HL Deb 29 July 1985 vol 467 cc19-72

3.35 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 95 [Grants by the Secretary of State for services in rural areas]:

On Question, Whether Clause 95 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Belstead

In speaking to the Question, Whether Clause 95 shall stand part of the Bill, I shall, if I may, speak to Amendment No. 253H alone. I shall then speak to Amendment No. 253J, which has some consequential amendments.

Amendment No. 253H: After Clause 95, insert the following new clause:

("Grants for establishment, etc., of rural passenger services in Wales and Scotland

.—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, make in such cases as he thinks fit a grant to any person for the purpose of securing the establishment, continuance or improvement of any public passenger transport service which in the opinion of the Secretary of State is or will be for the benefit of persons residing in any rural area in Wales or Scotland.

(2) In the case of any grant under this section for the purpose of securing the continuance of an existing service—

  1. (a) the service must be one which was established with the assistance of a grant under this section; and
  2. (b) the grant must be for securing its continuance during such period from the time when it was first operated as appears to the Secretary of State to be appropriate in the case of that service.

(3) In the case of any grant under this section for the purpose of securing the improvement of an existing service the improvement in view must be one which appears to the Secretary of State to involve an innovative approach to the use of vehicles, equipment or other facilities in providing the service.

(4) Grants under this section shall be of such amount and subject to such conditions (including conditions requiring their repayment in specified circumstances) as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine, either generally or in relation to any particular cases or classes of case.".

Amendment No. 253J:After Clause 95, insert the following new clause:

("Transitional rural bus grants

.—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, make in such cases as he thinks fit a grant to any person in respect of qualifying mileage run at any time during the period of four years beginning with the date on which this section comes into force by vehicles used by that person in operating a service which at the time in question is a service eligible for grant under this section.

(2) A service is eligible for grant under this section at any time when—

  1. (a) it is a service qualifying for fuel duty grant;
  2. (b) it is being operated wholly or partly within a rural area in Great Britain (outside London); and
  3. (c) it meets such other requirements as the Secretary of State thinks fit to impose;
and in subsection (1) above "qualifying mileage" means, in relation to any vehicle, mileage run by that vehicle within any such rural area.

(3) Grants under this section shall be of such amount and subject to such conditions (including conditions requiring their repayment in specified circumstances) as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine, either generally or in relation to any particular cases or classes of case.").

The amendment to which I have referred will take the place of Clause 95, which I am moving shall not stand part of the Bill; and the second new clause to which I have referred and to which I shall not speak will also form part of where Clause 95 has been, if your Lordships agree that it should be excluded from the Bill.

These two clauses are designed, as I say, to replace Clause 95 with far greater and far more precise definitions, concerning the two grants which we propose to pay towards rural services. I should emphasise that in seeking to replace Clause 95, first with Amendment No. 253H and then with Amendment No. 253J, there is no change of policy. The new clauses will ensure that Parliament enacts provisions which recognisably give the Secretary of State the powers needed to pay the grants intended under Clause 95. But the difficulty is that, as at present drafted, Clause 95 is so general that it gives no indication of how the grants are to be paid. That is why I am seeking to bring forward Amendment No. 253H as part of the replacement of Clause 95.

I shall speak briefly to it. This new clause in Amendment No. 253H will, if your Lordships agree to it, allow my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales to pay the innovation grant which was announced in the White Paper, Buses. The clause does not apply to England for the simple reason that powers already exist which will enable the Development Commission to administer the innovation grant on behalf of the Secretary of State. There are no equivalent bodies in Scotland or Wales which assume responsibility for all rural areas in those countries; hence the need for this new provision to enable my right honourable friends to administer the grant.

The new clause will allow a grant to be paid for the establishment, continuance or improvement of services for the benefit of residents in rural areas. In England up to £1 million a year will be available to the Development Commission. In Wales the figure will be £100,000 a year. In Scotland it will be of the order of £150,000 a year. The purpose of the innovation grant is to encourage new thinking about the old problems of transport for rural communities and to act as a pump primer to get schemes off the ground, perhaps by helping a local group with the purchase of a mini-bus.

The funds involved are of course small compared with the day-to-day revenue support payments by county or regional councils and the grant in no way cuts across the role of these authorities. To have an impact, the lessons learnt from the projects will need to be monitored and applied in other parts of the country. In speaking to this first amendment I am, however, moving that Clause 95 do not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Teviot

I have only a very small point to make about my noble friend's amendment No. 253H, but I support all his other amendments which have to do with the clause. In this Bill, we are dealing with local bus services. We are also dealing with the allocation of extremely limited amounts of money. Therefore I must ask my noble friend whether in subsection (1) the reference to "public passenger transport service" should read "public passenger transport service by road". I hope my noble friend will find favour with this interjection and will regard it as both sensible and helpful to the Bill. If so, I hope he will arrange for the necessary amendment to be made.

Lord Belstead

In reply to my noble friend, I should like to look at the point. If I feel that it is right from a drafting point of view, I shall be only too ready to let my noble friend know so that we can have an amendment brought forward at Report stage. But I should like to look at the point.

Clause 95 disagreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 253H:

[Printed above.]

The noble Lord said: I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 253J:

[Printed above.]

The noble Lord said: The second new clause on the Marshalled List, which will fully replace Clause 95, is Amendment No. 253J. This will allow my right honourable friend to pay the transitional rural bus grant for a period of up to four years, and it is this subject to which Clause 95 is mainly devoted. The purpose of the transitional grant is to compensate for the loss of cross-subsidy in the period following deregulation. We recognise that competition will be most intense in urban areas and that this will lead to pressure on operators' costs in those areas—to the benefit of passengers. But this means that cross-subsidy from urban to rural services will be much reduced following deregulation.

However, deregulation itself will compensate for that. It will enable new operators to start services easily. It will be easier for mini-bus and taxi operators to come in. Competitive tendering will also have an impact in rural areas, enabling local authorities to get better value for subsidy. However, I admit that the Government realise that it will take some time for the effects of competition to work through. This is why we are proposing to make available the transitional rural grant for four years starting from 1st April 1986. There will be £20 million available in the first year and this will decrease in even steps to £15 million, £10 million and £5 million over the next three years.

The Department of Transport wrote last March to various interested organisations, explaining in detail how my right honourable friend proposed to administer the grant and inviting comments on his proposed definition of "rural areas". The letter explained that grant would be paid by the department directly to operators in the same way as fuel duty rebate. Services in rural areas which are eligible for fuel duty rebate will also be eligible for rural grant. The department's letter proposed that rural areas should be defined as those outside built-up areas with more than 25,000 people, as defined by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys and the Registrar General's Office in Scotland, with grant being paid on all mileage run in those areas.

My right honourable friend has also decided, in the light of the comments received, that it would be right to make one other change to the proposed arrangements for administering this grant. My right honourable friend had previously proposed that all mileage in rural areas should qualify for grant. But some local authorities and others pointed out that this could lead to grant being paid on some inter-urban services which did not actually stop in the rural area through which they ran. My right honourable friend therefore proposes to impose an additional requirement under subsection (2)(c) of the new clause to the effect that to be eligible for grant services should make timetabled stops in rural areas.

3.45 p.m.

If I may speak also to Amendments Nos. 253K, 253L, 253M, 254A, 254B and 265A, these amendments are all consequential on the fact that subsection (2)(a) of this amendment makes eligibility for fuel duty rebate a condition of eligibility for the transitional rural grant.

Amendment No 253K: Clause 96, page 97. line 16, leave out ("In section 92") and insert ("(1) In section 92(1)").

Amendment No. 253L: Page 97, line 17, leave out from ("fuel") to ("In") in line 35 and insert—

  1. ("(a) after the words "bus services" there shall be inserted the words "or (as the case may be) to operators of bus services of any description specified for the purposes of this section"; and
  2. (b) after the words "bus service" there shall be inserted the words "or (as the case may be) any bus service of any description so specified".

(2) For subsection (8) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsections—


Amendment No. 253M: Page 98, line 7, leave out ("the regulations") and insert— ("regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument.

(8A) Any statutory instrument containing regulations made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament." ").

Amendment No. 254A: Clause 98, page 99, line 9, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 10.

Amendment No. 254B: Clause 98, page 99, line 13, at end insert—

("(1A) For the purposes of this Part of this Act, a service is a service qualifying for fuel duty grant at any time when fuel used in operating the service falls to be taken into account for the purpose of calculating grant payable to the operator of the service under section 92 of the Finance Act 1965 (grant to operators of bus services towards duty charged on bus fuel.)").

Amendment No. 265A: Clause 121, page 118, line 39, leave out ("95") and insert ("(Grants for establishment, etc., of rural passenger services in Wales and Scotland), (Transitional rural bus grants)")

The main effect of these amendments which I have just mentioned is to delete the new subsection (8)(b) of Section 92 of the Finance Act 1965 which is contained in Clause 96. That provision would have given my right honourable friend power to make regulations to the effect that fuel used on only one part of a service was eligible for rebate. If a particular service was partly eligible for fuel duty rebate, then eligibility for rebate could not sensibly be used as a criterion for eligibility for this new rural grant, since it would be unclear whether a service was or was not eligible for rebate and was or was not eligible for grant.

My right honourable friend decided, however, that he would be very unlikely to wish to use a power to limit eligibility for rebate according to vehicles or manner of operation and the provision could therefore be dropped. The effect is that every service either will or will not be eligible for fuel duty rebate. It therefore becomes possible to make eligibility for rebate a condition of eligiblity for rural grant. I am sorry about the length of that explanation, but that is the thrust of all those consequential amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Monk Bretton moved Amendment No. 253JA as an amendment to Amendment No. 253J: Subsection (1), line 2, leave out ("may, with") and insert ("shall, subject to").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 253JA, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 253JB and 253JC.

Amendment No. 253JB: Subsection (1), line 4, leave out from ("run") to ("by") in line 6.

Amendment No. 253JC: Subsection (3), at end insert— (" (4) In considering what requirements to impose under subsection (2)(c) above, the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to support, among other services, those which—

  1. (a) are provided solely or mainly for the carriage of passengers resident in rural areas;
  2. (b) in the opinion of the relevant authority are required to meet the needs of the residents of those areas; and
  3. (c) would not otherwise be available at reasonable cost to passengers and to the relevant authority, having regard to the costs incurred by them before the passing of this Act.
(5) Any grant made under this section in respect of a service or services shall continue for a period of not less than four years unless during that period a change in the circumstances affecting the service or services makes it inappropriate so to continue. (6) In this section "relevant authority" means the Passenger Transport Authority, or non-metropolitan county, regional or islands council for the area.").

These three are all amendments to my noble friend's new clause which he has just moved as Amendment No. 253J. My amendments are supported by the shire counties and also by Rural Voice which comprises, as the Committee will probably know, many rural interests ranging from the National Farmers' Union to the Women's Institute. Your Lordships will also be aware of my concern about the effects of the Bill on rural areas. Also, Clause 95 is really the only safeguard for rural areas which is provided in the Bill. Though no sums of money are mentioned in the Bill, the Government's intention is that £50 million should be made available tapering over four years. I shall not comment on, or discuss now, the adequacy or inadequacy of that £50 million, but comment there has been which indicates that the position is expected to be a very tight one. My purpose on moving these amendments is to try to provide a more efficient—possibly, slightly more generous—safety net than the proposed new Clause 95 as proposed by my noble friend.

My amendments have effect as follows. Amendment No. 253JA strengthens the clause by turning the power of the Secretary of State into a duty—but I hasten to say, a qualified duty—to do what he thinks fit. This brings it into line with the duty that the county council has to provide rural services as it thinks appropriate, as set out in Clause 61 of the Bill. It seems to me fair that the respective obligations of Government and county council should be the same in this matter. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will not cavil unduly at that.

Amendment No. 253JB removes the restriction of the four-year maximum period over which these grants may be paid. But I hasten to say that a less tight restriction is then introduced instead in subsection (5) of Amendment 253JC, which states that these grants shall be paid, for a period of not less than four years unless during that period a change in the circumstances affecting the service or services makes it inappropriate … to continue the grant. I note here that the Secretary of State will still have power to fall back on subsection (2)(c) of his new clause as set out in Amendment No. 253J, where it says: A service is eligible for grant … when— (c) it meets such other requirements as the Secretary of State thinks fit to impose".

The rest of Amendment No. 253JC is an endeavour to make sure that money is channelled where it is most badly needed. I am afraid that in this respect I shall be found to be turning upside down to a considerable extent the proposals that have been put forward by the Government so far. Subsection (4) of Amendment No. 253JC is intended to ensure that services do not just pass through a rural area but definitely cater for those living there. It would ensure that the residents really need the service before grant becomes available and that the service would be eligible for grant only if, without such grant, it would be available only at an excessive fare and/or excessive local authority subsidy. Finally, it would ensure that the opinion of the relevant local authority is sought.

Money being short, I am greatly concerned that aid is concentrated where the shoe pinches and not wasted elsewhere. I understand that some time back there were consultations about this and the Government had the general premise that they would be distributing these grants to rural areas which could be defined as outside built-up areas with more than 25,000 people. I fear, having also read the original Notes on Clauses, that these proposals are definitely too diffuse. I am left with feelings of great doubt and anxiety about this matter. I think we have established that the effect of the Bill is bound to be patchy. Though indeed it will be advantageous overall, there will be areas of difficulty.

The principal difficulty lies in serving the rural areas. In any particular shire county all we can be certain of at present is that there will be so much cross-subsidy, which I should like to call X, and some scope for economy in the services, which I would call Y—and X minus Y will determine whether the service can be maintained with or without extra subsidy by local authorities, which extra subsidy, if needed, is quite frankly highly unlikely to be available. No algebra can tell us at the moment what X is; and there are also considerable uncertainties about Y. I might almost say that there have been disagreements about Y, but I should prefer to stick to the word "uncertainties". The answers to X and Y are going to be discovered when the Bill comes into operation. All will very definitely come out in the wash at that stage. There will be differences from county to county. I do not think that it is right to gamble and guess about this with vital services in the rural areas, and I therefore want to see the safety net improved by making sure that grant is applied as effectively as possible.

I think that that explains the position. I am sure my noble friend will say that I have turned things upside down very considerably but I feel, nevertheless, that it is vitally necessary to consider the matter in that light. It is what is happening in each county that must be taken into consideration because there is a status quo ante with which we have to deal—the extent to which services have relied upon cross-subsidy up to now. I beg to move.

