§ "In exercising their statutory functions in regard to public passenger transport services the traffic commissioners shall give first consideration to the transport policies and plans of the local authorities formulated in accordance with section 1 and section 2 of this Act.".—[Mr. Fry.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingbourough)
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Having debated New Clauses Nos. 1, 2 and 3, we now come back to the beginning of the Bill and the part relating to the public transport plans.
It should be put on record that in this new clause the Opposition are making a genuine attempt to help the Bill work more effectively than it would otherwise. We should recall that the Bill was supposed to be the rural charter that the Secretary of State was proudly proclaiming some time ago, though his pride is a bit muted now. The Opposition accept that the Bill makes some contribution to resolving the problems of public transport, especially in the non-metropolitan counties. However, as we said several times both on Second Reading and in Committee, we feel that there are some disadvantages in the Bill as it stands and that it may need further amendment.
This becomes very clear when we consider the future functions of the traffic commissioners. Much stress has been laid on the new responsibilities and the new role which the Government expect the county councils to have. However, the Bill does not specify and delineate the future role of the traffic commissioners, especially apropros the county councils and the TTPs.
The Opposition have varying views on the traffic commissioners and their future. I do not go quite so far as, for example, 580 my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), whose mother, the traffic commissioners are convinced, was frightened by a traffic commissioner many years ago. My hon. Friend has clearly and consistently called for their total abolition. However, all of us feel that the powers of the traffic commissioners need to be curtailed.
One of the great weaknesses of the Bill is that although responsibilities have been laid on the county councils, power in terms of licensing still, ostensibly, lies securely with the traffic commissioners. The Opposition have said consistently that there should be a shift in the power of licensing from the traffic commissioners to the county councils. One of our reasons for saying that is that we feel that there will be an area of difficulty and possible confrontation between the two if this legislation goes through in its present form.
It is interesting to recall that on Second Reading the Opposition made two main criticisms. First, we were critical about the definitions of various key words. We are grateful to the Government for their Amendments Nos. 15 and 16, which seem to bear out our criticisms. They are an attempt to define the various responsibilities more clearly than in the original Bill.
The other great problem that we foresaw earlier on was the one of potential areas of conflict. There is obviously an area of conflict between a county council and a bus operator, whether the operator is a district council undertaking, an NBC subsidiary or a private concern. We accept that the Bill, and even the new clause, cannot resolve that conflict.
There are two other potential areas of conflict—one between the district councils and the county councils and another between the county councils and the traffic commissioners. Those who sat through a long and interesting Committee stage will remember that the Association of District 581 Councils was perturbed on Second Reading, and in the discussion on the three clauses, about its position apropos the county councils with their new responsibilities. We were asked by the association to make considerable amendment to the Government's proposals because it had a genuine fear that its interest would be overruled, if not sometimes ignored.
It was clear that any decisions made by the county councils would be carried out without any means of appeal to the Secretary of State. Where a district council operator runs alongside, or intermingles with, services of, say, an NBC operator in the county, considerable confusion and conflict could be caused. I congratulate the Government on their second thoughts in their amendment. It clearly lays out the detailed process of consultation and the reporting on the consultation which the ADC and other interested parties have requested for some time. I am pleased that the Association of District Councils is quite happy with the Government's amendment, and we are grateful that the Government have listened to us and to the association.
The removing of this area of conflict has made the new clause all the more necessary. If the district councils and the county councils are now to sort out the plans and hammer out the matter together, it is important to make it clear that such plans shall be put into force. It is because, as the law stands, they may not necessarily be put into force—because power still resides with the traffic commissioners—that we feel that the new clause is essential.
There is a difference of opinion on both sides of the House on the question whether an appeals procedures is necessary. The Secretary of State does not believe in any form of appeals procedure. Without that, as the matter has to be resolved between the county councils and the traffic commissioners, sooner or later some one has to make a decision. I remind the Parliamentary Secretary that in Committee he said, in effect, that at some time during the consultative process somebody had to make decisions and have the ultimate responsibility.
Unless the new clause is accepted, there is the danger that the buck will not stop with the county council. It will be given the responsibility, but its plans could go 582 awry because of the operations of the traffic commissioners. The Government must back up what they are asking the county councils to do. They are giving them the prime responsibility for preparing the public transport plans. They must give the county councils the wherewithal to fulfil those plans, not only financially—this aspect has been discussed and settled satisfactorily—but by allowing them to make sure that the long-winded and detailed discussions that will take place during the preparations of plans are not wasted by the activities of traffic commissioners.
