrong direction.
Finally, why is it necessary to have this new way of doing this? I think that it was the noble Lord. Lord Tordoff, who said that none of us wanted to have the bus services swept away for ever because people during this period (because he did not remember about Schedule 5) would find other means of transport. People have found other means of transport. That is why the number of bus services and the people using them has gone down to only 8 per cent. of all passengers. What we are trying to do is to arrest and to reverse that. We have lost the services and we want 231 them back. We want them back for the private operators who will be hampered in achieving that position if this amendment is passed. I trust very much that if, unwisely, this amendment is taken to a Division, the Committee will vote strongly against it.
§ Lord Marsh
I shall speak very briefly, because I wish to make only three specific points. When the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, opened his remarks, he said that there was nothing particularly evil about cross-subsidisation in this area. He then went on, as I think he was bound to do, with his experience, constantly to refer back to many of the real dangers of cross-subsidisation, about which, in his own view, he has always been very clear.
I have three objections to this amendment. The first is that one can of course make the point too heavily that it concerns the poor subsidising the rich, because it involves people in heavily used areas, which is what makes their services profitable, subsidising people in lightly used areas. That might lead one to suppose that, by definition, the people in the lightly used areas had more access in general to alternative forms of transport than those people in the heavily used areas. But you cannot go on from that and say that it means that all the subsidies are a tax on the poor to assist the wealthy. That would be an absurdity.
However, the position is worse than that, because there is no rationale at all about it. Nobody knows how many rich people there are travelling on buses, probably with their subsidised bus passes, in the leafy glades of West Sussex and East Sussex, the Cotswolds or Oxfordshire, where, without doubt, there is a high proportion of uneconomic services. Therefore it is said that all the others who are lucky enough to live in the leafy glades of Brixton, Southall and the other areas where the buses are used to the full, should subsidise those other routes. There is no social logic at all in that.
My second objection is that the amendment, again by definition, damages the potentially profitable services. If you have a service which you can milk—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for agreeing with me, because in fairness it is a point that he himself has made—in order to cross-subsidise other services, because of the sheer level of usage made of it, there comes a time when you have to start pushing up the fares. So one of the services which was heavily used in a key part of the transport infrastructure in a particular area becomes less and less attractive and less and less viable. That cannot make transport planning sense.
The third and final point to which I take exception is a much more general one, and it is something about which many of us have become concerned over the years with publicly owned activities. I think that the management of public sector companies are frequently very unfairly maligned, because often the bad results of some of their operations are not their fault. The reason is the restrictions which are placed upon them and, above all, the extent to which public sector operations are used for social purposes. It is not the job of executives in companies, be they public or private, to take unto themselves the responsibility of allocating funds for undefined social purposes. 232 Of course there are areas of transport in general, as there are in every other field, which have a social element in them and which require subsidy and support. But those areas should be defined, the criteria should be defined and the decision should be made by elected bodies, whether it be Parliament or the local authorities. It is not for executives of the National Bus Company to make subjective judgments about social needs and the extent to which money should be transferred for the satisfaction of those needs.
If you seek to make them do that, you place a major millstone around the necks of those charged with the responsibility of running those great industries, because you cannot confuse the two objectives of the financial control of their industries—and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, like a number of us, has suffered from this in the public sector chairmen's club (retired)—and holding them responsible for the efficient management of their industries, and at the same time place around their necks responsibility for subjective judgments on social needs.
I hesitate to take up your Lordships' time, but for those reasons I would personally vote against this proposition because I believe on the evidence that the logic of what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said over the years about the dangers of cross-subsidisation is far more convincing than the views which he applied to the amendment he moved.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
It is a great pleasure, in many ways, for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who was my chief for a period in the Ministry of Transport. I am sorry that he seems to have used the opportunity to discuss what I know is a very real problem that he and my noble friend Lord Shepherd had in their terms as chairmen of nationalised industries. I suggest to him with very great respect, because I have a lot of respect for his ability, that he was using this clause quite wrongly to voice his views on cross-subsidisation.