Earl De La Warr

I very much welcome this amendment moved so well by my noble friend. It seems to me that those of us who have paid attention to the progress of this Bill through both Houses should remember that constantly during the course of debates Ministers have given assurances that there would not be blank spots appearing on D-Day or soon after because there was in existence this roll grant, provisional for four years, which would see that any of these little holes are adequately filled. That is why I am so concerned about what we were told by my noble friend as to the way in which the grant is to be handed out.

Those of us who have studied carefully the departmental letter of 27th March will already have taken this view. If I may read just three small extracts from it perhaps the reason for my concern will be highlighted. Paragraph 3 states: Direct payment by the department on simple criteria should minimise paperwork for operators and the public cost of administration". First of all, I can assure the Committee that it will not minimise the paperwork for operators. But that is not the point; that is not a criterion to be used The criterion is to make sure that this grant is there to fill the gaps should they emerge and when they emerge.

We are told that the grant is going to be administered in the same way as fuel duty rebate, the payment of which is currently being computerised. Thus operators would estimate annually their total mileage eligible for bus grant. In an earlier paragraph the letter says: The rate of grant will be about 5 pence per bus mile in the first year". Five pence per bus mile is, at the very cheapest rate, worth less than one extra passenger. That does not seem to add up in any way to the sort of safeguard that we were told the clause would give us. The fact is that the department has thought up a scheme which gives automatic payments for all mileage run in rural areas provided a stop is involved; so on this basis payment would be virtually indiscriminate.

4 p.m.

On this basis also, many a city-to-city or inner-urban service, provided it stops on the way, will qualify for the grant. Those are just the services that will continue to run and continue to run profitably. Here is an unknown part of this clause, but a not inconsiderable part of it, which will apply to exactly those places where it is not intended to apply.

It is no use making indiscriminate payments in that way. Even though it may mean more work, the payments must be made specific. That is why the amendment is so important for country folk who are worried at this moment as to whether they are going to see their bus coming. Each grant must be made specific, and each grant must deal with the individual needs of a particular place in an area. Grants must be confined to those places where services are likely to be either inadequate or non-existent. I suggest that one of the most important parts of the amendment is where it states that the granting of aid must be based on the most expert local advice. Where would one look for that advice, other than to the traffic departments of the county councils?

This amendment perhaps goes as far as it is right to go in legislation in spelling out the framework within which grants should be made. It could go further but it would be wrong to tie the hands of the Secretary of State too tight. But this is the way we would have him go; not in the indiscriminate way which he suggests, which probably counts as the least cost-effective method that I could possibly think of. That is why I strongly support my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Shepherd

The Committee finds itself in the situation that it does not really know what needs to be provided as a consequence of deregulation and the abolition of cost-subsidy. In this situation, £20 million is clearly to be welcomed, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will not take me too wrong if I say that that sum is peanuts in relation to the syphoning out—as I said on Second Reading—of the element of cross-subsidy which I know exists within the National Bus Company, which operates in the main in the shire counties. The noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, is clearly concerned with those.

A sum of £20 million is being put in compared with a syphoning out, conservatively, of £120 million in cross-subsidy which provides the socially desirable and uneconomic services alongside the Section 1 grants. Surely we must use that £20 million to the very best advantage. The amendment before the Committee clearly show that that £20 million will be spread very thinly even within the shire county areas. Services which are perhaps profitable and which can stand on their own will, as I understand it, be able to receive a part of that £20 million. That surely cannot be right, if one considers what most of us who understand this situation perceive will be the consequence of the passing of this Bill.

I can understand why the Government have taken this decision. It is because they find difficulty in deciding how to apportion the £20 million between deserving counties. They have therefore agreed to a blanket contribution. That is a very wrong principle to adopt in the present situation.

The amount available is small compared with what I believe will be required, but £20 million is the amount now available. My strong advice to the Government, which is in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, is that that sum should be used to the very best advantage. The Government may have to find some new machinery for apportioning the £20 million. It is very wrong that that small sum of money should be spread so thinly throughout all the operations within the counties. That way, there will be very little benefit. If the opposite approach is taken, I believe that there might be an element of saving in some of the more difficult areas within the counties.

I recognise the Government's difficulties but I hope that if they cannot accept the noble Lord's amendment, then they will at least try to meet the serious case that is being made. If the butter is small in pack, it is better to use it where it has the greatest advantage rather than spread it so thinly that it means nothing in general. I support the noble Lord.

Lord Grimond

I rise to ask a question that is germane chiefly to the new clause. I am not sure whether this is a suitable moment for raising it. Certain local authorities in Scotland have powers, for instance under the private Bill legislation in Scotland, to provide or assist transport by both road and sea. I take it that their powers to provide or assist ferries, and the bus services which run in connection with those ferries, will not be affected. If one is running a ferry, clearly it is of great assistance if one can be sure there is a bus service to meet it. Secondly, I presume that the money which the noble Lord mentioned, if the services are approved, might be available to them.

Lord Belstead

It may be helpful if I reply at this moment to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton. Before I do so, I will say to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, in respect of the first point he raised, that the powers of local authorities in Scotland to assist with transport by road and sea will not be affected by this Bill. Indeed, specifically written into the Bill is the power of Scottish local authorities to give subsidies to transport of that kind. I will subsume my answer to the noble Lord's second point in my rather more general response.

This group of amendments would remove the four-year limitation on the payment of the special rural grant which is contained in the new clause. The amendments would require the Secretary of State to pay the grant for not less than four years unless by reason of a change of circumstances it became inappropriate to do so. On that first point, I may say straight out that the White Paper made clear, as the Government have done on many occasions since, that the transitional grant will be available for four years. We have said that it will be available at the rate of £20 million, £15 million, £10 million and £5 million in those four years. That has deliberately been made clear so that operators will have as firm a base as possible on which to plan their services. I give an assurance that there is no question of the grant being available for less than four years.

So far as concerns a longer period of time, I am sorry that after some three weeks in Committee on this Bill I have not persuaded either of my noble friends Lord Monk Bretton or Lord De La Warr that the effects of competition will be that, gradually, keener tender prices and lower operating costs will benefit passengers in the countryside as well as in the towns.

My noble friend Lord Monk Bretton said that that may be, but it will happen in a patchy way. Although I do not agree with him, that is in line with what my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton has said on many occasions during this Committee stage. If my noble friend Lord De La Warr will forgive me for saying so, there was perhaps just a hint in his speech that, at the moment, everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds with the bus services in this country. My noble friend went so far as to say that when this Bill is passed people will be worried as to when the next bus will come along, as though in some way one was absolutely assured of a splendid bus service at the moment in every part of the country. As your Lordships know, despite devoted service from people in the bus industry, that is simply not so.

It is because the bus industry has reached a very difficult period in its history that we need some new thought to try to solve some very intractable problems in the industry. What we are dealing with is a grant of £50 million over a period of four years to be paid on top of the subsidies paid by local authorities to the bus companies and the bus undertakings in their areas. The grant is designed to ease the transitional period until improvements in the Bill have had time to work through.

The amendments of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton would introduce certain factors to which my right honourable friend would have to have regard in considering what additional requirements for eligibility he should impose. Several noble Lords, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, just now, said that one of the main differences is that under the Government's amendments it will be a blanket payout to bus undertakings in rural areas, provided the mileages are done in rural areas, but here we have selective amendments where local authorities will be the arbiters and will look at certain requirements for eligibility for the grant. The amendments would effectively require my right honourable friend to focus grant only on services which, as I said, the local authorities select.

I must say to my noble friend that, although he has not in any way meant it to be so, this would be very hard on bus operators. The Bill as we have it with the Government's amendments will enable operators to know at the outset which services qualify for grant, and the system for handling applications will be as simple as possible. It will enable operators to decide what services to register and, in some cases, what tenders to submit to their local authorities. However, under the amendments of my noble friend operators would be told, in effect, "There is a grant available, but you have to go to your local authority to seek its support for your application. You might or you might not be eligible for some grant depending on whether the authority backs you up and whether there is any money available". I do not think that that would be much of an encouragement to rural bus services compared with the simple assurance which is contained in the Government's amendments.

At the risk of wearying your Lordships, may I go one step further and point to the individual proposals which my noble friend is making in his amendment and which noble Lords have said are so much better than the simple assurance which is being given by the Government. There are three types of service which my noble friend indentifies in his amendments as being particularly worthy of grant. First, there are those services provided solely or mainly for the carriage of persons resident in rural areas. That is where the shoe pinches, as my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton said. Under the Government's proposals such services will clearly receive grant, but I cannot accept that it would be right to limit grant to services which are only in rural areas. As my noble friend knows very well, there are many services which run partly in towns but then extend out into the countryside. We believe it is very important that grants should be available to maintain that rural mileage and perhaps tempt operators to extend their rural mileage even further. Therefore, with great respect to my noble friend, I think that is one considerable difficulty with the amendments.

In passing, I should like to assure my noble friend that the Government are most anxious, as he is, to ensure that services which do not serve any rural areas are not eligible for grant. Therefore, my right honourable friend has it in mind to impose an additional requirement under subsection (2)(c) of the Government's new clause so that, to be eligible for rural grant, services must make timetable stops in rural areas.

4.15 p.m.

The second type of service which my noble friend has identified as being particularly favourable for grant is where the service has been endorsed by the county council or other relevant local authority as being necessary to meet the needs of residents of rural areas. I admit that we certainly considered whether it would be right for local authorities to have some role in relation to the grant and we decided against it because, as I have indicated, we thought it important that the grant should be available provided operators meet certain criteria which will be clearly specified in advance. Moreover, in reaching a decision to impose an additional condition to the effect that grant will be available only to services which stop in rural areas, my right honourable friend will, by a rather different route, be attempting to target the grant at just those services which local authorities are likely to support.

Finally, my noble friend singles out services which, were it not for the payment of rural grant, would not be available at reasonable cost to passengers or the relevant authority. I shall not go on about that except to ask: who on earth is to decide what "reasonable cost" is to be? If it is the local authority, all I can say is that the local authorities would naturally want as many services as possible in their areas to attract grant and so potentially reduce their need for subsidy. That could be a difficulty. If the computation of reasonable cost has to be worked out by some central agency, then there would be an enormous amount of bureaucracy attached to it.

This is not just a matter of practicalities. My noble friend Lord De La Warr argued that it is wrong to give the transitional grant to operators of profitable services. That was my understanding of what my noble friend said. However, let us consider for a moment what would be the result——

Earl De La Warr

Perhaps my noble friend will give way for a moment. I did not say it was wrong. I said that that was likely to happen, and, by definition, it would be wasting some of this very valuable money.

Lord Belstead

I certainly accept that from my noble friend. If I may flesh out what he said, he had in mind services which came out from an urban area and went to another urban area and were probably profitable for that reason. I think that my noble friend Lord De La Warr is being very hard in two ways. First, as I have tried to show, just because a bus service starts in an urban area, surely we are not going to say to that bus operator, "You cannot have any encouragement to go running in rural areas and extend your rural mileage." But that is what my noble friend is saying.

Secondly, if we attempt to restrict the transitional rural grant to services which are either not profitable or would probably not be profitable—which, in practice, would mean those subsidised by a local authority—would what my noble friend said really encourage operators to keep marginal services going? Where the rural grant may just make the difference between continuation or withdrawal, if we say that the rural grant should be only for obviously unprofitable services are we likely to encourage the entrepreneur? I very much doubt it.

I apologise for speaking at some length about the details of these amendments, but they have been put forward as being amendments which are splendid not only in concept but also in detail. With very great respect to my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, I think they are not.

Lord Shepherd

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that if the amendment were passed it would prevent or not encourage the entrepreneur to come into the bus operating field. Does the noble Lord really believe that an entrepreneur will come into the bus operating business with a subsidy that will last for four years but which will give diminishing returns? I do not think that is a very serious point.

Lord Belstead

I disagree fundamentally. The noble Lord has returned to his first principles, but not the Government's. The noble Lord asserts that over a period of time the benefits of competition will not have beneficial effects upon costs nor, indeed, upon the services themselves. I am sorry if the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, thinks that. It is not something that the Government believe.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I think the Minister's amendment and the amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, demonstrate the great confusion about how this rural grant will be handled. My noble friend Lord Shepherd has just made a point about whether someone starting up in business will go into it for a four-year period. When the Minister was speaking earlier he said that operators will know that they are getting a grant, and the formula has been suggested by the Government. But do operators realise that the grant will be roughly 5p per mile? The Minister has not yet accepted the figure given by the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, which shows that the grant would work out at about 5p a mile. That really amounts to one extra passenger, which I can hardly believe is something that will attract people into the industry.

Another point which I think is worth making—and this is where a difficulty comes in which I certainly accept—concerns the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, when he pointed out that with the cross-subsidy removed something would be needed to give a cushioning effect for that period. To some extent I certainly agree with him. A further point worth considering is that if there was anything that was shown up in the trial areas—and they have been spoken about rather a lot—it was that the one period in which it is perhaps less necessary to have any encouragement to maintain a service is at the very beginning of it. A great many people tend to take a chance at the beginning, though perhaps not the serious operators of whom the noble Lords who have already spoken are thinking. So perhaps the starting point at which this £50 million, spread over a period, should be given should be two years after the beginning of the deregulation, in order to encourage the people who are still in operation to give it another trial. I am absolutely sure—if the belief of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, is right—that competition, if it means anything, means that a great many people will drop out in the course of the experiment.

I do not think that the amendments moved by the Minister will really make a good job of this. I think it will be an accountant's nightmare, even if a very profitable nightmare. I feel that a great deal more thought needs to be given to this. Since this amendment was tabled by the Minister he has already promised us another change in this particular section of the Bill, which I suppose will be put forward by the Report stage, and I think that we may go on and on getting more amendments to amendments. I hope that the Minister will be good enough to consider thinking about this matter much more deeply. This particular section has not been thought through at all.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I ought just to say, if I may, that of course I shall look carefully at the debate, but I should not want the Committee to be under any misapprehension. I think that there are very great difficulties with my noble friend's amendments. I attempted to deploy them, perhaps, at rather great length, but nevertheless they are very real difficulties, particularly in the three areas where he said that services should be favoured for grants.

The difference between my noble friend's amendments and the Government's of course, is that we are giving an absolute assurance to operators, provided they are running in rural areas, that they can have the grant. Perhaps I may add this comment. It has been said that 5p a mile is "peanuts". We are talking about £50 million over four years, of course; but £20 million—which is for the first year—is roughly 20 per cent. of the total shire county subsidy, and it is a much higher proportion of existing subsidies to rural areas. The fuel duty rebate stands now at 7p to the mile. From the way that operators defend it, clearly they think that it is very well worth having. Therefore, I do not think that this very remarkable sum of £50 million over four years is "peanuts". I think it will make a considerable difference in bridging the period between strict regulation, which we are trying to do away with, and competition, which the Government desire.