If we consider what is likely to happen under the existing system we can see why we have tabled the new clause. We know two things straight away. We know that the traffic commissioners do not have to be consulted over the plans. They are not among the organisations listed in the Government's amendment. Secondly, we know that there is no appeal against a county council's plan once it has been formulated.
If we felt that traffic commissioners would always accept a county council's plan and put it into effect without difficulty, we would say that the new clause is not necessary, but any hon. Member who has had anything to do with the traffic commissioners and road service licences will know that there is a tendency to preserve the status quo. There is an inborn tendency to protect the existing operator and to make things difficult for new people to come in.
This arises not only because of the problems of convincing traffic commissioners, but because of the expense involved. Few operators will embark on an expensive programme of buying new buses and getting legal representation when they know that when they get before the traffic commissioners they will be confronted by, say, an NBC subsidiary which has briefed a QC to appear on its behalf. Few operators will go through all that for a licence that they might or might not get.
Although there has been innovation in public transport, the way in which the traffic commissioners have operated has tended to perpetuate existing licences, although there have been some variations in services. Most people who have anything to do with road service licences 583 would accept that, until now, change has been difficult. That is why we are having a succession of pieces of legislation to try to improve the overall situation.
I give credit to the NBC for bringing forward reform from within. Through its market analysis projects it is, at long last, trying to tailor its services to the revenue that it is likely to receive. But it will be some time before that approach will make less necessary the sort of plans that we are talking about in the Bill and the sort of decisions that we are talking about in the new clause.
It is because we shall have considerable delay in implementing that approach that we feel that the Government must get this part of the Bill right. Let me be honest about this. We would have transferred many more of the traffic commissioners' powers to the county councils. We believe that it is a mistake not to take this opportunity to make a much more drastic reform. We discussed this matter at length in Committee.
If we are not to transfer more powers it is essential that the role of the traffic commissioners should be interpreted much more clearly. There is a tendency to favour existing licence holders and the potential for conflict between a county council that wants to bring about considerable change and the traffic commissioners who will tend to resist it.
The Government seem to take the line that the role of traffic commisioners has not altered very much and that the powers remain the same. They seem quite happy that this should be the case. I do not think that the role of traffic commissioners can remain quite the same after this Bill, nor do I think that it is desirable that it should do. There must be a measure of evolution, and the natural way for that to go is to give the county councils the power to fulfil the plan that they have been asked to prepare.
The Government's new Amendment No. 15 says that the review of county needs must be accompanied by the criteria applied to determine need. When I spoke on Second Reading, I criticised the Government because of their failure adequately to define the word "need". The Under-Secretary thought that this was not necessary and that there was already an adequate definition. I find it 584 fascinating that the Government have now passed the buck. Instead of attempting to define the word "need" they are handing the definition straight back to the county councils.
I am not against that, in the sense that I believe that the more local the decision and the definition of need the better—the man in Whitehall does not usually know best in terms of rural bus services at the other end of England—but because the Government are asking the county councils to take on board this change in emphasis they must give the county council the prime responsibility for pushing ahead with its plan. If the traffic commissioners are to co-operate with the county councils, far from just taking note of the plans they should give them primary consideration.
The Government might say that we are using a rather unusual turn of phrase in our new clause. We have asked thatthe traffic commissioners shall give first consideration to the transport policies and plans of the local authorities formulated in accordance with section 1 and section 2 of this Act".There may be some legal minds who ask the meaning of "first consideration". Our answer is that this phrase was coined by the Government in the Children Act. The idea of first consideration has now been put forward, and presumably it can be interpreted.
What we do not want to arise from the Bill is a situation in which the counties suddenly decide that they must set up a new administrative procedure, perhaps taking on new staff, to prepare these plans, which must be discussed and gone into with the district councils, the trade unions, consumer bodies and Uncle Torn Cobbleigh and all, and then find that the plans cannot be put into effect.