There is no question in this amendment of continuing cross-subsidisation. The whole tenor of what has been said by those who support this amendment is that cross-subsidisation has been with us for 50 years and is inbred in the industry. While I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Tordoff and Lord Marsh, that the cross-subsidy should be transparent so that we know what it is, the fact is that we have this situation now and the main purpose of this amendment is to see that the transition from the present system to the new system proposed by the Government is smooth and will not greatly inconvenience the public.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that Schedule 5 is very important, but we do not know a great deal about what will be contained in it because there are so many allowances for regulations to be made. I read it with great interest and the words that continually appear are, "Regulations will be made" and, "Regulations will be brought forward"; but we do not know the substance of those regulations. When the noble Lord spoke about the new clause which is down in my noble friend's name, he referred to subsection (2) and mentioned paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d) and (e). He did not mention the fact that these are to do with 233 the protection of the consumer, except perhaps paragraph (d)—
§ Lord Mottistone
Paragraphs (a) and (b) refer to the interests of those who are users. My interpretation of phrases like that is that it is not the consumer who is being looked after, but somebody who will get up and say that he speaks for the consumer.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
That is an interpretation which I and many noble Lords would find difficulty in agreeing with. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, has great experience in this industry and speaks with a great deal of concern and worry because, like all of us, he wants the industry to survive and grow. He spoke most tellingly about the real purpose of these amendments, which is to fill the very major gaps that we are afraid may appear.
The noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who, again, has great experience and speaks with great authority and importance in this House, spoke about the cross-subsidy. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, made the point that the noble Lord is worried about the enormity of the subsidy that is being given. He believes that this leap can be made suddenly from the position that we are now in to a position of almost pure competition, without the necessity of having any gaps. It will be done smoothly and there will be very few problems.
This is where the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, suggested to the noble Lord that he was relying on faith. For the sake of the people who have made representations to me and to most noble Lords in the Committee, I personally want a little more than faith. They want the bus in the morning at the right time to take them to places of work, to schools and all the rest of it. It is the sudden changeover that gives rise to the concern in the shire counties. The present system has evolved over 50 years. It cannot suddenly be broken without the expectation that there will be dislocation in the lives of many people.
Many of us are worried about the Bill but we accept the fact that the Government are going to get the Bill and that the Bill will go through. But, for the sake of the people who use the service, we feel that we have a duty to make the changeover as smooth as possible. We believe that the amendments, and particularly the new clause, will give the opportunity for a consideration of the changeover period to make it run smoothly so that there will be no sudden dislocation. I hope that the Committee will support the amendment.
§ Lord Belstead
Before the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, ends the debate on this amendment, perhaps I may say this. Many noble Lords have talked about the basis of this amendment being the danger of having a sudden changeover. I am sure your Lordships will not mind if I remind the Committee that no noble Lord has mentioned the fact that the Government are making available £50 million in additional revenue grant through the fuel duty rebate to bus undertakings over the next four years. That is additional to what is already being made available by the local authorities. In addition to that we are making £1 million available to the Development Commission in order to start 234 experiments into new kinds of bus services. Therefore, if the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who is habitually fair, will forgive me for saying so, when he says there is a sudden changeover, I say to him that we have a four-year period in which a massive amount of additional money is being injected into the bus industry to help passengers.
This leads me to say, secondly, that that does not bring me to the kind of conclusions that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, sought to draw. The noble Lord talked of wage cuts in the industry; he said "We are not wanting to do away with buses, are we?", indicating to your Lordships that the Bill would presumably be doing away with buses. He then ended in triumph by saying that it was very like jumping into the river from the river bank. If the noble Lord had had the grace just to recognise that the Government are making available this very large sum of money, and had he even begun to address himself to the difficult arguments as to whether or not that will compensate for the loss of hidden cross-subsidy, it would have taken us some way further forward. I was particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, made his first interjection into the debate by pointing out the very real drawbacks at the present time of hidden cross-subsidy, which has undoubtedly contributed to the absolutely drastic cut over recent years in passenger-carrying by bus services in this country.
All those points lead me to the conclusion that the one thing we cannot do is simply to say we will go on with strict regulation. I am sorry—that is what the amendment does. It is for that reason that it is not acceptable to the Government.
§ Lord Teviot
Before my noble friend sits down, can he please tell me about the figure of £50 million? In the White Paper the figure of £20 million is given. Is this something fairly new?
§ Lord Belstead
I do not think I have anything to add to my noble friend—it is over a period of four years.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
If this had been a Government amendment, the Government spokesman would have been briefed to explain, subsection by subsection, the new clause which has been put forward. I think perhaps there has been some loss of clarity in this debate, if I may put it that way, because nobody has actually done that. I wonder whether it is not necessary at this stage—perhaps it should have been done earlier—to say what the amendment actually means.