Lord Monk Bretton

I am afraid that my noble friend the Minister makes difficulties with my schemes. I have already proposed a good many schemes to solve the problems of rural areas, and so have other noble Lords on both sides of the Committee. Of course, my concept is that the grant really should be used to help with problems that arise over local authority grants in those areas where, as a result of the Bill, the subsidy will rise and where there is no other way of meeting the extra cost which that subsidy provides. The intention of my noble friend is to help operators and to approach the matter in an entirely different way.

Though I quite understand the logic of his approach, I find it extremely difficult to believe that in fact it will provide the safety net that I want to see in those areas where the degree of cross-subsidy is high and the ability to economise turns out to be not so great, so that there is not a disaster and a great hole in fact left in the rural bus services. I cannot really see how the Government can distribute this grant efficiently without taking into account the different results that will occur in the different areas, and I remain very unhappy about the localised problem from one county to another.

My position is a difficult one. I am only too aware of the very great strength of feeling on this issue. It is because of this that I really do not think that it would be proper for me to withdraw this amendment. In fact, I do not know whether I should be allowed to do so. I think I must press the amendment.

4.29 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 253JA) to Amendment No. 253J shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 115.

Airedale, L. Graham of Edmonton, L.
Amherst, E. Grimond, L.
Ardwick, L. Hampton, L.
Atholl, D. Hanworth, V.
Aylestone, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Banks, L. Hatch of Lusby, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Heycock, L.
Bernstein, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Beswick, L. Hughes, L.
Birk, B. Ilchester, E.
Bottomley, L. Ingleby, V.
Brockway, L. Irving of Dartford, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Jacques, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. John-Mackie, L.
Caradon, L. Kilmarnock, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Kirkhill, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Leatherland, L.
Collison, L. Listowel, E.
Crawshaw of Aintree, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.
Darwen, L. Lockwood, B.
David, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McNair, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Mais, L.
De La Warr, E. [Teller.] Mayhew, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Milford, L.
Denington, B. Mishcon, L.
Diamond, L. Molloy, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Monk Bretton, L. [Teller.]
Elwyn-Jones, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Ennals, L. Mulley, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Nicol, B.
Ezra, L. Northfield, L.
Falkender, B. Oram, L.
Falkland, V. Phillips, B.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Fitt, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gallacher, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Galpern, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Gladwyn, L. Rochester, L.
Glenamara, L. Sainsbury, L.
Sandford, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Seear, B. Taylor of Mansfield, L
Sefton of Garston, L. Teviot, L.
Serota, B. Tordoff, L.
Shackleton, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Shepherd, L. Underhill, L.
Shinwell, L. Wallace of Coslany, L
Simon, V. Walston, L.
Stallard, L. White, B.
Stamp, L. Wigoder, L.
Stedman, B. Wilson of Langside, L.
Stewart of Fulham, L. Winstanley, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Winterbottom, L.
Strabolgi, L. Wise, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L. Wootton of Abinger, B
Abercorn, D. Kemsley, V.
Ailesbury, M. Killearn, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Kimball, L.
Aldington, L. King of Wartnaby, L.
Allerton, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Ampthill, L. Lane-Fox, B.
Arran, E. Lauderdale, E.
Bauer, L. Layton, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Beloff, L. Long, V.
Belstead, L. Lyell, L.
Bessborough, E. McFadzean, L.
Boardman, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mancroft, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Margadale, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Marley, L.
Bruce-Gardyne, L. Massereene and Ferrard. V.
Butterworth, L. Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, L.
Caithness, E.
Cameron of Lochbroom, L. Merrivale, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Milverton, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Molson, L.
Cathcart, E. Mottistone, L.
Chelwood, L. Mountgarret, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Murton of Lindisfarne L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Newall, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cowley, E. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Cox, B. Pender, L.
Davidson, V. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
De Freyne, L. Plummer of St Marylebone.L.
Denham, L. [Teller.]
Denning, L. Polwarth, L.
Dilhorne, V. Porritt, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Rankeillour, L.
Dundee, E. Reay, L.
Eccles, V. Renwick, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Rodney, L.
Ellenborough, L. Romney, E.
Elles, B. Rugby, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. St. Davids, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Elton, L. Seebohm L.
Fortescue, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Somers, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Swansea, L.
Glanusk, L. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Gowrie, E. Terrington, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Teynham, L.
Gridley, L. Tranmire, L.
Grimthorpe, L. Trumpington, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Tryon, L.
Vaux of Harrowden, L
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Vivian, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Westbury, L.
Henley, L. Whitelaw, V.
Hood, V. Wynford, L.
Hooper, B. Young of Graffham, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Zouche of Haryngworth, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment to the amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.38 p.m.

[Amendments Nos. 253JB and 253JC not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 253J agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 253J): After Clause 95, insert the following new clause:

"Transitional rural bus grants.

.—(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, the Secretary of State may with the approval of the Treasury, make in such cases as he thinks fit a grant to any person in respect of qualifying mileage run at any time during the period of four years beginning with the date on which this section comes into force by vehicles used by that person in operating a service which at the time in question is service eligible for grant under this section.

(2) A service is eligible for grant under this section at any time when—

  1. (a) it is a service qualifying for fuel duty grant:
  2. (b) it is being operated wholly or partly within a rural area in Great Britain (outside London); and
  3. (c) it meets such other requirements as the Secretary of State thinks fit to impose;
and in subsection (1) above, "qualifying mileage" means, in relation to any vehicle, mileage run by that vehicle within any such rural area.

(3) Grants under this section shall be of such amount and subject to such conditions (including conditions requiring their repayment in specified circumstances) as the Secretary of State may, with the approval of the Treasury, determine, either generally or in relation to any particular cases or classes of case.").

Clause 96 [Grants towards duty charged on bus fuel]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 253K and 253L:

[Printed earlier: col 23.]

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 253K and 253L are consequential on Amendment No. 253H. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendments (Nos. 253K and 253L):

Page 97, line 16, leave out ("In section 92") and insert ("(1) In section 92(1)").

Page 97, line 17, leave out from ("fuel") to ("In") in line 35 and insert—

  1. ("(a) after the words "bus services" there shall be inserted the words "or (as the case may be) to operators of bus services of any description specified for the purposes of this section"; and
  2. (b) after the words "bus service" there shall be inserted the words "or (as the case may be) any bus service of any description so specified".

(2) For subsection (8) of that section there shall be substituted the following subsections—


Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 253LA:

Page 97, line 39, leave out ("wholly or mainly").

The noble Lord said: This clause introduces an element which will disbenefit a substantial number of bus services. It will limit bus fuel grant to those services on which more than half the places provided on the vehicles are available at all times for casual passengers. However, is it right to do this to every service where 50 per cent. of the seats are reserved for special categories of people? These people may be schoolchildren, workers the disabled and so on, but they are, of course, a part of the general public.

In the Notes on Clauses provided, one sees there is a concern over the possibility that some of these services might conceivably run in places or at times of day when it is highly unlikely that members of the general public would wish to use them. It is possible that this might happen.

On the other hand, there are many cases in which buses, used simply for carrying children to school, have a number of spare seats, though less than 50 per cent., which are available for anyone wishing to make the journey. In this way, the education authority can earn some contribution towards the cost of its statutory duty of carrying the children to school and it can provide a service which would not otherwise be available. It benefits not only from the fares collected but also from the receipt of bus fuel grant in respect of the service.

To maintain a service to the public under the "wholly or mainly" provision, the authority would have to provide two vehicles. In fact, it might well be three vehicles. If, as is common, the authority hires a 53-seater coach it may legally be possible to carry 78 children on it under the three-for-two rule. In that case, 32 of the 53 seats would have to be available for casual passsengers, leaving 21 seats for 31 children. More than 62 children will call for three vehicles, or a loss of public service. Beyond doubt, the public service will be withdrawn, as that would be the least expensive course for the education authority. Education has problems enough at present without such added penalties through the Transport Bill, making transport progressively worse.

I should like to give an example. Think of an isolated village where the children go to the nearest school on the stage bus service. The local authority pays only the cost of term-time bus passes. Then the stage service, being too unprofitable, is withdrawn. The local education authority is bound by law to provide a school bus at a greater cost. There are now 69 children on a 53-seater coach, leaving seven seats available for villagers to get to the town and back. This may be a vital weekly link for 25 and perhaps up to 35 people. The fact that they can travel reduces the cost to the local education authority and leaves more money for education as such.

Should we throw out the double benefit of this system? I hope not. Co-ordinated use of vehicles in this way was very much in the mind of the Conservative Government when it placed on county councils a duty to co-ordinate public transport in the area under the 1972 Local Government Act. That duty has regrettably, but inevitably, had to be sacrificed at the altar of deregulation. Despite this, Ministers have frequently made clear that local authorities will still be expected to do everything possible to co-ordinate transport services. Clause 82 provides for this. So it cannot be right for this Bill to introduce the words "wholly or mainly" in the definition of a bus service. All that it does is to remove fuel tax grant from a whole range of legitimate services.

In relating this amendment to real life, I have used the example of school buses. There are many other examples that I could have given. In particular, I am sure that your Lordships will be concerned at the damaging effect that the new definition will have on services provided for the disabled. The Committee will have noted that the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, are coupled with mine in favour of the amendment. I could not be more grateful for their coming in with me. In fact, I think that I came in with them. Great minds thought alike. We are concerned with deleting the particular words. As your Lordships will understand, they can explain, to a greater extent even than I can, the unfortunate consequences of this clause as drafted for the disabled people of this country.

The words "wholly or mainly" are mean and unworthy. The Government are all too often ready, they claim, to make exceptional cases, which are of very little consequence—such as 80-seater mini-buses. I hope that, in their apparent zeal to eliminate a minor problem, they will not overlook the damage that will result in a large number of worthy cases if this amendment is not made. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should like to support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot. He painted a clear overall picture of what will happen if Clause 96 as it stands is interpreted literally. In particular, he talked about school buses. I should like to concentrate on services run primarily for the disabled because I too believe that the words "wholly or mainly" would mean that these services were no longer eligible for fuel tax rebate. A good example exists in Chesterfield where a private operator, by arrangement with the county council, provides a Dial-a-Ride service for disabled people. Members of the general public can use the service at a premium fare. The services run under a road service licence, and under this Bill it would be a registered local service. At present, its availability to the general public means that fuel tax rebate is paid.

The Minister for Transport, Mrs. Chalker, visited the scheme recently and praised it for its ingenuity and innovation. Fuel tax rebate has undoubtedly played a part in its success. There are a number of other examples that I could give. Leicester city has a similar service. There are others, and it is to be hoped that many more will develop, where bus operators provide a licensed service run primarily but not exclusively for a particular section of the community.

Fuel tax rebate is an important influence in the setting up and continuation of these schemes. But in no way could one suggest that a pre-booked Dial-a-Ride service, fully subscribed by the disabled and those who may accompany them, is wholly or mainly available to the general public. So it does appear that they will not be eligible for rebate if the clause remains as drafted. I really hope that the Minister will say that he can agree to the amendment.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I wonder whether, before the Minister replies, I can add my voice as my name is down to the amendment. I am puzzled by the exclusive character of the words, "wholly or mainly" and I wonder whether they will have any effect, for instance, on the provisions of Clause 82 where there is a duty imposed on local authorities to co-operate with one another so as to secure, in the interests of ratepayers in their areas, the best value for money from their expenditure on public transport taken as a whole. It might be the case that these words would countervail or somehow go against that duty, or that if local authorities did make some kind of scheme for co-operation, they would not be able to attract grant under the clause. That would be a great pity. I wonder whether there is any ground for my fear that the words "wholly or mainly" might, in some sense, militate against the spirit, anyway, of Clause 82.

In particular, it has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, that these words could be construed to exclude school services. If so, that would surely be very retrograde. I believe, on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), that those words would, or might, exclude the Dial-a-Ride services. Again, that would be a great pity. If there is anything in either of those two points, I wonder whether the noble Lord the Minister would be good enough to consider the matter and come back with something on Report, or explain the import of these words. I must confess that what worried me, apart from the effect on Dial-a-Ride services, is the impact on Clause 82. If the noble Lord can either satisfy me now or perhaps agree to conversations tomorrow, I would be grateful.

Lord Belstead

This is an important amendment. I have listened carefully to what has been said in the last 10 minutes or so, particularly by my noble friend Lord Teviot, who moved the amendment. I hope that I can go some way towards reassuring my noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and also show that I believe that the Government need to do some rethinking in regard to the school services.

First, why are the words "wholly or mainly" in the Bill? The current definition of eligibility for fuel duty rebate requires that services should be "available to the general public". I will not conceal from your Lordships that that definition has led to some difficulty. It has meant that services which run primarily for a particular group of passengers hut on which just one seat may in theory be "available to the public might qualify for rebate. These may be services running in places or at times of the day when it is highly unlikely that any members of the general public would wish to use the vehicle, and the addition of "wholly or mainly" to the words "available to the general public" is designed to prevent this sort of anomaly and thus to ensure that fuel duty rebate—which costs a very great deal of money some £120 million a year—should fulfil its proper role: that of a subsidy to operators who run the kind of local services on which the general public rely in order to make necessary day-to-day journeys.

Having said that, as I indicated when I began my remarks, I have some sympathy with the argument which my noble friend Lord Teviot put forward, that, in proposing to tighten the criteria for eligibility in the way and for the reasons that I have described, we are perhaps going too far in relation to schools' services. As my noble friend pointed out, it is the Government's policy in this Bill to bring together schools and public transport in order to provide the best value for money overall, and I accept that Clause 96 as drafted might perhaps impair that objective. It is the point which the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also picked up, and I should like to give an assurance to both my noble friend and the noble Lord that the Government would wish to reconsider this aspect of Clause 96 over the Summer Recess and before we come to the Report stage of the Bill.

However, there is another point which I have to answer, which is the important point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). She gave the example of a licensed service run primarily, but not only, for disabled people. I should like to assure the noble Baroness that a local service running to a timetable and on which separate fares can be paid would not be disqualified from getting rebate simply because its passengers happened to be elderly or disabled, or because the vehicles happened to be specially equipped to carry them. It is very important that I should say that.

However, perhaps I may go one step farther and remind your Lordships that, although that particular Dial-a-Ride service which the noble Baroness gave as an example, is, as I understand the noble Baroness, a service which is not only for disabled people but also picks up others in the locality, some Dial-a-Ride services are, as the noble Baroness knows much better than I, provided for the carriage of disabled people under mini-bus permits, which we discussed under Clause 61. They have never been eligible for fuel duty rebates and under the Bill they will not be, whether or not the words "wholly or mainly" remain in the Bill.