I remind the Under-Secretary that already there has been considerable conflict in Oxfordshire between the policies of the county council and the decisions of the traffic commissioners. One of the reasons why Oxfordshire ran foul of the traffic commissioners was that the county council had looked at the matter almost entirely in terms of its own local requirements and had tended to ignore the necessity for through routes, particularly over county boundaries. Therefore, I was rather surprised that in bringing forward amendments that we shall discuss later, the Government had removed the need 585 for county councils to consult adjoining counties. I know perfectly well that where routes cross county boundaries, if one council decides to cease support this can cause immense problems to people living just over the county boundary.
We shall have to press the right hon. Gentleman to ascertain why it was decided to remove that wording. Bearing in mind the conflict that took place, it is obvious that the pattern could be set for further conflict between the traffic commissioners and the county councils in future. If that conflict takes place, the worst thing that could happen would be for the county councils to say "We have to redraft our plans". If they took that view, the whole sorry business would start all over again. We felt that from the moment the plan is put forward, and provided that there is thorough investigation and we approve the Government's proposals in this respect, it should have prime consideration. We do not think that too much power is being taken away from the commissioners.
The commissioners will still have a role to play. They will be able to say, for example, "If you go forward with that proposal there might be damage done to certain operators". We are not saying that the commissioners have no say. We are saying that the plan should go through and should be accepted. If it is not, we believe that the high hopes that the Government have for this piece of legislation will founder.
It has taken the Government so long to reach even this stage that if the Bill is not the success that it is hoped for in many parts of the country will find themselves without public transport.
The Government's new Amendment the Bill, they have a clear responsibility to define more clearly and to put the responsibility of carrying out the plan where it is intended to be put, rather than, as the tendency is in the Bill, to leave a somewhat grey area for the commissioners and to allow them, perhaps unwittingly, to impede that with which the county councils want to go ahead.
Some of my hon. Friends will undoubtedly want slightly to widen the debate. After all, the clause is entitled "General duties of the Traffic Commissioners". The commissioners have an important role to play and they will continue 586 to have that role in future. It would be damaging to the future of the commissioners if the Government did not accept the clause and there were conflict. If they do not accept the clause, there will be a greater reaction, and many more people will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who wants to sweep away the commissioners completely. That would not necessarily be in the best interests of public transport. The commissioners are regarded by most sections of public transport as independent minded. It is accepted that although they are appointed by the Secretary of State they have the reputation of trying to make honest decisions.
The Under-Secretary of State will argue that if I pay the commissioners that sort of tribute I should not be worried about a possible cause of conflict. My reason for concern is the general remit that the commissioners still have under existing legislation. Despite some limitations, especially in terms of excursions and tours lasting overnight, their general remit has remained the same, with some minor exceptions, such as community buses and certain road service licences. As their basic position has not been changed, they must be expected to interpret their remit very much as they have done in the past. I do not blame anyone for fulfilling his job as it is laid down. I am merely saying that the way in which the commissioners have Interpreted their duties quite properly in the past has led, on the whole, to the stultifying of innovation and a failure in co-operation.
Throughout the whole public transport sector we have seen rising fares, fewer buses and more and more services reduced. If we are to tackle these problems, it is necessary now to have completely new thinking. One of the answers is to give the new responsibilities to the county councils.
Perhaps some people will say "This all sounds very well, but in such-and-such a county they are in no position yet to prepare the kind of public transport plans that are ideal". Perhaps some counties are much more forward than others in their planning and in the way in which they now co-ordinate public transport. Some counties are very much more ahead in the way in which the county surveyor or the co-ordinator for public transport look at these problems and, indeed, in 587 their ability. A point made several times is that if we are to have this county co-ordination it is essential that we get high-calibre officers. Very often we find that the co-ordinating officer is rather too low in the pecking order of the county council. If we are to get the new move and the direction that the Government want, it is essential that county councils have the confidence to appoint the right people and the confidence that their plans will be put into effect.
Summing up, I should have thought that by putting forward the new clause we have made a genuine attempt to make the Bill work. In no way can it be described as any kind of wrecking clause. As I have said several times, it does not even accord with the way in which we would change the powers of traffic commissioners and would make a much greater reform. We put forward the new clause because we believe that in public transport we have waited far too long for many essential reforms. For far too long have we waited and seen declining services and rising fares.