We are talking to Amendment No. 61, because Amendment No. 45 is a paving amendment, and subsequent amendments are paving amendments, to the new clause, Amendment No. 61, which is on page 5 of the Marshalled List. Amendment No. 61 is not about the transitional period at all. Subsection (4) of the amendment says:This section shall have effect from the ending of the initial period".The initial period is the period after the initial registration in the early part of next year, after the tendering period which takes place in the middle of next year, and after the period of calm, as the noble Lord. Lord Belstead, put it, which takes place in the 235 autumn of next year. In other words, it is probably from 1st December 1986. There is no question whatsoever of any interference in the transition from the existing system to the new system. What is looked for in this amendment is a subsequent safeguard to make sure that the initial bids, the initial services which are proposed, do not decay and disappear as they appear to have done—I do not wish to go back into the debate about trial periods—with some other experiments.
The second thing to be said about the amendment is that it is not regulation. There is no question of regulation in this amendment. It says that applications for registration after the initial period—after December 1986—shall be considered by the traffic commissioner in the light of:the interests of those who are or are likely to be users of the service"—that is, the passengers—the interests of the users of other local services in the area"—because passengers use a network of services, not normally a single service—the desirability of encouraging innovation"—I do not believe that the Government are likely to disagree with that objective—the implications of the acceptance for operators of other local services in the area"—that is another element of stability which I should have thought the Government would wish to see as a result of the period which takes place in 1986; and—any representations made to him in the prescribed manner which he considers relevant".The only element in this amendment which might be thought to involve compulsion is that, if representations are made by a local authority or an operator of a local service in the area, the traffic commissioner shall hold a public sitting and consider those representations. In other cases, if anybody else makes representations he may hold a public sitting for that purpose. That is the minimum amount of regulation that one could possibly imagine for a service which is designed to produce a network of differing services, flexible services, for the travelling public after the period of transition.
On Monday I moved an amendment which would have delayed the implementation of the Bill for a period of 12 months for the purpose of greater trials. That amendment was rejected by your Lordships' Committee and in supporting this amendment I have no intention whatsoever of saying that we are trying now to delay the implemention of the Bill. The transitional period will be covered by Schedule 5. We do not know what Schedule 5 yet says, because the Government have not been able to introduce the amendments which they have undertaken to introduce to Schedule 5, but from the remarks of the noble Lord on Monday we have some idea of what it will be. We have the idea that there will be a rather rapid registration period. We all can suspect that the actual registration period will be five minutes before midnight on the last day. We have a period of possibly six months for the authorities to consider the services registered and to consider what it is therefore necessary to put out to tender. We then have a period of calm and collectedness and then we have implementation.
236 6 p.m.
There is no attack on any element of Schedule 5 in this amendment. This amendment implies that we have the utmost confidence in the good faith of the Government to do what they claim they will do in Schedule 5. This amendment has nothing to do with Schedule 5; it is after the initial period. However, we are saying that if we are to have an effective service after the initial period then there must be some protection for the travelling public and for other operators who have gone through the whole of this period in 1986.
Let us consider a couple of examples: first, an operator who puts forward under the tendering procedure a village service which is to be provided, perhaps once a day, throughout the week, to link a village with a market town. If there is no amendment of this kind, it will be perfectly possible after that procedure has taken place, after the tender has been accepted and after the subsidy has been agreed, for somebody else to come along and say, "Friday is market day. I am going to run a service on Fridays. I am going to take away the whole economic viability of the scheme that has been carefully considered by the authorities, and tendered for". It would make a nonsense of the tendering procedure if one allowed people to come in afterwards and mess up everything that had been carefully thought out, without any restrictions whatsoever.
Take a second example, this time concerning innovation. A few weeks ago, in Weston-super-Mare, an operator there, with the support of Avon County Council, changed over to a mini-bus system. The mini-bus system involves smaller vehicles and a much more frequent service. It has the effect of increasing ridership. That innovation has taken place without the provisions of this Bill. It has taken place under the existing system, which many noble Lords have thought to be so restrictive, so regulatory and so damaging to the interests of passengers and the public.
This amendment is in no sense a wrecking amendment. It is an amendment to make sure that the intentions of the Government throughout the transition period are maintained after the transition period and that the interests of passengers have some continuity of protection. I cannot see how some of the speeches against this amendment can have been made in a full understanding of the implications of what is said in Amendment No. 61.
§ Lord Shepherd
I suspect that your Lordships wish to come to a decision. I will say just a few words. I was delighted to hear my noble friend (if I may still so call him) Lord Marsh using certain words in the same kind of tone as that which I had been using because of my experience, like himself, as chairman of a public company. I believe my noble friend will agree—I think he said so—that the problem of cross-subsidy was of minor importance, certainly in his time as Minister of Transport. The problem has developed in recent years, and cross-subsidy is really not to the advantage of the operators. The element of cross-subsidy that we have today is the consequence of a conspiracy of successive central Governments and successive local authorities using the traffic commissioners to bring it about. When one pleads for continuation for a period of time, 237 it is not for the good or for the purposes and the coffers of the bus operators.