As your Lordships will remember from the debate on the new clauses moved by my noble friend Lord Teviot under Part I of the Bill, mini-bus permits take operations out of the scope of public service vehicle operator licensing, out of road service licensing and out of registration. However, fuel duty rebate is closely linked to operators' licensing, road service licensing and registration. The amendment which we made to Clause 61 removes the exclusion of Dial-a-Ride from public passenger transport services, and so local authorities will be able to assist Dial-a-Ride financially. I am very glad that we made that amendment to the Bill. However, the Bill will not make a mini-bus permit operation into a local service.

Therefore, in essence, on the disabled and elderly passenger point, when the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), put forward the example of the service, describing it as being licensed and run primarily but not only for the disabled, I repeat that I should like to assure her that a local service running to a registered timetable and on which separate fares can be paid would not be disqualified from getting rebate simply because its passengers happened to be elderly or disabled, or because the vehicles happened to be specially equipped to carry them. What I will not conceal from your Lordships is that the Dial-a-Ride services provided under mini-bus permits have never been eligible for fuel duty rebate and, of course, will not be so eligible under the Bill.

I shall certainly look at the schools' point. I think that my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, most certainly have a point.

Lord Teviot

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving me certain assurances, but I am not very happy with his answer. He has said that he will look again at the school transport issue. However, this amendment goes rather wider than that. I might end up by withdrawing the amendment, but all this has happened in the space of a few minutes; we have been only 17 minutes on this very important amendment and it is a large decision to take. A great many amendments will be raised again on Report. The Report stage is rather like a rubbish dump where one goes at weekends with a motor car full of garden refuse and whatever. The best bits are recycled; the rest goes into a destructor. I think that there are some good elements in this amendment which should go forward.

I still maintain that the words "wholly or mainly" are frightful. If my noble friend were to say that he will consider substituting different words for "wholly or mainly", I would be very much happier; but while the words "wholly or mainly" remain in the Bill, I am very reluctant to withdraw the amendment.

After my noble friend dealt with the issue of school education, he mentioned the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), about the Dial-a-Ride service. If the words "wholly or mainly" remain and all the arguments that I put forward in my amendment go unheeded, that service would end up by being withdrawn and the group which the noble Baroness mentioned would be at a disadvantage. I am extremely unhappy about this, and if any noble Lord would like to interrupt me before I sit down, I should be very grateful.

Lord Belstead

Before my noble friend finally decides what to do with this amendment, I should like to reply to him. He undoubtedly has a good point as regards school transport. I have admitted it and have recognised it, and I have promised my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that over the Recess I shall take the matter away and consider it as sympathetically and indeed as seriously as possible. I think that that goes as far as possible towards being an undertaking.

The noble Baroness gave a specific example of a different kind from the mini-bus permit Dial-a-Ride service, which was a good example. I tried to say that there would probably be no difficulty in a case of that kind, and before the next stage of the Bill I should like to look at the matter very carefully, taking advice from the department, and I promise to consider the specific example that she gave.

However, if my noble friend is saying that there is more to it than that—and we are trying to ensure that £120 million of public money is carefully spent by a Government which my noble friend supports—I must say to him that I cannot help him. There are cases, for instance, where a works bus starts off more or less full from the very first, makes a stop somewhere, with a seat which is said to be available for the general public and, through that device (which operators are perfectly at liberty to make use of as the law stands at present) receives fuel duty rebate.

There are examples of that kind where I believe that the huge sums of public money for fuel duty rebate are not being put to their best use, because fuel duty rebate has always been supposed to be a subsidy to operators who are the kind of local stopping services on which the general public rely to make necessary day-do-day journeys. I beg my noble friend to think for a moment as to whether he has a point or two on this amendment, as indeed he has, and whether the Government have a point or two as well.

5 p.m.

Lord Teviot

I feel much happier with what my noble friend has said, apart from this last statement. My noble friend refers to this odd works service which might go out early in the morning, and keeps seats for odd members of the public and therefore claims fuel duty rebate. That is something he has to look at, and to look at the whole wider issue.

I should have thought that going out at 5.30 in the morning the situation he instances is very unlikely. Let us say a service going to a mine, or a factory, or to cover shift work, is most unlikely to find such a person, and therefore qualify this service for rebate. However, I have been in consultation with various people and well-known operators, and in their areas sometimes those services are used. That is why I came back. I dislike these words "wholly or mainly". However, I am reassured by my noble friend's extra statement.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Would the Minister also give a little thought to some of the rural areas that I know reasonably well in the West of Scotland? I take the point that a works bus is really a moral abuse, if not a legal abuse, with having a couple of seats vacant. But it happens in school buses. I know parts of the Clyde coast which are fairly sparsely populated. There may be a valley with children going down to school, and there is a small town and there may be only half a dozen genuinely empty seats on the bus—maybe different people taking them every day.

I would say that that was not an abuse of a school bus. It is a reasonable way to use a school bus. In fact it would be the height of folly in the rain if a bus went past with vacant seats when someone was waiting in the hope that a friend would pass in a car, or a friendly van driven would give him, or her, a lift. I can see the dilemma, that morally it would be wrong and legally it may be right, but there must be some flexibility somewhere.

Lord Belstead

I hoped that I had given an assurance that we would look further at the difficulties which may arise for operators of school services should they be deterred from carrying members of the general public by the loss of entitlement to fuel duty rebate. The noble Lord is helpfully underlining the need for me to look at that as sympathetically as possible, and that I undertake to do.

Lord Teviot

Unless any of your Lordships object to this amendment being withdrawn I shall withdraw it, but if any noble Lords objects I shall not shun away from it, I shall go ahead with it. Assurances have been given. When one talks about £120 million I agree that there might be some abuse; but it is £120 million over the whole, and if there is any abuse of it I would say it is very small. This is an area at which we have to look.

If some of your Lordships feel that this amendment has not been dealt with and disagree when the Lord Chairman calls for it to be withdrawn, I shall go ahead. We have a lot to do today in one way or another, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 253 M:

[Printed earlier: col 23.]

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 253M): Page 98, line 7, leave out ("the regulations") and insert— ("regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument. (8A) Any statutory instrument containing regulations made under this section shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament." ").

Clause 96, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 97 [Unregistered and unreliable local services: reduction of fuel duty grant]:

[Amendment No. 254 not moved.]

Lord Teviot moved Amendment No. 254ZA: Leave out Clause 97 and insert the following new Clause— ("97.—(1) Where any person has without reasonable excuse—

  1. (a) operated a local service in contravention of section 6 of this Act; or
  2. (b) failed to operate or has operated unreliably any local service which is registered under that section;
he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. (2) For the purposes of this section, a local service has Tailed to operate or has operated unreliably if the operator of the service has failed to a significant extent to operate it in accordance with the particulars of the service registered under section 6 of this Act.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 254ZA. This is a very different subject. Reliability of service is a fundamental of public transport. Indeed it is recognised that the public look for reliability before all else. Therefore, when an operator has registered a local bus service it is important in a deregulated situation that he should operate it reliably. If he fails to do so, it is essential that there should be sanctions which can be taken against him.

This was recognised in the Buses White Paper and in subsequent consultation documents. However, until the Bill was published there was no indication that the sanction would be the withholding of bus fuel grant. If ever a punishment failed to fit the crime, this is it. It is ironic when the road traffic law review set up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has just published a consultation document on making the punishment fit the crime.

Let us examine certain possibilities. First, if an operator decides to run a local service and does not register it in accordance with Clause 6, the punishment of Clause 97 will apply. Twenty per cent. of his fuel bus grant will be withheld. As in these circumstances he will not be eligible for fuel bus grant, he will be penalised by 20 per cent. of nothing, which remains nothing. There is an offence, but no penalty.

Next may I take the case of an operator who runs, let us say, four bus services on rural routes. During the three months in question his entitlement to bus fuel grant is £4,000. This operator proves unreliable in respect of one of these routes, and the commissioner makes a determination to that effect. In consequence this man is penalised to the extent of £800.

At the other extreme, an operating company with a fleet of 500 vehicles providing a mix of local services on 55 separate routes is also unreliable in respect of just one of these routes. Its offence is not greater than in the previous example but in this case the penalty unavoidably imposed under Clause 97 as drafted may be £60,000 compared with £800 in my previous example.

Is there justice in this clause? I submit that the answer is self-evident. The penalty is unsuitable and is liable to be unjust. It is for this reason that I have proposed a new form for Clause 97 which reverts to the Government's original plans that an illegal or unreliable operation of bus services shall be liable to a fine on summary conviction.

It is necessary to recognise the variation in the level of failure that may occur, as may be deduced from the three examples one has given. Therefore, the maximum fine must be a deterrent against each offence, each unreliable service or illegal operation. It is for this reason that I have fixed on level four out of five on the standard scale, which is currently at £1,000. On this basis I have no doubt that the punishment can be made fully appropriate to the crime. Common justice demands an amendment of this nature. It gives effect to the Government's own intentions, and I urge your Lordships to make this necessary amendment to this Bill. I am sorry it I have made it sound very much like the kindergarten school and I have read it out to that effect; but it is an important amendment, and I ask your Lordships to take this into account. I beg to move.

Lord Shepherd

Like the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, I fully support the Government in the intentions that they have in this clause. Clearly, if an operator has registered and the public are relying upon that operator to perform according to the registration, then if there is unreliability, there needs to be some degree of sanction. I wonder whether the proposal that is in Clause 97 is the right way to go about it and whether we may have a more difficult situation in regard to that operator because of the way in which he could be penalised.

I think that the first thing to be said in regard to subsection (1)(a) is that I would not have thought an operator under that particular subsection would ever be justified in receiving a fuel rebate. Because he was not a registered service, I cannot see how he could ever have got a fuel rebate. So we are really considering subsection (1)(b)—that is, failing to operate a service reliably. It is then for the traffic commissioner to consider and make a determination. Perhaps I may here read the words of subsection (4): Where a determination has been made under subsection (1) above with respect to a local service there shall become due to the Secretary of State from the operator of the service an amount equal to twenty per cent. of the amount paid to him under section 92 of the Finance Act 1965 (grants to operators of bus services towards duty charged on bus fuel) in respect of all services"— and that is the phrase that I want to come back to— operated during the period of three months ending with the day on which the traffic commissioner made his determination". Unreliability can arise for a number of reasons. It can arise because of the poor quality of maintenance and then of course the operator is very much held to be responsible. But there are cases when reliability is affected by outside elements in the field of maintenance, say, from the failure of manufacturers to supply particular pieces of equipment. You can have unreliability because you have difficulties with your staff. You can have disputes, you can have long-running disputes, and these can affect reliability. And, as I know from my earlier experience with the National Bus Company some seven years ago, we had serious difficulties on reliability because of staff shortage. Again, that is subject to the question of remuneration.

However, if there is unreliability the traffic commissioners will have to take a judgment so that they would then impose penalties. Subsection (4) is mandatory, it seems to me. There is no option, no discretion for the traffic commissioner. All he can do in this case is to require the repayment of all fuel duty that that operator has received on all services. It could be an independent operator, it could be an NBC operator who has many services, but it is an operator who is being unreliable on only one service or only one of the particular areas of operation.

The operator may be guilty in one small aspect but the penalty will be over all his operations. That could be a very significant figure, quite out of tune, it may be, in terms of the seriousness of the unreliability. But I wonder whether Ministers have considered what would be the consequences to a small, independent operator with the clause as it now is. He may be called upon to repay three months' fuel duty that he has received on all his services, for one small failure. Repayment of that could well destroy his cash flow, his cash position and his ability to continue operating, to continue to be a viable commercial business.

Is that what the Government want? Surely it is not in the interests of the passengers of that operator that because of one failure the livelihood of all those within the company or of the owner of the company should be put in jeopardy. That should not put in doubt the services that are provided to the passengers. I think that these are very draconian powers and too rigid an imposition. We could have a debate on how far I would go with the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, in terms of the penalties set out in his amendment. Frankly, I happen to prefer—certainly in the very first instance, in terms of unreliablity—a slap over the knuckles, shall I say, rather than a kick somewhere else, which could be more dangerous in terms of the survival of the organisation.

5.15 p.m.

I do not like the clause as now drafted. I think that it is too draconian; I think that it would go against what our passengers will be relying upon. As I have said, the penalty envisaged here could be of very considerable import and could remove the viability and the cash position of the operator. I hope that the Government will have another look at this particular clause. I am entirely with the Government that there should be sanctions; but I think that these particular sanctions are far too draconian and I believe that in the end they will not do what the Government have in mind. This, as they have repeatedly said, is that an operator should be able to continue in business and that we should not do anything here that would drive a business out of the market. I ask the Government to look at this clause again, but I say to the noble Lord that as a matter of principle I support him.

I think that the clause as it is now is a bad clause because it is a mandatory imposition, with no discretion for the traffic commissioners. I support the noble Lord in principle but I ask the Government to have another look at this particular clause.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may first of all address myself to the main thrust of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Teviot, which, as it is printed—although the debate has gone wider—is an amendment to change the sanction for running a service not as registered, to change the sanction which is in the Bill at the moment in Clause 97, which would be a clawback of 20 per cent. of fuel duty rebate for the previous three months, to a maximum fine at level 4, currently £1,000.

I shall not conceal from my noble friend that we considered carefully whether to make non-compliance with registration a criminal offence. I must admit we decided not to because, as I think your Lordships will agree, it is odd (although I would not go so far as to say unprecedented) to make a failure by a trader to provide something a criminal offence. It is much more usual for such a failure to be a breach of contract actionable in the civil courts. Secondly, we concluded that it was better to keep the supervision of those within the bus licensing system within the ambit of the traffic commissioners, whose knowledge of the bus industry and its workings are unrivalled and for whom I know all operators have a great respect.

Those are basically the reasons, I think, why we went down this particular road and did not go for the criminal sanction. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke more widely. Indeed, I found what they said of considerable interest and I should like to look at it with some care, because we must make absolutely sure that we have got it right. There is clearly common ground between both noble Lords and the Government that we need to take running unregistered very seriously indeed. I remember that when this Bill was just beginning the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, with his great experience of the industry, said to me that he felt that the whole safety aspect of the Bill—and by that the noble Lord was referring to operator licensing—was an enormously important area.