We put forward the new clause in the spirit of co-operation. If the Under-Secretary decides that he cannot accept it, he runs into one great problem. He tends to reinforce all the worries and fears that I have been putting forward tonight, and he is danger of making county councils wonder what worth this Bill is, in any event. They were very sceptical about it from the word "go". If the Bill is to work, they must feel that the Government will have confidence in the decisions that they will be taking and will give them the power and wherewithal to implement them.
§ Mr. Bradley
The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) has very carefully and reasonably explained his case for the new clause. He has certainly expressed many of the anxieties that I feel on this issue. I appreciate his approach.
My attitude to the new clause is certainly coloured by the general proposals outlined by the Government in Clauses 1 and 2. I am not enamoured of them. I draw no confidence at all from the track record of county councils in the role of co-ordinators of public transport services.
588 But if there is to be a willingness and an expertise deployed by them in future in drawing up these plans, and if we can, therefore, assume that in their reinforced role as co-ordinating authorities they will produce agreed plans with the district councils for improved services, the traffic commissioners can very soon make a mockery of them unless we add to their terms of reference. As I understand it, that is what the Opposition are seeking to do tonight. For that reason, I approve the approach that they are making in the new clause.
During the years since the Road Traffic Act 1930, the traffic commissioners have followed precepts that have become a tradition of favouring the retention by existing service operators of the routes that they have worked for years, even where they have little relationship with present-day traffic flows and where even lower standards of service and higher fares are perpetuated. This has certainly meant that many municipal operators have been unable to organise all the services within their boundaries on behalf of their local residents and all the ratepayers.
In Leicester there are several huge housing estates, built on land which was formerly outside the city boundary but is now well within the city boundary, the residents of which are denied a corporation bus service as the historic road service licence has virtually given security of tenure to another operator whose level of performance often falls well below that which the district council could provide.
A large housing estate at Thurnby Lodge in my constituency was completed in the 1950s. Yet to this day not one of the corporation's 233 buses runs there. They terminate at a point which in prewar days marked the old city boundary. I could give other examples. This is a total nonsense in 1978.
The National Bus Company subsidiary which has the licence to operate beyond that pre-war point frequently has attracted complaints from my constituents about unreliable services. The company is doing its best to rectify the deficiencies but the complaints persist. We must bring to an end this ossified network of bus operators whose origins were laid nearly half a century ago.
589 Unless we require the traffic commissioners, as suggested in the new clause, to give first consideration to the transport policies prepared by the local authorities, I see no hope that the traffic commissioners will depart from their long-established practice of preserving the status quo. The new clause would introduce a useful new criterion. I welcome it. I hope that the Government will accept it and give full weight to the words of the hon. Member for Wellingborough and myself.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
I hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) will not think it presumptuous if I say that I agree with every word that he has said.
The new clause refers to the exercise of the statutory functions of the traffic commissioners. I assume that my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry), when moving the new clause, had in mind Section 135 of the Road Traffic Act 1960, as amended by Schedule 2 of this Bill. My hon. Friend will correct me if I have misunderstood him, but I assume that the powers of the commissioners, to which he referred, were those contained in Section 135 of the 1960 Act as amended by Schedule 2.
Under the amended section, which appears on page 20 of the Bill, the traffic commissioners are directed to take into accountany transport policies or plans which have been made by the local authorities concerned and have been drawn to the commissioners' attention by those authorities".To that extent the objectives of the new clause have been understood already and legislated for by the Government. I do not see any fundamental difference between New Clause No. 4 and Schedule (2A)(a).
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
The new clause that we are debating talks of "first consideration". I accept what my hon. Friend has said and he is right to draw the attention of the House to Schedule 2. But Schedule 2(2A)(a) has no precedence over Schedule 2(2A)(b), (c) and (d). We are discussing giving it greater precedence than it has under the Government's provision.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Gow
My hon. Friend is right. I was simply saying that in a sense the Government have taken this point already and that the amendment gives even greater precedence to that point. The clause raises the whole question of the role of the traffic commissioners. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough stated rightly that I would wish to do away entirely with the role of the traffic commissioners in the granting or withholding of licences for bus operators, with one crucial exception in respect of the safety of the buses provided.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East said that the criteria applied by the commissioners were in many respects archaic. I agree with him. I do not believe that we shall be able to produce the reforms we want unless we are able to liberalise the laws governing the traffic commissioners. I believe that the criteria which the traffic commissioners are directed to take into account under New Clause No. 4, relating to Clauses 1 and 2, are set in a world of make-believe.
