HL Deb 24 July 1985 vol 466 cc1206-18

3.20 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.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 67 [Exemption for councils running small bus undertakings]:

Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 211D: Page 69, line 8, leave out from ("exceed") to end of line 12 and insert ("fifty, that council shall be excluded from section 62(1)").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 211D and at the same time I should like to speak to Amendment No. 211E. Amendment No. 211E: Page 69, line 13, leave out subsection (2).

Perhaps I may remind the Committee that we now resume that part of the Bill which deals with the affairs of the municipal bus companies. We began to consider the dozen or so clauses dealing with those bus companies at a late stage on Thursday night. However, it is true to say that we did not do very well. We began our deliberations at 10.30 p.m. The Committee was getting bored; I was getting irritable—and for that I must apologise to my noble friends on the Front Bench—and the Chief Whip was getting impatient. So after a relatively short time we abandoned the struggle and we now resume it.

Perhaps I may also remind the Committee that the point at issue, certainly in the first of the clauses, is that one single structure has been proposed in the Bill for the municipal bus undertakings, which leaves a very great deal to be desired. The purpose of my amendments, which at this stage are only probing ones, is to try and find out what induced my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to take the decisions which he has taken, and what scope there is for persuading him to change his mind.

My own view—and I have already expressed it, but I shall express it again—is that it would have been much better if he had continued patiently the negotiations and consultations which he began with the Association of District Councils, 50 of whose members run these companies, so that we could examine together the possibilities for those companies to prepare themselves for the situation of deregulation which the Bill provides for them.

A number of possibilities were mentioned in the White Paper; however, all but one of them have been abandoned or at any rate are not addressed in the Bill. One possibility was privatisation. There are great advantages in privatisation. Privatisation, which also involved a buy-out by the employees, would in many cases probably be the best option of all, and I should have thought would be popular with the Secretary of State. Another option upon which I asked my noble friend to comment but upon which he did not do so, was that they should adopt for the purposes of this legislation the controls which are available and which are frequently applied to local authorities when one of their agencies has occasion to compete with the private sector. That is what these companies will be doing and I have received no satisfactory answer yet as to why it could not be done in this case.

One situation—and it will be a familiar one to many Members of the Committee—is where an agency or a part of the local authority competes with the private sector for, let us say, a contract to repair a council housing estate, or a contract to repair a sewer, or a contract to undertake some maintenance on a highway. In all those cases it is a requirement on the local authority, if it wants to give its direct labour organisation an opportunity to compete, to stick strictly to a number of conditions about the way in which it tenders, and so on and so forth, which puts it on a par with the private sector. That system was reviewed as recently as 1980 and it has been operated ever since so far as I know to the entire satisfaction of the private sector companies—the builders, etc.—on the one hand, and the local authorities on the other hand. I have had no satisfactory answer as to why that cannot be done in this case, at least for some of the local authorities.

The perverse situation is that the Department of the Environment is at this very moment extending this regime into matters like transport, maintenance, catering and so on. I cannot for the life of me understand why it was not considered as one of a number of options. It would have been much better—and we must return to this matter at the Report stage—if the Secretary of State had done in respect of the municipal bus companies what he has done with the National Bus Company—that is to say, to invite the National Bus Company to put up to him a scheme for the disposal of the enterprise. He has indicated in Clause 47 of the Bill that that is their duty. He has indicated in another clause the conditions which must be met in a programme of this kind. The National Bus Company knows his criteria and what it is that it has to do regarding disposing of its assets and breaking them up into a number of separate authorities. We could have done exactly the same. It would have been far better if we had done so because we would then have had a range of options which different authorities could have adopted according to their different circumstances.

The other issue which I raised on Thursday night—and I do not want to go into it at any great length now—was the question of pensions and superannuation. Earlier I had asked my noble friends on the Front Bench to deal with the pensions of the municipal bus companies separately from those of the PTEs and the National Bus Company because they are separate matters. The answer which I received last Thursday was more or less the same answer as had been given to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, on Clause 58 which dealt with the PTEs, and it did not address itself to any of the points which I was raising. Now I am glad to tell the Committee that I can thank my noble friend Lord Trefgarne for a very full, closely reasoned answer amounting to four pages of foolscap, which deals with the matters that I raised. However, the answers have not been given to the Committee. My noble friend and I shall have to put our heads together tomorrow or in the course of today and work out a means of putting that very full and helpful, but not entirely satisfactory, answer into the record so that we have a point from which to move forward when we reach the Report stage.