I think the question of sticking to registration is also going to be enormously important. It is important in order to ensure fair competition on equal terms between operators. What about the operator who perhaps will not wait to register but will just dive in and grab a bit of the market because he thinks he sees the chance to make a quick profit? What about the local authorities who have their responsibilities under the Bill and want to know exactly whether registered operators are going to run as registered? And what about the passengers who need to know with some confidence that what is registered is in fact going to run? We all agree that running as registered is very important—does the noble Lord wish to intervene?

Lord Shepherd

I just had a slight fear. Was the noble Lord saying that if an operator was not registered, which I think would be a very serious matter, there would be the possibility that there could be fuel duty rebate? I find it very difficult to believe that.

Lord Belstead

I do not think I said anything like that at all: indeed I do not think I was referring to fuel duty at all——

Lord Shepherd

The penalty is there.

Lord Belstead

I am sorry: what I was saying to the noble Lord was that it would be a very serious matter, I thought, if an operator failed to operate according to the particulars he had registered. I cited the example of the operator who might jump the gun on the periods of notice for introducing services or variations, simply because he thought he might be able to make a very quick profit and would disregard the requirements of registration. That is what I was saying, I think therefore we all agree that the whole issue of registration, although it is supposed to be a very simple and straightforward system under the Bill, is none the less important.

May I go on very briefly to say that Clause 25, to which your Lordships will remember we agreed what now seems a very long time ago, provides a powerful sanction in that the traffic commissioner can say to the irresponsible operator, "I will attach a condition to your licence which could even prohibit you from running a local service of a specific description, or indeed all local services in the ultimate".

That is a very powerful sanction against the type of irresponsible operation we are all determined to prevent, but it might not be effective in every case. A very large operator might be indifferent to the loss of the right to run on a single route, particularly if the route was one which the large operator had in any case been neglecting. The traffic commissioner no doubt would be very reluctant to prevent a large operator from running all local services because of the major disruption it might cause to the travelling public.

We have also had in mind the possible ease of an operator whose unreliability lay in failure to give adequate notice of withdrawal from a route. He would probably be completely unconcerned if a condition were attached to his licence to prevent him operating on that route in the future. In such cases, I suggest to your Lordships that the obligation to repay a proportion of fuel duty rebate would be a more powerful and effective sanction, and it may be more appropriate. It would provide greater flexibility and effectiveness in dealing with unregistered and unreliable operation. For those reasons it would provide an additional deterrent to the sort of behaviour which, as I said, we are all determined to prevent.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, says. "But the unfairness of it is that the whole thing is absolutely automatic and may crucify someone." May I just point out to him that the sanction will apply only to an operator who runs unreliably (and I quote) "to a significant extent" and "without reasonable excuse". That will ensure that the sanction does not bite unfairly on an operator who, for example, did not keep to his timetable for one day because of bad weather or something of that kind. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, gave some examples.

I must leave it to my noble friend Lord Teviot to do what he wishes with regard to this amendment but, if I may, I will look very carefully at the points which he and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, have made on the amendment. However, I would come back to the first principle, which is that it would be odd to say in this Bill that a bus operator who fails to provide something should be subject to the criminal law. I am not a lawyer but the advice I have been given is that it is much more usual for a failure of that sort to be considered a breach of contract, actionable in a civil court.

In Clause 97 we have decided to go down the road of saying that if attaching a condition to an operator's licence under Clause 25 is not really going to hurt the operator it will be possible to have the additional sanction, saying: "Very well, 20 per cent. of your fuel duty rebate from the previous three months shall be forfeited."

Although I will certainly look very carefully to see whether we have got this right, in the light of what both my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, have said, I suggest to your Lordships that it is necessary to have an additional sanction, for the reasons I have tried to give, and that although it may be a stringent one it is necessary in the cause of seeing that registered services run as registered.

Lord Teviot

I am grateful to my noble friend and I hope the Committee will forgive me if I make a very short re-run of what my noble friend has said, in slow motion, to make sure that I have understood absolutely clearly what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, quoted a case in which sometimes unfortunate things may happen with regard to spare parts and all kinds of unforeseen mishaps. That one might accept. Also, a fine of such high proportions could have an effect on the operator's cash-flow and he may not be able to continue to operate. That is not really a very likely thing to happen but it could happen, and it is something that has to be thought of.

Turning now to what my noble friend has said, he looked at the amendment and he mentioned Level 4. That level was chosen because I think it was felt that a strict fine was really better than the 20 per cent. The Bus and Coach Council as well as other operators prefer this. I should have liked my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross to have been sitting behind me at this moment, as he was 10 minutes ago. I could have asked his opinion, and I would have felt much happier as to how I might proceed now. I think we are all agreed that we have to deal with the question of unreliable services. My noble friend spoke to Clause 25, which deals with unreliability "with reasonable excuse". One point I did not deal with when moving the amendment is the fact that one deals with the difference between the smaller operator and the larger operator.

My noble friend has said that he is prepared to take this back and look at it, and I should be very grateful if he would do that. I do not know whether he listened to me—I agree it is probably very difficult to listen to me—but I gave him various examples. If he is able to look sympathetically at the case of the larger person, who could really have almost everything taken away, I am quite sure the traffic commissioner is impartial and that would not be the case.

I do not believe Clause 97 is satisfactory at the moment, and if my noble friend will agree to do something about it, I might see reason to beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Otherwise I am afraid I shall have to come out with a big stick—not that I really wish to have to do that, but on this occasion I think I may have to. Perhaps my noble friend could reassure me on that point.

Lord Belstead

I said that I would look with care at what had been said in this debate, because I would be very foolish if I did not when both my noble friend Lord Teviot, who has experience at first hand of the bus industry, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who in a different way has unrivalled firsthand experience, have both been giving their advice. But I have to say to my noble friend Lord Teviot that he has picked on the one point where, I am sorry, there is no "give" from the Government's point of view. It is precisely the large bus operator who may not care very much about having a condition attached to his licence by the traffic commissioner for running unreliably. That is because the large operator will say, "It really does not matter to me if a condition is attached that I may not run a particular local service, because I have a hundred other local services". It was precisely with that in mind that we looked around for what would be the right sanction in the cause of good order in running registered services, and decided that the thing to do was to require forfeiture of fuel duty rebate.

May I also say to my noble friend that, if he thinks that he is on good ground in dividing the Committee on this amendment in the cause of large operators, he ought to look at tax law. For instance, in the current Finance Bill there is a provision that where a person substantially under-states his value added tax liability he will be subject to a penalty equal to 30 per cent. of the tax which would have been lost had the understatement not been discovered. The same provisions apply where a person claims and receives from Her Majesty's Customs and Excise a repayment of the tax to which he is not entitled. Those provisions are very similar to Clause 97. They are penalties exacted, not by a criminal court, but within the tax system; and the percentage is laid down in the statute. The effect of using the percentage figure is to grade the amount paid according to the size of the operation which, of course, would not be the case with fines on the standard scale, which is the whole reason for the amendment by my noble friend.

I am sorry to come out against my noble friend in these concluding moments of this amendment. But he has not got his amendment right—at least I do not think he has.

Lord Teviot

I am terribly sorry but I have been advised by people who feel strongly about it to move this amendment. It is the operators who want it. I shall have to press this, if I find a Teller; otherwise, this amendment will be negatived. But the operators have gone very carefully into this. The feeling of the operators is that this is the clear and just way of dealing with this matter. I know that the noble Lord will look at it, but I feel that on this occasion one has to press it. I have made comments about what happens at Report stage; the matter will go drifting on an on. On this, however, I shall stick.

5.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 254ZA) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 80; Not-Contents, 138.

Ardwick, L. Listowel, E.
Barnett, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Lockwood, B.
Beswick, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Birk, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Bostom of Faversham, L Milford, L.
Bottomley, L. Mishcon, L.
Brockway, L. Morton of Shuna, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mulley, L.
Burton of Coventry, B. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Caradon, L. Nicol, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Northfield, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. O'Neill of the Maine, L.
Collison, L. Oram, L.
David, B. Paget of Northampton, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Parry, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Peart, L.
De La Warr, E. Phillips, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Denington, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Ennals, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Ewart-Biggs, B. Serota, B.
Falkender, B. Shackleton, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Shepherd, L.
Gallacher, L. Shinwell, L.
Galpern, L. Stallard, L.
Glenamara, L. Stamp, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Stewart of Fulham, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Strabolgi, L.
Heycock, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Hughes, L. Teviot, L. [Teller.]
Irving of Dartford, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jacques, L. Underhill, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
John-Mackie, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Kearton, L. White, B.
Kirkhill, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Leatherland, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Brabazon of Tara, L.
Aldington, L. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Allerton, L. Broxbourne, L.
Ampthill, L. Bruce-Gardyne, L.
Arran, E. Butterworth, L.
Atholl, D. Caithness, E.
Bauer, L. Cameron of Lochbroom, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Campbell of Alloway, L.
Beloff, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Belstead, L. Cathcart, E.
Bessborough, E. Chelmer, L.
Boardman, L. Chelwood, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Coleraine, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Layton, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Cork and Orrery, E. Loch, L.
Cowley, E. Long, V.
Cox, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Craigavon, V. Lyell, L.
Craigmyle, L. McFadzean, L.
Croham, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Mancroft, L.
Davidson, V. Margadale, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Marley, L.
Denning, L. Marshall of Leeds, L.
Digby, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Dilhorne, V. Melville, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Merrivale, L.
Dulverton, L. Milverton, L.
Dundee, E. Molson, L.
Eccles, V. Mottistone, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Mountgarret, V.
Elibank, L. Munster, E.
Ellenborough, L. Murton of Lindisfarne. L.
Elles, B. Newall, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Nugent of Guildford, L
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Orkney, E.
Elton, L. Pender, L.
Faithfull, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Fortescue, E.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Polwarth, L.
Gainford, L. Rankeillour, L.
Gibson-Watt, L. Reay, L.
Glanusk, L. Rodney, L.
Glenarthur, L. Romney, E.
Gowrie, E. Rugby, L.
Gray, L. Russell of Liverpool, L
Gray of Contin, L. St. Davids, V.
Gridley, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Grimthorpe, L. Seebohm L.
Hailsham of Saint Shannon, E.
Marylebone, L. Sharples, B.
Halsbury, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Soames, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Somers, L.
Henley, L. Swansea, L.
Hood, V. Swinton, E. [Teller.]
Hooper, B. Teynham, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Tranmire, L.
Jessel, L. Trumpington, B.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Kemsley, V. Vivian, L.
Killearn, L. Whitelaw, V.
Kimball, L. Wise, L.
King of Wartnaby, L. Wynford, L.
Kinnoull, E. Young, B.
Kitchener, E. Young of Graffham, L.
Lane-Fox, B. Ypres, E.
Lauderdale, E. Zouche of Haryngworth. L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

5.43 p.m.

Clause 97 agreed to.

Clause 98 [Interpretation of Part V and supplementary provisions]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 254A:

[Printed earlier: col. 23.]

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 254A):

Page 99, line 9, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 10.

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 254B:

[Printed earlier: col. 23.]

The noble Lord said: This amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Following is the text of the amendment (No. 254B):

Page 99, line 13, at end insert— ("(1A) For the purposes of this Part of this Act, a service is a service qualifying for fuel duty grant at any time when fuel used in operating the service falls to be taken into account for the purpose of calculating grant payable to the operator of the service under section 92 of the Finance Act 1965 (grant to operators of bus service towards duty charged on bus fuel).")

Clause 98, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Tordoff moved Amendment No. 254BA: After Clause 98, insert the following new clause:

(" Provision of transport for pupils.

Where a non-metropolitan county council in exercise of the powers and duties conferred upon it under section 61 of this Act secures the provision of public passenger transport services which cater either solely or in part for the carriage of certain school or college pupils whose costs of travel would otherwise be met in whole or in part by payments under section 55(2) of the Education Act 1944, the duty inferred upon it as an Education Authority to contribute towards or meet the expense of travel whether under that section or otherwise shall be deemed to have been fulfilled.")

The noble Lord said: This is a brief and very much a probing amendment, but it is an important point. In Clause 82(2) of the Bill, there is a duty laid down whereby county councils must take into account together their public transport services and school services. It is a fiduciary duty and means that the two elements cannot be worked in isolation. As under the Bill the primary duty that remains with county councils is related to seeking subsidised services by tender, it now means that there is a standard approach which follows whether there is a school contract bus or a local bus. As in many cases, particularly in rural areas, it will be either the same vehicle or indeed the same journey that carries out both functions, it is important that the two are worked hand in hand.

A number of county councils either have brought together, or are at the moment engaged in bringing together, these functions across departmental barriers. Nevertheless, there is a problem in as much as expenditure on school transport is conducted under the powers conferred upon the county council as a local education authority. In practice, the ability to meet the costs of travel for certain pupils—that is, over two or three miles—is met to a large extent by actually hiring buses and taxis. The other main element is the acquisition of scholars' season tickets on normal bus services.

In future under this Bill, it will be cumbersome if distinctions have constantly to be made as to whether a journey is primarily for school-children or otherwise, when it is obtained by means of tender. This amendment aims to ensure that when services are secured under the duties imposed in this Bill, it will automatically mean that the county council has discharged its responsibilities with regard to the Education Act. This will considerably assist the activities of the county council, which would otherwise have to turn to two committees or set up joint working arrangements at member level to deal with what should be a very simple and direct approach. This amendment would simply ensure that the county council could operate wearing its most appropriate hat. The effect of Clause 82 of this Bill and this amendment will be, we believe, to eliminate these problems in future to the benefit of county councils, rural school children and other rural bus users. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

All I can say is that I am worried about this amendment. The subject to which the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is referring is very important indeed. There is nothing between the Government and the noble Lord and his noble friends, but we need to make sure that we have got it right. If the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, I do not think that the amendment achieves that; in fact, the wording is a little obscure. What really worries me is that Clause 82 is intended to further the process of encouraging authorities to see that general public transport and school transport together are not compartmentalised, but can get together for the benefit of not only school transport but the public in general.

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am afraid that I was a little preoccupied. My Marshalled List has disappeared somewhere. As your Lordships know, if you lose your Marshalled List in the middle of a Committee stage it is almost like losing your method of transport, and perhaps I did not attend to what the noble Lord was saying as closely as I should have done. This is an important matter. I feel that we are covering it in Clause 82, but if the noble Lord would like to come back to me and say that I am not correct in that, I shall, of course, look at the matter very carefully.

Lord Tordoff

I am always prepared to listen to what the noble Lord the Minister has to say on matters which are as technical as this, and I am sure that his advice is better than mine. At least, it is on the spot, whereas mine is not. It seems to me that the problem here is the duty under the Education Act which is not properly dealt with under Clause 82. It is the unresolved conflict between Clause 82 and the position in Section 55(2) of the Education Act 1944 that my amendment seeks to tidy up; in other words, the proposal is to absolve the county council under certain conditions from the provisions of these two conflicting Acts.