Let us just examine the obligations that are laid upon the county councils by Clauses 1 and 2. In Clause 1 county councils are requiredto develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the county's needs".That kind of jargon is far removed from the true needs of the travelling public.
In Clause 2 we are invited to take refuge in a five-year plan. That is to provide solace for our constituents who wish to travel. Five-year plans are well known in countries well to the east of us in Europe. They are the refuge of the planners, of Ministers and of civil servants who believe that their wisdom is superior to the wisdom of the market place. My anxiety about New Clause No. 4 arises because my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough appears to be mesmerised by the words of the planners.
I do not believe that traffic commissioners, however wise, and even though they are appointed by a Minister as distinguished as the Under-Secretary, will be able, in conjunction with the county council, to provide a passenger transport service which is better able to meet the needs of the travelling public than would be 591 provided if we were to abolish the traffic commissioners and repeal Clauses 1 and 2. That point marks my respectful difference of view with my Front Bench.
If we are to have Clauses 1 and 2—and I should be happy to scrap not only those clauses but the whole Bill—my hon. Friend's clause is a modest improvement. If we are to give credence to and accept the principle of a five-year plan, and if we are to lay a duty upon the county councils, it is right that a priority should be given to the role of the traffic commissioners over and above that specified in Schedule 2.
But I give my hon. Friend this warning: I do not believe that even his new clause will give the travelling public that facility for transport that he seeks to achieve. I believe that a more radical approach to the problem of transport is required, which is that those who wish to provide a service to the public should be allowed to do so without let or hindrance from the traffic commissioners. Their role should be confined to ensuring—and this is of key importance—that those vehicles that are available to transport the public are as safe as the genius of man can provide.
I shall support the clause. It is a modest improvement to the Bill, but a more radical solution is required, one that I believe in due time the House will come to accept as inevitable and desirable.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) made such an excellent speech that I should like merely to delete "Leicester" and substitute "Maidstone", delete "city" and substitute "borough" and say every word that he said.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I enjoy a municipal bus undertaking, an excellent undertaking but absolutely hamstrung by the traffic commissioners. When it seeks to make itself more profitable by doing this and that which it can do without permission, it puts the wind up the independent operators, who write to me and everyone else and are perfectly legitimate in their concern. If only the traffic commissioners were instructed most rigorously to widen their scope I believe that my borough council could run an even better transport undertaking than it does without putting the wind up the independent 592 operators. Therefore, I most heartily welcome the clause.
I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in that I believe that "traffic commissioners" are dirty words. The man in the street has no experience of them except when week by week or month by month he reads in the local newspaper that the traffic commissioners have authorised a 2p, 5p, 10p or 50p increase. All that the man in the bus knows is that the traffic commissioners are the fall guys who put more on him.
§ Mr. Wells
No. My hon. Friend had a good go.
The traffic commissioners are viewed by the man in the bus as the niggers in the woodpile. Although one realises that there are escalating costs and that the claims for increased fares are very justified, to enable the council to maintain the quality of the service and to enable its operators to be paid a proper wage, the fact remains that the man in the street has a poor idea of the traffic commissioners.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) is a man of many qualities and of many failings, and one of his failings is that he saw fit to abolish resale price maintenance. He set himself up as a Sir Galahad who would abolish restrictive practices of all sorts. But the traffic commissioners system is probably one of the most unpleasant restrictive practices remaining in our country, and if Sir Galahad—who sometimes sits at this point on the Bench where I am standing now—had seen fit to abolish the traffic commissioners, that might have been a great deal wiser for the nation as a whole than tinkering with resale price maintenance. But I do not want to stray too far into that now.
I think it imperative that the House support the new clause to give greater flexibility and power to those local authorities which are doing a good job. I do not wish to weary the House with parochial matters, and I respect the nice way in which the hon. Member for Leicester, East said his piece, but in Kent we have a particularly troublesome problem in that London Transport's area 593 stretches out very nearly to the boundaries of my constituency, and certainly into the constituency where I live.