My anxiety when I put this amendment down, as I said in a statement when I was chairman, was that we needed to deal with this enormous problem pragmatically and over a period. I said it then and I still believe it. I have no confidence, I am sorry to say, in the propositions which the Government have put forward. Certainly there will be changes. Certainly the area of subsidy may be reduced; but that will be done in time. I am concerned not so much with the long-distance future as about the transition from regulations which we have had since the early 1930s to a situation unlike that obtaining in any other country in Western Europe. When this Bill goes through, the closest similarity will be Chile.
My anxiety is still the same, and that anxiety is I know shared by pretty well every shire county in this country, be it Conservative, Labour or Social Democrat. I have never known such a unanimous view being taken among the counties as their concern about what will happen in the very short term. In all honesty, I feel that I cannot withdraw this amendment.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 45) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 106; Not-Contents, 123.238
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Airedale, L.||Granville of Eye, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Gregson, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Grey, E.|
|Aylestone, L.||Haig, E.|
|Banks, L.||Hampton, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Bernstein, L.||Harris of Greenwich, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.|
|Birk, B.||Heycock, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Houghton of Sowerby, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hughes, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Hutchinson of Lullington, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Irving of Dartford, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Jacobson, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Jacques, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Collison, L.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Kagan, L.|
|Darling of Hillsborough, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|David, B.||Kennet, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Listowel, E.|
|De La Warr, E.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Diamond, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||McNair, L.|
|Elystan-Morgan, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Mishcon, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Falkender, B.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Mulley, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Fitt, L.||Northfield, L.|
|Foot, L.||Oram, L.|
|Gaitskell, B.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Plant, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.[Teller.]|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Rea, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Ritchie of Dundee, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Roberthall, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Robson of Kiddington, B.||Tordoff, L. [Teller.]|
|Rochester, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Ross of Marnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Seear, B.||Wallace of Coslany, I.|
|Shepherd, L.||Walston, L.|
|Silkin of Dulwich, L.||White, B.|
|Stedman, B.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Stewart of Fulham, L.||Wilson of Rievaulx, I|
|Stoddart of Swindon, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|Strabolgi, L.||Winstanley, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||McFadzean, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Malmesbury, E.|
|Arran, E.||Mancroft, L.|
|Baker, L.||Margadale, L.|
|Barber, L.||Marley, L.|
|Bauer, L.||Marsh, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Beloff, L.||Maude of Stratford-upon- Avon, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Monson, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Morris, L.|
|Broxbourne, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cairns, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Munster, E.|
|Cameron of Lochbroom, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne. L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Newall, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||O'Brien of Lothbury, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Chelwood, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Portland, D.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Reay, L.|
|Cox, B.||Reigate, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Renton, L.|
|Crathorne, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Rochdale, V.|
|Denman, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Russell of Liverpool, L.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||St. Aldwyn, E.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Saint Brides, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Elton, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Erroll of Hale, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Fanshawe of Richmond, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Ferrier, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Somers, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Hives, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Swinton, E. [Teller.]|
|Hood, V.||Tranmire, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Trumpington, B.|
|Inglewood, L.||Tryon, L.|
|Kilmany, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Vinson, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Vivian, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Wise, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Wolfson, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Wynford, L.|
|Long, V.||Young, B.|
|Lothian, M.||Young of Graffham, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.239
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ [Amendments Nos. 46 and 47 not moved.]
Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 48:
Page 6, line 9. leave out ("at the instance or) and insert ("on an application made by").
The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 49 and 55.
Amendment No. 49: Page 6, line 14, leave out from ("commissioner") to ("and"), in line 15, and insert ("accepts the application").
Amendment No. 55: Page 6, line 43, leave out paragraph (e) and insert—
("(e) for an application for registration or for the variation or cancellation of a registration not to be accepted by the traffic commissioner to whom it is made unless the applicant gives to the commissioner such information as he may reasonably require in connection with the application.").
§ These are minor tidying-up amendments. They clarify the intention that the point at which a service is registered, varied or cancelled is when the traffic commissioner has accepted an application and the prescribed period of notice begins at that point. They will allow the traffic commissioners to obtain more information from operators if their application is inadequate and to do so without eroding the period of notice. They are sensible, administrative provisions to ensure that the system works smoothly. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 49:
§ [Printed above.]
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Baroness Vickers moved Amendment No. 50:
Page 6, line 20, at end insert —
("(7A) The operator or prospective operative of a registered service shall give, at the time of his application for the registration, a copy of his application and any particulars submitted pursuant to subsection (2) above to every district council in whose area the service or proposed service is operated or will be operated.