There will be a few more sets of amendments to deal with and I shall come to one of them in a moment. However, the main problem with which we are having to deal is the hybrid company which is prescribed for the municipal bus companies. It is a Company Act company at one end but controlled by the local authority at the other end, which is in turn controlled as to its capital expenditure by the Department of the Environment, which is in turn controlled by the Treasury. They are not circumstances in which a municipal bus company can operate as a piece of private enterprise in the private sector against full-blooded competition. That is the problem we have to solve.

3.30 p.m.

In these amendments, 211D and E, to Clause 67, I am probing with my noble friends on the Front Bench the question whether or not they see scope for excluding altogether from this Bill some of the smaller bus companies. The smallest bus companies of all in membership of the ADC each ran two buses only; they have decided that to do so is not worth the candle and have abandoned their operations altogether. But there are other bus companies—and my amendment suggests that they are those operating less than 50 buses—which might just as well be exempted from this Bill altogether.

I cannot believe that allowing them to operate will make any serious dent in the structure which the Secretary of State is trying to set up. A threshold of 50 buses would take 13 of the municipal undertakings out of this Bill, and would at any rate make life much easier and more straightforward for them, and do no great harm to the underlying philosophy of the Bill. Only 8 per cent . of all the revenue support from all the districts in England and Wales would be affected by that figure.

The Department of Transport say that a figure in Clause 67 might be something nearer half a dozen or 10. But I think we cannot leave it open to the Secretary of State to make up his mind where to draw the line after the legislation has been enacted. This is the moment to give this topic an airing, and the Report stage is the moment to take a decision so that we all know where we stand.

On Second Reading I indicated that there was a clear difference between the district councils, particularly those with small fleets of buses, and the large metropolitan county councils. If there is a problem of the overrunning of public expenditure, that is where it is occurring; it is certainly not occurring in these small authorities. I hope that this will produce a short debate in which my noble friend on the Front Bench will indicate his thinking and that of his right honourable friends about the scale and size of undertakings which could be excluded, and I hope that it will be nearer 50 than 10. I beg to move.

Lord Tordoff

I want to support the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, on the narrow point he made at the end of his speech in relation to those small municipal undertakings with a limited number of buses. From the information I have received, and from what I have seen in the period I have been touring around the country talking with small municipal undertakings, on the whole these are efficient undertakings. Generally speaking, they are not putting a charge on the ratepayer.

They are often sharing their overheads across a number of other municipal activities. They are providing the service for the customer. They are providing an efficient service which, on the whole, does not need any sort of subsidy. Would it be possible for the Government to find some way of excluding these smaller undertakings? I do not know where the cut-off should come. Fifty is a good round figure, but there are a number in the one to 40 area, and it would be up to the Government to say where the level should be.

The principle enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is important. There ought to be a degree of flexibility in the area of those municipal undertakings which are quite small but are serving the public in a way in which I am sure the Government as well as the rest of us would wish to see.

Lord Shepherd

In regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, said of a broader nature, I hope that we shall have another opportunity to discuss the important points he raised. I share his view on what is called the hybrid approach which has been adopted by the Government in regard to these initial companies. It is a recipe for disaster. There is no clarity whatsoever because it is so involved in the normal work of a council and a municipality.

The noble Lord referred to the question—which we shall have to go into in detail—of capital expenditure. There is no way in which these initial companies will ever be able to build up their own reserves in order to purchase their own vehicles. There will have been no commercial judgment. As I see the Bill, all the profits on a yearly basis go into the coffers of the local authority, and when they want capital to replace some of their older vehicles they will have to go to the local authority and stand in the queue with all the other demands on public expenditure of the authority.

I would despair for the poor general manager—or whatever will be the name of the person responsible for operating those companies—in trying to keep those companies in a good state of performance and service to the community. However, I do not think that that is a subject which arises immediately or the amendment.