I can see from the original wording of Clause 82 that it is the intention to paper over this crack. I am advised that Clause 82 does not, in fact, succeed in doing so, unless there is some reference to the earlier Act. It seems to me that perhaps the wise course would be for me to allow the Minister to go away and read what was said at an earlier moment, and perhaps come back at the next stage of the Bill and tell us what he thinks.

Lord Belstead

I may not be on to a good point here, but so far as school transport is concerned I think the noble Lord may be disregarding what is written specifically into Clause 61. If the noble Lord would like to look at that aspect of it, I shall be very glad to look at the aspects which the noble Lord has put forward in moving the amendment and in speaking again just now.

Lord Tordoff

We can play a kind of bingo here, throwing numbers at each other, but I think that would be unwise. I think we should both go away and look at what the other has said. I shall look at Clause 61 and take advice. With that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 99 to 101 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 254C: After Clause 101, insert the following new clause:

("Fair and sustained competition in the provision of local bus services.

. Any operator providing a service or services registered under section 6 of this Act, or any person engaged in carrying on any activities in connection with such service or services, shall be subject to the provisions of the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Restrictive Trades Practices Act 1976 and the Competition Act 1980.").

The noble Lord said: This is a probing amendment to ask the Minister for some reassurances. It arises out of a meeting which a number of noble Lords had with some operators, mainly independent operators, who were rather concerned that "fair and sustained competition in the provision of local bus services" left them at some risk. The Secretary of State for Industry and the Office of Fair Trading do not have powers to stop an alleged anti-competitive practice pending investigation by the office of Fair Trading to establish whether the practice is anti-competitive. It is therefore felt essential that any person providing local bus services who has made an anti-competitive reference to the Office of Fair Trading should have interim protection by civil law until the alleged wrong has been subject to the judgment of the Office of Fair Trading.

Counsel's advice has been taken by these operators. It has been strongly suggested that if, in the Bill, the Government were to underwrite their intention that competition should be "fair and sustained", as suggested by the new clause, no person would be in any doubt or would be persuaded in applying for interim protection. If the Minister were to accept this amendment, there would be subsequent amendments. If the noble Lord has read the speech at Second Reading of his noble friend Lady Elliot, he will accept that as well as the question of protection during the period of waiting for a decision from the Office of Fair Trading there is also the question of the time taken for the decision by the Office of Fair Trading. The whole investigation could last at least a year. This amendment and subsequent amendments which would be moved at Report if the Minister agreed with this amendment would clear up that matter and make it a two-month period instead of the long sustained period it is now.

The Minister was himself seeking advice just now. I hope he will give fair consideration to this amendment and will satisfy me, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, and other Members of the Committee.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

I should like to support this amendment on the subject of which, as the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said, I spoke quite strongly on Second Reading. This applies particularly to rural areas in Scotland, and the independent bus companies that are engaged in providing excellent services for the rural areas are deeply concerned about it. They are not disputing the fact that the Office of Fair Trading should be allowed to investigate or decide any controversial matter but that the methods would take a very long time. It is suggested that it could take up to six months on receipt of a complaint to establish whether there was a prima facie case. If a case is established and a full investigation made, it may take up to one year. All that would be absolutely disastrous. Obviously one wants bus services that operate efficiently and quickly. If you are going to have to go through that kind of long argument and discussion, it could be disastrous.

I hope that the Minister will look at the matter and see whether it is possible to have some method by which the inquiry to the Office of Fair Trading, or whatever is proposed—that is the one favoured—could be done quite quickly and fairly without all this terrible delay.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, and my noble friend Baroness Elliot for giving me the opportunity to explain the Government's policy on competition legislation in the context of the bus industry after deregulation. The main point to make is that we envisage the bus industry, like the broad range of British industry, operating in future within the framework of the competition legislation. Our intention in this Bill, as noble Lords will know, is to introduce competition and market forces into the bus industry, where they have had insufficient influence for too long. It follows that the competition legislation which applies elsewhere should apply here.

Already the Bill contains two clauses reflecting our policy of bringing the bus industry into line with competition law generally. Clause 100 concerns monopoly references to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. It removes most of the industry from the scope of Section 11 of the Competition Act 1980. Sections 11 provides for the Secretary of State to make special efficiency reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in respect of bodies which have some special position in relation to market forces, and may need an extra spur to efficiency. That may be true of the regulated bus industry; but in future competition will provide its own strong pressures for efficiency, so only nationalised undertakings in the bus industry—in the same way as all other nationalised undertakings—will be subject to Section 11.

Clause 100 provides for the bus industry to be subject to normal monopoly references under the Fair Trading Act 1973. This means that the Director General of Fair Trading, as well as the Secretary of State as at present, can refer apparent monopolies to the MMC for investigation.

6 p.m.

Clause 101 concerns restrictive trading agreements. It ends the present very substantial exemption of the bus industry from the provisions of the Restrictive Trade Practices Act 1976. That exemption may have been appropriate when the industry was subject to quantity licensing controls and retraints on competition, but it woud be quite inconsistent with the policy of competition represented by this Bill.

In other respects competition legislation already largely applies to the bus industry. An example is the law on anti-competitive practices, embodied in the Competition Act 1980. Under this Act it is open to anybody to complain to the Director General of Fair Trading if they believe, for example, that a competitor is charging way below the economic price with a view, not to more vigorous competition but simply to driving others out of business unfairly. The DGFT can investigate and seek undertakings to remedy any practice he finds anti-competitive. If no undertakings are given the DGFT can refer serious cases to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. If the MMC makes an adverse finding, the matter can be remedied either by undertakings given to the Secretary of State or by statutory orders.

Only in January of this year there was a case involving an anti-competitive practice in the bus industry. In the face of new competition the operator of a commuter coach service had been offering free travel, and a complaint was made to the Office of Fair Trading, who held discussions with the operator concerned. As a result, this predatory pricing was ended. I think the encouraging thing about this case was just how quickly the Office of Fair Trading could act. Results were produced in a matter of days, as a result of intial investigations. It is by no means always necessary for full-scale formal inquiries, though the powers are there if needed.

I cannot accept that the procedures are cumbersome. I have already given an example of how the Office of Fair Trading can respond quickly and effectively. It should also be remembered that compared with other industries the bus industry is not difficult to enter. Even if an operator were tempted to try to put a competitor out of business, he might not only have to reckon with the competition legislation but a little reflection would show him that others could quickly come in. I repeat that the competition legislation already applies to a very wide range of industries, and I am not persuaded that it is appropriate that the bus industry should be excluded or treated specially so far as those procedures are concerned.

I should mention also the law on mergers in the Fair Trading Act 1973, to which the amendment also makes reference. This already applies to the bus industry and will continue to do so. Thus the Secretary of State is able to refer a merger to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission if it meets the size or market share criteria, and taking into account the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading. In the light of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report, undertakings can be sought or orders made to prevent or remedy the adverse effects of a merger, or the merger can even be prevented. Again, mergers in the bus industry are to be subject to the same legislation as mergers in industry in general.

As I have said, our intention is to introduce the usual forces of the market into this industry, and to reinforce that intention simply by ensuring that the future of the bus industry, like that of British industry generally, operates within a framework of the competition legislation. If the industry is to be removed from the special position of quantity controls and is to have competition introduced, then I submit that it is only logical that the legislation relevant to competition should also be applied. I should be hard put to justify anything else.

I suggest therefore that the purpose of the amendment has already been achieved in Clauses 100 and 101 and by the general application of the Fair Trading Act and the Competition Act, which already apply to the industry. I hope that I have satisfied the Committee that those provisions can and do work extremely quickly when they are needed to do so.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive reply. As this is a subject of some complexity, I am sure he will accept that both myself and, I imagine, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliott of Harwood, will wish to study his response with some care. I thank the noble Lord for his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 102 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Constitution, powers and proceedings of the Transport Tribunal]:

Viscount Colville of Culross moved Amendment No. 255:

[Printed 8/7/85; col. 110.]

The noble Viscount said: I know that the Committee has not come here primarily to discuss the proceedings for the Transport Tribunal. Nevertheless, it is an important tribunal; and, since its constitution and procedures and being rewritten in this schedule, this subject is worthy of a moment of consideration.

Amendment No. 255 relates to paragraph 12 of Schedule 4 and the help which the Secretary of State, usually through counsel whom he instructs, may in future give to the tribunal. In the schedule to the 1962 Act this provision is spelt out in very brief terms and is slightly expanded in this Bill. The proceedings before the tribunal are not exactly like those before most tribunals. It is an appellate tribunal of some substance because it is equated with the High Court in a previous paragraph in the schedule. Broadly speaking, the powers and procedures of the High Court apply to the tribunal and so it is a senior judicial tribunal.

The appeals which come before the tribunal arise from the decisions—at any rate in some cases—of the traffic commissioners. It does not by any means follow that there is any other party in the tribunal other than the appellant. He may be appealing against a decision by the traffic commissioner that has been reduced to writing, and all he has to do is try to persuade the tribunal that the commissioner got it all wrong. There is nobody there to support the traffic commissioner. He does not appear and is not represented. If there is any understanding required of the reasons why the commissioner came to a certain decision, then the tribunal does not know of them unless such reasons appear on the piece of paper which the commissioner has provided.

Equally, there may appear in a case before the tribunal a substantial point of law of wide application to a large number of hearings concerning bus licence issues. On such occasions also, the matter can be argued one-sidedly only before the tribunal unless the Secretary of State briefs counsel to put another point of view or what the Secretary of State believes to be the correct point of view.

I can see that in the schedule as it stands the law is repeated and that: The Secretary of State shall give to the tribunal such assistance as the tribunal may reasonably require".

I ask my noble friend Lord Brabazon to go further than that, and to say to what extent the Secretary of State is prepared positively to help. I am not wedded to the words of my amendment but I am wedded to the substance behind them. I suggest to the Committee that there will be cases where the Secretary of State should take an active part in the sort of circumstances where, in the past, he has not. I have given some examples to my noble friend and will not be tedious by repeating them to the Committee this evening. Nevertheless, it is evident that a number of important points have arisen, and that it must have been known to the tribunal that they were going to arise, and yet those matters were not argued out before the tribunal at all.

If anybody pays any regard to the system of licensing, to the withdrawal of licences in improper cases, and to similar aspects—and from listening to my noble friends on the Front Bench this afternoon, I understand that they do mind—then the Secretary of State must be prepared to play a proper part in the proceedings before the tribunal. One cannot look at what was said in Hansard when one is appearing in court. But if one is about to appear before the tribunal, or if the tribunal itself knows that a difficult case is coming before it, then it is possible to study Hansard to learn what the Government have promised by way of supporting the tribunal with arguments and information. One can study Hansard to discover what promises the Government have made on behalf of the Secretary of State in this regard.

I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Brabazon to say more about how he envisages the Secretary of State coming to help on occasions—and they will not always occur—when large and important issues are before the tribunal and where, if nobody appears for the other side, the case will be argued only by the appellant. I hope that my noble friend can go some way to helping with this matter because, although it is a narrow point, it could involve large matters of principle and issues of general importance.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My noble friend has done the Committee a service in drawing attention to the importance of the matters that may come before the Transport Tribunal; importance not only for the persons involved—all appeals are important for the appellants—but in a wider context. Its decisions, like those of any court, can make law—in the sense of interpreting the words of a statute—perhaps not always as its framers had themselves in mind. It is relevant that the point to which my noble friend alluded—that of the nature of good repute—comes from an EEC Directive. He has also done well to draw our attention to the fact that there are scarcely ever two parties to an appeal to the tribunal—only the appellant.

I hope that I convince my noble friend that his amendment is unnecessary, because paragraph 12 of the schedule obliges the Secretary of State to assist the tribunal, as he mentioned, and to provide them with information, and entitles him to appear before them. It may interest your Lordships to know that in a very recent case the tribunal asked the Department of Transport to instruct a barrister to appear before them as amicus curiae in order to ensure that the issues at stake were fully explored, and the department readily agreed. The question was whether the holder of a goods vehicle operator's licence could comply with his obligations under the Transport Act 1968 if his vehicles were driven by so called self-employed drivers.

The Committee will remember that one of the main reasons why this Bill transfers PSV operators' licensing appeals from the Secretary of State to the tribunal is to distance them from policy and political considerations. For that reason, I am somewhat reluctant to edge them back in that directon.

One answer to the difficulties which my noble friend has placed before us is for the traffic commissioners to take the utmost care in the drafting of their decision documents to ensure that all the reasons which moved them are before the tribunal, and for the instruction of an amicus curiae when a major legal matter is at stake. I have listened to what my noble friend said and I will, of course, look most carefully at it again in Hansard. In the meantime, I hope that I have satisfied my noble friend at least part of the way.

Viscount Colville of Culross

I am obliged to my noble friend. It all depends on how the Secretary of State is prepared to work the duties imposed upon him under paragraph 12(1). If he is ready to look with interest at the cases coming before the tribunal and makes sure that he does instruct an amicus curiae where an important issue—perhaps an issue of law—is to be raised, then all is well. I am glad to hear that there was a recent case when he did so. I gave my noble friend an example earlier of when an equally important point of interpretation arose where he evidently did not do so.

Therefore, I suggest that the lines of communication between the tribunal, or whoever is to sit on the tribunal, and the Secretary of State should be strengthened so that there can be a mutual awareness of the cases where an issue of this sort is likely to arise. If my noble friend can arrange that, then the wording in the schedule as it now stands will be perfectly adequate. If, as a result of his considerations, my noble friend can devise an improved machinery for that purpose, I shall be perfectly satisfied. In the meantime, I beg to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Schedule 4 shall be the fourth schedule to the Bill?