(7B) Registration under this section shall not be effective until the end of a period of not less than twenty-eight days from the date of the application for such registration.
(7C) The traffic commissioner to whom an application for registration has been made shall not register any service which appears to him after consideration of any representations made by a district council to whom particulars were given under subsection (7A) above to be likely to have a harmful effect upon any existing registered service which is being provided by an operator under the terms of an agreement providing for service subsidies within the meaning of Part V of this Act.
(7D) The traffic commissioner shall not register any application if the district council represent to him that the application is made in contravention of a prohibition or condition made or imposed under section 83 of this Act".).
§ The noble Baroness said: In urban areas considerable lengths of main and feeder roads have to be used for different parts of estates and areas. Subsidised services will be tendered and accepted for unserved areas based on revenue assumptions about the section of the route using the main and feeder roads. If another operator subsequently introduces and increases a service over the common section the operator and the council, or.both, (depending on the type of contract) will find the fares revenue reduced and the subsidy inadequate. This could be chaotic, with a continuous need to re-tender. It is very much in 240 the ratepayers' interest to utilise the revenue from the common section to keep the rates down.
§ Many noble Lords will join the Government in their wish to bring deregulation and competition into the bus market, especially as it is tempered with acceptance that local authorities will have to subsidise socially necessary services. However, this interface between a commercial network and a subsidised network will present problems. If we are to improve the Bill our role is very much to try to foresee the problems that will arise. Currently we have cross-subsidised networks, with local authorities performing a co-ordinating function to feed in rate subsidy without causing friction between commercial and subsidised services. The Bill as it now stands does nothing to lubricate the friction that will occur between commercial and subsidised networks.
§ A local authority could find two areas unserved on Sundays and put out two tenders to provide the service. The first half of the route may be nearly profitable but to serve the further end of each route means incurring a loss, and it thus needs subsidising. After these contracts are in place another operator could create a circular route that covers the more lucrative halves and make a small profit. The loss and, therefore, subsidy on the two original routes would escalate because they still have to incur the cost of travelling over the roads now served commercially. The local authority may have to abandon them because of lack of cash or at the very least need to go through the tendering process all over again, incurring extra cost and perhaps seeing a hiatus in the service.
§ My amendment seeks to avoid that problem. Noble Lords will realise that it does not give automatic refusal of registration over subsidised routes, and the matter is referred to an independent traffic commissioner to judge whether the registration would be harmful. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
Two important issues are raised by the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Vickers. It raises two further issues which are rather more technical. I shall first say a few brief words about the two technical matters.
The amendment seeks to require that the period of notice before a registration becomes effective is at least 28 days. We debated this in detail on Amendment No. 44 and, as my noble friend Lord Brabazon said on that amendment, while the Department of Transport has not yet reached a firm decision on the length of notice a period of 42 days has been suggested as a result of consultation. I hope that the noble Baroness may be reassured that there is more of a consensus of opinion on that period of time.
Secondly, I very much agree with my noble friend that, if an operator is prohibited by a condition under Clause 25—I think it is Clause 25 rather than the Clause 83 that is mentioned in the amendment which is the relevant one—from running a local service, he should not be allowed to register one. I think that is something which goes without saying. I promise my noble friend that I shall look again at this point. If on further consideration the Bill seems to need tightening up, I assure the noble Baroness that we shall certainly do that. I thank my noble friend for raising the point.
241 Perhaps I may say a brief word about the real meat of this amendment, which is the role of district councils and the position of subsidised services. I know that many district councils play an absolutely vital role in transport matters, and it is acknowledged in this Bill. Many district councils have agency agreements for road traffic regulation; nearly 50 have their own bus undertakings either as sole or joint owners. Under this Bill shire district councils in England and Wales are responsible for taxi-sharing schemes; they retain powers for concessionary fare schemes, and in most areas they are the tier of local government which has taken the responsibility for concessionary fares. Under this Bill they will be able to own bus-operating companies and will be able to subsidise bus services after going out to tender, and for that reason they will receive notification from the traffic commissioner of registrations, variations and withdrawals under subsection (9) of this clause.
But what my noble friend is seeking to do in new subsection (7C) is to say that if there is a harmful effect upon subsidised services in a district council area from the running of another commercial service, then it will be possible to protect the subsidised service. If my noble friend will forgive me for saying so, this presents a problem because there is no criterion at all in the amendment for what "a harmful effect" is to be. I am not quibbling when I say that. Later on this evening we shall come to Amendment No. 107, where the amendment of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton covers about two pages of the Marshalled List in setting out with very great care how he believes it is possible to identify when harm might be caused and when not.