Initially, I had a good deal of sympathy for the noble Lord putting a figure into the Bill. At the moment it is merely by regulation. So much of this Bill is by regulation, and without any clarity in this Committee as to what the Secretary of State intends to do by regulation. Whether or not the Government accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I hope in this narrow issue we shall get from the Minister some indication of what the Secretary of State has in mind for exclusion from the general requirements of this Bill through this particular clause.

We had one company in Devon with some 50 vehicles. It was successful because we did not put on it all the great overheads which a typical commerical company would have. We had only one manager who was really a traffic manager. He purchased all his services including accountancy, engineering and advertising. All the knowledge and expertise available within the group he was able to purchase. But if these companies are set up as we suspect that they ought to be, then these services will have to be bought at market rates.

I suspect with a small company that the overheads per vehicle are more likely to be higher than in bigger companies. But in relation to the private sector, companies with 50 vehicles are fairly large companies. I know many of the small stage carriage private operators which have far fewer than 50 vehicles. If they are to enter into competition, and if the Government persist in their belief that size is important in terms of competition, and fair competition, then 50 would put them into serious advantage against the private independent.

The only other difficulty I see in putting in a figure is that the Secretary of State would then lose any flexibility in this matter. One of the lessons I have had is that no one bus company, no one bus operation, is ever like another. Fifty vehcicles might be the right figure for exclusion in a particular municipality, township, in the country, yet it will be quite wrong in another.

Therefore my personal belief is that we should look for a statement from the Minister. I hope that he might say that there will not be inflexibility in the way in which orders are made because regard has to be taken of the traffic area in which the company will be operating.

My personal instincts are such that I do not like the figure 50. I think it is too rigid and I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, that in relation to the private independents it is possibly too big, but in some areas 50 may be right and in other areas a much smaller figure would be desirable.

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

We have already debated the general principles behind the requirements to form companies, and I have put it to your Lordships that there are significant benefits to be had from it. It will give management clear, commercial objectives. It will also make clear that the local authority undertakings are run as free-standing trading bodies, not as a part of the local authority, where they can be readily subsidised.

We accept in principle that, for very small undertakings, the operating benefits of a clear, commercial structure might not be so great, and the arguments for establishing a clearly free-standing company on competition grounds might be less strong. But now that, as I understand it, Aberconwy's undertaking has ceased to trade, the smallest undertakings are, I believe, Islwyn and Taff Ely with 30 buses each. After that there is a steady progression of authorities with fleets of 30, 40, 50 and so on right up to Nottingham with 350 buses.

It is the Government's view that it would be wrong to exclude from the provisions of this part of the Bill undertakings of this size, with turnovers of over £1 million. I think their competitors are likely to agree with that view. I also believe it would be arbitrary to draw a line at a particular figure of, say, 50, when there are so many undertakings of roughly that size. If there is a clear distinction to be made between very small undertakings, which do not compare in size or in importance to the rest of the municipals, then this clause allows the Government to make it. But I have to be frank. We do not at this stage see any reason for an exemption for any of the existing undertakings; the Government feel that it would be wise to retain the power in this clause to make regulations on the matter should they become desirable. But I hope that your Lordships will agree with me that specifying a figure in statute would be too inflexible, and that a figure of 50 is in any event unreasonably high given the benefits which we expect to accrue from the company form.

I must also point out that the amendments would remove the Secretary of State's discretion over the period and the terms of any exemption which was granted would leave no control over the way in which the undertaking conducted its business and leave it quite open for the local authority to misuse the privileged position which an exemption would give to the undertaking to the real disadvantage of its competitors.

I hope that your Lordships will see the strength of these arguments and that the amendments would go a long way towards denying passengers in some areas the benefits of commercial management, and competition which the Bill is intended to promote.