Viscount Colville of Culross

One of the difficulties in keeping noble Lords waiting to move their amendments is that they read the whole schedule! May I ask my noble friend, without expecting him to reply today, to refer to paragraph 9(2) which reads: The tribunal may not on any such appeal take into consideration any circumstances which did not exist at the time of the determination which is the subject of the appeal. That probably means that the tribunal "shall" not on any such appeal take into consideration, and so on. The law reports proliferate with cases where lawyers have argued to the highest courts in the land about whether or not "may" means "shall". I see that the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman of Committees is laughing; he knows about that as well as I do. The pattern of drafting in this schedule is that where the powers are permissive the word "may" is used and where the powers are mandatory the word "shall" is used. My noble friend will see in paragraph 14(3) that: An appeal shall not be brought except in conformity with such rules. and so on. To avoid considerable time being wasted in the courts on the interpretation of the word "may" in paragraph 9(2), why do not the Government say "shall" and put it beyond peradventure?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I should certainly like to take this away and look carefully at it. I yield to no one in my lack of knowledge on the difference between "may" and "shall" in legal terms. We shall definitely look at this and come back later.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 255ZA: After Clause 102, insert the following new clause:

("Railway Closure Inquiries

.—In section 56 of the 1962 Act (the Transport Consultative Committees)—

  1. (a) for subsection (4)(a) there shall be substituted the following paragraph—
  2. (b) in subsection (7) the word "passenger" shall be omitted;
  3. (c) in that subsection after the words "appropriate Area Committee" there shall be inserted the following—
  4. (d) for subsections (8) to (11) there shall be substituted the following subsections—

"(8) Where a notice has been published under the last foregoing subsection any local authority or undertaker or any other person likely to be affected by the proposed closure may within the period specified in the notice lodge with the appropriate Area Committee an objection in writing; and where such an objection is lodged the Committee shall forthwith inform the Minister and the Board concerned and the Minister shall cause a local inquiry to be held by such person as he may appoint provided that, if the objection is made by a person other than such a local authority or undertakers, the Minister may dispense with such an inquiry if he is satisfied that in the special circumstances of the case the holding of such an inquiry is unnecessary.

(9) Regulations may be made for the purpose of carrying this section into effect.

(10) Subsections (2) to (5) of section 290 of the Local Government Act 1933 (evidence and costs at local inquiries) shall apply in relation to an inquiry caused to be held by the Minister under subsection (8) of this section as they apply in relation to an inquiry caused to be held by a department under subsection (1) of the said section 290, with the substitution for the references to a department of reference to the Minister.

(11) After considering the report of the person who held the inquiry, the Minister may consent to the proposed closure provided that after considering—

  1. (a) the role of the railway in the local community and economy;
  2. 60
  3. (b) the national and local government policies for transport;
  4. (c) the interdependence of lines within networks, both regional and national;
  5. (d) the recent financial performance of the station or line, or any part of the line including revenue the line may generate in other parts of the rail system;
  6. (e) freight and passenger traffic; and
  7. (f) the general economic, social and environmental consequences which would result from closure,

he is satisfied that the proposed closure is essential; and immediately after consent to the closure has been given, the Minister shall publish, in the manner specified in subsection (7) of this section, a notice stating that consent has been given."

(e) subsection (13) shall be omitted.").

The noble Lord said: It may seem strange that we should table an amendment suggesting procedure if a railway closure is not satisfactory since this is, after all, basically a bus Bill. However, railway closures have serious implications for the local highway system and other forms of transport within an area as well as for the local economy, employment, industry and tourism. Closure also has other environmental effects. In addition, there may be direct financial implications for the passenger transport authority in any of these areas arising out of the closure by virtue of the system of sector accounting operated by British Rail and its impact on Section 20 grant agreements, which, of course, are a very important part of local transport.

Withdrawal of services on a line can cause certain overheads to be thrown on to other services within the area. That can mean a great deal of money and a great deal of rearrangement of grant and the alteration of services by a local authority or by a PTE. Examples of such situations have arisen in a number of places. The most recent is in Yorkshire, where the Settle to Carlisle closure could easily set in motion a sequence of events with knock-on effects leading to the services supported by the PTE in the area between, say, Leeds and Keighley becoming unviable. The West Yorkshire PTE, as the body responsible for these services, and the PTA, as its financial guarantor, have a legitimate and special interest in any closure proposals which could have serious knock-on effects in these areas. Therefore, the amendment recognised explicitly the right of local authorities to lodge objections to closure proposals and obliges the Secretary of State to hold an inquiry if such objections are lodged by such local authorities.

6.15 p.m.

There is another point that makes it very important in a Bill such as this that the type of procedure for a rail closure is changed or certainly looked at. I accept that we want something which is perhaps not as exhaustive as the Sizewell inquiry but something that is between the existing TUCC inquiry and a much more detailed one, particularly, and only if, a local authority in the area specifically asks for it.

The point that raises this issue sharply, apart from the cost effect on passenger transport authorities and local authorities, is this question of the bus substitution service, which, I understand, may be subject to TUCC procedures. I am not absolutely clear about this, and perhaps the Minister can advise us. In Clauses 103 to 109 the Bill makes provision for the British Railways Board, when required to do so as a condition of approval of a railway closure, to secure the provision of a substitute bus service which shall be operated, in effect, as a part of the railway network. These services would be subject to various safeguards not applied to other bus services; but in the amendment they would come under the proposed public inquiry system.

The Bill does not make clear whether, if British Rail should wish to initiate such a replacement bus service, it would then be able to withdraw the equivalent rail service without the need for the TUCC procedure to be invoked. It should be made absolutely clear in the Bill that that is the case if British Rail decide to replace a service. There has been a great deal of public dissatisfaction expressed across the board, not on party lines, with replacement bus services. Many of them although promised to be run for two years were reduced to a year or six months. Therefore, there is a belief that in many instances, particularly when large sums of money are involved with local authorities where there are planning considertions, or industrial land use planning consideration or industrial problems something with a little more teeth than the TUCC is necessary. The amendment is an attempt to provide that. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, this amendment deals with the general statutory procedure which applies to rail closure proposals by the British Railways Board and/or London Regional Transport.

If it were the Government's intention to amend existing statutory closure procedure covering rail passenger services, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to attempt to do so in this Bill. I have to say to the noble Lord that in any case we should wish to resist the changes proposed in these amendments. In the first place they propose that all rail closure proposals—and a point which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, made clear to the Committee is that it affects both freight and passenger services—should be subject to the same statutory procedure. The existing procedure covers only those closure proposals which relate to passenger services and in our view there would be no justification for extending the scope of the procedure to freight services.

The railways' freight sector has a commercial remit and must manage its operations accordingly. The Government are firmly of the opinion that it would be quite inappropriate to restrict the ability of the Board to make commercial decisions about the size of the network to be used by the sector in order to compete fairly with other forms of freight transport. I am sure that we all agree that, in spite of some very notable successes in the freight world, such as Speedlink and Speedlink Distribution, the freight sector has had its problems, not least in the last year. Do we really want to burden that side of British Rail with another morass of problems which really belong to the management board?

Secondly, the amendments seek to establish a fresh procedure in place of the existing procedure. Let me just recapitulate on the existing procedure. British Rail or London Regional Transport are required to give notice of their intention to close a passenger service, setting out what alternative services they anticipate would be available. Any user of any service affected by the proposal or anybody representing such users may submit written objections to the relevant Transport Users' Consultative Committee. If objections are submitted, the decision on whether or not closure may take place rests with the Secretary of State. The Transport Users' Consultative Committee reports to the Secretary of State on any hardship that it believes the closure may cause. It may, and usually does, hold a public hearing on the hardship aspects of the case before reporting to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State then considers the case for proposing closure, the Transport Users' Consultative Committee's report and any other representations which are put to him. In reaching his decision he is required by statute to have regard to any matter which for the time being appears to him to be relevant, including social and economic considerations.

We believe that this is a system which has worked well in the past, and with due respect I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, offered good grounds for wanting to change it now. The amendments propose to do away with the Transport Users' Consultative Committee report on hardship and suggest that a public inquiry should be held to consider a proposal, with a report to the Secretary of State. The suggestion that a public inquiry might be more appropriate than the TUCC hearings which are provided for in the present legislation is not a new one. It is a suggestion that the government have carefully considered, but we are not persuaded by any of the arguments which have been advanced that we should alter the long standing procedures which have been approved by Parliament for dealing with closure cases.

Finally, the amendments propose that the Secretary of State shall consider a specified set of criteria in reaching a decision on a closure proposal, and that having examined the proposal against those criteria the Secretary of State should grant consent to closure only where he is satisfied that the closure proposal is essential. The Government have made it clear on many occasions that it is not their intention that British Rail should embark on a programme of major route closures, but it is open to the board to bring forward a closure proposal where it believes that retention of the service no longer offers value for money.

Under provisions in this Bill, the board may include a proposal to secure provision of a bus substitution service in place of the rail services where it thinks this may be appropriate. May I just remind the Committee that that bus substitution service has a chance of getting subsidy and grant, and furthermore that it is a protected bus service which can only be removed after extensive consideration? It is much more realistic for the Secretary of State to reach a decision on the merits of the case and in so doing be required, as he is under the present legislation, to have regard to all relevant factors, than for his decision-making to be as lightly circumscribed as the amendment proposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, mentioned the effect on local services. I had expected him to mention the Strathclyde area that he knows so well, where the Strathclyde PTE are very concerned about local services and the services to Ayr. May I remind him that it was the Secretary of State who provided 75 per cent. of the cost of the new rolling stock for the Ayr Glasgow line, which has been electrified and which will be ready six months ahead of schedule? In addition, the Secretary of State is assisting generally with the refurbishment of rolling stock on the Glasgow suburban rail network and has recently told Strathclyde, in response to a rail review that it carried out, that he would be prepared to give further capital assistance, including provision for new diesel rolling stock on the Glasgow-Barrhead-Kilmarnock route.

These clauses that we are discussing are not a licence for the British Railways Board to close lines. This is not something which the Government want. It is an example of the Government's confidence in local railways that the Secretary of State has provided so much money, and we think that they have got a very good future after bus deregulation.

To sum up, this amendment proposes a radical revision of existing statutory procedures covering proposals by the British Railways Board or London Regional Transport to withdraw passenger services from lines or stations. A major element of the revision would be the extension to all rail closure proposals of the public inquiry system. The Government have considered this idea and they are not persuaded that the existing statutory procedures approved by Parliament in 1962 and 1968 should be amended in this way.

I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment. I know that he will probably want to reconsider it and come back to it on Report, and if he does so, we should be very willing to deal with it then. Perhaps I may just remind him and his advisers that subsection (11), which is referred to in subsection (d), was repealed in 1968, and that Section 290 of the Local Government Act 1933 was repealed and replaced by Section 250 of the Local Government Act 1972.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I am grateful to the Minister for these corrections. I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister took this politically. The question of the Scottish lines and the Ayr line was not intended to be political. If one wants to be political, then the only political thing I can say is that one knows where the end of that line from Glasgow goes and perhaps the Secretary of State had a special reason for putting it down there.

I think there is a general feeling that it may have been easier in the early days of fairly small branch line closures and that there was a good case for local Transport Users' Consultative Committees to look at them. We are now reaching a stage at which, when rail closures come, they are fairly important ones, such as the Carlisle Circle Line, or the Inter-City line between Leeds and Sheffield, which is reckoned to have cost the local passenger transport authority about £400,000. There is also the Glasgow-Kilmacolm line down to Paisley—where certainly the local authority, because of considerable pressure, managed to get a rather wider inquiry held than would have been obtained from a Transport Users Consultative Committee. I am not objecting or saying that the Transport Users' Consultative Committees do not do a good job. They do a very good job but they are greatly restricted. First of all, the people are part-time and therefore there can never be a very long investigation when there are TUCC people involved. They are only allowed to deal with hardship for the area. There is no one who is able to question the costs of British Rail. There is no one able to discuss questions with British Rail or to cross-examine it on their infrastructure costs and the costs which will be thrown on other users and on other lines. One of the suspicions we had was that when British Rail managed to get a line closed all the expenses that there were, for instance, in the terminal which was used by that line were then scattered all round the other lines making them less viable. These were questions that could have been asked had there been the possibility of cross-questioning British Rail.

I am merely suggesting in this amendment—and the Minister has already pointed out a couple of flaws in it—that there is a dissatisfaction with the procedure of Transport Users' Consultative Committees, and therefore the public are asking for more. Certain local authorities will perhaps incur greater expenses if some of these lines are closed without them being able to say anything about it and they will not then be able to have any other course of appeal except through the Transport Users' Consultative Committees. That is quite inadequate. I think the Minister will ultimately come round to believing that it is inadequate and that some other method will need to be used to air the matter more widely.

Perhaps the amendment goes too far. Perhaps the amendment is too radical. But certainly something will be done, if not now then at some time in the future. I accept the fact that perhaps it would be more appropriate in another kind of Bill. However, this was certainly an opportunity to raise the matter today. Having raised it and heard the Minister's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1093 [Railways Board's road passenger transport services]:

6.30 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby moved Amendment No. 255A:

Page 101, line 20, at end insert— ("(1A) In exercising this power the Railways Board shall ensure that the facilities and arrangements of any such service make provision for the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled.").

The noble Viscount said: I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Lord. Lord Ennals. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for bringing me up to date on rail closures in Yorkshire. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that where any railway service is discontinued, either on a permanent or a temporary basis, provision is made for the needs of elderly and disabled people.

As an example, there may be a railway service which is used by disabled people in wheelchairs for the purpose of getting to work, going to see their friends or doing their shopping. At the moment they can travel by train, either in a seat which has been specially removed for them or in the guard's van—although I recommend this more in the summer than in the winter. If the service is discontinued, disabled people in their wheelchairs cannot use the normal kind of bus. It would be necessary for the railways board, when it is providing a substitute bus service, to provide either a bus with a tail lift or perhaps just a mini-bus adapted to take wheelchairs.

British Rail has a very good record in relation to caring for disabled people. I speak with some experience because I am a regular traveller between King's Cross and Yorkshire, sometimes in a seat specially removed and sometimes in the guard's van. In 1982, British Rail took a policy decision that all new services' facilities and rolling stock should make provision for disabled people. Surely the same principle should apply to a substitute bus service. I think that it would be only making statutory a policy which British Rail is already following. It seems to me to be important that so far as reasonable and practicable the substitute bus service should not be less accessible to the elderly and disabled than was the railway service. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I find it entirely understandable that the noble Viscount should seek to ensure that facilities and arrangements for any road service which British Rail substitutes either temporarily or permanently for a rail service should make provision for the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled. But this amendment, which seeks to ensure that any bus substitution service must make provision for any needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled, goes well beyond what is required of British Railways for the rail passenger network, and indeed beyond what the Bill requires for bus operators generally.

I think we ought to bear in mind that the bus substitution services, as they are called, will be run as an integral part of British Rail's passenger network. In other respects the bus service will be identical to bus services run by private operators or with subsidy from local authorities, none of which has the specific duty which this amendment seeks to impose.

Perhaps I may turn aside for a second and remind the Committee that as a result of some quite detailed and lengthy debates on this Bill the Government have made a number of amendments designed to encourage better provision on bus services for people who are elderly or disabled—and quite right, too. We have agreed that there should be increased training for bus drivers so that they can respond better to the needs of elderly and disabled passengers on buses and we have said that we shall alter the drivers' regulations.