I hope that my noble friend Lady Vickers will not think that I am being slipshod when I say that it is difficult to mount a detailed argument on this part of the amendment—though as I have shown, there are other parts of the amendment with which I very much agree—when we have simply a statement that where there is a harmful effect to a subsidised service another service shall not run. We know what harm has occurred over the years from the effect of hidden cross-subsidy. This has been the subject of the amendment on which we have just divided, and on which the Committee has given its decision.
So, if my noble friend will forgive me, on this particular aspect of the amendment I shall simply say that if we start down the road of outlawing some commercial operations in order to protect a subsidised service on a blanket "harmful effect" basis, I think that it will be a very short road back to the system of licensing which the Government believe has damaged the health of the industry as a whole. As I have said, there is one particular aspect of the amendment which I should very much like to follow up, and I hope that the noble Baroness will not press this particular amendment.
§ Lord Monk Bretton
I should like to say just a word to the effect that I sympathise with the principles which brought my noble friend Lady Vickers to put down and move this amendment. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will keep a very close eye on what I call the problems of the interface—namely, the interface between two systems: the competitive sector 242 and the subsidised sector—which I think are something we still have to try to deal with.
I believe that there are dangers of an increase in subsidy cost for which we have to watch out very carefully. At this stage I do not wish to introduce or debate Amendment No. 107, but I should like to say to my noble friend Lady Vickers that, while I am primarily concerned with shire counties and problems in rural areas, if she looks at subsection (2)(a) of the amendment that I shall be moving, she will find that it could include a district council. Amendment No. 107 here refers to subsection (6) of Clause 61 of the Bill, and it is this subsection that brings in the district councils—subject to regulations made by my noble friend the Minister under the new clause and subject to the pretty stringent tests that the new clause lays down with regard to any protection of subsidised services.
I should like to thank my noble friend for his courteous reply to my amendment. I am very glad to hear that he will look into a very important part of it. In view of that, I shall be pleased to withdraw my amendment and hope to support Amendment No. 107 in time.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 51:
Page 6, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) If any part of the route proposed to be registered or varied coincides with any part of the route of a service provided under subsidy arrangements in accordance with sections 82 to 86 of this Act, the registration or variation shall only be effective if—
§ The noble Lord said: This is an amendment dealing with what the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, described as the interface, which is a very difficult part to deal with. It is even difficult to describe in words, though we all know exactly what it is. Clearly, the degree of subsidy which any operator will require if he is to run a route into rural areas will depend on the degree of profit that he can expect on the profitable part of the route, and this in turn will depend on the extent and nature of the competition he can expect there. In other words, instead of talking about transparent subsidies, we are talking about transparent competition, so that any operator who is making a tender has to see what sort of competition he is likely to meet. Amendment No. 107 of the noble Lord. Lord Monk Bretton, perhaps covers this question more adquately than this particular amendment of mine, and therefore I have no desire to labour it. I should just like to give the Minister notice of the kind of arguments to which we should expect to have answers.
§ The problem is that unless a check of some sort is built into the legislation along the lines proposed in this amendment, or perhaps in Amendment No. 107, there will be no way for an operator, who has bid for a rural service, a social service or an unprofitable service, to foresee what his profit or his future is likely to be. The arrival of a competitor on some part of the route after acceptance of a tender could result in the 243 agreed tender becoming quite unrealistic. I am sure the Minister has looked at this very carefully. Representations were made to him and to the department by many people and particularly by the shire counties who have considerable worries about this point. It applies to every service that is to be put out for tender. I should like to hear the Minister's interim reply, but the rural point will be brought out more completely perhaps in more full replies of the Minister, if he has time in his answers between now and the debate on Amendment No. 107. I beg to move.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
If I may respond to the noble Lord, he puts his finger upon the difficulty, and I acknowledge that it has been put to me in private meetings and discussions off the Floor of the Committee that there is a problem so far as the Bill is concerned with the concept of creaming-off a particular part of a route. I shall reply briefly now, if the noble Lord will allow me, with the answers which I wish to deploy later this evening.
I do not think that operators will put in bids with their eyes closed. They will very much have their eyes open. An operator in a particular locality will already know of the chances of competition, and the possibility of somebody coming in and creaming-off a part of a route is unlikely. The noble Lord may ask whether that is a tenable argument. I think that it is. The holder of the subsidy, by the very fact that he has a subsidy, will be at an enormous advantage over any other competitor.