I now address myself to the point raised by my noble friend about the desirability of using a direct labour organisation type of arrangement. My noble friend has referred to the fact that any undertaking exempted from the requirement to form a company in these circumstances could nonetheless adopt such a structure and thus compete in the tendering process with other operators. This was an argument which my noble friend put, if I remember rightly, during the course of our discussions on Clause 62. I do not think I may have given my noble friend as full an answer as I should have done on that occasion. The main point is that the undertakings, which we are proposing should be formed into companies, will be competing in open commercial markets with other operators who have the company structure. Unlike direct labour organisations which carry out road works or cleaning services for the council and whose activities consist almost wholly of providing services for their authority—they will be operating in the marketplace like other trading companies. They will, it is true, be providing some services under contract to the authority, and I can see why my noble friend says that it would be possible for them to tender for those in competition with other operators, if they were in the form of DLOs rather than companies. But I believe that their overall position is quite different from that of the direct labour organisations that we have been talking about.

I should also remind your Lordships that the DLO format requires fairly complex rules to be established about the organisations' accounts and rates of return. While I do not say that those do not work, I think that the company format is not only a better format here, but one which is more readily available to us. In short, while it would, I suppose, be possible to achieve financial separation for tendering purposes through a DLO structure, I do not believe that it is the most appropriate solution when the Companies Acts are available. I hope that, in the light of these considerations, my noble friend will not press his amendments.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Sandford

I am most grateful to those who have taken part in this short debate and to my noble friend on the Front Bench. It is helpful now to have on the record the remarks of the Government on what one might call the DLO option. It is true that the regimes which control direct labour organisations when they are competing and tendering in competition with the private sector are complex, but they are familiar to the local authorities and they have stood the test of time; whereas these hybrid companies are anything but familiar and they do not stand the test of close examination.

I was grateful for the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, about the fact that some of these 13 municipal bus companies below the threshhold of 50 manage without any subsidy and five are operating without any subsidy whatever, so the régime into which they are moving will not change from that point of view. I was grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, had to say about the difficulties which the hybrid municipal bus companies will face as regards the capital control to which they are subjected, but perhaps I can keep my powder dry on that until we reach Clause 72 which relates to that matter.

I am grateful to have all this on the record. Perhaps the right thing to aim for when it comes to the authorities which are to be excluded, if any are, and the criteria for judging the nature, size and their situation might best be left to a statement. A statement would be desirable rather than leaving the unfettered discretion of the Secretary of State in the Bill with no indication about how he is to exercise it. As I said at the beginning, these are probing amendments. They have achieved what I hoped they would achieve and I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 211D.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 211E not moved.]

Clause 67 agreed to.

Clause 68 [The public transport companies and their controlling authorities]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 215A: Page 70, line 12, leave out ("councils to whom section 63(1) of this Act applies") and insert ("such councils as are referred to in subsection (2) above").

The noble Earl said: At the same time it would be convenient if I spoke also to Amendments Nos. 218B, 218C, 218D, 218E, 223A, 224A, 229B, 229D and 229F: Amendment No. 218B, Clause 69: Page 71, line 6, at end insert ("or permit any body corporate which is its subsidiary to engage in any such activities"). Amendment No. 218C: Page 71, leave out lines 7 to 9 and insert— ("(b) does not—

  1. (i) borrow money from any person other than the controlling authority; or
  2. (ii) permit any body corporate which is its subsidiary to borrow money from any person other than the company, any other subsidiary of the company, or the controlling authority; with the exception in each case of borrowing by way of temporary loan or overdraft; and").
Amendment No. 218D: Page 71, line 10, after ("not") insert ("(i)"). Amendment No. 218E: Page 71, line 11, at end insert— ("; or (ii) permit any body corporate which is its subsidiary to raise money by the issue of shares or stock to any person other than the company."). Amendment No. 223A: Clause 71, page 74, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert ("such shares or other securities"). Amendment No. 224A: Page 74, line 18, leave out from beginning to ("which") in line 20 and insert—
  1. ("(a) the disposal by that company of the whole of that company's undertaking;
  2. (b) any disposal by that company of any shares in or other securities of a body corporate which is that company's subsidiary; or
  3. 1214
  4. (c) any disposal by that company of any part of that company's undertaking, or of any assets of that company (other than shares or securities within paragraph (b) above)").
Amendment No. 229B: Clause 72, page 75, line 41, leave out ("wholly-owned"). Amendment No. 229D: Clause 73, page 76, line 21, leave out ("wholly-owned"). Amendment No. 229F: Clause 74, page 76, leave out line 27 and insert (", or with any subsidiary of an associated company, for the provision by that Executive or council for that company or (as the case may be) for that subsidiary").