We have agreed that we should bring in construction and use regulations which will mean better bus design for new vehicles. And to ensure that operators with older buses which will not be caught by the construction and use regulations are attended to, we have said that there will be a code of practice. We have accepted for the first time the need for a statutory advisory body on transport for disabled people which will be able to provide expert advice and guidance to operators—British Rail and bus operators alike—on all fields of public transport provision.

Those are all new measures which have not been promised or undertaken before but which have been put into this Bill, not least because of skilful debating pressure which has been exerted by those in your Lordships' Chamber who know so much about this subject. Of course all these measures will apply to bus substitution services, running in place of rail services, in just the same way as they were going to have to apply to other bus services. However, I come to the "but". The "but" is that we, the Government, felt that we had to say, and say repeatedly, that in our view statutory requirements on individual operators of the kind that this amendment seeks to impose on British Rail do not offer the best means of encouraging better provision for elderly or disabled people, however important we feel that aim is; and I agree that it is a most important aim.

The noble Viscount was most generous in what he said about British Rail services, particularly from his home area down here to London. I think we can rely on British Rail, when going out to tender for the provision of bus substitution services, to seek to ensure that the vehicles used generally incorporate those relatively inexpensive modifications which, as the Committee has emphasised in earlier debates, are very important in making public transport accessible to people who are not so agile. Of course the construction and use regulations and the code of practice will help both for new and for old buses.

However, the words of this amendment really could be interpreted as going far beyond that and requiring British Rail to ensure that all the vehicles should have certain specific adaptations but unspecified in this amendment. I know that this is a point of difference. I beg the Committee to bear in mind that if one goes too far down this road there is a very real danger that a requirement which could be interpreted as imposing absolute standards on the British Railways Board could make its task of providing substitute bus services more difficult and could in consequence lead to a reduction in the availability of services; and that is not what any of us would wish.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should like to support this amendment very warmly, though I am a much less frequent rail traveller than my noble friend, so I cannot speak with his knowledge and experience. I also know that British Rail has been very good in improving facilities for disabled travellers and it has done some excellent things for people to whom mobility is vital. I appreciate the Minister's points about changes to bus services. However, here we are talking about routes on which people have been able to travel because they have been going by rail and on which I think I am right in saying it will not in fact be guaranteed by the Minister's amendments that they will be able to travel when there is a substitute bus service.

I know it will be expensive in some cases to adapt these vehicles. I do not say that all buses should be adapted so that wheelchairs can be on them. Some of the modifications will be the smaller ones about which we have been talking in earlier debates. When one thinks in terms of the losses incurred on subsidised railway lines, quite often the cost of producing a suitable replacement bus will be relatively small.

I should like to leave the question of the disabled for a moment and turn to another aspect. A growing source of revenue to British Rail, particularly in tourist areas, arises from the fares of passengers who take bicycles with them. Yet cyclists are also very worried. You can no more get a bicycle than a wheelchair (apart from a folding bicycle) on to a bus unless it is a specially adapted vehicle. There are fears of great confusion, particularly among tourists, both British and foreign, as to whether they can make long-distance trips involving changes of mode—the train, a replacement bus and the train again—and take their cycles with them. According to the British Railways Board's paper on bus substitution—I refer to Section 4 of its memo to the cycling liaison group—it appears that the justifiction for the provision of specially adapted vehicles would depend on there being a "known and consistent demand" for cycle carriage. Apparently, the same would apply in the case of wheelchair-bound passengers. But it is not at all clear how this demand could be established. I wonder whether the Minister can help in regard to that.

Quite a number of people who normally travel on trains would not be able to use ordinary buses. We are not just talking about wheelchair-users or cyclists but also, in the words of the British Rail memo, people with non-folding perambulators, groups of musical instruments and other exceptionally bulky articles". Surely, the whole point of a replacement bus service is that people who have been able to travel a certain route should not be deprived of that facility. It cannot be right that certain of those travellers will no longer be able to enjoy the same facility. I hope, therefore, that the Minister may be able to think again and say something more encouraging about the amendment.

Lord Ennals

I should like to support strongly those who have spoken in favour of the amendment. In doing so, I shall be brief. I wish to say, however, that I recognise fully the extent to which the Government have moved in other parts of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to some of the steps that have been taken. I believe that he recognises that these result partly from pressure and partly from natural goodwill, but that however they resulted, they were achieved. I do not believe the fact that achievements have been made in other parts of the Bill can be used, by any stretch of the imagination, as an excuse for not passing through one other step in this direction.

As I have stated on previous amendments, this is not a Bill (although, who knows what the future will bring?) that the Government presumably expect to change in the course of the next few years. When we have an opportunity like this, it seems to me perfectly proper that we should not simply be looking to see that nothing is worse as a result of it, but that we should be looking to see that things are better as a result of it.

There can be no doubt that as a consequence of there being more elderly people there are more disabled people. It should not be forgotten, although this does not apply to the wheelchair brigade, who so nobly put forward the case, not for themselves but for others, that the vast majority of disabled people are also elderly. It is age that often has led to their disability. This will be increasingly so in our society. If we are looking at the world five or ten years from now, the needs of disabled people will be substantially greater. The Minister was saying that there is a danger in going too far down this road. I believe that there is a danger that if we do not go much further down this road an increasing proportion of our society will lose their mobility.

A mobility allowance is really not much use if there is not the transport to enable that mobility allowance to be used and to force people into taxis and other forms of special provision. While welcoming all that the Government have done so far, I do not believe that what is proposed goes too far. The case for bus substitution services is very powerful. I put my name to the amendment, and I take no credit for its drafting. However, I support it strongly. The wording is, in my view, exactly right—not simply to "take note of" but to, ensure that the facilities and arrangements of any such service make provision of the needs of passengers who are elderly and disabled". I hope that your Lordships, some of whom may be extremely fit and not disabled and who are not confined to wheelchairs, as most of those who have moved the amendment are, will give some thought to those whose ability to travel is very much less than that of the bulk of society and, indeed, the bulk of the Members of your Lordships' Committee. I commend the amendment strongly.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Stedman

One of the factors most appreciated by wheelchair people is British Rail's willingness to accommodate them on trains. This has opened a completely new world to many people who have been confined to wheelchairs and not able to get about. British Rail has given much publicity to the help it gives the wheelchair people and, indeed, to cyclists who wish to take their cycles with them. These services have been used, and they are very much appreciated by those who have had the opportunity to use them. I am concerned about what happens to a person like the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, who is travelling from London to Yorkshire at the weekend when engineering works mean that the train stops and passengers have to proceed by bus. What happens to the noble Viscount in his wheelchair if he cannot get on to the bus? Is he stranded a few stations from home? Surely, there is an obligation upon British Rail, if it stops services for whatever reason, to ensure that the transport provided can take those people that it has contracted to carry from A to B.

I accept that the Government may feel that they are putting a heavier burden on to British Rail than perhaps on to the other bus operators. I am sure, however, that it is unacceptable that people should lose the facility to travel from A to B when the cost to British Rail of providing these services would be quite infinitesimal in comparison with the whole of its budget. I support the amendment.

Baroness Lane-Fox

I would not wish in any way to under-rate the obvious concern of the movers of the amendment for the interests of elderly and disabled passengers. I must say that I was not aware, looking at the amendment, that we should also be including musical instruments and bicycles. I am surprised, however, at the suggestion of the movers of the amendment that there should be introduced into the Bill this responsibility upon British Rail when the Bill really is about buses. It seems to me that this must be a subject for the national advisory body set up to improve and look after all transport for disabled people. After all, British Rail has a very great ally for this section of passengers in the person of its adviser on travel for disabled people, Mr. Bill Buchanan, who is himself in a wheelchair. Will my noble friend the Minister consider that communication and negotiation through this method would be better suited to achieve the ends described in the amendment? I appeal to the movers of the amendment to withdraw it in the belief that those concerned will gain from the method that I propose.

Lord Swinfen

I, too, should like to support the amendment. From its wording, I do not believe that it would be necessary for the buses that we have mentioned to be altered to suit wheelchairs. We should remember that when people in wheelchairs are travelling there are often people accompanying them who are themselves disabled in one way or another, or infirm. It is absolutely essential that British Rail makes certain that it has enough staff on hand to help disabled people at all the stations at which the bus services will be calling. From what I have seen in the engineering works, I believe that this situation can be overcome quite often through physical help rather than alteration to the buses. I am rather deaf myself, and I sometimes wear a hearing aid. I wonder whether provision could be made for those who are deaf and who do not hear the announcement of alterations due to engineering works. I wonder whether this could be considered within the amendment.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may briefly reply to what has been said in this debate. First, I ought to say that if, in looking at a rail closure proposal, my right honourable friend finds that the hardship which disabled and elderly people would face as a result of substitution by a bus service suggests that the substituted service should make special provision for the disabled and the elderly in that particular case, it would be open to him to make it a condition of his consent to closure that the bus service should make provision for elderly and disabled people.

I am simply putting that forward as a piece of information which I think we ought to bear in mind in considering this amendment. Indeed, to pick up the point which has been made by your Lordships, if my right honourable friend felt that on a particularly important tourist line it was very important to make special provision for cyclists, it might be that in that particular tourist area he would feel that he could do the same in that respect. That is the first point.

Secondly, in reply perhaps I could say that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was very generous in recognising changes which have been made to this legislation both by my right honourable friend in another place and as a result of debates on the Bill in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, as I expected him to, said that we should carry on with the good work. I went down that particular road in my opening remarks because we now have a situation where, so far as new buses will be concerned, as an undertaking, the construction and use regulations will provide for the needs of elderly and disabled people. Where old buses are concerned we shall have a code of practice to direct the operators of those vehicles to introduce the sort of modifications which your Lordships have so often in these debates said are very important—just as important as making brand new provision in a new bus.

As a result of the amendment which was put down on the Marshalled List by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox and other noble Lords, the statutory advisory body will ensure with an eagle eye that this trend is properly followed. My noble friend Lady Lane-Fox asked me specifically whether the Government felt that communication with British Rail, particularly through their advisor, Mr Buchanan, was the way to go about improving British Rail's bus substitution services. My answer is: Yes. I say that because, with respect to my noble friend Lord Swinfen, the wording makes it clear that a bus operator must make the facilities and arrangements for any service providing for the needs of passengers who are elderly or disabled. If a bus operator does not have that sort of bus, then he cannot possibly provide any service for British Rail. I believe that there is a difficulty there. I really do.

Your Lordships may not know this, but I believe that tomorrow there will be another meeting between the Government and those who are arguing detailed and important amendments on matters for elderly and disabled passengers in this Bill. If we do not divide on this amendment this evening, as I hope we shall not, perhaps we can return to this particular subject at the meeting tomorrow.

However, it would be wrong of me if I did not warn your Lordships that there is a difficulty here in trying to put an absolutely rigid responsibility upon the shoulders of individual operators. I hope that your Lordships will not think that in saying that I am disregarding the needs of the elderly and the disabled. I believe that the changes which we are making to this Bill show that the Government are indeed concerned in that respect.

Lord Winstanley

Before we leave this matter, may I say that I listened with great care to what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said and that I accept many of the comments he made about the burdens which we could be placing on the operators. Briefly, I should like to draw the noble Lord's attention to one aspect of this amendment in so far as it deals with the responsibility of the Railways Board with regard to bus services which replace railway services when there is a temporary interruption of the rail service. That is a special case and it is one that has already arisen. It is my impression—and I think that there are noble Lords present who will know this from their own personal experience—that during the temporary closure of Crewe station for engineering and other purposes, passengers going from Manchester to Crewe now alight at Sandbach and go from Sandbach to Crewe by bus. I am informed that British Rail have taken the most active steps to make sure that they can provide transport from Sandbach to Crewe by buses or by alternative transport.

If they can do it in that instance, surely they can do it in others. I am not talking about other services; I am talking about the practice of British Rail, which is generally understood, whereby they have made the most excellent arrangements for the disabled and for those in wheelchairs. Over many years people have come to rely upon them. If such people travel by train and suddenly the journey is interrupted and they are transported part of the way by bus, it seems reasonable to me that British Rail should do what I believe they are now doing in relation to Crewe station, and this amendment would require them so to do.

Lord Teviot

I do not wish to disregard travelling arrangements between Sandbach and Crewe, but I should like to say a few words as an individual and not as someone representing a particular organisation; I should like to speak as another noble Lord talking about transport. Transport is essential to the disabled. It gets them out of the house, and therefore they should be well looked after. We are not in dispute about that. The Government and the Opposition agree on that absolutely.

We are talking about the railways, and in my experience pressures on the timetables of the railways are not so desperate as they are in relation to buses, which must have a realistic schedule. I live on a very busy route and I have never seen a disabled person on a platform not being well looked after by the staff. I suppose that there could be the odd case when a person is let down, but I have yet to see it. If there were such a case, it would be a local matter and I am sure that a letter or telephone call would deal with it.

If schedules are to be laid down for replacing rail closures—and this affects the disabled element—they should be realistic so that drivers can keep to time. Equally, they should not be pushed too much so that people are left stewing at stops, with the result that they do not want to travel on that service. I agree with everything that has been said on this amendment and I do not think that we should divide on it.

Lord Belstead

I think that I must reply to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, on the Liberal Benches. It must be said that it is simply not practicable to ensure that temporary bus subsitution is always suitable for elderly and disabled people, which would be one of the effects of this amendment. The arrangements for Crewe were planned well in advance. Some temporary substitutions may have to take place at very short notice.

Viscount Ingleby

I intend to withdraw the amendment but, first, with great respect to the noble Lord the Minister, I should like to say that I do not think the amendment specifies absolute standards. It says "make provision for". As regards the disabled, one matter on which we can all be agreed is that we cannot specify absolute standards. What is necessary in one place may not be necessary in another. What is reasonable and practicable must always be taken into account.

I feel that a general duty on British Rail to do the best they possibly can to see that the substitute services are not less accessible to the disabled than was the railway, is helpful. It is something which British Rail themselves would be ready to take on board. Having said that, I appreciate what the Minister is trying to do. I look forward to meeting him tomorrow morning, when perhaps we shall be able to continue this discussion further. I should like to thank all those who have supported me, and I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment, by leave withdrawn.

Clause 103 agreed to.

Lord Denham

I think we have probably reached the stage where we should adjourn for the moment. In moving that the Committee do now adjourn, I think it would be useful if I said that we shall not revert to the Committee stage of the Transport Bill before eight o'clock. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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