I shall content myself at this stage with making those two brief points, and add just one more. The noble Lord must address himself to this difficulty, if I may say so: how does one give protection, bearing in mind that often different services use the same routes? He has completely bypassed the difficulty in the amendment by simply putting in a blanket provision that if there is competition between a subsidised and a commercial service, on an objection to the traffic commissioner the subsidised service would be able to win the day. That is perhaps the most difficult point to which I think we will come on Amendment No. 107. But the Achilles' heel of Amendment No. 51 is that it does not address itself to that point.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I thank the Minister for that reply. As he said, later this evening we hope to be dealing with Amendment No. 107 and we shall go into the whole question again. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 52:
Page 6, line 25, leave out from beginning to ("without") and insert ("unforeseen circumstances").
§ The noble Lord said: With this amendment I think it will be convenient to take Amendments Nos. 53 and 54.
§ Amendment No. 53: Page 6, line 26, at end insert ("where this is essential to safeguard passengers from hardship or severe inconvenience").
§ Amendment No. 54: Page 6, line 27, leave out paragraph (b).244
§ There should be no relaxation in the requirements for operators of whatever type or size to comply with registration procedures except in unforeseen circumstances where strict compliance would, because of the delays involved, give rise to hardship or serious inconvenience for passengers. New competitive operations by other operators should certainly not be permitted to affect the registration requirements. Short notice decisions by operators or by tendering authorities might, however, be a justification for some reduction in the registration notice periods, but only such as are necessary in each case to safeguard the passengers from hardship or severe inconvenience.
§ A possible safeguard for unusual cases such as an operator's bankruptcy would appear to exist under the provisions in the Bill by virtue of the intended regulations in respect of Clause 6(8)(c), which might authorise the traffic commissioner to exercise some discretion. I wonder whether the Minister will accept that some discretion is required and that some allowance is needed for relaxation if a particularly serious happening occurred. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
I am a little surprised at this amendment. There is in the Bill a broad power to make exceptions and, as I understand it, the intention in the amendment is to replace it with a narrow one. I think that that would create difficulties for operators and for the travelling public.
We take the point that there is a need for an exemption—and it would be prescribed under Clause 6(8)(a) as it stands—for unforeseen circumstances requiring a variation in registration. But there are unforeseen circumstances for legislators as well. With experience we may find that the periods prescribed for general purposes are quite unreasonable in certain classes of case. We may also find that trivial variations are not worth the trouble of registering. The noble Lord may have had time to glance at the Notes on Clauses for Clause 6, which give examples of where it would be desirable to allow the variation of a registered service without having to vary the registration. For instance, the closure of a road may necessitate variations of a route and minor changes in timetable, routes or stopping places.
I assure noble Lords opposite that the aim in drafting these regulations will be to maintain the principle of registration which is essential for information and for surveillance, while allowing a sensible measure of flexibility. I should also like to give an assurance that we shall consult before making regulations. Indeed, there is a statutory requirement under the 1981 Act to do so. Under those circumstances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel that we should not perhaps become too rigid in the exemption-making power under this clause. I feel that the amendment would move in that direction.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I agree with the Minister and welcome his assurances, but I hope the Government are not proposing different treatment for different classes of operator. Any change necessary should be applicable to whichever operator requires it, and it should not be done on the basis of the type of operator.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 53 and 54 not moved.]
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 55:
§ [Printed earlier.]
§ The noble Lord said: I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 48. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Following is the text of the amendment (No. 55):
Page 6, line 43. leave out paragraph (e) and insert—
("(e) for an application for registration or for the variation or cancellation of a registration not to be accepted by the traffic commissioner to whom it is made unless the applicant gives to the commissioner such information as he may reasonably require in connection with the application.").
Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendment No. 56:
Page 7, leave out lines 29 and 30 and insert ("authority within whose area lies any part of the route of the service.").
The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 57, 58 and 59.
Amendment No. 57: Page 7, line 31, leave out ("local").
Amendment No. 58: Page 7, line 36, leave out ("and").
Amendment No. 59: Page 7, line 37, at end insert—
("(d) any Passenger Transport Executive; and
(e) any chief officer of police.").
§ These amendments repair an omission and will add passenger transport executives to the authorities which must be notified of registrations, variations and cancellations, and they improve the drafting. In view of the functions given to PTEs by the Bill, we recognise that they should be entitled to the same notification as local authorities and the police. As I say, the other changes merely improve the drafting. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Brabazon of Tara moved Amendments Nos. 57 to 59 en bloc.
§ [Printed Above.]