There used to be absolutely no mutual knowledge of day-to-day activity between London Transport and the nationalised bus company. Surely, this is a realm of activity in which the traffic commissioners should knock such people's heads together in order to give a better service to the bus-using public. If we could make use of the traffic commissioners, so long as we have them, that would be all to the good.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry) proposes in his new clause that the traffic commissioners should give particular attention to Clauses 1 and 2. Hon. Members who have spoken thus far have talked of counties, cities and other great places, but, representing the place that I do represent, I am delighted to note that non-metropolitan districts also will have a crack of the whip. I hope, therefore, that the new clause will be added to the Bill.
§ Mr. John Ellis
So far in the debate, the traffic commissioners have taken a bit of a hammering. It has been an interesting debate, but I wish to vouchsafe one or two of my own fears so that we may have some balance here. I can well understand what my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley) says. In an area such as mine, where we have only the Lincolnshire Road Car Company and some private operators perhaps running specialist services, I should not like the traffic commissioners to be swept away, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) suggested they should be.
In my area it would be fairly easy to run a profitable small bus undertaking in the area around Scunthorpe or Brigg where people have to come in from the villages. One could bring them in during the morning and take them home in the evening—perhaps picking up the odd contract from the county council to take schoolchildren to school as well—and not be very interested for the rest of the day. Yet my bus company has the problem of trying to maintain some kind of service during the day for the people in the villages who need it.
Therefore, I should fear the economic consequences for the routes which are 594 already trembling on the edge. If, as the hon. Member for Eastbourne wants, market forces operated, they could well be swept away, with deleterious consequences for pretty well everyone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East put a compelling argument. As he said, the sole criterion should not be that somebody has a God-given right to operate a service. The true consideration should be the good of the community as a whole. The traffic commissioners should look at it in this light: "We shall not allow this because, in effect, what this man wants to do is to cream off the profitable part of the day and leave the other operator with the periods when a service is expected but there is no return, or there is even a loss." That should be the criterion in such a situation as my hon. Friend described, when people are offered either no service or a diminishing service and are suffering as a consequence. My hon. Friend has a good point there.
I hope that many traffic commissioners will read this debate. I think that the traffic commissioners in my area have sometimes adopted a dog in the manger attitude when someone has wanted to put on a specialist service to take people from a village to hospital, for example. They may have felt it right not to object in those circumstances, but it is often a matter of balance.
I thought that it was refreshing that a Conservative, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells), should extol the virtues of his local borough bus service against the independents. I think that was what he said. It was a fair point, and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. But I do not agree with the hon. Member for Eastbourne. I do not support the new clause, for the reasons which I have stated. But I hope that my hon. Friend will send a message to the traffic commissioners in this vein: that the criterion that they operate should be the good of the whole of the community as regards the services that an operator can give. If it is a question of an operator being given a privileged position because he has always had it, I suggest that is no good reason for it. The sole criterion at the end of the day must be service to the people in the area.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Some hon. Members may recall at the end of the war the famous chestnut of the American Service man walking down Whitehall who stopped and asked a policeman on which side the War Office was, to which the policeman replied "We hope that it is on our side, but it might be on the enemy's." If any hon. Member were to be asked by any of his constituents on which side the traffic commissioners were, I am sure that he would have great difficulty in answering that question.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) pointed out that many bus operators consider a traffic commissioner to be someone who stops bus services from running when they are really needed. They consider that traffic commissioners prevent small bus operators from operating bus services which villagers require for shopping and other purposes.
I am delighted that the new clause has been tabled. In some way it helps to define the responsibilities of the traffic commissioners. Whenever I visit any village in my constituency I get complaints about the bus services. It is always the dog in the manger traffic commissioner who stops people from doing what they want to do. As a Member of Parliament, I have failed to discover what traffic commissioners are responsible for. I should like the Minister to define how traffic commissioners are appointed, what is the purpose of their appointment and what are their terms of reference. I have found great difficulty in having those matters defined.
I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). I may be prejudiced about this matter, but, if my memory serves me right, the traffic commissioners who operate in my area have the advantage of living in Eastbourne. Much as I admire Eastbourne, because it is represented by such a fine Member of Parliament, I have in some ways to consider the traffic commissioners there as enemies of my constituents. I dislike anybody who in no way attempts to give my constituents the transport services which they require.