These amendments bring the subsidiaries of public transport companies within the scope of Clauses 69, 71, 72, 73 and 74 and make related drafting amendments. It would clearly be illogical for these provisions to apply in relation to public transport companies and not apply to any subsidiaries of those companies. These amendments put right that inconsistency. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 68, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 69 [Control over constitution and activities of public transport companies]:

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendments Nos. 217A and 217B: [Printed 18/7/85; col. 978.]

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 217A and 217B together. I spoke to them at the last Sitting with Amendment No. 211CM. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendments (Nos. 217A and 217B):

Page 70, leave out lines 33 to 35 and insert— ("(2) Following the transfer to a public transport company of its initial undertaking,") Page 70, line 41, at end insert— ("The reference above in this subsection to the transfer to a public transport company of its initial undertaking is a reference, in relation to any such company, to the transfer or (if more than one) the first transfer of property, rights and liabilities to that company under section 58(7), 60(10), 64(7) or 66(2) of this Act.")

The Earl of Caithness moved Amendment No. 217C: Page 71, line 1, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (5) below").

The noble Earl said: I beg to move Amendment No. 217C and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 218A, 219A and 219B. Amendment No. 218A: Page 71, line 4, leave out ("other than transferred activities"). Amendment No. 219A: Page 71, line 17, leave out ("other than transferred activities"). Amendment No. 219B: Page 71, line 22, leave out subsection (5) and insert— ("(5) Subsection (3)(a) above shall not apply—

  1. (a) in the case of a public transport company whose controlling authority are the Passenger Transport Authority for any passenger transport area, in relation to activities within the powers of the Executive for that area or activities which were formerly within those powers but have ceased to be so by virtue of any order made under section 59 of this Act;
  2. (b) in the case of a public transport company within section 68(1)(c) of this Act, in relation to activities which were 1215 formerly within the powers of the council who formed or of any council who participated in forming that company, but have ceased to be so by virtue of section 62(1) of this Act.")

This is a group of amendments which corrects a technical defect in Clause 69. I beg to move.

Lord Shepherd

I accept that it is a technical amendment but could the noble Earl explain in what way it is technical and what was at fault in the Bill originally?

The Earl of Caithness

I should be very happy to do so. One of the intentions behind Clause 69 is to require the controlling authority to exercise control over its public transport company so that the company does not engage in activities which the controlling authority had no powers to engage in before it set up the company. As drafted, however, a public transport company would not be able to engage in any activity which its parent authority had had powers to engage in but had not carried out. We believe that this would be unduly restrictive on the public transport companies, and the amendments put the situation correctly. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to explain them.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Sandford moved Amendment No. 218:

Page 71, line 4, leave out paragraph (a).

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 218 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Vickers and at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 219. Amendment No. 219: Page 71, leave out lines 17 to 19.

It may be that, depending upon how the amendment goes, this will save me from speaking on Clause 69 stand part. This is a clause which, following the earlier ones that prescribed that the district council municipal bus company should form a Companies Act company which, generally speaking, then is free in the private sector to operate and to govern by its own memorandum and articles, having, as it were, given a municipal bus company freedom with that hand, it takes it all away again with Clause 69 where it lays down in great detail the way in which the new-found freedom of the municipal company is to be constrained, curbed and confined by the control of the local authority.

My noble friend's amendment has the limited effect of questioning—and this is only a probing amendment—why it is really necessary for the local authority to control its company and prevent it from diversifying its activities. It is surely one of the guiding principles of operating the private sector that the managers should all the time be ensuring that all their assets, capital and labour, are fully engaged and are being used to full effect. Therefore, if, for instance, one of these new municipal bus companies finds that in order to meet the peak demands of its operation, the early morning, the late evening, the rush hour, and so on, it has spare capacity in, say, its garages, why should it not engage or be free to engage in servicing other people's vehicles, lorries, other buses belonging to other companies, and so on?