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Baroness Vickers moved Amendment No. 60:
Page 7, line 37, at end insert—
("( ) The traffic commissioner shall not register a service unless:—
§ The noble Baroness said: All of us will welcome the new entrants that the Bill will bring into the market. Many of them will already be experienced and will help to improve public transport. However, there will be less experienced new entrants. Their tenders for subsidised services may appear very optimistic to local authorities. Local authorities may wish to take advantage of their low tenders but may fear that the 246 new entrants may not be able to sustain the service at the subsidy level requested.
§ If a "cost" form of contract is used, the tenderer will only have to estimate his costs and therefore his tender should be reliable. However, many local authorities will not be able to take the revenue risk implied in a "cost" contract and will have to turn to the "deficit" form of contract. This requires the operator to also estimate the fare revenue on the service and subtract that from his costs to calculate the deficit.
§ Estimation of this fare revenue is far harder, and new entrants could easily estimate incorrectly. A relatively small error in the fare revenue estimate could lead to a large error in the deficit estimate.
§ If an operator has to withdraw from a contract, or even go bankrupt, the local authority has rapidly to arrange a new operator, probably at a higher cost, or, if funds are exhausted, stop the service. Worse still, the public may suffer interruption to their services.
§ My amendment not only seeks to avoid these problems for local authorities and the public but should allow local authorities to take the risk of using a new entrant to the market who offers a low price tender. This is therefore a genuine improvement to the Bill, in that it helps achieve its aims whilst protecting the public and local authorities.
§ The amendment requires the successful tenderer to have a bond that would pay the local authority the cost of continuing the service if his service fails. The amount of the bond would not be a great burden on the operator as it only has to cover the cost of replacing the service during the notice period, which I believe is 56 days, and of course it will apply to all operators. I beg to move.
§ Lord Belstead
; I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Vickers for moving this amendment, because she is in more detail going into a point which captured the attention of Members earlier on—namely, in what were Amendments Nos. 38 and 38A in the names of my noble friends Lord Peyton and Lord De La Wan. On that occasion, I gave an assurance to the Committee that the vigilance of the commissioners will be maintained and stepped up. To require a financial examination before anyone can start a new service would be a massive discouragement to innovation and competition, and so would be detrimental to the bus passenger. We went over that ground fairly throughly.
My noble friend raises a very interesting and important point when she brings into her amendment the question of a bond being held by a bondsman. My noble friend, in essence, is asking: what happens if a major operator collapses, leaving a whole area without services more or less overnight? Many Members of the Committee would be the first to caution me that the area of bankruptcy and insolvency is a complex one, and I am sure that I should not try to stray unduly into detail in it. However, it is fair to say that a completely unforeseen collapse of a company of any significant size in this field is nowadays unusual. I do not say that it could never happen, but the presence of modern management information systems and the audit requirements of the Companies Act normally provide good warning of possible insolvency, and operators would have time to seek to trim their business in an 247 orderly fashion. Should matters come to the point where a receiver is appointed, he will be doing all he can to preserve a viable business for sale and keep in operation whatever parts of the business can make a contribution to that future business. One could expect that much of a bus operation could be continued in this way. Generally, a receiver can be appointed and make decisions very quickly. Any disruption to services in these circumstances should be minimal. I think that is all I can say on that matter. Before I sit down, perhaps I may go back to the first principle, which is that I have earlier on, on Monday, given an assurance that we are at one with noble Lords in believing that suitable financial standing must be put under the microscope in this Bill. I gave an undertaking on Monday that we would look at those amendments, Amendments Nos. 38 and 38A, to see whether anything further needed to be done. I should like to say that in the light of what my noble friend has said on her amendment today, we shall include what she has said in our deliberations on this area of the Bill.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
The assurances were helpful. It is extremely important that continuity is guaranteed and that there is not a sudden withdrawal of an operator at a most inopportune time. While I can see the difficulty in the method of a bond suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, I hope that the Government will give very serious consideration to the whole question of the reliability of services and, as I think will be raised in some later amendments, the question of making sure that the financial capability of any prospective operator is such that they will not suddenly fold up. While, as I say, the bond is perhaps not the best way to do it, I hope the Government are aware that it is a very important measure that the noble Baroness is suggesting for the protection of the public.
I thank the noble Minister for his reply. I shall look forward to seeing the amendment which he is possibly going to put down in the near future, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 61 not moved.]
§ Lord Denham
Of course I am in the hands of the Committee on this. I understand that this is the first of a number of amendments that are to be taken together. I am just wondering whether, in view of the timing, it would be wise to embark on this now. I know it is a little earlier than we normally adjourn, but if we can agree not to come back to this Bill before, let us say, 10 minutes to eight, then I shall move that the House be now resumed.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.