A number of villages in my area need a bus service particularly on certain days of the week when people wish to go shopping. However, I am always being 596 told that the traffic commissioners arrange the bus services in such a way that, for instance, if somebody wishes to travel from Romney Marsh to Rye to go shopping, he has to spend the whole day in Rye because he cannot get a bus back to Romney until late afternoon. An independent bus operator, on the other hand, would know the requirements of the various villages and would cater for them.
I believe that this new clause has been cleverly drafted because it defines the responsibilities of the traffic commissioners. Strange though it may seem, it envisages the possibility that the traffic commissioners exist to give the public the service they want. Surely that is what hon. Members are in this House to facilitate. I do not see how anybody could object to this clause because its purpose is to lay down responsibilities.
We in Kent face many transport problems. Many people moved out to Kent because they were promised cheap rail fares. We all know that rail fares have now been trebled and people cannot afford to travel. Furthermore, many railway lines in Kent have been closed. We were told that they would be replaced by bus services. But that has not happened. The reason for that situation is that the traffic commissioners have not had an opportunity to hear the voices of the electorate.
We in this House represent a democracy. This clause lays down the responsibilities of the elected members of county councils in setting out criteria for which the traffic commissioners are responsible in carrying out their duties. It is a most straightforward clause. I do not see why the Minister has not risen to his feet to accept the clause, which was moved so reasonably. We could then have proceeded with other amendments. I wait with impatience to hear the Minister's arguments.
I once had the honour and privilege of fighting the Minister in an election. On one occasion we had a meeting in the little village of Brookland, a village with a delightful spire, which the Minister no doubt remembers well. I wish he would come along with me tomorrow and explain to those villagers why he is opposing this clause and why he is seeking to hide behind the traffic commissioners. I hope he will be able to tell those villagers why they cannot have 597 a proper bus service. Why do they have to wait until the early evening to obtain a return bus service? How can members of the public get to their destinations and back within a reasonable time if there are no proper services? I believe that this is a most sensible clause, and I await with impatience to hear the Minister's reply.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). We wait with impatience to hear the reply of the Minister. Those of us who served during the 20 sittings of the Standing Committee know what a reasonable person the Minister is and how he responds to our excellent propositions. We know that he will respond well to the excellent case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Fry). We also hope that he will respond to the sound voices behind him, such as that of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), who put the matter as well as did any of my hon. Friends.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis) made a statesmanlike speech, although it may not have been delivered in his usual effervescent way. That was a little distressing, because it meant that there was little in it to criticise. At least he took the side of the traffic commissioners in a balanced way. He did not want them swept away, although in some way they have been dogs in the manger in his area. If he is in favour of traffic commissioners, one might have thought that he would favour this modest new clause.
The traffic commissioners were much discussed in Committee, buffetted from one side of the ocean to the other. In terms of glory and eloquence, my lion. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) called for their abolition. In almost the next breath, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and I tried to promote them into an appellate tribunal. Thus, we have not yet got it right. I agree that it is not yet time to sweep them completely away. We have to find the correct role for them. Many aspects of their work should continue, particularly safety, and so on, which few people could do better. But the balance is wrong.
The Bill builds up local democracy. This is the opposite of my last argument 598 today. Where is local democracy in this respect? The Labour Party has trumpeted the powers being given to counties and districts. One of the most telling points of my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough was that our perseverance in Committee over Government opposition resulted in a Government amendment on this point.
Counties and districts are now happy together and do not require us to keep the House up to all hours of the night. We can divert all our attention to the traffic commissioners and to what happens when they are confronted by the counties and the districts.
Clause 1 refers to divers duties to be put upon counties and districts. It speaks ofthe county council, acting in consultation with public passenger transport service operators and district councils—I cannot remember which way the Liberal Party voted, if indeed it was represented at the time, but our triumph is that we added district councils—to develop policies which will promote the provision of a co-ordinated and efficient system of public passenger transport to meet the county's needs".Any county will be consumed with breathless anticipation of plans to come. Those expectations can be destroyed by an undemocratic body.
The clause goes on:(ii) for that purpose to take such steps as the council think appropriate for promoting—here again we take off into the glory of statutory drafting—the co-ordination, amalgamation and reorganisation of road passenger transport undertakings in the county;".It goes on from there, but I shall not take up any further time by quoting any other clauses.
§ It being Ten o'clock the debate stood adjourned.