I cannot see for the life of me—or, presumably, my noble friend cannot see for the life of her—why this should not be allowed. If in answering that particular point my noble friend on the Front Bench would like to try to justify the rather wider range of controls that are provided for in this clause, it may well be that we do not have to have a separate debate on Clause 69. I do not know whether that is a convenient way for the rest of the Committee to approach the matter, but I should like to have a short examination of why all these controls are necessary once a private company is set up under the Companies Act, presumably to give it the freedom that is implied by that and then all that freedom is taken away in the clauses and subsections in this part of the Bill. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

If this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 218A or 218B.

Lord Teviot

There is one point that I should like to raise in support of this amendment. My noble friend mentioned the fact that the peak services may provide spare capacity for maintenance. I should like to mention to him that on occasions, especially in the resorts on the coast and other places, accommodation can very usefully be acquired by private coach excursions coming in, thus keeping the vehicles away from the major car parks. Those depots could perhaps be used for garaging the coaches before they return home in the evening. I should like to ask my noble friend whether this amendment could accommodate that? If so, it would give it very much more thrust.

Lord Sandford

My noble friend is quite right. The Great Yarmouth Bus Company, with a total of 50 buses exactly, requires 24 of those at peak periods in the winter and 32 in the summer; so, at various times and seasons, there is a very considerable amount of spare capacity and it surely makes sense to use it to the full. In fact, if you do not use it to the full I cannot see how you can possibly compete in full-blooded competition.

The Earl of Caithness

I have listened very carefully to the argument which has been so well advanced by my noble friend; but, if I may say so, I think he may have given the Committee the impression—and I certainly had the impression from what he said—that the limitation on a public transport company's powers would be tighter and more significant than is the case. First of all, let me say that I think it is entirely right that, as long as the company is controlled by the local authority, it should not be allowed to diversify into completely new activities which are beyond the authority's own powers. We could not have companies effectively used as a means of extending the authority's own activities into areas which are quite beyond the proper scope of the public sector.

If a local authority want a company to diversify into something quite unrelated to its main business and quite beyond the authority's own power, such as general engineering or, say, the sale of clothes, they are free, if they would like to do so, to privatise it by divesting themselves of control. Then the company would be able to diversify as much as it likes subject only to the directors being able to carry the shareholders with them.

I think the Committee will agree that we should not have unlimited extension of its trading while it is in the public sector. I do not think that we need be concerned that this restriction will prevent the company from operating commercially or using the assets in its business to the full. May I remind the Committee that the previous amendment, which was agreed to, specifically extended the powers in the Bill in order to permit the companies to do things which the local authority are empowered to do but have not taken up as yet.

By virtue of Section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972 and the equivalent provision in Scotland which is Section 69 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, a local authority has the power to do anything which is calculated to facilitate or is conducive to or incidental to the discharge of any of their functions; and many bus undertakings now engage in such activities. My noble friend Lord Sandford mentioned the case of a garage. This could apply to Strathclyde, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, will appreciate, with their garage at Cathcart. If it is incidental to their business, of course, they can hire it out, which they do at the moment. This Bill in no way prevents that. I think on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Teviot that if it is incidental to their running of the business, such action is not forbidden.

Clause 63(1), which defines the purposes for which the companies may be formed, will not prevent them from taking full benefit from that. It means that the company will have the proper freedom to turn its assets to account as bus undertakings now have. Engineering capacity which was needed for the main activities could be used at the margin to maintain private vehicles. The company could even provide a catering service as part of its business. So I find it difficult to accept that the provisions of this subsection will be a significant commercial restraint on the company. It will have some effect but I do not believe it will prevent the company from competing perfectly well. I hope that reply satisfies my noble friend Lord Sandford. I believe his fears are misplaced. I think this is an unnecessary amendment and I hope that what I have said also deals with his general worries about Clause 69.

Lord Sandford

I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. I shall read his reply with interest and make sure that our lawyers look at it. However, it surprises me very much indeed to hear that the servicing of private sector vehicles—lorries belonging to private companies—has ever been or could ever be construed to be an activity in which a local district council is allowed to engage. In that case I really do not see by what authority it could do that, given Clause 69(3)(a). However, as I say, I will see that what my noble friend has just said is carefully studied, and if he is right it is the case that our anxieties have no justification. But I should be rather surprised if we find that to be so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale

I think this is a convenient moment for us to take the first Statement. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.